I spent roughly an hour with the co-founder and co-owner of Oktagon MMA, Ondřej Novotný. And I have to say that it has been a while since I have met a person as passionately in love with what they do for a living. A person that sets goals of the highest order and has no doubt that they can reach them.
What big events do you have coming up?
I could answer that in several ways. The biggest task is our expansion abroad. Turning into what we may already be but at a much larger scale. And becoming truly the biggest European organization. I hope this won’t come across as presumptuous, but I dare say that we are currently the only organization that is successfully established in three different countries.
Which countries are that?
Czechia, Germany, and Slovakia. Nobody else in Europe can sell out arenas there like we do – and I am not sure if the UFC could manage that either. That is a global aim. Diving a bit deeper and talking about specific events, it would be great if we managed to sell out the Brno September event, it is our first 10-thousand-seat arena in the city. The same in Frankfurt in October where we booked the Festhalle for the second time, which is the oldest, most legendary event arena in Germany. We were the first to organize an MMA tournament there this June, we were the first to sell out a 10-thousand-seat arena in Germany with an MMA event. And we want to do the same a second time.
I also heard some rumors about the UK…
Yes, we have similar plans for the UK, Ireland, and perhaps even Scotland. We are working on this project with John Kavanagh, manager and coach of the legendary Conor McGregor. He came to one of our events in Ostrava once and asked, “Hey, how many people are you expecting? About two thousand, I’d guess?” And I went, “Two thousand, thereabouts,” because I realized how much of a slam dunk he just served me. That he had no idea where he was because in Ostrava especially, there is an absolutely amazing, insane audience. Well, after the event, which had a showing of 12 thousand people, he came to see me and said that he only experienced this kind of thing twice – once with McGregor in Las Vegas and now here. He was excited and said that we created something incredible and that he wanted to be a part of it. We definitely want to do Spain in the future as well and probably also France, Belgium, The Netherlands, and the Nordics. There is a lot of untapped potential there, I feel. They are warriors, Vikings, and it’s in their blood.
The American UFC had a big showing in the United Arab Emirates last year. Have you considered that region?
We have, very much so. I feel that a natural partnership for us would be one with Qatar, which is a country that does incredible things in terms of sports. Not just football, which is a big topic right now because of the upcoming World Cup in November. They organize superbike and Formula 1 races, they even built a night-time heated racetrack worth billions. We could be the MMA equivalent of Formula 1 for them which they could have around twice a year. They’ll have a great time, people will flock to the event from all over the world, Europe will be watching, and tons of tourists will come to see it. We will bring them more than just the fight, there will be stories, emotions, and an amazing show to boot. Qatar wants to show Europe what it is capable of, and of course, wants to bring the hottest items back home. And we are the very best that Europe has to offer. We have established ourselves as the top German organization. And when you become the best at something in Germany, it puts you on the map worldwide. People from show business have started taking an interest, the daily Bild is interested in partnering with us. That is also why we believe that expanding to other European countries and exporting the Oktagon from Europe to Qatar and other countries around the world could really garner some interest.
So you would be exporting a turnkey event?
We are capable of doing that, certainly. Speaking with a bit of hyperbole – there are no limits as far as I can see. We can put on much nicer tournaments than organizations from the US can at a much lower cost. In terms of the visuals and the story, making the fights that much more interesting.
What is it that separates you from the others?
Paľo (Editor’s note: Pavol Neruda, Oktagon MMA co-founder) and I are not former fighters unlike almost every other organization in the world. We are more like artists. Paľo is a photographer by nature, while I have TV and movies in my blood. I see everything through the lens of a camera, as a story...
So you know how to do everything else that is needed besides just putting two people in an arena...
Exactly. The fight itself is just the cherry on top. We will deliver everything underneath the cherry and you will fall in love with it… Some may enjoy the cherry on top while others see it as superfluous because, I will admit, the fights get bloody and might be a little too much for some when experiencing them for the first time. But because they enjoyed everything that came before, they will try the cherry as well. We give the event that something extra, the story, the show, the spectacle, to make people bite and ultimately have a good time. My colleague and I do the matchmaking together, and we know the stories of each fighter as well as the European mentality while the Americans do not and they feel that they can make up for that with heaps of money. Sometimes they manage to, sometimes they don’t, but they never quite achieve the level of love, the level of “togetherness” that we have. Everything we do speaks to the people, starting with our motto – that we are all fighters. No matter where you are from, it will resonate with you because we all fight our own battles. Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom, a construction worker, or a CEO, everyone is fighting something and wants to win that fight. And two guys going head-to-head in an arena is the very essence of this fight. People project their dreams and their sorrows onto these fighters. This is how we win their hearts. I know I might sound like a broken record, but we don’t do just the fights themselves, we do the lighting, the fireworks, the show, and primarily the stories, emotions, elation, and tears. That is what makes us different, unique.
I can see you are brimming with emotion but you like to play, too...
I do like to play, and I am a man built for adventure. I need those emotions. I see another parallel here with Qatar – they are also very playful when you break it down. They spend a lot of money they wouldn’t normally have to, and they do it in order to be better, on another level, to be inventive and innovative, to do things better than anybody else before them. And that is exactly the thing I enjoy and that resonates with me. I’m like a child that got all the toys he could ever wish for, still likes playing with them, and is constantly looking for more. I enjoy coming up with new ideas, pushing things to the next level. I hate hearing that something is impossible. Making the impossible possible is what drives me. Proving that a kid from a tiny village close to Ostrava can entertain the whole world with his ideas and keep innovating, that’s it for me.
Ondřej is not only the co-owner of Oktagon and a promoter, but also an excellent announcer, which he has shown in various TV shows and the arena alike.
Ondřej Novotný (born June 14, 1977, in Ostrava) is the co-owner and co-founder of Oktagon MMA, promoter, and commentator.
He graduated from a hotel school and later the Faculty of Physical Education and Sport at Charles University. He worked many different jobs in a variety of areas. He was, for instance, a chef, bartender, restaurant proprietor, financial manager, insurance company executive, commentator and lead editor at Eurosport, he worked in TV NOVA and O2 TV Sport, and hosted the reality show Survivor.
He has a daughter, Trinity (22), from his first relationship with professional volleyball player, Lucie Švarcová. He has been married to Czech Miss 2006 pageant winner, Renata Langmannová, for seven years now and they have a daughter, Meda (2).
Besides Oktagon, he enjoys sports and traveling in general. He is a lover of good food and adventure, and even has a pilot's license.
It is clear that Ondřej truly loves his Oktagon. Has it ever crossed his mind that he might give it up? "I cannot see that happening," he says. "I do not care about the money. I care about doing the impossible. I really cannot imagine losing interest in the Oktagon we have built. Paľo and I once had a discussion about how much money would be enough to make us sell. If somebody gave each of us a billion crowns, whether that would be enough. And I can tell you that it was a resounding no. This is our baby, we are its parents, and we feel that it is by no means ready to leave the nest. And I don’t think it ever will be... [laughs]"