Formerly known as Gorilla Fighting Championship, until one of the greatest ever fighters took over, Eagle FC is set to rival its peers and soon dominate them…much like their man in charge once did.
Eagle FC Owner/Promoter Khabib Nurmagomedov talking to media at the companies first press conference awaiting their debut event on US soil, Dec 15, 2021.
Company History (2017-Present)
Eagle Fight Club is a novice in the world of MMA, with its creation back in 2017 under the name “Federation of MMA of Samara”. It was there however, the foundations were built bringing an ever-growing sport to life in a European Giant, Russia. The events began in the city of Samara and later further afield to the now infamous Dagestan region. Samara MMA Federation, enjoyed success initially hosting 10 shows total until it reached its conclusion. Attempting to remain a successful organisation, the company agreed a new deal and was taken over and renamed “Gorilla Fighting Championship”. This new chapter improved all aspects of the organisation from fighter talent/contracts, event planning and media production with shows across the former Soviet region, in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. In total, 20 shows were staged by Gorilla Fighting until with help from the COVID-19 Pandemic, it was forced into almost bankruptcy in late 2020, allowing a new buyer to step in and complete another takeover…so cometh the hour, cometh the man Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov.
Khabib Nurmagomedov Eagle FC Purchase Details, His Influence/Reputation & How Successful Was His First Year In Charge?
Now a month or so in to 2022, we can look at how the initial period for Eagle FC has done through a variety of metrics. But before doing so, let’s look at how the deal came about and what having a true MMA icon at the helm will do for Eagle FC and its cultural impact.
Khabib purchased “Gorilla Fighting Championship” in Dec, 2020 and since then has put on 44 live events mainly in his native country of Russia. The deal (as reported by RT Sport) was estimated to be worth $1 million with other investors involved in some capacity, although Khabib is said to have complete control moving forward. With the deal now in place, and a “trial run” almost through 2021, Khabib and his company are now looking to set up base in Miami, Florida to stage their US based events. As stated by Nurmagomedov in their recent press conference, the reason behind the interest in South Beach particularly, is due to his ultimate goal of becoming a global phenomenon much like his previous employer, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Moving forward into this new year, Miami will be the cornerstone of the company with as many as 8 shows scheduled, alongside other locations TBD.
So, with news of another promotion on the rise, it will become obvious how vital their new Owner/Promoter Khabib will be, in building the company to the stature he has himself due to his incredible martial arts career. With the most famous MMA Promoter being UFC President Dana White, it’s clear to see how important it is matching a company with a face and a personality. Similarly in boxing with Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn and Top Rank Promoter Bob Arum, their seems to be a requirement for these individuals to become part of what we know as “Sports Entertainment”. However, with Khabib, being on camera and talking to whether it be media and or fans through his career, was never his forte during his championship run but now being a Promoter, will he demand it of himself to be a more engaging and charismatic figure?
Combat Sports Promoters Bob Arum (left), Dana White (middle) and Eddie Hearn (right).
Even if Khabib does not wish to become a so called “entertaining” Promoter and focuses more on the straight-talking business approach, his marketability and therefore Eagle FC’s, can be shown in other ways. Using his 39.6 million followers across all social media platforms for fan and media engagement, would be a good way to make an impression. And so far, that point has been proved exactly through 2021, especially during their most recent event in Miami, where Khabib tweeted about the viewers tuning in through the company’s broadcaster FLX Cast network.
While it’s uncertain how successful Eagle FC were in 2021 in relation to viewership ratings, as FLX Cast is currently showing their events free of charge and have not released their viewer download rates, their social media engagement has been telling, to the direction their heading especially through Instagram as the company has already over 500,000 followers.
The organisation has also produced, very impressively through an ongoing pandemic, around 16 shows in the calendar year with some coming by way of their fighter selection events (much like Dana White’s Contender Series). The majority of these events were staged in Russia but also Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan for their 37 and 38th shows, showing Eagle FC’s ambitious to travel away from home. The importance of branching out cannot be undervalued for Eagle FC as it emphasises the growth of MMA as a sport, and showcases the impact fighters like Khabib and now the current athletes, can have on people from countries that only years prior had no concept of what MMA was.
In 2021, the majority of what Eagle FC produced was intriguing for the new fans who were being introduced to the newly refurbished promotion. With plenty of memorable fights and new champions crowned inside the cage, the fighting aspect was everything asked of and more. They staged events both with and without fans (due to COVID-19) which demonstrated their abilities to adapt through difficult circumstances and willingness to stage events whilst being careful under professional event planning. The process may become smoother also with fans, as the restrictions in major countries are being reduced, meaning Eagle FC moving forward will have the bonus of ‘live gates’ especially in America, to enhance their revenue.
Overall, it suggests the first year in the “Khabib Nurmagomedov era” was a successful one in terms of building the foundations to kickstart a promotion with tremendous potential. It seems this success could likely continue as well, with the interest from America recently, Russia and soon to be (you’d expect) the Middle East, where Khabib is beloved by so many and would undoubtabley be welcomed to host a bundle of events there in the future, to the highest bidder.
Khabib Nurmagomedov welcomed by Crown Prince Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed to Sea Palace Barza in Abu Dhabi, following his victory against Dustin Poirier at UFC 242, in 2019.
What Makes Eagle FC Different?
Right now, here are some of the major standouts that separate Eagle FC from its competitors:
· Brand new weight division system (135lb, 145lb, 155lb, 165lb, 175lb, 185lb, 205lb and heavyweight).
· No female fighters.
· No flyweight division (125lb).
· Multi-broadcast team both for American and Russian audience, (Play by play commentator, Cyrus Fees, who’ll be joined by “Triple C” Henry Cejudo and newly retired UFC Featherweight Felicia Spencer as color commentators and the addition of future UFC Hall of Famer Chael Sonnen with an interchangeable roll.
· No PPV structure set up currently with events being free to stream through FLX Cast.
At Eagle FC’S first US press conference, Khabib Nurmagomedov alongside Flex Media CEO Alan McGlade and Nurmagomedovs manager Rizvan Magomedov, outlined the plans for the company in 2022, and previewed their first US show on Jan 28 (review further down).
The media of course, were there in heavy numbers and eager to have their questions answered regarding what they can expect from this new face within MMA. What was asked most were questions relating to the new weight divisions, particularly 165lbs, which for the longest time had been called for by so many fighters and per sources, was a contributing factor to why Eagle FC’s star free agent signing Kevin Lee put pen to paper.
Eagle FC Owner/Promoter Khabib Nurmagomedov pictured with his newest signing former UFC lightweight, Kevin “The Motown Phenom” Lee.
Replacing the 170lb division with 175lbs means Eagle FC are the only major MMA promotion to have weight divisions every 10lbs outside of 125lbs (flyweight) and 195lbs. The company seems to be targeting missed opportunities by other promotions, and making it priority to listen more to their fighters, adding specific weight classes. This rather refreshing idea seems it could enhance Eagle FC’s chances of signing and developing future stars, which of course, is the ultimate goal.
Aside from not including a men’s flyweight division, Eagle FC have also decided on no female fighters being signed to the brass. When asked about this at the press conference, Khabib Nurmagomedov answered by saying
“Cause right now female fighters, it’s like even we can watch UFC call Amanda Nunes the greatest of all time, we can watch what Julianna Pena did with Amanda. But Julianna Pena is not the greatest or something like this. She just beat Amanda Nunes and we can watch not many good [women’s] fighters around the world. Just like five or six. We’ll see“.
The message is clear that Khabib and Eagle FC will wait until new and credible talent arrives before launching the respective divisions currently missing.
A decision they’ve made regarding broadcast signings shouldn’t come with too much controversy (unless you’re Henry Cejudo) is bringing in retired MMA fighters to the booth. As seen in the UFC and Bellator, this concept is heavily supported by fans with the likes of Daniel Cormier and Josh Thompson, springing to mind. The addition of MMA legend and one of the greatest “trash-talkers” in the sports history, Chael Sonnen, is a very smart decision by Eagle FC, especially in an attempt to grow their American fanbase.
The majority of those mentioned above, alongside the “No.1 Pound for Pound” fighter Kamaru Usman, came together before Eagle FC 44, to preview the companies US debut.
Perhaps the most differentiating aspect of Eagle FC from the likes of UFC, Bellator and ONE Championship, would have to be their current non-PPV format. Right now, no matter where you are in the world, you can watch Eagle FC events completely free by signing up at http://www.goflx.com. Now, this is of course due to the company being in its introductory stage. Eagle FC are smart enough to realise that having just launched their promotion in America, and after only a handful of shows in Russia, they’d be very hasty in charging a growing/undeveloped fanbase money, to watch their events. The promotion is choosing a cautious approach to begin with, and are committing to their long-term business plan with patience being required, for future financial reward.
Eagle FC certainly feels like something completely new and one that already seems segregated almost from the other big hitters in the US. It’s addition of new rules, divisions and production style seems very intriguing and one of which, that millions of combat sports fans around the world will hopefully catch on to.
What can be said straight away, is how much of a refreshing organisation they are as they seem centred around making their fighters/fans happy, before themselves as a company. Their short-term goals seem well underway in terms of creating an aura and being able to host events in the States.
However, all this early success shouldn’t really be a surprise as when Khabib took over, it perhaps was a forgone conclusion the company would flourish considering he only seems to know what winning feels like, so why would that not carry through to Eagle FC?
If you’d like to hear more about Eagle FC’s plans for 2022, click below to watch their full press conference.
Eagle FC Owner/Promoter Khabib Nurmagomedov and panel of guests and partners outline their plans and ambitions for this year.
Eagle FC 44: Kharitonov vs Spong – Reviewing (Jan 28, 2022)
Considering it was their US debut, Eagle FC produced a very entertaining spectacle that mainly centred around former UFC light heavyweight Rashad Evans, albeit he wasn’t the headliner.
Rashad Evans pictured competing at Eagle FC 44.
Rashad Evans at 42 years old, fought to an easily scored decision victory against Brazilian born Gabriel Checco, with a dominating display of wrestling. The original “Suga” had not fought since 2013, leaving many questioning his motives for returning considering his success now removed from fighting, most notably with his role as a UFC analyst.
Following his win, Rashad spoke very graciously of Khabib and Eagle FC for the opportunity, and it makes you wonder why exactly he chose this promotion specifically, to step back inside the cage for. You could only speculate the main reason without knowing directly from the former champion, but it most likely would’ve been a mixture of many reasons.
However, you’d agree that he would’ve been compensated well to take this fight, and the fight being on a show with a surprisingly large platform (more on that below) would’ve aided his decision. However, there is another idea of Rashad fighting on the card almost as a favour to his friend Khabib, helping the launch of Eagle FC’s US market. Having a major name in Rashad Evans compete brings another dynamic of fight fans to sign up and watch the event that they may not have received without him.
This idea then begs the question of how Eagle FC will operate for future events, and if they adopt the approach of many organisations such as Bellator and Triller with retired, past their prime or ex-UFC veterans taking centre ring, to bring in larger audiences. In this new era of combat sports, with the influence of YouTubers now fighters, and Boxing/MMA crossover fights thanks to Triller, it seems by force a new audience has rocketed with incredible traction. Alongside this is what’s classed as the “Boxing or MMA purists” who feel the opposite to these concepts. However, what cannot be disregarded nor discredited, is the attention and most importantly revenue generated from these events, especially by YouTuber now professional boxer Jake Paul.
Official poster of pro-boxer Jake Paul and former Olympic wrestler and former MMA champion Ben Askren.
But why is all this relevant? Well, Eagle FC could become in time a similar organisation to the ones mentioned, but under the stewardship of martial arts purest Khabib Nurmagomedov, it seems unlikely it could ever take shape in that way but then again… why bring back Rashad Evans?
Looking at the Eagle FC 44 card generally, there were 11 bouts scheduled on the night with a few former UFC fighters like Ray Borg (who fought Demetrious Johnson for the flyweight title at UFC 216) and Yorgan De Castro (who fought 4 times for the company in the heavyweight division), both men had very much needed wins and looked impressive doing so.
Besides the former UFC talent on display and Hall of Famer Rashad Evans, there was another standout from the card. Ramazan Kuramagomedov, a native of Dagestan, moved to 10-0 as he dominated veteran John Howard. Ramazan is another exciting prospect to arise from this region so famous for its dominating wrestling/grappling style, and he is no different.
Pictured above some notable winners from Eagle FC 44 – Ray Borg (left), Yorgan De Castro (middle) and Ramazan Kuramagomedov (right).
Moving on to Eagle FC’s first US main event, which seen Sergei Kharitonov (formerly of Pride and Bellator) take on the predominant Kickboxer/Boxer, Tyrone Spong. The bout was concluded in 2 rounds as Sergei was able to wear Spong down, before ending it with a flurry of punches earning him the TKO victory. An intriguing bout beforehand delivered in the way most imagined, which sees Sergei Kharitonov you’d imagine, advance further within Eagle FC’s heavyweight division.
So how well received were Eagle FC in their American show out event? Well as discussed, whether you believe the addition of Rashad Evans to Eagle FC 44 was just to “get the ball rolling” for the company or a business plan for the future, it worked either way as Eagle FC reported a viewership rating of over 500,000 on FLX Cast via their Instagram.
As only a small taste for what fans can expect from Eagle FC moving forward, this is an incredible number to start with. Considering the free subscription element, it perhaps was half expected but never guaranteed and now you’d like to believe, that number will remain consistent and look to grow for future events.
Eagle FC 45 arrives February 18 in Moscow, Russia. The card includes almost all Russian fighters and a champion vs champion featherweight main event. However, for the US market, this card is predictably going to be a miss for most unless you’d class yourself as a “Hardcore MMA Fan”.
But do not be completely put off, as on March 11 at Eagle FC 46 in Miami, you will see former UFC lightweight Kevin Lee vs UFC Hall of Famer Diego Sanchez, square off in the new 165lb division.
After a turbulent ride in the UFC, Kevin Lee now “takes his talents to South Beach” to fight for his former competitor now boss, Khabib Nurmagomedov. Lee, who went 11-7 in the deep waters of the UFC’s 155lb division, now faces a man who’s seen and gone through it all himself, The Ultimate Fighter Season 1 winner Diego Sanchez.
The bout comes at the perfect time for Lee, who’s troubles with his former employer delved deeper than them just “parting ways”. The “Motown Phenom”, who trains at Tristar gym under head coach Firas Zahabi (former coach of George St-Pierre), was in desperate need for a change, considering his recent run of fights. He gets exactly that now with a change of scenery and ownership that just may be the missing ingredient to what is an exceptionally gifted physical talent, best described by the former UFC welterweight champion himself, GSP.
Tristar members Kevin Lee and George St-Pierre pictured together during training.
His opponent Diego Sanchez is another who’s dealt with difficult circumstances through his historic career, most notably and recently when he contracted COVID-19 and Pneumonia simultaneously. The UFC veteran spent the entire month of November in hospital being seriously ill with the virus, whilst also dealing with blood clots in his legs, detailed by himself through Twitter. Sanchez used his social media platform to keep his fans and those concerned in the loop of his condition, and to also thank everyone for their support during one of the scariest periods of his life.
Diego tweeted on Dec 12, that he’s been recovering well but still feels “shortness of breath” after dealing with symptoms of “long Covid”. And now only a couple months later, he prepares for a fight against a much younger fighter, in a new envirnoment and with a point to prove…
It’ll be a tough ask for Diego Sanchez to get his hand raised come March 11, but then again, he’s the definition of a martial artist and someone who encapsulates the warrior spirit.
The pair headline Eagle FC 46 at the FLXCAST Arena in Miami on March 11. No other bouts have yet been confirmed but it will most likely include American/Russian based talent. The map has not been outlined for 2022 yet in terms of who we can likely expect to see in the cage, but if they’re anything to the calibre of their US debut, Eagle FC could possibly cement themselves as a viable contender in the world of Mixed Martial Arts.
Upon reviewing Khabib Nurmagomedovs new promotion Eagle FC, there’s plenty of standouts from what’s already been shown. But to answer the question first posed
“How Successful Can Eagle FC Become?”
Honestly, you would be inclined to say from what’s been already produced, they are well on their way to becoming very successful, to the point of becoming a global organisation and a genuine threat to other promotions. It won’t come overnight, but it seems they’ll push aggressively to reach their goals as fast as possible. This philosophy will be backed heavily by Khabib, as he will imprint his incredible drive and will to dominate mentality into Eagle Fight Club, taking the endeavour to new heights and preparing it to “smesh” through every obstacle in sight.