Mixed martial arts is earning legit status as a sport in Chilliwack, with Sabah Fadai’s Rise Fighting Championship staging several successful events at the Landing Sports Centre.
An outcast sport for years, MMA has cleaned up its wild west image and established a strong foothold in the Fraser Valley.
Today, the second of two pieces examining MMA and what drives a man to fight another man.
Sabah Fadai is many things to local mixed martial arts.
He is the sports biggest booster, willing to talk for hours about the artistry of MMA and its athletes.
Working with Darwin Douglas as co-promoters of a series of Rise Fighting Championship promotions held over the past 12 months at the Landing Sports Centre, he is at the heart of an MMA resurrection in Chilliwack.
But the best way to describe Fadai might be this.
He is the conscience of MMA.
The 34 year old is working tirelessly to undo the damage done by years of shady promoting and poor oversight. The Chilliwack man is laser-focused on legitimizing a sport that for decades seemed to take pride in its ‘outlaw’ status, followed by outlaw fans who only wanted to see a bloodbath.
“There’s still probably 80 per cent of a crowd that wants to see that, but it is changing,” he said. “I’d say 20 per cent of the people who attend Rise FC fights appreciate the athletes and the technique and the competitiveness of an evenly matched bout.
“Part of what I’m trying to do with Rise FC is educate fans and show them that there’s much more to this sport than knockouts and blood.”
MMA was fully deserving of its old reputation, forged from the moment it first burst into mainstream consciousness in the 1990s.
For 20 or so years, there was no governing body watching over MMA and local events were almost always unsanctioned.
It was an unsafe world for fighters.
“I was at a fight in Chilliwack, sitting cage-side, and one of the guys was covered head to toe in his own blood,” Fadai said. “There was no medical team to stop it and I remember him being on all fours with the other guy punching him – there was just an open stream of blood. Not drip, drip, drip. The coaches and referee, no one stopped it.
“The City of Chilliwack was still holding on to a picture from that night when I started asking about public venues.”
B.C. got an athletic commission in 2012, and that was a game changer for fighter safety.
Prior to that, there was no rule requiring a doctor at ringside, and if a promoter didn’t want to pay $1,000 to have one in the building, they didn’t have to.
“They put in the rule that you need at least one doctor for amateur fights and at least two cage-side for professional fights,” Fadai noted. “Fighters are a little too tough and a little too dumb for their own good. Whether our nose was broken or there was a massive cut over our eye and we couldn’t see, a fighter’s instinct was always to continue fighting.
“But now, a third party is making that decision for us, and the safety of the athletes is of importance.”
With a governing body in place, cities across B.C. are now embracing the idea of MMA events in city venues.
Fadai’s events at the City of Chilliwack operated Landing Sports Centre would have been out of the question a decade ago, when local MMA shows were held most frequently at the Tzeachten Hall.
“It’s a huge thing that the City of Chilliwack is now open to having us hold shows on city land,” Fadai said. “I think our first few shows have shown that we operate in a professional and safe way, and that really helps legitimize what’s happening.”
Fadai’s experiences as an athlete inform his actions as a promoter.
There are valuable lessons he learned in his career that all young fighters should know, and he’s willing to share wisdom with those who want to listen.
As an athlete, he started off as a young lion ready to take on all comers, and he was completely oblivious to the business side.
“I didn’t even think of that side of things 14 years ago,” Fadai admitted. “I just took a call that said, ‘Want to fight?’ and I said, ‘Sure. Done.”
Young Fadai was determined to make it all the way to the big shows of UFC, and believed he needed to be willing to fight “damn near everybody.”
He still believes that.
“But if you’re going to do that, you need to know everything about the guy you’re fighting, and that’s the part I was lacking,” Fadai said. “That’s the part that I should have done myself, but I left it in the hands of other people and it didn’t get done.”
Early in his career, Fadai had a bout set up with Mukai ‘the African Assassin’ Maromo.
“All I saw was his record, with very few MMA fights, like 4-0,” Fadai said. “I heard he was a striker, but I didn’t know how good he was and I didn’t know about his backhand.
“This guy was frickin world class and way beyond my level, and I should have done my own due diligence to find out what his background was.”
In Edmonton to fight Maromo, two days before the bout, Fadai got new info.
“I found out he had a muay-thai record of 60 wins and two losses or something like that,” Fadai said. “All my training leading up the fight was striking, and I didn’t do much wrestling at all, so I had two days to change up my entire game plan.”
The fight, as expected, didn’t go well, and Fadai learned a hard lesson.
“In a perfect scenario a fighter would train and fight and listen to a coach, who
has created a game plan based on the homework he’s done,” Fadai said. “But most times it’s not a perfect scenario. I was naive and I put too much trust in others when I should have done it myself.
“That was the hardest lesson to learn.”
Fadai was living in the Philippines then and had a 12 hour flight home.
“My leg was purple and blue and every colour of the rainbow from my knee all the way to and around my upper thigh,” he recalled. “I had all the time to think about what the hell just happened. From that moment on, I still listened to the people around my, but I also started watching a lot more video and coming up with my own game-plans.”
The other lesson Fadai learned came too late in his fighting career to matter, but it makes a big difference now that he’s promoting.
He wishes he’d been more savvy about the business side and had a better flair for self promotion.
Had he known then what he knows now, he wouldn’t have been the guy getting thrown into last-second fights with no time to prepare.
He would have gotten better matchups, and he wouldn’t have had the misinformed feeling that he was getting ‘screwed over’ by promoters.
“I didn’t understand or care about that side back then because I thought my only job was just to fight, but now, as a promoter I see how much I could have helped myself,” he explained. “Looking back at it now, I see that I didn’t bring any value to the company.”
Fadai has fighters coming to him now, telling him their name, weight and record, and not much else.
“That’s all I get out of them and what am I supposed to do with that?” he asked. “But that’s because they don’t see my side.
“Had I seen the promoter’s side when I was competing, I’d have said, ‘I can sell this many tickets. I can do this sort of promotional work for you. I can help you build the card and do anything I can to promote the fight card if you put me on it.”
Fadai said he’ll invest endless time and energy into fighters who are willing to put in extra work.
“I’ll go beyond my limits to help that guy, because he’s willing to put in the work,” Fadai said. “But if a fighter comes to me and says he wants a fight, but tells me he won’t sell a dime worth of tickets, what good is he to me?
“I wish I’d known that business side much earlier in my career, because being that good ‘company man’ would have made such a huge difference for me.”
Fadai knows the fighters coming up now have the same hopes and dreams he did.
There are some promotions who balk at letting fighters with contracts void those contracts to purse a better opportunity.
Fadai said he’ll never stand in the way of a fighter who has the chance to move up, and he puts it in writing when presenting a fighter with a contract.
They’re climbing the ladder to the big show and Fadai is setting up Rise FC as one of the rungs on that ladder.
“As a promoter, I understand where I’m at,” he said. “I’m Rise FC and I’m new. Even if I get to 60 shows and I’m established, I’m still a small dog compared to UFC.
“I don’t want fighters who are scared to fight for my promotion. I’m a fighter and I want other fighters to succeed.”
– The next Rise Fighting Championship (6) event is April 4 at the Landing Sport Centre Chilliwack. For tickets call 778-549-2522.