Stories surround many promotions in the state of Indiana. Some good, some bad. Many promotions have come and gone quickly, others took their time and either died a slow death or have managed to thrive. Mark Slater who owns Colosseum Combat was doing well enough that it was worth his time and energy.
All looked well for Slater after putting on twelve shows but then after the twelfth show, the building he rented to put on Colosseum Combat was no longer available to him. The president of Ivy Tech who oversaw the outside use of the building had decided that MMA was no longer something he wanted associated with his school.
And it was no surprise that after Slater got the news that he felt like he had done enough and considered walking away. The story quickly became a hot topic amongst the Indiana MMA community forums and was propelled to the national stage with interviews on Inside MMA.
The numbers were obvious, the show was of serious value to the small town of Kokomo, Indiana. Without the venue, the question was could the show go on or not? And if not, what happened to the hundreds of thousands of dollars that were being brought in from not just across the state, but out of state as well?
It was the community that then rallied behind Slater to get him to continue putting on shows. It was because of their faith and trust in what Slater was doing that they got behind him and convinced him to carry on.
So what lead to the community to come together to help Slater out and have him put on his thirteenth show? Well one has to go back to the beginning, when Slater first took over the promotion.
In 2009 Slater had been sponsoring some local fighters for various promotions and even had a fight under his belt. He was contemplating a second bout but saw a lot of the shady side of the business. At the time MMA was still unsanctioned and the wrongs were clearly defeating the rights in the business.
So Slater contacted Jay Martin who owned Colosseum Combat at the time and said he was only going to fight for his promotion as he felt they were the only ones doing the right thing. Martin then convinced Slater that he should purchase the promotion from him and do something with it that he wasn’t able to do.
Just two months later, and sanctioning coming to the state of Indiana, Slater put on his first show at the National Guard Armory in Kokomo, Indiana. The show featured a very un-intimidating crowd of just over 250 fans. And the show he learned a valuable lesson about MMA in the state.
“I tried to hire a couple of match makers for the first show I did. It was kind of the good old boys. They gave me a lessoned learned of who to trust and who not to. After that, I opted to be my own matchmaker and put my own cards together. I would drive to each of the gyms, meet with the guys and have them sign a contract in person. It was better than faxing because it made it easier to figure out who to trust and who not to. Without that welcome to the industry on my first show, I doubt I would have the success I have now.”
Slater pressed forward, wearing all the hats possible for an owner of a promotion. He was the matchmaker, marketer, sales, sponsor seeker and more. He moved the show to the Ivy Tech Events Center which was still in Kokomo. For Slater it was a no-brainer to stay in Kokomo. After all he grew up there and as he tells it, there isn’t much there.
“Chicago and Indianapolis you can see professional sports and any kind of entertainment on every weekend. If I’m not doing a show every 2-3 months, there isn’t a whole lot as far as entertainment that comes through here. Part of it is giving back to the community.”
And that community is something he brought together. After the show that had 250 fans in attendance, he knew he needed sponsors to help bring in the talent that he wanted, while still showcasing local fighters. So instead of looking at the big national sponsors, he went local. Looking at any poster for a Colosseum Combat, the poster is filled with sponsor after sponsor, all local to Kokomo.
The economical impact that he had on them was astounding. When word got out that he was considering shutting things down, the numbers started to come out. Quality Inn which has played a major role for the promotion has stated that without the Colosseum Combat show, they would be out over $25,000 a year.
But it wasn’t like Slater just said “Hey I am putting on a local show, give me some cash to help do it.” He had to prove his show was worth investing in. For him, it is that he runs a good, clean show that fans and fighters want to see. He’s had very few fighters get out of line either before or after their fight and several of the high profile professionals that have fought for him didn’t just fight a single fight and leave, they fought multiple times.
That level of respect that he treats his fighters with, he expects in return. And it trickles out to the crowd in attendance at an event. If you took a snapshot of the crowd at a Colosseum Combat event, you would notice something different about it versus other shows. Kids. And lots of them. The show caters to families, and not the rowdy beer guzzling obnoxious fans. The reason for that is simple, Slater has his family at every show.
“My parents are at every event as are my children. I don’t want to put anything out there that would embarrass my folks or anything I wouldn’t want my kids to see. I think that locally people have seen that. Even our DJ is aware of this, and while every now and then a song gets by him, if he knows there is a curse word in the song, he pulls the radio edit version.”
So because of the family first and the respect Slater treats everyone involved, it was no surprise to see the rest of Kokomo get behind him. While the Ivy Tech Events Center was able to house upwards of 1,000 fans, the Armory where he did his first show is only able to hold 700. They are maximizing the number of seats available, but for a show that has routinely sold 1,000-1,200 tickets, something had to give.
Thankfully, the local sponsors that Slater had gone to time and time again, were willing to step up and do more. They realized the impact his show had and together they have increased their sponsorship level to help offset the costs from the lost ticket sales.
And while the Armory doesn’t have the capacity, it does have one distinct advantage; get on the approved list at one Armory, you are approved for others. That means being able to put on a show in front of 2,000 fans in Indianapolis at the historic Tyndall Armory which has played home to the Golden Gloves.
Slater in the past has sacrificed expanding his show to a larger venue to keep the show in Kokomo, but now the focus seems to be on using a larger show to promote Kokomo. Slater says that he will put on 2-3 smaller shows in Kokomo, while promoting a large show in Indianapolis. But the fighters who fight on that big card? Likely to be the same ones from Kokomo.
Anyone who talks to Slater knows that he is a family first guy and it clearly shows. It is this mentality that has helped him not only be successful, but also get people to rally behind him when he was at his lowest point and thought about tossing in the towel.