IN JUST A DAY'S TIME, on Friday the September 23rd, MMA in the region is about to get shook up like never before as Brave Combat Federation(BCF) is set to have their first event titled “Brave – The Beginning' at Khalifa Sports City in Isa Town, Kingdom Of Bahrain.
BCF is the latest MMA promotion to join the ranks of others in the region, where the sport of MMA is increasingly becoming a viable and popular alternative to other mainstream sports. But unlike the others, this one has plans in place to become a truly global promotion that highlights the local talent that competes in the sport in the region.
The venture is the product of the vision of His Highness Sheikh Khalid Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the First Deputy President of the Supreme Council for Youth & Sport, Bahrain. Assisting him in this grand vision of rejuvenating local & global interest in the world's fastest growing sport is Mohammad 'The Hawk' Shahid, a former successful MMA fighter in his own right, who is now the CEO & President of Brave Combat Federation.
In the midst of a whirlwind last few days before the maiden event of BCF, The Fan Garage managed to speak with Shahid in an exclusive. In a detailed, candid conversation, the visionary CEO laid out the ambitious plans, spoke on the state of MMA in the region and passionately stated the need for a initiative such as Brave.
TFG: You just a couple of days ago made some exciting revelations on the future plans for Brave Combat Federation through a press conference Ireland, on the expansion plans in Europe. Why did Ireland figure so prominently in the plans of BCF and what can you tell us about the whole intent for the European expansion?
Mohammed Shahid: We are ambitious with our expansion plans for BCF (Brave Combat Federation) all over the world, but Europe will be one of the points we start with. It is no secret that Ireland has turned out to be the hub for MMA in Europe in many ways, with the popularity of Conor McGregor among other key factors. We also have a great relationship with the Irish MMA Federation, John Kavannagh from the SBG and fighters such as James Gallagher have been in the KHK MMA team, which led us to want to have the family feel to it when we are trying to spread out in Europe.
The expansion plan in itself is bigger than Ireland and we intend to bring in fighters from Italy, France, UK and all other places under the Brave banner as we feel that there is a ton of talent out there who haven't had the opportunity for exposure like they should. You have all these fighters from promotions who have been putting in the time and the work hoping to make it to the top of the food-chain promotions, but haven't got the value for their efforts yet. BCF intends to change that and Europe is the first step outside of the Middle East in that endeavor.
TFG: The idea behind starting yet another MMA promotion in the Middle East when there are a few already in existences such as Desert Force Championships, The Dubai Fighting Championships etc
MS: We didn't start off with a vision for yet another Middle Eastern MMA promotion to be honest, as you can see that within just one year of existence (BCF was conceived of in March '15 and the first press conference was in August '15)we have had tremendous success with the fighters we have on board. Beginning with KHK MMA's Frankie Edgar getting a title shot and Khabib making a successful return from knee injury, we have had names such as Jose Torres go on to become Titan FC champion and James Gallagher at 1 years old fight on the main card for Bellator. However, we felt the need to do more than what KHK MMA can do in terms of affording opportunities for fighters and that's how BRAVE came into being.
While we are based out of Bahrain, we are a truly global promotion with the expansion into Europe even before our first event, which is more than what the promotions you mentioned can say. More than that, BCF is here to change the way the system is set in the sport of MMA. At present, the construct is designed in such a way that the promotions make the most money while the fighters get paid when they fight and then they have to make do without any money until the next fight. We envision a world where the promoters will actually work for the fighters and the fighters decide on the tide of the sport.
We forget that the sport is so young and that while the UFC & Bellator are enjoying the benefits of the sport's explosion in popularity, the system is about to change and Brave will be leading the way for it. The time that a MMA fighter will be on the same level as other mainstream sports athletes such as football, baseball, cricket etc. isn't a stretch. While I can't lay out the whole plan at this point, be assured that we are not looking to be an alternative to any other promotion but be an industry leader when it comes to the sport of MMA.
TFG: You are among the more notable fighters to come out of this region and in many ways in your prime as a fighter. How did this move to the business side of MMA come about and how hard was this transition for you? Will this mean that your fighting days are over or would we get to see you in a Brave cage anytime soon?
MS: If you look at my journey in MMA, it has not been a huge transition. I am from Bahrain and the only place that MMA existed in, was in my head! (laughs) But I had the courage to give up school, sacrifice my social life and lead a life of nothing but training in my pursuit of MMA for six years where I had to learn to market myself, learn the skills for MMA and find fights while teaching classes to make all of this happen. At the age of 27 I didn't have a driving license and outside of MMA, the only thing I ever followed was my love for football.
It was tough, but worth it as the sport became me and I became the sport. I have had a few injuries along the way, but the experience has been irreplaceable and things just took off when I met with Sheikh Khalid who shared the same amount of passion that I have for the sport. Given my hardships in finding fights and opportunities for pursuing this as a career, we figured there was a need that the system in place needed to be changed.
TFG: How has the preparation been with the first event set to happen this friday night? What have been some of the challenges and some of the unexpected positives that came out of the whole experience?
MS: The challenges for the most part have been similar to what I had to face when I started out in the sport, which is to gain acceptance and respect for this sport as a choice for a career. Oustide of martial arts as a hobby, it needed a lot of work for me to convince the people around me that MMA was a legit industry and there were job opportunities to be pursued. Similarly, with Brave, it has been about getting people to know that there is a whole new system out there.
As for positives, they have been plentiful. The awareness for the sport and the reception to our first event has been nothing but great, with the tickets being sold out a week in advance and the media hype being great. The fighters from all the different nations are pumped like they have never been before and a lot has to do with the media from their countries backing them. It will take a couple of Brave events to see the effect that it has had on fighters.
TFG: One of the things that have caught the eye of MMA followers worldwide about KHK MMA has been the involvement of UFC big names such as Frankie Edgar and Khabib Nurmagomedov. What is the involvement of these fighters with KHK MMA ?
MS: It's a very close relationship that we have with these guys, more of a friendship/family kind of deal wherein we have supported them with their careers like we have for other fighters such as James Gallagher etc. and we intend to do so with other fighters, who are looking for assistance in their careers. However, we have never claimed to be managers or representatives for any of these guys.
The results and the feedback we have gotten is what prompted us to start BCF, as we feel that we can do similar things for many other fighters all over the world.
TFG: We have 3 Indian fighters on the Brave: The Beginning card this Friday night. How was the selection process for choosing the fighters from India for this card? What can you say for all the fans who would be tuning in to see their compatriots in action?
MS: It has been fantastic to see India stepping up on the world scale with MMA as this event will have 13 nationalities participating in it, with Abdul Muneer set to take on a former UFC fighter on the main card and other talented fighters such as Mohammad Farhad and Suny Khatri representing the country in Brave.
In my time competing, the story with Indian fighters always used to be that they would talk, before the fight, about the hardships they undergo and the lack of opportunities they faced heading into an event. However, it's been a sea change with this event as the fighters can't help but talk about marketing themselves as everything else is in order for them to go out and compete to the best of their abilities.
As for choosing the fighters from India, it's been a combination of many things that we looked for in them, but the most important was their story. We have a great matchmaker in Manolo Hernandez, who scouts talent and makes the matches, and also there is attention paid towards the fighter's past record but with someone like Abdul Muneer, whose nickname of 'Cutman' is a story of passion in itself, it was hard not to root for the guy.
Similarly, we have looked at all those aspects in narrowing down our choices with regards to fighters fighting out of India and other countries
TFG: India, just by its sheer size offers a massive opportunity to any business organization and KHK MMA with its global appeal and proximity to India stands a chance to become the first truly global MMA promotion to make a serious impact in the country. How much does India figure in the vision of KHK MMA for the future and what are the ways that the promotion plans on making inroads into the Indian market?
MS: When we started the Brave Combat Federation, the intent was never to come up with a business plan, and gain attention for ourselves using Bollywood stars or anything like that. Of course, it is important to have the right kind of endorsements for the show, but the problem becomes when the story of the promotion supercedes the stories of the fighters and that has been the case in Indian MMA so far.
However, we are here to change that and yes, India does figure in a big way in our future plans. I should be able to reveal more details in November.
TFG: In closing, where do you see Brave differing the most from other promotions operating out of the Asia & Middle East regions and what can we expect from the promotion moving forward?
MS: I wish to thank the fans for all the love and support and urge everyone to check out our website www.bravefights.com and tune in on Friday night for an exciting night of action. We have big news coming out of the event and can't wait for the whole world to feel the impact of the inaugural event of Brave Combat Federation on the world of MMA