ICF to Open Nation's First Fight Club/MMA Sports Bar (July 21, 2009)

Boasting over 20,000 square feet of space to pack in fight fans, Steve Stanton and Intimidation Cage Fighting look to make history with the opening of the country’s first Fight Club/MMA Sports Bar.

The club will be officially open for business this Friday, July 24th, but fight fans will get their first taste of real action this Saturday, July 25th during ICF: Stacked, featuring such fighters as Chad “H-Bomb” Hinton, George Oiler, Jeremy “Ponyboy” Pender, “Ruthless” Ron Mitchell and Jim Davis.

The grand opening on July 24th will feature the weigh-ins for the ICF: Stacked as well as live music from Black Saints Cartel.

I was invited by Stanton to get a sneak preview tour of the fight club and he took the time to give me all the stats on the club as well as some of his reasons for opening it.

Stanton opened the fight club for a number of different reasons. First, to help stabilize his own costs. Intimidation Cage Fighting has only been around one year, but in that time has hosted shows in three states and multiple venues. However, that much expansion that quickly can take its toll. At ICF’s first arena show, ICF: Breakout , the crowd turnout was not what they had hoped for, and the cost was high. Stanton had a second date at U.S. Bank Arena set but decided to give up that date in favor of opening the fight club and concentrating on giving the area’s expanding MMA fanbase the most bang for their buck – general admission tickets for the fight club events are only $25.00, and for those that arrive early, this guarantees a spot very close to the cage. By opening his own venue, Stanton stabilizes his production costs while still giving fans a production value far beyond what the title “regional promotion” implies. In addition to the wide roster of excellent local fighters from which Stanton draws, he still plans to bring in some of the bigger national names as he did with ICF: Breakout in spite of the fact that the fight club is a smaller venue than US Bank Arena.

"The reason I wanted to open a fight club is that these big venues I’ve been going to, they just rob you. They break these little small promotions like me. You go to these big venues and they treat you really good, but it’s expense after expense: rent, union, nickel and diming you on everything. I have my own venue now, all that doesn’t matter. I can have cheaper beers, I can have cheaper tickets, cheaper shirts – everybody can come, watch fights and have a good time," said Stanton.

The club sports multiple bars, food service, two big projection TVs and numerous smaller TVs are set to be placed throughout the club. It’s a multi-floor set-up, and those who have seats on the top floor will be able to look down on the cage for the fights from an area that wraps around about one-third of the club. Fans wanting to get closer to the action can purchase general admission floor seats, and those who want the best access can purchase VIP tickets for future events – VIP tickets for the July 25th show are already sold out. Additionally, the club has a full professional lighting and sound set-up as a permanent fixture, available for use to anyone who rents the venue.

The full-size cage is clearly the focal point, placed at the center of the club, and Stanton told me that the cage will stay set up all of the time, except when the venue hosts national concert events when the cage will be replaced by a stage.

The fight club is not only for ICF events – Stanton is taking an approach unique for a promoter, and for this purpose is stepping into more the role of a venue owner, in that his venue will be open to any promotion, including boxing promotions, that wants to host events at the club. This will be a great opportunity for some of the smaller regional events out there looking for a consistent venue in which to host their shows. Not only is everything already set up as far as the cage, lights, and sound, but the location (downtown Cincinnati) is a central one, drawing well from all the surrounding areas (Northern Kentucky, Lexington, Louisville, Indiana, Columbus and West Virginia, to name a few), and it can easily accommodate the crowds that regional promotions are used to – Stanton estimates that approximately 1500 people will be able to file in to see their local favorites lay it all out in the cage.

“Some of these [other] promotions are killing MMA, making it a crooked sport, and I want to get together with the other good promoters and work together instead of trying to push each other out. I want to be there for the fighters. I care about the fighters,” said Stanton.

When I asked Stanton why he picked Cincinnati, Ohio as opposed to somewhere in Kentucky or Indiana, he stated that it was because Ohio is the strictest state he’s dealt with – “Yes, they’re strict, but you have to do everything right. I like being here because only the best promotions can host shows here because of the regulations. If you don’t want to do it right, you shouldn’t do it anyway,” said Stanton.

In another move new to this area, besides the upcoming July 25th event, the majority of Stanton’s fights, and other fights hosted at the club will be on Friday nights. As an avid MMA fan, I’ve often wondered why some of these local promotions host their events on the same Saturday nights as UFC events. More than once, I’ve had to rush from a local event to a friend’s house or somewhere else to try and catch the end of a broadcast or start a show late. I think this is a good solution to that problem, and to the problem of competing with other local events.

I try to catch as many local events as I can, but as I cannot be in two places as once, more than once I have been forced to choose – and beyond my own desire to watch a lot of fights, a bigger problem is that many fight teams have had to divide their resources and fans between multiple shows on the same night. With this fight club, Stanton is making a move that I believe all the area teams will appreciate as a number of fighters have stated to me on multiple occasions that they hate the fact that they could not watch one of their teammates fight because he was fighting on another area show on the same night.

In addition to hosting fights, the club will serve as an MMA themed sports bar. Stanton told FightTicker.com that the venue will play host to all types of pay-per-view events, both boxing and MMA – “If it’s a televised fight, you’re going to be able to watch it here,” Stanton said. “How nice will it be to sit down with actual fighters and watch a pay-per-view?”

However, the venue will also draw on the area’s legions of loyal sports fans, with plans to have events like “Bengals Day” and other events geared toward the local teams.

The first fight club is in Cincinnati (at Longworth Hall) but don’t be surprised if eventually you see one in a town near you.

“My dream, I don’t know how long it will take to become a reality, I want to franchise this thing. I own half this bar, and my partners in this own land in Florida where they want to put places like this in. These guys are willing to back me because they see the things that I do,” Stanton stated.

In addition to the new venue, on July 25th, the ICF will welcome a new ring girl to their ranks, Amanda Bentley, currently in the running to become a finalist in Maxim’s “Hometown Hotties” contest.

“Stacked” is an appropriate name for the July 25th card – and rightfully so, the event will be taped for later broadcast as part of the recent deal that ICF signed with FightZone TV.

I’ll be at the show live blogging for FightTicker.com and getting post-fight comments from a number of the fighters – check back Saturday night for all of the action.

For more information on the ICF, check out their website.

The Fight Card:

James Nguyen Vs. Eric Moell
Brett Ewing Vs. Jerry Hunt
Joe Maiani Vs. Wesley Barrentine
Jimmy Brickler Vs. Moses Hatfield
Tommy Black Vs. Jon Gill
Brandon Demastes Vs. Justin Hunt
Lance Vinson Vs. George Oiler
Ron Mitchell vs. TBD*
Jim Davis Vs. Markeith Gillis
Jeremy Pender Vs. Jesse Grindstaff
Neal Craft Vs. Michael Wright
Dustin Walden Vs. Chad Hinton

*Mitchell's fight is not currently listed on the fight card as his opponent had not been finalized at the time of publication.

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