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Interview: Casey Oxendine Explains Why Hip Show Is an Evolution in Combat Sports, Not a Freak Show

(Props: AXS TV)

You may know Casey Oxendine as the MMA: Inside the Cage co-host with the most hated-on goatee in sports media. (If that doesn’t ring a bell, maybe you remember the “referee KO’s cornerman after fight” video we posted a while back. Yep, that was him too.) A longtime crusader for MMA regulation and awareness both locally and globally, Casey has signed on as co-host and American promoter for Hip Show: Arena Combat, the Russian 2-on-2 fight league that will make its North American broadcast debut on AXS TV this Friday, March 14th.

Although Hip Show has been building a strong fanbase in Russia since 2012, not everybody is on board with team-based MMA on an obstacle course. When we first announced our sponsorship of the 3/14 broadcast, we were hit with numerous negative comments from readers who called Hip Show a “spectacle,” “freak-show crap,” and ”absolutely unacceptable to anyone who respects combat sports.” We called up Casey last week to discuss why team-fighting isn’t as crazy as it seems, the irony of MMA fans calling it a novelty act, and his current efforts to hold Hip Show events in the U.S.

Whether you think Hip Show looks badass or you think it’s a sign of the end-times, please tune in to AXS TV this Friday night at 10 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. PT and give it a chance. (You can also follow the league on Twitter and Facebook.) Now on to the interview…

CAGEPOTATO: How did you and Cyrus Fees get this gig in the first place? Did you approach Hip Show to work on an English-language broadcast, or did they approach you?

CASEY OXENDINE: We saw Hip Show about a year ago, and we were like, “Wow, this is the craziest thing we’ve ever witnessed in our lives.” We started to get in contact with them because of our show MMA: Inside the Cage — we wanted to cover it, and to talk with them about exactly what we were seeing. They wanted to take this thing bigger than just Russia, where it’s been extremely popular. So through that course of action, we began repackaging a lot of their first-season footage into episodes and so forth to get it aired here in America, so that the English-speaking [market] could understand what was going on. From there, it evolved into what it is now.

We got in touch with [AXS TV Fights CEO] Andrew Simon — Cyrus had worked as a ring announcer for XFC on AXS TV — Andrew took a look at it and he’s like, “Man, this is really cool.” Then Andrew cleared it through Mark Cuban himself, which was really neat, and they said, “Go for it. We’re going to give you a two-hour special, let’s show the world what this is all about.”

What made you think that Hip Show had the potential to be more than just a novelty act?

The biggest thing is the complexity of the production and the complexity of the rules. This is not one of those crazy misfit shows where they just throw a couple of wild guys into a ring and having them do 3-on-3 — they’ve done a few of these crazy novelty acts in America. It’s not the same thing. The production level of Hip Show is higher than any product I’ve ever seen. We’re talking like nine different camera angles, and they have a camera inside the headgear of some of the competitors and the referees. It’s the smallest camera in the world; it’s like half the size of a GoPro camera. It’s amazing.

And then there’s a very complex rule system. It’s basically the Unified Rules, but then on top of that you score points on how you deal with the arena. It’s not something that a guy came up with on the fly and said, “Hey, let’s throw some guys into this area here and let’s see what happens.” It was very well thought-out, and that’s what made the difference. When you watch it, you can tell that there’s a lot of money backing this and the people involved are very passionate about it.

Speaking of the rules, Hip Show fights aren’t really decided by judges subjectively. If a fight goes to a decision, a scoring system is in place based on occupying the different obstacles and things like knockdowns. It makes the judging more precise — which is a good thing. Do you think MMA can take any lessons from that?

I think it’s more similar to the characteristics of a grappling tournament. If you’re in the middle of a grappling tournament, you know exactly how you’re scored. You look up in the middle of that match and you see the points, and whether you agree with the score or not, you know exactly where you stand, and you know exactly what you need to do to win. I don’t know if that would work out in mixed martial arts competition — I think that the whole process of scoring in MMA, just like in boxing, is almost an artistic expression of the judge himself. But I think because Hip Show is so complex, the scoring system is something that simplifies it.

A lot of people are saying, “This is so crazy, this is so different,” and it is, but to me, it is the evolution of mixed martial arts. Twenty years ago, we had boxing analysts saying, “Hey, this MMA stuff” — they called it NHB back then — “is the craziest stuff we’ve ever seen. This will never happen, this can never be.” But over the last 20 years, the sport has been refined and scrutinized. Now is the time that we can see an evolution. Now the sport is ready to do more.

Does it bother you when people call Hip Show a “freak show”? We had a lot of negative feedback from readers who didn’t seem to take this seriously.

This is what’s so crazy. The people who are saying this are the same people who supported mixed martial arts during its inception. They battled for this evolution, and now all of a sudden, they’re telling the new generation of people, “We can’t have any more evolution, this is all you can have.” They were upset with the boxing promoters telling them that they can’t do it, but yet they’re doing the same thing here.

The general fans that are seeing this, they love it. When we were showing Hip Show to UFC fighters at the Arnold Classic, as a whole — aside from one exception — everyone loved it. All of them loved it! Guys like Ryan Bader, Urijah Faber, Chad Mendes, and older guys like Don Frye and Mark Coleman. They were like, “This is coolest thing I’ve ever seen!” These are guys who experienced mixed martial arts back in the day, and now they want to be involved in it.

So my answer to all those people who feel that it’s a spectacle? Fine. You should watch it regardless. Eventually we’re going to change your mind, because there’s a lot more coming. There’s an evolution. We can go into the rules and discuss how Hip Show is more of a sport than any other combat sport that’s ever been. If you take standard mixed martial arts, that’s an individual sport, right? But when you put a minimum of two guys on a team, suddenly it becomes a team sport. Now even at the gyms, you’re going to see more unity. And when they go into the arena, obviously they’re going to be more unified, because they’ve got to watch each other’s back.

Also, look at the people who are training in these gyms who aren’t competing in Hip Show, but they’re learning these techniques. Imagine learning how to defend yourself in a 2-on-1 situation. That might save your life. Martial arts are created to emulate real-life situations. And one-on-one combat is not the only real situation out there.

You have the “best of” Season 1 special airing on March 14th, so North American audiences can get their first look at the sport. What’s planned after that, in terms of broadcasts on AXS TV?

The way that these episodes are formatted are in 30-minute episodes. What we’re going to see on March 14th is the best of Season 1 — just the highlights, the championship rounds and those sort of things. Following that, you will get to follow the Season 2 tournament in its entirety.

I’m not divulging any information — Cyrus would probably kill me — but Hip Show coming to America is a very real possibility. I had a large part in getting mixed martial arts legalized and regulated in the state of Tennessee. I actually promoted the very first event ever in Tennessee that was legally commissioned. I’ve been speaking with a lot of people that I know very well — commissioners, judges, different officials involved in different state commissions — and they’re not just straight-up shutting down the idea [of Hip Show]. What they’re doing is asking, “Well, what about these concerns? What about these rules? How does this work?” And when I go into explicit detail with them, they’re like, “This is not as dangerous as you would think.” You see people flying off an obstacle, but that’s not legal in Hip Show, you can’t do that. You’d get disqualified immediately if you do those things. And then they start to realize, “Wow, and these guys are wearing protective headgear.”

You want to compare it to any other sport, let’s look at mixed martial arts, and look at Dan Henderson vs. Shogun. Those guys beat each other half to death in that fight. Blood everywhere. The fans loved it, I loved it — hey, don’t get me wrong, I still love mixed martial arts, I’m very passionate about it. But those guys beat each other half to death. Nobody in Hip Show has ever been beaten up like that! Ever! It’s never happened. So, you put these things into perspective, and you start to realize that people just don’t understand the sport yet. But once we get the rules in place and get these competitors used to it, it’s just as safe as any other combat sport.

What kind of fighters participate in Hip Show? I’m assuming these are prospects who don’t have much pro experience or are just starting out in the sport.

It isn’t necessarily that way. Of course we have different tiers of competitors, just like in any sport. But the championship tournament of Hip Show, you’re going to see guys who are elite Sambo specialists and champions, jiu-jitsu champions, kickboxing champions, and Russian Army combatives champions — which is extremely cool, because you never see the Army combatives stuff really come out in a mixed martial arts setting, but you certainly do here. These guys are going after submissions, they’re going after ankle locks, they’re setting up really pretty combinations on the feet.

And don’t get me wrong, it won’t translate directly to what you would think that a mixed martial arts fight should look like, because there’s more to it. These guys could be throwing [strikes], and then they could fast break over to their partner’s opponent and land a shot, if they see their partner in trouble. So things are going to be a tad bit scattered, and at first you’re gonna be like “Man, what are these guys doing?” But once you understand that they’re putting their skills together with a particular type of strategy, it’s much easier to understand. Then you’re like, “Wow, these guys really know what they’re doing.”

Have you visited the Hip Show headquarters in Moscow yet?

We haven’t been to Moscow yet, and we do plan on visiting. But our number-one priority right now is the first event that we’ll have here in the States. We’ll be providing American competitors, but we’ll also be bringing over Russian competitors as well.

On the Hip Show website, I see the UFC fighter Ali Bagautinov listed as a referee, and some of the fighters come from his gym. Is Ali still involved with Hip Show?

Yeah, he’s actually going to appear on the two-hour special on March 14th. You’re going to see a lot of him. He’s kind of the first face of Hip Show in Russia, so he plays a very strong role in the first couple of seasons there. We’re gonna see a lot of him and a lot of his training partners and so forth. And there are a few other big faces and big names who appear there, attending the events and talking about how much they love it as well.

Ultimately, what’s your goal with Hip Show? What’s the dream scenario for you?

We want to bring something to expand the minds of combat sports viewers — and really, combat sports competitors as well. Like I said, we’ve had 20 years of mixed martial arts, and it’s here to stay. Anybody who says, “You’re hurting MMA, you make it look bad,” hey, I’m telling you man, I was there in the ’90s, I was competing in the ’90s, I was around when everyone said it never would happen. And it was a rage against the machine, of sorts. We were fighting for our right to do this. And it was because people wanted to see more.

Even when I was a small child, I remember watching professional wrestling and seeing boxing and I’m like, “Man, professional wrestling is fake, boxing is real, but why don’t they have a real sport that encompasses both?” I always thought that, and I think a lot of people in the Generation-X era felt that way. This is a new generation, and I think after 20 years of the sport’s development, we can have more enlightenment to what sport combat truly is, and not close our minds and say, “It’s always gotta be a one-on-one situation in a cage, in a controlled environment this way, and we can never do anything outside of this box.” I think that’s very close-minded, and I think when you really start talking to the people who are supportive of this event, you’ll see that a lot of people who are involved in MMA love the idea and the prospect of having this sport grow and evolve.

Final question: Are international audiences ready for your beard?

I think the international audiences are definitely ready for it! When I go [out of the country], they treat me like a king, they love it. I didn’t just start doing this as a gimmick. When I was a kid, I watched Jesse Ventura, Mad Dog Vachon, and all these old-school wrestlers like Ernie Ladd who used to come in with their crazy beards, and I always thought that was the coolest thing in the world. So I always played around with it as soon as I was able to grow a beard. When we went to MMA events, it’s something that I shaped up a little bit just to add some flair, and then when we started [MMA: Inside the Cage], it gave us a little bit of a spectacle to draw from. Even if people didn’t like it, they were watching and paying attention, and it worked, because now we’ve gone all over the world and we’ve seen just about every type of mixed martial arts competition anywhere, every little nook and cranny of every nation, country, continent in the world, we’ve been a part of it and we’ve seen it. So I guess some people may not like the beard, but it’s really served its purpose.

Thanks so much for your time, Casey. Is there anything else you wanted to add?

Just be sure to watch Hip Show, March 14th on AXS TV. Take a look at it. You can like it or not like it, but you’re gonna be glued to that TV set, because it’s nothing like you’ve ever seen before in your entire life.

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