Rivals Join Forces for EliteXC “Uprising”

By James Meinhardt Sep 13, 2007
HONOLULU -- Marked by the amalgamation of the islands' two biggest promoters in ICON Sport and Rumble World Entertainment, a new era of Hawaiian mixed martial arts appears to be upon us.

On Sept. 15, the longtime rivals will come together for the first time under the direction of Showtime based promotion EliteXC. The result? Quite possibly the best fight card in Hawaiian history, and a relationship that could be a vehicle for even bigger fights in the future.

ProElite, the parent company of EliteXC which partnered with Rumble on the Rock last November, first showed interest in ICON in July of this year. Reports soon surfaced about a possible purchase of the Hawaii-based company.

"I think it's safe to say that both sides want this deal to happen," ICON promoter Patrick Freitas told Sherdog.com. "We are hoping the deal closes soon. It seems like we've been saying ‘any day now' for the last month. I want to say ‘any day now' at this moment, but you just never know. It's really not done until all the parties sign."

Deal or no deal, all the parties will come together for their first joint effort this Saturday at the Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu.

"This card signifies that Hawaii is finally getting the respect it deserves as the No. 1 MMA market in the U.S.," Freitas claimed. "There's no question that we have more MMA fans per capita than any other market. Look at the TV ratings for televised MMA programs and you see that we perform better than the mainland. Look at the gate sales and you see that we draw far more fans than any other like-sized organization on the mainland. Look at the media attention and you see Hawaii's TV, radio, and newspapers give more news time to local MMA than any other market.

"The fans in Hawaii are also very educated about MMA. There's a misconception that Hawaii fans only want to see stand-up fights. But I've been to events all over the U.S. and I can honestly say that no American fans enjoy slick ground skills more than the Hawaii audiences. They understand the positions, submissions, strategies, and drama of ground fights."

Freitas did, however, voice concern over a few hurdles he felt were holding Hawaii back. Chief among them are the lack of a quality venue, no gambling, and Hawaii's high cost of living, which leaves local consumers with less discretionary income.

But that's not keeping the promoters from being optimistic for the future.

"This event on Sept. 15th will only be the beginning of many great things to come for MMA in Hawaii. Hawaii will be the Mecca of MMA," Rumble World Entertainment President and CEO Jay Dee Penn confidently said.

"I think clearly this is the biggest MMA event in the history of Hawaii, but I also believe that it's not the biggest MMA event that Hawaii is ever going to have," ICON President T. Jay Thompson stated in a conference call with the press.

"I really think that as the world sees this little island out here, [the fans see] we've been so far ahead of the game," he continued. "We started promoting MMA events here in 1995 when ICON (then Super Brawl) was the second longest mixed martial arts show in America."

And with bold statements and big predictions, the promoters are beginning to implement plans that can turn talk into reality.

"I see EliteXC doing one very big event per year in Hawaii and ICON and RWE doing eight events per year," Penn said.

Freitas was slightly more ambitious with his event calendar, preferring two EliteXC events in Hawaii each year, and a Super Bowl type event at the end of the year pitting the best fighters the promotions have to offer.

Either schedule would have ICON and ROTR as busy as ever in the coming years, inevitably requiring the need for more fighters.

"You can count on it for EliteXC, ShoXC, Rumble, Cage Rage, and any other ProElite properties to share talent with Icon," Freitas explained. "I think ICON fighters can also find some new opportunities through ProElite as well. I recently spoke with Justin Buchholz, an up-and-coming lightweight who has big dreams of going far in MMA. The ProElite relationship/ownership may give a kid like this a chance to fight abroad without risking his ‘home' status. If he were to sign with the UFC there's pretty much no way he could fight anywhere else. ProElite opens a world of opportunities for fighters."

Partnering with existing promotions and combining talent to put on quality fights seems to be a business model ProElite likes. What makes Saturday's event in Hawaii different, however, is it marks the first time that rivals previously competing in the same market will join forces.

"The rivalry between ICON and Rumble is still there -- it always will be," Freitas mused. "I just came back from a meeting with those guys and every two minutes friendly jabs were being tossed across the table. I can honestly tell you that Tyson Nam versus Albert Manners -- the ICON versus Rumble rivalry bout -- is a huge deal to us."

Friendly jabbing and rivalries aside, this relationship could go a long way in being what Hawaiian promoters need to see their vision of MMA paradise come to fruition.

"From a promotion standpoint, I love working with Jay Dee Penn and Rich Chou," Freitas said. "I've learned a lot from them, and I think they've learned from me. We ran our shows so differently. ICON and Rumble had very little in common, kind of like UFC versus PRIDE. We had different rules, different types of fighters, and different philosophies. But we've really opened the doors to each other to discuss strategies and new ideas.

"As friendly rivals we can make this work. Three years ago, as enemies, there's no way we could've made it work."
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