The first elimination style mixed martial arts tournament is being held since 1994, when Royce Gracie submitted Ron Van Clief, Keith Hackney, and Dan Severn over the course of a couple of hours at UFC 4. This October, the same format returns as BattleGrounds MMA Series plans to hold a one-night, eight-man event in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The winner will win $50,000 after having fought three bouts.
The event is being promoted by Olympic wrestling gold medalist Kenny Monday (an Olympic gold medalist and three-time All-American wrestler from Oklahoma State University) and his partner Bryan O'Rourke. Despite the fact that it’s been twenty years since we have seen this style of mixed martial arts in the United States—and the potential for a single athlete to fight for a whopping 45 minutes in one night—the Oklahoma State Athletic Commission has agreed to regulate the event.
We reached out to Kenny and his partner Bryan O'Rourke to find out if their plan is to create a new standard for the way the sport is played, or if it’s just a novelty act. They insisted that all of the fighters (many of whom have wrestling backgrounds) are ready for it, but we’re still not sure it’s the best idea.
Fightland: Fighting in this format can be dangerous, but the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) doesn’t seem opposed to it.
Bryan O’Rourke: The Oklahoma commission’s officials have all been around for a long time. They understand the sport. Without saying anything too negative, there are some other commissions that are a complete fucking joke... to be blunt about it.
Remember, it wasn’t long ago that boxing had 45-minute championship fights. But that’s not how we got it passed by the commission. It has to be done well. If everything goes off without a hitch, and we are confident it will, the ABC probably will adopt our model. If we show them [we can do it safely, we hope that] they will officially support us instead of supporting us behind-closed-doors. Same thing goes for the Association of Ringside Physicians.
Kenny Monday wrestling for Oklahoma State University, circa 1980
Would you be excited to see other tournaments being held throughout the country?
Bryan: If it gets adopted in every state we would be ecstatic about it because it would show that we were right, got a good crew together, and were successful with the format.
Kenny: Now-a-days in mixed martial arts, we have more professional athletes—more skilled, more trained. They are showing up to the fights in shape, now. I think we see better athletes getting involved in [modern] MMA. Overall the sport has evolved. As a team we have done our due diligence as far as looking for the smarter athletes to compete [in our event].
Bryan: Look at the level of the guys we are using. These are all guys who have fought in big shows, with the exception of Chris Honeycutt. But, he was the 2012 Division 1 national wrestling champion runner up. He’s been competing since he was 5 years old in wrestling. All of the fighters involved are superior athletes.
With all that being said, if state athletic commissions suddenly decide that tournaments are safe and legal, than athletes of all levels will have access to it.
Bryan: You bring up a good point. It’s not going to be for every promotion. Lets face it. This isn’t a format for part time fighters, this is for full time fighters that train 24/7—guys that are in the gym, putting in the time, and not working a 9-to-5 shift before getting in the ring to compete.
The barriers for entry for this type of event are very high. Because of the safety standards that we have set, the medicals are very expensive. Most promotions won’t be able to afford it. You are not going to have a local or regional promotion that’s going to put on a show like this because the expenses involved are so outrageous.
Think about it, most amateur fighters don’t have insurance and they don’t have the cash for a CAT scan. And that’s only one of the requirements for our event.
Our goal is to set the standard—to do an incredible show—and for people to talk about it for years to come.
Sounds like a lot of pressure.
Kenny Monday: We love pressure. What really drives us is the fan base. Everyone is excited.
We are a tournament type country. You got the NBA playoff, the basketball Final 4, and the Football playoff system. People like to see that. They like to see who is going to persevere and get through it. You can’t choose your next opponent, you never know.
Fighters will have to have a game plan—a good strategy in the early rounds. That’s going to be interesting to see. Will they pace themselves or will they try to finish each fight as fast as they can? How they game plan for these fights is the most interesting part.
Bryan: We don’t have an agenda. We want the best fighter that night to win. Matchups won’t be made until after weigh-ins are complete. There will be a lottery draw [to decide the brackets]. No one will know who they are fighting, and there’s no way to load up the bracket. This way, as promoters, we can’t create a favorable matchup for a guy we think we can put more marketing behind. The best fighter will win.
It’s disappointing and frustrating to look at the rankings in MMA. Why is this guy in the top 10, and this guy is number 19? What’s the best word for it… it’s just kind of skewed. The sport is not wide open for the best guy to win.
The UFC has created the model on the international scale. We will never be able to compete with their roster. But, we have a unique product, and that’s what differentiates us.
Whether or not it’s safe or can be applied into the amateur levels has yet to be decided. It’s not just an issue for the UFC to tackle, it’s for all promotions across the country.
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