Fightland Talks To: A Minor-League MMA Promoter

Fightland Blog

By Fightland Staff

Bergmeier (l) with World Extreme Cagefighting Veteran Joe Pearson 

Chad Bergmeier is an Iowa-based promoter for long-running MMA minor-league Extreme Challenge and his own Iowa Challenge. Since 1996, dozens of future UFC stars have fought in EXC's small midwestern shows, from Matt Hughes to Rich Franklin to Jon Fitch. We spoke with Bergmeier before Iowa Challenge #78, which is taking place this Saturday at the Shrine Temple in Sioux City.

Fightland: So why do you do this? Is it a money-making venture?
Chad Bergmeier: Well, when I first started promoting in 1997 I think I got roped into it by a boxing promoter. I had been training at his gym for quite some time. And, basically he asked me to help him with an “Ultimate Fighting Event” is what he called it. And this is November of 1997. He asked me to help him with a show, which is one of the first times it had been in our hometown. And I just figured he was going to ask me to be security or something along those lines, but it ended up being like, “I need you to take flyers and pass them out at the car dealership. I need you to go down to the meatpacking plant to pass out tickets as a way to get us some exposure.”

Before I knew it I was promoting. At the time I was only training to be a boxer. My goal was to be a professional boxer. So, that’s how I got into it. I worked a full-time job at that time. And I really liked it. We did a couple shows. All of our events at that time were two-day events. We would run tournaments.

The boxing promoter hated doing it. I really liked it, and he stepped away and I kept going for it. It was really fun. It gave me something to do aside from my regular job. It wasn’t at all profitable at that point. And finally in about 2001 I decided to start my own creation, which was Iowa Challenge, and really started turning it into more of a business.

In 2005, I actually started promoting full-time. I quit my other job and just started doing this. Now I promote close to 40 shows a year. So, I stay pretty active. In the course of 15 years, I would say I’ve done between 500 and 600 events. 

So tell me about these early events.
The first event I ever was a part of was called “Bare Knuckle Brawl.” It was a pro event, so it was regulated by the state of Iowa. The event took place in February of 1998. I remember there were very small gloves. And it was so strange because I remember having to take the gloves and every time you buy a pair of gloves at the local sports store you would have to cut out like a pin that was in the inside of these gloves. And those were the only gloves that you could find that we could use. And at that point guys wanted to use them because they didn’t want to hurt their hands even worse than they were.

The event took place in a bowling alley. 

Were the fights in a ring or a cage or something else?
It was in a cage. It was literally a chain-link fence. I do not remember it being rubber-coated or anything like we have now. It was a stage; it was a platform, and it took them about 10 hours to set up that cage. The bowling alley, basically what it was, you would walk in this venue and you’d walk into a little lobby area. To your right there would be bowling lanes, and to your left there would be a small room that would hold about 250 people. The bowling lanes they covered. I can still remember people sitting in the center area right near where the bowling lanes were. Where the person would be behind to work the bowling lanes, I can still remember people standing on those platforms so people could see the fights. 

It was two weight classes. So, basically it would be a four-man tournament at 200 pounds and over and a four-man tournament at 200 pounds and under. Back then the rounds were a one 10-minute round with a five-minute overtime. So if you went the distance it would come to a draw.

But you needed someone to win to go on in the tournament, so what would you do if it went past the overtime?
You would just hope that it didn’t. (Laughs). 

So these guys would fight twice on a Friday and then twice on a Saturday?
Yeah, exactly. You’d fight on Friday and then turn around and fight on Saturday if you won. 

I can still remember to this day how no one in the crowd had any idea what was going on during some of these fights. They did not even understand when someone won by an armbar. That’s one big thing that has changed, you know, the understanding of it. Also, back then you could hit them in the back of the head, you could knee in the face, you could kick them in the head while they were on the ground, that sort of thing. That and the weight discrepancies. In those days a guy could weigh 146 and be put up against a guy who weighed 199 and he just did it. Because that’s what it was about. It was really different back then.