Embarking on your Amateur MMA career
For many fighters, their first cage fight will also be their last. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. Each individual has different goals when embarking on an amateur MMA career. For some it will be a once in a lifetime experience, an opportunity to test themselves and their skills against a real opponent. After preparing for battle, stepping into the cage, and putting it all on the line, they will be satisfied and go back to whatever their 'normal' level of training was and their day job. For others it's just the beginning. A stepping stone into a long career in mixed martial arts fighting. However you see your path in the MMA world - this article will hopefully help you get started on that journey.
Some topics covered in this article include:
- How to find a respected promotion and get on their fight card
- Preparing yourself for your first cage fight
- Marketing yourself as a new comer to MMA
- Amateur status, what it is and how do I maintain it?
Finding the right promotion and sanctioning body
We cannot stress enough the importance of understanding how your fight will be officiated and sanctioned. In the early days of MMA there were many fly-by-night promotions that sprang up and threw together events that were poorly officiated and had no sanctioning body. Unfortunately, in many areas of the country events like this are still taking place. For fighter protection and legitimacy it's imperative that amateur mma events be sanctioned by a well known sanctioning body.
The oldest, largest, and most widely respected amateur sanctioning body in the world is the ISCF. ISCF stands for International Sport Combat Federation. It's important to note that ISCF is not a promotional company, it is a sanctioning body, similar to boxing sanctioning bodies like WBC, IBF, and WBC. Event promoters contract with ISCF in order to hold a sanctioned bout. The ISFC is a global sanctioning organization and sanctions MMA fights all over the US and the world. To find a promotion that is sanctioned by ISCF check out their website.
In California, the California State Athletic Commission has officially delegated the authority to regulate mixed martial arts fights to a new non-profit organization called CAMO. CAMO stands for California Amateur Mixed Martial Arts Organization. At the time of writing for this article, CAMO is a new comer to MMA sanctioning and a bit of an unknown entity. It is run by Jeremy Lappen and JT Steele of the now defunct EliteXC organization. Future articles will deal with the effect of this new approach by the California State Athletic Commission. For now, we are recommending that Amateur MMA fighters in California make their way to Nevada or Arizona for competitions.
Many fighters make the mistake of looking locally for their fight first, contacting the promoter, and then worrying about how it is sanctioned later. We suggest starting with a short list of respected sanctioning organizations first and then look on their website to find promoters close to your area. While traveling a long distance to fight is not ideal, neither is risking your health and safety fighting in an unsanctioned or poorly sanctioned event. Some promoters will pay travel expenses.
Preparing for your first fight
Now, we're going to assume at this point that you have been training MMA and are in proper fighting shape. If not - stop reading at this point and get back into the gym or dojo! The purpose of this section is point out some things that new fighters may not know, and help them prepare for their event. It's an unfortunate occurrence that happens more often than it should, but something as simple as not clipping your toenails or showing up with improper gloves for the fight could cause a forfeit loss before even entering the cage.
The most important thing for new fighters is to fully understand the rules and procedures of the sanctioning body well ahead of the fight. You will feel much more relaxed and can concentrate on preparing yourself to fight, rather than worrying at the last minute if elbows to the head are allowed or not. Get your gear ready to go and set it aside for fight night. Here are some items that many new fighters overlook that you'll need to know prior to your fight:
- Who is allowed backstage with you, and in your corner? (know this ahead of time and put a team together)
- Make sure you are cornered by someone that is experienced, it can make all the difference
- Have only 1 corner man shouting instructions to you, too many voices will be counterproductive
- Make sure at least 1 of your corner men is skilled at (properly) taping your hands and knows how to handle cuts and swelling
- Clip and file your toe and fingernails the day of the fight
- Understand the weigh-in process and know when you need to start cutting weight
- Ensure that your gloves, cup, and shorts are approved by the sanctioning body or athletic commission
- Understand how the fight will be scored and officiated (Amateur MMA is not the same as pro)
- Have your walkout music ready, know the fight night procedures, and which fight of the night you will be
- The more comfortable you are with the process the less 'cage jitters' you will feel once you step inside the ring
Marketing yourself as an amateur fighter
Assuming you want more than one MMA fight, here are some suggestions on marketing yourself to the mixed martial arts world. You would be surprised how many times a larger promotion (UFC, Strikeforce, Bellator, etc.) calls on a local or regional promoter and asks which fighters from their event would be ready to step up to a larger show - only to have the amateur fighter unprepared to send a highlight DVD. Opportunity may come knocking so you need to be prepared. Even if you are short on highlight reel knock-outs or submission footage, you can still put together a good looking DVD. Add sparring sessions, workout clips, a short clip of you talking about an upcoming fight or your goals. Keep in mind that promoters are looking to put on a great show and love fighters with personality and great back story.
Many promoters will take video and photos during the event. BUY THESE! You may think it is a lot of money, and maybe your buddy already took some shaky video through the fence from 10 rows back...no. Buy the professional pictures and video. Even if you don't use it later to embark on a pro career, when you get old and gray you'll be very glad you have these glossy prints of you stepping into that gladiator cage. Believe it or not, later in life some people may not believe that you were a cage fighter in your mispent youth - so have the photographic proof.
Another thing to keep in mind is that styles may make fights, but stylish fighters make entertaining fights. Promoters are looking to put on a show. They would rather put together match-ups with some fireworks rather than two guys that want to hold position for three rounds in order to eek out a decision victory. Don't get us wrong, do what you need to do to win your fights - but also keep in mind that to make a career out of MMA you need to separate yourself from the pack. And that includes the pre and post fight interviews - Yes, looks and appearance do count!
For more information about marketing yourself and obtaining MMA sponsorships, see our article Getting Sponsored.
Amateur Status: What is it, and how do I maintain it?
One of the most important things to remember about your amateur status is that it's like virginity - once you lose it, it is gone forever. Once you go pro you cannot 'bounce back' to amateur status. Amateurs do not get paid for their performance. To maintain amateur status you must not ever compete for money in any striking event. This includes boxing, Muay Thai, kick boxing, etc. The one and only exception to the no money rule is travel expenses. Some promoters will pay a fighter's travel expenses, which does not affect amateur status, as long as the money accepted is strictly for travel expenses and can in no way be considered a fight purse or appearance fee.
Many fighters balk at that thought of competing for free. If you feel this way, then go pro. There are many good reasons for the non-payment of amateur athletes - but that is a topic for a separate article. Hopefully one day we will see mixed martial arts as an olympic event. As a primer, plans seem to be underway to get Brazilian Jui-Jitsu on the list of potential Olympic events. As it is, MMA is the faster growing sport on the planet - are you ready to make your mark?
If you think so - take a look at this check list to make sure:
- Have you trained properly for the fight?
- How many hours per day are you training?
- How many training sessions per week?
- Are you prepared to go all three rounds?
- Are you working to improve your grappling?
- Are you working to improve your striking and stand-up?
- Are your working to improve the clinch against the cage?
- Are you working to improve your ground and pound?
- Are you eating clean and following an MMA diet plan?
- Have you already done a dry run to cut weight?
- Do you know how to cut weight safely?
- Are you being careful to avoid over training?
- Do you have a plan to prevent injuries leading up to your fight?
- Do you and your corner have a plan for victory on fight night?
- Is everyone on board with and fully understand the game plan for victory?