With the year coming to a close, Kevin Keeney and the crew at the Full Contact Fight Federation (FCFF) are preparing for their final show of the year. This show, however, has a different feel than most. This show has been on the FCFF’s radar since last year and with good reason. This Saturday at the Roseland Theater, the FCFF will put on their 100th show in the venue. The FCFF and the Roseland have become synonymous with each other over the years and for many fight fans there is no better place to see a fight. With the future stars of Oregon’s booming mixed martial arts scene filling up this card, it promises to make the Rumble at the Roseland 100 something special. Still, it has been a long road getting to this point and no one knows better than Kevin Keeney just what went into building this relationship
To hear owner Kevin Keeney tell it, the beginning of the FCFF was a simple case of one door closing and another opening. “Chael [Sonnen] and I had been roommates in college, best friends growing up,” Keeney told me. “When we were finished with school we thought about opening a gym, not an MMA gym, just a place to lift some weights and get in shape. Chael’s father, Pat, thought it would be cool if we could move the gym equipment aside and put on fights. After the gym idea didn’t work out Chael’s dad still believed we could put on fights. And that’s how it happened.”
Thanks to some financial backing from Sonnen’s father, Keeney and Sonnen were able to get the promotion off the ground. But these humble beginnings didn’t leave much room for thinking about the future of the promotion.
“When we started this out there was no vision of what it would be like ten years down the road or twenty years down the road. I’m not surprised that we are able to keep [putting on MMA shows]. Chael and I are pretty laid back when it comes to putting on fights. Even when it got really tough back in 2007… we just had a laugh about it and waited it out. Bottom line is, we like the sport, we enjoy watching it, so now we are involved as a business.”
Keeney has deep roots in Oregon and his connection to the local athletes that come through his promotion is undeniable. Fighters love the FCFF and they seem to trust him from the moment they see his cauliflower ear. They know he is one of them and his support matters. As a fight promoter, Keeney looks at athletes and is forced to dissect their skills through limited video, conversations with gym owners and teammates, and his gut. He wants those with potential to find their way and do things right, which is why his promotion has been around as long as it has. What Keeney doesn’t like is when promoters swoop in without the best interest of the athletes and push them to take a fight that they aren’t ready for.
“The only thing that has ever gotten under my skin is when new promoters come in and say that they are going to throw pro fights and then they’ll take guys who are 2-1, 2-2, and pay them to go pro when they aren’t ready. Then that guy has one pro fight and never fights again. Their career is over. That infuriates me because they aren’t good enough for a promoter to offer them another pro fight and that’s it.”
Rumble at the Roseland 100 was something that Keeney wanted to make a huge deal over. He had calls out to a number of legendary guests. While he didn’t share any names, it would be easy to think Randy Couture, Matt Lindland, and Chris Leben would have been considered legendary. As the years went by, Keeney wondered if bringing a bunch of legends really made sense. While he is very proud that so many people have ties to this organization he wasn’t sure if that is what the fans and fighters would want.
“I’ll be honest with you, there were a couple things to consider heading into this night. One, we still have to be successful and would flying guys out here for this event really help us do that? But what it really came down to was this, what’s made [the FCFF]so successful? Let’s not detour from that. Let’s give the fans what they want; they want to watch fights. If we have all these legends back and we’re interviewing them and it takes up a lot of time, that’s not what the fans want.”
When Keeney says he wants to give the fans what they want another thing that seems to be on his mind is that the fighters in the cage might very well be the future legends of the FCFF. Keeney mentioned fighters like Keaneo Moyer, Max Garrison, and Johnny James Jr. as fighters currently fighting for the FCFF who could break through to the next level. And while many former FCFF combatants are out fighting for the UFC or Bellator, Keeney seems to take pride in knowing that his promotion provided them a platform to begin their careers.
“I am super happy for [the fighters who are now in major promotions]and I love seeing it. Not only am I happy for them, but I think that really validates what we are doing even more. I am super happy for the fighter and I like to use that as a tool when I tell other fighters about our promotion. If you fight in our show, people are watching.”
As the FCFF closes in on twenty years in business, Keeney doesn’t know exactly what the future holds but he seems to have a burning passion for the business that is far from being extinguished. He and Sonnen have been through a lot together and his memories of what they have accomplished seem to push him to keep on doing what he’s doing.
“The reason why MMA is the way it is in Oregon has a lot to do with the FCFF. In our first fight the state tried to shut us down the week of the show. We went to court and the judge said they had to allow us to do the fight. There were basically no rules in place in Oregon for MMA at that time. So a lot of the promotions that have been here, the UFC coming here, a lot of that has to do with the FCFF opening that door with the Oregon State Athletic Commission. I don’t know for sure [how long I’ll do this]but I think the ball is greatly in my court…my dream would be to do it for a long time, get done teaching, just coach wrestling and do this.”
As Saturday inches closer, the fighters, the fans, and the people behind the scenes at the FCFF are all talking about how great this show will be. With all the excitement it is easy to forget just what this show means to the fight community, new and old. It is easy to forget just what Kevin Keeney and Chael Sonnen have fostered over the last seventeen years. And it is easy to forget what can come from a homegrown experience. The FCFF is the definition of a homegrown company and they sell an experience like no other.