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Cage Warriors pulls event out of Sweden as commission shows signs of regulatory favoritism

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In a bizzare twist of MMA regulatory news, Cage Warriors has moved a recent event targeted for Sweden to Jordan, after the Swedish MMA Federation refused to approve most of the bouts on their card.

If you haven't been following international fight news closely over the past week, big things have been brewing across the pond. Namely an August 23 Cage Warriors (CWFC) card, planned for Stockholm, Sweden has had to be relocated to Amman, Jordan after problematic interactions between the promotion and the Swedish MMA Federation (or SMMAF), Sweden's answer to an athletic commission. Cage Warriors brought 5 fights to the SMMAF looking for approval for their August card, under the understanding that prelim bouts would be regulated under modified (Swedish) rules (no elbows, no upkicks) but the main card would be presented under the traditional "Unified" rule set.

Unfortunately for Cage Warriors, and in a decision that seems incredibly arbitrary given the nature of the two cards the UFC has put on in Sweden, the SMMAF only signed off on one of the five bouts (a fight between Martin Svensson and Dave Hill). They ruled that that CWFC's title bout between Jack Hermansson and Cheick Kone could only be three five-minute rounds and that other bouts between Alexandra Buch and Pannie Kianzad, Jack Mason and Jonatan Westin, and Liam James and Frantz Slioa would not meet approval for unified rules bouts. Keep in mind this is the same commission that signed off on Latifi vs. Mousasi, Pearson vs. Couture, Siver vs. Whiteford, and several other bouts that could meet similar scrutiny under Zuffa's umbrella.

I reached out to Cage Warriors CEO Graham Boylan to talk about the recent problems with the SMMAF, and the steps they've had to take in dealing with Swedens regulatory desires:

Looking over the SMMAF regulations on their website, they have some vague language about matchmaking requirements that seem very open to interpretation. Was Cage Warriors given a more exacting list of criteria to meet than the SMMAF makes publicly available? Specific numbers of fights that fighters needed to have to fight under certain rules, or relative amounts of experience to one another?

The SMMAF told me their guideline was a fighter needed to have ten fights or more to be permitted to compete under full unified rules, but there were a lot of UFC fights that took place with unified rules involving fighters with less than seven fights. I brought this point up with them and they said yes, that's OK as long as you make valid arguments as to why the fighters/fights should be contested under unified rules, then we will look at it and decide. When you look at what's been approved in the past for UFC events compared to what we applied for, it's a joke. The facts are there for everyone to see; it doesn't take a rocket scientist to research that one.

Is this the first problematic interaction Cage Warriors has had with the SMMAF? I know the UFC felt like they were being overly officious in the lead up to their first show in Sweden, when Alexander Gustafsson was pulled for a cut over his eye. Have you had any past problems like that?

No, never. This was our first time dealing with them and it was all going well until the double-standards and bending-of-rules came into play.

Do you think this is a case of protectionism? Is the SMMAF trying to push out non-local promotions from holding events (at least on the regional level, as the UFC isn't really competing in the same market as local operations)?

And neither is Cage Warriors. We do 15 shows a year across 10-plus countries. We are not a local show, we are not competing with any local promotions. Bellator and WSOF stay in the US, ONE FC are in Asia; the UFC and Cage Warriors are the only two promotions in the world that travel to that many countries, so no, I cannot believe this is a local protectionism issue.

Some fans and media members are arguing that there's a double standard at work, with some of the matchmaking on the UFC's Stockholm card not being held to the same standard as the Cage Warriors card. Do you feel like there's some level of collusion there, some greasing of the wheels that the UFC is doing to make things easier? Or, potentially an attempt by the SMMAF to show favoritism and show the UFC that their product will get special treatment?

I've seen the staff list for the UFC in Stockholm. The SMMAF charged them $24,000 to sanction their event, yet half the staff on that sheet were not even needed. So if you have an organisation paying you $24,000 to sanction its events, are you really going to veto any of their fights? A prime example is Latifi versus Mousasi, but there's plenty more. It's all out there in the public domain; just look at the records of other fights and how many unified rules fights some guys actually had when they were approved by the SMMAF. The SMMAF told me at my meeting with them that my event would be similar to the UFC's event due to Cage Warriors being a big international organisation. When I asked about the SMMAF's costs to sanction the event a few days later, I found out what "similar" meant. I replied saying I would not be paying anything near those fees, nor would I need 50% of the listed staff and hangers-on. That led to a mutually agreed staff list and a fee close to $5,000, plus all my staff that I would have flown in and paid for myself on top of all this to run Cage Warriors to the professional standards I have put in place.

Considering that the bout with Martin Svennson was okayed and that Svensson's manager was on the approval board, and yet Pannie Kianzad was specifically requested on the main card by the SMMAF, and yet her bout was not okayed, is there a sense that the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing?

Is the SMMAF too disorganised to properly regulate MMA in Sweden? It definitely appears from the outside that these people are working more towards personal agendas than the promotion of MMA. I have no idea what they where thinking but they certainly didn't think about the repercussions of their actions in all of this. How could they justify what they did, knowing that the facts are out in the open to contradict their decisions? It's unbelievable. I'm still waiting to hear who voted yes/no to which fights. That will make for some very interesting reading.

Do you have plans to try and make a quick return to Sweden with another card? Is this an issue you feel can be resolved quickly? Or is Cage Warriors done in Sweden for the near future?

I feel this entire situation could be a turning point for the SMMAF to sort themselves out. Cage Warriors will come to Sweden when the SMMAF drop these double standards. They claim to be following the rules, but if you look at it, those rules don't apply to UFC events.

Is there any upside (beyond actually putting on the fights) to moving the card to Jordan? Any silver lining here at all?

The silver lining is that 70% of the fighters still get to compete and get paid. Their time, blood, sweat and tears have not been for nothing. I'm on their side, which is why with 22 days remaining until the event I switched the host country to make it happen for them. What other show would have done that? My team and I now have the task of getting over 100 people to Jordan, as well as rearranging a host of other logistical issues. We also have to fill an arena on three weeks' notice but we'll do that and it will be another success, as it always is in Jordan.

Will this change throw any other scheduling or cards out of whack? Is there anything else you've had to shuffle around in order to make room for this change?

It's a spanner in the works for me and the diary for the rest of the year, but it's no big deal because I have a solid team behind me.

You can find Boylan on Twitter @GrahamBoylan