From the May 2009 issue of Entrepreneur

Editor's Note: The View From Inside the Ring

I'll be the first to admit it: I had reservations about running a story on the apparel businesses orbiting the controversial sport of mixed martial arts. I mean, MMA fights take place in a cage, with barely gloved hands, bare feet and very few rules. It's blood sport, right?

The answer to that question depends on who you ask. But here's what's certain: The $1 billion industry is impossible to ignore. MMA bouts are in heavy rotation on cable and pay-per-view. Clothing from the likes of Affliction and competitor TapouT hang from the bodies of millions of 18- to 34-year-old males. So we kicked the idea around and decided that anything so controversial--and so profitable--is worthy of our cover.

We were right. As Dennis Romero's story (" A Roundhouse Kick in the Pants,") explains, MMA is about more than just money and blood (although flying fists add to its sex appeal). It's about a subculture of enthusiasts and the lengths they'll go to (read: the prices they'll pay) to show their support for a bunch of roughnecks whose purpose in life is to flirt with death. MMA is one of those passion-to-the-pocketbook business stories that shapes enthusiast business models.

As more and more companies try to ride the MMA wave, Affliction continues to expand its clothing line--and reputation--beyond the ring into higher-end evening wear. Co-founder Eric Foss even has his sights on the women's market.

As part of that vision, the company is in the process of opening a new, expansive facility, which has its own fighting ring and cage, in Seal Beach, Calif. We decided to check it out and showed up en masse--with notebooks, photographers and videographers--not knowing what to expect. Would the owners, employees and fighters who hang out there be able to speak? Would they kick our teeth in?

The answer is yes and no. We came out unharmed--and dare I say, enlightened? These are passionate, intelligent and ambitious businessmen whose story reaches far beyond the ring and the cage. They have more than $100 million in annual sales to prove it.

And while MMA and its fighters have a reputation for brutality, they're a lot more human than they seem. Truth is, most of the fighters worry that their parents will find out what they do for a living. They may not be tough all the time, but most people seem to be buyin' it.

Check out the story and send us your feedback. And for a peek behind the scenes of this cover shoot, check out our video.

Amy C. Cosper,
Editor-in-Chief