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Scottish grassroots MMA in safe hands with SFC

MIXED MARTIAL ARTS: Scottish MMA has never been in as good a place as it is right now.

SFC boss Chris Crowe, right, with friend Robert Whiteford who recently became Scotland's first ever winner of a fight in the UFC
SFC boss Chris Crowe, right, with friend Robert Whiteford who recently became Scotland's first ever winner of a fight in the UFC

With Robert Whiteford having picked up the first ever win for a Scottish fighter in the UFC, and Joanne Calderwood heavily fancied as a real contender on the upcoming 20th edition of the UFC's reality TV show The Ultimate Fighter, our elite MMA stars are shining bright.

But it has always been at grassroots level that Scottish MMA has excelled.

And on Easter Sunday, one of Scotland's premier MMA shows will put on its eighth event, back again at its spiritual home of Stirling's Albert Halls.

Bosses at Scottish Fight Challenge (SFC) are hoping for a 600-strong sell out for SFC 8, where Craig 'Mop' McIntosh makes his professional debut in a main event featherweight clash with Matti Laurenson.

With SFC back home - following an ambitious but ultimately short-lived merger with Swedish organisation Vision - the Scottish fight scene is buzzing again.

The apparent demise On Top, SFC's only real Scottish rival in terms of size and financial muscle, has benefited SFC in some ways.

But Chris Crowe, the promoter behind SFC, hopes to see On Top back in the future - for the ultimate benefit of Scotland's MMA hopefuls.

Chris said: "I can honestly say that the Albert Halls provides the best atmosphere of any regional MMA show I've ever been to.

"The venue is incredible and I think the balcony and layout lends itself perfectly to this kind of event.

"I don't regret trying to upscale the show to a bigger platform. But European MMA is very competitive market.

"To be back with SFC at Stirling is great and I'm looking forward to SFC 8 being another classic event.

"On Top were great rivals to us and it was good for the Scottish scene when both organisations were going well.

"Of course we have benefited in some ways as we've picked up some fights that were meant to be on On Top Cards, but I'd rather On Top were still around and I hope they come back some day."

Why On Top's last two planned shows were pulled, apparently on police advice, is still something of a mystery.

First Glasgow's Bellahouston Leisure Centre blocked On Top 7 at the last minute, only for the Glasgow Hilton to the same thing a year later - leaving fighters and fans frustrated and in the dark.

The official reason given was the lack of an appropriate licence held by the Hilton. But that has only led to more mystery as the same venue had put on an MMA show just weeks earlier.

With On Top's team apparently seeking legal advice, only one thing is absolutely clear - On Top's reputation has taken a major blow, most likely a fatal blow.

What fighter would go through a six-week fight camp and all the body-breaking, weight-cutting horrors that entails, to fight on a show that has suffered two last-minute cancellations in a row?

And what fan would buy a ticket to that show?

This damage to On Top's reputation would likely form the basis of any legal claim they feel they have.

A brawl in the crowd at On Top 6, at the Clydebank Playdrome in 2012, saw police sent to the venue, leaving a bad taste in the mouth of the MMA community.

Was it that which led to the police so actively obstructing the promotion's plans?

Crowe is as much in the dark as anyone else, but he's not taking any chances as he ensures his own show goes smoothly.

He said: "At Stirling we've always put on daytime shows, which definitely helps cut down on the potential for drunk idiots ruining the event.

"Of course in any big crowd there will always be the odd idiot, but we've always done what we can to prevent it and so far we've been very fortunate.

"And as for the licence, we always sort that out months in advance and take care of public liability insurance and all those kind of things.

"Who knows what happened with On Top, but I wanted to be extra cautious this time and I have just doubled our level of public liability insurance to £10million.

"We worked well with On Top, making sure our event dates didn't clash and helping each other out with fighters and staff.

"The two promotions going strong is only good for Scottish MMA and I hope they get everything sorted and come back."

Also on the card at SFC 8 is a pro fight between Glasgow's Kieran Malone and Frenchman Stephane Guaresi, as well as a host of top amateur bouts.

SFC 8 starts at noon on Sunday, April 20. There may be a very small number of tickets on the door, but the advice is to check the website at www.fightchallenge.net

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