by Felix Falcon
It’s funny how a couple of months can change your perspective. In April, I started writing a piece on the sad state of Pro MMA in our state. I was going to write on what were the barriers to entry for organizations to come in and put on Pro shows in a state that doesn’t really care much for sports outside of college athletics, NASCAR, and the love/hate of the closest Pro Football team we have, the Washington Redskins. I was going to highlight a lot of the issues that, for the last couple of years, have prevented a steady flow of Pro shows from developing.
It was going to be bleak.
With Strike Off 5 and the debut of Odyssey Fights on the horizon, I decided to delay finishing it. I’m glad I did.
In these last couple of months, information has trickled in that more and more Pro shows will be happening this year. As of right now, it looks like the Martinsville area will be host to EWC 7, which is set to be a Pro/Am show in early August. A new Winchester based promotion called Fire & Ice FC will be having a Pro/Am show in September. In October, Strike Off 6 will be the promotion’s biggest event to date at the Patriot Center (now EagleBank Arena) in Fairfax. In November, it looks like the Russian promotion DRAKA will be putting another Pro/Am card at the Richmond Coliseum.
Throw in a possible second Odyssey show in there somewhere, and it looks like we might end up with a total of eight local Pro shows for the year (not including a UFC event at the aforementioned Patriot Center back in April). Compare that to the five Pro cards we had in 2013 and the four Pro shows in 2014, and you can say things are looking up.
Obviously, quantity is by no means an indicator of quality, and the market will bear which of these promotions will continue to put on shows in the future, but at least there is an active attempt to grow the Pro market in the Commonwealth, which is a step in the right direction.
A couple of years back I heard an interview with Marc Cheatham, of the Richmond based music website The Cheats Movement, where he said that, when building a community, a lot of times "...we let the great get in the way of the good." That if we have a good foundation, we can always get better and grow towards the direction of greatness.
The debate on whether we have a good enough foundation here in the Virginia MMA community is up for discussion. I’m still not ready to say that the Pro market is clear of a lot of the barriers I was going to highlight in my previous grim article - things like securing enough capital to put on quality shows, finding quality fighters to match and promote, regulatory issues with the state commission, ticket quotas for fighters, and what I consider one of the biggest issues - the battle against over-saturation on two fronts - how to appeal to a broader audience, both those who have a knowledge of MMA but are content with their continuous access to high level UFC/Bellator events week in and week out on TV, and those who are not as knowledgeable but cannot differentiate between an amateur card and a professional one.
With time, I’m guessing these issues will get ironed out. What is most important is that our local Pro fighters get as much access to matches within the state, with matchmakers who know the ins and outs of the local market and can give these athletes matchups that are as fair as possible. One of the big issues for Pro fighters in the last couple of years, with a lack of consistent promotions putting on events in the state, is that they are forced to go elsewhere, a lot of times facing competition that is above their “pay grade” for a multitude of reasons. Those motivations can be financial, to stay active, or for legitimate steps up in their careers. In recent history, though, this has not proven to be a successful venture. In 2014, VA Pro fighters went 21-45, and by April of this year they were already 7-17 when fighting out-of-state.
Hopefully this surge of promotions trying to fill the void of VA Pro level cards along with a stable of seasoned Pro fighters and a promising “graduating class” of amateurs turned recent Pros will start turning this once stagnant foundation towards the direction of greatness.