I was able to catch up with CES promoter Jimmy Burchfield Jr. to talk to him about how CES' return to action came together, and what we should expect from the regional juggernaut in the near future. A veteran of the New England MMA scene, Burchfield goes into detail about the promotions 1st event post covid and how the card got put together.
Who would have thought that there would be 7.5 months between regional MMA events in New England. When Travis, Steve, and I went to Premier FC 30 in Springfield on February 29th of this year, we didn't think that this was going to be the last in-person event that we'd see for some time. It was a great card put on by Karyn Wesch and her team at Premier FC, and it's a card that I soon won't forget due to the lack of events that we've seen since.
After being sidelined for almost 10 months of their own, CES makes a triumphant return to the New England regional stage with a stacked 8 fight card that is highlighted by the organizations biggest star, John Gotti III (5-0), headlining the event versus his toughest competition to date in Nick "JC" Alley (6-3).
CES is the only New England based promotion with a streaming deal with UFC FightPass, and that proved to be the crucial aspect in getting this show off the ground. "FightPass has played a critical role in us being able to do this. FightPass understands the regulatory and financial challenges that we face, and they have been extremely accommodating in helping us get this event off the ground", said Burchfield. With FightPass being such an important partner in this endeavor, CES had to accommodate the streaming services calendar and schedule their event for a Wednesday night, hoping to have less viewing competition and an opportunity to capture more eyeballs.
CES 61 will be the first event held in the northeast outside of Bellator since late February, and it will go down as a truly historic event for the region. It hasn't come without its hurdles though, as promotions have been forced to adapt to the environment to put on events, or choose to wait on the sidelines until fans can be allowed. The first hurdle that Burchfield needed to clear was making sure that the CES team was willing and ready to put on a show with the threat of the virus and with the additional protocols that would need to be met.
"It's been a challenging journey to get this fight card off the ground. We choose not to say something unless we can really do it. The team was eager and excited to get back to work. Then we had to check with the fighters to see if they were comfortable fighting in these conditions without fans, and knowing that we had budget issues without ticket sales, they needed to be willing to take a pay cut. For some fighters it made sense, for others it didn't."
With the commitment from the CES team and fighters, Burchfield then had a 2nd massive hurdle to overcome; the commission and the state of Rhode Island. A longstanding working relationship between CES and the athletic commission paid off, as the department of health approved the event based on the safety protocols that the promotion laid out for them. Fighters and corners will be tested when they arrive on Monday and will be quarantined until results are back on Tuesday. The cost of testing and additional hotel stays are another financial burden being placed on an already handicapped industry, but the upside of getting exposure during a time with little MMA action going on is a big one, and this isn't lost on Burchfield.
Before focusing his attention on getting an event off the ground in Rhode Island, Burchfield had explored the possibility of CES having their own sort of "fight island" at Mohegan Sun, but Bellator and their parent company's (Viacom) deep pockets put this possibility to rest, as they locked up the arena on tribal land through the end of the year, and have 3 more events scheduled there through mid-November.
Pulling off this event in a safe manor will surely open the door for CES to be holding regular events, and this is incredibly important for a stable of young regional fighters who have had their careers put on hold. The lack of regional shows across the country will have a serious downstream impact of the talent that will be ready to break into the UFC or Bellator in the next few years. From March 2019 to September 2019 there were 5,500 MMA fights in the United States. That same time period this year; 850. There just aren't enough opportunities for fighters right now on the regional level, but CES is trying to do their part. With the possibility of many more fight opportunities opening up in the region in the near future, I asked Burchfield if he would be looking to include some amateur matchups on his future cards.
"Yes, we would welcome the opportunity to do some pro-am cards. We wanted to get this card out of the way and get some comfort level with the 'new reality', but we've got 2-3 more MMA dates scheduled with FightPass before the end of the year, but yes, we'd love to do some pro-am cards."
This is big news for some of the upper echelon amateur fighters in the region, and I'd definitely expect a pretty big queue at the door of the cage, as many guys are itching to get back in there and compete. It also helps fill out a fight card with a few amateur bouts that won't require a fight purse expense, but will still deliver what the fans want.
When CES signed its licensing deal with FightPass it was forced into the video production business, as their previous TV partner, AXS TV, handled the production of their events, but FightPass deals rely on the promotion producing the event. Burchfield admits that it was a steep learning curve getting to understand the video production world, and with the lack of revenue from ticket sales, he said that we'll see a scaled down version of some various aspects of their production, namely the lights and the walkout effects. There will also be a 2 man commentating booth versus their standard 3 man booth.
It's without question that John Gotti III is the promotions biggest star, and plotting their return around a Gotti III fight was a logical approach to dipping their toe in the covid-tainted water. Gotti III is normally accompanied by 300-400 fans that travel from NY on tour buses to watch his fights in person in Rhode Island. Burchfield had nothing but praise for the Long Island MMA fighter who's gone a perfect 5-0 under the CES banner, notching all of his professional wins along side Burchfield and the CES team.
"John is a really committed athlete to the sport. He has dedicated his life to this. He focuses solely on training. His potential is limitless. He's really that good, but this is a crazy sport, so you never know."
With a win next Wednesday over Nick Alley, Gotti is positioned nicely to get a call from the UFC to compete on the upcoming season of the Contender Series, which is tentatively scheduled to kick off in November, but overlooking Alley would not be wise, as he's on a 3 fight win streak and has been evolving over the past few years. I'd expect to see Gotti try and keep this fight standing and land his heavy handed striking attack, while Alley's best path to victory lies on the mat, and most likely by submission.
The rest of the card is littered with big name New England fighters such as; Fabio Cherant (#3 LHW), Mitch Raposo (#4 BW), Kris Moutinho (#9 BW), Connor Matthews (#10 LW), and Tyler King (#6 HW). It's an impressive roster of fighters who've stepped up, most on short notice, to shake the rust off and get back to plying their trade. As much as Burchfield is happy with the card that his team has put together, it's not lost on him the importance of making sure that this event is handled safely, as this will be the litmus test on whether other CES events can take place in the near future here in the region.
"It's an interesting time for everyone. Some people have been effected by covid more than others, so we are trying to be as sensitive as we can, and taking all the safety measures possible. If this event goes well, then lets rock n' roll with these other events!"
An incredible amount of planning went into getting this event off the ground, and for us New England fight fans, we can only pray that everything goes off without a hitch, as we've been deprived of local fights for way too long, and CES seems to be our only source for local talent to get active on the regional scene in the near future. Hat's off to Jimmy Burchfield Jr. and the entire CES team for getting this event off the ground. They won't be getting rich operating this way, but they will be giving these local fighters a massive stage to show their skills with plenty of important eyes watching.
Without media being allowed in the building to cover the event, NEMMA will be hosting a fight companion next Wednesday night during the CES FightPass broadcast. We're working on getting some fighters lined up to hop on our FaceBook broadcast after their fights to chat, so stay tuned.