What group of guy friends hasn’t sat around and dreamed about owning a bar? For Jason Leeman, his group of pals wanted to do something different – run an MMA company.
Unlike those dreams that usually dissipate and turn into nothing, Leeman’s will come to fruition Friday night as Bellum Combat Association runs their first show in Portland, ME, in a co-promotion effort with New England MMA mainstay Global Fight League.
Headlined by a GFL Bantamweight Championship fight between the titleholder Pedro Gonzalez (7-4) and Paul Gorman (9-6), the 15-fight card will feature three pro fights and 12 amateur fights powered by four different Maine fight teams and other New England schools.
"I wanted to set up a card to introduce Maine to all these fighters that are here and training. Hopefully by doing that, people feel the need to follow them and we can keep them in the state instead of sending them to Vegas, Iowa or Florida," Leeman explained.
Less than seven days removed from the first MMA event in Maine history, the show is expected to draw a sellout of 3000 to the revamped Portland Expo, home to the NBA Developmental League affiliate of the Boston Celtics.
Having the event feature so many local fighters was a key for ticket sales, which should contribute to a passionate environment with invested fans that help bring the rest of the non-affiliated crowd along for the emotional ride.
"It’s like a Red Sox game. Once that wave starts, it doesn’t matter who you are -- you’re taking part in it."
More after the break.
A Plan Comes Together
For years, Leeman was a special events coordinator for the Auburn, ME, branch of Pepsi Bottling Group – working every type of event imaginable from small county fairs to large rock shows. A black belt in both taekwondo and judo, Leeman became friendly with another martial arts practitioner, Ryan Campbell.
The two became friends and Leeman began helping with contracts and negotiations for some of Campbell's brother’s students who wanted to fight professionally. He also used his background as an EMT to begin cornering, spending two years in that role before launching Bellum Sports Management with Campbell.
The two decided they wanted to put on their own shows and once the Maine Mixed Martial Arts Authority were prepared to start regulation, Leeman and Campbell made their pitch and were granted the right to put on their own show.
However, another promoter familiar to the two was in the audience as well that day and an opportunity was born.
"Scott Millette from GFL was there and approached me. He asked if I wanted to put on a good show or a great show," Leeman explained. "They have amazing production values, probably the best in New England. We started talking and agreed to work with Scott. With their experience and background, it allowed me to lean on them for what I needed."
According to Leeman, the GFL was originally planning to run the first show in state history in February at the 7000-seat Civic Center but the Authority wasn’t fully prepared on their end of things. The Gonzalez/Gorman fight was planned for that event, but they managed to hold it off until Friday.
Once the partnership was secure, that allowed Leeman (operations/matchmaking), Campbell (finance/contracts) and friend Phil Hamilton (sponsorship/advertising) to start putting together an event.
GFL’s role is to handle the fight day production, including cage, lighting, video screens and video production, along with marketing materials Leeman used to promote with. It’s an interesting approach as many promoters choose to do it all themselves, but it’s an arrangement Leeman likes.
"It could be a long-term thing. If Bellum was doing this on our own, we’d have to put on events for five years in order to get the point of owning our own cage, HD cameras, editing equipment," Leeman said. "I’ve been really happy with the work of Scott, Mike, Bob of GFL and Dan Bonnell (now with Massachusetts’ World Championship Fighting)."
While the end result remains to be seen, Bellum has given their group a fighting chance coming out of the gate, learning from some of the cautionary tales and horror stories heard around the regional MMA circuit.
On his version of Opening Night, Leeman will be a busy man as he has been for the weeks leading up to Friday. That doesn’t meant he won’t be checking out the action intently.
"I’m excited for all of the fights, but there are some that no matter what I’m doing, I’m sitting down and watching."
General admission tickets for the Bellum/GFL event remain as of press time. Bloody Elbow will be in attendance to cover the event.