Titan FC’s leadership, Lex McMahon and Jeff Aronson, had been pondering the idea of taking their show on the road — out of the country — for some time. The South Florida-based promotion had stayed domestic to this point, but McMahon and Aronson wanted to shake some things up.
“We had been looking for kind of the right opportunity to expand from being predominantly a U.S.-based promotion to starting to do some international shows,” McMahon said.
The question was where would Titan go? Mexico? The United Kingdom? Brazil?
Nope, the answer is none of the above.
Titan FC will hold its first foreign show Dec. 21 — in Kazakhstan. The promotion is running a 12,000-set arena in Almaty, the country’s largest city. It’ll be the first time a United States MMA promotion will come to the Eastern European country. The card will air on UFC Fight Pass.
How did it all come together? McMahon said it started with Titan star Beibit Nazarov. He was already on the roster and is a star in his home country of Kazakhstan, McMahon said.
“Here, not necessarily a lot of people know him,” McMahon said. “I’ve been there quite a few times now, people come up to him, women crying, giving him their babies to take pictures. [Fighters are] truly national heroes.”
One of the best boxers in the world, Gennady Golovkin, is from Kazakhstan and the country has a long history of fighting in different ways. Damir Ismagulov became the first Kazakh athlete to win a fight in the UFC this past weekend at UFC Adelaide.
With Nazarov a budding prospect and the sport growing in the country, McMahon said it made sense to explore the idea of holding a show there. And everyone there has embraced Titan with open arms, he said.
“I felt like it could be a really unique opportunity,” McMahon said. “Their national sport is fighting in its various forms. GGG is an icon over there, obviously. MMA fighters are hugely popular. … Once we started exploring it, the pieces came together. It just made sense. We’ve gotten a lot of get support from the Kazakhs, from the Kazakh government. From everybody in the country. It just seemed like a really great first place to [go to]. Plus, I loved the fact that it hadn’t been done. It would be great if we go somewhere if every other promotion has gone to, but when you do some trail blazing it’s noteworthy.”
McMahon said he didn’t know what to expect when he first traveled to Kazakhstan. It was nervewracking, he said, to book a 12,000-seat arena without fully knowing what the response would be. But his fears were quickly squashed.
“I think the gamble is gonna be worth it,” McMahon said. “I felt a hell of a lot better about it when I was at the on-sale presser and we had over 500 people, including standing-room only. It was members of the media, social media influences and fans. It was packed. People were singing, dancing — the energy was incredible. I’ve been in the sport 10 years, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
McMahon compared it to the response the UFC got in Brazil at UFC 134, the first time they came back after 13 years in 2011. If it sells out, Titan FC 51 will be the most attended in company history.
Nazarov will challenge for the vacant Titan lightweight title against Martin Brown at Titan FC 51 in Kazakhstan. In the co-main event, Kazakh fighter Qazybek Ashimov will challenge for the Titan flyweight title against Juan Puera. Also on the card, Herbert Burns, brother of UFC fighter Gilbert Burns, fights Luis Gomez and UFC veteran Michael Graves takes on Gregg Ellis.
Titan FC 51 will have fighters from 11 different countries, including two from China. McMahon said a byproduct of this card could also be finding that next big MMA star from an untapped region of the world.
“I also think there are so many great fighters that come out of Eurasia and the Caucasus,” McMahon said. “I thought it would be, could we discover the next Khabib [Nurmagomedov]? Could we discover the next great star? It was worth the gamble and I think it’s gonna pay off for us. I’m excited.”