In sports, athletes always feel they offer plenty to their sport. However, when they can no longer remain active in their sport without risking their health, what comes next? Most either head into the broadcast booth or become a coach. They see both routes as perfect outlets for them to give back to the sport that gave them the opportunity to achieve greatness professionally and personally.

Those that coach take to molding the next generation of stars. Those that go the commentary route add a fresh perspective to any conversation regarding their sport.

Fighters are a valuable addition on the microphone for the knowledge they bring to the commentary booth. No expert serves the casual viewing public better in understanding what happens in an MMA bout better than a fighter with years of training. In an indirect sense, fighters promote the sport by educating the fans on what goes on as they watch events live from their homes. A number of fighters, active and retired, do an excellent job at this already.

UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, while sidelined for the moment and certainly far from retired, also promotes fights by giving a more extensive take on fighters and their fights. Cruz orates breakdowns in ways that both casual and hardcore fans appreciate by calling certain techniques by their actual name and breaking down what goes into making those techniques work. He also breaks down what fighters like to do when they compete and more often than not will detail game plans for the fighters to consider on fight night against their tricky opposition.

There’s also recently retired Brian Stann, a former WEC light heavyweight champion and UFC middleweight fan-favorite, who analyzes fighters and their styles so that fans can get an idea of what makes fighters difficult to defeat while also dissecting how a fighter’s skills help them to win fights in the most exciting manner possible. Stann’s eloquence allows newer fans of the sport to come to appreciate the minute details of a fighter that better-educated fans may criticize, such as footwork and the unorthodox ways in which fighters strike or work their ground games.

Regardless, they all find themselves working with a multitude of watchful eyes on them, with fans and experts of their sport waiting to see if they can transition well into their new role without entertaining thoughts of a comeback.

Mixed martial arts is just like any sport in this regard. Fighters eventually hang up their gloves, but they do not entirely leave the sport in their rearview mirror. However, now MMA fans find themselves watching a bigger trend emerge. Fighters looking to help the sport develop in certain areas of the world jump into the promoting game at all levels, from Ray Sefo’s front office role with the World Series of Fighting, down to regional promotion leadership roles for Nick Diaz with War MMA and Shane Carwin with Prize Fighting Championship. Some even enter the promoting business while still competing, such as Bristol Marunde with Reign Promotions.

From the earliest days of mixed martial arts, the lines were blurred between those who shed blood in MMA rings and cages and the people who served as the “wheels of the corporate machine.” The Gracie clan participated as much in the day-to-day operations of the UFC in the promotion’s embryonic period as it did with sending one of its own into battle within the eight-sided cage. Why then does this trend appear to be such a new one? In the case of the Gracies or the pioneers of Pancrase, the bottom line related to a group of people aspiring to develop a sport that would reach wide levels of acceptance within the mainstream. Now, however, fighters seek an alternate means to extend their MMA careers after they hang up the gloves. Some athletes own car dealerships or restaurants, but these fighters prefer to invest in the sport rather than tacking their name on an unrelated business venture.

These promotions almost guarantee a way to promote an up-and-coming fighter, but past promotions always did that. When the owner establishes a relationship with fighters, comes from the same local area as the advertised talent or share fighting experience, though, things can get interesting.

For example, promotions like Duke Roufus’ North American Fighting Championships feature Wisconsin-based fighters, “big show” veterans and Roufusport prospects like Sergio Pettis, Mike Rhodes and Dustin Ortiz. Inevitably, all three of those men found their way to Ed Soares’ Resurrection Fighting Alliance promotion, whose deal with AXS TV allows for fighters like the aforementioned trio to showcase their skills for millions of viewers worldwide, as well as the ones in attendance. This helps because when a head coach runs his own promotion with a business partner like Scott Joffe, Roufusport’s young fighters have a guaranteed stage on which to showcase their talents. Fans who recall Roufus’ kickboxing days get to keep following him as he imparts his striking knowledge on a rising crop of mixed martial artists.

How much extra credibility and promotional hype does a promotion receive when a fighter’s name gets linked to it? It depends on the fighter, because some anticipate more “business sense” out of some in comparison to others.

Ray Sefo’s World Series of Fighting proves what can happen when a promotion takes time to grow while thinking big. The former K-1 star, who will also compete at WSOF 4 against Dave Huckaba and has stepped down from his role as the company’s president for the interim, already intends to decide an inaugural middleweight champion in the near future and keeps fans consistently interested by making match-ups that entice the MMA world. That pays big dividends towards Sefo’s success as a promoter, especially given the WSOF’s relative youth as a promotion.

Like the increase in MMA’s popularity, however, these things take time and not all promotions will experience success. This is a key moment in time for such ventures, though. There are two upstart promotions out there that have handed the reins to high-profile ex-fighters.

A Shane Carwin-type might prove excellent for business, especially with the Prize Fighting Championships promotion. Though he does not speak much, Carwin’s involvement on the UG forums, where he personally communicates with fans, and his activity on Twitter give him an avenue through which he can keep tabs on who and what PFC fans want to see. Carwin’s engineering background supports the belief that he has the intelligence to become a valuable asset to any promotion’s front office. The engineer recognizes a solid foundation when he sees it, and in featuring a number of Colorado’s toughest, as well as veterans like Drew McFedries and Thomas Denny, Carwin and the PFC get to showcase that foundation.

In contrast, some felt skepticism about War MMA’s potential for success due to Nick Diaz’s history of no-showing press conferences and teleconferences. Diaz’s legal representative, Jonathan Tweedale, handled the behind-the-scenes operations for the event, leaving many to question Diaz’s official capacity in the promotion. Truthfully, that question remains shrouded in some mystery, though as the head of “Nick Diaz Promotions,” Diaz fits the bill of a promoter who operates more behind the scenes, working with matchmakers to scout talent and build fight cards while leaving the more public-friendly operations to Tweedale.

Sefo’s success indicates that hope exists for retired fighters to achieve success in the promotional aspect of MMA. They possess the knowledge needed to promote a successful card and can put together teams of people who know how to make a successful business out of promoting those cards. Carwin, Diaz, and others could further demonstrate the wealth of potential success for those fighters who retire and wish to involve themselves with the promotional end of MMA. In the past, MMA fighters held a prerogative to either lend their knowledge to the sport or help to contribute to the fashion of the MMA world and its followers. Now, MMA fighters who retire from in-cage action finally have one more option, which will unquestionably redefine the “fight business” as we know it as more retired fighters (and some active ones) start to take the reins as “the boss” of their own fight leagues.

Photo: WSOF president Ray Sefo (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)