Please tell our readers about your upbringing, what was it like growing up in the Donnelly household?
“I had a pretty normal upbringing. I was born in Toronto and lived there until we moved out west to Edmonton when I was 8.”
Fighters have always praised you for your kindness and your willingness to go the extra mile. Was that something you were taught or something you picked up along the way?
“My parents were kind people and raised me to respect others and treat them the way I would want to be treated myself. I know it’s a cliché but it’s true.”
What was the inspiration behind LFC?
“I was producing a weekly MMA series called ‘Friday Night Fights’ for the now defunct Koldcast online network. So I was watching a lot of WMMA. One night in Calgary Kim Couture took on a local fighter named Sheila Byrd. Both women were attractive and I thought ‘this is kinda sexy’… until it wasn’t. Couture was choked out and it took about 10 minutes to revive her. And that gave me the idea there had to be other guys like me who wanted to see pretty girls fight but not have them nearly killed at the end. So I came up with the idea for LFC, pretty fighters who look like ring girls having real fights but with rules in place to keep them safe.”
Congrats on the success at LFC30, especially all the media attention that it garnered. It was memorable because of the atmosphere and the exceptional fights. Do you plan on heading back to Sturgis to host another event at some point?
“We are hoping to make the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally an annual event. Stay tuned.”
Speaking of LFC30, how challenging was it to have a successful event, particularly while navigating COVID-19?
“Not as hard as people might think. We told all our fighters if they were concerned about Covid and didn’t want to go we would 100% understand. Only a couple opted out which I totally respect. For the rest we gave them a choice. Those who wanted to have the full Sturgis experience and attend concerts were given accommodations right on the Buffalo Chip grounds. Those who wanted to stay safe were given hotel rooms in Rapid City which is about half an hour from Sturgis and brought to the grounds right before the event and returned right after. All the fighters and crew were given commemorative LFC masks and the option to use as they saw fit. Some wore them to the ring, most didn’t. And we even had our lovely ring official give each fighter a little hand sanitizer before they fought which was, I admit, a little poke at some of the sillier rules we’ve seen during Covid.”
What were the biggest challenges in getting LFC to where it is today?
“I think it’s overcoming broadcaster and sponsor misconceptions about us. Some think we’re some kind of soft porn – which we’re not. Others think we’ll get them boycotted by feminist which again is just not the case. Most women consider the LFC empowering. After all, male fighters in the UFC wear a lot less than our fighters do.”
This is probably a question you’re getting almost daily, but that’s a great sign of how valued your organization is: When can fans expect the next LFC event?
“I wish I could tell you but with Covid it’s just impossible to say. The simplest answer is: whenever live audiences are a thing again.”
Each event is unique and holds up on its own. Is there one in particular that stands out positively, and one you wish had gone differently?
“It’s hard to pick just one because there have been some awesome events. The three that stand out for me are LFC30 because it happened at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and I’d always wanted to go there. LFC24 was special because it took place in Slovakia and it was just so much fun going to Europe with our amazing LFC cast and crew. And I’d add LFC20 to the list because it was our first show at a big casino – the Hard Rock in Las Vegas – and our first live PPV and our first event to go viral with the sizzle reel hitting over 25 million views. The most disappointing event was LFC23 in Kansas City. The fights were great but the promoter didn’t promote it at all so we didn’t get much of a crowd and the venue was terrible, an indoor soccer field with no AC and it was 100 degrees and humid that night.”
Have you thought of taking the show to Canada, especially as it is your hometown?
“We’ve looked into it but it would be very expensive to do an event in Canada because so many of our fighters are American. We’d have to get everyone work visas and expensive flights. Honestly if we’re going to do that I’d rather go someplace I’ve never been before like Asia or South America or the Caribbean.”
Recently, the title has been awarded to different fighters at each event. Do you think it speaks to the high level of competition that currently persists in the organization? Would you prefer to see one title-holder for a while?
“I think there are pros and cons to both. Some people like a dominant champ and there is no doubt that Feather Hadden was that and then some. Others might have found it a bit boring always knowing Feather would win and retain her belt. Having a new champ every event is certainly exciting but presents challenges on the marketing side. The second you get used to someone as champ you blink and she’s not the champ anymore. I think I would like something in the middle. A champ who is able to defend her title for 3 or 4 times but isn’t a lock every fight.”
Judge’s decisions have always been a hot topic in MMA, and the LFC is no different. Take for example, the controversial decision for the main event at LFC30. What are you doing to mitigate that in the future?
“We’re not going to let a whisky company pick the judges based on how much whisky they drink anymore! If there was a downside to Sturgis it was letting one of our sponsors run a contest to pick judges. Lesson learned. Our regular judges in Las Vegas have a very good track record and I look forward to having them back.”
Have you decided on who will be the new president now that Holly Mei is stepping down?
“We have been in talks with a some very qualified candidates. But I also haven’t stopped trying to convince Holly to stay in the position. I think she did an outstanding job the past 2 seasons, including this year with the unforeseeable challenges Covid presented.”
The reality series showcases the fighters and gives fans a genuine look into what the women are really like. What sort of feedback do you get about the show?
“We get very positive feedback from the fans about the reality series. We’re not the WWE with big over-the-top characters you get to know through the events because they spend more time talking into a mic than actually fighting and we’re not the UFC where the media cover our fighters constantly. So the reality series is the one chance for our fans to see the fighters behind the scenes and really get to know them. We follow them as they train, when they travel to and from an event, at the hotel in the days before the event, getting ready in the dressing rooms, etc. And you also get their candid feelings about their most recent fight, win or lose. I really enjoy putting together each episode.”
I know that movies are a large part of what you do and, maybe at some point, we can do a Q&A specifically about that part of your career, but are there any new film projects in the works?
“Most of my film projects got postponed due to Covid. In fact I was holding auditions for a horror western in Calgary in mid-March when my son called and told me the NBA had suspended their season (the NHL followed suit the next day). At that point I think many of us realized this Corona thing was going to be kind of a big deal. We had planned to shoot the film in September but needless to say it got pushed back. Hopefully we can do it in 2021.”
If budget wasn’t an issue, what movie would you like to make?
“I wrote a screenplay for a zombie MMA movie called Knocked Undead and optioned it to a fairly major studio. At one point it had a $24 million budget and Hugh Jackman attached but after re-optioning it three times the studio decided not to make it which is all too common in Hollywood. I would love to make it myself and could do it for about a tenth what they budgeted. I just wouldn’t have a big name actor!”
Will there be a part three to Gone by Dawn?
“I’m about halfway through the screenplay to a prequel called Gone By Dawn 3: Before the Dawn and even licensed the song of the same name from my all-time favorite band April Wine. But there is a potential snag – one of the actors from Gone By Dawn 2, Skylar Radzion, is blowing up right now and she is one of the main characters in the prequel. She recently appeared in the final season of Supernatural and had a guest starring role on The 100. Recently she landed a role in a big Hollywood movie so she may not be available or affordable anymore. And that would be the happiest reason I’ve ever had to not make a movie because she’s one of the most deserving and talented people I’ve ever met and nothing would make me happier than to see her become a superstar. Even if I don’t get to make GBD3.”
If you weren’t an entrepreneur/film writer, what do you think you’d be doing?
“I would probably go back to advertising. That’s my background, I started working as a copywriter at an ad agency when I was 17 and eventually owned my own agency for nearly a decade. Had to give it up when I started producing my first TV series but I definitely enjoyed the agency world and miss it sometimes.”
What is your typical day like?
“I’m a night owl so my day typically starts around 11am. I spend a couple hours answering the hundreds of e-mails we get every day (whoever invented e-mail should be shot). I do my social media posts, work on the often tedious tasks of operating a public company, work on any upcoming events or episodes and listen to classic rock. Then I spend the evening editing the reality series because at any given time there are usually a dozen episodes in the cue. Afterwards I watch a movie and then go to bed around 5 or 6am and get up and do it all over again.”