History of MMA in United States: Michigan

Michigan MMA
Kevin Lee stands in the Octagon prior to his interim UFC lightweight championship bout against Tony Ferguson during the UFC 216 event inside T-Mobile Arena on October 7, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

This is the 22nd of a 50-part series documenting the history and the current state of MMA for each of the 50 states in the United States of America. You can find the rest of the series to date here. Each part will chronicle the history of MMA as well as several notable fighters and camps in each state. This is the history of Michigan MMA. Be sure to check out the previous part on Massachusetts.

History of Michigan MMA

Michigan, the 26th state to join the Union, has one of the larger commission boards and has hosted a few major events for both Bellator and UFC. The state has provided many state-born tough fighters to the world of MMA. It has also provided itself as a training ground for many wrestlers who came to Michigan State University.

Michigan Unarmed Combat Commission

The Michigan Unarmed Combat Commission is responsible for sanctioning professional MMA bouts within the state. The 11-member commission (currently with one of those seats vacant) was created in 2004 under PA 403 of 2004 amendment providing state sanctioning for professional combat sports within the state. As of the October 2017 session, amendments to Bill 370 did not pass to sanction amateur MMA bouts by the commission. Currently, it is the promotion’s responsibility. MUCC also had a rough going with the Associations of Boxing Commissions (ABC) to where the ABC issued a formal statement condemning the way Michigan handle combat sports. The ABC asked other commissions to ban Michigan fighters due to the state allowing fighters to fight regardless of medical or drug suspensions.

Major Organizations Visit The Great Lakes State

Michigan has been a host to the UFC and Bellator since the early days of the UFC. The UFC has visited “The Great Lakes State” four times while Bellator has made three visits.

UFC 9: Motown Madness

The UFC’s first visit to Michigan came on May 17, 1996, to the Cobo Arena in Detroit. The event was notable for being the first non-tournament based event. UFC 9: Motown Madness is also infamous for the national attention drawn for its legal battles the day of the event leading up to the very start of the event. The UFC was unsure if the event would even be allowed to happen just minutes before the expected start. A judge ruled the event could still occur if closed fists were not used to the head. Headbutts were also made not allowed. This led to the main event of Ken Shamrock vs. Dan Severn as being rated as one of the worst main events of all time.

UFC’s Most Recent Visit

The UFC made their fourth and most recent visit in December 2017 for UFC 218: Holloway vs. Aldo II. The 17,500 plus in attendance witnessed the Knockout of the Year with Francis Ngannou knocking out Alistair Overeem in the first round. Max Holloway defeated Jose Aldo in the main event, putting away the former featherweight king for the second time. The event had two Fight of the Nights with Eddie Alvarez vs. Justin Gaethje and Yancy Medeiros vs. Alex Oliveira.

Bellator Visits Michigan For the First Time

Mt. Pleasant, Michigan was home to Bellator 82 which took place in November 2012. The main event featured the finals of the season seven welterweight tournament with Andrey Koreshkov defeating Lyman Good. The co-main event featured fan favorite David Rickels defeating Jason Fischer by unanimous decision.

Fighters and In/From Michigan

Michigan has been home to some of MMA’s top talents. The state also has some amazing up and coming talent just waiting for its time in the spotlight.

The Tarantula of Michigan

Dequan “The Tarantula” Townsend is Tapology’s number nine ranked light heavyweight in the world. He is also a Michigan native, born and raised in Lansing. Townsend feels Michigan is on the ups in the world of MMA. “It’s been awesome the fact we got a couple fighters from Michigan and representing Michigan in the top 10 in the UFC,” Townsend told MMASucka.

The 19-8 pro also stated, “The Little Caesars Arena open now is giving the UFC enough attention to look at more Michigan based fighters. The fans in Michigan, I feel, are more supportive because we don’t get the credit we deserve being overlooked because we don’t really have a UFC Gym. So it’s hard to get the UFC to look towards Michigan’s direction.” Townsend is a finisher with 16 of his 19 pro wins coming by finishes. He can get it done with anything from a mounted guillotine to a first round knockout.

Top Ranked UFC Lightweight

It’s in his nickname “The Motown Phenom” Kevin Lee is from Michigan. The Grand Rapids-born fighter is currently 17-3 and very much still in the lightweight UFC title picture stacked with amazing talent. After a tough loss to Tony Ferguson at UFC 216, he rebounded with a TKO doctor stoppage against Edson Barboza six months later in April 2018 at UFC Fight Night: Barboza vs. Lee. As this time Lee does not have a next bout lined up but will look to get another win under his belt so he can try and move to the front of the line. The prize is to take on the winner of the Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov matchup in October 2018.

Part 23 of the 50 states series will be the state of Minnesota. Check back with MMASucka to keep up with the series.

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  1. Tony Ferguson is the top ranked Michigan fighter. Totally missed it guys. He’s from Muskegon. Both he and Kevin Lee wrestled at Grand Valley State University. Also pretty sure the Lee Ferguson fight was the first title fight in UFC history with fighters from the same university.


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