It was one of those "only in mixed martial arts" evenings. EliteXC had set the stage to draw a sorely needed big rating on CBS by featuring Kevin Ferguson versus Ken Shamrock. But after the dust cleared, somehow, it was short-lived UFC fighter Seth Petruzelli who captured the national spotlight by derailing the Kimbo train with a short right and follow-up punches in 14 seconds for the TKO victory. And that was just the beginning of this saga.
Initially, the shocking finish simply raised huge questions about whether Slice had been "exposed" to the point that his box office appeal was hurt, or if the general public will be just as curious about his next move. Perhaps no fighter has faltered so dramatically in front of such a widespread audience.
EliteXC officials, some of whom were frozen in shock cageside when the ref stepped in, credited Slice with saving the show by taking the fight. Slice's loss got top billing in several prominent sports media outlets, and clips of the knockout were YouTube bonanzas on par with any of Slice's backyard brawls. The announcement that Ken Shamrock was not allowed to fight due to a cut over his eye, strangely suffered as he warmed up, touched off a frenzy backstage to find a replacement. Frank Shamrock offered to step in, but still ended up commentating and ripping Ken in what sounded like a promotion for a future fight. Petruzelli, a light heavyweight who considered himself a part-time fighter after opening his own smoothie business in Florida, agreed to drop his scheduled preliminary fight with Aaron Rosa and face Slice.
This is where things got blurry. Petruzelli said in an Orlando radio interview two days after the win that EliteXC offered him money to stand with Slice, a claim denied repeatedly by company officials. Petruzelli later said he was simply enticed by a bonus the company offered in a freshly drafted contract. EliteXC, unlike the UFC, only offers such bonuses in some deals. Jeremy Lappen, Head of Fighter Operations, was quoted this week saying both that the company offered Petruzelli a submission bonus and that the company does not offer submission bonuses; Petruzelli told Sherdog radio that he did not believe he was offered a sub bonus and that he had threats made against him and his family for the outcome.
Slice took home $500,000 for the night, while Petruzelli collected $50,000 in publicly reported pay, though he said in interviews he made six figures on the night including sponsorship money. Lappen told SI.com that Petruzelli was paid a knockout bonus between $20,000 and $30,000.
The Florida State Boxing Commission told MMAWeekly.com early in the week that it saw no need to investigate, but by Thursday told ESPN.com there would be a preliminary investigation of the circumstances surrounding the fight. Mainstream media had begun to pick up on the back-and-forth toward the end of the week, many feeding off comments by UFC President Dana White that the episode damaged the sport's credibility.
Controversy aside, EliteXC "Heat" attracted an average of 4.56 million viewers on CBS, a big improvement over a sub par showing on the network on July 26, but below the record 4.85 million audience for the May 31st debut. The most recent event did very well in the most desirable Male 18-34 and 18-49 demographics. A specific rating was not available for the Slice fight, but it likely won't rival the number for the May 31 fight with James Thompson, the most-watched fight in North American MMA history. The television audience was decisively undeterred by the announcement of Shamrock being off the show, as the event picked up 950,000 new viewers in the half hour after the announcement was made. The 9,414 (7,723 paid) in attendance translated into a $826,433 gate at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla.
Andrei Arlovski was impressive against Roy Nelson.
While the main event dominated post-event buzz, EliteXC put forward one of its best fight cards. Andrei Arlovski continued to show marked improvement in his striking technique by picking apart former IFL champ Roy Nelson for the knockdown finish, although many, including Nelson, were outraged by an early stand-up called by referee Jorge Ortiz when Nelson appeared to be working toward an armlock.
Affliction Entertainment, which paid Arlovski $500,000 and Nelson $80,000 for this fight, had its logo plastered all over the broadcast and thus came out a big winner. A commercial spot featuring Fedor Emelianenko's July deconstruction of Tim Sylvia was played several times to a nationwide audience that was likely unfamiliar with the group, and the exposure could up the pay-per-view potential of a looming Emelianenko-Arlovski fight. Arlovski did not, however, hold the television ratings, which dipped for his fight and recovered afterwards.
Gina Carano continued to strut her stuff on CBS, moving ratings significantly for her defeat of Kelly Kobold. Carano, who again struggled to make the 140-pound weight limit, notched a unanimous decision win and again captivated the crowd. Her likely next opponent, Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos, did her part to up the marketability of the Carano fight by lighting up Yoko Takahashi for two rounds in a prelim, creating highlights that were shown on the broadcast. In addition, Jake Shields defeated Paul Daley via second-round armbar and began talk about moving to middleweight, and Benji Radach secured a future in that division with a hard knockout of Murilo "Ninja" Rua in the second round.
EliteXC, which also premiered its weekly series "Champions of the Cage" on Fox Sports Net this week, has one more CBS event left on its current contract. CBS officials said they were pleased with the Oct. 4 rating and did not indicate that the Slice loss would cool their interest in hosting future events.
The UFC, as has been its custom, ran counterprogramming on Spike TV. A showing of UFC 86 featured not only the Quinton Jackson vs. Forrest Griffin classic from July, but also an Alessio Sakara head kick knockout and a Joe Lauzon TKO win from recent preliminary cards. That presentation drew 1.4 million viewers.