This month, V3Fights, which hosts mixed-martial arts (MMA) fighting competitions, is joining the professional ranks of the Memphis Grizzlies, Memphis Redbirds, and Mississippi RiverKings.
V3Fights is going pro after a little more than four years of hosting amateur MMA fights around town. The "pro" designation means V3Fights can compensate its own fighters, and they can pay for big-name national and international MMA stars to come to town.
"As an amateur organization, we can't pay fighters. We are only allowed to give them money toward travel. But as a pro organization, we can bring fighters in from all over the world," said V3Fights president Nick Harmeier.
V3Fights got its start in 2009 with an MMA fight at the Delta Fair. Soon, the group began hosting regular bouts at Newby's. Once it outgrew that venue, it moved to Minglewood Hall.
V3Fights be holding its first pro fight, with a top bill of Wade Johnson of Bradford, Arkansas versus Craig Johnson of Sevierville, Tennessee, on January 18th at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts. V3 will continue to host some amateur fights at Minglewood Hall but hope to hold several pro events throughout the year at the Cannon Center.
The iconic MMA octagon ring will be set up in the orchestra pit, and seating will be set up on the stage surrounding the octagon, creating the signature MMA "bowl feeling," Harmeier said.
"We wanted to bring something to downtown Memphis. We would have loved to do FedExForum, but we're definitely not there yet," Harmeier said. "The Cannon Center made the most sense."
Although V3 Fights is a professional MMA organization now, Harmeier is quick to point out that the Memphis-based fighting club is not trying to compete with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the most well-known pro MMA organization.
"We don't want to be the UFC, which is like the NFL [National Football League] of MMA," Harmeier said. "We want to be more like the NCAA [National Collegiate Athletic Association]. We want these guys to come in as young strong talent, and hopefully, they can make it to the next level of fighting for the UFC."
Tennessee law allows fighters to use elbows and knees in pro MMA matches, a tactic that isn't permitted in amateur fights.
"It's a lot easier to cut someone with an elbow," Harmeier said.
Additionally, pro fights have five-minute rounds rather than the three-minute rounds in amateur fights, and the gloves used in pro fights are lighter in weight.
Harmeier said going pro made sense because so many of its long-time fighters were going pro.
"As we evolved as a business and as our fighters evolved, we decided to go pro to continue the sport," Harmeier said. "We wanted to give them a good platform."
But V3 isn't forgetting the little guys.
"We plan to keep the amateur fights going at Minglewood Hall. Those events help us market those guys from the get-go," Harmeier said. "A lot of amateurs fight like pro fighters, so the skill set for amateurs in this part of the country is really stepped up."