COMMENTARY | It's a day athletes dream about, when all their hard work leads them to a single life-changing moment. Then they hear it. Their name is called, launching them into the professional ranks. It's the draft, and UFC bantamweight Urijah Faber and light heavyweight Phil Davis are trying to bring it to mixed martial arts through the website MMADraft.com and the inaugural MMA Draft Combine on July 6 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.
"I think that's the next step in the evolution of our sport -- having the top amateurs celebrated like they are in football, basketball, baseball, soccer," Faber said in an interview with MMAjunkie.com. "You know the top guys from the college teams, you know the No. 1 draft picks and stuff like that. In MMA, it's a real crapshoot and everyone's washing dishes and mowing lawns until they're 6-0 or 7-0 as a fighter."
The MMA Draft Combine, created by Davis and Faber, will be part of the UFC Fan Expo and is capped at 100 athletes ranging in skill level and age (13-30 years old). The combine will feature both physical and mental tests in an effort to provide exposure for up-and-coming fighters. The testing includes vitals, athleticism evaluations and a mental skills assessment in addition to timed grappling, wrestling and striking skills tests. Professional fighters and coaches are expected to be on hand to evaluate the talent.
"I just hope that we provide the necessary tools for amateurs to really get the access they need to the coaching scene to really own this sport, because I think most of this sport is at the amateur level," Davis told BJPenn.com of the fighter pool. "Everyone who logs on makes a profile on MMADraft.com. I want them to feel a part of the sport of MMA, whether they're doing one thing -- wrestling, MMA, amateur MMA, jiu-jitsu. No matter what you're doing, you're still crucial. You should feel entitled to be a part of this sport. You have the right to be seen and blossom in whatever you do. That's what I love about MMA Draft."
The website is currently live and provides ratings and information on fighters much like Rivals.com does for prep and college athletes. Past event results, fight schedules and evaluations are all available on the site as are fighter and scout profiles. Scouts currently listed include Faber, Davis, Frank Trigg and Charlie Valencia, among others.
Naturally, there are no guarantees, and until the combine, most athletes only had two options: fight their way to the top through small promotions or hope a reality-show appearance on "The Ultimate Fighter" would provide the necessary exposure. And in a sport where one's career can be over in a flash, the window of opportunity can be limited, even fleeting.
It's important to note that MMADraft.com and the MMA Draft Combine are not officially affiliated with the UFC, however, with widespread support, who knows what the future holds? With many references to the UFC as the "major leagues" and other promotions labeled as the "minors," the website and combine may also help dispel disrespect toward other promotions that have helped develop the incoming MMA talent base -- or they may widen the gap.
Will it work? Only time will tell, but considering MMA is still in its infancy as a mainstream sport compared to the four majors -- NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL -- the combine and MMADraft.com could be the perfect next steps in the development of MMA.
Paul Putignano lives in Southern California, where he has covered mixed martial arts and a wide array of sports across the Greater Los Angeles area. His work has been published in a variety of newspapers and online publications.
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- Mixed Martial Arts
- Urijah Faber
- mixed martial arts