Following a lengthy drought of MMA in Ontario, and gyms full of fighters with no place to display their skills, a gentleman named Neil Forester has arrived with Substance Cage Combat.
Forester (Twitter: @NeilForester) is the owner of Grants MMA n Toronto, Ontario, therefore, it’s evident he has a passion for martial arts. When the Score Fighting Series existed, Ontario’s only MMA organization until closing in January, Forester would frequent their events and enjoy viewing some of the province’s premier combatants do battle. However, once SFS was no more, Forester was left with no choice other than to take matters into his own hands and create SCC.
Substance Cage Combat 1 takes place June 29 at the George Bell Arena in Toronto, Ontario. Planning the promotion’s debut show was a lot more difficult than Forester thought, he said. Taking on the role of promoter is a hat that Forester is used to wearing, just not in the MMA realm.
“I put on produce about 300 events a year across Canada,” Forester told Jason Kelly on MMA DieHards Radio on the MMA DieHards Radio Network. “I do concerts, I do corporate events, so I’ve got an events background. That’s what I do. When they sanctioned (MMA) in Ontario a couple years ago I was very interested. I had a few meetings with some interested sponsors and partners, but because everyone set out the gate to do fights, I just kind of said, you know what? I’ll just sit back and let the dust settle and see where we’re at in a couple of years. I didn’t want to say anything publically, which is everyone would put on a card and everyone would lose money and there would be nowhere for anyone to fight, and I’m kind of right. That’s kind of when I said, there’s a void in the market and let’s try to capitalize on it now.”
Forster waited a couple months to see if anyone was intent on claiming Ontario as their new market and producing an MMA promotion. After realizing there were no signs of that happening, Forester made the decision to create Substance Cage Combat.
Having UFC welterweight Sean Pierson, who trains at Grants MMA, as a matchmaker was a significant component to structuring SCC 1. With Pierson’s help, and having combatants from Grants MMA filling out half the card, Forester assumed it would be simple to complete the other portion of the event, but that changed before the matches were finalized. Injuries, the Ontario Athletic Commission and competitors unable to get licensed caused for multiple opponent changes and scrapped bouts.
Though, Forester had some beneficial people in his circle to rely on when building SCC 1, that didn’t stop him from attempting to garner employees from the debunked Score Fighting Series.
“I had spoken with their matchmaker, Alex Caporicci,” Forester said. “He was going to originally match make for us, however, financially I just couldn’t afford to pay him what he’s worth and what he deserves. We’re a small, start-up card, our venue holds a thousand people, were charging $35 and $45, there’s really no money being made, and I had to be very cautious on my budget and not overspend.”
Forester was not only looking to draw talent and staff from SFS, but also looked for direction from the head of operations in the former Ontario-based organization.
“(SFS promoter) Brendan Fyfe and I have always been friends,” Forester said. “We worked together for years. I helped him out a lot with the Score Fighting Series, so he’s been very helpful in giving me advice. I probably speak to him once a week, or once every two weeks, for advice and guidance.”
Along with finding competitors for an MMA event, Forester also required all the essential equipment for fight night. His initial plan was to borrow a cage from friends in Quebec, but a call from Para Bellum MMA in Oakville, Ontario (30 minutes from Toronto) led to Forester using a hexagon the gym owned that was already approved by the commission.
And when it came time to select a venue to place that hexagon in, Forester was really given a tough task.
“I definitely didn’t want a space that’s too big,” Forester said. “Our original venue was for 800 people and it was standing room only. It’s a venue I do a lot of concerts at, however, the commission didn’t feel it was a safe environment for a fight card to do a standing room only fight. That was a really big, big challenge. I sourced a lot of locations, a lot of venues; I spent a lot of time. I can say for two or three months I just kept sourcing different locations trying to find the right venue, the right geographical location.”
Eventually, Forester found the perfect platform to hold the inaugural SCC event. George Bell Arena seats approximately 1,200 people, but with the cage and other objects needed to hold an MMA event, the venue will host 1,000 spectators for SCC 1.
Nonetheless, the card materialized, the bouts are finalized and SCC 1 is ready to make its splash in the MMA world. The six-fight card gets underway at 7pm ET and the dry spell of MMA in Ontario will be over.
For this, Mr. Forester, the province thanks you.