About a year ago, Affliction vice president Tom Atencio was trying to explain why his highly successful clothing company was undertaking the risky venture of promoting mixed martial arts fights.
As Atencio struggled to find the words to explain his rationale, he kept coming back to one word: Passion.
He had a passion for the sport, he explained, and those who competed in it. Running a clothing company was his job, but he spoke with a passion that indicated MMA is a major part of his life.
Now, as he's trying to put together a third Affliction card, he's indulging his passion even further. Atencio is preparing for his second professional MMA fight, when he meets Randy Hedderick on June 27 in Biloxi, Miss.
Getting prepared for that third Affliction Entertainment card – expected, though not guaranteed, to be headlined by a heavyweight match between Fedor Emelianenko and Josh Barnett – would be a lot easier if he wasn't spending as much of half his time in the gym.
Atencio is 42 years old and is never going to hold a world title. He's 1-0, having won a bout in 2005, and he's realistic about his ability.
"I'm not a superstar," he said, laughing softly.
He has a background in jiu-jitsu, but said he prefers to stand up and throw punches. He insists he's not trying to prove a point, even when he calls out Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White.
The two once were friends, but have developed a feud since Affliction decided to get into the promotional business. Its first event last July was named "Affliction: Banned," a none-too-subtle jab at White's decision not to allow fighters on his show to wear Affliction gear into the octagon.
Atencio said he never believed White was seriously going to go ahead with plans to fight former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz in a boxing match that was the subject of a 2007 special on Spike TV.
Ortiz insisted White knew he wouldn't show and did it in an effort to make him look bad. Atencio is among those who never believed the fight would occur.
"Not in a million years," Atencio said. "That whole Tito thing was never going to happen. I'd love to fight Dana. I'm not a former world champion with a huge record like Tito. I'm a guy who is on par with him. I like to fight and he says he does, so I'd love to fight him."
An Atencio-White bout is about as likely as a White-Ortiz bout. But Atencio is pulling double duty simply because he loves the sport so much and he knows he's not going to have the opportunity to do it much longer.
He said he's able to take the time to train because he's got quality people around him helping him to run the business, all of whom have encouraged him to fight.
He's up early doing road work before going to the office, then takes a couple of breaks from work to train MMA.
"I've wanted to have another fight since I had the first one, but building a new business, the time wasn't there for me to do it," Atencio said. "It's not like I have a ton of time to waste now, but the difference is that I have a lot of quality employees in place who can handle things. I do a lot of delegating and I deal with the things I really need to deal with. But the people I have working for me are great and they pick up the slack while I'm training."
He's trying to finalize a third card, which he expects to be held in July or August. He's reticent to speak publicly about his plans because he's learned that as a promoter, it's always best to wait until things are on paper with signatures on a contract.
Affliction's first two fight cards were critical successes, but aren't believed to have turned a profit. White has been on a crusade to bury Affliction's promotional business and has spoken long and loud about how much money it's losing.
Atencio has simply chuckled at the speculation.
"Nobody knows our business and how we make money and unless you really have the facts at your disposal, there is no way to know how we did," he said.
He won't reveal pay-per-view performance or whether or not the show was financially profitable. He admits to mistakes in choosing to host a live concert during Affliction's first show.
Issues with timing and pacing of the production also need to be addressed, he said.
"We did a lot of things right, but we also made some mistakes," Atencio said. "It's not like we promoted some small shows and learned what it took.
"We came right out of the gate with huge shows. We learned a tremendous amount doing those and I think you'll see a significant improvement when we do our next one. I'm working on it every day."
He's just not working on it by himself as much as he did before. Atencio has his own fight to train for now and he's spending many hours in the gym, working with trainers Tracy Hess and Rafael Cordeiro.
He's as committed to his fight as he is to promoting, because Atencio fell in love with the sport many years ago and never once has seen his passion for it waver.
"I love it so much," Atencio said of MMA. "And given I have the ability to do this, why not? I'm not going to be in the position 10 years from now of wishing I had given it a shot. I know what it's like to fight now. And since I can fight, I'm going to. It's just a passion of mine at this point."