One of the most intriguing MMA events to go down this month Titan FC 33. Emanating from the Aeroplex at Brookley, in Mobile, AL, on March 20, Titan Fighting Championship will be a feature attraction of Mobile’s AeroFest, a two-day festival dedicated to supporting America’s military through music, art, sports and other festivities.

Ahead of the card, Aidan O’Connor spoke with Lex McMahon, Titan FC’s Chief Operating Officer and a veteran US Marine, in a conversation that spanned several topics including Titan FC’s upcoming event; Desmond Green; and community engagement.

 

O’Connor: Profiling the upcoming Titan FC 33 event, Aerofest’s website notes your reference to the Gulf Coast as “MMA Country”. What is it about the region that makes it such a hotbed for the sport?

McMahon: There’s a very strong military presence in the Gulf Coast region. You’ve got some well established bases including Tyndall and Pensacola, as well as a strong veteran community. From a demographic standpoint, there is significant overlap between these personnel and the mixed martial arts audience, so logically there is a strong MMA following as well.

Alabama has recently set up its own athletic commission to develop that and Titan FC 33 will be the first major mixed martial arts event to take place in the area. That’s creating a lot of interest.

O’Connor: The weigh-ins for Titan FC 33 will take place on the deck of the USS Alabama on March 19. It’s a unique setting, one that no any other combat organization has ever used. Can you tell us more about how the opportunity came about?

 

McMahon: You are correct, it has never been done before in combat sports history.

Think about all the great events we’ve seen over the years, the ‘Thrilla in Manila’, ‘Oscar De La Hoya vs. Julio Cesar Chavez’, ‘Manny Pacquiao vs. Shane Mosley’. Such iconic battles, but no one has ever pulled off an event on a battleship. This event is all about the military there you will see be a strong representation in attendance. Our team was talking about ways to honor them and the subject of the battleship came into the discussion. We made a few phone calls, took a couple of meetings and here we are.

We were actually walking on the ship yesterday, we’re on site now doing some pre-event planning. This battleship is the symbol of the Gulf Coast region. We’re going to construct this beautiful display recognizing all of nation’s ‘Medal of Honor’ recipients and that will also be a part of the weigh in.

Going further, we’re having a young lady sing the national anthem while standing on top of one of the turrets, as well as a band playing. Talk about creating energy, I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it.

 

O’Connor: This upcoming card is particularly notable for its four featured title fights. What was the reasoning hosting so many championship bouts on one card?

McMahon: Well first and foremost, we believe it’s important to recognize a champions and give them a suitable platform, like Aerofest, to display their skills.

In addition, everyone wants to see a title fight, right? When we started planning this event with the guys at Aerofest, it quickly became a bigger deal then we had first intended. We wanted to put on the best show possible for those in attendance, as well as the 93 million homes that could potentially be watching through our broadcast carrier, CBS Sports.

 

O’Connor: Desmond Green defends his featherweight title in the main event at Titan FC 33. He’s an outstanding competitor who recently made The MMA Corner’s 25 hottest prospects in MMA series, and has also headlined Titan FC’s last two events. Would you consider him the most promising talent on the roster right now?

McMahon: I consider him the most promising talent and MMA, period.

He is a special athlete with tremendous charisma who is going to go a very long way in the sport. The fight against Kurt Holobaugh is not going to be easy, but it could further validate him as a legitimate champion. I believe you will see Desmond green in the UFC very soon. Until that time we’re thrilled to have in Titan FC.

 

O’Connor: How close are we to seeing the return of those dreadlocks?

McMahon: The dreadlocks are well on the way to regeneration. It was an unfortunate episode where we had to shave them off to help him make weight. My partner Jeff Aronson was the one who suggested that we let the kid shave off some dreadlocks. There’s got to be five pounds of hair there. The Kansas Athletic Commission told us this had never happened before, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to make the weight. It was fun to be a part of that whole episode.

 

O’Connor: This is the first chance The MMA Corner has had to speak with you since Titan FC 32. There were six decisions on that card but the event is perhaps best remembered for Desmond Green’s triumphant title win. What was your reaction to the event when it had finished?

McMahon: I think we put on a great event. We’re getting better and better with every show and our matchmakers, along with Jeff Aronson, do a very good job of building strong cards that make the most of our roster.

 

O’Connor: The undercard for Titan FC 33 includes former TUF 20 alumnus Anthony Gutierrez, who has fought his entire professional career under the Titan Fighting Championship banner. For most casual fans, that run on The Ultimate Fighter left a lasting impression that wasn’t entirely positive. Have you seen a different side to him that wasn’t feature on the reality series?

McMahon: Anthony is an amazing young man and I’m very proud to have him on our card. He does a lot of good things in his local community, especially working with children. The Ultimate Fighter is a scripted show and the editors sometimes go to great lengths to portray the storyline they’re looking for. I can attest to the fact that Anthony Gutierrez is an outstanding young man and a damn good fighter as well.

 

O’Connor: Community outreach efforts like that don’t always get the exposure they deserve in MMA media. I’m aware Titan FC does its own share of voluntary engagement with local communities. Can you tell us more about that work?

McMahon: Currently Titan FC is actively taking part in an anti-bullying campaign where we’re taking ‘Medal of Honor’ recipients, navy veterans and others out to schools to talk about anti-bullying and bring some positive messages to these kids. It’s one thing to come into a community and put on an event, people will remember that, but what leaves a stronger impression and creates a more sustainable thirst for return is working with local leaders to bring life lessons in the form of campaigns, like anti-bullying, to members of the community.

As soon as I got involved with the promotion Jeff [Aronson] and I started talking about ways to benefit the community. The military is near and dear to my heart so we partnered up with the A Hero Foundation, which does an amazing job of helping veterans when they come home and helping them integrate into normal life after dealing with some very difficult experiences abroad.

The numbers are staggering. We’ve lost 6,717 troops to combat since 9/11 but as bad as that figure is it pales in comparison to the numbers that we have lost through suicide which exceeds 90,000. Veterans often hear empathy from the people around them and while it’s appreciated, it’s not what they want. They want someone who understands what they have been through. Really, the only person who can truly understand is someone who is been there themselves.

We found that if we put these veterans environment where they are having fun they start to open up and talk more because they are surrounded with like-minded people who can help one another.

We have brought in excess of 500 veterans to Titan FC events as well as around 1,000 active-duty members. Outs of those alumni we have had not one instance of suicide and we make a great effort to keep in close contact with them.

 

O’Connor: The work Titan FC does with veterans includes free seminars, correct?

McMahon: Yes, absolutely. We most recently held one at Fort Bragg with the 82nd airborne and we’re going to do another one in Mobile as part of this upcoming event. We actually recently signed Gesias ‘JZ’ Cavalcante and he’s going to conduct the ‘Train the Troops’ seminar that week. It’s always an exciting event when you can bring in a high-profile talent to share some knowledge with military folks who gravitate towards the MMA sphere.

These guys can find themselves in a situation where they encounter an insurgent, do not have access to a functional weapon and must resort to hand-to-hand combat. Our aim is that if we can teach them one practical skill then we have succeeded. We have done this a few times with other outfits including Ranger Up, working with US Marines shortly before they were deployed to Afghanistan. One of them who happens to be a dear friend of mine happened to engage an insurgent on a recent tour and was able to do some damage.

 

O’Connor: Brett Johns may not be a household name in the US just yet but he has built a solid reputation for himself over in the UK under the Cage Warriors banner, going 10-0 in his professional career. Who is in charge of recruitment at Titan FC and what are some of the strategies used when seeking out fighters for the promotion?

McMahon: It is down to the matchmakers to seek out up-and-coming talent, while my partner Jeff is typically involved with bringing in more established names.

We are looking for guys who put on exciting fights and actively make a name for themselves. We can build a star, as long as we have the raw materials to work with.

Someone like Brett, a charismatic guy with a huge fan base in the UK, understands that fighting is not just sport. It is sports and entertainment. If you can combine the two, you develop momentum and people start to talk about to you. The next thing you know you have a future Conor McGregor on your hands. Brett is a guy who checks those boxes and can elevate us as a promotion.

 

O’Connor: One of the big changes we’ve seen to Titan FC since your arrival was the announcers in the broadcast booth. Individuals like Firas Zahabi do a great job offering intelligent insight into the various techniques on display. Can you elaborate on what qualities Titan FC looks for in a broadcast team, and how the promotion settled on its current announcers?

McMahon: Well, we know Firas very well; I think he is one of the most cerebral coaches in the sport. He has a strong personality and a subtle sense of humor that lets him come up with some great lines.  I think that as he has become more comfortable in front of the camera he has continued to blossom. The average fans, who do not see it themselves, now have a way to understand these elements.

In terms of the team, we look for a good assortment. Tony Luftman, our main guy, is your traditional sports broadcaster. He also works with CBS Sports and the NHL. Firas goes into the deeper details, while active MMA competitors like Stephan Bonnar, Jason Brilz and Jorge Rivera are rotated in and out to offer the fighter’s perspective on what is happening inside the cage.

 

O’Connor: Final question. In the short time since Jeff Aronsen and yourself came into Titan FC, the promotion has gone from strength to strength. What goals or benchmarks have you set for Titan FC in the future?

McMahon: We’re looking to increase our global presence and evolve as a national company. You will see that shortly as we look to plan events outside of the United States. On top of that we also hope to extend our broadcast reach, which entails partnering up with events like Aerofest to show what we can offer up before a large audience. Putting those goals together, we have a strong action plan that we can execute on.

About The Author

Aidan O'Connor
Staff Writer

A native of Maidstone, England, Aidan has been covering MMA in a news or feature capacity since 2010. In addition to writing for The MMA Corner, Aidan also runs the MMAmusing Twitter account and enjoys the sport as an avid enthusiast. A graduate in English and American Studies, he currently works in marketing and public relations.