After enrolling in North Catholic, he added freestyle wrestling into his repertoire. He competed in the 2003 Philadelphia Golden Gloves competition, winning the Outstanding Fighter Award. That same year he graduated high school, and soon dedicated his life to MMA. He started studying Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. A few years later, Evans had fought more than 100 regulated amateur boxing matches, eight Muay Thai fights and nine official MMA matches. He admits to having fought at several “Smokers”—underground Fight Club -style MMA matches—in New York, where the sport is still illegal.
A month before Pennsylvania legalized mixed martial arts in February 2009, he bought a cage and set out to put Philly on the MMA map. “I knew it was going to get passed in Pennsylvania,” he says, “and there were going to be some doors opening up for me.” He incorporated his own company, Bentley Promotions (which later became Locked in the Cage), and started looking into the costs of renting out arenas, insuring and paying fighters. He’d later diversify his involvement in the sport, including running a fighter management business and doing matchmaking for a promotion company in Scranton.
He still fought throughout 2009, and decided to push his promotion in May, after traveling to Richmond, Va., for an amateur bout. When Evans arrived for the fight, his opponent showed up late, overweight and covered in Vaseline—an illegal move that makes it nearly impossible for a fighter to get a grip and use submission tactics. “I had 50 people who came down from Philly for the fight,” he says, “so I wasn’t going to back out.” Though he lost, officials later ruled it a no-contest because “one of the officials saw all the Vaseline all over my gloves and saw I was all glossy and wasn’t before.”
Evans decided then and there it was time to put all his effort into promotions. It was going to take someone who’d been in the ring to make sure fighters are treated fairly. “I’m a Philadelphia dude and I want to make sure these fighters are getting taken care of,” he says. “None of these guys are going to get screwed like I did … Every show is meant to build these guys’ careers and it builds what we’re doing.”
Eddie Alvarez, local MMA star and champion of Bellator Fighting Championships at 155 pounds, says such local promotions are vital to early careers.
“I think what [Locked in the Cage] is able to do is get the local amateurs and pros a platform to start off on,” he says. “Everyone needs a platform to build confidence, name recognition and show visibility.”
A fellow North Catholic grad, Alvarez has placed the same bet as Evans: Philly will one day be synonymous with MMA. Alvarez recently opened his own MMA apparel and equipment store, the Red Corner, on Moyer Street in Fishtown. It’s the only one of its kind in the city, and is managed by Josh Huzak, another North Catholic grad and childhood friend. All Locked in the Cage weigh-ins take place at the Red Corner.
Alvarez says his investment in the store is the first creative thing he’s done with the money he’s made fighting and he’s confident of the venture, saying it’s what and who Philly is. “The mentality that we have in this city; that tough, never-say-die attitude, that gives off the ability to be successful in any sport,” says Alvarez. “It’s not the technique that makes us fighters. That’s the easy part. It’s our mentality.”
The night before the fight in South Philly, shit is out of control. The fighters are making their way inside the Red Corner for the 7 p.m. weigh-in. At 6:30, Miles storms into the store, a cell phone pressed up against the side of his face, making nasty comments. “I don’t understand a word you just said,” he says, now plopped in front of a computer. “Fantastic,” he groans with bitter sarcasm. “Just get me the room number.”
Fultano, the company’s photographer, rushes in next. “I’m ready to murder everybody,” he warns. “Traffic was so unreasonable, and I was coming into the city.”
“It’s probably U2 traffic,” says Miles, now on hold.
It’s a bad night to be shorthanded, but they are. Evans is taking the night off. He’s at the U2 concert. He put Miles in charge of running the weigh-in, and the pre-fight problems are mounting by the minute. Somehow, the hotels Evans and Miles had set up for the out-of-state fighters fell through, and there’s no sauna—a prerequisite for any fighter who might need to lose a couple pounds before weigh-ins—in the new accommodations. About half the fighters scheduled for the event are from out of town.
Middletown, Pa.-based trainer Logan Hulstine enters the store with his fighters, Nathan Vantassel and Vinny Courts. He’s not happy. “I thought my hotel was supposed to be right down the street,” he says. “We were supposed to be at the Holiday Inn in South Philly, then I finally get in and there’s no sauna. I expect a lot more from Fran.”
Aaron Carter—aka “Hillbilly Havoc”—has his own beef with the promotion team. The Richmond, Va.-based fighter with a shaggy beard and heavy accent, true to his moniker, says he thought he’d be fighting a guy named Francisco Tavares. But Tavares is listed under his middle name, Daniel, and Carter’s been doing research on the wrong fighter for his match. “They got shit all fucked up,” says Carter. “The guy I’m supposed to be fighting isn’t even the guy I’m fighting … Turns out he’s this world phenomenon Jiu-Jitsu black belt.
“Who the fuck am I fighting?”
Additionally, Carter needs a sauna, now. His usual weight is 185, but he was supposed to get down to 155 for this match. He missed the mark by four pounds. Without a sauna, he’s screwed. “I took this fight on three days, had to cut 30 pounds,” says Carter, who will be fined $100 by the athletic commission for not making weight. When told that Evans, the man in charge, is at the U2 concert, Carter sneers, “I don’t know anyone in the straight community who still listens to U2.”
Local fighter Phil Ferraro is .4 pounds overweight. It’s his first professional fight, and he’s supposed to weigh 136 pounds. “I just lost three pounds over the last hour,” he says, stripping down to his black boxer briefs. “What do I have?” he asks Miles. “A half hour?”
Miles looks at his watch. “I think you’ve got more than a half hour. Go do your stuff.”
Local mixed-martial arts promoter Fran Evans, 28, hit a bump early this year with his local outfit Locked in the Cage. The South Philly arena, where he’d been holding his fights, folded. His public relations assistant left, and a match he later held in Bucks County flopped. It made him ponder his future in the business, and come to a not-so-shocking conclusion.
Training out of the Philadelphia Fight Factory—with an impressive record of 16-2—the prizefighter is a long way from his scrappy, street-fighting days in the hood: He no longer spends his Friday nights pummeling his way through impromptu melees, with nothing but the will to win. These days he prepares for fights diligently and professionally, and spends his weekends taking on highly skilled opponents for ESPN Bellator’s new lightweight tournament.