(Dave O’Donnell, one of the most prominent promoters in UK MMA)
Dave O’Donnell has certainly earned his right to have a say on the rules debacle in the current lawless land that is the UK MMA scene. O’Donnell promotes one of the domestic scenes most popular shows, Ultimate Challenge, and was a co-founder and promoter of Cage Rage; the UK’s most popular promotion that died a death in 2008 after being taken under the ProElite banner, only for the parent company to go under.
With no governing body, athletic commission or even a perceived ‘standard’, each promotion can play by their own rules and, although the NSAC rules used in the UFC are dominant for professional bouts generally, O’Donnell reveals why he decided to stray from the norm.
“Here’s how it is,” Dave began. “People always ask to me, ‘why do you do three, five-minute rounds for title fights? It should be five. It’s always been that way.’ I’m probably the best payer in the country but, in your heart of hearts, you know. If the fighters are in the UFC and being compensated $250,000 to fight for a title then it’s alright, but that’s not how it is in the UK.
“So many promotions are trying to be the UFC and using their standards just to make them look that little bit better, but you’ve got to move on,” Dave added.
O’Donnell referenced that, at domestic level, the majority of fighters fighting as ‘professionals’ are not earning a living from MMA. That’s why he added elbows to the banned list:
“This guy might be a postman,” Dave asserted. “Or a teacher. He’s got a job. I’m not paying enough for him to have weeks off work with injury so I’m trying to make it as safe as I can for these guys.”
As with any combat sport, he recognises that most participants are aware of the premise that injury is likely, and serious injury can happen even in the safest of environments. Dave is a seasoned martial artist and competitor himself though, and that’s where his empathy stems from. He referred back to the early days of taking his own fighters to shows and being offered mismatches on the day, giving up 10kg and vast experience differentials.
“That’s why I started,” he added. “None of that is gonna happen in my promotion. I’m spending thousands on bringing in stuff like blood testing, and sometimes the fighters themselves don’t even recognise it or bother. The grief is unreal. I send them letters and and texts and all of this is for their safety.”
Summing up, Dave said, “it’s all about looking after the fighters”, but he offered another anecdote as a conclusion.
“I’ve been to changing rooms where there are no facilities or a few bottles of water to go around between a load of fighters. Here’s a bottle of water, now go do five, five-minute rounds. No, not on my show.”
Always passionate and sometimes larger than life, it is hard for O’Donnell to see fighters being treated unfairly. His enthusiasm can often be misconstrued but, be assured; Dave isn’t just in this for himself. He wants to make UK MMA safer and better for everybody and that’s why he goes to the lengths he does to instil the quality into Ultimate Challenge UK with each and every event.
“Carlsberg don’t do MMA events,” he exclaimed. “But, if they did, it would be Ultimate Challenge!”
For more from Dave, make sure you keep an eye out for the first UK edition of FIGHT! – delivering all the quality exclusive content you expect from the world’s best MMA magazine as well as an array of UK and European content.