First fight controversy hasn’t slowed down new MMA promotion

The set up for Steve (Assassin) Fader’s first foray into promoting the MMA sport he loved so much had a great start.

He sold just under 1,800 tickets out of the 1,895 person capacity, filling out two-thirds of the Telus Convention Center.

He brought in a few big names like renowned world-champion grappler Sheila Bird and Kim Couture, the former wife of MMA legend Randy Couture.

Fans seemed to enjoy the card Fader set up.

“One of the best compliments I heard was, ‘I felt like I was in Vegas,’ which means what we pulled of a great show,” said Philip Walsh, Fader’s business partner and friend of seven years.

However, the Bird-Couture matchup ended in controversy when the referee was slow to stop the match when Bird had Couture locked in a leg scissor choke — cutting off her opponent’s airway.

After an in-depth investigation, the Calgary Combative Sports Commission supported the call the referee made.

“We got a ton of exposure due to something that wasn’t necessarily the most positive that happened during the Sheila/Kim fight,” Fader said. “It was no fault of ours, it was no fault of the commission, it was no fault of the fighters and essentially, it was no fault of the referee’s.

“It’s tough to put the blame on the referee because it was a tough call to make.”Steve Fader stands with his custom designed truck.
Photo by: David Goldenstein

“It was more of a success than I imagined it would have been,” Fader said. “Every single person that I’ve spoken with that was at the show has had nothing but good things to say, so it was good.

“We put a ton of work into the show and it’s good to be able to get that type of positive feedback.”

Amongst the positive audience feedback was Tyler Spencer, a fan of the sport and an amateur MMA fighter. Having attended other MMA shows before, Spencer said nothing but positive things about AX Combat.

“I felt it was possibly one of the better pro/amateur cards that I’ve seen. It seemed like they spent a lot of money on the production value of everything, so it felt like you were actually watching something that wasn’t slapped together.”

The success of most sporting events can partially be attributed to the athletes involved and AX Combat 1: Execution had a solid line-up of fighters.

“That’s the key. Get good fighters and you get a good fight card and then the show itself is a success,” Walsh said.

Fader added, “I think there’s a really fine line as far as getting the local draw versus bringing in a name like Kim, just because you have to make sure that you keep the balance of your costing versus what you’re going to get in return on investment.”

Fader said it was good for the promotion to be able to get such fighters on the show.

“Sheila’s been a world champion grappler for the last however many years. I see her going to Strikeforce eventually and it’s good for us to be able to get onboard while she’s still up and coming.

“It’s lucky for us.”

Not his first rodeo

Fader first started training for mixed martial arts in 2001, having trained muay-thai exclusively four to five years prior.

“I’ve always been a fan of combat sports,” he said. “I trained basic martial arts when I was younger, so it was good to take the next step in the evolution of combat sports.”

Ten years later, Steve — now 32 — has a professional record of 2-1 as a mixed martial artist, is busy running the promotion as well as a his own clothing company dedicated to extreme sports.

Assassin Apparel is a clothing company Fader started in 2006. It was initially dedicated to fans of MMA. As the company progressed, he said the brand had become tailored for enthusiasts of extreme sports in general.

“As the clothing company has evolved over the last five years, we’ve kind of directed it towards extreme sports as a whole, not necessarily mixed martial arts,” he said.

“But the reason we started in that industry was because that’s where my knowledge base was — that’s where my industry contacts were, so it was easy for us to get the name out at local fight events.”

Looking to The Future

The promotion is back for a second go around, hoping to accommodate the growth of the sport in Calgary.

“I see the potential for Calgary to become more of a Montreal-type city when it comes to the talent base that is here, which is virtually untapped,” Fader said. “With only one other fight promotion that’s catering strictly to amateurs, there’s really no other competition.

“Calgary’s ripe for the picking.”

For the promotion’s second upcoming card — AX Combat 2: Havoc — everything learned from the first outing is being channelled towards making a better event.

One thing has been Fader discussing with the Calgary Combative Sports Commission about bringing in world-famous referee Mario Yamasaki from the Ultimate Fighting Championship for a seminar.

“That’s just to show our interest in furthering the education process as it pertains to the refereeing and judging, and that type of stuff,” Fader said. “We want to make sure that the city doesn’t see the sport as a negative just because something like that happened. “

Fader added getting television coverage for the next event would be helpful.

“TV coverage is something I’ve always known has had to be an integral part of a successful promotion,” he said.

“We need this not only because the fighters are going to make more money off of sponsorships, but we attract corporate sponsors that you wouldn’t otherwise without television coverage.

“You know, you’re looking at the effect that advertising’s got on the local fan base — if they see it on TV then automatically your credibility goes to a different level.”

Walsh agreed on needing television coverage for the promotion’s growth and reiterated the benefit that television coverage would have on the fighters.

“I think TV coverage ultimately launches you to the next level. It helps the fighters promote themselves better and allows them to get bigger sponsors which is what it’s all about really.

“We believe there’s a huge talent pool of MMA fighters in Calgary and we’re just going to showcase it. So getting the TV deal is key in showcasing it,” he said.

Walsh said details such as seating for the first event taught them a lot.

“I think we went through four or five different revisions of seating plans until we found one that ultimately did the venue quite well.”

Fader said he expects attendance at AX Combat’s second show to increase.

“I anticipate us selling the tickets a lot faster and it being a complete sell out this time.”

AX Combat 2: Havoc is scheduled for Nov. 11 at the Commonwealth Hall and Conference Centre.