The Russian-created 2-on-2 fighting show could be described as Mixed Martial Arts meets American Gladiators with a little tag-team wrestling and Ninja Warrior mixed in.
After its television debut on the AXS television network in March, the first live show in the United States is scheduled for Bristol, Virginia on August 9.
“We’re bringing something to America that America is going to embrace,” Fees said. “They love Ninja Warrior and those type of things. It’s taking combat sports to the next level.”
Oxendine called it the evolution of martial arts. Although the concept of 2-on-2 combat seems more dangerous than a traditional MMA fight, Oxendine said it’s actually not the case. He sees the competition as more exciting than simple combat inside a cage.
“Because this is obstacle-driven, there are goals to accomplish outside of beating each other up,” he explained. “In football, your goal isn’t to beat someone up, it’s to win the game. If you beat someone up along the way, it’s acceptable in the sport. It’s the same here. You have obstacles and you have to be able to do certain tasks. In the middle of it, if you land some good shots and knock your opponent out, you can win that way. But really it’s based on other things.
“You get less head trauma than MMA because there’s less straight-out brawling and it’s more into a team aspect like football or basketball with strategy. It’s more exciting because you don’t spend the time on the ground. You jump right back up and you’re constantly moving. It’s just faster pace and it’s scary to some because people aren’t used to it yet.”
Fees added they have added headgear and shin guards as precautions, although there are risks associated with any sport. He agrees with Oxendine that Arena Combat will have more of a mass appeal than traditional MMA.
For the Bristol main event, a pair of former University of Alabama linebackers — Eryk Anders and Marcell Stamps — will team up to face a team from Russian. Anders, who led the Crimson Tide with a team-high six solo tackles, a sack and a forced fumble in the 2010 National Championship win against Texas, has made a name for himself in MMA octagons with a 10-3-1 amateur record.
It was a natural fit to team him with another former Alabama player.
“What we’ve learned about MMA, the thing that sells and intriques is storyline and characters,” Fees said. “I had met Eryk Anders at a fight in Alabama. I heard about him and I interviewed him inside the ring. He’s a very well spoken individual. When I found out he was still amateur and we could use him, it dinged in my head that should get two guys from Alabama to fight together.
“It’s a really cool concept to have two guys from America’s most popular sport go against two Russians. There are so many cool storylines with that main event.”
There has been a trend of crossover athletes from other sports in MMA as Anders was trained by former college basketball player Walt Harris. Current WWE wrestler Brock Lesnar won the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight title, while former Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker and NASCAR driver Jeffrey Earnhardt both went undefeated MMA competition. In addition, a former University of Tennessee defensive end is scheduled to headline the next UFC card in August.
Oxendine sees the crossover factor an even greater possibility for Arena Combat.
“As amateurs, the Alabama players are the elite of the elite,” Oxendine said. “The crossover from football to MMA right now is very successful like Ovince St. Preux, who was a Tennessee football player who is main eventing the next UFC fight.”
Another storyline has a pair of brothers from North Georgia — David and Josh Lewis — competing against another team from Russia, while a pair of former Science Hill wrestlers — Jonathan Pearce and two-time state champion Bo Usary — are scheduled to compete in the featherweight division.
Fees and Oxendine recently showed video from Arena Combat at the Arnold Sports Festival in Ohio and posted online their interviews with some of the biggest names in combat sports.
Bobby Lashley, the TNA World Heavyweight Champion and former MMA champion, compared Arena Combat to the Arnold Schwarzenegger film, “The Running Man,” while legendary UFC champion Don “The Predator” Frye said, “The Russians have invented something fantastic.”
Mark Coleman, who defeated Frye in UFC 10, said if he was 20 years younger he would like to participate, while Lyoto Machida, who headlined the latest UFC card against Chris Weidman called it a great idea.
Oxendine likes how the 2-on-1 situations get to the core of martial arts with self-defense. He also mentioned there are referees instead of judges and how it’s clear who are the winners and losers.
The last point is something that his partner also emphasizes.
“It’s definitive scoring,” Fees said. “If a takedown happens, it’s a point. If you take an obstacle, it’s clear-cut. There isn’t a lot of gray area, which is really nice. We’re seeing in MMA and boxing how there’s always controversy with judges. We take that out of it and put it in the hands of the referees. It’s pretty clear — if someone is knocked down, they’re knocked down.”
Nine matches have been announced for the event at Virginia High School’s Bearcat Arena with more information to come soon.