Calvin Ayre and Tara LaRosa
Photo: Alanah McGinley, MMA on Tap
BodogFight owner Calvin Ayre is a friendly, easy-going guy to hang out with. He can talk a little trash and crack a few jokes, doing a little business on the side and shaking some hands… all while making a half dozen of people around him feel like he’s genuinely enjoying their company. Charm is a necessary talent in showbiz and Ayre has got it in spades.
However, that’s show business and in this writer’s experience, ‘charm’ is a rare quality on the business side of sports. But then Calvin Ayre is a rare sort of businessman, and one who’s come a long way from his start in Saskatchewan, Canada
“Oh, my. A long, long way!” laughs Ayre, who currently makes his home in Antigua. Though with some 10 months of the year living in hotels, “home” is a bit of a foreign concept to him these days. But that’s the lifestyle he enjoys – just don’t try and tell him that he’s doing the ‘Hollywood thing.’ The guy is charming, but he’ll still (very politely) smack you down for it.
“We’re anti-Hollywood. I don’t think we’re Hollywood at all. We’re not stuffy. Hollywood’s all about pretenses and shit. This is a kind of blue collar thing… let’s call it Blue Collar Hollywood. It’s an “everyman’s” kind of Hollywood.”
That’s BodogFight in a nutshell – Blue Collar Hollywood – and its founder is certainly doing what he enjoys.
Photo: Alanah McGinley, MMA on Tap
“What I do is typically stuff that I like, what’s fun for me,” says Ayre. “I’ve been a fan [of MMA] for a long time and the opportunity came a couple years ago to get involved so I jumped at it.
“I have to say, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. This isn’t our biggest channel right now, but it’s definitely one of the ones that I like the most personally.”
Asked if getting into the fight scene presented particular challenges, perhaps even more cut-throat than his other business interests, he didn’t seem to think so.
“You know, all businesses are like that, right?” he said. “I don’t notice any differences between here and there. In fact, in many ways this business is less cut-throat and has more ‘open-space’ I think. I mean, there’s a big world out there.”
That world got a little smaller recently, when UFC absorbed Pride. Ayre sees that as a positive for BodogFight. “Anytime organizations merge together it’s actually good for us because fighters don’t have an interest in having any one organization controlling the whole space.” In essence, with less competition for fighter contracts, Ayre feel it gives BodogFight the potential to nab a bigger piece of the pie. And while that’s resulted in some beneficial signings (Trevor Prangley, Nick Thompson, and speculation about Fedor Emelianenko joining the fold) Ayre is adamant that his intention has always been to build his brand from within, not by high profile signings.
“We’ve done a little bit of cherry picking of guys with names, but we’re trying to grow our own group of fighters as well. I think that’s the main future for us.”
Ayre clearly enjoys his fighters. Attending the latest taping of BodogFight Season 6 in North Vancouver, Ayre sat in the crowd, standing and cheering as loud as the rest of them. Even taking time out to give interviews throughout the two day event, he was hard pressed to ignore the action in the ring.
I asked if he could imagine doing anything else with his life and he considered the question for a moment before giving up.
“I don’t know. I mean, I never thought about it. This really is my life. [BodogFight] is not only an important part of the business but it’s also something like a hobby for me. I really have a lot of fun.”
And so is everyone else at Bodog, from the looks of it. A slick set run in a smooth operation handled by dozens of competent professionals that bustle past us. And, yeah, a whole lot of beautiful women. Looking at the evidence around me, I asked Ayre if image and sex appeal were almost as important to his product as the fights themselves.
“Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “Well, it’s just the whole Bodog way of doing things. We wrap everything in style - that’s part of what we do. We wouldn’t think of doing it any other way. We’re in the entertainment business, right? So, the fights are entertaining, but we want to combine that with other forms of entertainment, to make the combined product even more entertaining.”
But it starts with fighting and Ayre is no stranger to bloodsport himself.
“I haven’t trained [in martial arts] professionally, but I played hockey and I used to fight in hockey. It’s the Canadian tradition, so I’ve definitely always been around fighting.”
“But we throw a little bit a fluff in [BodogFight] because we know that that’s what the market wants, too.”
Fighting is the sport but showbiz is the game, and Calvin Ayre has erected his own Blue Collar Hollywood to enjoy it.
And the self-described “bad boy billionaire” appears to be having the time of his life.