The FCFF Co-owners Battled the State to Legalize MMA in Oregon

A milestone will be reached on Saturday, March 6th as the Full Contact Fighting Federation hosts its 50th installment of the “Rumble at the Roseland” event. The FCFF, since 2001 has created a mixed martial arts (MMA) culture in Portland that has risen to National attention. The culture is a bustling economy of its own, with gyms sprouting up in every neighborhood and suburb within a 100 miles of Portland; MMA stores exist in the malls and bars in Portland are bursting at the seams for any fight night. This new economy has weathered through the economic crisis and has no intention of slowing down –The FCFF is the linchpin of Portland’s MMA culture and the oldest cage fighting organization in the State of Oregon.

FCFF Co-owners Chael Sonnen and Kevin Keeney

The FCFF’s road to success was not easy. Chael Sonnen at the age of 24 faced his first serious roadblock: MMA was illegal in the State of Oregon. Sonnen began the journey to legalize MMA with the Boxing Commissioner, Jim Cassidy. He was met with contention. The commissioner responded to Sonnen by saying, “My office handles boxing and wrestling and your event is neither.” Regardless, Sonnen and Kevin Keeney moved forward with their business plan (that Sonnen created in class at the University of Oregon a year prior) and took a loan to build a cage and booked a venue. The first event was scheduled for January 19th, 2002 and two days prior, the State of Oregon filed a Temporary Restraining Order against the FCFF to shut down MMA in Oregon. Sonnen and Keeney, with the help of their lawyer Rich Franklin, went to the Marion County Court and Judge Limpscum ruled in the FCFF’s favor. The State took the FCFF to court seven more times in attempts to end MMA in Oregon. Franklin not only fought the State of Oregon but also argued in front of a Senate Sub Committee ultimately resulting in the legalization of MMA in Oregon.

In 2004 the State’s Boxing and Wrestling Commission officially extended its authority to MMA and Jim Cassidy was fired. Brad Darcy took his place and still works with the FCFF today. After the FCFF paved the way for mma events in Oregon many others events formed and died off – the FCFF is the longest running MMA event organization in Oregon and the oldest amateur MMA organization on the planet.

In the first years of the FCFF, David Lyken played a major role in the organization’s success. Lyken, the owner of the Double Tree and the Roseland Theater trusted a 24-year-old unknown kid, with no business experience to hold a cage-fighting event in his venue. Even when the Attorney General was personally calling him to request the stoppage of the event, he didn’t – he honored the agreement made with the FCFF and kept the event alive. The FCFF would not have survived without him.

The Roseland Theater

In the first years the majority of MMA fighters came from two trainers: Robert Follis and Dennis Hallman. They were the original pillars of the MMA community and provided the talent out of the Northwest region.

The story of the FCFF’s 25-foot steel cage, known to fight fans as “the Slammer” is unique. In 2001 there was only one mma cage that existed in the world: The UFC’s octagon. The other two major shows in Japan and Brazil used boxing rings instead of cages. Mike Madlem designed the FCFF’s cage in his neighbor’s yard, outside in the Oregon rain. He measured, cut, leveled, and welded the entire structure. He still personally sets it up for every show. The State’s Commission has stated many times that the “Slammer” is the best built Cage in the business.  It’s incredible considering it was build eight years ago, without a blueprint.

Mike, the Cage Designer and Operator

The FCFF’s first years were astounding. The Rumble @ The Roseland events produced 13 fighters that went onto be UFC veterans, seven fighters that went onto fight for the WEC and two fighters that competed in the IFL. One of the greatest fights from the early years is the bout between Chris Leben and Pat Healy. Another memorable bout one was between Brad Blackburn and Ryan Healy. The FCFF’s greatest personality to date was Scott Trayhorn – the building went crazy when he grabbed the microphone. Even today, about half-a-dozen fighters per year leave the amateur ranks after winning a FCFF Championship belt to fight on the professional circuit. At the 50th event anniversary on March 6th we will host some past Champion and highlight where they have gone since graduating out of the FCFF.

The FCFF has become nationally recognized as the “Golden Gloves” of MMA. The television show “Inside MMA” with commentator Bas Rutton has highlighted the talent coming out of the FCFF. It’s a platform for new fighters to get exposure and experience. According to Sonnen, it’s probably the only amateur show Dana White of the UFC watches. Sonnen’s career is a perfect example of what a truly talented fighter can accomplish coming out of the Portland MMA scene: he started at the Rumble, moved to the professional circuit and fought with Bodog, the WEC and finally the UFC. “It’s truly a unique feeling to compete at the Roseland in an FCFF event.  The crowd is like nothing else I’ve been part of,” said Sonnen. His most recent professional victory came on Saturday, February 6th 2010 at UFC 109 in Las Vegas. He beat Nate Marquardt in a unanimous decision victory and put himself one-step closer to title contention for the UFC’s middleweight belt in the biggest international MMA organization on the planet.

The partnership between Chael Sonnen and Kevin Keeney runs deep. They are childhood friends. Originally Sonnen asked Keeney to meet with him because he had an “idea.” They met at the Oregon City Shari’s and had onion rings. Sonnen pitched the FCFF and the Rumble at the Roseland and asked Kevin to be his partner… Kevin said “No” and it’s been a great partnership ever since. The pair has “great things” planned for the FCFF’s future; you must stay tuned into the organization for more.


Rumble @ The Roseland 49

Rumble @ The Roseland 49 was an event for the Heavyweights. It’s not often you get to see two “big-boys” (who are current or former HWT Title holders) face-off and have the results be so explosive. A lot of the times it can be a slow “chess match” without much action. The Heavyweight Championship Fight at the FCFF’s Rumble 49 only lasted a one minute and 38 seconds. Willie Walden, of Team Quest and Vancouver, Washington knocked out Shaun Mirjavadi cold. Mirjavadi fell like a tree, 18 inches in front of me.

I got this video:

In other Heavyweight action two guys new to the FCFF faced off in what Kevin Keeney, the co-owner said “was one of the best rounds of heavyweight action ever.” George Jordan from California, fought Mike Moreno in the 205 pound weight class division. The first round was a whirlwind of all-out punches – without much logic to it. Each fighter was completely tensed – giving and receiving blows that would be ‘lights out’ for most fighters.

I took this clip:

One of my favorite new fighters got a chance for the 145-pound featherweight championship at Rumble 49: John Alden of TSN. He walked into TSN in 2009 and started training with FCFF veteran Erik Wander. He went up against Chris Beacock, a very skilled fighter out of the Armstrong MA – another great fight club producing great talent like Dennis Parks, former FCFF Champion turned professional. Alden, at first seemed a bit overtaken by Beacock in a very intense battle. He came out on top and book the Featherweight Title back home to TSN.

I took this clip:

What are cage fights without a little blood? Lee Flores and Nathan Allen battled for three rounds in a fight that was full of painful holds and gushing blood. Allen finally ended things with a tapout in two minutes and 40 seconds of round number three.

I took this clip: