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Promoter Linda Shields sets the cage for “Battle Under The Stars”

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Promoter Linda Shields sets the cage for ‘Battle Under the Stars’

By Matt Mulligan

GateHouse News Service

July 22, 2009

Linda Shields poses with UFC Hall of Fame Randy Couture and CFX matchmaker Gary Forman. The Aug. 1 “CFX4: Battle Under the Stars” at Brockton’s Campanelli Stadium will feature fighters from throughout the local area

 Bridgewater —

Massachusetts is recognized as a breeding ground for a seemingly endless supply of talented mixed martial artists, with

world-class fighters like the Lauzon brothers and Kenny Florian.

And Cage Fighting Xtreme promoter Linda Shields, whose Aug. 1 event, “CFX4: Battle Under the Stars” at Brockton’s Campanelli Stadium – poised to be the biggest MMA show in New England history – is the beneficiary of being in the right place at the right time.

“I’m more than excited,” Shields said of the upcoming event. “I never imagined we’d come so far so quickly; we’ve actually had to rewrite the business plan.”

Yet with the combination of Shields’ work ethic and boundless enthusiasm, her promotion’s rise may come as no surprise. The hands-on approach with which she handles everything from literally inspecting fighter’s gloves to personally answering e-mails – even negative ones – can be directly attributed to the CFX’s mounting success.

“I burn the wick at both ends,” Shields said. “And I don’t find that a lot in New England. A lot of promoters of local shows dodge the door; they put themselves in a different category than the fighters and staff. They’re not team members; I look at these guys as my team.

“We also try to gear our shows around the venue,” Shields said. “And it has the tendency to impact an entire community with hotels, people filling up their gas tanks, and people eating before and after a show. And we try to have more interaction with pre and post parties, weigh-in parties, celebrity guests, and press conferences.”

The CFX also takes time out to build close relationships with its fighters.

“In the CFX, we live, eat, and breathe fighting,” Shields, whose yellow Corvette bears the license plate: “CageFX,” said. “The fighters are like family members. They text me at three in the morning; I even watch their kids. And I see the fighter’s reaction, it’s flattering – they have unbelievable respect for me. And I’m a tomboy – I have three brothers and no sisters – so I can joke around with them, too.”

Each CFX event is involved with a different charity, and the Aug. 1 show is no exception. The “Battle Under the Stars” will be raising money for the T.E.A.M. Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to funding research and a cure for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, or DMD.

“And I think that separates us,” Shields said. “We’re always giving back to the community and giving to charity. (V.P. of Operations) Mike Varner is great at coming up with a good cause and following through.”

“Battle Under the Stars” will also feature fighter Mark Chaupetta – a 40-year-old father of twin 13-year-old sons who suffer from DMD, and the founder of the T.E.A.M. foundation. Chaupetta will be donating his entire purse to the foundation, and an additional auction of donated items will take place with all proceeds also going to the charity.

Shields, a Watertown native and current Taunton resident, initially became involved with mixed martial arts through her husband, former MMA referee and current CFX matchmaker, Gary Forman.

 

“Two things got me involved,” Shields said. “My husband was refereeing, and he’s also a martial artist and trainer. He loves the sport; he holds a number of different black belts in different styles. And Mike Varner, the owner of Full Force talked me into it. I loved it; it was like planning an 800-person wedding times 10.”

Shields quickly acclimated to her new role as marketing and promotions director for Full Force productions, and soon began to think of launching a promotion of her own. After parting ways “as friends” with Full Force last October, the CFX’s debut event was held on Jan. 17, 2008 at the Worcester Palladium.

“(With Full Force) I saw a vision every time I stepped foot into the arena,” Shields said. “I saw the potential that was not utilized, and it was eating me up inside. I saw these fighters training so hard, and then they weren’t being treated properly. I thought, why not give them celebrity gift bags and swag? And I began to implement that through our sponsors like H2Ocean, Rockstar Energy drink, Boston Brawler, Maaco, Skinny Water – the list goes on and on.”

The fighters’ collective response to Shields’ generosity has been overwhelmingly positive.

“We have two dozen fighters who fight exclusively for (the CFX), and half of them came to us,” Shields said. “And they all say we treat the fighters the best. My philosophy is I’m never too busy to take a few minutes to listen.”

And that philosophy has served Shields well in becoming the first female promoter of mixed martial arts in New England.

“And I didn’t even know that until an article came out,” Shields laughed. “But I hope it’s a trend. If there are other females out there, it will help pave the way. But you can’t clone me; I’m totally that person who’s known for being wild and crazy. You’ll never know what to expect.”

Another unexpected aspect of the CFX is the rousing response from female fight fans – a relationship that Shields has carefully cultivated.

“It’s funny, I was in Plymouth beating the pavement – almost like a politician,” Shields said. “And women were talking to other women like, ‘You have to meet Linda.’ I’m contacted by women on my MySpace all the time – I think it’s the coolest thing. But when you throw a party, you don’t invite all women or all men. And that’s what we want at our shows: a party atmosphere. There’s no riffraff, and females can have such a good time.”

Shields’ femininity is also an advantage when dealing with her fighters.

“Being a woman promoter, it’s not the same at all,” Shields said. “My husband and Mike are ‘guy’s guys’. My female connection, trust me, is on a different level than the guys. The fighters’ ask me about their girlfriends, clothing – everything. I’m almost like a sister to them.”

With an ever-increasing number of promising young fighters throughout the area, Shields has decided to primarily concentrate on local talent in the CFX.

“I think it’s only fair,” she said. “There’s so much talent in New England, why not give the guys a chance to fight in their own backyards? We want our fighters to excel on another level. I have resignation bringing in outside guys if they are going to take the place of talented local fighters.”

With an action-packed fight card in a great venue and night-long fireworks displays, the “Battle Under of the Stars” event is expected to draw as many as 10,000 people.

“It’s exhilarating,” Shields said. “And so exciting” – the hype prior to a show. To see and hear the people’s reaction – when the doors are opening it’s like a movie. And honestly, I won’t sleep until it’s sold out. It’s not being arrogant; it’s just that I know the potential. So many nights, it’s me, Dave Haggerty our operations manager, Mike Varner our V.P. of operations, and Gary Forman our matchmaker – the four of us staying up late and trying to make things work. I couldn’t do it without them.”

For more information on the CFX visit www.cagefx.com, and to purchase tickets for the Aug. 1 “Battle Under the Stars,” call (781) 510-6000.

 

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