Jai Herbert
Jai Herbert at BAMMA 29. Photo Credit: KO Media.

Jai Herbert and Lewis Monarch were scheduled to fight on Friday, December 15 before a mixture of over-booking and time restrictions imposed by the Metro Radio Arena forced BAMMA management into the undesirable position of cancelling the contest.

The controversy surrounding BAMMA’s decision has highlighted an often neglected downside of promoting mixed martial arts in the United Kingdom.

Jai Herbert, 29, who handed in his notice at work in order to focus on his training, informed MMA Plus that the fight against Monarch was verbally agreed almost a month ago but he did not receive the bout agreement until Monday, October 9.

24 hours later, the contract was voided. But why?

“They’ve told my coach that they had to get rid of the lowest ticket selling fights,” Herbert told MMA Plus when recalling the events of his fight cancellation. “I was thinking, well isn’t Lewis Monarch from Sunderland? He’d have sold a lot of tickets.”

The Wolverhampton based fighter planned to sign the contract the next day with the guidance of Wolfpack MMA head coach John Ashley, but the bout was scrapped before they had the chance to do so.

It was the subsidiary justification based on Hebert’s inability to shift tickets which caused his partner Jaye Haynes to publicly criticise the promotion on Facebook, sparking furore in response.

Jai Herbert admits ticket-gate as the final straw in BAMMA dealings

Herbert and Ashley both detailed how this wasn’t the first time the promotion had curved the former Lonsdale title challenger. The West Midlander was slated to face Jay Dodds on BAMMA 31 in London last month, but the fight was cancelled just three weeks before to the event, whilst Herbert was already deep in preparation.

Coincidentally, Jai Herbert’s four-fight, 12-month contract with the promotion had just expired.

Now, with another opportunity squandered, Herbert calls time on his BAMMA experience.

“That’s it for me and BAMMA, they’ve pissed me about too much to be honest,” said lightweight prospect Herbert.

“They say about me promoting myself a bit more but my last fight against Rick Selvarajah, it finished with a knockout, it was a good fight but I’ve only seen the knockout because they couldn’t even be bothered to put my footage on YouTube. A bit more promotion? But they weren’t even helping me promote myself.”

In BAMMA’s defence, head coach Ashley confirmed to MMA Plus that they did offer to put them in contact with other promoters to get Herbert matched elsewhere, but with such ‘deflating’ circumstances, they opted against pursuing possible alternatives.

The events of the past week have created somewhat of a witch hunt against BAMMA, one which is potentially unfair in light of circumstances directly related to the venue.

This would likely have gone unchallenged until their capricious validation of ticket sales, which has since been shunned as if indecorous by a number of other fighters.

Jai Herbert questions the necessity of ticket sales against television revenue 

Fighters selling tickets has and will continue to be an integral part of the UK MMA scene. Without it, the majority of promotions would likely flounder in the absence of supplementary revenue sources.

Of course there are some who are business savvy, like BAMMA, who have leveraged mainstream broadcast deals alongside key sponsorships, but for the most part, the gate will always be the definitive source of revenue.

At their core, BAMMA is as much a television product as they are an MMA promotion. Their September 15 event in London, which featured Geordie Shore star Aaron Chalmers, drew an average of 242,000 viewers which is their highest to-date on UK TV channel Dave.

Consequently, the viewership driven decision to push Chalmers; who is only 2-0 as a pro in MMA, has incited dissension amongst BAMMA’s roster and one which even Herbert’s level-headed veteran coach cannot comprehend.

“I’m not naive, I can understand them wanting to sell tickets, but do you pull proper fighters off your show, you’ve got to have some integrity somewhere. I’ve got nothing against Aaron Chambers (sic), but does he have more rights than Jai being on a BAMMA show?”

The problem, as summarised by Herbert, is that for a promotion that pitches themselves as the biggest in Europe like BAMMA, the necessity of ticket sales should not be the overarching determiner when it comes to their preference of fighters.  

“I totally understand that people need to sell tickets, promotions need to sell tickets but when you’re a top, top show, really is it all just about tickets?” questioned Herbert. “When I was amateur in Wolverhampton I could sell 100 tickets, I could understand these amateur shows who’ve got no backing behind them or nothing.

“But when it’s big promotions like BAMMA, I don’t really see why they’re so driven by tickets when they’re making all this money of sponsorship and television. It should all be about the talent I think.”