The North East publishing company behind the first-ever mixed martial arts magazine is going global with the help of a seven-figure investment from a London-based investment group.

Fighters Only, part of the i2Media Group of companies, launched its first self-titled publication in 2005, and has since expanded on the back of the explosion in the sport’s popularity to publish bespoke magazines in locations including the US, the Middle East, Ireland, Canada, South Africa and Germany.

i2Media Group is now planning to use the investment from Carlton James’ Diversified Alpha Fund to establish new international distribution agreements with key partners in developing markets where the MMA and fitness industries are beginning to boom, including China, India, Eastern Europe and Australia, as well as expanding its overall digital presence.

Six new jobs have so far been created by the business’s expansion plans, with more expected to follow.

Rob Hewitt, Founder and Group Chief Executive at i2Media Group, says: “Having trained in mixed martial arts from its earliest days as a sport in the UK, I had an inside view of how the MMA and fitness industries were evolving and started the business to capitalise on the phenomenal levels of interest and exposure that they now attract.

“Fighting and fitness have always gone hand in hand, so expanding our content and service delivery to help those wishing to live longer, healthier lives was a natural development.

“We are very much focussed on providing high quality and authoritative content around correct exercise, nutrition and personal well-being information to our communities and audiences which will keep our readers informed and motivated, and will help them live longer, healthier lives.”

Originally founded in Gateshead, the company also now has offices in the United States and moved into the health and fitness arena with the launch of TRAIN Magazine in 2011, followed by TRAIN For Her two years later.

The business established unique distribution agreements by delivering magazines to the customers of the world’s largest ecommerce platforms, including bodybuilding.com, the world’s largest online fitness community.

Over the years, i2Media Group has also developed iPad and Kindle versions of its magazines, digital applications and successful ranges of branded clothing, leisurewear and technical equipment.

Their print, digital and social content is now read by millions of combat sports fans and health and fitness fanatics every month.

Rob Hewitt is also responsible for establishing the Fighters Only World MMA Awards, an annual event held in Las Vegas which has established itself as the ‘Oscars’ of the sport.

Televised live on US TV networks including ESPN, CBS and NBC and watched by over 11 million people, the show is attended by the stars of the MMA industry as well as celebrity fans. Now into its 12th year, the 2019 event was hosted by action movie star and lifelong martial artist Dolph Lundgren.

Simon Johnson of Loggia Capital Partners acted as investment lead manager on behalf of the Carlton James DAF Fund, and has known Rob Hewitt and his group of companies from its very early days.

Gosforth-based RMT Accountants & Business Advisors worked with the i2Media management team to carry out the due diligence and business planning work required to secure the investment.

Rob Hewitt continues: “With global enthusiasm for mixed martial arts and health and wellness building quickly in the new global markets that we’re targeting, we are only going to become more resonant with the huge target audiences therein.

“As pioneers in MMA promotion, we are building our awards show to create greater global awareness of the accomplishments of everyone involved via increased broadcast reach in domestic and international markets.

“We will now continue to innovate in the way we publish and distribute our content across diverse forms of media platforms in order to build the most loyal communities of people based on authority and trust.

“We looked at a number of different investment options, but the enthusiasm shown by the Carlton James Group for what we offer, the positive relationship we have with the proactive team and their willingness to show such faith in a North East business like ours made them the right choice.

“Carlton James has access to global services and markets complimentary to our own, with particular focus on the United States and Middle East, and we have already established two very strategic partnerships in these territories with their support.

“Despite our increasingly-global outlook, we’re committed to our regional roots and so chose to access the local knowledge and expertise of the RMT team to help bring this investment in.”

Simon Johnson of Loggia Capital Partners says: “i2Media Group has made use of various regional funding programmes over the years and has established itself as a worthy investee capable of delivering good quality returns for its investors. On this occasion the business required financial assistance for the next phase in its continuing growth aspirations which were unable to be met by local funding or mainstream bank lending.

“Rob is very familiar with using investment capital to facilitate the growth and evolution of his businesses, and has built a fantastic platform from which to execute the next stages of his expansion plans.”

Michael Cantwell, Head of Corporate Finance at RMT Accountants, adds: “i2Media is a North East business that is punching well above its weight on the international stage and now has the resources it needs in place to achieve even more.

“Being able to attract this investment into the North East shows the strength of its proposition and we’re very pleased to be have been able to support Rob and his team in taking the next steps on their exciting journey.”