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The IFC Saga – Wild West Days

Originally, the organization that bears the name “International Fighting Championships” ran under the monicker “Ultimate Warriors.” The first show took place on March 30, 1996 in the unlikely venue of Kiev, Russia. It was a bizarre beginning, as the outfit, obviously looking to capitalize on the popularity of the UFC and having some UFC expatriates on its payroll, sported a logo that was strikingly similar to that which the UFC had used. Even then, the UFC was very territorial over its product, and Bob Meyrowitz, the head of the UFC, threatened to sue the group.

That actually put one member of the group – Buddy Albin – in a tough position. Albin was a site coordinator with the UFC who had been fired; when he first engaged in dialogue with Russian interests about the first Ultimate Warriors show, he explained that he owned the international rights to the UFC, and that what they would be getting in Kiev was something very comparable to what the UFC had.

That was a misrepresentation to say the least, and it was dangerous, inasmuch as underworld interests reached into just about every aspect of sports in the former Soviet Union, and would make their presence known around this event too, when all was said and done. One of Albin’s colleagues, Howard Petschler, who had come from the world of kick boxing through the PKA, knowing the new promotion was not likely going to be able to use the “Ultimate Warriors” logo, theme or poster, had to act quickly to save face. So the announcement was made to the Russians and to the participants that the UFC had purchased the rights to the name “ultimate” from them for a cool million bucks.

Another misrepresentation, of course. The reality was, he had to then scramble around for a name. Ultimately (if you pardon the pun), he wound up calling it the IFC, which stood for “International Fighting Championships.” This may have been a partial dig at the UFC people as well; only a couple of years before, the “sanctioning body” started by UFC co-founder Art Davie was dubbed the “International Fight Council” – also the IFC.

Former heavyweight boxing champion Leon Spinks was a “special guest” at the first show, in which Igor Vovchanchin beat John Dixson in the finals of the eight-man tournament. The biggest struggle seemed to be getting the tapes of the fight out of the country for purposes of commercial distribution. This is where the Russian Mafia appeared to have gotten involved, causing delays and red tape that forced IFC officials to come back again and again, but in the end the Vovchanchin-Dixson final match never made it to the recording. That was probably par for the course for this discombobulated promotion.

The IFC had a second show in Mississippi, in which a state athletic commission actually sanctioned mixed martial arts for the very first time, then a third show in Mobile, Alabama, in which not all the fighters got paid their full purses. The IFC continued through the next six years promoting mostly in Quebec (which established uniform rules for MMA) and California (which did the same, piggy backing onto the Quebec rules). That in and of itself makes it somewhat significant, in that it was arguably the inspiration for certain rules advances. The IFC exists to this day, having staged shows in numerous states around the country.

To our knowledge though, they’ve never returned to Russia.

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