The MMA – mixed martial arts – world is no longer a man’s business, thanks to women such as Karyn Wesch, owner of Premier Fighting Championship (PFC), a western Massachusetts promotion company that serves both professional and amateur fighters, male and female from throughout the state and its neighbors.
“I have been told over and over again that I’m not going to make it in this sport,” Wesch said. “I have had the wires ripped out of the truck. I have had a promoter run me of the road – craziness. I feel like I’m burning the bras for all women in the business side of MMA.”
Wesch’s company, PFC, has hosted 15 fight cards. She is also the matchmaker responsible for pairing fighters for the bouts. She has featured cards with fighters such as Dan Luzon, Ryan Quinn, Rich Moskowitz, and Abner Alvarez. Both Tyler Rose and Marvin Maldonado were PFC titleholders before beginning their professional careers.
To those unfamiliar with MMA, promoters must abide by the many statutes and regulations set by a state’s athletic commission. They must also carry medical and death benefits for each fighter, who is also licensed. There is much more to the sport than just setting a cage up and letting two opponents duke it out. There are rules and there are referees, which the athletic commission chooses for each event.
“I thought it was barbaric at first,” Wesch admitted. She first ventured into the MMA world with her husband Johnny when they created Need 2 Bleed fight wear. At that time, 2003, she knew nothing about the sport.
“Hanging out with these fight schools, what I started doing is through Need 2 Bleed, I started sponsoring them. The very first fighter I ever sponsored was Ricardo Funch. I started picking up other fighters and getting more involved with the sport,” Wesch recalled.
She worked closely with Jason Franklin of American Fight Team in the early stages. “I learned a lot from him about matchmaking and fighters, the logistics of fighting, the different arts – muay Thai versus boxing. After a couple years of really studying the sport I started to get really close to the people I was sponsoring. So I started managing,” Wesch explained.
The Massachusetts State Athletic Commission hadn’t officially sanction MMA at the time Wesch entered the sport and there was no promotion in the western Massachusetts area, so fighters had to compete in Boston. It wasn’t until the summer of 2010 that the sport was sanctioned.
“My new life was living at the [Massachusetts State Athletic] commissioner’s office in Boston. I sat through every single meeting. I was the first promoter to get a promoter’s license. Since then, we have been off and running,” she said.
And, the rest as they say, is history.
Early on in 2011, Wesch encountered Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
She approached White during a UFC event, eager to ask him questions about the business and learn from his experience. His response, “When you’ve actually done something then we can talk about that.” That was the end of the conversation.
After the initial shock wore off, Wesch thought to herself, “How dare you minimize me because of where you are. Now I have a fire under my ass!” She was motivated by his demeanor rather than intimidated.
She ran into White again in 2013 at a UFC event in New Jersey.
This conservation went as follows, according to Wesch: “I met you a few years ago. My name is Karyn and I’m a promoter in Massachusetts.”
“Oh, you’re a promoter,” White said.
“Yeah, actually I was back then too. I just wanted to let you know that I’m still going and you pushed me to do really well. You said to me ‘when I’ve done something,’ well I’ve done something. So, thank you for that.”
Despite the nature of the business, Wesch continued to forge ahead with PFC.
“It’s a business, a cutthroat business. As a woman [in the MMA world], I’ve definitely grown a backbone. I’m not going anywhere,” she said.
The first PFC show was hosted at the former Hippodrome in Springfield, Mass., in 2010 to a sold out crowd. “I was overwhelmed by all of the details,” Wesch admitted. “It was literally, ‘Do you know how to run a camera? OK, you’re going to work.’ I look back now and [I ask myself], ‘How did we get through those times?’
“Going through, I’ve learned. I made a lot of mistakes. I’ve learned how to say I’m sorry and how to accept a mistake. The people in the sport, I don’t want them to tell me what I’m doing well, I want them to tell me what I’m doing wrong because that’s the only way I’m going to grow. I love constructive criticism,” she added.
Most of the 13 members of the PFC staff are people Wesch has known for many years.
“I have awesome, amazing people working for me. They don’t need me to hold their hand to get the job done. It’s going really well. PFC is not Karyn, it’s a team of people that work together to grow a business,” she said.
Wesch takes pride in the fact that the events are family-friendly. Her daughters frequent the shows and Wesch considers many of the fighters her extended family.
“I’m a mom first. When I see people get hurt, I mom them, even the fighters because I feel awful,” she said. “People in the MMA community understand that this is a sport. These guys are very humble. They’re hugging each other after [the fight], talking to each other after weigh-ins, some of them have dinner after weigh-ins together. This is their job. It’s not a barbaric thing.”
Wesch admires the hard work and dedication of the fighters and mimics her own life to honor their discipline.
“It is a lifestyle, not a nine to five. If they’re working 24 hours a day, so am I. I work until midnight,” she said.
Wesch is a mother of four, three daughters and a son. Her middle children, Skylar, 12, and adopted daughter Annish, 26, are regulars at the PFC events. Her daughter Sharon, 21, is busy starting the next phase of her life. Sadly, her second child, son Zackrey passed away just before his first birthday due to a mitochondrial disorder.
“I’m so blessed. I love my children. Am I the perfect mom? No. Am I the perfect woman? No. Am I the perfect wife? No. I’m never going to pretend to be. What I realize is that nobody is,” she said.
Wesch credits her husband of 17 years, Johnny, for her success in the world of MMA and at home. He’s a police officer in Hartford, Conn., who plays hockey in his free time. They’d been friends each since elementary school, but it wasn’t until Wesch was 21 that she realized he was the one.
“I can’t imagine going through life with anyone else. It’s hard for him because I work so much. He had to get use to it, but now he knows if he loves me, he has to love all of me,” she said.
An Enfield, Conn., native and one of four children, including a twin, Wesch credits her parents Mike and Carolyn Lally for her business sense. “Without their support, I wouldn’t have stayed in this business,” she said, noting that they help with PFC events working the ticket counter and providing security.
Wesch, 40, has a positive outlook on life. “I no longer look in the rear view mirror, I look in the windshield. I feel secure in my own skin. I’m not trying to figure it [life] out,” she said.
When asked what’s next for PFC, Wesch said she looks forward to hosting many more events.
“I didn’t get into this to become the UFC. I didn’t get into this to become Bellator [MMA]. I came into this to help local guys be able to get the records to be able to fight in those places. Without me, they’d never get there because they have to fight at this level to get to that level. I want to be that local business,” she said.