The world of mixed martial arts will be taking over Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa this weekend as Cage Fury Fighting Championships presents the inaugural Next Generation all-amateur event on Friday, Jan. 8, followed on Saturday by the all-professional CFFC 55. The first bell on Friday is at 8 p.m., while the first bell Saturday is 6 p.m. with the main card beginning at 8 p.m. The main event at CFFC 55 is a featherweight title fight between reigning champion Jeff Lentz and challenger Bill Algeo.
“It’s really going to be an interesting matchup,” said CFFC CEO Robert Haydak. “Both guys are extremely talented all-around in their Jujitsu game and I kind of think that’s going to balance them out. I think it’s going to end up being a stand-up fight and you could flip a coin on that one. There really is no favorite in this fight. I expect this one to go all five rounds.”
Haydak, who is a former Division 1 collegiate wrestler, karate black belt and amateur kickboxer with a business background has owned CFFC for the past five years, after he took over the business from his former high school wrestling teammate, Felix Martinez. Hadak says that when it comes to CFFC and its fighters, he’s “not only a fan, but a fan with a business standpoint as well.” He is able to relate to what the fighters go through in terms of training, preparation, making weight and ultimately competing, having been a wrestler himself. That level of understanding helped lead to the new all amateur competition, which will act as a feeder for the professional events.
“We want to give (the amateur fighters) the professional experience. We’re going to have the same staff, same TV production and you’re not going to notice a difference between our amateur event and our pro event,” says Haydak. “We want to get these guys prepared, but also want to give an environment for them and their fans to really appreciate mixed martial arts.”
This weekend’s events wil also include the first ever women’s flyweight title fight between Kaitlyn Chookagian and Isabelly Varela. Haydak explained his philosophy behind being very selective with title bouts as well as the promise he sees in these two women fighters.
“I’m not a big believer in having a title fight just for the sake of having somebody hold the title. We want to make sure that if you win our title, you’re competing at the highest level and you’re ready to move on to the UFC. Kaitlyn has been with our organization for a while, she’s a very high level fighter and her opponent Isabelly Varela from Brazil is ranked in the top 15 in the world. So both are ranked in the top 15 and I couldn’t think of a better time to issue one of them the belt.”
“I’m pretty confident that this year the UFC is going to open up the 125 pound division,” Haydak continued, “And there’s no doubt that both of these girls will be getting the call from the UFC.”
Speaking of the UFC, Cage Fury understands the mixed martial arts behemoth’s importance to the sport as a whole and is able to maintain a healthy relationship with them. Some of the CFFC fighters who have gone on to compete in the UFC include Jim Miller, Dan Miller, Zack Makovsky, Nick Catone, Nah-Shon Burrell, John Howard, George Sullivan, Aljamain Sterling, Paul Felder and Levan Makashvili.
“We recognize our role,” Haydak explained. “The UFC is in a league of its own. They sign a lot of our fighters, but we have a policy at Cage Fury that we’ll release any fighter if they get the call from the UFC. It doesn’t matter if it’s the day before their fight. Every professional fighter strives to be in the UFC so we’re going to give them that opportunity any time it comes. We’re not going to hold them back.”
In addition to the two title fights, CFFC 55 also features a full fight card featuring an abundance of talent amongst the nine additional bouts. Haydak is particularly excited to see is the heavyweight matchup between Plinio Cruz and Joe Stripling.
“The fight I’m looking forward to is the heavyweight one. These guys just stand and throw bombs. They’re crowd-pleasers, they’re very exciting fighters and whoever wins that fight will be in line for a title shot.”
Although Cage Fury Fighting Championships has staged events in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia and other states, Atlantic City has really been its home base all along. The abundance of top-notch fighters in the region coupled with the city’s reputation as an entertainment destination has made it a perfect match. Looking towards the future, Haydak sees the organization maintaining its presence in the city while expanding into other regions.
“I see us doing shows throughout the country as our partnership with CBS Sports continues to grow. It’s presenting us with more opportunities around the country.”
Cage Fury Fighting Championships
When: 6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 8 and Saturday, Jan. 9.
Where: Event Center, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa
How much: $45, $55, $70, $75, $95, $175.