Story by Chris Graham
Chris Smith has been promoting boxing events for 12 years. But Smith has a feeling that’s getting stronger every day that his new sports promotion is going to eat away at his boxing business.
“I don’t know how long it will last – but so far, hey, it keeps blowing my mind, because it keeps growing. Every time we do an event, more people come out the next time we come back,” said Smith, the president of the Charleston, W.Va.,-based ACR Promotions, which is promoting a series of Ruckus in the Cage mixed-martial arts events in Virginia that will begin this weekend in Augusta County at Augusta Expoland in Fishersville.
The venue for that opening event in the series is itself an indication of the growth of a sport that is quickly passing another combat sport by – Augusta Expoland used to be a monthly hotbed for the stars of the National Wrestling Alliance and Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling with cards that regularly featured future world champs Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat.
The show on Saturday night – and shows on Oct. 13 in Abingdon and Oct. 27 in Roanoke – will feature production values associated with the WWE, including a live feed of the action that will be broadcast in the arena on a video board that will also feature replays of the mat action and interviews with the competitors. But one key difference – while Ruckus in the Cage promises to be entertainment, it’s not sports entertainment in the vein of Vince McMahon.
“The guys can stand up, they can kick, they can kick to the head, they can joint lock and choke each other until somebody passes out – I’ve seen that happen before. They can slam, they can ground and pound,” said Smith, who is himself a former amateur boxer – and who came into being an MMA promoter quite reluctantly, to hear him tell the story.
“I wasn’t a true believer at first. I was still skeptical – I was going to wait and see how this plays out,” Smith said. “So I sat back and monitored the events for a couple of years and really watched them and made sure nobody was getting really hurt in them – because I didn’t want to be involved in anything that was unsafe for the guys participating in it. And to my surprise, it’s very safe – and I never really saw all the things that you would think would happen to these guys.
“Nobody’s been seriously hurt since we’ve been doing this. Sure, a guy will get a cut above his eye, but that’s the extent of it. I haven’t seen anybody with broken arms, broken joints – or get really hurt where they can’t work the next day,” Smith said.
Safety is a premium concern across the MMA landscape.
“The fighter has the ability to tap out early if he’s in a submission hold. The referees have the ability to stop the fight if they think you should be tapping out – and if they stop it, they don’t give you a standing eight count like they do in boxing. They stop the fight – the fight’s over. So they’re not taking repetitive punches to the head for 12 rounds,” Smith said.
The explosiveness of the sport – the typical MMA fight goes three rounds, with championship bouts going five rounds – is a big part of the draw.
“It’s such a buzz. So many people come out and watch it. The youth is watching it – the youth is supporting it. And in that 18 to 34 male demo, it just keeps growing, keeps taking over,” Smith said.
Listen to the interview with Chris Smith on the debut of “The SportsDominion Show” – Thursday at 3 p.m. here at TheSportsDominion.com.
On the Web
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The SportsDominion.