FIGHT! readers might recognize the “FIGHT! Across America” tagline from Johnny Dunn’s stories of regional promotions in the magazine. In an effort to bring our readers more stories about the local and regional shows that are the foundation of the sport we’re moving “FIGHT! Across America” online. Please contact us if you’d like to suggest a promotion for FIGHT! to cover.
(Monte Cox with Jens Pulver. Photo by Matt Burosh.)
“We’re the originator,” said Monte Cox. “We were the first show in Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin, and the second show in Illinois. We’ve been doing this for 15 years, so I think we’re the most established [smaller] show around.”
The show is Extreme Challenge (EC) and Cox is the promoter in addition to managing many notable mixed martial artists. EC has held more than 100 events in more than 17 states since its inception in 1996, oftentimes targeting smaller towns whose citizens don’t have the treat of regularly viewing live MMA events.
“These shows have a huge impact on the community,” said Chad Bergmeier, matchmaker for the EC. “Aside from the money that these events bring into community gas stations, hotels and restaurants, we’re providing entertainment. We’ve had shows in towns where the show’s attendance exceeds the town’s population—and even the mayor is a fan.” These are the types of relationships, Monte Cox says, that have kept the EC’s wheels turning strong in a market that is dominated by bigger moneymakers like the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
“We’re not trying to be the UFC […] To us, the goal is to get a good local following,” said Cox. “And you also hope to find a town that has a local gym that has fighters looking to improve, and then you build something.” Such has been the case in Quincy, Ill., a small city on the banks of the Mississippi River. “Our first show in Quincy a few years ago had no Quincy fighters on the card,” noted Cox. “We brought all the fighters in. But now Quincy has a fight gym and dozens of fighters and it’s one of our more steady places. We helped build [MMA] here.”
One of those homegrown fighters from Quincy, Wes Friday, has witnessed first hand the positive effect that EC has had upon his stomping grounds. “I think it boosts the morale of everyone when Extreme Challenge comes to town because it gives fans something to watch, and fighters something to strive for,” said Friday, who used to fight on the street before finding MMA. “Training and competing [in EC] has definitely changed me, too,” he admitted. “It made me a man.”
But Friday isn’t the only man to have changed for the better since competing in Extreme Challenge. Since its inception, the EC has served as a proving ground for more than 50 fighters who would go on to compete in the UFC. Marquee names like Rich Franklin, Matt Hughes, Dustin Hazelett and Roger Huerta made the jump from EC to UFC, a fact of which fighters from places like Quincy, Ill. are well aware.
But for Cox, EC’s goal is simpler serving as a feeder system for the big leagues. “If everyone involved [with our show] has a great night out, we know we’ve done our job,” he said.