Promoter Karl Keller is buzzing following the recent debut of Reign MMA Championship in Dubai; his enthusiasm down the phone is tangible. The event was “his greatest experience in years” and “a lot of fun”, which he believes is essential.
Untypically for a private, international promoter, Reign showcased amateur MMA. Launching with heavyweight support from renowned SBG Ireland coach, John Kavanagh and KSW CEO and founder, Martin Lewandowski (Poland), the event pitted a (ultimately victorious) Team Ireland against Team Poland. IMMAF President Kerrith Brown was also in attendance.
How did Reign MMA come about? “I’ve been involved in MMA, teaching and training, for 15 years. A friend of mine Krzysztof Soszynski of UFC Gyms (Director of MMA & Fitness for UFC Gym Middle East) was approached by an events company (Core) who held a Worlds Ultimate Strongman in Dubai last October. As part of that we ran a very small MMA event, and they came back to us.”
Because there is no MMA governance structure in Dubai and the show being a first, Keller was cautious about jumping in at the deep end and wanted to start modestly. Hence he decided on a 5 aside, amateur teams event. He had always been a fan of SBG, and reached out to John Kavanagh via Instagram. They hadn’t previously known each other and had just one contact in common. Meanwhile, Soszynski had connections with KSW and approached Lewandowski.
Keller gives due credit to Kavanagh, Lewandowski, the fighters and coaches for their leap of faith in supporting the event.
“MMA is not the same as other, more established sports,” which are extremely hard to access as an outsider. “If you approach the sport with an open heart and mind there are opportunities. I truly thank and appreciate the time given by John and Martin, and also Kerrith (Brown) for travelling out to the event.”
Why amateur? “I believe it’s important for amateur fighters to get experience under the bright lights, to get a taste of the glitz, glamour and media. Many get the jitters when they transition to pro and that impacts their performance.”
Through Reign, Keller aims to create an “organic progression for top amateurs, a stepping stone up to the international pro level.”
Also, Keller believes strongly in the martial arts values promoted in amateur MMA, which he wants to give a platform to. Reign MMA has zero tolerance for bad behaviour and Keller cites the likes of UFC pros Darren Till and Donald Cerrone as honourable role models: “The best people in the sport are the gentlemen.”
While the IMMAF President Brown was in Dubai, discussions were held and introductions made for the establishment of a Dubai MMA governing body and for the development of the amateur sport in the country.
“I will do everything in my powers to help facilitate the creation of a Dubai federation,” says Keller,”in order for the sport to progress in the right direction. I believe in it.”
Meanwhile, Keller has Reign MMA Championship 2 to plan, and has been absolutely inundated with and overwhelmed by emails from hopeful fight teams around the world. There certainly seems to be strong demand for the platform. Keller’s first step is to determine the best format moving forwards for deciding who should fight who next.
Read IMMAF’s event preview and teams line-up: https://www.immaf.org/reign-championship-launch-amateur-mma-showcase-in-dubai-mma-in-uae-needs-to-grow-in-a-healthy-direction/