Fernand Lopez: “The MMA Factory's savoir-faire has seen it produce champions like Ciryl Gane and Francis Ngannou"
An interview with Fernand Lopez, founder of the MMA Factory, manager of mixed martial arts champion Ciryl Gane and the co-founder and chairman of the ARES Fighting Championship.
Legal in France since the start of 2020, MMA, or mixed martial arts to give it its full name, has exploded in popularity in recent years, thanks in no small part to the success of champions trained by Fernand Lopez, such as Ciryl Gane and Francis Ngannou, the current UFC heavyweight champion of the world. A leading-light in French and African MMA, Fernand Lopez speaks to Leaders League about his professional and personal journey.
Leaders League: How did the son of two teachers who grew up in Lékié, Cameroon, become the king of French MMA?
Fernand Lopez: An entrepreneur is the last thing I thought I would be when I was growing up. Back then I would have considered it a flight of fancy! From my father’s point of view, being successful consisted of not taking risks, which precluded any sort of entrepreneurial activity.
It was my passion for sport, coupled with my own drive and ambition to make something of myself that led me to carve an entrepreneurial career out of sport, first in kick-boxing, then other forms of fighting, before deciding to set up my own gym.
As a father now myself, I want to show my own children the importance of taking risks in life, whether financial or otherwise. Spurred on by this desire, working alongside five friends of mine, I created the first-ever venue dedicated to mixed martial arts in France – the MMA Factory – with the aim of providing a one-stop-shop for all aspects of MMA, such as training, coaching and business etc.
Why has MMA become such a success do you think?
There are two main reasons for the success of MMA, from where I am standing. The first has to do with the nature of combat sports. Humans have always wanted, and will always want, to know who is the strongest, the alpha-male – it’s in our DNA.
The second reason has its origins in the practice of MMA itself, which mixes various martial arts, boxing, muay-thai and kick-boxing with wrestling and ju-jitsu, in order to get as close as possible to no-holds-barred combat as you can, while still having rules and a referee.
In concrete terms, MMA is such a fun sport because it is multi-facetted and unpredictable. Due to the wide variety of fighting techniques that can be used, it is very difficult to predict how a fight will play out. To overcome an opponent, a fighter must call upon all their physical, mental and strategic resources, and do so in real time in a confined space. Therefore, MMA also has significant intellectual appeal.
The MMA Factory has over 600 members, 18% of whom are women. In fact, we have a 100% level of re-enrollment
You wear many hats: educator, manager of top-level fighters, entrepreneur… how close is the Fernand Lopez galaxy to the center of the MMA Universe?
I have always wanted to work with the best, regardless of the domain of activity, as well as explore the avenues and opportunities that this now global sport offers. The MMA Factory has over 600 members, 18% of whom are women. In fact, we have a 100% level of re-enrollment.
In addition, the Fight Management College, endorsed by the minister for employment, is the only institute in the country to train MMA coaches which covers not only the combat and dietary aspects of the sport, but also the broader elements, such as management, publicity and financing etc, that are essential for sportsmen and women to have long, successful careers.
As the manager of several MMA champions, such as Ciryl Gane, it is up to me to take a holistic approach to fighters’ careers. That means taking care of everything from physical and mental preparation to negotiating fight contracts with MMA tournament organizers and image rights, as well as handling endorsements with companies from the private sector.
Lastly, as an entrepreneur I am in charge of developing the MMA Factory into an international brand, which I have already helped to do, notably by signing partnership with Adidas. My associate, Benjamin Sarfati, and I recently finalized the acquisition of the ARES Fighting Championship, the number one MMA organization in France and all of Africa, which I was instrumental in creating on behalf of Vivendi some years ago. We hope to be in a position to resume our MMA events in France at some stage during the last quarter of 2021.
What does the future hold for Fernand Lopez?
In the short term, my focus is on preparing Ciryl for his bout with the American Derrick Lewis on August 8th. The winner of this fight, in addition to being crowned UFC interim heavyweight champion of the world, will earn the right to go up against current titleholder, Francis Ngannou, for the chance to become UFC world champion. This is a big deal: when it comes to mixed martial arts, UFC is to MMA what the Champions League is to football.
This fight will be something of an MMA Factory reunion as it pits its current hope and ambassador, Ciryl Gane, with a champion who cut his teeth at our Paris gym. The fight at the Toyota Center in Houston will be a crowing moment for French MMA, regardless of the outcome.
Beyond purely sporting matters, I have turned my attention to exploring opportunities in the UAE, which is fast becoming a global hub of MMA. In addition, we are considering opening a new branch of the MMA Factory in the United States, the home of UFC and the country where most of its top fighters are based.
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