Sunday, July 19, 2009
A little background: New York State banned professional MMA in 1997. However, when approached, the New York State Athletic Commission's official opinion on such fights was "as long as it's not the UFC, we don't care. Do what you want." This led to a pair of tournaments at Borough of Manhattan Community College, organized by kung fu legend David Ross, where competitors wore pads and headgear. It also led to promoter Lou Neglia judiciously placing MMA bouts on some of his kickboxing cards (bouts labeled as "exhibition grappling"). These were USKBA sanctioned, took place at Vengeance at the Vanderbilt and at a one-off event in New York City called "Battle on Broadway", and curiously, when the athletic commission reversed its position, a law banning alcohol at shows with MMA bouts was used to push Neglia's non-kickboxing endeavors out of state (which, more than anything, speaks of the amateur MMA loophole in the law). And so, the timeline:
- International Fight Night - promoted by Gene Fabrikant in the heart of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, this 2001 series of events had fighters like Christian Montes, Nardu Debra, Vlad Koulikov and Brazilian Rodolfo Amaro taking on Russian fighters in a nightclub before an audience of Russian high-rollers. Montes described it as the most surreal of experiences, as he'd hop on the subway, change at a waiters' station and then fight, and it was like he was in Moscow. Allegedly, Amaro was offered money by the promoter to take a dive against his crowd-favored foe; he refused, and won by armbar. Fabrikant's unsanctioned New York efforts bit the dust when he tried to run a pro eight-man kickboxing tournament in 2002 and city agencies lined up to shut it down.
- Vengeance at the Vanderbilt - Neglia's seminal MMA event, which ran from 1998 to 2002, saw Matt and Nick Serra submit fools left and right, Phil Baroni pound on opponents, and fighters like Joe Scarola, Rodrigo Gracie, Jon Weidler, Pete Sell and Jose Rodriguez rack up wins. This was also where future MMA fighters like Luke Cummo and Elvis Garcia would polish their kickboxing skills in Muay Thai bouts. Note: the name "Vengeance at the Vanderbilt" came from the name of the venue, a Long Island nightclub called the Vanderbilt.
- Battle on Broadway - Neglia's New York City show in 2002. At the lone Battle on Broadway event, which took place in the ballroom of a hotel in Times Square, Nardu Debra submitted Brad Daddis.
- Underground Combat League - Peter Storm's long-running vale tudo underground show began in 2003, the result of a political climate that had the athletic commission actively trying to shut unsanctioned events down. The UCL still holds events to this day, has garnered the attention of the New York Times, Newsday, the Daily News, the New York Post, Fox 5 News, film producers and documentarians, and has seen the likes of UFC lightweight contender Frankie Edgar, IFL heavyweight Bryan Vetell, and fighters like Andrew Montanez, Kareem Ellington, Jay Coleman and Rob Guarino compete in its ring.
- Aggressive Shoot Championship - an event orchestrated by Jerry Mendez in 2005, this one was a pretty successful outing that followed shootfighting rules (no closed-fist strikes to the face, no strikes to the face on the ground, one rope-escape allowed). Carmine Zocchi, Tom Velasquez and JA Dudley were among the winning competitors who later went on to fight pro.
- Empire State Warrior Challenge - an upstate New York event that's been holding events since 2007, the Empire State Warrior Challenge is where schools with legitimate MMA programs go to prey upon traditional martial arts schools who are curious about this whole MMA thing. And I mean that in a good way. The amateur rules and medical precautions have done well in ensuring no one has gotten hurt.
- Clash in the Cage - a Long Island-based monthly smoker, this one is more hush-hush than most and doesn't like the attention, so all I'll say about it is that it's a good place for aspiring grapplers, kickboxing and MMAers to get their feet wet in a cage.
- Martial Arts Madness - a Brooklyn-based promotion, this bad boy had a lot of bells and whistles attached to their event a few weeks ago (a staff, concessions, ring card girls, etc.). Competitors wear pads and headgear, and seem more like the YouTube generation in the ring, but given time some real gems might emerge.
I've left out an Eastern Long Island show that held a couple events last year before folding (its name escapes me, but when I spoke to the promoter he seemed like a well-intentioned guy). I've also left out the events organized by Michael Tome, aka "Snake", on an Indian reservation in upstate New York; the athletic commission has no sway over what happens on reservations.