EliteXC’s ‘Impending Doom’ Averted for Now

By Loretta Hunt Aug 22, 2008
Though its coveted spots on CBS and Showtime rival any other broadcast deals currently enjoyed in the sport, it’s unlikely any promotion is envious of EliteXC this week.

Nearly nineteen months into operation, Pro Elite -- the parent organization to EliteXC, ShoXC, King of the Cage, Cage Rage, and ICON events –- has found itself centerstage following a recent succession of incidents that have put the company’s ability to get the job done in question.

Last week, EliteXC’s welterweight champion Jake Shields (Pictures), who’s clocked in under nine minutes for his trio of victories in the cage, went public with his intentions to accept a more challenging bout with a top-five middleweight through another promotion.

Just a few days later, news prematurely leaked out that a scheduled Sept. 20 event at the Pit in Albuquerque would be cancelled –- this before main event draw Joey Villasenor (Pictures) had even been notified.

On its heels, private negotiations between Mark Dion, manager to EliteXC lightweight champion Karl James Noons, and the promotion have gone public and seem to get uglier by the day.

The icing on the cake came with Thursday’s announcement that EliteXC heavyweight champion Antonio Silva (Pictures) had tested positive for the steroid Boldenone following his July 26 title victory.

SEC filings this week show Pro Elite is almost $55 million in the red, largely due to operating expenses incurred from its 15 flagship events to date, as well as its investments in other organizations (still running events themselves) that the company purchased to bolster its stable of fighters. In comparison, the UFC spent $44 million in four years before it struck oil with “The Ultimate Fighter” reality TV series.

EliteXC has certainly seen better weeks, and the memory of their May 31 debut of “Saturday Night Fights” on CBS in primetime -- which garnered heaping amounts of press and the most eyeballs of any live U.S. MMA event ever broadcasted with an average 4.9 million viewers –- seems to be fast fading.

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel, if Pro Elite can get to it in time. If changes were ever needed in the organization it would be now, and changes are being made.

Jim Page/Sherdog.com
Gary Shaw addresses the media
at a 2007 press conference in London.
Within the latest round of job cuts at its Los Angeles headquarters, high-paid executives, including the much-liked Doug Deluca and the not-so-beloved Gary Shaw, were shifted to consulting positions to help deter costs and fine-tune Pro Elite’s leadership and direction.

Stepping up the production line, no less than four events are on the organization’s calendar in the next month and a half. On Sept. 26, a ShoXC event will emanate from the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, Calif., while a pivotal Oct. 4 event in primetime on CBS -- EliteXC’s third installment on the major network -- will be a crucial marker for the promotion.

An Oct. 10 show will follow at the Harrah’s Casino in Indiana, and a Nov. 8 EliteXC on Showtime, venue to be announced, will likely become the refuge for Villasenor’s Sept. 20 fight against a yet-to-be-determined opponent. Another Sept. 20 bout between the ferocious Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos (Pictures) and Japanese trailblazer Yoko Takahashi (Pictures) has found a home on the Oct. 4 card as well.

For all intents and purposes, it’s business as usual, according to EliteXC’s Head of Fight Operations Jeremy Lappen -- headaches and all.

“It’s great that we are under the microscope because that proves that we are a big company and in the public’s eye, but all of the things they’re talking about are things that every promotion has dealt with,” says Lappen.

Lappen, who has been party to all of the fighter negotiations under heavy speculation this week, sees recent developments as the proverbial growing pains associated with any company trying to get over the hump.

The Sept. 20 cancellation was a necessary move to ensure the next four cards, including Oct. 4’s mega CBS event, delivered with quality bouts.

Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
KJ Noons connects with a knee
on Nick Diaz at EliteXC's 'Renegade'
on Nov. 10, 2007
One of those intended Oct. 4 fights, a rematch between lightweight champion KJ Noons and Nick Diaz (Pictures), has been a casualty in the process, says Lappen.

EliteXC representative Jared Shaw publicly announced Thursday that the promotion had placed a same-day deadline on Noon’s manager, Mark Dion, to accept the bout with Diaz.

“The deadline had actually already come and gone and we gave him one last one,” says Lappen. “We we’re hoping that he would take the fight, but for whatever reason they’re not taking it.”

Instead, Dion has voiced his demands to have Noons fight recent Dream grand prix finalist Eddie Alvarez (Pictures) instead.

Calling the stalemate “an unfortunate situation all around,” Lappen says that EliteXC representatives are not allowed to personally address Noons regarding any negotiations per a clause Dion added to his client’s most recent contract incarnation.

“It’s not up Dion to decide who the number-one contender is,” says Lappen. “We decide what the title fights are and Diaz has won three fights in a row and he had a fight with KJ that a lot of people thought that he [Diaz] would win eventually until it got stopped on a cut. Diaz earned his rematch.”

A bout between Noons and Alvarez was never under consideration, says Lappen. Alvarez had been a possibility for a separate bout on the Oct. 4 CBS card, but the potent Philadelphian is getting married in September and will likely return for the EliteXC card scheduled for Nov. 8 on Showtime.

While Noons’ future with EliteXC hangs in the balance, Jake Shield’s recent attempt at defection was not taken on the promotion’s chin quite as squarely.

Shield’s offer to fight Lindland in the rival Affliction promotion on Oct. 11 was actually met with interest by Pro Elite execs, says Lappen, and probably would have happened if the contract-honoring champion had not been offered and accepted a title defense against rising British striker Paul Daley (Pictures) on Oct. 4’s card.

“We’re OK with our fighters taking fights elsewhere if the opportunity presents itself,” says Lappen. “We want our fighters to be able to test themselves, and we’re certainly open for co-promotion. If there’s fights out there that the fans want to see we should try to make those fights.”

Though Shields’ requests were handled in a much more professional manner, his plans for temporary exodus suggested that something was lacking in the EliteXC promotion.

Lappen doesn’t fault Shields for his quest to face richer talent.

“The truth is that there’s guys that we need to bring into the 170-pound division and Jake can claim that because he’s been running through everybody,” says Lappen. “I think fighters are fighters and they’re always looking around. Is it a sign of weakness in the UFC that Randy [Couture] didn’t want to stay there and go fight Fedor [Emelianenko]? I don’t know that that’s a sign of weakness for the UFC saying that they don’t have any good heavyweights.”

While wrangling in new talent and keeping its veterans satiated seems to be the biggest of Pro Elite’s challenges for the moment, all is not lost.

The returns of Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson (Pictures) and Gina Carano (Pictures) Oct. 4 on CBS are surefire aces in the hole. Carano will face tough but manageable Minnesotan Kelly Kobald (Pictures)-Gavin, while the already iconic Slice could climb into the cage with nemesis Brett Rogers (Pictures), legend Ken Shamrock (Pictures), or ghost of Internet scuffles past in Boston police officer Sean Gannon.

A week that started out with a windfall of doubt following one cancelled event has finally come to a close and a new one is set to begin.

“Smaller organizations have postponed events and that’s been a signal of their impending doom, which I do understand why people sort of jump to that conclusion, but not with us,” says Lappen. “We have four events coming up in the next two months -- all televised. Now we just have to execute them properly.”
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