By George Willis
Campbell McLaren was the first to bring professional MMA to New York in Buffalo on Sept. 8, 1995. And he’s getting plenty of satisfaction at bringing it back for the first time since.
McLaren, one of the founders of the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1993, is now the CEO of Combate Americas, the first U.S. Hispanic Mixed Martial Arts sports franchise that has scheduled an MMA show for Oct. 14 at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, N.Y.
The seven-bout card will be regulated by the Oneida Indian Nation Gaming Commission, which is not subject to any of the regulations adopted by the New York State Athletic Commission from the bill passed in April to legalize MMA.
“We had put New York on the back burner,” McLaren told The Post. “Then we got a call from Turning Stone, and they wanted to try their first MMA event and they had a date in October.”
McLaren put a card together that will include the four-year-old organization’s first world championship bout when John “Sexy Mexy” Castaneda (11-2) of Mankato, Minn., challenges Gustavo Lopez (6-1) of Yakima, Wash., for the 135-pound title.
McLaren took the date knowing it would come about a month before UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden, a high-ticket extravaganza that will feature Conor McGregor and Eddie Alvarez fighting for the UFC lightweight title in front of what is expected to be a sellout crowd and a pay-per-view draw of at least 1.5 million.
Those numbers would have been unthinkable on Nov. 12, 1993, when McLaren helped put together UFC 1 at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver. The pay-per-view event was a tournament that featured artists from several fight disciplines including sumo wrestling, kickboxing, karate, jiujitsu, taekwondo and boxing. The idea was to determine which style was superior.
There were few rules and no weight divisions. Royce Gracie, a legendary jiujitsu specialist, won the tournament. An estimated 86,000 purchased the fight.
“It was a miracle that show came off,” McLaren said. “But no one who saw it ever forgot it. The UFC took off instantly.”
By the time UFC 7 at Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo arrived, the production had evolved from pitting one discipline against another to having each fighter use multiple disciplines to defeat the opponent. McLaren says that first happened in Buffalo, where Marco Ruas defeated Paul Varelans in the tournament finals by TKO in 13:17.
“I did the first UFC event from here and now I’m back in October when they’re here in November,” McLaren said. “Is it a little like I beat the UFC back? Yeah. But it’s all positive. I love the sport. I love the UFC.”
After being the creative mind throughout its early years, McLaren left following UFC 22. He’s back in MMA with Combate Americas, which features Hispanic fighters with a boxing background incorporating MMA into their fights.
McLaren explains: “Where the UFC’s DNA is grappling, for Combate our DNA really is boxing. Our fights tend to be much more standup. It makes for a very exciting style of fighting. It’s still MMA. Guys go to the ground. We have tap-outs. There’s arm-bars. There’s heel locks. There’s choke outs. There’s all the submission holds. But it’s boxing based and we fight in a very Hispanic style, which is swing for the fences.”
McLaren trademarked the Octagon for the UFC and calls the Combate Americas cage “La Jaula.” He’s hoping it will catch on the way the Octagon has for the UFC, which he always knew had the chance to be a huge success.
“It was three or four years under all the political pressure that hurt things,” he said. “After I left, there were no more good creative ideas there. It went down and down until Dana White with his incredible vision bought it. It’s fun to have already done a UFC here. And it’s really fun I’m coming back in October.”