Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Greg Kalikas Interview
NAAFS CEO Greg Kalikas has, in a short time, taken the NAAFS from a company who originally was just doing one show, to one of the top regional promotions in the country. The talent that fights for the NAAFS speaks to the high quality of an NAAFS show. Be it in the UFC such as Stipe Miocic, or recent Bellator fighters like Jessica Eye, Brian Rogers, Chris Lozano, Dan Spohn, John Hawk and many more. The NAAFS is a breeding ground for some of the top amateur fighters around to. The NAAFS continues to grow at a rapid pace, including recently venturing into West Virginia and other states planned in the near future.
Q: Can you talk about how the NAAFS got started?
A: Actually, a good friend of mine, Duke Rufus, kind of planted the seed in 2005. We used to do a radio show back then called PKW Live, and Duke was a regular guest. We got to the point where we had a big following here. Duke was doing shows in Wisconsin and said "Why don't we work together and bring MMA to Cleveland". This was right around the time the sport was working towards legalization. Long story short, we did Fight Night in the Flats 1, and it went off better than anticipated and we did another one and another one, and the rest is history.
Q: Looking back to that first show, could you ever have imagined it would get to where it is now?
A: No, not at all, and if I said otherwise I would be lying. Back then it was supposed to be a one time thing with Fight Night in the Flats, and I never would have envisioned that seven or eight years later I would be doing this full-time and having it grow to this level has been remarkable and a fun ride.
Q: You just did your first show in West Virginia. Outside of the timing issue in the Frausto vs Cummins fight, how happy were you with the show?
A: We were extremely happy. The fans down there really embraced the NAAFS and MMA as a whole. There were a few snags with the athletic commission being knew to it, we had to overcome a few hurdles, but at the end of the day it came together well. The fighters were great, the fans were great, pretty much everything was first rate and the beginning of big things in West Virginia. I don't think its a stretch to say that in two years West Virginia MMA will be just as strong as Ohio. Now that we have had time to work out the bugs in Ohio, we are going into West Virginia with a different mindset and can't wait to see how it grows down there.
Q: Do you eventually plan to go to other states?
A: Yeah, that's already in the works. We are already eyeballing Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Arizona, those are all states we see ourselves being in within the next twelve months. Hopefully our goal is within the next year or two the NAAFS will have a true National presence, with shows on the west coast, here and down south.
Q: You recently started a relationship with Bellator, how does that benefit the NAAFS?
A: Well, it benefits our fighters first and foremost. It's great having a relationship with Bellator. Bjorn(Rebney) has been a great guy to work with. I think they look at us as one of their unofficial feeder systems so to speak. For us, at the end of the day its about getting our fighters noticed, giving them the confidence that if I can make it in the NAAFS I have options beyond that, a direct path to Bellator or UFC. It gives credibility to the league and to our fighters to know there is a big prize at the end of the rainbow. We look forward to continue working with Bellator.
Q: There are many great gyms around here and some good local fighters succeeding at the Bellator and UFC level, do you get a since of self pride that you have given them a platform to go to that level?
A: Yeah there is no doubt about it. I think everyone at the NAAFS takes pride in seeing our fighters succeed at the next level. Our main goal has been to give the fighters a platform to show of their skills and be noticed and at the same time on a smaller scale get used to working with fans and dealing with media and interviews and being marketed. That's what separates the NAAFS from a lot of regional shows is the ability to get them exposure and put them on the map. If they do well in the NAAFS there is a good chance they will be noticed by UFC, Bellator and Strikeforce.
Q: With Stipe Miocic doing so well in the UFC, is their any time frame on when you will decide what to do with the heavyweight title?
A: That's a really good question. I have given it some thought, and we feel Stipe will be in the UFC for quite some time, so I don't know the time frame, and when we decide to vacate that title and potentially have someone else fight for it. As for now we will keep things how they are and hopefully Stipe continues his success. In the meantime we want to build up some fighters that are worthy to fight for that title. I would say probably within the next six months we will have a better idea on what to do with that division.
Q: Was their a point where you realized Stipe could be as good as he has become?
A: Yes, I kind of realized it after his second amateur fight. We have been talking since 2008 that we felt Stipe had the potential to be a top notch world class fighter. Sure enough, with each fight he has gotten better and made us look smart. I make a joke about it now saying the rest of the world now sees what we have known, and that is how good this kid is. Stipe is a once in a life time type fighter in my opinion. He is a heavyweight, has a lot of talent obviously, but what separates him from everyone else is what he has between the ears. He is super intelligent, he gets it, and knows what he has to do to continue performing at this level. Sky is the limit for this kid, I really feel he will be fighting for a UFC title sooner rather than later. We are excited for him, it couldn't happen to a better kid.
Q: With fighters moving on, is it important for NAAFS to create new stars?
A: That's very important to us. I get that question a lot, "what are you guys gonna do now that Stipe, Jessica (Eye) and a lot of stars are moving on". The answer is simply create new stars. There is a lot of talent out there, guys like Wes Hanson, Mark Cherico, and Isaiah Chapman. As soon as one guy moves on to the big show, there is always someone else to step in and fill their shoes. There is so much talent around here and we pride ourselves on finding them and helping them develop.
Q: One thing I love about NAAFS is that while some companies treat female fighters as a side show, where as you treat them as fighters. That's important to you isn't it?
A: Oh without a doubt. As you know, we have been behind women's MMA since day one. Jessica, as far as NAAFS is concerned as been the pioneer and show a lot of female fighters they can do this and be taken seriously if you put in the time, and Jessica has proven that. So it doesn't surprise me the success she has had. We are all about women's MMA, focusing on it and building it up. Its just a matter of time before its considered at the same level as the men. You will see them in the UFC and they are already in Bellator. We want to be a promotion that up and coming girls want to compete for.
Q: Speaking of females, how important is Nichole Long to the success oft he NAAFS?
A: Nichole is great. She is a key part to what we are all about. She is great at what she does. She has a way of relating to the fighters, which as you know is not an easy thing. So she is a huge part of what we do and we are lucky to have her on board.
Q: Play fan for a minute. Any fight that as a fan you would like to see in the NAAFS?
A: That is a tough question. Good question. Right now too be honest I would like to see Mark Cherico vs Wes Hanson. That is a fight I have been asked about. How realistic is it? I don't know, but as a fan I would love to sit cage side and watch that. Also a rematch with Jessica Eye and Aisling Daly. That fight had a lot of justified hype. Two of the best in the world and it would be fireworks. There are a lot I wanna see, but those are two I would be excited about.
Q: Of all the NAAFs fights you have seen, is there one that is your favorite?
A: That's another good question. Its hard to nail down one. I probably have to go back to Jason Dent vs Chris Lozano. It was a huge fight for NAAFS, got us a lot of exposure, propelled Chris to the next level. Jason Dent and Torrence Taylor sticks out. There have been so many. Even going back to Josh Stansbury vs Stipe when they were amateurs. Those are the three that stand out to me.
Q: Anything you want to add or anyone you want to thank?
A: Definitely our sponsors, Tim Lally Chevrolet, John P. Lennon, Intimidation Clothing, Discount Drug Mart, Bud Light. Without their support the NAAFS wouldn't be where it is today. I really want to thank our staff. I have the best staff in MMA, they are dedicated and believe in the NAAFS. Its great to see we have a strong bond. We joke about it, but fighters included we are a big dysfunctional family, but we love each other at the end of the day.