I recently had the pleasure of catching up with Pete Rodley of Freedom Fights and was able to ask him a few questions. Freedom Fights is the premiere mixed martial arts organization in the Ontario and Quebec regions and they have a stacked card lined up for July 26th at the Robert Guertin Arena. Though it is quite the read, Mr. Rodley was able to share great insight into the world of mixed martial arts and it is something that all fans should take the time to read.
Mike Moffatt: Mr. Rodley, thanks for taking the time to speak with us today, we all greatly appreciate it. Tell us a bit about yourself and your promotion, Freedom Fights.
Pete Rodley: Alright, well my name is Pete Rodley and I’ve been involved in MMA since 1996, so well over a decade. I’m presently working on my 21st event entitled Freedom Fight: Title Quest. The first event I worked on was the Universal Combat Challenge in Montreal and over time I’ve worked with such marquee names as Georges St-Pierre, David Louiseu, Jonathon Goulet, Joe Doerkson, Jens Pulver, and more. Though my first partner and I had put on a great show, the direction that he was going in was quite different than my vision for the sport. I took a year off after that show and then started Freedom Fights. Our events are held in the Gatineau area, due to the fact that MMA is not legalized in Ontario at this point. On July 26th we will be holding our fifth show in Hull since 2005.
MM: I want to talk about the event you have coming up in Hull on July 26th. What can fans expect and which fighters should they be looking out for in particular?
PR: Well I mean from top to bottom there are great fighters on this card. I like to say that the undercards of today are the main events of tomorrow, so I believe fans should be excited for all of these match-ups. Having said that, there are many elements to this show including the MMA debut of glam rocker Robin Black who is a former Much Music personality. Robin actually had his own show dedicated to his rise in MMA and the show culminated in his signing a contract with me to fight in July. In addition, former CFL great and ex-WWE wrestler Glen Kulka will be making his MMA debut and he is fighting a very tough cat in Wayne Xilon. We will also be featuring a triple main event with three titles on the line, a first for Freedom Fights. Jason ‘The Monster’ Bissonnette will also be appearing on this card and he has become a big name in this area following his last fight. After that bout he had a full page spread in the paper and the media and fans instantly took to the guy. We have a lot of exciting guys in this card and it features many veterans from Freedom Fights, as well as some new faces that fans should be very excited to see. In addition, we have a new partnership with the record label indiesolo.com and this is the first event that we will be working on together. Indiesolo.com will be providing the official Freedom Fights music for our events and this is something I am very excited about as well.
MM: This isn’t your first event, can you tell us about some of the annoyances and hardships that one might experience when trying to put together an event like this?
PR: Where do I start (laughs)? First of all I want to say that I love what I do. I love the people in the sport and that makes it a lot easier. Having said that though there are lots of issues to deal with. We have to deal with fighter relations, venue deals, media and interviews, and even minor details like the stickers on the corner pads. I would have to say that the biggest obstacle is the medicals that fighters have to go through prior to fighting. We have had some great fights scheduled in the past where the medicals aren’t done correctly so the fights don’t get to happen. Now, I’m a firm believer in safety and I obviously want the fighters to be able to come back again. But last minute cancellations and injuries suck. Fights get heavily promoted and then they get scrapped and that’s tough to deal with. This business is just a hefty workload and there are issues with everything, like every job really. I used to own a wine store and there were headaches with that as well, as in any business. To generalize, I hate it when people talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk. When I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it. When other people don’t follow though to their fullest that’s something that is tough.
MM: We all know of the difficulty that those in the mixed martial arts community are having when it comes to having this sport legalized in Ontario. In fact, recently New York State also has pushed back their next vote to legalize MMA to January 2009. Could you explain what needs to be done to solve this problem and perhaps offer any insight as to when you think progress might be made?
PR: Well it sucks about New York to be blunt. I reside in Ontario, but I was born and raised in New York City. As it stands right now I can’t do what I do to support family where I live or where I come from. That’s a real insult not only to me, but to the sport that I love and the athletes as well. MMA doesn’t have a dangerous track record like many of the other sports. I have provided the government with proven track records and still haven’t gotten this deal done. I’m not someone who is new to mixed martial arts. I’m not one of those ‘super fans’. Yes, I love this sport, but this is my full time gig and I’ve been dealing with people in charge of the athletic commission in Ontario for a long time. They have told me that the onus is on me to prove to them that it can be done safely and I’m the only promoter who resides in Ontario so I’m taking this seriously. Recently I put together an 85-page document that took me about five days. I have over 280 fights under my belt to this point in my promotion and I just broke them all down in this document and showed the medical history of all the fighters involved. When I got through this document I realized that we have an eight percent injury ratio, and I’m talking things like a broken knuckle or a couple of stitches. We have had one fighter spend a night in the hospital and that was because of dehydration. When I presented this document to them, they just sat on their thumbs and, later, they sent a letter back to me explaining that I needed to contact a different person because this is viewed as amateur mixed martial arts. Really all these ‘super fans’ have set this process back and instead of them trying to deal with the issue they should just sit back and let me do what I do. They have really only hurt the situation. Believe me, this is my business and I’m trying to make it happen.
Where it stands now is that they are saying that safety isn’t proven at this point. They have recommended the use of helmets and that simply won’t work. The fact is that if helmets were used and a fighter got caught in a choke, they would be less able to protect themselves. In addition, helmets would allow them to take more blows to the head and that’s not right. I’ll retire from this business before I promote a dangerous sport. These guys are my friends.
MM: Going back to the fighters themselves for a moment. How are the match-ups themselves made? Do you approach fighters about competing or do they approach you? Although I’m sure the process is different in many circumstances, what usually occurs?
PR: Freedom Fights is established now so there’s a big emphasis on including the fighters that I’ve been building. There are fighters that the fans are familiar with and going into a fight they know what their next step will be and how close they might be to a title shot if they win. I have a huge data bank with over 500 fighters good to go who want to fight in Freedom Fights. With only eleven or twelve fights per event it’s obvious that they can’t all be included, so I’d like to apologize to those who I haven’t been able to fit in yet. In addition, if I hear good things from other people or see good things out of other fighters I’m not afraid to pick up the phone and gauge their interest in fighting for Freedom Fights, but the majority of our fighters are guys that I’ve known forever.
MM: I’m sure everyone would love to hear your opinions on the world of mixed martial arts in the United States and, in particular, the larger organizations. What are your thoughts on the business model of the UFC and their treatment of fighters? Also, how do you think some of their competition will fare now that Elite XC has secured the CBS deal and Affliction has the financial backing of Donald Trump, as well as some big heavyweight names on their inaugural card?
PR: As a fan it’s awesome. I mean, you’re talking to a guy who had to scramble to find a bar with one of those huge satellite dishes to watch UFC 3 when one of his best friends was on it. Despite Dana’s personality, you’ve got to applaud what he’s doing. The better they do, the better we do. Having said that, however, I do think that they are saturating the market. There are too many events and they are featuring more and more fighters from The Ultimate Fighter. It gets really hard to properly promote that and, as a fan, I’m finding myself looking at cards that I’m really interested in and others that I’ll watch because I’m die hard. I mean, there are some shows where my kids know that they can’t talk when they are in the room and there are others where they can come in and play Yahtzee, you know what I mean? I like the model that the UFC is using, but I think they are pumping out shows just for the sake of doing it. They have to keep moving in a forward motion and focus on quality over quantity. I don’t want to read between the lines, but Lorenzo Fertitta might have made his recent move because he feels Dana needs to do better. Dana is competent in a lot of ways, but his business saavy is not close to what Lorenzo’s is. Dana’s ego can get in the way of television deals and Lorenzo might be more willing to work with others in the industry. Dana has turned a lot of people off. When people didn’t know what MMA was, it was the people on the Internet that kept it alive. Now they can’t cover the show anymore? How would that hurt the UFC? The truth is that it wouldn’t have. We will just have to wait to see where things go now. I’m a fan and I’ll continue to watch, but the better they do, the better everyone does.
As for competition, I don’t have an inflated ego. I’m not competing with the UFC and I know that. If Freedom Fights grows, then it grows and that’s great. I’m comfortable where we are at now though. My kids are going to college. Elite XC has some financial backing and could turn out to be a real force. They understand what the casual fan wants but have to be careful not to isolate the MMA core. So far they are doing a pretty good job I think, although the matchmaking leaves a bit to be desired. If you think back, however, some of the weirdest matches in Pride made the most exciting shows. I miss what Pride brought to the table and Elite XC might give back to the fans. In terms of advertising, I think the CBS deal is bigger than people think. It’s huge financially and can really help them explode. Gary Shaw has already said that he will work with other promotions and that might give Elite XC a real edge.
MM: In terms of the CBS deal, do you foresee any problems with your next event due to the fact that Elite XC has announced their next CBS telecast will take place on the same night?
PR: If I were a fan, and I always look at this kind of thing from a fans perspective, would I want to sit at home when I can be at a live event? We already have over 2300 tickets sold, so I’m not overly concerned. There might be a couple of fans that choose to sit at home, but we have our core fans and our advertising is doing real well. I really don’t foresee any problem.
MM: I don’t want to take up anymore of your time, but quickly tell the readers why they should attend on July 26th.
PR: People know when you come to a Freedom Fights event that you get huge bang for your buck. We have huge exciting fights from top to bottom and some really compelling match-ups. We have the curiosity factor going for us as well. People want to know how an ex-football player is going to fare against some stiff competition. They want to see if a glam rocker can transition into MMA. People want to see title fights and, most importantly, we have a great history. People left fulfilled last time and every fight on the last card was exciting. When was the last time a pay-per-view event had very good bouts top to bottom? We have great consistency and that is very important if people are going to spend their money to see this event. This card has also been together by a fan that has been at this a long, long time and I know what it takes to put together a great night of fights.
MM: Thank you very much for this Mr. Rodley. We look forward to hearing from you after the event to see how it went. Do you have anything else you would like to add or any sponsors you would like to thank?
PR: Good lord, where do I start? I have to thank the local businesses that support our show:
106.9 The Bear, The Ottawa Sun, The Best Western Cartier, Indiesolo.com, Ottawa Entertainment, 104.7 FM, 456 Fashions, The Ottawa Good Time Centre, Hard Rock Café, Max Media, Sinz Productions, Militant Fight Gear, The Ink Spot Tattoos and Piercing, Utan, Gym Max, Counterstrike Fight Wear, MMA Fight Shop.ca, Local Heroes, Divinitive Xtreme Fight Gear, Ambassador of Pain, and Blindside Gear
I would really like to thank the fans for supporting Freedom Fights. Other events have tried to come in and our fans know the difference. I want to thank the people in Ottawa, Gatineau, Toronto, and Montreal and from all over who support us and come in to see the events. I want to thank all of the athletes who are really all-pro. I mean these are the guys that put it all on the line. I deal with awesome fighters. Everyone has been great. (end)
I would like to again take the time to thank Mr. Pete Rodley for speaking with us and would like to urge you all to get out and show your support for his continued hard work in the industry. You can purchase tickets for the July 26th event here and can be assured that you will be treated to an incredible experience. There is nothing quite like live mixed martial arts action. We hope to see you all there.