James Jefferson was tentative the first time he saw Team Fighting Championship. It was kind of like MMA, except there were 10 men in a ring and they were all fighting each other at once.
“I cringed,” Jefferson told MMAFighting.com. “Until I really experienced it, watched all the film, watched how they ran it, I was hesitant.”
The thing Jefferson, the president of New Jersey-based MMA promotion Global Proving Ground, had to do was separate Team Fighting Championship and mixed martial arts completely. Sure, there are elements of MMA in TFC. But, in his mind, the violent, 5-on-5 spectacle is not really MMA. It’s something different altogether.
“It’s a group fight,” Jefferson said. “It’s a gang fight. It’s more or less a barroom brawl without the bottles.”
And it’s coming to pay-per-view soon. Beginning Jan. 23, Team Fighting Championship 2, taped last month, will be available via In Demand and TFC 3, which was held Friday in Latvia, will be distributed on PPV via In Demand in February. The teams are divvied up by country, with the U.S., Russia, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Poland and Latvia all represented.
TFC is owned by a corporation in Hong Kong and Jefferson’s organization, GPG, is the broadcast rights holder and in charge of recruiting fighters. The promotion adheres to the unified rules of mixed martial arts for the most part. But it is done elimination style. When a fighter taps or gets knocked out, he is out and his team is down a man. That can lead to 2-on-1 or 3-on-1 — or worse — situations. There are instances where an athlete can get caught in a chokehold and kicked in the face at the same time.
A five-man team cannot exceed a combined weight of 500 kilograms (or just over 1,102 pounds). That’s an average of about 220 pounds per fighter. The format is round-robin tournament-based, so teams will be competing multiple times in one day. The winning team gets 5,000 euro and the runner-up 2,500.
There is no headbutting, biting, spitting or kicks to the groin or Adam’s apple. Everything else is allowed. TFC is illegal in the United States and most other countries with sanctioning bodies.
Is this too violent? Jefferson acknowledges “there is a greater danger level” than typical MMA. But he also doesn’t think something like this should be banned.
“You could get injured in a car accident,” he said. “These are professional athletes. They’re trained, they’re skilled.”
Similar competitions to TFC are popular in Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe. Hip Show, which has aired on AXS TV in the U.S., is team MMA with an obstacle course — kind of like fighting meets American Gladiators. At least those athletes wear headgear. They don’t in TFC.
Jefferson said the level of fighters in Team Fighting Championship is comparable to a Bellator undercard. The U.S. group trains at Peak Submission in St. Mary’s, Ohio with coach Jody Poff. TFC tries to stay true to the team aspect of things by keeping its participants together under one coach.
“It’s kind of like going into war,” Jefferson said. “You need to have a fighter looking up to somebody.”
Team Fighting Championship is held in a 30,000 square-foot arena that is completely empty. The display is meant for television viewers only. The fight takes place in a 40 by 40 ring with five referees. Each event costs $200,000 to put on.
Jefferson believes TFC could find some footing in the United States, provided its promoters don’t try to sell it as MMA. Pay-per-view is the first step.
“If the promotion keeps listening to the good advice it’s getting and grows, it could get pretty popular,” he said. “This is a new, different sport that gives combat athletes another way to make money.”