Many new companies are reluctant to expand too quickly for fear of overstretching themselves or for taking their eye off the immediate prize. But Bahrain-based Brave CF (Brave Combat Federation) has lived up to its bold name from inception, hosting mixed martial events events outside of the Kingdom – across four continents no less – in its first year of operation. The move appears to have paid off, with Brave increasing its fan base and enhancing its reputation across the globe in the process. It is now one of the world’s fastest growing MMA promotions but its goal is even loftier.
Mohammed Shahid, President of Brave CF, is one of the men at the centre of this evolution. In his younger days, the 30-year-old became the first professional mixed martial artist to compete out of Bahrain, holding a 4-2-0 record, before retiring in 2016.
Now his passion is focused solely on contributing to sport outside of the cage after he founded Brave CF alongside His Highness Sheikh Khaled bin Hamad Al Khalifa in September 2016.
Less than three years on, the company, based out of Seef in Bahrain, has staged 24 events in 16 countries worldwide, an impressive feat considering the short time it has been in existence.
Financial gain may not yet be reverberating through MMA, but Shahid insists Brave is already turning a profit and believes that in the future there will be room for more organisations to monetise, not just the likes of the UFC and Asia’s One Championship.
“The sport that we love is one of the fastest-growing in the world and also has one special quality: the gift of globalisation,” Shahid told Sport Industry Insider. “MMA globalised faster and greater than any sport before, including football.
“But the UFC took 11 years to make a profit, and then 25 years to be worth 4 billion dollars. The MMA industry is an industry without major cash flow and it can be a struggle to make money. Most MMA promotions have no money, managers have no money, athletes have no money. It is all done for the love of MMA.”
With Brave hosting three years of the MMA Amateur World Championships (2017, 2018 and 2019) and breaking the UFC Fight Week record with 600 plus athletes traveling to Bahrain earlier this year, the interest in the sport is certainly rising.
Brave has taken MMA to areas that other promoters have never managed to before and recently staged successful events in 12 countries across five continents in one calendar year, including fight cards in the UAE (Dubai), Northern Ireland, Brazil, Morocco and the Philippines.
The backbone of any MMA organisation is its fighters. While only in existence since 2016, Brave has been able to create a number of solid divisions and expose a wealth of talent across the world.
The organisation has champions in six weight divisions: bantamweight, featherweight, lightweight, super lightweight, welterweight and light heavyweight, with serious quality spread right through the classes.
With a stacked card for each event, surely other competitors like ONE Championship and UFC are taking notice of their incredible growth? Shahid says recognition has been slow in coming but his ambitions go beyond those organisations.
“It must be clear by now that we are not in the same league as the UFC or ONE. Their benchmark is the NBA or NFL. We are talking about creating a UEFA and FIFA; ten or twenty four-billion-dollar companies. That will produce Conor McGregors in every country and they will all make the same amount of money. Even if they don’t speak English. We need to make MMA truly global,” explains Shahid.
“We are the Apple of the MMA industry. We are bringing a system that the whole world of MMA will be able to enjoy. Today, we are the only truly global MMA promotion. It’s time for the fastest-growing sport, through the gift of globalisation, to get what it deserves. That vision is called Brave.”
Heading to London for the first time earlier this month, the Brave 24 event was designed to change the MMA perspective, with 300 plus VVIP guests attending.
It made headlines due to it being an exclusive, invite-only show where an audience of politicians, influencers and celebrities attended in the hope of elevating the status of MMA.
“We are changing MMA’s perspective by bringing government officials, the world’s top businessmen, and celebrities to the sport as we did at the London event,” says Shahid.
“We did what no other MMA promotion has the power or resource and reach to do. And we are happy to pull off that kind of event. This is to show MMA has as much power and sports value, if not more, than other sports. This is what Brave has been doing.”
The Brave 24 card in the English capital was one of a number of ways that the organisation is trying to gain new levels of credibility in the sport. But Shahid emphasises that to understand the true purpose of Brave, the company’s vision has to be understood.
“Brave is not a promotion, it’s a vision,” he explains. “Five years from today MMA will start a strong foundation that puts it in the same league as other sports and the industry will have cash flow. All promotions, managers, athletes and media platforms will be part of an ecosystem that enables everyone to make money and grow.”
With its fast growth and lucrative backing from Bahrain, sponsorship and revenue have been easier to achieve compared to the struggles that other MMA companies had to deal with in their first years of operation.
“We were in profit after our first year. The reason being we are able to deliver what MMA could never deliver, whether to a brand, host country or to an investor,” said Shahid.
“MMA was just an event and didn’t have the power and value of what sports can provide the brand or host nation. Brave identified and delivered these sports values, because Brave’s vision is to change MMA from an event business to a sports business.”
Brave continues to flourish around the Middle East with events taking place in Bahrain, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Jordan in the last nine months alone. Adding to this, another high-profile event is set to be staged in the UAE in October.
Abu Dhabi will play host to Brave’s third-ever event in the Emirates, four weeks after the eagerly-anticipated UFC 242 returns to the capital following a five-year absence.
Of course, there will be heavy interest in both events for MMA fans, but Shahid believes they will be unique and not actively compete against each other.
“Abu Dhabi will have a Brave event in October which will again be the biggest event that Abu Dhabi will have in MMA, based on the development of the sport and actual benefits being provided to the host city” said Shahid.
“We’ve always broken records. And this is not the first time UFC is in Abu Dhabi. But it was never able to deliver what people expect to get from a sport and no-one realised until it was too late; that they are not a sport, but they are in the event business, practicing a sport. That’s where MMA is in its infancy. We are taking mixed martial arts from the event business to the sports business.”
Shahid admits that currently MMA is just a small circle of promotions in the events business, fighting among each another to decide who has the better shows, something he feels that needs to change. Key to this is not only the businesses or the sponsors, it should be about the fighters themselves.
“His Highness Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa and his vision was solely to make it into a sport. And stop making this sport an event business. Let athletes from around the world be heroes, regardless of language, race or culture or marketability. Let them be judged on talent alone. Let the industry have class and bring the biggest players of sports to MMA and let’s make a global ecosystem from amateur to national, to regional and international,” said Shahid.
“No promotion or person or entity will ever be able to do that alone. Whoever understands the vision is always welcome and if they are the top giants of the sport it is only positive.”