Andy Foster has worn many hats over the course of his involvement with MMA in Georgia. From fan, to student, to competitor, referee and ultimately high-powered official, he’s done it all. I recently spoke to Andy about the history of MMA in Georgia and the important role he played in getting the sport off the ground here.
There was a core of different characters that were mainly responsible for building MMA in Georgia and I had the good fortune to be involved with them. Mike Carlson, James Corbett, Matt Waller, John De Angelo, Brett Moses, Steve Headden, I’ll throw my own in there. These are names that are integral to the creation of mixed martial arts in the state.
Foster first got interested in fighting by watching Royce Gracie in the early days of the UFC.
I was really impressed by this little guy, Royce Gracie, beating fighters who were much bigger than he was. At the time I was involved in wrestling and I had a friend who was involved in Karate. We’d try to slow down the moves and copy what we saw Royce doing.
Then Jacare Calvacanti came to Atlanta in 1996 or so. My friend and I were from Dalton about 80 miles away but we started going to his classes. I ended up getting a Blue Belt in 1998.
Foster tells me that in those days MMA, or NHB as it was called, got started much the same way it did in Brazil; as a way to settle beefs between martial arts schools.
When we were training at Jacare’s, the students from all the different schools wanted to see how they’d do against each other and compete. They wanted to participate in what they were seeing happening in the UFC. It wasn’t called mixed martial arts in those days but NHB for No Holds Barred.
One of the first local events that stick out in Andy’s mind was called the Submission Fighting Open promoted by Matt Waller.
It was a Pankration style event with open-handed slaps and grappling. I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. John De Angelo is another promoter who comes to mind. His events were quite a bit rougher that Matt’s stuff. John’s events were full-blown No Holds Barred with no gloves.
I watched a fighter named Bull Shaw fight someone at a bar from a boxing gym and man I thought he killed him. That fight went way too long but back then nobody knew anything. That’s also when I learned that glass bottles and fights don’t mix together.
After that I said to Jacare “ I want to promote one of these things” and I did. Back on May 15, 1999, I promoted an event and sold every ticket I had. I had Bull Shaw fight John Dixon. Brett Moses and I promoted it together. Paul Creighton fought on that card. So then we did another one later that year called the Holiday Fight Party and we had a lot of good people on that one too.
By this time, the sport was picking up steam a little and I decide to do one in my hometown of Dalton. This event was interesting because I needed some kind of gimmick to sell tickets. People were still promoting the style versus style angle back in those days. So I had a world champion Kickboxer fight a Jiu Jitsu fighter at IFF Rumble Down South. And man we sold thousands of tickets. Renzo Gracie and Matt Serra stayed at my house! Nick Serra fought George Allen on that card.
Soon after this event, UFC 13 was held in Augusta and a regulatory nightmare ensued for MMA, one that took years to work through. Because of this conflict, MMA was actually illegal in Georgia for a few years. It was during this time that Foster began competing as an amateur boxer because that was the only legal action in town, so to speak. But in 2003, the tide started to turn back in MMA’s favor.
State Attorney Mike Carlson got a team of reps and state senators together that were all friendly to the martial arts and worked to have it reinstated. For my money, he is the reason that MMA was legalized in Georgia in 2003. Between 2003 and 2007, MMA was legal in Georgia but only under the supervision of the IFCS.
Then a new executive director named Kelly Clark decided that the state would regulate MMA both professional and on the amateur level. By this time we’d moved from fighting in bars with no gloves to something with rules and regulations and I became the head referee in Georgia for mixed martial arts because basically the job was open and they needed somebody.
While he was the State’s top referee, Andy was a paragon of fairness and competence so when Clark got promoted, Andy was a natural choice to replace him as Director.
Andy’s taking over the leadership of the sport in the State coincided with the national explosion of popularity MMA experienced following The Ultimate Fighter. Since that day, he’s been one of the major players nationally in combat sports. He worked closely with the ZUFFA to bring UFC 88 to Atlanta and is a big reason Georgia has always been a leader in MMA. Today he is the California State Athletic Director and continues to work tirelessly to see the sport he helped get off the ground in Georgia continue its incredible global growth. But even though he’s working in California, Georgians can always be proud that Andy is home grown. After all, how many high-powered government officials have a submission victory highlight reel on YouTube?
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