"We do some pretty ruthless doors here," Ermehn Loto Sakaria says, and I believe him. "It's anything goes when hard-headed patrons refuse to leave and all of a sudden become bulletproof! Which I'm sure is like that all over the world when it comes to bars and nightclubs."
Sakaria is the director of Pride Security, a company based on New Zealand's Hibiscus Coast which provides doormen and bouncers for local clubs and events. He's also the man behind a nascent MMA promotion which pits those same security workers against one another.
"Every doorman has some kind of an ego or legend about him throwing out ten guys," Sakaria tells me via email. "So one night I thought, 'we should do a show to see who's the best doorman-bouncer-fighter.'"
Thus was born King of the Door, the one-night, eight-man openweight tournament which gives doormen from all over Australasia the chance to test their mettle against that of their bouncing brethren. The promotion staged its first event in Auckland on March 26, where local light-heavyweight Kaota Puna of Strike Force Martial Arts needed just over three minutes to win three matches and claim the bragging rights. Among the participants was Tafa "Thumper" Misipati, a kickboxing champ and doorman who would go on to fight Olympic judoka Satoshi Ishii two months later.
"I didn't think it would have such a good turnout," Sakaria admits. "But every MMA fan turned out to watch this battle."
While pulling off a full eight-man tournament in a single evening seems a daunting task for any MMA promoter, Sakaria has managed to drastically heighten the degree of difficulty for King of the Door's second offering, which takes place November 13 at Auckland's ASB Stadium.
"On this next show, we will have two MMA rings with two eight-man battles fighting at the same time, and far as we know, it will be the first of its kind," says Sakaria. "To claim the title, you must win your eight-man tournament... then go on to fight the winner from the other ring, making that four fights to take it out."
The two tournaments will once again be openweight, with the smallest registered competitor being 143-pound Matt Te Paa and the largest 286-pound Jules Brown, both fighting out of Strike Force. Other experienced fighters entering the 16-man field include Api Hemara of Five Rings Dojo, ex-rugby player Hale Vaa'sa, and kickboxer Felise "The FOB-Father" Leniu from Mark Hunt's Team Juggernaut. The rest will be New Zealand-based fighters who "train out of respected MMA and Thai boxing clubs."
The undercard boasts a cherry atop the gimmicky sundae: a special tag-team boxing match using MMA gloves featuring Sengoku vet Antz Nansen and the aforementioned Misipati.
And, yes, they all work the doors.
"In order to enter King of the Door, a fighter must be a present or ex-doorman, sponsored by the nightclub they work for and supported by their security crew," Sakaria explains.
Though the tournament is currently limited to fighters from Australia and New Zealand, Sakaria says the show has already received interest from doormen around the globe, including the United Kingdom, Japan and the United States.
"The future for King of the Door is to hopefully get this on a world stage," says Sakaria. "It's bringing MMA into a different sort of light where the barstaff, owners and patrons can get in behind their security crews and doormen, and doormen get the respect of others."