From the very first bout at CenturyLink Arena, back on May 16, 2014, Front Street Fights has had a simple mission- bring entertainment to the Boise community of fight fans, take care of its athletes, and provide opportunities for the fighters.
On May 20th, Boise fighters will be granted their greatest opportunity when Bellator MMA makes its first visit to CenturyLink Arena.
“I think Bellator coming to town is a result of the entire organization’s work. From the get-go, our mission was to take care of the fighters and give them a platform to perform to get to these levels,” said Matt Johnson, lead broadcast voice and Marketing Director of the Front Street Fights franchise.
“I think it solidifies what we’ve told these guys, that we were going to do everything to get these guys to the next level. Our goal was never to eventually compete with UFC; it was to get our guys to Bellator and eventually to UFC. I think this event shows that over the last couple of years, what we say we’re going to do is what we’re going to do.”
The preliminary fight card for Bellator 155 will serve as a tribute to local fight favorites, with nine Front Street Fights veterans entering the cage for the national event.
Front Street Fights has certainly garnered attention from local MMA enthusiasts after hosting eight events in the past two years, and now Boise is getting national attention as a fight town. Bellator is one of the country’s largest MMA promotions and will offer a grand stage for these Front Street Fights fan-favorites to jump to the next level of mixed martial arts fighting.
“I think it’s a lot of fun. It’s nice seeing a promotion start from ground up, and in two years prove to the outside MMA world that there is an audience here and there are athletes here,” said Todd Carlson, Match-maker for Front Street Fights. “The exciting thing is that it opens up an opportunity for the fighters.”
Bellator in Boise not only offers fighters the chance to advance their careers, but also to do so at home. Seven fighters in the event- Jesse Brock, Ricky Steele, Scott Thometz, Brendon Raftery, Casey Johnson, Veta Arteaga, and Tyler Freeland – are Treasure Valley natives.
Traditionally, fighters in Idaho would train locally, but at some point would have to make the decision to sign with a mid-major fight promotion and leave home in order to climb the ladder to the UFC. With Bellator’s arrival, Carlson believes that fighters can now make that leap right from the Front Street Fights cage.
“The thing that has happened that I wasn’t expecting is that a lot of the fighters and trainers are saying, ‘Now I’m not sure if I have to go to the RFA,” said Carlson. “They know they can fight right here at Front Street Fights, be live-streamed all over the world, and with the production level we put out they believe they can launch right from Front Street Fights to the UFC.”
There will be an opportunity to make such a jump on May 20th, with CenturyLink Arena packed with Bellator trainers and match-makers that may just want to take a promising local fighter on the road with them. With that prospect, and that pressure, Johnson is excited to see a showcase of Boise’s best fighting for the spotlight.
“I’m not sure that Bellator would have been here two years ago, but I also don’t know that if they were here that the fight card would feature so many local fighters,” said Johnson. “You look down the list- Jesse Brock, Scott Thometz, Casey Johnston, Brendan Raftery, and the list goes on. This is the super-show of local fighters to fight on this huge national stage.”
And while Bellator is certainly an opportunity for the fighters, it is also a showcase for the Front Street Fights franchise itself. A brand that just two years ago had to sell itself to the fighting world is now a major player and can build off that momentum under this spotlight, leading to more high-profile events.
“When we first started we were struggling to put together six or seven fights, but not now,” said Carlson, who says his phone rings dozens of times each day with fighters looking to join a Front Street fight card. “And that feeds the health of the brand because now you’re only picking the best fighters.”
Front Street executives are also eager to see what their fighters can do against heightened competition. When CenturyLink Arena hosted RFA 27 last July, Front Street fighters performed very well against RFA competition, winning four of five bouts including Jesse Brocks victory in the main event. Johnson hopes for a standout showing once again.
“One thing I like about our guys is that they fight in front of their home town very hard, but when a bigger stage arrives they not only step up to the plate but they knock it out of the park. I think people watching on the simulcast are going to be very excited and maybe surprised by the product Boise fighters put out.“
Carlson seconded that, saying that the win-loss record at Bellator won’t be as important as the fighters’ ability to “perform at a really high level.”
And so two years of fights, of performances, and of strong fan support results in Boise’s first shot on the national MMA stage. Don’t expect it to be the last.
“This shows now what we have known forever, which is that there’s a huge community of fighters and there’s a large fan base that is passionate about the people who are fighting,” said Johnson. “I think what we’ve been able to do and the exposure we’ve been able to provide them, these bigger promotions are starting to see a large fan base and it draws well and they’re passionate, and it’s something they want to be a part of.”