Kate Del Castillo is jumping into the mixed martial arts ring — although she won’t be literally throwing punches.
The Mexican actress acquired an equity stake in Combate Americas, an MMA sports entertainment company targeting Hispanic audiences, as part of a $20 million Series B round of funding. The round brings the company to $38 million raised to date and was led by Combate Americas chairman Joe Plumeri, former CEO of Citibank North America. Other investors were Irving Place Capital co-managing partner John Howard and Cliff Sobel, and managing partner and co-founder of Valor Capital Group and former U.S. ambassador to Brazil.
The size of Del Castillo’s investment wasn’t disclosed but the company says she’s now a “significant shareholder” of Combate Americas.
Del Castillo, a longtime boxing fan, said she isn’t drawn by the violence and blood-sport action of MMA but rather sees Combate Americas as an empowering force and source of pride among Hispanic communities. She wants to raise the profile of the sport and advocate equality for MMA’s female athletes.
“I want to make a difference with the Latino community, especially Latino women,” del Castillo told Variety. And, she added, “I’m a businesswoman.”
She recently attended a Combate Americas event in L.A. and was struck by the excitement of the young crowd, which included families. “Sometimes you get [investment] offers but they just don’t fit with me,” del Castillo said. “I wouldn’t be able to support something I don’t believe in.”
Del Castillo will chair a new advisory board for Combate Americas focused on women in the sport. “I’m a fighter too. I will be fighting for them in every sense I can — to fight for all the lady fighters, and also the men, for this sport to become even bigger,” she said.
Her first major appearance for Combate Americas will be April 26, at the “Reinas del Combate” (“Queens of Combat”) event at L.A.’s Galen Center on Univision — the first time an all-women’s main card MMA fight will air live on broadcast television.
Del Castillo stars in Telemundo drama “La Reina del Sur,” with Season 2 slated to premiere April 22. Past credits include Netflix’s “Ingobernable” and “The Book of Life.” She’s currently filming “Bad Boys for Life,” Sony Pictures’ third installment in the movie franchise starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence.
In 2015, del Castillo generated controversy when she arranged a meeting between Sean Penn and Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. In her subsequent Netflix documentary series “The Day I Met El Chapo,” she presented her account of events and suggested Penn alerted U.S. authorities to El Chapo’s whereabouts, which Penn denied. At the TCA press tour in January, del Castillo said she had no regrets about the incident, even though it cost her acting jobs and prevented her from returning to Mexico for about three years out of fear of being arrested.
Combate Americas CEO Campbell McLaren is hopeful del Castillo will bring cachet to MMA and broaden its appeal among Hispanic audiences, adding that nearly half of the franchise’s fanbase is female.
“Obviously she’s famous — she’s a celebrity,” he said. “She’s beautiful, she’s talented.”
McLaren, who helped create and launch the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), sees a tremendous growth curve for MMA focused on promoting the world’s best Hispanic fighters. Combate Americas expanded its events from 10 last year to 22 in 2019; it launched in Mexico two years ago and is set to expand to South America and Spain later this year.
“You see its potential to be a $1 billion company,” McLaren said. “No one else is looking to serve this audience in the U.S., Mexico and Spain.” Combate Americas doesn’t sell pay-per-view access to its fights but McLaren said it’s mulling a move into PPV.
UFC’s move to ESPN and ESPN+ starting in 2019 was a huge validation for MMA overall, McLaren said. “The jump here in our business is that Disney, through ESPN, came into MMA and has made it a mainstream sport,” he said.
The Series B funding gives Combate Americas a $90 million valuation, according to McLaren. The company projects upwards of $20 million in revenue this year from media rights, tickets, and sponsorships with marketers including AT&T’s Cricket Wireless and Monster Energy.
Combate Americas isn’t profitable or cash-flow positive but McLaren anticipates getting out of the red in 2020. The company currently has about 40 employees, and last year hired Jackie Hernandez, former Telemundo CMO and COO, as president.
Del Castillo was represented in the deal with Combate Americas by Walter Mosley of Mosley & Associates, and Combate Americas was represented by attorneys Andrew Nightingale and Krista Whitaker of Proskauer Rose LLP.
Combate Americas, which produces all its broadcasts in-house, is available on Univision and Univision Deportes Network (UDN); DAZN, the subscription-streaming company led by former ESPN boss John Skipper; ESPN; Spain’s GOL; and on Facebook Watch worldwide (where it live-streams preliminary bouts). The company also owns and operates multiplatform media studio La Jaula Studios.