Update: Finger Pointing Replaces Fights

By Josh Gross Jan 13, 2008
At least Mark Kerr (Pictures) got his 20 percent.

While "The Smashing Machine" planned on collecting $15,000 Saturday night, he, like his opponent and 16 other mixed martial artists, learned there wasn't a fight to be had because promoters failed at their jobs.

Problems first surfaced Friday evening after Rick Bassman, the promoter of record, informed the California State Athletic Commission that money had not been secured to pay fighters on the World Cagefighting Organization-fronted event in San Diego.

Bassman, whose Valor Fighting has held several events in California, said WCO's Bruce Bellocchi agreed to pay him $20,000 for use of his promoter's license as well as duties surrounding the production of the event and administrative functions. Bassman said he was paid $10,000 up front, and was awaiting a second payment.

Calling Bassman a "consultant," Bellocchi claimed heavy investment in the event, including paying portions of fighters' purses prior to the Jan. 12 card and covering what he said was close to $140,000 in production costs.

Bassman told Sherdog.com he had a contract with Bellocchi in which the WCO accepted responsibility for "all cost items associated with the show." As the event neared, the licensed promoter worried whether funds would be available, prompting him to go to the commission.

The longtime pro-wrestling promoter, who also acts as an agent for several fighters with pro-wrestling ties, said he met with the investor backing the event on Thursday. He believed the investor intended to fund the show, but Bassman also doubted a report he said the investor was given by Bellocchi that claimed roughly 7,000 tickets had been sold for the event, totaling about $232,000.

"That didn't seem possible that it was doing that well," Bassman said.

Bellocchi told Sherdog.com on Sunday that he never reported 7,000 sold tickets to investors. According to the WCO organizer, Ticketmaster reported closer to 2,100 tickets sold, but he believed that same-day turnout would fill the San Diego Sports Arena, which was scaled for 8,000 seats.

Bassman said the last figures he saw in the days leading up to the event put the number of tickets sold closer to 1,500.

After speaking with arena box office personnel Saturday afternoon, Garcia confirmed that ticket sales were extremely slow.

In Bassman's view, the investor chose not to fund the show after learning that ticket sales were not what he had been contractually guaranteed. After the investor pulled out, Bassman said Bellocchi rushed to deposit $225,000 into his bank to allow the show to go on.

Garcia confirmed the presence of funds with Wells Fargo, but said money would not have been available until Jan. 24 -- so long as none was removed from the account prior to that date and the deposited sum didn't bounce.

Even if Bellocchi had cash in hand, it wouldn't have mattered.

"I couldn't use that money anyway because that wasn't Rick Bassman's money," said Garcia. "That was Bruce Bellocchi's account."

Bassman was very reluctant to write $218,000 worth of checks without knowing whether the money would be available. Apparently, Bellocchi's investor was just as reluctant to put $225,000 in Bassman's control.

"Our investor met with Bassman and not knowing him ran the appropriate [background] checks," Bellocchi said in an e-mailed statement Sunday. "Bassman did not pass certain banking references as I understood it. Our investor decided not to deposit the money with Bassman and I was left scrambling at the last minute."

Bassman described Bellocchi's account as inaccurate.

WCO officials also attempted to submit an application for a promoter's license late Friday, however it fell well short of the necessary requirements, including financial, for a completed promoter application packet.

"Ultimately, the commission wanted Valor to have the funds, regardless if we had them confirmed," Bellocchi told Sherdog.com. "I have the money secured. We even had fighters who offered to forego their purse in order to be able to compete tonight, but the commission declined."

Continued Bellocchi: "With our promoter's license application in limbo, there was nothing we could do this late in the process. I'm seriously considering never doing business in California again. I'm kind of in a state of shock. When you're dealing with people that are unreasonable, it's tough to get by."

Sunday, Bellocchi clarified his statements to reflect that Bassman and his attorney, Marc Hines, were "unreasonable," not the CSAC.

Meanwhile Bassman put the onus on Bellocchi -- and himself.

"Although Armando [Garcia] can be tough, he, in my estimation, bent over backwards to help make this thing go forward," Bassman said. "But [Bellocchi] missed deadline after deadline. He missed our deadline and he missed Armando's deadline, and Armando even extended his deadline."

Bassman -- and as a result Bellocchi -- were given until 10 a.m. Saturday morning to show evidence of proper financing. The CSAC Executive Officer extended that deadline back too noon, but in the end usable money never materialized.

"I should have smelled a rat and known better. I've been doing this for a long time, [promoting] wrestling and fighting both, and I've seen pretty much everything," Bassman said. "Now I'm about to walk into a room and write about $40,000 worth of checks, which is essentially my personal money."

As per CSAC regulations, fighters are guaranteed 20 percent of their purse if an event is cancelled.

"Thank God we didn't fight and have our checks bounce," said Kerr, who was slated to face Hawaiian heavyweight Kauai Kupihea (Pictures) and also expressed appreciation for the CSAC's efforts to protect the fighters. "I feel for Joe Riggs (Pictures), who just had a baby and has a mortgage to pay. Now he only gets 20 percent of his purse."

By early Saturday evening each fighter with a signed bout agreement had received a check.

Bellocchi said he intends to meet Monday with his investors and lawyers to "find a way to pay the purses that fighters lost out on."

Fans at home who paid for the Internet pay-per-view broadcast of the WCO via ringsidejunkie.com will receive a refund within 30 days, according to a statement on the Web site.

Mike Fridley and Joe Hall contributed to this report
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