Interview - Justin Lawrence

Interview: Justin Lawrence, Promoter, Xtreme Fighting Championship:
8th January

What's your background?

Professionally - I have worn many hats in my 20 years of employment ranging from casual positions in my early years in my parents businesses such as tenpin bowling centers, drive-in movie theatres and convenience stores. Having grown up in a bowling alley I gained employment in a managerial capacity at the age of 18 when I left school. Shortly thereafter I joined the Queensland Police service and remained in it for 6 years. My true passion of sport led me to managing Police Youth Clubs prior to leaving the service in 1995 to manage a Gymnasium. Having been a fan of pro wrestling as a child, I was exposed to the early Japanese MMA scene in the late 80's, the concept simply blew me away. I was hooked and started to source tapes from around the world to watch the sport, to this day I get most of the events from Brazil, Japan and America. I met Chris Haseman in 1995 as he trained at the gym where I worked, and I soon became more and more involved with the sport, as Chris was planning on running his Rings Australia shows. My sheer passion of MMA led me to dig deeper and deeper into the sport.

After assisting Chris my next port of call was helping Chris DeWeaver establish Pancrase Australia, a project that I have very fond memories of indeed. To this day I have a very good relationship with Chris who now is my MC (ring announcer) for XFC. Many of the fighters that made debut in Pancrase are a part of the XFC roster including our middleweight champion Tony Bonello who now boasts 3 world titles and Luke Pezzutti who is the current Welterweight XFC champion and world Pancration champion, along with many other ex Pancrase fighters.

After Pancrase I promoted smaller events, more so, I acted as an agent for other promoters such as Jim Cass. I simply sold the concept of MMA to the promoters of other ring sports and we had many matches headline Muay-Thai and kick boxing events. Through my knowledge of the sport and contacts I also began to manage fighters, this saw me introduce many fighters to other organizations in Australia such as Spartan. Where I had the likes of Nathan STAHR, Neil SWAILES, Matt TE PAA and Richard BUHRMANN (to name a few) compete.

It was in late 2002 that I received an e-mail from a gentleman who introduced himself as Joe Sita. I soon learned that Joe was the son of longtime boxing promoter Cos Sita who had promoted the likes of Lester Ellis and Jeff Fenech. Joe having grown up in the ring so to speak, had a great passion for pugilism and after witnessing a UFC event on TV he, just like me, some 16 years earlier was blown away! Through Joe's drive and marketing savvy we formed Xtreme Productions and the XFC. In all honesty if Joe did not approach me I probably would have been plodding along with what I had been previously doing.

Our first show was May 4 of 2003, and we then promoted further shows in August and November of that year. The shows have been getting bigger and better and the talent we are showcasing is growing with us too.

What motivates you?

Personally I like to see those around me grow and be successful too. For my mind it is very saddening to see fighters get in the ring and fight with their last breath without any financial reward and minimal gratitude, whilst promoters reap the reward and cry poor. I can sleep well at night knowing that I have done all I can for the athletes that are a part of the XFC and that I am doing my utmost to ensure their maximum growth is reached. I am continually striving to bring better talent to the XFC and to gain opportunities for our fighters abroad. Such endeavors recently saw Daniel Lima represent the XFC in the Philippines.

Why is Xtreme Fighting Championship Australia's premier martial arts event?

There are so many reasons, the talent first and foremost. We undeniably have the finest fighters in Australia on our events from the 60kg Daniel Lima who boasts many championships in Brazil, America and Australia to Tony "Gun" Bonello, a 3 time world champion. Our Light heavyweight champion Sam Nest is undefeated internationally and I am matching him against the super tough Forrest Griffin from the US on March 19. Also we have some very promising rising talent such as Jason "Wildchild" Wild who is only 17 and Brandon Bell who has a perfect 12-0 record all by brutal KO. Brandon will face former number 5 in the world and Pro Boxer (under Jeff Fenech) Ian Schaaffa for our lightweight title on January 31. We also have had the likes of World champions such as Ian Jacobs, Nathan Corbett and Pat Cash ringside at our events and Joe Bugner too. One of the highlights of XFC 1 was when Aussie Joe got in the ring and spoke comically about how "crazy" the sport was and offered his services to fight out MC Chris Deweaver.

Our production is cutting edge and market leading, we could get away with a smoke machine and a strobe like many others do but we want to entertain the fans with a fantastic show. Also the XFC is a level playing field and the only MMA promotion in Australia that is not promoted by a trainer that fields their own students to fight on the show. In the XFC the fighter has total peace of mind that everyone has a fair shot. Also the mechanics of the show, our rules are internationally approved and sanctioned by the Nevada State Athletic commission. I really pay great attention to the propriety of the sport and that translates into a market leading product. We have formed an excellent relationship with the ANBF through President, Brad Vovalle, who attends all our shows and loves the sport.

With the package that we offer we are really a total entertainment spectacular and not just a fight night. I can assure everyone that we will only grow and grow too. Every show we become stronger, XFC4 shall see XFC v King of the Cage, our sister company in the US. That show is really going to turn the sport upside down!

What does it take to success in the martial arts world?

Best to ask a martial artist that one, I do not come from a traditional martial Arts background.

Who trained you?

If you are referring to martial Arts, I have never done anything apart from dabble in various arts. Had I been exposed to the concept of MMA as a child I would have spent the time to do so. Perhaps my children may choose to do that?

What do many in traditional sports and sports media just not "get it"?

Well if you are referring to the media giving us (MMA) a bad rap, that is largely due to the way the sport was initially promoted in the early 90's and glorified as being a "no rules, anything goes" affair. Naturally this made for huge buy rates with every male between the age of 18 to 90 wanting to watch it, but it (the success) was short lived. Such could not be further from the truth. Today the sport is globally accepted with many Olympic medalists participating. The medical procedures and safety conditions imposed by the Nevada State Athletic Commission are second to none, which is why we have used them.

The traditional martial artists may also have a reluctance to accept MMA events as it is a true rounded form of combat, that as the name entails encompasses all of the Martial Arts. The days of a 1 dimensioned fighter having success in the sport are gone, fighters now must know the whole game. A traditional martial artist that teaches a single facetted art which may concentrate on kicking or punching only really has to from a business perspective alone steer well clear of supporting MMA.

What have been some of the ups and downs in your career?

Uhm, mainly positives, seeing people that started MMA here go onto reach their goals, whether that be fighting overseas or just getting in the ring. I am very proud to be able to run as many events as we do and to have a truly world class product. I have had the likes of the superstars mentioned above on my shows and also when you have a guy like Chris Haseman who has had 60 plus fights around the world state "that is the best show I have ever been to" with reference to XFC3, you know you are doing well. The negatives, I am really upset by people in the sport who are purely self motivated whether that be promoters who have no motivation except for the growth of their own bankroll or ego at the expense of everyone around them or trainers that ill advise students in order to do the same. It speaks volumes of my passion for the sport as I take such offence to those who abuse the sport for their own personal gratification at the expense of others.

Who have been your main supporters?

I have a great level of support from my family and friends who have been instrumental in seeing XFC develop. Also I am very lucky to have the support of the upper echelon of fighters in Australia which has allowed the XFC to produce such a market leading product. I have a close working relationship with many organizations around the world including King of the Cage in the US and Pancrase in Japan. I also interact extensively with John Donehue who promotes great events in Melbourne. I actually sent 2 XFC fighters to fight on his debut show and more will follow soon. I really want to see the sport and fighters grow here and it's good that John is now promoting in Melbourne.

Your personal favourite match?

There are so many, I love the sport at such a level that it is rare that I don't enjoy a match. One match I was very proud of making was Liam Resnekov v Steve Gillinder as both are very good friends of mine that I have seen grow to become unbelievable fighters. XFC 4 also Kyle Noke who has only trained for little over a year face Noriyuki Hayakawa a superstar and 3 time champion of Japan. Although Kyle lost he really fought well and will be a force globally in a very short time.

Jason Wild's debut on XFC really tugged at my heart as he fought my very close friend Adrian Pang, the bout was a rematch from an earlier amateur bout on Spartan. The bout was electric and I have no shame in saying that tears rolled down my face as the emotion overcame me when Jason won. Since I signed Jason to fight with us I have became very close to him and like all my athletes I am striving to assist him in any way possible. For a kid who had never earned a dollar fighting he is now a key player in the XFC and will be a headliner against international fighters effective March 19. Keep an eye on this fighter as he is the future of Australian MMA.

What makes a great sports promoter?

I really think that with any business or pursuit in life you have to have drive and passion. One of my very close friends Peter Nicholas of Naturopathica, who produce dietary fatblaster and are our major sponsor told me that the XFC would be a great success as the drive and love that I had for the sport was unequalled. When one of the wealthiest men in Australia and entrepreneur of the year tell you those things you tend to feel you are on the right track. I think though one has to also understand the market and cater to the market as opposed to their own specific needs which can happen when you are a fan of the product.

What are the main dangers of the martial arts business?

Promoting MMA is just like any other business you have to be on your toes and strive to increase business every day and to make the product grow. As per previous our medical and safety procedures are second to none, it concerns me that other organizations do not enforce such strict conditions. I would hate to see a broad backlash to an injury that occurred on a poorly governed event effect us.

Is the sport still underground?

Yes and no. It's all relative to the term underground. We are not really promoting in car lots so to speak but until we get TV exposure I believe it could still be considered underground.

Why is your sport so political?

I am unsure I really don't have a political agenda per say. As per previous we have an open door policy and do not have vested interested in one particular team, so to speak.

What's been your experience dealing with Ticketek or Ticketmaster7?

At this stage we have not approached them simply as I am so busy running the show, thankfully we have had great success through our own sales. I would like to take the time to talk to anyone who can help us reach a larger audience.

How has the Internet helped you?

Yeah we have a fantastic webpage it rates up there with any of the other MMA pages in the world. The guys at insane technologies have done a great job!

What media attention have you received both here in Australia and abroad?

Coverage in international press, particularly in Japan. Lots of internet coverage and newspaper stuff locally. We also feature strongly in fight related magazines globally. I have done a few radio interviews in various parts of the world and other internet based audio interviews too.

What are the details of your next few shows?

Jan 31 - XFC presents Xtreme Fight Club. The fight club event will act as a feeder show to the XFC allowing me to have new fighters make debut and let me see if they have what it takes to compete on the bigger XFC shows at Southport RSL. Don't get me wrong we still have capacity for 1000 people and the fights will be awesome. I will always put strong main events and upper card action on these events. The first main event of Bell v Schaffa is a title bout that could headline any event in Australia. We shall run 4 of these events per year, 2 in Brisbane and 2 in Toowoomba, where I have fantastic support of Peter Davis and Wayne Williams who have many fighters training under them.

One other difference with us is that all fights are done under contract and when I make a commitment to a fighter it is made with a pen and signed. Fighters who do achieve in the Fight club events will be seen on the XFC shows.

March 19 is XFC v KOTC at the RSL. This will be the pinnacle of Australian MMA to date. WE have the likes of Sam Nest, Tony Bonello, Jason Wild & Danny Higgins who is the bodyguard of Steve "The Crocodile Hunter" Irwin all fighting international superstars. Also we will see favourites such as Adrian Pang, Kyle Noke and Adam Kayoom appearing.

There is so much more that I could say regarding this event but an indication as to the strength of the event would be that I am in negotiations with Daniel Lima to defend his XFC title against Jamie Ballard. The strength of this card would possibly see that fight as a curtain raiser, due to the upper echelon talent coming from overseas.

We should speak more after the January 31 event as I have a few things that will be released at that event regarding the March 19 event.


Editor's note: As they say, this is the Real Deal. Extreme fighting in Australia will never be the same again. It's the best of international and local talent. A promoter who cares about his talent, and puts on a great show - now, there's a novel idea!


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Media Man Australia: Sports News