Issue 199

August 2023

Czech-Slovak promotion Oktagon MMA is making big waves across Europe, with their events playing to packed houses across mainland Europe, and they’ve got big plans for 2023 and beyond. Simon Head caught up with the promotion’s co-founder Pavol Neruda to find out more.

Where does Oktagon currently sit within the MMA industry, and how does Oktagon differentiate from other European promotions?

First of all, we love the sport. We have a big passion for the sport, which I believe the other shows have, but somehow our love for MMA leads us to bring the stories of the fighters more than other promotions, I would say. We are amazed about the fighters we have on our roster, and we want to bring them to our fans and so that's why we are focused so much on their stories. We look like a sports promotion from the outside, but inside we are a big media house, with a lot of editors, camera guys, directors and so many people around the TV production. So for sure, this is also a big difference. We are producing so much video and TV content. We are like a small television channel, and we are putting in the effort to promote almost all of our fighters. 

Then, on the day of the event, there is a full arena from the first fight. There is no such thing as a preliminary card and a main card, with an arena slowly filling up. It’s full from the beginning, and they’re cheering and clapping and applauding right from the first fight, because they have a connection with each and every fighter on the card. I think this is the biggest difference.

Our goal is to really make MMA popular with the general public, which means we want to make it like family entertainment. I think we have already managed to do that in the Czech Republic, and now also in Germany. If you come to one of our events, it’s a super-nice atmosphere, with very nice people sitting in the crowd. It’s not like six or seven years ago, when there were hooligans and these kinds of people in the crowd. We’ve changed this, and that’s our goal for the countries we’re expanding into. We need to package the product in a way that normal people would consume it, so that’s why we try to be more family-oriented, so that’s a big difference between us and others. 

The Tipsport Gamechanger tournament is a huge initiative for your promotion. Is this a one-off, or could we see similar tournaments like this for other weight classes in the future?

We will definitely do more tournaments. It makes all the sense for us, and that's what we are planning to do over the next few years. This is the first one, which we are super excited about. It’s the first time, so that's why we're aiming it at pure MMA fans and fans of combat sports around Europe, and we believe we will catch them and get their attention.

For next year’s tournament, like you said, we want to add more weight classes and try to reach more and more people in Europe a little bit outside of just combat sports, maybe just sports fans, and so on. So we want to grow with this project. And with the one-million-Euro prize pot, it's amazing prize money. Nobody ever did this in Europe. And we are super happy that we can do this now and bring “The Champions League of MMA” for European fans. This is the kind of format that European fans understand, and it makes all the sense to continue with it over the next two years.

It feels like the Czech Republic and Germany are really starting to explode as MMA territories in 2023. Where are the other key territories for Oktagon in the coming months and years?

For us, it's definitely the UK and Ireland. They go hand in hand. In the Western European countries, we believe there's the best audience and the best conditions for this kind of business – it's where the markets are developed enough. And yeah, we are looking for more countries, too. There's more of them that make sense, like Spain, which is huge market, but there's practically nothing there (in MMA terms). Or the Netherlands, which is a country that has a great history in combat sports. It’s an amazing market. Or Sweden. So yeah, there's more markets we’re aiming at, and we will see in the second half of this year where we'll end up.

You’ve mentioned becoming 'The Champions League of MMA' in Europe. How do you get to that stage?

Our ultimate goal is to be the absolute number one in Europe. Our ain is to be really like 'The Champions League of MMA.' What the Champions League means for football, we want to replicate for MMA in Europe. And that's why we think we are not competing with other promotions. We are going our own way, on our own path. 

Imagine if it's Formula 1. When we get to the Spanish Grand Prix, for the whole of Spain it’s like a small holiday for them, because the Grand Prix is there. We would like to achieve this, but rather than a Formula 1 circuit, we’ll have our octagon, and we’ll have events across Europe and the whole of Europe will watch. This is what we’re aiming for. It’s a long-term plan, and that’s why people can expect us to grow to different countries more and more. But we'll grow at our own pace, and for each country we want it to feel like their home promotion from the fans’ perspective. This is our goal, and that’s where we are going right now. Fingers crossed we can make it.

Finally, what is it that Ondrej Novotny shouts before he announces the main event at each Oktagon show?

That’s a great question! It’s actually in Czech. He shouts, “Jedeme bomby!” which basically means, “Let’s roll!” Translated, it means, “Let’s throw bombs!” Even though it’s in Czech, the German crowd all joined in with Ondrej when he did it in Frankfurt. It was awesome!