Billed as the second longest running mixed martial arts promotion in the country, Rage in the Cage, and it's founder Roland Sarria, held their first event back in 1998 at the Midnight Rodeo in Phoenix. Since that night, Sarria has held more than 500 events, making RITC the most prolific MMA promotion in all of Arizona.
But now, after 17 years, Sarria has had enough, selling the organization he founded to 27-year-old Nathan Hyland. MMAFighting.com's Shaun Al-Shatti was the first to report the news.
"It's very exciting," said Hyland during an interview on the Power MMA Show at Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. "To be at the helm of such a proud Arizona grown promotion is very exciting."
Hyland would go on to reveal he was the one who made the first move in acquiring RITC from Sarria after it became apparent that the longtime promoter was on his way out.
"I actually contacted Roland. I don't know how many people follow Rage in the Cage on Facebook but he actually posted a picture, and I'll keep it PG, of a toilet bowl full of poo and said he was probably done with Rage in the Cage this year. So I contacted him to see if there might be an actual opportunity to step in, because it had been a dream of mine for sometime to take over for Roland when he was done. "
Having produced several future UFC champions, Arizona has long been a hotbed for MMA talent. With many of them starting their careers under the RITC banner, Hyland says he will focus on building local fighters a platform to help them make the leap to the UFC, or any of the major fight promotions around the country.
"We have the best fighters, we have the best fans in the country, and we have great guys who come through Rage in the Cage like [current UFC fighters] John Moraga, C.B. Dollaway and Kelvin Gastelum," said Hyland. "So many great Arizona fighters have started their careers in Rage in the Cage and we want to keep that going… We're going to take care of those guys and we want them to stay loyal to us, not to leave for another organization of the same size. We will build them enough of a platform and recognition to go straight into the next level."
But Sarria spent almost two decades building an extremely loyal fanbase all while giving RITC a sense of legitimacy amongst the MMA community. Hyland was to quick make a point that he was not looking to completely change any of the aspects fans of RTIC have come to love. He simply wanted to build on the reputation Sarria left behind.
"I think the pressure is just more on just keeping the things that are good, good. Roland did a great job…he doesn't get near enough credit for the pioneer of the industry that he was. So we're looking to keep the things that are good, good. But there's obviously a lot of room for opportunity like more pro fights, day before weigh-ins, getting some of the [fighters] sponsorship deals and really helping them build a platform to go to the next level.
"Right now Rage in the Cage is the number one program in Arizona, so there are good things with it. It's not like we're going to come in and make wholesale changes. We're going to have the crimson canvas that Rage in the Cage is recognized for and obviously [fight announcer] Rockin' Ric Reyes, one of the staples of the organization, is still going to the be the voice of Rage in the Cage. But the changes that we are going to look to make are going to be an opportunity, a privilege to fight at Rage in the Cage."
Hyland's first event as President of his new promotion will be RITC 173, currently scheduled for Aug. 9 at the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix. This event will be by RITC 174 on Oct. 11 and RITC 175 on Dec. 6, a week before the UFC is scheduled to hold an event in Arizona.
"Our year end event is actually December 6, positioned nicely for a week before the UFC comes town. We want to get these guys to the next level and we really believe we have the show, the energy, and the new blood to do that."