Tuff As Nails

Local MMA organization Tuff-N-Uff has become an unofficial feeder system for the UFC

Tuff-N-Uff amateur MMA fights at the Palms Hotel and Casino/Photo Ray Kasprowicz

A Tuff-N-Uff amateur MMA fight at the Palms Hotel and Casino/Photo Ray Kasprowicz

For two decades, Tuff-N-Uff has helped turn some of Las Vegas’ best amateur MMA fighters into professionals. With a number of Tuff-N-Uff products moving on to compete in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the homegrown organization is getting increased attention as the UFC’s unofficial farm league. We sat down with C.O.O. Jason Lilly in advance of Tuff-N-Uff’s next fight night, January 24 at the Orleans, to find out how they do it.

With Tuff-N-Uff planning events outside of Las Vegas this year, and the growing number of out-of-town fighters coming here to compete, it seems like Tuff-N-Uff’s brand is already growing beyond the city.

We know that we are a Vegas brand and we are all about promoting Vegas athletes; however, with our strong relationship with the UFC, we continue to grow. When Dana White’s cousin wanted to fight he came to us. When Frank Mir’s brother wanted to fight he sent him to Tuff-N-Uff. There aren’t many pro organizations that have put more fighters into the UFC than we have. For example, Ronda Rousey was not a Las Vegas product. She came to us for a chance to compete against the best amateurs and has since moved up to where she is now.

Speaking of Ronda, her best friend and training partner currently competes for Tuff-N-Uff, correct?

Yes. Her best friend Marina Shafir is our 145-pound champion. I believe that she is going to go pro shortly, and we will definitely miss her. We are not here to keep fighters; we’re a stepping-stone and we are here to nurture them, groom them, and get them ready to be professional fighters. Then hopefully they become the next great superstar.

With your growing relationship with the UFC, is there a point where you’ll consider being an exclusive feeder system for them?

Honestly, the UFC doesn’t need Tuff-N-Uff [as a] sole provider of fighters. All of the MMA promotions are feeders into the UFC. Even Bellator’s top fighters, as good as they are, aren’t as strong as the top fighters in the UFC. The thing with us is that we don’t rush these fighters and we get them ready to be pros. The UFC comes to our events and can see top local Vegas talent and watch their growth.

Where do you see the organization going in the next few years?

Our next step is to transition out of Las Vegas. In 2014 we plan do at least one show a month here but it’d be nice to do a show in Vegas and then two weeks later in a place like Hawaii or Dallas. We’ve even had promotions in Philippines and Samoa reach out to us for Tuff-N-Uff events. Expansion is definitely where we want to go.

The largest crowd we’ve drawn is 3,200 at the South Point, so it’d be hard to consistently sell out larger, 3,000-seat arenas.  But we are always looking for new venues. For the summer we have a Downtown event in the works.

Outdoors at the Fremont Street Experience?

This event will be an indoor event, but we have done outdoor events before. Last year we did an event on the rooftop of the Hustler Club. There was a lot of, “What? What?”  I’m like, no, we are not in the strip club. They have a freight elevator on the side of the club that took people from the parking lot straight onto the rooftop. There weren’t any ringside lap dances or topless ring girls. This was a MMA event, and the Vegas skyline in the background made it special for the amateurs competing.

Tuff-N-Uff: The Future Stars of MMA, Jan. 24, the Orleans Hotel and Casino. Doors at 6 p.m., fights at 7 p.m., $25-55, tuffnuff.com.