This June, burnt out after nearly two decades in the fight game, Roland Sarria parted ways with Rage in the Cage, the Arizona-based mixed martial arts promotion he founded back in 1998. Over his 17-year tenure, Sarria's creation survived the high and lows of the MMA boom, becoming one of the longest running organizations in the sport, producing a slew of top prospects and ultimately standing as one of the few original mixed martial arts vehicles to endure through the dark days of the sport and thrive on the other side.
In that time though, Sarria's eccentric ways often did little to endear him to the local community. And now RITC's new owners, 28-year-old twin brothers Nathan and Nolan Hyland, are looking to change that.
"I had never been to a Rage in the Cage event until 2013," says Nathan, RITC's acting president, who along with vice president Nolan and investor Scott Bourdo purchased the promotion for a six-figure sum this summer. "We went, we really had a great time, it was a cool experience and we saw some great Arizona fighters. But we also saw a crummy cage, we saw some missed opportunities for entertainment, getting the fans involved, and so our wheels kinda started turning.
"I put it on my vision board as a five to 10-year goal, owning Rage in the Cage. I figured Roland was about 50, maybe he'll want to retire in the next five to 10 years. Well, not three or four months later, I saw on Facebook that he had posted a picture of a toilet bowl full of s--t and said, ‘I'm done with Rage in the Cage.' So we took advantage of the opportunity."
Nathan, a former mixed martial arts agent and personal trainer, along with Nolan, also a former trainer who fought three times for RITC, invested their life savings into purchasing the organization, and in the seven weeks since their acquisition, the twins have pushed hard to inject new life into the brand and repair the many bridges burned by past management. "He's the optimist and I'm the realist," says Nathan. "We are a self-regulated checks and balances tandem."
So far the pairing seems to be working. Together the Hyland brothers have already secured partnerships with several local gyms that had soured on RITC in the past. They are currently shopping for a TV deal, and are also in preliminary talks to take part in a reality show with Power MMA, the home of UFC light heavyweight Ryan Bader.
Ultimately, Nathan hopes to stage one major RITC event every two months, supplemented by monthly ‘Fight Night' events that will take place at, and showcase, Arizona's premiere MMA gyms, all in the hopes of providing an outlet for the new crop of southwestern mixed martial arts talent rising from hotbeds like Power MMA and Benson Henderson's MMA Lab.
Before any of that though, the Hyland brothers kick off their new endeavor on Aug. 9th at Phoenix's Celebrity Theatre. It'll be the first show in RITC's 17-year history to not be spearheaded by the tag-team of Sarria and longtime matchmaker John Petrilli, however the Hyland's have planned a tribute for the grizzled veterans who largely pioneered mixed martial arts in the southwestern United States.
It may only be a first step in an otherwise long road for the twins, but ultimately the pair hope to unite an Arizona fight scene which has, at times, been splintered. "I can't think of another place where there's this many quality gyms and per capita fight fans," says Nathan.
"We're really excited about it. We're hoping to really help grow Arizona fighting as a whole, support these guys in their path to the next level. The biggest thing now is just gaining respect. We're working around the clock and trying to get these guys a nice finished product on August 9th so they can be proud to fight for Rage in the Cage."