On Friday, July 23 2010, staff photographer Mallory Mejia and I attended a local show put on by the Naperville, IL-based amateur promotion Cut Throat MMA for the first edition of MMA Gospel’s new “Amateur Spotlight” series. Owned and produced by Mike Davis, the Cut Throat MMA production provides a professional atmosphere and efficiently run show that is well worth the time and money for both the fan and the fighter. The initial response to Cut Throat with local training camps was a mixed bag with a handful complaining of mismatches and last minute fight switching and even accusations of billing pros as amateurs, but neither I nor the close to 1,000 spectators in attendance witnessed any evidence of this at the Holiday Inn Select in Naperville that Friday night. In fact, the matches were remarkably well-balanced, especially for an amateur event where limited video and the great variances in the effectiveness of the innumerable camps’ training programs make it difficult for promoters to truly gauge where a fighter’s talent level really is. Throughout the entire 12-fight card there were only two bouts where the promoter could come under scrutiny for questionable fight booking. It is important to note, however, that the fighters who were on the receiving end of those mismatches admitted that they not only were fully informed of their opponents’ skill levels and training, but had also been provided with video of prior fights. Upon viewing the fights, it became evident that the responsibility of the mismatchings fell upon the shoulders of the fighter’s manager/coaches, not the promotion itself. But we’ll discuss that later; for now, let’s take a look now at what MOMMIE has to say.
Medical: Cut Throat MMA went beyond what any other amateur organization I’ve dealt with in the past has done in terms of fighter safety. Led by Dr. Sam Wurster, a sports medicine specialist and practitioner of what he calls “functional medicine” with over 20 years of specialization, the Cut Throat MMA medical team included three EMTs and an LPN all of which where cageside for every bout. No fight was allowed to commence without all four of these individuals cageside, not even the three exhibition bouts fought in full sparring gear that took place while the 24 fighters on the card were warming up. The pre-fight physicals also went well above and beyond what even commissioned states require, including a full physical and a detailed medical history, not just a short questionnaire filled out by the fighter himself. If every amateur event provided medical attention of this caliber, unfortunate incidents like the recent death of Michael Kirkham in North Carolina would never happen.
Grade: A+ The medical team at Cut Throat is top class. The level of care fighters receive from the Fight Surgeon crew is a cut above the rest and anyone who fights on a Cut Throat show can take it for granted that they will be well taken care of.
Officiating: Like the doctors and weigh-in officials, the referee and judges are provided by the promoter himself but are approved by the third party company Mixed Martial Arts Consultants. MMAC is an independent reporting and regulating body that is hired by the promotion itself to ensure that all officials and doctors are qualified and experienced, all rules that were previously enforced by the commission are followed, weigh-ins are conducted fairly, and the all results are accurately reported to the appropriate recording agencies. Following a razor-thin five round title fight, I spoke with judge Rob Madrigal regarding the scoring of the bout, and he very easily supported his decision. I also found him to be very knowledgeable of MMA and its rules. The referee, Jay Estrada, is licensed out of Indiana as an amateur referee and did an excellent job. No fight was stopped early and, more importantly, no fight went even one punch longer than it should have. He was also very observant of illegal activity, issuing verbal warnings and using the threat of a deduction to keep fingers out of the fence and fists off the back of the head. He also showed an ability to stop a technical submission with amazing precision. A fighter who refused to submit to a choke (an event that occurred twice on this card) was released just as he started to go out. In fact, one fighter even stated that his vision started to go black and the last thing he remembered was a latex glove pulling against his shoulder.
Grade: A+ The use of an outside sanctioning body and well qualified officials never turns out poorly for the fighters or the promotion. Estrada is a top class referee and one of the best I have seen in the amateur ranks in over ten years of experience dealing with amateur promotions. The judges proved to be intelligent and well informed in regards to scoring the fights and could clearly support any of their decisions.
Matchmaking: As I said before, the matchmaking on this card was incredibly fair even for a regional pro show. This was assisted by two important facts: the majority of the fighters had fought for Cut Throat at least once in recent months, and all fighters received any available video on their opponents upon request. The result was a series of closely matched opponents, even when the records appeared a little off. Perhaps the only bouts I took exception to were the fights between 2-0 female AJ McAvoy and Madelina Salgado (1-3) and 155 pounders Ruben Melendez (0-7) and Nick Flemm (2-1). The bout between AJ and Madelina was a serious failure on the part of Salgado’s coaches, as they had video of AJ McAvoy both from her 2-0 MMA career and her 5-0 boxing career, yet still allowed the fight to be booked. However, the responsibility for booking a match between a former Illinois Golden Gloves champion with over a year of training under a Carlson Gracie school against a 1-3 fighter whose trainer stated “No, she’s not real serious about it. She just kinda messes around with it, fighting for fun” falls squarely on the promoter. I understand female fighters are few and far between, so the blame is more on the coach than the promoter, but this was such a grievously brutal mismatch that one must call the initial booking into question. The fight ended in under 90 seconds with Salgado cringing against the cage while McAvoy slammed repeated uppercuts into her head; it was obvious to all involved that Salgado was hopelessly outclassed from the opening bell. The second of those matches, between Ruben and Flemm, pitted a fighter who trained out of his backyard, only recently joining a small fight team, against a fighter with over a year of training with an established camp. Both men had fought for Cut Throat before and Ruben’s coach should have sought other bookings for his fighter. Ruben stated, “I’ve consistently been paired with much more experienced fighters but I feel satisfied with the matchmaking.” He elaborated that he requests more skilled opponents, but I still feel that either his coach or Mike Davis one should have scrapped his fight if a more suitable opponent couldn’t be found. He managed to make it into the second round and took minimal damage, but was far out classed. These two fights aside, it was still the single most even amateur MMA card I have witnessed in my career up to and including the fights in my own promotion. All things considered: Cut Throat’s matchmakers are definitely deserving of praise.
Grade: A- Cut Throat MMA’s matchmaker did an outstanding job. Though there were two bouts that were questionable bookings, all parties involved in these two fights were fully aware of their opponents skill level and record. The Cut Throat fight booking team is one you can feel confident in finding you a solid opponent that will be a fair match for your skill set, especially if you have worked with the promotion in the past.
Media: This event was very well advertised. Print and radio ads were prevalent as early as two weeks in advance. Members of the Carlson Gracie camp informed me that members of their camp had in fact been scouted by larger promotions from previous events as well. Added to this, Cut Throat provides a free live internet stream on their website, broadcasting all of the fights in their entirety. A DVD copy of this broadcast is on its way to me now for review, but the morning after, the link was still up and it sported the remains of a fairly active chat room as well. As far as media exposure for the promotion itself goes, these guys have all their ducks lined up nicely. Also, as I stated previously, they use a third party reporting agency to ensure that all of the appropriate and accurate submissions are made to mixedmartialarts.com and other record keeping agencies. The only place this promotion suffers is in the local news outlets, which seem to favor covering less organized and more bar-room brawl-esque promotions and the larger pro/am regional shows.
Grade: B Cut Throat does all it can on its own to promote its shows but suffers from a lack of interest from the local media.
Insurance: Cut Throat MMA is a rarity in a state that doesn’t regulate amateur competitions: they insure their fighters. If you get injured on a Cut Throat card, the medical care is covered IN FULL. All the follow up, all the emergency work, and even surgery if it’s deemed necessary is covered. From all the coaches, members of the consulting company, and fighters I spoke with I got the distinct impression that Cut Throat’s fighter insurance is well beyond what is required in states with a commission that regulates amateur MMA. To a fighter who competes for free only to return to a day job the next Monday, care like this from the promoter is immeasurably valuable.
Grade: A Cut Throat provides an insurance plan that covers any expenses not covered by the fighters own insurance. While this leaves a fighter who is insured by his employer or on his own to pick up the tab for any deductibles, MMA Gospel has heard from multiple sources that Mike Davis has been more than willing to cover at least the majority of an injured fighters deductible out of his own pocket.
Exposure: Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Cut Throat MMA’s production is its building of talent. Fighters with impressive wins were interviewed in the cage after their victories and it was obvious from the general chatter that several of the returning fighters had been well promoted beforehand. During the main events, chants for individual fighters went up on opposing sides of the cage not just from friends, family, and teammates of the fighters, but from groups of regular fans as well. Cut Throat MMA treats its fighters as if they are a miniature amateur version of the UFC, and that is exactly what you want as a fighter who risks his neck for free.
Grade: A+ Cut Throats true value to an up and coming amateur fighter comes in the form of their ability to build talent on a local level. Cut Throat does more than simply offer a fighter a card to fight on; they provide an amateur a home promotion where they know their achievements will be used by the promotion to build their name. This level of attention to recognition development ensures that any pro scout that see an amateur on a Cut Throat card (and there were several in attendance) has a strong history to reflect on when considering a contract for a new fighter.
At the end of the night, Cut Throat MMA is definitely an organization that looks out for the best interest of its fighters. It can all be heard in quotes from the fighters themselves. Welterweight belt holder TJ Rowely has fought three times in Cut Throat and said they had “The best matchmaking by far.” AJ McAvoy stated that ‘The shows are always on time and are always very well organized.” Carlson Gracie camp assistant boxing coach Mark Allen and wrestling coach Matt Collum both said “This is better than other shows, better fights and more of them” with Allen adding “As a fighter, communication with the promoter is very important. The videos of yourself and of your opponents are better than any belt, and Mike (Davis) gives you that.” Carlson Gracie head coach Brian Bishop endorsed the promotion as “The one we trust the most with our amateurs” and said Mike Davis was “an incredibly honest and frank promoter”. With praise like that coming from the fighters and coaches who repeatedly return to the promotion win lose or draw, how could we not recommend this company?
Overall Grade: A Cut Throat MMA invests in its fighters. The only drawback to a Cut Throat show is the lack of local media interest. This fact is far outweighed by the level of care provided to the fighters and the incredible amount of exposure the promotion gives its talent to regional professional organizations.