On December 19th 2011, the Statesman Journal and Rufus Fight KO met with the co-founder, match-maker, and recognizable announcer for the Full Contact Fighting Federation, Kevin Keeney about the TEN year anniversary of their company. This was a monumental achievement in mixed martial arts, as well as Oregon history. Since 2002, the FCFF has been putting on some of the best shows in the country, and have only been gaining more momentum these past few years.
This meeting was a culmination of a passion from both Rufus Fight Ko, and myself. I’ve been a long time fan of the sport of MMA, and only in recent years have turned my focus to the many very talented up-and-coming fighters here in the local Oregon scene. The shows which the FCFF hosts currently at the Roseland Theater and Chinook Winds Casino, have been nothing short of thrilling. Every show that I have been lucky enough to attend, I have been floored by the high level of energy from the fighters and crowd, and the talent that rises within the ranks of this organization.
For those involved in the mixed martial arts scene in Oregon, Kevin Keeney is both a recognizable name and face. For those who have only been to a single show or two, he likely remains a distinct fellow in memory, as he stands in the center of the cage throughout the night, wearing his marquee black cowboy hat, jacket, and cowboy boots.
As soon as the tenth anniversary of the FCFF had been brought to my attention, it was a story that grabbed me. A decade of mixed martial arts is quite a feat; in fact as UFC fighter and co-founder of the FCFF, Chael Sonnen so sternly pointed out only a few days prior to meeting with Kevin Keeney, only the UFC and the FCFF have been putting on events for over a decade and are still in business. In the world of mixed martial arts, that’s some elite company.
With Rumble at the Roseland 61 on Jaunary 21st, the FCFF would be hosting their 10 year anniversary celebration show, and my interest and motivation jumped quickly at the timing. I contacted Kevin Keeney in hopes of gaining his time to sit down and discuss his promotion, both the past and the future. Keeney quickly and positively responded, and the process speedily came together to talk with a founder and the front-man of Oregon’s most successful, long-running, and well-regarded mixed martial arts promotion.
Writing may be the forte, but I knew this story would be an important step, not only for the FCFF, but also for Oregon MMA, and so I quickly contacted Rufus Fight KO, a Salem based mixed martial arts promoter and media group, to help me cover the interview, and create the media content that we both felt added that extra attention that the FCFF deserved for their decade of achievements, struggles, and resolve. Oregon mixed martial arts, simply would not be the same if it were not for their promotion.
We met with Kevin Keeney on a cold and clear December morning, a rarity in Oregon, after he wrapped up wrestling practice at North Marion High School. Kevin has been a teacher at North Marion since graduating from the University of Oregon in 1999, and a wrestling coach just as long, though this is his first year coaching at North Marion. He graciously gave us his time and we talked about the lengthy run of the Full Contact Fighting Federation, from the inception of the idea, to the first show.
We talked about the highs and the lows of the long career, from sold-out shows, to nearly empty venues, as well as the fighters who have been involved in the promotion over the years. Top-level fighters like Chris Leben, Ed Herman, Pat and Ryan Healy, and Chael Sonnen himself, all began their careers inside the FCFF’s cage, lovingly referred to as ‘The Slammer’.
Below is the complete and unedited article that I wrote after the interview and ran in the Statesman Journal Sports section on 12-26. It was slightly tweaked and edited for print purposes, but here’s the unabridged remix version.
In just less than a month, the Full Contact Fighting Federation will return for yet another event at the Roseland Theater in Portland. This will be sixty-one times that the promotion has come to the Roseland, with many other shows under their belts across Oregon. From Lincoln City to Klamath Falls to Pendleton, the FCFF has taken their events throughout the state, but this upcoming show will hold a special place in history.
This January, the FCFF will be celebrating their ten year anniversary as a promotion. That’s a decade of putting on some of the best mixed martial arts fights in the world, and they began before mixed martial arts was even a coined term. One of the founders, match-maker, and recognizable announcer for the FCFF, Kevin Keeney, took a few moments of his time to talk with the Statesman Journal and Rufus Fight Ko about their monumental achievement, and what’s next for Oregon fight fans.
“I think we just said, let’s throw the show and see what happens.” Keeney said about the first event they hosted.
Kevin Keeney is long-time friends with fellow FCFF founder and UFC fighter Chael Sonnen. The two became interested in opening a basic health and fitness gym after college. A friend’s father suggested being able to move the gym equipment to put in a boxing ring so that they could host boxing and MMA events, a concept Kevin and Chael had not imagined at the time. The two became enamored with the idea, and as their plans for a gym faded, they became focused on putting on fights. The two approached Chael’s father, Pat Sonnen, who loved the idea. Keeney discussed approaching the senior Sonnen about their idea.
“This whole thing wouldn’t have become a reality without Chael’s father, the late Pat Sonnen, who said ‘You guys want to throw a fist fight? Let’s do it, I’m behind it.’ He financially backed it, had the cage built, and I don’t know if we ever looked real, real far in the future. We threw show one and that was successful, so we threw show two. And to be honest that’s where we are still at now.”
A decade ago mixed martial arts was nowhere on the radar like it is today, but still the solid internal team of the FCFF believed in what they were doing, and despite a lack of popularity in the sport at the time, Keeney and the FCFF pushed forward.
“When we first started putting on shows in Oregon back in 2002, unless you were involved in the sport, a lot of people didn’t know anything about the sport. So people were coming to the Roseland and they thought they were seeing the best of the best, when really the best of the best were in Vegas. A lot of people came to the Roseland to watch fights because they just wanted to see a good ol’ bar room brawl, and guys slugging it out that didn’t have a lot of talent. That’s really gone away for the most part, because guys coming in are very talented and trying to achieve their goals and get to the professional level.”
The popularity and widespread growth of mixed martial arts has been evident in the past few years especially, a fact that makes Keeney thankful.
“We are lucky today for the UFC, because they have grown the sport so much, it’s become so mainstream that any normal person on the street, they know what mixed martial arts is, for the most part.”
For over a decade the FCFF has maintained an illustrious depth of talent, where many of risen to the very top levels of competition. Fighters like Ed Herman, the Healy twins Pat and Ryan, and fan favorites like Chael Sonnen and Chris Leben all began their mixed martial arts journey under the promotion’s banner.
“Chris Leben stick out in my mind. He had some wars at the Roseland, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard it louder than when he was fighting in battles with the Healy brothers. When the Roseland is packed, and people are yelling and screaming and they’re right on top of you when you’re in that cage from that balcony, I get the chills and I’m just the announcer. I have to think those fighters are just electric.”
The list of accomplishments does not stop with the benchmarks reached within the cage, but outside as well. From selling out venues, to faltering ticket sales, and back again, the FCFF has seen it all and sticks by the motto that ‘Anything can happen in the FCFF’.
“Something we’re really proud of is Randy Couture was involved in our fights for a number of years being our commentator. I remember one time when Randy fought on a Friday night in Vegas in the UFC, and all he could talk about all week was that he was so happy that he could be back Saturday night to announce the fights.”
January 21st the FCFF will host Rumble at the Roseland 61, which is set to feature over 6 title bouts, and some amazingly talented fighters from all over Oregon. For those of you who have attended a show before, you know to expect non-stop action, and a night of great mixed martial arts. For those who have yet to make it out for a local show, this is not an event to be missed and a great introduction to the Oregon mixed martial arts scene. This is the kickoff for the next ten years, there are plenty of great fights ahead, and the FCFF is sticking with the plan that got them this far.
“Keep doing what we’re doing. Our goal is to be the top amateur show in the nation. We get people that want to come from all over that want to fight in our show.”
Congratulations and thanks are in order to the Full Contact Fighting Federation for their accomplishments over their ten year run, and all that they have done to help put Oregon on the map as one of the elite locations for mixed martial artists throughout world.