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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Kimpo Sliced out of MMA ?

The collapse of Elite XC has left its talent in limbo.

The company has two types of top talent: marquee fighters like Kimbo Slice, Gina Carano and Frank Shamrock; and several quality fighters with no real marquee value.

Slice is the biggest name of the marquee stars, although his name was certainly damaged by events of the past few weeks, both the quick knockout loss to Seth Petruzelli and much of the sports media calling him a fraud as a fighter.

“We’ve avoided going the freak show route,” said Dana White, president of UFC. “Way back when we were bleeding money, we could have gone after

(Mike) Tyson. He was still wanting to fight. But that’s not what we wanted the sport to be.”


Still, White did not close the door on bringing in Slice.

“If he wants to do Ultimate Fighter, yeah, we’d give him a chance,” said White. “If he picks up a bunch of wins in fights, we’d consider him.”

With what Slice has earned, including more than $500,000 on Oct. 4, it makes the idea of him going into Ultimate Fighter competition unlikely, particularly since there will be plenty of organizations willing to pay a proven draw a whole lot more than TUF wages.

Slice’s people don’t know what is next. On the surface, Japan seems like a perfect fit. Fans there are more interested in unique characters than top-ranked fighters, and if you are popular, you can lose and it really doesn’t matter. Japanese MMA fans have more of a mentality like pro wrestling fans, where nobody cares about won-loss records, only seeing popular stars.

Although he has never been to Japan, Slice has garnered a significant amount of mainstream attention in the country, both as a fighter or as a potential pro wrestler, with the country’s iconic pro wrestling figure, Antonio Inoki, frequently mentioning his name as someone he’d like to bring in.

But interest in MMA has fallen greatly in Japan over the past year, and both major groups, Dream and Sengoku, are in trouble. Pro wrestling is now even less popular and the money that would have been waiting for someone like him two years ago may not be there today.

If Showtime continues to run MMA, and even more if CBS stays involved, Carano would be at the top of the list of those they would want. She has proven to be a huge ratings draw. Unlike Slice, Carano is squeaky-clean of any negative baggage to the public, even though many hardcore MMA fans are critical of her problems making weight.

Carano’s contract is only $25,000 a fight, a ridiculously low figure given her marketability. Plus, Carano has a fight with muscular Brazilian Cris “Cyborg” Santos ready made that could be promoted as the biggest women’s match in the history of the sport. The match, which, stylistically, almost can’t miss being an exciting fight, also has tremendous potential as a television event due to the contrast between the two women.

“I think that Gina Carano is a real star,” said White. “She’s beautiful, talented and she’s a real fighter. I just don’t think there are enough good women fighters that you can start a division around them. It just doesn’t make sense.”

Shamrock was originally groomed to be Elite XC’s top star when the company opened in early 2007. He was given a six-fight contract for $1.8 million, which has three fights left, and 400,000 shares of company stock, which peaked at a worth of nearly $6 million, but ended up being largely worthless. He also had an announcing deal with CBS.

Shamrock’s match with Cung Le on March 29 in a co-promotion with Strikeforce, drew the company’s most successful live event, with 16,326 fans paying $1.12 million in San Jose. Le, who was not under contract with Elite XC, broke Shamrock’s arm with a series of kicks, to win the fight after three rounds, to take Shamrock’s Strikeforce middleweight title.

The show didn’t do well on Showtime, but was the most watched event in the history of The Fight Network in Canada. Shamrock’s matches with Phil Baroni and Renzo Gracie were the second- and third-highest rated EXC events on Showtime, trailing only the Slice vs Tank Abbott match.

White and Shamrock have had verbal battles back-and-forth for years after Shamrock left as an announcer with UFC shortly after White was put in charge of the organization, and even nicknamed White “Uncle Fester.”

White did make a lucrative offer for him to rejoin UFC in 2006. Shamrock figured, and was correct at the time, that he was more valuable as one of the biggest name MMA stars not affiliated with UFC and Pride at the time.

White has shown, with Tito Ortiz, who he had personal problems with, and later B.J. Penn and Randy Couture, who each had sued the company, that he is willing to bring back personal enemies if it was the right thing for business. Shamrock is the most skilled MMA fighter at the ability to build up a fight, but where he would stand in the modern UFC in his late-30s is a major question.

The second tier of EXC names includes the likes of welterweight champion Jake Shields, heavyweight champ Antonio Silva, and middleweight champ Robbie Lawler.

One would think both the UFC and rival Affliction would have interest in those names, as they would be competitive in the upper ranks of their respective weight classes.

Another potential issue regards groups like King of the Cage, Icon Sports, Rumble World Entertainment, and Cage Rage, all of which were purchased by Pro Elite, Elite XC’s parent company.

Most deals included putting the former owners under contract as executive consultants (and then not listening to them), giving them some cash as well as company stock, at the time worth millions and now worth almost nothing.

The deals were structured as such that if Pro Elite went bankrupt, all could go back to promoting using the names they developed. King of the Cage, which was the only group profitable underneath the Pro Elite banner, is expected to continue running events as soon as possible. Cage Rage, a U.K. based group whose losses were so staggering they greatly sped up the demise of Pro Elite, is likely not to last much longer.

T. Jay Thompson, the promoter of the Honolulu-based Icon, isn’t sure what is next for him. Thompson is the longest-lasting promoter in the sport, having started in 1995. Honolulu was the best drawing city in America for MMA events during the sport’s near-death several years ago, but Thompson noted Hawaii is no longer a fertile market for live MMA events.

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