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Eric Del Fierro hopes to re-ignite SoCal MMA scene with new promotion under Alliance banner

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Eric Del Fierro (right), talking with prized-pupil Dominick Cruz in May.
Eric Del Fierro (right), talking with prized-pupil Dominick Cruz in May.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Eric Del Fierro will be the first to admit he has a wealth of good, young fighters at his gym in San Diego. Much of that is owed to him being one of the most well-respected coaches in the sport, developing the likes of UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, Phil Davis and others.

The issue, though, is that there are so many solid athletes at that not-quite-UFC-ready level and not enough places for them to fight in the area. Two of his fighters recently competed in Lebanon, Del Fierro said. Others have fought in Bahrain.

It's an issue that has faced Southern California for years, as many promoters have stopped doing professional shows in favor of amateur events.

"Sometimes [fighters] have to travel overseas just to get some big fights at the pro level," Del Fierro said.

The coach is hoping to change that. It was announced Thursday that Del Fierro will be spearheading a new MMA promotion in Southern California under the Alliance MMA umbrella. Alliance MMA has the same name but no relationship to Del Fierro's San Diego gym.

Alliance MMA is a burgeoning group of mixed martial arts promotions across the country that just went public with a listing on NASDAQ earlier this month. Its goal is to become the premier feeder league for high-end promotions like the UFC, Bellator and ONE Championship. According to a press release, Alliance plans to run 125 events per year, featuring more than 1,000 fighters through its partner promotions around the United States. Under its umbrella, Alliance MMA already has organizations like Cage Fury Fighting Championship (CFFC) in New Jersey and Maryland's Shogun Fights.

Currently, there are no firm plans for a first show in Southern California. Del Fierro said it's likely to be early in 2017, though a lot still has to be decided, including what the name of the regional promotion will be. The goal, though, is to become the premiere SoCal-area pro show.

Del Fierro has plenty of experience in promotion. He used to run Total Combat Fights, which held 35 shows over six years in the San Diego area and Mexico up until 2009 when he stopped.

Southern California — from Los Angeles out to Riverside and San Bernardino counties and down to Orange County and San Diego — is a hot bed for mixed martial arts, and the mecca of Brazilian jiu-jitsu in the U.S. Yet the scarcity of pro MMA shows, due to a number of reasons (including high costs for medicals and high promoters fees under the California State Athletic Commission) has forced fighters to leave the area, the state and sometimes the country.

"All the coaches, all the big teams, we all know each other, we all try to share talent back and forth, go over to each other's gyms, take the guys over to spar," Del Fierro said. "There's so much up-and-coming talent and nobody is getting seen. These guys have to travel to other states to fight. I'm hoping to see if we can get it started again, create that spark that we had before in Southern California."

Del Fierro is hoping to start from scratch and build up the fanbase again. Amateur shows do very well in Southern California from a spectator and Alliance's new promotion will attempt to expand on that. Del Fierro said his gym alone has a number of athletes who are looking for fights and have a hard time finding fights locally.

"There's a big talent pool, for sure," he said of SoCal. "We've always had a big footprint on the whole MMA game in Southern Califronia. I just want to see these guys get out there and start fighting again and keep these pros active.

"We've got so much talent at the gym that's just waiting. These guys need to stay busy, they need to stay active and have fun doing what they like to do."