“Elite” Joins “Ultimate” Fray with Shamrock-Gracie

By Josh Gross Dec 15, 2006
HOLLYWOOD, Calif., Dec. 14 — While it had been a week since the press conference to introduce Elite Xtreme Combat to the world was first announced, it was not a stretch, considering recent news, to take note of the serendipitous timing.

Just days after the Ultimate Fighting Championship gobbled up what was supposed to be its biggest Stateside competitor, Elite XC, flanked by its broadcast partner SHOWTIME — the first premium cable network to televise live mixed martial arts — said in no uncertain terms it was here to sign, promote and make stars out of the best mixed martial artists.

“I believe in the talent,” said longtime boxing promoter and Elite XC president Gary Shaw. “I believe the talent should be larger than the company because that’s who people come to see. If you ask people who promoted Tyson-Lewis they have no clue, but 2 million people bought it on pay-per-view. And two big networks — HBO and SHOWTIME — were involved for the first and only time in promotion. But it wasn’t about us; it was about Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson. And that’s how [MMA] should be as well. It should be about the athletes. They’re the ones that should be the stars.”

Ironically, that was the same position voiced by the World Fighting Alliance, which Zuffa announced on Monday it had purchased and subsequently folded, when it re-introduced itself in March of this year.

Elite XC appears to have several things going for it that the WFA did not, most notably a signed, sealed and delivered relationship with SHOWTIME, which will allow fighters promoted under the Elite banner to flourish, promised Shaw.

“Just because someone doesn’t fight for UFC certainly doesn’t make them an inferior fighter,” he said. “There’s enough talent out there.”

Some of that talent was on display Thursday, as the main event for Elite XC’s debut effort Feb. 10 at the DeSoto Civic Center in Southaven, Miss. will match veterans Renzo Gracie (Pictures) and Frank Shamrock (Pictures).

“Having Frank Shamrock (Pictures) and Renzo Gracie (Pictures) headlining this card couldn’t be a better way to kick off this platform on SHOWTIME,” said Ken Hershman, Senior Vice President/General Manager of Sports and Event Programming Showtime Networks Inc.

Elite XC has entered into a three-year deal with SHOWTIME that will see the premium cable network broadcast four to six dates this coming year, eight in 2008 and 10 in 2009, with the likelihood that pay-per-view events will air as well.

As of Thursday, Shaw had less than a enough fighters on his roster to field a regulation soccer team. Joining Gracie and Shamrock are UFC veteran David Loiseau (Pictures); lightweight KJ Noons; female mixed martial artist Gina Carano (Pictures); heavyweight Tim Persey (Pictures); Fla.-based Edson Berto; and Brazilian giant Antonio Silva (Pictures). Three additional fighters are said to be close to signing deals.

“I’m someone with very, very, very good instincts,” Loiseau told Sherdog.com. “I got this very good gut feeling about this organization and the people involved. The contract I just signed puts a big smile on my face. You know, maybe it was a blessing in disguise the fact that I got cut by the UFC. I was very hurt, but man, the contract I just signed is the biggest contract I’ve signed since I started fighting. Seven years I’m fighting pro, and it’s a huge contract, so I’m happy.

Though the affable Canadian middleweight would not confirm a dollar amount, it’s believed Loiseau signed a three-fight deal that could pay him close to $170,000 over the course of the contract.

Besides the main event, no bouts were announced for the Feb. card, which will air in high-definition on Showtime at 10 p.m. EST/PST, with a broadcast team that includes former pro wrestler Bill Goldberg and actor Mario Lopez. Elite XC also announced a strong Internet presence, promising live undercard bouts streamed through its Web site, elitexc.com.

“That interactivity is going to reach into all aspects of what we’re providing,” said Kelley Perdew, President of EliteXC.com, whom some may know as the winner from season two of The Apprentice.

Elite XC’s strong entertainment roots flow directly from its CEO, Doug DeLuca, who intends to incorporate a sense of “edgy” production at live events.

Yet in the end, as it always does, successful fight promotion comes down to the quality of competitor in the ring — or cage, as it were — which Shaw has maintained as a maxim during his tenure promoting boxing.

“We want electrifying fighters,” he said. “We don’t want two guys to lay on the ground and that’s what the fans turn on SHOWTIME and they see two guys laying there. We want to give ‘em action. And I believe that’s been the success of the sport.”

When asked about Elite XC’s planned use of a 15-second time limit when fights hit the ground, Shaw replied: “In the referee’s judgment if there’s zero action we’ll stand ‘em up.”

Gracie, whose last name leaves little mystery as to what sort of fight he prefers, said he was willing to fight Shamrock under any rules.

“It’ll be a stand-up fight and it will not be boring,” sniped Shamrock, a former UFC champion. “So you don’t need to worry about it.”

“Renzo is the Gracie I’ve always wanted to fight. It’s always been my goal. As far as I’m concerned this is our moment, you and me,” Shamrock said while glancing at his smiling foe. “I don’t care who wins — but it will be me.”

Strikeforce, which announced last week it holds contracts that will pit Shamrock against Phil Baroni (Pictures) in April, told Sherdog.com that the middleweight was bound to fight for them before he could tussle elsewhere.

“I have a business relationship that allows [this fight with Gracie] to happen,” Shamrock shot back when queried about his contractual status. Neither Shaw nor the fighter would elaborate.

Of the many things Elite XC voiced on Thursday, perhaps most intriguing was its apparent willingness to co-promote with outside organizations — an important step forward if true world champions are going to be crowned in mixed martial arts.

“A lot of the best fighters can’t fight each other because it’s been an exclusive situation,” DeLuca said. “We are an inclusive group, and we are looking, like I said, to grow the sport. And to grow it you have to let people in, let people fight each other. Our organization will be happy to work with other organizations and to let true champions fight true champions.”

“If you think you’re truly the world champion, then you need to be the world champion,” expounded Shaw. “Otherwise you can’t say you’re the world champion; you can just walk and say ‘I’m the champion of this organization.’ And with SHOWTIME and their eyeballs, we will make real world champions.”

Lofty talk, but so was DeLuca’s suggestion that MMA could be an Olympic sport by 2012. For now, Elite XC needs to focus on completing its first card, as well as ready itself for possible litigation from Strikeforce regarding Shamrock.

“It’s been really an interesting journey in the last couple of months of trying to put the card together and get the right fights and get the fans the right product,” Shaw said.

Said the confident fight promoter: “You may not believe in us today, but if you’re smart, you will. Because you will see where we’ll be a year from now.”
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