LFA, South Dakota, and a Decade of MMA excellence



“South Dakota is a state that embodies the spirit of the American West.” These words were spoken by perhaps the most famous combat sports athlete to call South Dakota home. This of course is former UFC heavyweight champion and current WWE superstar Brock Lesnar. Prior to becoming a household name around the world, Lesnar had humble beginnings.

Lesnar would later tell UFC.com, “I was a kid out of Webster, South Dakota who grew up on a dairy farm and drove a Mazda RX-7 that was a hundred dollar car missing fourth gear and reverse.” Due to his work ethic, love of wrestling, and physical gifts, Lesnar was able to get a scholarship to wrestle at the University of Minnesota, where he won the NCAA Division I wrestling national championship in 2000. Upon graduation, he signed with the WWF (now WWE) and the rest is history for the man known as the “Next Big Thing”.

However, this legendary career has not been so simple for other aspiring combat sports athletes from his state mainly because it had a long stance against legalizing MMA. That finally changed 10 years ago, after House Bill 1049 passed both chambers and was signed by former Governor Dennis Daugaard so the newly formed South Dakota Athletic Commission could operate and meet its statutory obligation to regulate MMA, Boxing, and Kickboxing competitions. Immediately after the bill was passed, the RFA was granted the first promoter’s license in the state and hosted the first sanctioned MMA event at the Sanford Pentagon in August 2014. The promotion, now known as LFA, has since hosted 21 events in the state over the past decade. UFC President Dana White attended one of those events to film his reality show Lookin For A Fight in April 2016 and was blown away by the devoted MMA fanbase that had been quickly cultivated in the state. Three months later, he brought the first UFC event to the state.


Get your tickets for LFA 182: McKee vs. Hernandez


Christos Giagos won the inaugural RFA lightweight title at RFA 17.
This event in 2014 was the first sanctioned MMA event in South Dakota.


Shortly after the UFC announced that it would bring its first event to the state, prominent MMA manager and Sioux Falls based attorney Dave Martin spoke to Damon Martin of Fox Sports and shared the following statement: “We fought hard and Senator (Mark) Johnston was the lead in that and we got the athletic commission in place and they’ve been fantastic. I, by no means, wanted to promote fights, but I wanted to set the tone with the commission and with what fans in South Dakota should expect from fights, so I contacted my good buddy Ed Soares and he got the first promoter’s license and we did RFA fights. We just did our fourth fight and Dana White was there for Lookin’ For A Fight and it’s been extremely successful.”

Bruce Hoyer, who is one of the state’s most prominent home grown MMA coaches, has also seen the sport grow out of those dark days into what it is today. The BJJ black belt and founder of Next Edge Academy of Martial Arts in Sioux Falls, South Dakota reflected on the past decade and how much the sport has grown in the “Mount Rushmore State. “Despite being outlawed, more and more MMA stars started coming from South Dakota, like Brock Lesnar, Travis Lutter, Shayna Baszler, and David Michaud. With such a rich tradition in wrestling, it seemed only natural,” Hoyer told LFA.com.

“Then the other gyms and coaches started to develop their skills and travel more and more to learn from some of the best in the world. Then in 2014, Dave Martin, a sports agent for some of the top talent in MMA, came along and decided that we needed to change the law outlawing our sport in Sioux Falls and create an athletic commission,” Hoyer continued. “Martin was able to team up with Senator Mark Johnston and show it as a viable option both as a sport and as a revenue stream for the state. Then LFA (then RFA) stepped in and provided a fantastic event for the first show. I think this was huge, especially for Sioux Falls, which needed to see that the sport could be done professionally. It was amazing to see the first show because it was the culmination of a lot of hard work and several city and state meetings to get everything created.”


LFA has broken numerous attendance records at the Sanford Pentagon.


It has now been a decade since MMA became legal in South Dakota and all anyone has to do is look at the numbers to see just how astounding the results have been. The LFA has led the way with the first event (then RFA) and has since produced 21 events. The UFC soon followed suit two years later. Bellator was next and they have hosted a total of four events in the state. Then, less than a week ago, PFL announced their plans to visit the state this summer. That will complete the grand slam of major MMA events in North America visiting South Dakota, which is located smack dab in the North Central Region of the United States. Most importantly is the ecosystem and development of MMA talent that has been cultivated in the state. This process has never missed a beat over the past decade in the state, not even in 2020, when Sanford Health partnered with the promotion to create an environment for fighters to compete safely during a global pandemic. In the 21 events that LFA has hosted in South Dakota, 47 fighters have moved on to reach the pinnacle of the sport by competing in the UFC.

Those 47 fighters include some of the biggest names in the sport. The full list consists of Christos Giagos, Luke Sanders, Darrick Minner, Devin Clark, Te Edwards, Geane Herrera, Khalil Rountree, Matthew Lopez, Raoni Barcelos, Terrion Ware, Pedro Falcão, Jordan Johnson, Joe Gigliotti, Brian Camozzi, Deron Winn, Maurice Greene, Sabina Mazo, Darrius Flowers, Dakota Bush, Bruno Souza, Kamuela Kirk, Vanessa Demopoulos, Sam Hughes, Kevin Natividad, Jordan Leavitt, Jimmy Flick, Fabio Cherant, Joaquin Buckley, Kai Kamaka III, Zac Pauga, Natan Levy, Evan Elder, Josh Fremd, Clayton Carpenter, Zviad Lazishvili, Ignacio Bahamondes, Tabatha Ricci, Dan Argueta, Chidi Njokuani, Jamal Pogues, Hailey Cowan, Nick Maximov, Josh Quinlan, Gregory Rodrigues, Muin Gafurov, Trey Waters, and Talita Alencar.

LFA VP, Talent Relations Mark Bieri is the man that has signed every fighter to every bout agreement in the state, so he is fully aware of the process that the promotion has undergone to develop fighters and the sport in the state. Now in hindsight, he proudly reflects on the fruits of the promotion’s labor as it gets ready to celebrate a decade of MMA excellence in South Dakota.

“We are proud of the 10 years of work we have done developing MMA in the state of South Dakota,” stated Bieri. “Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls has been our home away from home and the level of talent that has competed for us in that venue has been amazing. Sioux Falls native Devin Clark fought and won for us four times at the Pentagon. The fourth win earned him our light-heavyweight title and it happened with Dana White sitting cageside. Dana immediately signed Devin and he went on to fight for the UFC seventeen times over the past 8 years. We have had fighters from 19 of our 21 events in the state make it to the UFC. On the two shows not included, our main event winners who won titles, went on to compete on UFC reality television shows Dana White’s Contender Series and The Ultimate Fighter. Currently, we have had 47 fighters compete for us in South Dakota that have gone on to receive UFC contracts, which means we could reach that 50-fighter milestone this week at LFA 182.”


Watch LFA 182: McKee vs. Hernandez


Cheyanne Bowers with her coach Bruce Hoyer (right).
Bowers hopes to become the next South Dakota star in MMA.


The LFA returns to the Sanford Pentagon for a twenty-second time at LFA 182. The fight card is stacked with international, national, and local South Dakota talent. The main event will see NCAA Division I All-American wrestler Mitch McKee follow in the footsteps of two of South Dakota’s finest and fellow University of Minnesota All-American wrestlers, Brock Lesnar and Logan Storley. He will face regional MMA champion and professional boxer Jose “Nano” Hernandez in a bantamweight showdown that should be an instant classic.

LFA 182 will feature a dozen bouts in total with fighters arriving from four different continents. The event will also see two of South Dakota’s most promising up-and-comers in action. Those two are Cheyanne Bowers and Jeff Nielsen, who train with Hoyer at Next Edge Academy of Martial Arts in Sioux Falls. This is the same local academy that produced future promotional champions Devin Clark (RFA) and Bryce Logan (LFA) before they went on to compete for the UFC and Bellator respectively.

You can watch “Merciless” Mitch McKee face Jose “Nano” Hernandez in the Main Event of LFA 182. The event takes place this Friday, April 26th and it will be available worldwide on UFC Fight Pass at 9 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. PT.





About LFA:
LFA is a professional Mixed Martial Arts promotion that was formed by the powerhouse merger between RFA and Legacy FC in 2017. It has launched the careers of over 300 athletes that have reached the pinnacle of MMA by competing in the UFC. LFA presents live Mixed Martial Arts events on a monthly basis around the world including Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas, Phoenix, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo. Based in Las Vegas, NV, LFA is one of the most active and respected MMA organizations in the fastest growing sport in the world. The promotion owns and operates LFA FIGHT NETWORK™, a premium YouTube channel that features live combat sports events alongside live LFA Prelims and historical fights.

Please visit LFA.com for updates and information. Visit the official LFA YouTube channel (LFA FIGHT NETWORK™) at @LFAfights. LFA is on Facebook at Facebook.com/LFAfighting. LFA is also on Instagram at @LFAfighting and X (formerly Twitter) at @LFAfighting.


UFC FIGHT PASS® is the world’s leading digital subscription service for combat sports. Since launching in 2013, UFC FIGHT PASS is now available in more than 200 countries and territories. FIGHT PASS provides its members with unlimited access to live UFC FIGHT PASS Prelims; live mixed martial arts and combat sports from around the world; original series and historical programming; special features; behind-the-scenes content; in-depth interviews; and up-to-the minute reports on the world of combat sports. UFC FIGHT PASS subscribers also have 24/7 access to the world’s largest fight library, featuring more than 20,000 bouts from dozens of combats sports organizations, as well as every fight in UFC history. Fight fans can access UFC FIGHT PASS on personal computers, iOS and Android mobile devices, Apple TV, Xbox One, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Roku, Samsung Smart TVs, LG Smart TVs, and Sony TVs with Android TV. For more information, please visit UFCFightPass.com.


Sanford Sports is the modern athletics arm of Sanford Health, the premier rural health system in the United States. Rooted in science and health care, Sanford Sports offers a combination of programs, services, events, facilities and partnerships intended to make active lifestyles accessible and rewarding for people of all ages and abilities. Based on the 500-acre Sanford Sports Complex in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Sanford Sports has been changing the way athletes play for 25 years. With operations in three states, more than one million athletes use Sanford Sports facilities each year. Visit SanfordSports.com for more information.

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