New York City has played host to more than its fair share of boxing history but on May 17 at Terminal 5 in Manhattan, the red carpet will roll out for the fastest growing sport in the world in its first legally sanctioned mixed martial arts event.
Victory Combat Sports comes from the same team that brought you Muay Thai in NYC (http://fridaynightfights.com) and this Friday night in NYC they look to make history.
Here are some highlights from my conversation with CEO and Managing Partner of Victory, Kevin Lillis.
CraveOnline: Hey Kevin. How are you?
Kevin Lillis: Very well. Yourself?
Can you tell me some about yourself and how you got involved with MMA?
Sure. I trained in martial arts since I was a kid and I've been in real estate actually for about 15 years. I'm the head of food and beverage at the Plaza Hotel and up until recently I was the head of food and beverage and real estate for the largest private owner of hotels in New York.
I was training since I was young. I messed around with boxing, karate. I did some jiu-jitsu. I did a lot of muay thai but my main career was just too time demanding. I just didn't have time to really train. I was a decent amateur but nothing remarkable and discovered shortly after that I had a better eye for the game than the time and physical ability.
I started breaking down tape for a lot of pros and that led into being the play-by-play guy for Friday Night Fights. I've been running a hospitality real estate kind of finance private VIP event with Friday Night Fights for about seven years – That's how I met Justin(Blair, COO of Victory) who's essentially a great fight operations guy. I'm a great, if I could toot my own horn, hospitality guy. We're basically using our different skills – he's doing everything in the ring while I'm doing everything out of the ring.
On Friday you'll be hosting the first legally sanctioned MMA fight in New York. Tell me, how difficult was it for you guys to actually get the green light?
We've been working with Brian Crenshaw and World Kickboxing Association for a very long time. They've been sanctioning all the Friday Night Fights events that Justin has been running and I've been apart of for many years. They're the only recognized one that I'm aware of by New York State to do this.
It's tough. We were hoping to be able to do pro but it's still been delayed. That's why kind of announced it late. We were dragging our feet a little hoping we'd be able to do a pro event but we weren't able to. At least we'll be able to do full on sanctioning.
That was actually my next question. Whether these fights were all amateur or pro?
Yeah they're all amateur but this first time we're going into a sanctioning body recognized by New York State. They're answering to the highest of authority.
Why do you think it's been so tough? The UFC has been trying to get MMA legalized in NYC for awhile..
Why has it been so tough for NYC to allow MMA?
It's crazy because it's essentially the last state. It's legal in 48 out of 50 and the only other one is Connecticut. In Connecticut they just do it at Mohegan Sun in Foxwoods because reservations are technically not Connecticut land so- it's just New York. It's funny to have New York be the last one of the end of some progress. You still have some of these senators saying some wild things that are grossly inaccurate (Laughter). New York's the last one? It's not something in the bible belt? New York? Really?
I think the power in the boxing community perhaps? There was a big thing going on with taxes a few years ago where the boxing people were pushing it so that MMA would be legal but at such a absorbent tax rate that it would make no sense to do it. Guys like Dana White and the UFC kind of balked at that but again this is all just heresy.
I think some of the union people with this whole fight with the Fertitta's (owners of Zuffa/UFC). A very powerful hospitality union based in Las Vegas are trying to grind on the Fertitta brothers as hard as they can.
Drop some names of Victory fighters that we should be on the lookout for.
Marcus Surin is a big one. He's won the Pan American gold medal twice and was an absolute stud wrestler in high school and college. This is going to be his debut but he has a huge grappling pedigree.
"The War Chief" Joe Cox is another one. He won the Friday Night Fights eight-man single elimination tournament last year in highlight reel fashion. He's going to be our main event guy and has absolute dynamite in his hands.
Stacey Scapeccia. She has a huge following. She has a long muay thai record but she's fought only once in MMA. She use to be the lead singer of a rock band called Mankind. She's fighting Ashley Miller from New York so that's going to be a big fight.
Cody Pain. He's undefeated in muay thai but this is going to be his debut. He's only been training in MMA for 12 months but he's an actor and he's going to school and he's also fighting on the side. He trains out of American Top Team in Franklin Square.
How often are you guys looking to do MMA events in New York?
Monthly. Right now we do about 12 to 15 muay thai shows a year but I'd say in the next two to three years we'll be looking to do them monthly. It's challenge because unlike muay thai, MMA guys go pro pretty early. Muay thai guys hold back so you can get a decent amateur fight of guys who've had 15 fights. For whatever reason, I don't know if it's the UFC aspect, MMA guys go pro after about two fights so the amateur thing can be very limiting.
We have an advantage that we've been so active in the muay thai community. We have a lot of guys that do muay thai and dip into MMA. That's also gonna probably make for more exciting fights that most people have because the muay thai aspect of having guys standing up and trading shots. We're gonna have muay thai guys fighting with four ounce gloves as opposed to 10.
That's great. That's my absolute favorite thing in MMA, the muay thai fighters.
We're gonna have muay thai guys with four ounces. This is going to be exciting! Cody Pain hitting somebody with a four ounce glove or Joe Cox the head hunter..he was dropping guys with body shots with 10 ounces.
Kevin, thank you so much.
Thank you. Take care.
Victory Combat Sports Presents Mixed Martial Arts takes place this Friday at Terminal 5 in Manhattan.
Buy your tickets here.
Zachary Hutton is the lead boxing writer and an MMA contributor for CraveOnline Sports. You can see what he's up to at his band's website myunclethewolf.com or also subscribe at Facebook.
Photos: Victory Combat Sports