MMA, Boxing Take Hits in Vegas

By Loretta Hunt Oct 14, 2008
Combat sports took one on the chin over the weekend in Las Vegas, as separate MMA and boxing events didn’t draw expected audiences on Saturday night during an uncertain economic time.

“A Night of Combat 2,” a collaborative event led by Superfights MMA promoter Skip Kelp in conjunction with Kim Couture’s KC Concepts, sold 1,063 of the 8,911 tickets available at the Thomas & Mack Center for a gate of $32,405. Tickets were set in a very reasonably priced $15-50 range, and comped tickets brought attendance up to 1,735 spectators.

Xtreme Couture standouts Jay Hieron, Mike Pyle, and John Alessio topped an 18-fighter bill that paid $160,500 in fighter purses.

Gary Shaw’s Antonio Tarver-Chad Dawson light heavyweight title fight drew 911 attendees to 1,770-seat Pearl inside The Palms for what was anticipated to be a sellout. Tickets ranged from $150-750 for a total gate of $329,650.

Tarver was compensated $1 million for his unanimous decision loss, while Dawson earned $800,000 for the live Showtime-aired event. No other fighter on the bill made above $5,000, though the promotion paid out the maximum $50,000 broadcast tax, signifying it took in at least $3 million from Showtime.

“It’s just tough all over,” said Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Director Keith Kizer, who said he’s noticed a drop in sales all around for the combat sports capital in the last couple of months.

Las Vegas’ perennial winner, the UFC, also seems to be affected by a lagging economy. A high-profile bout between UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture and former WWE superstar Brock Lesnar at UFC 91 on Nov. 15 is selling at a more moderate pace than expected, with 8,000 tickets accounted for so far.

It seems MMA promoters big and small continue to fight to find, keep and expand their audience.

“Everything was great, almost perfect, aside from the attendance, which is the bottom line,” said Superfights’ Kelp, who assembled Saturday’s affair in one month. “Kim Couture’s main objective doing this event was to keep her fighters busy. Because [an Oct. 11] Affliction [event] fell through, she had all of these high-level fighters that were stuck. It’s nobody’s fault, things happen, but these fighters were left in the cold.”

Purses for the event fell between $1,500 to $20,000 per fighter, though Kelp said the event attracted sponsors to help offset costs.

“It was almost a UFC pay scale,” said Kelp, who has managed UFC veteran Marvin Eastman and others. “It was right up there. It doesn’t help the bank account, but there is some sense of gratification in being able to take care of the fighters like that. It would have been nice if there had been a stroke of good karma to have more people there.”

Kelp, a former pro boxer who promoted his first event last June in Laughlin, Nev., said he was grateful to work with the venue, Couture and HDNet, which will air the event this Friday. Kelp looks to helm his next event in Las Vegas, Colorado, or Idaho.

“My initial niche with my company is not to go to the Thomas & Mack or the MGM Grand Arena,” said Kelp. “I’d like to stay busy and keep my numbers realistic. That’s still my course. I just happened to fall into this situation and I’m happy with the experience.”

“A Night of Combat 2” Purses

Rick Roufus - $15,000
Hector Ramirez - $15,000 + $5,000 Bonus
Jay Hieron - $20,000
Chris Kennedy - $8,500
Mike Pyle - $20,000
Brian Gassaway - $15,000
Gideon Ray - $15,000
John Alessio - $15,000
Josh Haynes - $5,000 + $5,000 Bonus
Sean Salmon - $7,000
Jonathan Mix - $3,000
John Halverson - $3,000
Patrick Gonsalves – $1,500
Shawn David - $1,500
Elena Reid – $1,500
Stephanie Palmer - $1,500
Ryan Hass – $1,500
Ian Omalza - $1,500
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