Think it’s a week without any significant boxing action? Tell that to the fans at the Thunder Studio in Long Beach hyped up for the Team Combat League semifinals Tuesday night, and the fighters hoping to advance to the big Mega Brawl Finals on Sunday, August 20.
I’ll watch Korean Boxing Association club fights on a Friday night, so without a doubt, I’m checking out TCL fights on a Tuesday night. So were Evander Holyfield and Caleb Plant, both in the house to check things out.
WTH is Team Combat League?
What, you ask, is Team Combat League? Let NY Fights fill you in. It’s not a new mixed martial arts operation, and there are no influencers or Misfits in sight. It’s legitimate boxing with several twists.
Team Combat League is a team approach to boxing, created by entrepreneur and TCL founder/CEO Ahmed Sheikh. Sheikh announced the formation of TCL earlier in 2023, and after team tryouts, the schedule officially got underway in April 2023.
Cards were all staged at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, and the finals in Long Beach Tuesday and Saturday. TCL follows traditional boxing rules and is regulated by the same state commissions.
— Team Combat League (@teamcmbtleague) August 16, 2023
Here's how TCL describes its format: “Team Combat League competitions employ a unique and exclusive point-scoring system. Each match contains 18 three-minute rounds of nonstop action. Teams compete across six weight categories, five male and one female. Each round is scored individually, adding additional points for knockouts and knockdowns.
“A licensed boxing commission appoints three judges. A round is scored 10-9 to the winner for any round judged by decision. Any round that features a knockdown is scored 10-8 for the winner, and any round in which there are two knockdowns or a stoppage is scored 10-7 for the winner. After the 18 rounds, the team with the most points wins.”
There is open scoring throughout the competition.
Teams consist of 12 active roster fighters and six backup or bench fighters, three in each division. Depending on outcomes, each fighter competes in one or more single round fights against someone from an opposing team in the same weight class. Several fighters can fight multiple times in an evening. If someone gets stopped and is scheduled for a second fight, a teammate steps in. If there’s a tie, two more overtime rounds take place.
Got all that?
It really doesn’t matter in this inaugural season. The staging and broadcast streaming is professional if not flashy (think Thompson Boxing or a Golden Boy streaming weeknight card) with experienced talent and familiar officials. But it’s got a chaotic feel to it, and it can be a lot to keep up with.
Fighters are all qualified to compete as professionals with varying backgrounds and experience. Some are names you know, including heavyweights Michael Hunter, Hasim Rahman Jr., and Jerry Forrest, and super middleweights Alantez Fox and KeAndrae Leatherwood. Records are logged under their own category in BoxRec.
There are aspiring amateurs or ambitious pro prospects without deals looking for an opportunity to impress someone. CEO Sheikh has made it a point that he pays all fighters a weekly salary during the season and covers health insurance for all fighters.
The participating teams in season one: Los Angeles Ten Goose, NY Attitude, Philadelphia Snake, Las Vegas Hustle, Dallas Enforcers, San Antonio Snipers, Atlanta Attack and DC Destroyers. The semi-finals featured #1 seed Atlanta vs #4 seed Las Vegas, and #2 seed New York vs #3 seed DC.
Finding The Storyline
Settling in to watch TCL, what you’re seeing are repeated first rounds back-to-back until fighters get their second matchup, although they may face a different opponent. They have three minutes to assure a “win” in their round, in theory encouraging each fighter to let it go.
There isn’t any time to let a fight develop a storyline, and not much place for craft. The format favors quick starters or fighters simply willing to let it rip. Sheikh feels the all-out brawls deliver more excitement. Referees work for six rounds, then switch out. Working the ring Tuesday were California referees Jack Reiss, Ray Corona, and Thomas Taylor.
In the first matchup, top seed Atlanta pulled out the win over Las Vegas on the strength of its welterweight Javonn Davis who defeated Keith Hunter twice; and heavyweight Devon Young who defeated Michael Hunter twice.
“We overcame adversity. We didn’t have no big names on our team, but we stuck together,” said Atlanta coach Mustafa Meekins “The whole team is the MVP. I want to give a shoutout to big Dev. He pushed through and he’s the reason why we won. We told him to relax, he’s (Michael Hunter) just a man like you’re a man. You’re going to be OK, and that’s what happened.”
Vegas coach Dewey Cooper admitted, “I’m bitter as hell, but congratulations to Atlanta.” He originally wanted his female fighter Florencia Britos to compete in the overtime fight, but Hunter got the nod and lost. “I had to take accountability for that, that’s why we lost. This is life.”
New York Attitude Takes Down DC Destroyers
In the second semi-final, the New York Attitude defeated the DC Destroyers with some surprise knockdowns producing some thrills. Former New York Golden Gloves heavyweight champion Conje Nathan dropped Hasim Rahman Jr. to pile up points for his New York team.
— Team Combat League (@teamcmbtleague) August 16, 2023
“I feel great. I feel like I could go again,” said Nathan. “I trained hard for this, I dropped a lot of weight… I went back to the drawing board and I feel like down the stretch in the money rounds they’re going to feed off my energy.”
It seemed to work, as another knockdown via uppercut by light heavyweight Ralph Clemente over Nasheed Smith in the evening’s final bout gave the win to the Attitude. It’s Atlanta vs. New York on Sunday in Long Beach, starting at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT on the Team Combat League YouTube Channel.
Trainer Barry Hunter of the defeated DC team summed it up: “I had a great time. It was a good run. Both teams came out, everyone showed up tonight, everyone did their thing. Congratulations to New York, congratulations to Atlanta.”
It feels a little like the Olympic Games, but without the prestige of the medals. No ring walks, no winner announcements, only the team victory declared at the end. Letting the individuality and personality of each fighter shine in their ring walk song, attire, and presentation counts for more than you realize when it’s no longer there.
It's also hard to get into a fight that “ends” three minutes later. Whether the format truly spurs a lot of action is unproven. On Tuesday, there were 38 total rounds of boxing, a half dozen knockdowns, and one knockout. Last Saturday, the Top Rank card delivered 35 rounds of boxing with five knockdowns and five stoppages.
If the fighters involved in Total Combat League in order to have a platform to show their skills and perhaps sign a promotional contract to continue their careers, or they’re veterans willing to fight in this format for income and insurance, it’s not doing any harm. YMMV.