Military experience drives Vancouver MMA startup

Vancouver entrepreneur Eric LaBrant

“That gives a good enough show in length and talent to keep people interested,” said Watson.

But Watson didn’t build the company with an audience in mind.

“There’s really not a platform for local pros without many fights under their belt,” he explained. “That’s what I set out to build.”

By being the middle man between strictly amateur fights and the nationwide professional fighting scene, Watson helps the best local fighters get ready to turn pro by building their fight record along with their fan base.BS3

Prime Fighting’s Facebook page states its dual purpose as providing a place for fighters and fans to enjoy MMA competition, while creating a promotion company that cares for amateur and professional athletes in our community, paving the way for national and international careers.

MMA Fighter Justin Milani, from Pendleton, Oregon, fought in Prime Fighting’s second event and will compete again this March.

“It was awesome,” he said. “It’s great to go to a fight and be appreciated and treated well and get to put on a show.”

But starting a niche business doesn’t come without challenges, and Watson said his military service works as a double-edged sword.

“Working a normal day job and being a soldier gets tough,” said Watson, who works as a cyber security analyst for Portland General Electric and the Washington National Guard. “Last year, I was deployed for three months overseas. Everything comes to a halt when that happens.”

Thanks to social media like Facebook and Twitter, Prime Fighting LLC continues to recruit new fans despite unexpected pauses in business-as-usual. Watson also advertises through Clear Channel, Z100 and good old fashion posters. With local sponsorship by Viqan and co-sponsorship by Hooters, Watson can afford to keep pushing as the company gets off the ground.

“Joe’s already got one of the top shows in the Northwest to go to,” said Milani. “The venue is excellent. The sponsors are amazing. The atmosphere is great and the people, all the way down to the people who help setup the cage, they’re all great people.”

Watson rents out half the Clark County Events Center and hires local help to setup the cage he purchased for fighters to compete in. The event center sets up VIP tables, chairs and bleachers, ready to pack in the 1,000-1,200 people estimated to attend this March’s fight.

Watson caters to a particular demographic: 18 to 50-year-old men. However, he’s been surprised by the high number of female fans and said his shows have drawn more women then he’s seen at a majority of MMA shows.

“I’d really like to keep the momentum of growing our fan base,” said Watson. “With the goal of taking the show to other cities – first throughout Washington and Oregon, then California – creating a bigger Northwest fan base. That’s the short-term vision.” 

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