They’ve not been around as long as Big Wheels, but the Fighter’s Only MMA Awards are a big deal.
The ceremony put on by the global company that produces magazines in the U.S., U.K., South Africa, Germany and Canada in addition to a worldwide publication, is the only annual event that acknowledges the milestones and achievements of mixed martial arts. Organized by Fighter’s Only, the function is ready to delve into its fourth consecutive year of celebrations on Wednesday at the Pearl Theatre inside the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.
Two new categories – Comeback of the Year and MMA Personality of the Year – were added this year.
Celebrities from outside the MMA world are brought in to attract non-MMA viewers. As opposed to last year, Wednesday’s show will be broadcast on Fox instead of an internet stream, which is sure to bring more spectators.
Among the awards is a Lifetime Achievement award, something Randy Couture acquired last year while co-hosting the program with CBS Sports journalist and former MMA Live (ESPN) personality Molly Qerim. Couture was humorous, professional and well-received in the role.
This year Fighter’s Only went a different direction with Qerim’s partner, the imitable Chael Sonnen.
“I think Chael will be brilliant,” Fighter’s Only CEO Rob Hewitt told MMADieHards.com. “I think he has the look, the confidence and the personality to go in there and do a great job. He’s entertaining and he’s a well-known name in the sport. People want to hear what Chael has to say and I think the fans at the show and at home watching will enjoy what Chael brings to the ceremony. He’s co-hosting with Molly Qerim, who is a lovely woman, very beautiful and a great journalist herself. I think the two of them will give the fans a great show. I’m looking forward to it.”
Loved or hated, Sonnen attracts fans, the same fans that Hewitt allows to decide the winners. The nominees are pared down by an industry ensemble.
“We have six international magazines and the editor from each magazine gets together with a panel of experts outside of the magazine, which is Mauro Ranallo, Randy Couture and Bas Rutten, and they gather the nominees,” Hewitt explained. “As the chairman, I sit down to see who were the top five people from the expert panel, rather than the fans, and then the fans choose who is going to win. I don’t know what might happen if the fans chose the nominees and I can’t say what is going to happen in the future, but we don’t expect any changes and we like the fact that fans can get involved and have their say.
“At the end of the day, it’s the fans that make the sport, isn’t it?”
As fans want to have their say in who wins, they also want to be a part of something monumental.
It’s gratifying to vote for a winner at the MMA Awards, but it’s a greater feeling to witness the homage Fighter’s Only pays to the fallen soldiers of the sport. The organization has named the Fighter of the Year award after TapouT founder Charles “Mask” Lewis, lost in a fatal car accident in 2009, and set aside time at each ceremony to remember the unfortunate moments MMA has endured in the previous 12 months.
This year the MMA community stunningly lost top trainer Shawn Tompkins, among others. Tompkins’ passing rocked the MMA world as all felt the significant loss not only “The Coach,” but also an endeared friend.
“We will be paying respect to Shawn Tompkins,” Hewitt admitted. “It was a tragic loss to our sport and we represent the sport as a whole. Throughout the awards show ceremony we celebrate all the successes, but we also mourn our losses. We will be giving a tribute to Shawn and others in the sport we lost this year, as well.”
Hewitt and staff have to compose the categories, nominees, fluency of the program, and the immeasurable strategizing that goes into putting forth a show with all the intricacies of the Fighter’s Only MMA Awards.
An annual production is more than enough for the CEO. This yearly event is a year-round process.
“I’ve actually said to Dana White in the past that I don’t know how the UFC does as many shows as they do a year because we do one show a year and it stresses me out, quite frankly,” Hewitt admitted. “We’ll be planning for what we’re going to do bigger, we’ll be planning for TV, we’ll be planning on the venue. Thankfully, this year we’re at the Palms again. After last year’s show they immediately scheduled us for this year. They said they want us back next year and let’s make this a partnership, so we’re elated to be back at the Palms. The TV negotiations will start and everything else that goes into making this work.
“Even though it is just one event, the plans for it for it run the duration of the year. We’re looking forward to next year already just because this year has been so exciting.”
As exciting as the first four years have been, what will Fighter’s Only have planned for the next five years?
“I’ve said this from the start and I see the awards becoming the Oscars of our sport,” Hewitt explained. “The Heisman trophy is how I see it, the MTV awards is how I see it, or whatever the highest award might be for that particular thing. Whether it be music, whether it be film, whether it be dance, whatever it is, that’s what I think the MMA Awards will be to the fighters, recognizing them as the best for whatever award they win in mixed martial arts. We want people who want to win and try to win or get nominated.
“We want everybody to recognize that this is a big deal.”
(Tickets for the World MMA Awards 2011 are priced at $59, $79 and $99, plus additional fees and are on sale now. Tickets can be purchased at the Pearl Box Office, by calling 702-944-3200 or at any Ticketmaster location. Doors for the event on Nov. 30, 2011, are at 6 p.m. and show time is 7:30 p.m.)