I recently had the honor and privilege of interviewing fight promoter Matthew Phillips, who is the promoter of Arena Wars. Arena Wars is a promotion that puts on boxing, Mixed Martial Arts and Muay Thai fights on the same card. You may remember them best from their special that was televised on NBC Sports in November of 2019. It was one exciting and entertaining night!
In a span of three years, Matthew has had 20 shows Arena Wars. They began in southern Oregon and has become a great regional promotion with many its fighters battling at some of the highest levels of their respective sports.
Nate Wren: Matthew Phillips, what were some of the great things you’ve loved about being a fight promoter?
Matthew Phillips: We’ve been fortunate over the years to have had the support and loyalty of many gyms from all over our region. Every time we’ve had events they’ve continued to work with and support us time and time again. Loyalty, trust and building good relationships in this business is a big key factor to everyone’s success as this business is filled with a lot of snakes and a lot of selfish individuals. Fortunately, over the years we’ve been able to build solid relationships with many gyms, coaches, and fighters such as, Combat Sports & Fitness, Checkered Past MMA & Fitness, Art of War, Weapons Grade MMA, Cory’s Boxing, Martinez Kajukendo, Animals MMA, American Top Team, just to name a few.
Along the way we have been blessed with working with several high-level coaches such as:
Kelly Anundson Bellator & Ultimate Fighter Veteran
Jason Georgiana MMA Veteran
Fabiano Scherner UFC Veteran
Cass Bell Bellator Veteran
Chauncy Welliver Boxing Veteran formerly ranked #5 by the WBC
Jimmy Jennett MMA & BKFC Veteran
Enoch Wilson MMA Veteran
Nate: Who’ve been some of the great fighters to fight in Arena Wars?
Matthew Phillips: We’ve had some great fighters come through our events as well. Some have started off as amateurs and fought the majority of their amateur bouts with us before turning pro and moving on to larger organizations. Others have come to us as well-established pros and fought for us at different event. Some of which have been:
Austin Vanderford: former Arena Wars Champion, now fights for Bellator
Linda Mihalec: former Arena Wars Champion, now fights in Invicta
Blaiwas Eaglepipe: Pro boxer & future champion
Leon Cavalli: former Arena Wars Champion, pro boxer, pro MMA and future champion
Tony Kryptonite Lopez: Arena Wars Champion, and one of the all-time leaders for most fights amongst active fighters
Dylan Carlson: Pro Boxer who just fought Evander Holyfield’s son
Nate Adams: Muay Thai Champion and veteran of Triumphant Combat Sports
Adam Fugitt: Muay Thai & MMA Veteran and future champion
Chris San Jose: Arena Wars Champion, MMA veteran and future champion
Patrick Ferguson: Pro Boxer and future boxing champion.
Nate Wren: What have been some of the biggest challenges as a fight promoter?
Matthew Phillips: The unpredictability of the sport. Sometimes you’ll have fighters not make weight, fighters agree to fight and not show up, finding replacement fighters at the last minute.Handling issues at weigh-ins and the day of the fight. Constantly having to adapt or solve problems at a moment’s notice. Great Promoters are usually the best problem solvers because they don’t let anything phase them. They’re calm, professional and efficient. you can tell a lot about a promoter by the way they handle problems when they arise.
Nate Wren: Who have been some of your influences as a promoter?
Matthew Phillips: As far as biggest influences go in the promotion world, the number 1 spot would have to go to Monte Cox, owner of the Extreme Challenge. Everyone knows who the UFC is but not everyone knows who Monte Cox, or the Extreme Challenge is. Monte is one of the pioneers of the Combat Sports world and helped pave the way for what it is in America today. Monte put on some of the greatest events anywhere during a time when MMA was still banned, not recognized as a sport, very taboo and in many places was illegal. He definitely worked to bring it more mainstream and fought an uphill battle. He also managed many great fighters such as Matt Hughes, Jens Pulver, Pat Miltech, Jeremy Horn, Robbie Lawler, and a long list of others. Many greats have fought in his events as well and still do as he’s still promoting events to this day.
Nate Wren: Which brand of gloves do you use for your fight cards?
Matthew Phillips: Blackout Fight Gear gloves. They make some of the best MMA and Boxing Gloves and Shin Guards in the world! I use their gloves in all of my cards. Their owner, Rodney Engberson, is one of the most professional, honest, and driven individuals I’ve ever met, we just love Blackout Fight Gear.
Nate Wren: What do you attribute your success as a promoter to?
Matthew Phillips: A lot of hard work; countless hours of hard work being dedicated to what I’m doing. My honesty and work ethic, and great match-making has really helped a lot building relationships with gym owners, trainers, coaches, fighters, gear makers, sponsors, and a great staff of volunteers, friends and family, plus a lot of loyal sponsors.
Nate Wren: Do you have any sponsors you’d like to thank?
Matthew Phillips: Special thanks to these sponsors for their continued friendship and support:
Lithia Auto Group
Irvin Peterson Trucking
Black Out Fight Gear
Sky High Smoke & Accessories
Fast Break Markets
Soul Savers Auto Sales
Rogue Metals & Supply
True Nature CBD
We’ve also had countless amateurs who have worked with us over the many years. We’ve developed good relationships with them, built trust and solid relationships. We’ve also been blessed with support from countless friends, family, volunteers, companies, sponsors, and communities as well. There’s a lot of people on those groups to mention. I’m sure if we tried, we’d miss a few so for that we will just thank everyone for all of their loyalty and continued support over the years and for years to come.
Nate Wren: What’s the future of Arena Wars look like?
Matthew Phillips: The future is looking good. Much like everyone else in the business world, 2020 was a tough year and virtually had the fight and entertainment business world shutdown. Arena Wars included! 2020 was one big postponement for us. A lot of businesses over many different industry lines folded which is always sad to see. Most that survived had to adapt, overcome, and improvise in order to survive. Arena Wars did just that.
During 2020, in the middle of the lockdown and so many uncertainties going on in the world, we double downed once again and bought a big, beautiful round cage with a catwalk and all of the bells and whistles. This cage is easily one of the best around so for us it was a good investment into Arena Wars future. Round cages are rare as well so it really be great for the future fighters who will step into the cage. From a filming standpoint, the cage will look great on TV, which was another boost for Arena Wars, seeing as we have several events planned in the future that will be televised.
Fortunately for us, we ended 2019 on a high note having had our event televised on NBC Sports nationwide. The event was well received, and we still maintain some great opportunities that are open to us with not only NBC Sports, but FITE TV, HULU LIVE, Cox Sports Network and several other media outlets. I can’t say much about this, but we are also close to knocking down the doors to Arena Wars being televised on UFC Fight Pass and Telemundo. Once those networks come online, that’ll give Arena Wars and the athletes who work with us another great boost.
As far as future events go, we don’t have any specific dates locked in just yet. Oregon, California, and Washington’s government policies have live entertainment locked down for the time being. So, we are basically in a holding pattern for now in those states. Once Nevada gets the OK to open up, we will be making a permanent home in Reno and will be holding regular events throughout the year there. We are also working on opening up North Dakota, Texas, and Florida as we speak. On top of those states, we are looking into Idaho which could present another opportunity for Arena Wars. We are also in the beginning stages of collaborating and planning another event with our friends and partners in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, which will be exciting. That event could proof to be one of the biggest events Puerto Vallarta has had. So, we should have more news to come shortly. Much like the Marine Corps, everything is in hurry up and wait mode at the moment.
Along with that, we have also been in contact with several larger organizations and have been working on getting Arena Wars set up as a feeder show for some of the big boys. Currently, as we spoke about earlier in our conversation, we have had several athletes that have participated with us in the past move on with their careers and are currently active in the Big Shows. With the addition of Arena Wars now being televised, getting aligned with a couple of the top tier events is a no brainer. It’ll be great for every fighter that wants to seize an opportunity and have a chance to advance their career. It’ll be great for Arena Wars as well and will help check another box off of goals we had set to achieve when we first started out on this journey.
One last thing I’ll touch on, which I haven’t shared with too many people, is that after our 2019 televised event and into 2020 we have been approached several times by individuals who were interested in buying an Arena Wars franchise and possibly opening up markets in many other states across the country. That has been a very interesting prospect for us and something we are definitely exploring. I think the value people see in that possibility is that Arena Wars has a good brand, we have TV time available which is very hard to get, we’ve operated in multiple cities, states along with internationally and we have a formula for success. We all know promoting events is tough. There’s been a lot of people who have sat back and had fantasies of promoting events and making a big bag full of money. That’s why they call it a fantasy. Facts are, it’s not that easy and most go bankrupt or quit shortly after starting down the path of putting on events. When reality hits the fantasies disappear. So, the true value is aligning with people that share the same values and vision. No need to try and reinvent the wheel so to speak. After speaking to the different individuals who approached us about wanting a franchise opportunity, the general consensus was that aligning with Arena Wars would allow them to open up doors to several opportunities we have available to us that most never get, which has value. Franchising wasn’t something we had planned for, but we are exploring that as an option. With as many obstacles as it presents it also presents some good opportunities for Arena Wars as we could possibly see this event spread nationwide. So. we may see a franchise pilot program of sorts take place in the near future.
Needless to say, we are definitely excited about the future and are actively calculating out a path for continued growth and success. We’re also for thankful for the friends we have and the relationships we’ve built with everyone. That’s a big motivation for us to keep growing so we can open up doors for people and offer more opportunities to everyone. It’s a team effort for sure.
Nate Wren: I really enjoyed interviewing Matthew Phillips of Arena Wars. It was refreshing to interview someone so honest and genuine in the world of combat sports. There are a lot of promoters out there in the world of combat sports, but not many of them are honest and genuine and trustworthy people like Matthew Phillips of Arena Wars.