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The Business of MMA – PRO MMA exclusive interview with ROUND 5 President Damon Lau

PRO MMA (promma.info) recently had the opportunity to speak with ROUND 5 co-founder and president Damon Lau. He talked to us about the popular line of mixed martial arts action figures his company produces.

From the original MMA referee “Big” John McCarthy to the number one ranked heavyweight fighter in the world Fedor Emelianenko to the face of women’s MMA Gina Carano, ROUND 5 has their hand on the pulse of professional mixed martial arts and they have created collectible life-like miniatures of the sport’s most popular personalities.

Lau talked to us about how they choose which fighters are deserving of their own action figure, what action figures are now available, and who will be coming out in their next series. Many people may assume ROUND 5 action figures are geared more toward kids, so you may be surprised when you learn the average buyer’s age. Lau also talked about UFC President Dana White and if there have been any difficulties in working with their fighters.

PRO MMA: How did you know it was the right time to come out with a line of MMA action fighters?
DAMON LAU: I think first off, the opportunity has come parallel to how the sport has grown. You can look at numbers and PPV buys and general interest when comparing UFC to WWE. As a business model they are parallel to a degree; they both have TV shows but also depend on PPV numbers as well. When you look at the merchandising element, MMA has passed pro wrestling in viewership, but the merchandise level is way below what WWE does. In MMA, the only thing developed to any degree has been T-shirts. Opportunities in the market presented themselves too as well, so the timing was right.

PRO MMA: How do you determine which fighters (or referees) are worthy of becoming a ROUND 5 action figure?
DAMON LAU: We get input from the public as well as our own experience and research as to who would be the most popular. We look at not just whether someone is a good fighter, but do they have appeal to a larger audience, or is their popularity on the upswing?

PRO MMA: How many total action figures are now available?
DAMON LAU: Series 1, released in April 2008, included fan favorites Randy Couture, Matt Hughes, Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Tito Ortiz. Series 2, released in November 2008, included Rich Franklin, Sean Sherk, Anderson Silva and Wanderlei Silva. Series 3, scheduled to be available early this month, features Andrei “The Pit Bull” Arlovski, “Big John” McCarthy, Frank Mir and Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira. Series 4, which is scheduled for release in late July/early August, features an expanded line of six figures. Women’s MMA pioneer Gina Carano, international superstar Fedor Emelianenko, and recent additions Dan Henderson, Cung Le, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Matt Serra are included in the Series. Canadian Jason MacDonald has signed on for a future Series issuance as well.

PRO MMA: What would you say is the average age of your buyer?
DAMON LAU: We cover the 18-35 range.

PRO MMA: Who are the non-fighter action figures available?
DAMON LAU: So far, Big John McCarthy is the first.

PRO MMA: Has Dana White been approached about becoming one of your figures?
DAMON LAU: No, but we would love to speak with him about it.

PRO MMA: What is Round 5’s relationship with Dana White and the UFC? Have you had to deal with any obstructions or hurdles with the UFC or Mr. White?
DAMON LAU: We don’t have a relationship with the UFC or any other organization. I have met Dana, I think he’s a good guy. I have always been a fan of their organization.

PRO MMA: What can we expect out of Round 5 in the future?
DAMON LAU: What we want to do is grow the category overall. We took something of a novelty interest in the sport of MMA, collectible figurines, and made it into a serious interest. As the sport has gained more fans, and as the years go on, with us launching more product, creating more variations and styles, the growth of the category speaks volumes to the growth of MMA. If we can keep making new products and continue to get customers involved in collection and product development, that will help the sport grow. If you look at the past five-to-seven years, you see different styles of T-shirts but it’s rare to see other kinds of MMA merchandise.

PRO MMA: Where can people purchase Round 5 action figures?
DAMON LAU: In addition to the Round 5 website, Round 5 collectible figures may be purchased at leading retailers such as Wal-Mart (Canada), Toys ‘R’ Us, FYE, Century Martial Arts, Sunrise Records, The Treadmill Factory and Hatashita International. Other retailers can be found at www.round5mma.com/wheretobuy.php.

By:  Jack Bratcher

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