by Rami Genauer for MMAWeekly.com
Eleven and a half years and two miles. The former is the amount of time since Sen. John McCain began a crusade against mixed martial arts, calling it human cockfighting and getting it banned from pay-per-view. The latter is the distance between McCain’s Senate office and the DC Armory, which will play host to the first ever MMA event in Washington, DC this Saturday night. No matter the distance or the time, MMA has certainly come a long way.
Saturday’s event is promoted by an organization called Mixed Martial Arts Championship (MMAC), which was the first, and so far only, promoter sanctioned by the DC Boxing Commission following their unanimous January decision to legalize MMA in the District.
Bringing the nation’s fastest-growing sport to the nation’s capital, however, was not a quick process. “I started the process last year,” says Omar Olumee, Director of Operations for MMAC. “MMA was growing all around and I was always going to Las Vegas and New Jersey for events. I thought to myself, I train in MMA, I have the connections, so I approached the DC Boxing Commission and said ‘What do you think?'”
Olumee worked with the commission, educating them about the sport and helping formulate the commission’s rules and regulations. After consulting with New Jersey State Athletic Commissioner Larry Hazzard and regulators from Nevada, the District adopted the Unified Rules.
While historically significant, Saturday’s card is admittedly light on star power. The main event features Pride veterans Nino Schembri and Amir Rahnavardi squaring off in one bout while Rage in the Cage mainstay and UFC veteran Homer Moore takes on Brazilian Top Team’s Fabiano Capoani.
“I wanted this first show to introduce DC to MMA,” Olumee says. “We have the hardcore fans who we know will support us, but there are a lot of people who have seen the UFC on Spike and are probably curious to see MMA in person. We may not have Chuck Liddell or Tito Ortiz, but I tried to get an international card and get people from good camps like Chute Box, Team Quest, and the Lion’s Den. We also have some local fighters, which is definitely something I want to tap into.”
The event will also play host to some fighters more recognizable to casual fans – Dan Severn, Kenny Florian, Vernon White, and Murilo Bustamante are all expected to attend.
Only time will tell whether DC will become a new hub for mixed martial arts in America. Washington does not have a history of supporting combat sports – boxing does not draw well in the town – yet wrestling shows routinely draw upwards of 13,000 fans at the Verizon Center.
The proximity of mixed martial arts to the Capitol might also prove troublesome, as politicians looking for an easy moral target could find plenty of support opposing MMA in their own backyards. For his part, Olumee is not worried. “The UFC has changed so much. MMA has changed. The [DC Boxing] Commission endorses us and there has been no backlash so far from any group.” And if that backlash should arise following Saturday’s show? Perhaps channeling Big John McCarthy or possibly President Bush himself, Olumee has a firm response: “If it comes, bring it on.”