Image Credit: BRAVE CF
If BRAVE CF continues its recent matchmaking trend, fighters are going to get seriously hurt. This may sound like an odd concern to hold for men and women who step into a locked cage with the purpose of inflicting damage on their opponents, and vice versa, but not all damage is equal.
The Bahrain-based MMA promotion returned on July 20 with the first of two events in Romania, BRAVE CF 35. The event was originally scheduled to be headlined by a middleweight bout between Mohammad Fakhreddine (13-4) and Enrico Cortese (6-2), but COVID-19 travel restrictions forced the Lebanese Fakhreddine off the card. Instead, Claudiu Alexe (0-0), an MMA debutant, stepped in on short notice to fight Cortese. The inexperienced Alexe was swiftly taken down and mounted by Cortese, and the kickboxer tapped to strikes in the first round, signalling to the referee in charge that he wanted out.
We now live in uncertain times, and promotions should be afforded some leeway when it comes to their matchmaking. As we have seen in the UFC, and we will continue to see worldwide, originally-scheduled matchups can easily be scuppered due to travel restrictions and COVID-19 positive test results. In this instance, BRAVE CF were posed with a dilemma after their main event bout was adversely impacted. The organisation chose to place an inexperienced kickboxer in a main event slot for his first taste of MMA competition. It was a gamble, and it didn’t pay off, at least not for Alexe. However, the story doesn’t end there.
A week later, history repeated itself, only this time the matchmaking was more egregious. BRAVE CF 36 was originally supposed to be headlined by a light heavyweight contest between two experienced MMA practitioners, Todd Stoute (10-6) and Amilcar Alves (18-19). Once again, travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in BRAVE CF’s plans. Amilcar Alves was forced off the card. Despite the complete mismatch in the main event a week previous at BRAVE CF 35, the organisation once again opted to place a kickboxer with no MMA background into a main event slot against a considerably more experienced opponent. Todd Stoute (10-6) vs Cristian Constantinov (0-0)—an MMA debutant who admitted to not having the courage to switch from kickboxing to MMA for the past 2 years—was official.
Euro MMA Hub’s Scott Lagdon interviewed Constantinov prior to the fight, and the conversation was shocking to say the least. Constantinov revealed that not only had he taken the fight on 3 days notice, but he had also never experienced any sort of grappling.
When asked if he had any MMA background at all, Constantinov replied with “No, it’s my debut.” Lagdon pressed the topic further by asking Constantinov if he had any experience with wrestling or Brazilian jiu jitsu. “Only yesterday,” the Romanian responded. Constantinov also admitted in the interview that he was “worried” about the possibility of Stoute immediately taking him down.
The fight itself played out almost identically to the previous week’s main event. After some brief striking exchanges, Stoute took the fight to the mat and began to unleash a barrage of strikes from top position. The cage mics picked up verbal exchanges between the two competitors. “Tap before I knock you out,” Stoute appeared to yell with 3:20 left in the first round. Just 30 seconds later, Constantinov obliged. The kickboxer, overwhelmed and out of his depth on the ground, tapped to strikes and the fight was over.
For the second time in as many events, BRAVE CF positioned an inexperienced fighter in a prominent position on a card against an opponent that was many levels above, both in terms of skill set and experience. While some sort of leniency should be afforded to promotions during these uncertain times, that does not absolve them from their duty of care for their fighters.
In MMA, athletic commissions are usually meant to be the adults in the room, so to speak. Their role is to ensure fighter safety and to step in to prevent significant mismatches from occurring, or at least they should in theory. For example, when the UFC hosts cards in Las Vegas, the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) oversees the events. Similarly, the New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC) would govern events taking place at Madison Square Garden. However, the waters become murky when there is no athletic commission in a particular location.
Sources told Euro MMA Hub that for the previous BRAVE CF event in Romania in November 2019, Romanian Xtreme Fighting (RXF), a local Romania promotion, acted as ‘a commission of sorts’. This time around, it begs the question if that was still the case. It is worth noting that both of the BRAVE CF events held this month were staged in association with RXF. Whoever was presiding over the BRAVE CF 35 and BRAVE CF 36 events from a health and safety perspective had a duty of care to all fighters involved, but sadly they failed in that regard to protect Claudiu Alexe and Cristian Constantinov.
Be under no illusions, MMA can be a brutal sport. Damage is to be expected. Injuries are to be expected. Blood and pain and beatings are to be expected. However, it is the promoter’s job to ensure that appropriate matchups are put together. A global pandemic does not wash away that responsibility. Neither Alexe nor Constantinov had ever fought in MMA before, yet they were matched against 8- and 16-fight veterans, respectively.
Debuting MMA fighters should be matched appropriately and safely. They should be cutting their teeth against fellow debuting fighters, or those with a couple of fights under their belt. In an ideal world, it could be argued that any MMA debut would be in amateur competition with protective shin pads and a limited ruleset, especially if the fighters have little to no experience in a particular discipline of martial arts, e.g. wrestling or BJJ. There is no escaping the fact that MMA is a dangerous sport, but fighters need to be able to learn their trade in as safe an environment as possible. To have Alexe and Constantinov compete for the first time not only against vastly more experienced opponents, but in the main event of each card can be considered nothing short of promotional malpractice.
At the end of the day, if BRAVE CF continue with these types of match-ups, someone is going to get seriously hurt. What will happen if the next inexperienced competitor doesn’t tap to strikes? How much damage will they unnecessarily absorb? I write this not as an attack on BRAVE CF, but out of concern for the fighters. Some BRAVE CF match-ups are fantastic, but any credit you gain as a promotion is erased when these other dangerous fixtures are made.
The dangerous matchmaking needs to stop, and it needs to stop now.