Darren Owen's long-time dream became a reality this past August, as Armageddon Fighting Championships (AFC) held their first event in Victoria.
After years of legal wrestling and venues pulling out at the 11th hour like they were Karo Parisyan, Owen and business partner Jason Heit were able to return professional Mixed Martial Arts to the capital of British Columbia and they're ready for more.
We sat down with the AFC President last week to discuss everything from the trials and tribulations of getting an organization and event off the ground to the future plans of the AFC.
This is the K2 Interview Series ... with AFC President Darren Owen.
First things first - when did you fall in love with MMA?
I think it was about my 12th birthday party.
I went to the video store and saw the VHS tape on the shelf and thought, "This is real fighting. You've got to be kidding me!" So I had to get my mom to rent it because I was 12.
Rented it, put it in and I was in love with MMA from UFC 1.
I have the exact same memory of the VHS tapes at Jumbo Video and I think there are a lot of people out there with the same recollection.
From that starting point, how did things evolve? How did you go from kid who fell in love with MMA to President of AFC?
I played football for a long time; I was always competitive, always wrestled my older brother, and liked the physical side of sports.
I wanted to get into MMA, but there was nothing here really. A friend of mine was training at Island MMA and as soon as he said, "Hey man, come check it out" I was in there.
The first day I went in, I was completely hooked 100%; started going five days a week, three hours a day.
There wasn't what I felt was a good promotion locally and I wanted to put on good fights, so over time, I became friends with the guy who owned the gym - Jason Heit, the co-owner - I asked him, "Have you ever thought of putting on MMA shows here?"
He said he had and so we said, "Let's do it."
I know you had your first event back in August, but it was a long struggle to get there. What were some of the roadblocks and legal situations that you had to overcome to make this happen?
Sanctioning was the biggest thing; who can sanction it? Where can they sanction it? Who has authority to do it? Where do they have authority to do it?
We kind of figured it out after we booked Pearkes Arena.
The arena was on board with it, than we got a letter from the Mayor of Saanich saying, "This is prize fighting and you'll be arrested if you proceed with this," even though we had the Victoria Athletic Commission that said they'd back us.
So then we had to look in Victoria and found the Victoria Conference Centre.
We wanted to do a classy, high-end kind of event and it's a really nice venue. We were 100% up-front and honest with them.
We said, "we're bringing in a cage, two dudes get in, it's a Mixed Martial Arts event. It's a combination of kicking and punching and grappling. These are the gloves they wear. This is what's going on. These are the rules."
They knew 100% what was going on. Everything went forward for months and months; emails, organizing and then the day I was supposed to sign the contract, turns out that was the day it went to their boss to sign it as well, and their boss was the one who said, "We're not doing this. Forget it."
I was called that morning and told to not bother coming in because they weren't doing it.
That's brutal. It's the Karo Parisyan treatment.
After all that, however, the event did eventually take place August 22. How would you rate the event? What were your pros and cons of your first show?
Ecstatic that it went off and it pretty much went off without a hitch as well, other than a couple outside sources trying to prevent it from happening, but that didn't stop us and I was very happy with how the event went.
Afterward, I'm a perfectionist, so I was asking everyone I could - managers, fighters, people that were involved - "What can you see that we need to improve? How can we get better?"
I asked Kalib Starnes, "You know, you've been to the big show. What can you see?" and universally, everyone said we did a great job and that it was a great show.
Every fighter wants to come back. Every fighter wants to fight for us again. We treated the fighters right.
Jason is a fighter himself; he knows what fighters want and we gave the fighters what they wanted and that's important to us.
I want to get better though.
We're buying a new Octagon; the one we used was a little small, but it was the best we could get in Western Canada. I just want to keep making the show better and go from there.
Your second show has been teased; I know I got an update through Facebook that an announcement is coming soon. Can you give us something a little more concrete for AFC 2?
It looks like UFC 111 is going to be March 13, so obviously we don't want to have our show on the same day as a UFC event, so we're just waiting on a contract from the arena, but it looks like we'll be March 6 at Bear Mountain Arena.
Anyone you can confirm as of now that will be appearing? Fighters that have expressed interest in coming on board?
A lot of people are interested; we got a lot of ideas being thrown around.
Anyone who is not signed could potentially come and fight. There are some big names in the States that are interested, some talented Canadians. I don't want to jinx stuff.
You mentioned Kalib Starnes earlier. He fought recently in Australia. Is he a possibility?
He would like to fight for us and I would very much like to support local fighters, so I would love to have Kalib come fight.
As a whole, we're seeing more regional promotions popping up in Canada, as well as rumors that the UFC is going to perhaps be coming to Vancouver this summer. How do you see the state of the sport in Canada right now?
I would love Vancouver to open up for MMA in Canada. Like a lot of people, I'd like to get my foot in the door in that market.
MMA in Canada is huge and it's only getting bigger. You can't ignore it.
Sanction it and sanction it properly. Don't force it underground, that's when mistakes get made.
This is the fastest growing sport in the world and it could even end up in the Olympics some day, so how could you ignore that?
That's one thing that has always struck me: you have the negative views of the sport and the negative slants put on the sport, yet it's comprised of a number of Olympic events...
It's uneducated people that aren't familiar with the inner workings of the sport and the training that goes into it.
These athletes train and train hard, as hard or harder than NBA players, NFL players. People just don't know.
What is the market like here in Victoria? How is the media? The public response?
Everyone has been great.
People have been really supportive; a lot of organizations and business sponsoring the event, a lot of people want to be a part of the events.
The media has been surprisingly good, very receptive.
I had one media blitz where I don't think the network was talking to each other because they came in (to Island MMA), showed the kids class, showed the instruction, safe environment, did a really great job with the story.
But then the same people interviewed me afterward, cut it, edited it and tried to make me look like not the nicest guy out there, but that's the way it goes.
We touched on UFC Vancouver a little bit. There is talk of an MMA Expo to go along with it like they've done with UFC 100, there was one in New York and Toronto has always had a great turn out for their show.
Is that something you'd be interested in and we would see you at if it happens?
Oh man - that would be cool. I would definitely be interested in something like that.
I don't want to take baby steps, but I don't want to put ourselves out there too far to where it doesn't make smart business sense.
We were looking at having Herb Dean come up and referee our first event, but he's not too cheap. We ended up going with (Canadian fighter and UFC veteran) John Alessio, who has refereed Randy Couture's Xtreme Couture events, is a sanctioned referee and did a very good job.
(UFC VP of Regulatory Affairs) Marc Ratner got wind of our event when they were trying to get into Vancouver and let us know how happy he was to hear that we're doing things the right way, having a sanctioned referee.
Last couple questions are always the same in every interview I do. They're quick hitters, just say what comes to mind first.
If you could fight anyone - past, present, fighter or not - who would you fight and why? Kenny Florian said Osama bin Laden, Tim Hague said Fedor...
I probably wouldn't say Fedor or anyone like that. I would probably be able to beat down Hitler pretty good or that guy who ratted out Jesus.
Yeah, Judas. I would go to town on Judas. Ground and pound him.
You already do some matchmaking...
It's such a brutal process. People think it's easy; just put two guys together, but it's the hardest job.
If you could put together any three fights, free of organizational ties...
GSP - Anderson Silva...
Everyone says that.
Fedor and a healthy Brock Lesnar...
Also makes most people's lists.
A couple months ago I would have said Anderson Silva and (Lyoto) Machida, but I don't know now. Not after the Shogun fight.
GSP - Anderson Silva would be my #1 though. GSP and anybody, really. GSP and Jason Heit.
All-time favorite fighter? GSP?
Best fight you've seen - live or otherwise?
I saw the GSP - Penn II fight live. I don't know if that was the best fight, but it was fun to watch. It was great watching BJ's pumpkin head take a beating.
It would probably be the David Heath - Mike Nickels fight at MFC 22 - I saw that one live. Jason's fight too, against Paapa Inkumusah.
That's about it. Thanks for doing this.
photo courtesy of AFC / Arnold Lim - MMA Ring Report