Interview with Aussie Boxing/MMA hybrid Combat8′s president Nathan Swadling
Combat8, a promotion from Down Under headquartered in Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, is the brainchild of Aussie Nathan Swadling, an industrious fight fan who grew wary of what he saw as needless bickering between boxing and mixed martial arts fans – It always seemed as if one side of the aisle was calling out the other with truly nowhere in between to settle their differences. With Combat8, a hybrid of the two, he set to right that ship: All areas of mixed martial arts combat – except for kicks of any kind – are still available. The only catch? Once it hits thirty seconds and nothing’s happened on the ground, the fight gets stood up. Only thirty seconds ground time per round is allowed. Instead of three 5-minute rounds, there are three 3-minute ones, except in championship fights, which are afforded five rounds. These changes facilitate a more level ground upon which these opposing combat sports can test their efficacy. This Saturday, November 9, Combat8 (C8) will be putting on their fourth event, at Newcastle Panthers located two hours north of Sydney.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Swadling about this intriguing amalgam.
For clarity’s sake, can you please explain to me the rules as if I knew nothing of your promotion?
Fans watch Combat8 because they want to enjoy nonstop action inside The Cube, which is our 24ft square cage, a cage that offers the best visual aspect of them all due to straight sides and just 4 corner posts. Fighters are targeted from multiple styles including Boxing, MMA, Grappling, Wrestling, Kickboxing, Muay Thai and pretty much every style that wants to test their skill set against other codes. Fighters enter wearing 6 ounce MMA-style gloves and contest for 3 x 3 minute rounds in general fights or 5 x 3 minute rounds for championship fights. 30 seconds ground time has been added ONCE per round. When a fighter is taken to the ground, this allows a fighter with a strong BJJ skill set or a wrestler to use this time to ground and pound, work for the submission or even just tire their opponent. Once the 30 second clock starts it remains active until the time has run out at which time the fighters are stood back up and continued on. If a fighter is taken down during the ground time but the fighter is able to stand back up the fighters are permitted to take the fight back to the ground again as long as the ground time is still active. Following the ground time, fighters are still permitted to pick up and slam however they will be stood back up where the fight will continue standing. This limits the ground time without taking it away completely but it also forces the fighters to be more strategic with their approach to taking a fighter down and it also forces the fighters to work faster toward that submission they want thus adding more risk for both opponents.
What’s the story behind the name “Combat8?”
Combat8 came about when I was working in China a few years ago. Originally it was named X-treme Fight Club because it was designed to bring a more team approach into the Combat8 world instead of just man on man like it is today. Our original business model was based around a combat structure that involved teams of fighters, each representatives of their own City or Country, slugging it out for the good of their team and not just themselves. The 8 represents the structure including the teams, the divisions, and the ways to victory, and together it is something we have not moved away from but merely wish to prove this great style before its time to take Combat8 in its original direction.
The original UFC was a style vs. style format. Combat8 is very much the same thing, but with a grappler vs. boxer template throughout. Currently, that’s the narrative between the two sports. Is Combat8 the offspring of that narrative, that argument?
UFC has done a remarkable job in bringing together many styles of combat all under the one banner but they didn’t (or couldn’t) accommodate Boxing like they did the rest. The argument against this is that every fighter possesses skills that boxers use, thus being foot movement and hand strikes (with combinations) but the fact is that a traditional boxer’s place inside the Octagon sits well down the food chain. For a boxer to stand tall inside the Octagon, he must first study other methods of combat that are impossible to find in traditional boxing. The down side to this is those skills that boxers do train for and perfect create the highest level of entertainment and have done so since the sport was discovered. 25 years ago, world championship Hapkido or Karate weren’t drawing the millions week in week out, nor was Judo or any of the traditional martial arts but boxing has been doing this forever. So if there was a way that we could somehow incorporate boxing inside a cage against the greatest martial artists the world has ever seen, the result would be unbelievable. The highest, most anticipated match ups that bring the fans back to life, highlights that no other event could bring to the screen and complete domination of all sports because there are so many fans out there that are still split down the centre. I am the first to admit that UFC has done a super job in merging the fans, but they left so many boxing fans out there that can’t stand watching fights go to the ground for long periods of time or that over-use kicking techniques to distance themselves from their opponent, thus slowing the action. It is in my opinion that we have a formula that invites all styles into the one cage, not stripping styles of the weapons they can use but offering the fighters the opportunity to give a little to gain the chance to fight in the most explosive combat sport the world has ever seen before.
Do you believe that as you progress and as high-level fighters of both disciplines begin to involve themselves in your hybrid sport that the level of skill, tension and quality (between the two sports) will be elevated? If so, how?
Yes I do, and it will take combat sport to a whole new level. If we can take fighters that have had decent amateur records and just a few pro fights in many cases and produce the calibre of fights we already have its hard not to imagine what we could create by matching fighters like Roy Jones Jr. against Anderson Silva under the Combat8 rules. I sit and dream of being able to go back in time and match fighters like Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield and David Tua against the best in the MMA world like Cain Velasquez, Fedor Emelienko, Junior Dos Santos and even Randy Couture. That’s just the heavy weights; the list goes on and on.
The production for your event is exceptional. How do you manage that for being such a new company?
Everything that Combat8 has done to date has been about brand building, how you present yourself is everything, for it is the first thing that people see, and therefore it is human nature to judge. Some may say we have taken to many risks to ensure that we produce such high level of production but for me it is extremely important. I have the most confidence of all that the style proves itself with every match so it is our job to make sure we give it the best chance by making sure the production quality is of the highest level.
I’ve seen your Facebook pics. You’re holding pads in your profile picture. How involved are you in the sport? You’re still rather young. Ever think of pulling a Ray Sefo and competing in your own organization?
Unless I was holding them for my son (or daughter) they must have been older pics. I wasn’t anything to write home about as a fighter but I loved boxing from the time I was a small boy. My father was a knock about bloke that grew up in Sydney (Australia) back in the day when everyone had to prove themselves with their knuckles, and he always wanted his boys to be mug-proof, meaning if we ever started a fight he would knock us out but if ever we were to put ourselves in a position where we couldn’t stand up for ourselves we would face a similar fate. From here it lead to amateur boxing and then it lead to training boxers, then promoting boxing followed by Toughman Events which were like kickboxing on the mats, and from there it was all Combat8. Easily to say I feel I’ve been a part of the fight game my whole life or it has been a part of me.
The four-sided cage is, curiously, something that hadn’t been explored (to my knowledge) in MMA until you began Combat8. What was your inspiration for it and what do you think makes it unique?
It comes back down to the direction I wanted to take Combat8 from the start. MMA vs. Boxing, you have the 24ft square fighting platform like the boxing ring but then we replace the ropes with cage mesh. The square cage in my opinion gives the fans the best visual aspect of all the cages. You only have four sides that form the square with just four corner posts. From a fighter’s prospective the square fighting surface has stood the test of time so why fix something that’s not broken?
Sherdog.com decided to not recognize Combat8 in their MMA records. I get it, as I’m sure you do, but do you feel like they’re missing the point? Looking at your sport, I feel like it deserves its own rankings. Do you feel that way?
I have no control over anything that Sherdog does, and to be honest – with full respect to Sherdog – they are not the answer for Combat8. Combat8 targets as many boxers as it does MMA fighters so even if Sherdog were to somehow recognise Combat8 they would only be able to fairly represent the MMA fighters, for all the boxers would be only represented by Boxrec. Maybe as we grow, someone may come up with something that counts all disciplines under the one banner, maybe even Combat8 in time. Think of it this way: if one of these genius web guys built a universal record data base they are going to grab the attention of every style of fighter, fan, matchmaker, etc… They could make some good money selling ads with that much traffic running through your site.
Speaking of which, though Combat8 in and of itself is not for want of nomenclature, the sport you’ve developed is still in need of a name. Have you given any thought to what to call your particular hybrid? If so, what have you come up with?
No, it’s something that I always thought would come to me in time but to date I still sit here no closer. Some of my own thoughts have lead me to think of some of the craziest names one could come up with so I think I’m best sitting on this a little longer or asking the advice of others for some assistance.
Since your promotion has begun there have been personalities coming out of the woodwork, either naysaying your promotion altogether or claiming credit for its concepts (“Abo” Henry’s X-Treme Fight Club being one). Is it disheartening to have to deal with this?
I think it’s inevitable when starting something new, for all one needs is a key board, a fake name and a forum and they have a say. In the early days it used to get to me a lot but this whole journey is full of lessons and you never stop learning. I think the biggest hurdle was educating the fans on what MMA vs. Boxing meant. When we first starting using this tagline people came out of the woods to state “this is impossible – they are two different sports,” but eventually they started understanding that we had our own rules and we were matching mixed martial arts fighters against boxers under these rules. All you can do is keep producing professional shows that generate entertainment and nothing you can do is ever going to make everyone happy. I do know the Abu Henry headline was taken out of text though so no hard, feelings at all there.
What’s your highest hope for Combat8?
My highest hope for Combat8 is that one day I will get to match two undisputed world champions against each other. Two fighters from different backgrounds – maybe one from boxing and one from MMA. Something like Floyd Mayweather Junior vs. George St Pierre. Other than that it would be great for Combat8 to become a regular fixture in countries like US and Asia where we could find new breeds of fighters and introduce them to the world under Combat8 rules.
If Randy Couture and James Toney fought under your rules, who do you think would win?
It’s so hard to say because both fighters were at the end of their careers but I know this for sure: under Combat8 rules you would have seen a fight that was far different from the one we all witnessed. Both fighters would have thrown many more punches, Couture would have attempted to tie Toney up but Toney would have been throwing bombs on the inside. Maybe after the 30 second ground time finished and both fighters were stood back up Toney may have landed with the 6 ounce mitts and put Couture in trouble. Maybe!
Do you have aspirations to bring your sport to the U.S.? If so, what kind of time frame are you looking at?
Yes, Australia is like the little brother in many regards. Combat8 has a big year planned for 2014 and this involves bringing out some American fighters and matching them against the Aussies. With a little luck we hope to grab the attention of some of the bigger US TV distributors, and if we get some good feedback and you guys like Combat8 we could come out late next year to put on a little display.
More than anything else, what do you want people to understand about Combat8?
Combat8 is for the fans and the fighters, everything we do is to add to the fight game, to do the best we can to revolutionise it and grow with it. We want to give the fighters the chance to earn money doing what they love, we want to give kids inspiration to become the best that they can be knowing that there is a platform waiting to spot and recruit them. We want to give the fans the chance to get excited over fights that they never knew could happen and we want combat sports to keep growing for some people this is their key to success and it’s the only key they have. It’s not just those fighters that make it to the top that are saved; many fighters are rescued just trying to get there.