December 14, 2016

Finland’s enthusiasm for MMA cannot be caged

EuroFC CEO Jarno Kukila (left), with experienced MMA matchmaker Tim Leidecker who brings in the talent.
EuroFC CEO Jarno Kukila (left), with experienced MMA matchmaker Tim Leidecker who brings in the talent.

The sport that pits two fighters with mixed martial arts experience against one another is taking the world by storm. Now the European Fighting Challenge from Finland is setting out to conquer Europe by bringing it together under the one banner.

After Swede Yosef Ali Mohammad (198 cm, 114.1 kg) walked into a room full of people and began staring down Brazilian Fernando Rodrigues JR (190 cm, 107.9 kg), a shove and a kick between the two heavyweights saw the situation close to spiraling out of control. Luckily one man was on hand to try and deescalate the rising tension at the weigh-in: EuroFC CEO Jarno Kukila.

“It was an experience I cannot say I’m never going to forget because everything happened so quickly,” Kukila recalls with a laugh. “When it happened I just jumped in.”

Thanks to Kukila’s quick thinking, the two heavyweight MMA fighters would go on to later face each other inside a cage as planned at the first European Fighting Challenge, held on 1 October at the Metro Areena in Espoo, Finland.

And this was just one of many showdowns. There were eight more fights booked for the EuroFC 01, with four Finnish MMA fighters involved, including local veteran Tom Niinimäki making a successful comeback in the headline fight of the evening.

A Finnish idea but a European brand

An experienced sports marketer with a past in the Finnish Olympic Committee and with Adidas, Kukila jumped at the chance to create the first all-European MMA promotion.

Our mission is to grow the market and make this sport more easily approachable to all.

“We did quite a bit of research last year regarding the European market and found out that the European market is very fragmented when it comes to MMA promotions,” Kukila explains.

The problem, Kukila says, is that many European countries have their own local promotions but the continent lacks a primary promoter that represents European MMA as a whole.

“If you like to put it into the perspective of bigger sports, it’s kind of like the Champions League is missing from Europe,” Kukila points out. “We’re talking about approximately a 200 million-US dollar opportunity in Europe.”

Join the new breed

MMA has burst into the mainstream in recent years, following the success of its most famous promotion, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

By building an incredible hype around its events, with the help of social media, traditional marketing channels and brash superstar fighters, the UFC has been able to attract tens of thousands of people to its events and millions more who watch them through pay-per-view channels worldwide. It was sold as the most expensive brand in sports history for four billion dollars last fall.

Now EuroFC is looking to do something similar in Europe.

“We call it the new breed or the new era,” Kukila says. “Our mission is to grow the market and make this sport more easily approachable to all. That means that we are eventually building an entertainment brand and not only an MMA organisation.”

“Our target is to be the European market leader,” he declares, without missing a beat.

Talent spotter

To ensure the top quality of each event, EuroFC has teamed up with Tim Leidecker, who’s been involved with MMA for the past 12 years, first as a journalist and then as a talent representative bringing European stars to the UFC.

Now the established German brings in top fighters to EuroFC, finds the rising stars and most importantly involves the local heroes in each host country to make the events as attractive as possible across Europe.

Looking ahead, EuroFC will organise five events around Europe next year, with 10 more planned for 2018.

“The story continues,” Kukila says. “It has only started and our next event will be in Prague in February and the third one which is announced too will be in May in Copenhagen. So yeah, we have only started.”

Text: Rasmus Hetemäki