FNT III: NY vs. LA

by Kyle Huewe

We arrived early, my photographer nervous about the upcoming brawls. Neither of us had ever seen a live fight, and she aired on the side of uncombative, avoidant of all things violent and graphic.

“I don’t even know if I’ll be able to take pictures of the fighting,” she told me amid a flurry of event and venue staff preparing for doors to open, circling us, hands filled with liquor and microphones and cables.

The event was FNT III, the third series in Bekim Trenova’s encompassing arts exposition  centered around a series of bouts spanning the styles of MMA to Muay Thai to K1, all thrown together under one roof last Friday night, November 16th.

We were there early to have a word with Trenova, and after some minor stalling, we were led into the basement of the Avalon Hollywood, descending sets of steel stairways before finding a quiet place to conduct the interview. The only quiet place we found, however, was a dirty staff bathroom, which would have to do.

“I am totally fucking exhausted,” Trenova told me. “Taking this new project to another city has not been easy, especially diving into a fight community, getting everyone’s trust.”

FNT was conceived in New York, the first two series – FNT I & FNT II – receiving quite the critical appeal among New Yorkers. “This kind of happened joking around in 2009 in a store in SoHo. I got two friends to fight in a storefront. We did that in a hand-built wooden ring, no chairs, and I was passing out wine to everybody.”

Seeing what FNT had become for its third installation, it was almost hard to believe. The venue was epic, perfectly decorated with a series of light walls, strobes, and, the grand glory: a large boxing ring stuffed into the middle of the venue floor.

“Listen,” Trenova said. “It looks sick, and not for nothing, but I come from this world.” This man doesn’t just see what FNT has become – as a brand, as an event, an experience, or even a marketing tool. He sees what it can become. “Eventually: pay-per-view. It’s all about pay-per-view. Unless we turned it into Duck Dynasty, but then it turns into real reality TV.”

Trenova believes FNT can compete with the big names in cinematic fight coverage, an experience to incorporate various elements of the artistic realms to bring new and unique light to the sanctioned fight experience.

When asked about incorporating various sides of the entertainment industry, Trenova said, “Music, art, fashion. We just had a Chinatown collab today. We had an Acne x Indie Source collab. We’re the first fight club to team with Packwoods cultural marijuana brand. We also have an FNT collab with the Under Armor sports style division — the division just released A$AP Rocky’s first shoe.”

While fighting is the centerpiece of the FNT event series, it’s not everything. “It’s like a collage. I came up in fashion. I came up in sports. I came up in music. It’s really everything that’s ever crossed my existence all thrown into one.”

FNT presents the future of the fight experience, something that speaks to crowds across an array of interests. As an arts journalist, I’m drawn to the musical, my photographer to the artistic. But FNT had something for everybody, whether that be the light walls or the projections – content created by FNT’s partner, Matte Projects – or the series of DJs playing beyond the ring, Trenova’s vision of an inclusive experience reigned supreme in the atmosphere at the Avalon last Friday night.

He’s also revamping the traditionally singular fight experience as a whole. “I really like team sports, growing up in the South. I’m making fighters turn into teams so we have multi-characters rather than just one guy you follow.” For LA’s first FNT installation, this took the form of NY vs. LA, a common rivalry among the arts but one fit for a team-cheering design in a city new for Trenova.

This experience surpassed all expectation. Just seconds into the first fight, I looked to my photographer, unsure how she’d feel seeing the violence.

“This is so hot,” she said. We both became fans that night, not just of fighting but of the experience provided by FNT. This wasn’t just a fight; this was an experience. This was how all events should be, Trenova a host of genius proportions.

“This is a show,” he said. “This is a party.”