If Something Seems Too Good to Be True, Maybe Its Not
With my first desk in a Wall Street bullpen, the boss read me his insider’s equivalent of a disclaimer. “The learning curve will take you a full market cycle. Bulls make money. Bears make money. Pigs get slaughtered.”
Forty years or so back to the future, “it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Pigs have evolved into the dominant economic species. All it took for their learning curve was figuring out how to corner the market in public sector equities. That’s the message, though, in a different media.
Think of market cycles as kind of collective mood swings. We have our hot streaks. We have our cold streaks. Either we get a little bit wiser and wealthier, on balance, or worse for the wear. In their perishability, by the same token, disruptive innovations and transient tastes enforce The Law of Diminishing Returns through product life cycles.
The Growth Trajectory of Muay Thai’s Domestic U.S. Product Life Cycle
Sniffing a sweet spot in the market space between Boxing and the UFC, Singapore based commodities trader Pierre Andurand and Total Sports Asia’s brand manager Marcus Luer raised a bundle in venture capital on a prospectus for recycling K-1 Kickboxing. In as much as Thailand’s national sport sits right smack in the middle of their imaginary sweet spot of a market space, Glory rules were pretty obviously a branding decision. The product launched with Spike-TV’s broadcast of Glory 11 from Chicago in October of 2013. It’s since charted the textbook trajectory of a product life cycle.
Unless new products crash and burn on the launching pad, expect an initial burst of growth on the trajectory of finding their customers. On the metric of cable tv viewership, thus, Glory World Series zoomed from zero to 381,000 at take-off. Growth slowed to 476,000 through the second broadcast from NYC, until peaking in Tokyo’s third episode at 659,000. Where the product’s reach exceeded its grasp, audience metrics then went through some fine tuning to settle around a 352,000 – 354,000 national baseline. Like water on an uneven surface, supply and demand eventually found their depth.
Demanding the lowest possible price for consumption’s choice, cable tv viewership orbits the metaphorical outer reach of a gravitational field holding together a sports and entertainment market space like ours. Window shoppers tend to drift off, like itinerant floaters, because they’re not all that motivated to buy. So monetization is the core metric of a product’s tenancy in venture capital’s sweet spot.
It is on this core metric that box office patronage tolls traffic throughout the entire market space from Boxing to the UFC and whatever’s in between. The live gate is also an informative metric for the growth trajectory of Muay Thai’s domestic U.S. product life cycle │ that’s been steadily, if not spectacularly, gathering momentum. With the WMC endorsing AMTL’s Mid-Atlantic roll out, commercial traffic now patronizes Muay Thai box offices continuously from Confederate territory all the way to the outskirts of Yankee Boston. Even MLB couldn’t reconcile such historically bitter rivalries.
Where the job has taken me on occasional tours of the national show circuit – unlike Singapore’s conjurers of some venture capital market space – how often have I witnessed the insularity of group dynamics infecting otherwise rational consumers with a bug to buy the kinds of pigs in a poke or promotional gimmicks that come wrapped in nationally branded championship belts? Let the buyer beware. It is highly unlikely that two of your local yokels are the worthiest title contenders out of a nation that spans an entire continent.
Such pandering to gullibility – in making bogus a product’s unique selling proposition – is a brand cheapening tactic. “A brand is a signal, good or bad, that influences a consumer’s decision to buy a product…Brands aren’t just signals of quality; they also help us communicate our identities…We feel most like ourselves when we’re part of a group…Brands play an important role beyond the simple provision of economic information…[They also give us] a sense of emotional connection, comfort, stability, or belonging.” (“Turning Customers Into Cultists” by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic on November 17, 2014.) So brand cheapening tactics in promotional gimmicks effectively restrict our sport’s growth prospects to local sucker cohorts. Ego stroking – like more intimate kinds of self-gratification – discourages mass market participation.
Look no further than U.S. national brand manager Chalermkiat Suvanamas hitching the WBC’s wagon to Dennis Warner’s star for proof that domesticated herds are bred for slaughter. When Warner’s star faded, the lights went out for both of them.
Drawing from the same demographic as ours, by way of contrast, the UFC has succeeded beyond all others exactly because it showcases authenticity. This should be a no-brainer. Champions brand the belts and authenticate the titles. In and of themselves, the belts are just wardrobe accessories that you can pick up in a pawn shop for chump change.
Crowd Sourcing the Box Office
To the extent that branded titles and rankings are perceived as authentic quality indices, they can both inform and motivate market growth. Tease out the message in this media with some reasoning by analogy from the media biz. “The inspiration for Goodreads was to build an online platform that would allow users to link to and rate the books they’d read and also to add books that they wanted to read…it addressed a looming dilemma: discovery was becoming the biggest problem in publishing…If readers were moving online, as they were, then how could publishers show off their wares? Browsing would need to be replaced by vastly superior recommendation engines…connecting people with their friends and also with readers who had similar interests, allowing them to share lists and ratings and reviews.” (“The War of the Words” by Keith Gessen in Vanity Fair in December, 2014.)
Branded titles and rankings, thus, are the “recommendation engines” in our sport. They connect fans throughout the national and global market space in continually discovering rock stars worthy of our patronage. “Perhaps now, more than ever, we ought to be attending to the subject of authenticity, because we've already built another tower of Babel…That, of course is our Internet, where any kind of discourse — true or false and all points in between — is fair game.” (Curator Earle Havens of the “Fakes, Lies and Forgeries” exhibition at the George Peabody Library in Baltimore on NPR’s Weekend Edition broadcast on November 30, 2014).
It’s a pretty safe bet, for example, that the authenticity of Muay Thai as it’s practiced in Bangkok – with wagering windows in the concourse – would innovatively disrupt our domestic cottage industry │ which now lives or dies at the box office. Since that’s probably not going to happen, we’re pretty much locked into crowd sourcing the box office in our match making.
With so much of the nation’s economic and population growth below the Mason-Dixon Line, by the same token, AMTL’s box office equivalent of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge now steers Muay Thai towards that sweet spot of a market space in a Southern Strategy. It turns out WMC’s Paulo Tocha sees this Southern Strategy extending all the way down to Chile. “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.” [William Shakespeare, Julius Cæsar, Act IV, Scene 3] Way to go, Paulo!
Let’s take a due diligence digression here to clarify exactly what quality means in the branding of any product. We measure quality by compliance with the kinds of standards that shape our expectations. Unless you’re expecting a shrapnel shower upon air bag deployment in a car crash, for example, you’d probably consider that a violation of auto vehicle industry quality standards. (“Department Of Transportation Wants Millions More Air Bags Recalled” by Christopher Dean Hopkins in a National Public Radio report on November 18, 2014)
If you don’t think compliance with our own sport’s standards makes the quality of officials an imperative, take the measure of this lament from Penneung Singpatong on the Bangkok circuit. “That was the first time I lost a fight to corruption…I'm sure some judges won't take bribes, but some are so corrupt that they'll take anything they can get. They'll say anything if someone pays them off. It's illegal, but the regulations aren't good enough because this kind of thing happens all the time. That was the first time it happened to me, but I know so many other people who have experienced the same thing. It happens all over, no matter what gym you're from or what stadium you're fighting at. It's a big problem.” (See “Voices of Muay Thai's Next Generation: Penneung Singpatong” by Lindsey Newhall in FIGHTLAND BLOG.)
Credit Josef Pearson for building his AMTL house on the most solid possible foundation of officiating integrity, with indispensable support from the Commonwealth of Virginia/Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation’s Executive Director David L. Holland:Referees: Coban Lookchaomaesaitong │ Bumrun Prawatsrichai │ Sa-ngob Putmoun Judges: Sa-ngob Putmoun│ Somssak Prawatsrichai │ Sorlouangsana Soukkkaseum
Covering Willie Rivera’s USMTA shows in the Bronx, I always made it my business to sit next to Coban, when he was judging, and to ask him – for my own education – to explain the criteria in his scoring. (For more on Coban, see Rick Caudle’s interview at Full Contact Fighter online.) Compare the quality of such authentic standard bearing – coming to us from 270 fights spanning a 23 year career – with the quantity of venture capital that Singapore’s brand managers have poured into their own foundation of cable tv broadcast production values. (See “Epitaph for Sanity in a Sport’s Fairy Tale” for the truth and consequences of sketchy officiating at Glory World Series.) Only a few fights into AMTL’s undercard, we began to reap the dividends of Josef Pearson’s investment in a quality product.
Jared Tipton comes into this show having been hammered by a Joe Logan low kick at Warriors Cup XXI on September 13, 2014. Resolved not to let this happen again, he goes to work with a vengeance on Rudy’s lower extremities. Jared does every kind of takedown in the book – sweeps, trips and flips – over and over again. With every takedown, he does a hand pump. Like “score another one for me”. Only the judges aren’t all scoring these for him.
Fouls are codified in “The American Association of Boxing Commissions Unified Rules and Guidelines for Muay Thai”, which bring them under the Commonwealth of Virginia/Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation’s jurisdiction. The Unified Rules for Muay Thai specifically prohibit hip throws and define illegal trips as follows:
- ILLEGAL TRIPS:
- If a Fighter positions a Foot next to the Opponent and Twists him/her over the Leg, it is an illegal Trip unless the Leg is cleared as the Opponent falls.
- If a Fighter Spins or Pulls the Opponent over the inside or outside of the Leg and Dumps him/her on the ground, it is an illegal Trip when the Leg being used to Manipulate and Dump the Opponent stays in that position as he/she goes down.
- If the Leg is Set and stays in that position, it is an illegal Throw or Trip.
- The Leg must Clear immediately after the Opponent is Pulled or Tripped over the Knee. Clear means that the Leg must be moved out of the way before the Opponent hits the canvas by skipping the leg or slightly jumping to the side, as long as it is moved from the original position. Taking out an Opponent’s Footing is legal only if the Tripping Leg is withdrawn from contact as he/she falls to the ground.
Although Jared dominates the fight with these tactics, dispensation from the ref doesn’t mean that he’s not conceding points to Rudy’s taking “the current when it serves”. The day might yet come in this country when Muay Thai, San Da and K-1/Glory Kickboxing rules all meld into some kind of indeterminate mishmash on the order of stand-up in the cage. Until then, we’ve got to abide by the law or “lose our ventures”, unless of course we’re too big to fail. Washington, D.C. is the belly of the beast, after all, with the world’s richest market for trading in public sector equities.
Winner: Rudy Felix by Split Decision
Ahmet Kairetli (Kaizen MMA in Falls Church, Virginia) vs. Caleb Archer (Renzo Gracie in New York City) WMC Lightweight Title Match │ 5x3
WMC puts three vacant All American titles up for grabs in the main events: Lightweight, Super Lightweight and Welterweight. Costa Rican sensation Maruicio Calvo Siles (Sumalee Boxing Gym on Phuket Island in Thailand) is supposed to make the hemispheric case for Lightweight bragging rights throughout all of the Americas, but he cancels a week or so before the show. Because we don’t charm any fans by refunding their tickets, NYC’s Caleb Archer gets a call.
Rarely do pinch hitters succeed in prize fighting. Peter Kalejevic comes to mind, also for seeming to have locked the coordinates into his GPS for The Fountain of Youth. Jo Nattawut could be another fellow traveler. Despite taking his lumps – when insufficiently charged batteries drain – Caleb does succeed in getting Scott Kent’s attention for a gig at the next Lion Fight in Foxwoods on February the 20th.
If Ahmet Kairetli isn’t exactly a household name outside of the Beltway, he’s now got a title to defend. “With great power comes great responsibility.” Instead of being able to pace his progress through the learning curve – having cut in front of the line – the footsteps that Ahmet should be hearing right about now all aim for the bull’s eye on his back. Take a lesson from Kevin Ross. You’ve got to beat the best to be the best.
Winner: Ahmet Kairetli by Unanimous Decision
Among the best that Kevin has beaten are Matt Embree and Phanawut ‘Coke’ Chunhawat. Branding doesn’t get any simpler for a weight bracket in this sweet spot of a market space. Just match any two of these three and you’ll get a proven winner on Yelp. If there’s a liability in this contingency, “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need.” (From the 1969 Rolling Stones LP “Let It Bleed”, written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards) You absolutely need to monetize the box office.
Enter Carlos Lopez with a Beltway box office magnet. On the strength of his UD conquest of Rami Ibrahim – who’s twice held his own with ‘Coke’ – Carlos could legitimately be ranked in the top five nationally for title contention. (See “Lightening in a Bottle” about Lion Fight XVII at Foxwoods on August 1, 2014) Since 34 year old ‘Coke’ has a history of insufficiently charging his own batteries, this match has the makings of youth vs. experience.
Although life is full of surprises, it’s never more so than with Phanuwat ‘Coke’ Chunhawat. You only beat ‘Coke’ by taking the fight to him, unless he’s beating himself. Instead, ‘Coke’ brings his A-Game and puts his pedal to the metal for five torrid circuits around the track.
Youthful contenders like Carlos have to earn their stripes on the measure of a 146-24-1 record that once earned ‘Coke’ a #2 ranking in Lumpini Stadium. Tentative in his lapses, Carlos concedes too much initiative. Each and every time, these concessions translate into points for ‘Coke’ on the scorecards. Although Carlos shows the partisan crowd that he’s capable of holding his own with ‘Coke’ – even though we’re in the belly of the partisan beast – transparency proves to be the best vaccine against a potential epidemic of toxic assets. Prospect’s promise needs to up its game some to conquer rather than just survive this caliber of competition. Who needs to be reminded that Coke himself has yet to take the measure of Ognjen Topic, Matt Embree and Kevin Ross?
Winner: Phanuwat ‘Coke’ Chunhawat by Unanimous Decision
Justin Greskewicz came out of the NYC circuit at a time, when the amateur ranks were functionally equivalent to indentured servitude, owing to the general unwillingness of local promoters to pay pro purses. Rather than trampling down the vineyards, where the grapes of wrath are stored, Justin did pretty much what Kevin Ross was doing. They both took the road less traveled.
Justin and Kevin both are native to Pennsylvania. Kevin moved from Reading to Las Vegas in order to train with Master Toddy. So he was in the right place at the right time, when Dennis Warner got the Las Vegas Hilton to showcase his WCK brand. With the most gym enrollment in town, Master Toddy’s patronage meant a lot for Warner’s box office. That’s how Kevin’s star came to align with Dennis Warner’s commercial imperatives. Dennis featured Kevin at the Hilton and punched his ticket on the Orient Express. The rest is history.
The numbers never crunched like this for Justin on the NYC circuit. However many friends and family made the trip from Philadelphia, Rigel Basalmico’s Cool Hearts was a small fish in a very big pond. For Justin to eventually become a box office hit, he had to make the leap from herd management to name recognition. So he did.
Like no one else before him, Justin’s brand does a brisk business in tickets throughout all of the local gym outlets. Who says cable tv is the only way to reach a wider audience? It is rather the audience that reaches our sport through media connections. Always put the horse in front of the cart, even in Singapore.
Justin Greskewicz (Stay Fly Muay Thai in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) vs. Jeremy Carper (Coalition MMA in Martinsburgh, West Virginia) WMC Welterweight Title Match │ 5x3
Not for the first time, Justin Greskewicz contends for a prestigious title on the strength of national name recognition, rather than his tale of the tape or – like Ahmet Kairetli and Carlos Lopez – local crowd sourcing skills. The last time I saw Jeremy Carper, by the same token, he was contending for a contract in Lou Neglia’s NYC edition of The Road to Glory show at 165 lbs. Trimming down to 147 pounds, Jeremy’s cut a lot of weight. If Jeremy’s stamina doesn’t abandon him, the visibly bigger Carper plans to out muscle a natural Welterweight, assuming Philadelphia’s ‘Purple People Eater’ takes the bait.
Justin reminds us that self-defense makes it possible for brains to beat brawn. He goes stick and move like I’ve never before seen him do. From his weight cutting, Jeremy struggles to keep up the pace. The hunter becomes the hunted.
If Jeremy plans on finishing it early, “be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it”. He gets it in a flying knee that stuns him. It is Justin, then, who finishes it early. The message in this media is never under estimate the mind game.
Winner: Justin Greskewicz by KO at 1:08 of Round 3
Early in Justin’s career, he and Pittsburgh’s Mark Deluca were each other’s nemesis. They fought each other like a gazillion times. For the most important fight in Justin’s career, guess who cornered him?
It is Muay Thai’s practice – in performing the Wai Kru – to make a show of respect to our teachers, to our ancestors and also to our adversaries. TV broadcasters absolutely gag, when we do this, because they’re genetically anal retentive about air time. They’d much rather pander to any appetite in the public space for behavior that brings out the beast in us.
A fundamental difference between the actual martial arts and mixing some facsimile of them for mass consumption, thus, spans the cultural divide in how we express what civilization means to us. Between Justin Greskewicz and Mark Deluca, respecting each other paid both of them back. Only in the ring or the cage is it a zero sum game. It is humanity’s capacity for collaboration, rather than for hostility, that puts our species on top of the food chain.FULL RESULTS Sanctioned by the World Muay Thai Council (WMC) in Bangkok, Thailand WMC ALL AMERICAN CHAMPIONSHIP BOUTS: Justin Greskewicz (Stay Fly Muay Thai in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) def. Jeremy Carper (Coalition MMA in Martinsburgh, West Virginia) WMC Welterweight Title Match │ 5x3 Phanuwat ‘Coke’ Chunhawat (Dek Wat Muay Thai in Oakland, California) def. Carlos Lopez (White Lotus Muay Thai/Disciple MMA in Sterling, Virginia) by Unanimous Decision: 50-49, 50-48 and 49-48. WMC Super Lightweight Title Match │ 5x3 Ahmet Kairetli (Kaizen MMA in Falls Church, Virginia) def. Caleb Archer (Renzo Gracie in New York City) by Unanimous Decision: 50-44, 50-45 and 49-47. WMC Lightweight Title Match │ 5x3 PROFESSIONAL MUAY THAI: FULL RULES: Greg Rowe (Five Points Fitness in New York City) def. Kelly Huston (White Lotus Muay Thai/Disciple MMA in Sterling, Virginia) by TKO after 3 Rounds (Concession). Super Welterweight (154 lbs.) │ 5x3 AMATEUR MUAY THAI: MODIFIED RULES: Asa Hart Ten (Legend Muay Thai in West Palm Beach, Florida) def. Neil Mustafa (Rami’s Elite in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) by Majority Decision: 50-45, 49-49 and 49-48. A-Class Amateurs │ Super Lightweight (140 lbs.) │ 5x2 Rudy Felix (Sitan Gym in New York City) def. Jared Tipton (Level Up Boxing in Bowie, Maryland) by Split Decision: 50-49, 48-50 and 49-48. A-Class Amateurs │ Lightweight (135 lbs.) │ 5x2 Evan Reed (White Lotus Muay Thai/Disciple MMA in Sterling, Virginia) def. Jonathan George (Seapeanong Muay Thai in Lorton, Virginia) by KO at 1:38 of Round 2. A-Class Amateurs │ Super Lightweight (140 lbs.) │ 5x2 Brian Hansen (Five Points Academy in New York City) def. Allen Hargrove (Champion Boxing in Rockville, Maryland) by Unanimous Decision: 50-45, 50-45 and 50-46. A-Class Amateurs │ Light Heavyweight (175 lbs.) │ 5x2 Joey Hernandez (Sitan Gym in New York City) def. Nimron Bibbin (Maryland Combat Sports Academy in Jefferson, Maryland) by Unanimous Decision: 50-47, 50-45 and 50-47. A-Class Amateurs │ Welterweight (147 lbs.) │ 5x2 Rolando Valdez (UFC Gym in Bethesda, Maryland) def. James Green (Team Coban in New York City) by Unanimous Decision: 50-46, 50-45 and 50-46. A-Class Amateurs │ Super Welterweight (154 lbs.) │ 5x2 Diana Metzger (White Lotus Muay Thai/Disciple MMA in Sterling, Virginia) def. Mel Odria (Seapeanong Muay Thai in Lorton, Virginia) by Unanimous Decision: 30-27, 30-29 and 30-27. B-Class Amateurs │ Mini Flyweight (105 lbs.) │ 3x2 Commonwealth of Virginia/Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation: Executive Director: David L. Holland Program Administrator: Tracy Fagan Referees: Coban Lookchaomaesaitong │ Bumrun Prawatsrichai │ Sa-ngob Putmoun Judges: Sa-ngob Putmoun│ Somssak Prawatsrichai │ Sorlouangsana Soukkkaseum Ring Side Physician: Dr. Richard Ashby Locker Room Inspectors: Lamont Clayton │ Mark D'Attilio │ Bill Forbes │ Gary Redd │ Andrew Wright │ Marcus White │ Shane Flower CLICK HERE for Creative Hysteria, LLC’s Photo Gallery. CLICK HERE for Dan Eric’s Photo Gallery.