by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
This past week, it became official that the state of Colorado banned the practice of amateur MMA fighting. Needless to say, it was quite a blow in a state where the fight game is so prevalent and some of the best amateur MMA events take place.
Among those chiming in on the decision is Chael Sonnen, UFC contract fighter and promoter of the Full Contact Fighting Federation, the Northwest’s most recognized all-amateur promotion.
“I was really disappointed to hear that happened in Colorado, for the sake of the sport,” said Sonnen to MMAWeekly. “I’m not an expert on what was going on in Colorado and what motivated the commission to come up with the administrative rule to abolish it, but it’s disappointing for the fans, the promoters who go through all the work of putting those shows together, and the sport in general.”
According to Chael, the decision is not only detrimental to the immediate amateur community, but it could also have even larger implications.
“If somebody comes out and becomes the first to sanction an event, like Nevada did, then other states like New Jersey, Oregon, and Colorado fallow,” explained Sonnen. “Well, possibly the same thing happens negatively. Now that Colorado has banned armatures, who is going to see that and follow suit and ban amateurs? So, yeah, it sends up a red flag and it concerns me, certainly.”
When it comes to the fighters, Chael is concerned that with the absence of amateur bouts for fighters who are new to the sport or cannot commit to full-time professional careers, those fighters could be placed in a harmful situation.
“I worry about those athletes out there that are trying to get their foot in the door,” commented Sonnen. “The politics behind amateurs is this: We scale down the rules, lessen the time limits, eliminate elbows on the ground, so the new guys [getting] into the sport and the guys who don’t have time to be full-time fighters can get some experience, learn, and eventually work their way up to pros.”
Chael continued, “If you come into a state that doesn’t allow amateurs, what you essentially do is force them to debut pro. So now under the banning guise, you’re forcing these guys to get a few hundred-dollars paycheck and fight under pro rules, pro time limits, against a guy that could be 15-1 and they could get seriously hurt. It’s terrible. The commission steps in and they don’t know what they’re doing [sometimes].”
The amateur ranks have becoming increasingly important in MMA. Long gone are the days that most fighters debut as a pro. Sonnen himself fought in the amateurs before turning pro, and as he mentioned, so have many other familiar names to MMA fans.
“Amateur shows are extremely important for the growth of the sport, but more important to the growth of the athlete,” said Chael. “You have to come up through the amateurs. Look at boxing, for example. There’s no pro boxer that doesn’t come up through the amateurs. It’s unheard of.”
Sonnen added, “Just here in the Northwest, there’s a lot of fighters that have come out of the amateurs. Myself and Trevor Prangley, Chris Leben, Ed Herman, Matt Horwich, Kaycey Uscola, Ryan Schultz, Ian Loveland, Josh Haynes, Devin Cole, the Healy brothers [Ryan and Pat].”
As for Chael’s FCFF promotion, the company just hosted yet another sellout show at Portland’s Roseland Ballroom for their successful “Rumble on the Roseland” series.
“The growth of the FCFF has been great,” said Sonnen of his promotion’s success. “We’re very excited about it. We get hounded and requested regularly to go to a venue that seats more people, but we’re pretty locked into the place we’ve been at. It’s got a great atmosphere and tradition. We’ve been around for years. We started the sport in Oregon, so the growth is great. Selling out shows is great, not only from a business standpoint but also just for the athletes so they can really feel the crowd.”
Chael further commented, “Talent-wise, it’s unbelievable how far things have come. We can have guys come in that have never won a FCFF Championship and maybe have one or two losses go on to major MMA events as a pro. For fans, it’s great because they, like I as a fan, are always wondering who is the next Chris Leben, Ed Herman, or Josh Haynes to come through here.”
In regards to Colorado amateur fighters who are looking to continue that path of their career before turning pro, Sonnen is very welcoming of the idea of those fighters coming to the FCFF, as he said, “Absolutely. For all those Colorado fighters who want to continue their amateur development, the FCFF is always open to fighters from that area.”
The conversation concluded with Chael briefly touching on his own fighting career and where it is headed, following his loss to Jeremy Horn at UFC 60.
“I’m still under contract with the UFC,” said Sonnen. “I came up short in my last outing with Horn, but I’m excited and looking forward to my future with the company, and I’m looking forward to fighting again soon.”
Sonnen concluded, “I’m not changing my goals a bit. My goal is to be World Champion. My goal is to beat up Rich Franklin, and as soon as they stop feeding him ex-pro wrestlers and Tae Kwan Do-practicing Canadians, that’s exactly what I’ll do.”