Exclusive: Q&A with AXS TV Fights Boss Andrew Simon Scott Zerr August 26, 2015 AXS TV Events, AXS TV FIGHTS, News, Promotions, Spotlight Andrew Simon may not be the face of AXS TV Fights or Inside MMA because he operates away from the spotlight but he is man who is responsible for creating what has become the Friday night TV lineup for every fan of combat sports. Simon is Mark Cuban’s right-hand man when it comes to AXS TV Fights. He has masterminded the development of the programming of fight promotions featured on the live events and the growth of Inside MMA into one of the leading sources of interviews and insight. While other networks have been spoon-fed programming, Simon has sourced and home-grown AXS TV Fights every step of the way. The fighters may be lesser known than some on other networks (Spike/Bellator and NBCSN/WSOF) but the quality of the shows easily outdistances them. Bellator and WSOF may have Triple-A talent in the cage but the AXS TV Fights lineup of Double-A shows is a top-to-bottom better product for the viewer. Simon has spearheaded all of that and recently took some time to talk to The MMA Corner about his show, the lineup of promotions on AXS TV Fights and what’s to come in the future, and the stunning rise in popularity of the AXS TV Fights’ newest partner, New Japan Pro Wrestling. Scott Zerr: You probably get asked every week by a promoter somewhere ‘How do I get my show on AXS TV?’ So what do you look for when considering a new member to the club? Andrew Simon: We are always scouting for great combat sports promotions. We have worked with nearly 50 promotions around the globe for 11 years. We look for solid reputations in the fight community, professional fighters with strong records, good venues in geographically strategic areas, multi-year history, ticket sales, financial strength, great presentation, solid match-making, good lighting, great canvas and numerous other factors. We also look at the promoter to see if there is a fit on working together. Everyone has different styles and you want the relationship to be positive on both sides. SZ: Once that promotion has met all that criteria and is part of the AXS TV Fights lineup, what do they have to do right or keep improving on to stick around? AS: Both sides have to continue to elevate their game. It isn’t just whether we want them to stick around. We have to make the promotion want to say on AXS TV. There are other distribution options out there and we want our promoters to feel fortunate they are on AXS TV. We believe the promotions featured on AXS TV (outside of the UFC and possibly Bellator) are among the only domestic promotions with television deals that actually make money. It is the collaboration between promotion and network that makes our deals different that other deals out there. SZ: AXS TV is not part of the Nielsen ratings and there are not pay-per-buys for the fight card. AXS TV also isn’t involved in numbers like live gate revenue and attendance. So how does AXS TV gauge whether a promotion is popular and rating well with viewers? AS: We have been featuring combat sports on our network since 2004. Today we broadcast 41 fights a year and Inside MMA is the longest-running weekly MMA news show on television. Over that time our subscriber count has gone from 7 million to over 43 million today. AXS TV Fights and the promotions that we work with have been an integral part of the AXS TV/HDNet growth story. SZ: What is the prognosis on adding more promotions to the roster of AXS TV Fights? Are you mulling over any promotions now? AS: Right now, our 2015 and 2016 calendars are almost completely booked with exisiting promotions. Everyone would like additional dates so it would have to be a special show that would break through right now. There may be one that we are looking at that fits that bill. SZ: What’s your sense on fan reaction to the additions of Lion Fight and Legacy Kickboxing – two shows that deviate somewhat from the regular lineup of MMA? AS: I’m a big fan of kickboxing and Muay Thai. We previously aired K-1, K-1 Max, Glory and It’s Showtime on HDNet/AXS TV. As for Lion Fight Muay Thai, I scouted their show in Las Vegas for over a year and a half before giving it a shot on AXS TV. They were doing something different that most shows in North America and were bringing in some of the best fighters from around the globe. The key was adapting the traditional Muay Thai show for North American audiences. Lion Fight was receptive and the shows have been huge successes and something completely different from other combat sport shows. Legacy Kickboxing was brought in to fill the void left once K-1’s dominance in the sport faded. SZ: What has the feedback you’ve received been like for the addition of New Japan Pro Wrestling to the Friday lineup? AS: The show is a bona fide hit and we are looking at ways to potentially increase the amount of content each week. If you like professional wrestling, there is nothing better than New Japan on television today. SZ: That said, would AXS TV Fights look at doing other pro wrestling besides NJPW such as a return of ROH, a new home for TNA or a run with Lucha Underground? AS: We aren’t actively looking for a second pro wrestling organization. We are very happy with our partnership with New Japan. SZ: AXS TV ventured into Canada to do the Maximum Fighting Championship and it was a good relationship but with costs across the board rising for everything, do you see AXS TV Fights ever adding another or more Canadian promotions or for that matter any other international partners? AS: I would never say never, but we aren’t looking into any Canadian promotions at this time. As for other international partners, we will be opportunistic when we see a show we are interested in. I am waiting to see what develops on New Year’s Eve in Japan. SZ: Any hints for our New Year’s Eve plans? AS: Nothing firm to report. SZ: What was your takeaway from the cross-promotion of RFA and Legacy, and do you see a future for more AXS TV partner crossovers? AS: The cross-promotion was a success internally for our partners, sponsors, and fans. We are definitely doing more of these in 2015 and 2016. We are open to all opportunities for cross-promotions that make financial sense. SZ: Some rapid-fire responses on the AXS TV Fights promotions – first off, RFA. AS: Ed Soares and Sven Bean have created a promotion utilizing the Octagon that has a clear path to the UFC. SZ: Legacy MMA & Kickboxing. AS: Mick and Andrea Maynard are the best husband and wife team in MMA and they’ll make history as AXS TV’s first promotion to hit 50 shows. SZ: CES. AS: Incredibly organized East Coast promotion with a strong following and decades of promoting combat sports events. SZ: The show where we crossed paths, the MFC. AS: After years of promoting, they just stopped. SZ: More rapid-fire … one word on the following people. First up, Dana White. AS: Driven. SZ: Ed Soares. AS: Thoughtful. SZ: Mark Pavelich. AS: Confidence. SZ: Michael Schiavello. AS: Energy. SZ: Ronda Rousey. AS: Dominating. SZ: Scott Coker. AS: Generous. SZ: Conor McGregor. AS: Phenomenon. SZ: Kenny Rice. AS: Versatile. SZ: Obviously you can’t play favorites and single one person out, but which of the fighters from AXS TV Fights have you enjoyed the most in the past. AS: Some include Fedor, Shinya Aoki, Daniel Cormier, Gilbert Melendez, Benson Henderson, Roy Nelson, Holly Holm, Pat Miletich, and Cris Cyborg. SZ: What city or venue has been your favorite to broadcast from, and has there ever been a place so tricky or difficult to work from that you’ve said ‘Never again’? AS: My favorite place is Saitama Super Arena in Japan. The trickiest place to do shows is where there is no supporting local crew for television. It gets quite expensive if there is no experienced sports television personnel (camera operators, etc.) in the area. SZ: As a whole, what’s next for AXS TV Fights and Inside MMA? AS: We are coming up on our 300th Fight and 400th Inside MMA. And inter-promotional matchups will become more prevalent over the next 12 months.