Grassroots mixed-martial-arts promoter New Breed Fighters will heat up the Superstar Theater again with back-to-back fight nights in Atlantic City.
New Jersey’s role in helping to grow mixed martial arts (MMA) into the spectator extravaganza it is today may exceed that of any other state. Likewise, a promotional company called New Breed Fighters (NBF) has been at the forefront of offering the athletes themselves a springboard from which to start, and a forum in which to work.
Under the direction of Scott Morgan, NBF has staged a series of events in Atlantic City with increasing popularity, including two full slates of bouts scheduled for Friday and Saturday, April 30-May 1, at Resorts Superstar Theater. Saturday’s 13-bout fight card will mark the 30th event put on by NBF since it came to Atlantic City in May 2007. All of the fighters involved are of amateur status, and many will be making their debut in the ring of combat.
“We first did fights at House of Blues, then for about the past two years we’ve held them at Resorts,” says Morgan, NBF’s president and CEO. “It’s a tough racket and was a bit of a struggle at first, but we’ve added an element of professionalism and entertainment value to the product that we deliver. I have done professional events successfully, but the majority of my shows are for amateur athletes. It’s a developmental program that we’re a part of. My concept is to put young, rising athletes into a professional environment that puts professional demands on them.”
Friday night’s main event will pit Mike “The Inferno” Andrillo against Dan “Bear” Hughes for the NBF junior heavyweight (210-pound limit) title. Andrillo is 4-1 as an amateur, Hughes is 3-2. Saturday has two main events. Unbeaten Jordan Stiner (3-0) will face Tom Philippi (4-2) for the NBF super welterweight (154-pound limit) belt, and Kyle Rigby (4-3) will take on unbeaten Brandon Van Cleeve (3-0) for the light heavyweight title (175 pounds).
“We’ve been averaging about eight [events] a year, and we’re fortunate to have increased our casual fan base,” adds Morgan. “Our fighters’ friends and family constitute the majority of our fan base, but we have seen, especially since we moved to Resorts, that the demographic is increasing and the casual fan base — which is what I call the groups or individuals who are not directly affiliated with a fighter or a team that’s participating — has grown steadily.”
Watch: “Vicious MMA Knockout” at Resorts New Breed fight in 2009:
Since the crux of its fan base has fighter affiliation, you might find pre-teens to octogenarians at an average NBF event. The bulk of the casual fan base, however, is made up mostly of young males and, according to Morgan, young females who view such events as good opportunities to meet them.
“It’s a younger crowd than we’re used to getting [at Resorts], and it has been growing,” says Steve Callender, Resorts senior vice president of operations. “It’s a great demographic for us and the shows are very entertaining. It started out almost exclusively as family and friends, but now that a lot of people have gotten to see it they’re coming back and making sure that they’re on hand when we have another show.”
The spectator experience is enhanced by the historical components of the Superstar Theater, says Callender.
“Since it’s an old-style theater, the fighters actually walk through the crowd coming down the steps to the stage area where the ring is set up, and it’s a great opportunity for the customers to see the fighters up close and personal,” he says. “There’s a great sense of arrival for the fighters as they’re coming into the room. What we do is stage the pre-fight across the hall in our ballroom, and when it’s their turn to fight they’re escorted by security with their groups through the back door with their music blasting, and they come through the crowd to ringside. You feel like a big-time fight when that’s happening.”
And unlike some boxing cards, where there is often a long delay between bouts, NBF events see one bout starting as soon as five minutes after another ends.
“There’s nonstop action and lots of energy,” says Callender. “And even if a bout is kind of dull, you’re not going to be waiting long for the next one to start. [Morgan’s] real consistent and puts on a well-run show.”
Generally MMA bouts are scheduled for three rounds each at five minutes per round, with a one-minute rest period in between. Early stoppages can occur by knockout, technical knockout or submission, and judges award points based on knockdowns, takedowns, head shots, body shots, controlling an opponent and other criteria. MMA rules underwent sweeping changes after an effort spearheaded by Sen. John McCain in the late 1990s outlawed the sport for a time.
“Our current deputy attorney general [and the legal counsel for the New Jersey Athletic Control Board], Nick Lembo, wrote the rules that we see today, and not only for the events that you see in our state but those around the country,” says Morgan. “So our state has kind of been a pioneer state with the sport, and Nick has been one of the forerunners in the unifications of rules. Many other states have adopted the rules he put into place, and I know I speak for many other promoters in the field when I say that it would be for the betterment of the sport if the rules were unified like every other sport in the world.”
Only a small percentage of NBF athletes turn professional, says Morgan, but one who did is Phil Davis, a former NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion and four-time All-American out of Penn State. Davis competes in the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) and is currently 4-0 as a pro. He had his first amateur bout with NBF.
“I’m about promoting the sport and giving people an opportunity,” says Morgan. “I really love the sport, and I really love the fact that I’m giving these kids — and I shouldn’t say kids because I’ve had them from 17 up to 47 — but I’m giving them good preparation for the future, whether it’s in mixed martial arts or whatever. The discipline involved here helps them in other walks of life. They don’t just show up and fight, there are doctor’s exams, blood tests, waivers to fill out — and the state has to approve all of this. I’ll be honest, many of these fighters do not come from the highest of educated backgrounds and we’re putting them in a demanding situation, and if they don’t follow the rules and regulations and follow the strict deadlines — of which there are many — they don’t get to fight.
“Only about two percent of our fighters go on to become pros,” he adds. “For the rest of them this is like the Super Bowl, and we recognize this and want to do everything to make it feel special for them. We think we’re helping to mold men. We happen to take it very serious and think that that’s what helps to make our shows so good.”
The three-day Sweat AC festival will focus on all facets of fitness including nutrition, exercise and general well being with top trainers, coaches and athletes like N.J. native and UFC fighter Frankie Edgar.
“There’s a lot of sports fans and fight fans in Atlantic City, which is awesome for me,” Gray Maynard tells Atlantic City Weekly. “We’re pumped to be here.”
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