At one minute and 57 seconds into the first round of his debut fight, Creigh Sullivan’s opponent—arm and neck wedged in the grip of Sullivan's legs—yielded to his triangle choke.
Friday night in front of a local crowd of 800 in the sold out Tzeachten Hall, Sullivan squeezed a tap out from Delton Mosely to the loud cheers of Chilliwack fans in the second fight of Warpath Fighting Championships 12 (WFC 12).
“To this day that was my greatest achievement,” Sullivan said. “Nothing’s going to top my MMA (mixed martial arts) debut for a long time.”
The 25-year-old now has a first-win record of 1-0-0 and is looking to get his next two fights in as soon as he can.
After three fights all amateur fighters move up from novice to advanced where more weapons are added to their allowed arsenal, making the matches closer to what a pro fight would include.
Sullivan is adamant about the fact that even though his name is beside the victory, it’s his gym that deserves all of the credit.
“If I didn’t have all the coaches I have or the people who train with us, I wouldn’t have been there at all and I wouldn’t be able to have accomplished what I did last weekend,” Sullivan said.
His team at the Four Directions martial arts academy is the group behind running WFC and is home to local pro fighters Sabah Fadai and Jamie Siraj, two MMA fighters making a name for themselves in the combat sport.
“These guys are knocking on the door of the UFC,” said Darwin Douglas, owner of Four Directions and a well-known Battlefield Fight League competitor himself.
It’s been a part of Douglas’ plan to incorporate fighting events into the Four Directions business model since he, his wife and another couple bought the gym from Revolution martial arts as that team shifted focus to their Langley operation.
After losing money on their first WFC attempt, the group was determined to keep going.
“Being fighters we’re not going to give up that easily,” Douglas said. “We saw where we made our mistakes so we did another show and we made a bit of money, and then another show and we made pretty good on it.”
The Revolutions Chilliwack group started to figure out the logistics of running the events and discovered that the money they were making from the fights could help fund their gym. It made for a sustainable business, though all four partners were still working full-time.
More than two years into the operation, Douglas and his wife Francine bought out their co-owners, changed the name to Four Directions and moved the business to its current location in the basement of the Sto:lo Health building.
In addition to continuing WFC events, they run a number of programs from fitness training to fight camps, and welcome the diversity of customers that fill the basement gym.
“It’s not something that you’re making a million dollars at but the business model that we’re growing is slowly becoming more and more effective,” Douglas said. “And it allows us to have this part of our life that is so important to us for many other reasons.”
Douglas said he’s had trouble getting an event permit from the City of Chilliwack, so the event has been restricted to First Nation land because the province sanctions events based on the Chief and band council giving their approval in their jurisdiction.
He hopes one day the event could be held in a venue like Prospera Centre or Heritage Park.
According to a city spokesperson, there is currently “no official stance” so a request for an MMA event permit on city or private property would be processed through the recreation and culture department like any other.
Things changed in 2013 when the B.C. Athletic Commission (BCAC) was formed to oversee the conduct of amateur and professional fights across the province.
The creation of the official body parallels the growing legitimacy of MMA and other combat sports that have been sidelined in the past.
“Since the inception of the office, the BCAC has sanctioned 33 events, with an additional 18 events already scheduled for 2015,” said a representative of the commission.
The growing popularity of MMA might be shifting public perception of the sport, but many people still want to keep the blinders on, seeing the activity as a blood sport according to Douglas.
“But for us it’s the total opposite,” he said. “It provides people with the fighters and their families with a healthy lifestyle and discipline.”
For now Four Directions is focusing on building it’s core fight team and outreach program for at-risk youth.
Douglas and the team sees the sport as transformative for anyone from young to old.
Creigh Sullivan is already back in the gym working on improving the little mistakes he feels he made in his fight.
His drive to develop, the discipline to get him there, and his humility and respect for those who surround him makes Sullivan one more example of the Four Directions philosophy.