by Ryan Bennett – MMAWeekly.com
Kurt Otto and Gareb Shamus are the co-founders of a new league called the International Fighting League. Their goal is to create a league of different fight teams, not to mention putting fighters on salary.
MMAWeekly.com caught up with Otto and Shamus and got their insight to the new IFL and what fans can expect with the newest MMA organization in the United States.
MMAWeekly: Gentlemen take me through your background. How did you get involved in this project and how did you get involved in MMA.
IFL: (Kurt Speaking): I’m 35 years old, I will be 36 very soon. I started training in Tae Kwon Doe in 1977 when I was 7. My middle brother, Keith, started training in 1986 and actually won the Gold Medal in the Goodwill games. It’s something we’ve always loved. From 5th grade to High school, I also wrestled. I’m currently training at Renzo Gracie’s in Jiu-Jitsu. It was natural to go into Jiu-Jitsu. I was just rolling around with Jens Pulver today and that was an amazing opportunity to roll with him. Georges St. Pierre has also been training there getting ready for his fight.
I have a love for the sport. My occupation and profession, I’m in the architecture real estate development business. We design homes and purchase properties. It’s a great business, but the problem is I can’t compete or seriously train if I have a black eye and my nose is on the side of my face. It frustrated me to a certain extent. I live vicariously through fighters which I pay for on pay per view and my cable bill is proof of that. My brother and I are huge MMA fans and we really appreciate the sport and really support the sport by buying the PPV’s and going to tons of live events and smaller shows. My brother and I were watching the smashing machine on HBO and I watched the documentary and it really hit home how these two champions (Mark Kerr and Mark Coleman) who were respected in the industry, and it’s amazing how that Kerr got hooked on pain killers because there was no foundation or health insurance or retirement plan for these guys. They basically kick them to the side and say next, that sadden me. I turned to my brother and said there is no foundation or support system for these guys. If you look at pro sports like the NFL, NBA, or baseball, they have a support system in place that supports the athlete themselves. So I said, MMA doesn’t have a league, let’s start one. So here we are. We talked with the legends of the sport, they were all very excited about it so we have moved forward with a new fighting league.
MMAWeekly.com: Tell me about the team concept?
IFL: We believe because of the individualism of the sport, if that man or woman gets hurt and blows their knee or shoulder out and they are done, if a popular individual is hurt then that individual franchise is done. A team situation though with the five weight classes. Lightweight, Welterweight, Middleweight, Light Heavy and Heavyweight… those five weights will always be on that team. If we took a legend in the business and made him the coach, you would have five individual fighters competing under that legends system. There is all kinds of great camps that have their own specific style. Some have the ground Jiu-Jitsu style as their base while others preach other styles. So we thought it would be exciting to bring these camps together in a league and find out which style has the better style and who is more dominant.
MMAWeekly: The concept sounds great, but it also sounds very expensive. We’ve seen groups come and go. I remember the ICC was going to revolutionize the industry and went away after one or two shows. How do you make this concept work, with a salary and insurance structure for all of the fighters in your league?
IFL: I want you to understand one thing about the financial aspect as far as the fighters are concerned. If you look at the current opportunity for the fighters out there they are signing one, two or three fight deals with most organizations. Some give them say we will give you two or three, but lets see how you do the first one. So it forces these guys to have a full time occupation, whether they are a school teacher or police officer or whatever they are. It forces them to do full-time work first and do fighting part-time. We are not coming out of the gate saying these guys are going to make millions their first year, but what we are offering is a better opportunity for them financially to do this as a full-time profession under the MMA umbrella. If you look at what they are making now, they are making $2,000 and $2,000 (per fight) or 4 and 4 and you are only fighting once or twice a year, that doesn’t cut it financially. What we are offering them is a base salary situation, plus a bonus system which we’ve created in the IFL to make an income they are proud of and be a fighter full-time. They can get into a house or an apartment, get a car and live like a human being. We’ve thought long and hard about this and how much those particular fighters would be making and we found we are offering them a very fair opportunity out there.
Curt: I’m in the media business. We are always in a position where we are investing in very talented people to create products. This took advantage of what I’ve been doing the past 15 years which is reaching guys in the 18-34 demographic and really knowing what appeals to them and how it appeals to them and all the companies that want to reach this demographic. Whether its Movie studios, video game companies, TV network, toy companies, you name it. We’re constantly investing in new products whether new magazines, new events, trade stuff, publishing magazines all over the world. We have a lot of friends that all want a piece of this. We have an incredible investor group that will work with us, on top of us being investors in the business.
MMAWeekly: Tell me about the rules of the IFL?
IFL: We are going to have 8 to 10 teams the first full season. In the beginning we are going to start with four teams. Let fans see the format and the rules and the format of the show. I will give you an example. The four teams will compete against each other. It’s an elimination situation. Just to give a taste of what we are doing, then the full season starts. It will be in a ring, similar to Prides. It’s a very unique 5 ropes high, an oversized ring it’s going to be a very unique situation that happens in an arena that I can’t share with you right now, but it will be very exciting for the fans. There will be a lot of interaction in the arena. The first fight to happen in the second quarter this year.
MMAWeekly: So how are the rules different in the IFL compared to regular MMA organizations?
IFL: The rule changes are similar to the approved rules in MMA. We have eliminated elbows due to health issues. Due to cuts that happen by the elbow. Our fighters will be competing every six weeks, each team I should say will compete every six weeks once the full season starts, so you can see how many problems we would have with cuts due to elbows. We believe that there are plenty of times that fighters are hit with elbows that a fighter could continue, he’s fine, but they call the fight because of a cut because of the bleeding that occurs. We feel it’s a loss of income to a fighter and that affects the way a fighter makes a living. Number two it’s a safer environment with less cuts and head blows are unprotected compared to a glove. Gloves protect hands and their face where elbows do not. A blow to the face with a glove protects your hand compared to an open elbow. Number three, the sponsorship will be more attractive because of the rule change. I’ve been watching MMA for 10 years. There are times when guys are getting elbowed like crazy and it’s tough to watch and I’ve watched it since the beginning. Since we are taking this more mainstream and being affiliated with a major sports cable network and the sponsorship that is now behind this because we aren’t using elbows is very exciting for us.
MMAWeekly: So knees are illegal?
IFL: You can still knee. You call still elbow to the body, but not to the face or head. Soccer kicks are illegal. More similar to Pride rules without soccer kicks. The rounds will be 3×3 rounds, because we really want guys that are going to the ground to work. Our refs will be relentless to get them back on their feet if they aren’t going to work. It gives the stand up fighters a better shot as well.
MMAWeekly: Doesn’t it hurt the guy on the ground with just 3 minute rounds?
IFL: It really helps them get focused on what they are doing and forces them to get to work. We try to make it as fair as possible, but we believe that being that they are going to fight more often and train more often.