AOL acquires MMA Web site

Plans to merge site with related channel on FanHouse

AOL is diving deeper into the fast-growing world of mixed martial arts with the acquisition of the independent enthusiast site MMAFighting.com.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but AOL executives said the plan is to eventually merge MMAFighting.com, which launched in 2001, with the existing MMA channel within AOL's own sports site FanHouse. Both properties' staffs and resources will be combined, and AOL will then relaunch the site at some point in the next few months.

The new version of the site will emphasize covering major MMA events, while also offering interviews with top stars from the sports' various leagues. It will also serve as a fan community.

AOL's increased attention to the often violent sport -- which combines elements of boxing, wrestling and martial arts -- comes just as attention is peaking for MMA in the mainstream sports world. For example, Yahoo Sports in the past year has identified MMA as a potential source of traffic growth, and just in the past week ESPN.com devoted a heavy dosage of its prime home page real estate to the UFC 100 -- a major MMA event.

But Marty Moe, senior vp, AOL Money & Finance, News & Sports, sees an opening for AOL to establish leadership in a still-fragmented and emerging space. "We definitely view MMA as warranting much more than a channel on FanHouse," he said. "By combining these sites, we think we can have a commanding position. This is an under-covered space. We see a giant opportunity."

But what about potentially squeamish advertisers, who might be scared off by MMA's bloody reputation? Moe believes many will eventually get past that image, particularly those who need to reach young males.

"It's one of those things, like advertising on blogs used to be. It was kind of new and edgy. It's becoming a lot more mainstream now. Advertisers are going to follow where there demographics are online. It's not going to be for everybody, but for young males (it's very targeted). In many ways it's really how the Spike network built its audience."
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