'I packed in my Doncaster Council job to stage cage fighting for a living'
After 21 years in local government, he was ready for a change.
He had been working as an operations manager at Doncaster Council at the North Bridge Depot, the site responsible for looking after many of the borough’s public buildings.
That was Dominic Gibbs at the end of 2010. Now his work life looks pretty different.
He is now running a high profile cage fighting business, under the name of Caged Steel, bringing fighters to South Yorkshire from all over the world.
This year, he filled Sheffield Arena with around 4,000 fight fans, nearly 10 years on from when he packed his council job in to work for himself.
He said: “I knew I wanted to work for myself, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. So I left a well-paid job because there was a redundancy package, and thought if I didn’t leave then, I may never leave.
“I had about a third of my years pay to find something to do. I didn’t have a plan, so initially I started buying and selling cars.
“But then I got invited by a friend to look at the roof of a school where he was a governor, and asked if I had a company that could do some work. I said yes, and overnight I set up a facilities management company. I went full into that and put up an extension for a school, and did repairs.”
A year later, Mr Gibbs first started to get involved with cage fighting, setting up business with Danny Mitchell, himself well known in mixed martial arts under the nickname of The Cheesecake Assassin – a name related to the ease with which he was able to make the weight for fights, so he could eat what he wanted in front of his opponents.
Mr Mitchell has now retired from fighting but runs successful gyms in Morley and Scunthorpe.
They initially ran a gym together as Ultimate Martial Arts, on Gun Hills Lane, Armthorpe, while Mr Gibbs was still running his facilities management firm.
“I always wanted to promote, but it never came off. We got together and decided ‘why not promote a show at the Dome?’ Danny was the matchmaker, arranging the fighters.
“Getting people there was the biggest challenge. We had 800 people attend the first promotion in a hall for 2,000 people.
“I spoke to people in the industry, to boxing promoters. They said if you do your first show and don’t lose money, you’re doing well. We didn’t make money, but we had a big sponsor with the clothing firm, Caged Steel. We were a bit of a plaything for the firm, I think.
“The two yeas ago, we bought the name Caged Steel off them. Prior to that it had been Caged Steel Fighting Championship.
“We learned a lot from the early shows. We learned a lot about sales, and marketing and sponsorship.
“One of the main things we learned was that when the sport first came in, it was promoted as cage fighting, which had a bit of a shock value for the person on the street. But it was really mixed martial arts. We realised we had to promote it as mixed martial arts, and that was what opened it up. You’re never going to get a mass audience with shock value. It had to be changed to make people aware it was a sport – these people are athletes fighting with rules. I think that was our biggest lesson.
“Our second event in March 2012 was a bit more successful, but we’ve just done our 24th show. There was a steady increase until about the seventh or eighth, and then things started to take off. That was the point when it started to make money, but we had to grow the brand first. It probably took about three years to turn the corner – I’m a positive person and was always sure we would.”
The last show attracted 4,200 to Sheffield Arena. There are more shows planned for the Dome in November and March, and then July at the arena again. The bouts also now make money by people paying to live stream the action on the internet.
Caged Steel now employs seven full time staff, plus temporary staff on the night of its events.
Much of the audience travels to see particular fighters. Fighters from Iceland, Spain, Italy and Poland have all brought their own fans with them. Most attending are aged 18 to 45, and around three quarters are male.
Mr Gibbs was brought up on army bases around Europe, while his father was serving in the Royal Artillery, and learned a number of martial arts growing up. He has tried his hand at mixed martial arts fighting, including a fundraiser at the town centre venue he runs, Diamond Live Lounge, for injured war veteran Ben Parkinson’s charity.
“I won’t be happy until we’re the biggest UK promotion company,” he said.