Not every mixed martial arts promotion has a major television deal like the UFC or Bellator. So, when a regional promotion decides to put on professional fights, it's a gamble because of the extra overhead—not just paying the pros, but also the extra expense to meet regulations and insurance standards.
So, by bringing a pro-am MMA card to the Chattanooga area, 3FC promoters Gene Click and Tim Loy definitely rolled the dice. Their gamble paid off, as more than 2,000 fans packed Camp Jordan Arena in East Ridge to attend 3FC 12: Evolution, last Saturday night.
“Everyone told us, it's a walk-up town, you never know what you're going to get,” Click said after the card of 15 MMA fights and two kickboxing matches concluded. “We think we're going to bomb and it's going to be the staff and fighters here, and 2,000 people show up. We're learning the learning curve of putting on a show in Chattanooga.”
The results in the bouts at the top of the card definitely sent the Chattanooga fans home happy. Jesse Grun and Ian Stephens logged pro wins in front of their hometown crowd.
In the main event, the middleweight Grun made a successful pro debut with a second-round knockout of his opponent, Doug Usher. The two first-time pros spent the majority of the fight standing and trading strikes. Usher got the better of it in round one, landing more blows and bloodying Grun's nose, but Grun dropped Usher in the second round then pounced with more punches on his downed opponent until the fight was stopped by the referee.
It was a big win for Grun, who went 11-3 as an amateur and considers himself an independent fighter—or, one who doesn't train full-time with any one gym or team.
“You can have a set gym you're out of, but when you come from such a small area, you've got to work together,” Grun said. “I've had more help than I could even list. I couldn't do it alone.”
Stephens improved to 4-0 as a professional, submitting Ronnie “Bam Bam Rogers” to a guillotine choke late in the second round. It marked the first fight in about 18 months for Stephens, who is still in school at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Ky. Stephens also competes on their wrestling team, and made it to the NAIA nationals this past year. Stephens still has two years' eligibility left at Lindsey Wilson, but this upcoming academic year will be his last on the wrestling team. He isn't allowed to do any MMA training during the wrestling season, one big reason behind his 18-month hiatus from the cage.
“I have to reset every single year. Drop MMA, get into wrestling, then come back and work to where I was,” Stephens said. “I just need to train year round. I can't do that having to live in Kentucky. After this year I'm going to go back home and train there.”
Chet Blalock, Stephens' coach at Blalock's IMB, thinks the sky is the limit for his pupil. Indeed, Stephens dominated the entire fight, showcasing his wrestling ability as he went for a variety of submissions on the ground and also executed a couple of nice throws on his smaller opponent before putting him away with less than a minute to go in round two.
“You saw some highlight-reel stuff,” Blalock said. “It was a beautiful fight. We fought our game plan.”
Nicky Peppers isn't technically from Chattanooga—living and working just over the state line in Chickamauga, Ga.—but he had a huge following in attendance at Camp Jordan Arena. The middle-school football coach and former competitive power lifter received a huge ovation when he was announced before his fight, and an even bigger ovation when he defeated his opponent Dustin Dyer by TKO in just over a minute.
After the fight, Peppers made his way through the crowd for handshakes, hugs and photo ops for 20 or 30 minutes like some visiting politician.
“A lot of my football players were here. It's great to see,” Peppers said. “When people come out to cheer for you? It's a great thing.”
On the amateur side of the card, the 3FC crowned its first flyweight (125 pound) champion, when Cayton Grogan defeated Travis Ford via submission in the first round. Nathan Gaylord won No. 1 contender to the light heavyweight state title with a unanimous decision win over Bryan Lewis that was voted fight of the night by the ringside judges. That championship is currently held by Eryk Anders, a former linebacker at the University of Alabama who played on the 2009 BCS champion team.
The 3FC, which stands for Fit Factory Fighting Championships, comes back to the Chattanooga area on Saturday, Nov. 10. That card already has a few of the marquee bouts announced. In addition to Gaylord challenging Anders for the state title, Ty Bramlett out of Cleveland, Tenn., will make his pro debut against Josh Jarvis.
“There's been past promotions here and we had to come in here to try and reinvigorate the fans in this area. Reinvigorate the teams. The bottom line is, we came in and felt like we did that,” Click said.
“I think it's awesome because it gives some of our young athletes a place they can showcase at home” Blalock said. “It's always better when you've got your family and your friends surrounding it.”
You can check out a round-by-round recap of 3FC 12 here.
John Moorehouse is the owner/editor of MMA-Insider.com, which covers MMA in East Tennessee. Check out MMA-Insider throughout the week for audio interviews with many of the fighters who won their bouts at 3FC 12, as well as 24/7 coverage of mixed martial arts.