(Optimus Fighting Championships)
For those hardcore UK MMA fans that witnessed the beginning of MMA on American soil and have been looking back ever since, Optimus Fighting Championship (OFC) just might be the return to roots that they’ve been looking for.
Based in North Eastern England, the OFC has not only planned its inaugural event to take place within the 11,000 seat capacity Newcastle Metro Radio Arena with Dan Severn participating in the main event, but they also promise to turn heads when they kick off their 16-man open weight tournament on the same night. Yes, you read that correctly. The OFC will have an open weight tournament—a format that has long since gone extinct in American MMA.
“The main reason we decided to have an open weight tournament is because they aren’t commonplace anymore,” says Jonathan Burn, Head of Promotions for the OFC. And it’s mostly for good reason that open weight tournaments are scarce these days, given that injuries and large weight disparities can muddle up the results of such an event. But the OFC has done their homework.
“The tournament is scheduled over four events,” says Burn. “We wanted a tournament that was going to span over events rather than the old one-night eight-man tournaments. At least if one of the winners does break a hand, an ankle or tears a muscle they can still proceed to the next round.”
Where injuries are concerned, the OFC seems to have learned their lesson from the inherent problems that came with the UFC’s one night tournament formats of yesteryear. As fans remember, the first notable time that an injury acted to skew event results was back in 1994 at UFC 3, when Royce Gracie—the star of the UFC tournaments—was unable to continue due to exhaustion and dehydration, despite having beaten Kimo Leopoldo and advancing in the tournament. Ken Shamrock, looking for redemption for his loss to Royce at UFC 1, withdrew from the tournament because he wished to face no-one but Gracie. As a result, the final match featured Steven Jennum vs. Harold Howard instead of the much more anticipated Gracie vs. Shamrock II.
“We don’t want [any], ‘what could have been’ scenarios,” adds Burn. “We want no excuses and to give the fans what they want—we’re fans too.”
Burn is poised to defend the decision of making the tournament open weight, as well. Traditionally, open weight tournaments have allowed competitors of any size, from large to small, to enter into the same division as each other—something that can, and has, resulted in some statistically unfair matchups in the past. But Burn and his boys believe they have come up with a good solution.
“The one stipulation we have is that to participate in this tournament, fighters must weigh at least 84 kg (185 lbs.),” says Burns. “And since these fighters know they’re in an open weight bout, some of them are packing on the weight. For example, one fighter, Shaun Lomas, was fighting at 77 kg, but he is now weighing in around 90 kg.”
With fighters weighing in at 185 lbs. or more, any supposed size advantage won’t be nearly as big as it seems, especially considering that most middleweight fighters walk around at well over that target weight to begin with. Factor in any differences in speed and often skill, and the tournament has all the necessary tools to be both fair and entertaining.
“The tournament appeals to the audience and the fighters, as it is a rather unknown thing in these parts,” says Burn. “And we will find who is the most technically gifted at the end of the tournament and we will find if certain fighters merely rely on their size and strength. It’s going to be very exciting.”
It’s this same noticeable fanaticism which spurred Burn and his four friends into starting the OFC in the first place. “[When we were young], we watched bad VHS copies of Vale Tudo and other competitions from all around the world and we were enthralled,” says Burn. “Bruce Lee wasn’t for us at that time; we couldn’t appreciate his swift moves in the movies because we were too busy watching gritty bare knuckle gypsy fighting from Ireland, and bad copies of Roy Shaw and Lenny McLean fighting in London in unlicensed boxing matches from years before.”
The final motivation to create the OFC wouldn’t come until years later when Burn and his future associates would find themselves at an overpriced and underwhelming MMA event somewhere in the bowels of the United Kingdom.
Burn remembers, “I knew we could produce something better. At the very least, we knew we could make something you could watch in a place where you wouldn’t have to worry about some drunk smashing a glass over your head.”
Only time will tell if the OFC has made a wise decision to return to the roots of MMA with a new and improved version of the open weight tournament. If anything has come from all of this speculation, it’s that the formula that proved fruitful for the UFC so many years ago still causes enough stir and uncertainty to get people watching. And that is exactly what the OFC wants, come April 18, 2010.
“We have a great production team behind us, quality fighters and a great ethos so we are sure this event will be special,” Burn says. “I am not a businessman; I am a fan who is taking a chance to create something beautiful. I am sure the MMA fans out there will understand.”