'Combate Americas' tackles Latino audience

UFC 1 champion Royce Gracie is lending his MMA expertise to the "Combate Americas" contestants. Courtesy Combate Americas

More than 20 years after playing an integral role in the first UFC event, Campbell McLaren is back in the mixed martial arts business.

McLaren helped found the UFC in 1993, when he approved the pay-per-view concept as an executive producer at Semaphore Entertainment Group.

This month, McLaren debuted his newest project, “Combate Americas,” an MMA reality series aimed exclusively at the Hispanic audience. The show airs on Mun2, a bilingual station under the NBC Universal broadcast family.

“I’ve been trying to describe the feeling I’ve had during this process,” McClaren told ESPN.com. “I have kids and you watch them at Christmas and you see Christmas through their eyes and the holiday is a big deal again.

“This project has been a Christmas present to me because I’ve been able to see MMA in a whole new way again by introducing it to new fans.”

McLaren, along with Creative Arts Agency and Bunim/Murray Productions, creators of MTV’s “Real World,” filmed the new reality series late last year in Miami. Ten hour-long episodes were produced to run on Sunday nights.

The show features 10 fighters competing for a contract under "Combate Americas." The upstart promotion expects to host as many as three live events this year in Hispanic population-heavy markets such as Miami, Chicago and San Antonio.

Unlike the UFC’s reality series, “The Ultimate Fighter,” only the final two episodes of "Combate Americas" will feature actual fights. McLaren’s vision for the show relies heavily on storytelling.

“We wanted to build storylines of these guys and make you care about who is in the fight,” McLaren said.

The current season focuses solely on the welterweight and featherweight divisions. According to McLaren, approximately 600 fighters were evaluated and interviewed as potential cast members. Additional weight classes are expected in the future.

McLaren and his business partners view the Hispanic population in the United States as a virtually untapped marketplace in MMA, despite the presence of Mexican-American UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez.

The reality show was not designed with the intent to rival other MMA entities. On the contrary, McLaren said, other promotions could actually benefit from his effort to build Hispanic interest in the sport.

“I’m not saying we want to be training wheels for the UFC, but in some ways I think we’re providing this link that can introduce new fans and new fighters,” McLaren said.

“There are 55 million Hispanic-Americans, but not that many Hispanic fighters in the UFC, so something is up.”

The reality show partnered with several Hispanic celebrities, including Puerto Rican musician Daddy Yankee. Royce Gracie, champion of UFC 1, makes a guest appearance.

“I think we’re on to something that serves the fastest-growing demographic in the U.S.,” said Mike Afromowitz, COO of "Combate Americas." “All the evidence points to this making sense on a number of levels."