These guys don’t wear fluorescent spandex or go by flashy monikers. They may participate in cage matches, but they don’t want fans to smell what they’re cooking.
There are fewer rules for this ring than one might expect. Simply put, there are no rules. Welcome to the Real Fighting Championship (RFC).
“Real Fighting Championships was formed due to the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts,” said Jason Freyre, co-owner of RFC. “It’s probably one of the fastest growing sports in the United States. This is real fighting – it’s not fake. This is not professional wrestling.”
This Saturday, the Sun Dome hosts RFC Night of Champions VII. The event features Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) with No Holds Barred (NHB) fighting techniques. The night will consist of 14 fights, including one female fight and a middleweight and lightweight title fight.
“The beauty of Mixed Martial Arts is that it’s like a chess match,” Freyre said. “You have two different types of martial arts, and you’re trying to see who can take whom and submit that person in the type of fighting he specializes in. They’re all trained in each and every form of martial arts, but there’s always one type of fighting that’s mastered by that fighter. For example, you could match a jujitsu master up against a kickboxer, where one is better at groundwork and the other at fighting standing up.”
The middleweight title fight pits Carl Greco-Ognibene from Tampa (4-2) against Mike Van Meer from Urbandale, Iowa (23-14). Greco-Ognibene has fought in the RFC of Japan -the Pride championships – in front of 90,000 people.
“The Pride championships are the cream of the crop in the martial arts world,” Greco-Ognibene said. “It was an excellent experience, but I learned that you have to have a good manager. If you’re not watching your money, you can bet they are. That’s the scary thing for fighters – you don’t always know who to trust. It was great being there, though.”
Greco-Ognibene is a submission fighter, employing a series of wrestling techniques and holds to get his opponent to tap the mat or fighter in capitulation. His career began when he was 6-years-old, when his parents used working out at their gym as a form of punishment.
“When I’d be getting all crazy in the store, my mom would say ‘100 squats,’ and I’d complain and she’d say ‘200.’ … I’d always stop at ‘500,’ and she’d say, ‘One day you’ll thank us for this.’ … In 1990, when I was 20, I got into the dojo and developed those skills from childhood and spent eight months learning technique – what to actually do – and then I went to Japan to fight.”
In RFC, theatrics are discarded in favor of showcasing a fighter’s individual ability. According to Realfightingchampionships.com, MMA features a combination of grappling, kickboxing, judo and jujitsu moves, among others. Fighters train in a variety of methods, but usually have one form they specialize in. These MMA fights will follow NHB rules, which take on an “anything goes” approach to fighting – save for eye gouging, biting and kicking to the head.
“Back in the days before (the MMA/NHB) was sanctioned by the Boxing Commission, fighters wouldn’t even wear gloves,” Freyre said. “It was that brutal. You would have a cage and see blood all over. Now you have weight classes and a matchmaker approved by the Boxing Commission who makes sure that somebody’s not going to get hurt – that all fighters are evenly matched.”
Cage matches are usually associated with professional wrestling, but RFC matches are fought exclusively inside them. While wrestling organizations may use them to promote an “inescapable” fight, RFC uses cages as a safety precaution.
“We used to use a ring, but it’s safer in a cage,” Freyre said. “The guys were getting caught in the ropes and falling out of the ring, and you’d have to pick them up and set them again. It was more dangerous because these guys do groundwork as well as fighting standing up. This way they don’t have to worry about falling and getting hurt.”
Since RFC is just beginning to gain notoriety in the United States – thanks to televised Ultimate Fighting Championships – some students were unaware of the organization.
“The cage sounds a little bizarre, but if (the fighters) are both masters and it’s something of any artistic value, then I’m all for it,” music studies major Daniel Vogelsong said.
RFC is the brainchild of Freyre and co-founder Joe Valdez. The duo selects matches and organizes multiple shows a year out of a desire to bring professional fights to Florida.
“I am the president and promoter at RFC,” Freyre said. “Basically, I bring the show to Tampa and make sure that there are good fights with a competitive atmosphere. My partner, Joe Valdez, brings the fighters in and ensures that they’re evenly paired up.”
Not just anybody can fight in an RFC event. All fighters must be in training, have a manager and be attending a martial arts school.
“Joe contacts the schools and says that he’s trying to find a 155-pounder, a 185-pounder, whatever he needs for a match,” Freyre said. “He finds them not just in Florida, but all throughout the United States and even in countries as far off as Brazil and Japan.”
Night of Champions has sold out every show since its first and often had to turn down 200 to 300 people due to the lack of seats. That’s why this year the venue has been moved from the 18,000 square-foot A La Carte Pavilion to the 55,000 square-foot Sun Dome.
“We were speculating that 5,000 would show up, but we’ve gotten such a good response that we’ve opened up the third level of the Sun Dome,” Freyre said. “We expect about 7,000 people, since this is probably the most competitive fight we’ve had in the state of Florida in the last two years.”
To help charge the larger event’s atmosphere, Night of Champions VII includes performances by local metal bands Fable and Unspoken, as well as a U.S. Army-provided rock wall for guests to climb prior to the fight’s 7:30 commencement.
“Our music is felt, as well as heard,” Fable guitarist Timmy Cooper said. “That’s what we love about this band – not only are we making great music, but it is exciting to perform it.
“When it comes to RFC, that style of fighting is the real deal, so I think we match up nicely. When we play these songs, it feels like we’re actually kicking some major ass, man, and what better way to warm up for a fight?”
Cooper describes Fable’s aggressive metal sound as “powerful and energetic, with a melodic twist,” which RFC hopes will rile audiences and prepare them for the series of fights.
“We’re trying to bring out the ambiance of fight night early,” Freyre said. “That way, when they come inside, they’re ready to really be awed.”
Tickets range from $25-$64 for the public, but are only $15 with a USF ID. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., but the fight doesn’t begin until 7:30.