Patience is starting to wear thin among some of the country's top mixed martial arts fighters, whose futures have remained in limbo since Elite XC closed its doors in late October.
The issue is complicated, as parent company Pro Elite laid off all its employees and has no plans to run future cards. But they have not closed the company, nor have they declared bankruptcy. They have a CEO, Chuck Champion, and an attorney, each still working on methods to sell the company's assets and perhaps remain as a minority interest partner with new ownership going forward.
This has left approximately 80 fighters, who were under contract, waiting. The biggest names include Kimbo Slice, Gina Carano, Frank Shamrock, Nick Diaz, Eddie Alvarez, Scott Smith and champions Jake Shields (welterweight), Robbie Lawler (middleweight), Wilson Reis (featherweight) and Antonio Silva (heavyweight).
A few with non-exclusive contracts have been able to pick up individual fights, but none have been able to negotiate with major companies who aren’t willing to risk a tampering lawsuit, or aren't willing to sign fighters for single-fight deals.
Of the aforementioned names, only Smith, Alvarez and Silva have fought in recent months, and none on the list have any scheduled future fights.
Smith fought on a single-fight deal with Strikeforce in November. Alvarez has a unique contract, as he can fight on Midwest promoter Monte Cox’s shows, K-1 Dream events in Japan, and Elite XC. He fought on the K-1 Dynamite! Show on New Year’s Eve, losing to Shinya Aoki.
Silva, who was under suspension in the United States until July after failing a steroid test in California for his title win over the late Justin Eilers, beat Yoshihiro Nakao on Sunday in Saitama, Japan for Sengoku. This may result in Silva his losing his license to fight in California, essentially banning him in all commission states, so he’d be unavailable in the event Elite XC in some form gets resurrected or until he is reinstated.
As each day goes by, fighters are getting more and more impatient.
"Jake [Shields] is in the prime of his career and he wants to fight the top guys in the world," said Jack Shields, the father and manager of the Elite XC welterweight champion. "If they can’t get him a fight, they should let him go."
Jack Shields, along with other agents of Elite XC fighters such as Ken Pavia (who represents 12 fighters under contract to the organization), Monte Cox (who represents four, most notably Lawler) and Matt Walker (who represents Carano) have all independently talked of taking legal action to invalidate the contracts of their clients and have them declared free agents so they can start fighting again.
"For us, it’s about finding the right home," said Walker regarding the future of Carano, who brought women’s MMA to the forefront with her fights on Showtime and CBS over the past two years. "She didn’t ask to be, how people put it, the face of women’s MMA, but she’s starting to embrace it. She wants to make sure there is a place for women in the sport. We’re in constant touch with Cyborg’s [Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos] people to make sure we don’t go in different directions."
Carano vs. Santos had been promoted on the past two CBS specials, building for a match that would have been the highest-profile women’s MMA fight ever in North America. It was originally expected to take place early this year, tentatively in February, before Elite XC announced it would no longer run shows.
The stalling tactics continue because Elite XC – after first attempting to raise funds by auctioning off fighter contracts – has attempted to sell the assets of the promotion, which are the fighter contracts and what are potentially valuable television contracts with CBS and Showtime.
Indications are CBS wants to continue running quarterly prime-time shows on Saturday nights, and Showtime is interested in continuing with six major events and six minor events per year. Six different companies put in bids for Elite XC, four of which were believed to be UFC, Affliction, Strikeforce and King of the Cage.
It is believed that CBS tried to steer the deal toward Strikeforce because UFC has a reputation for difficulty in television negotiations and Strikeforce is a stable company backed by the same group that owns the HP Pavilion in San Jose, as well as the NHL's San Jose Sharks. The group currently has a weekly show Saturday nights on NBC. All of the agents were of the belief that a deal was close before Christmas, but things hit a snag.
"It’s a delicate situation," said Strikeforce promoter Scott Coker. "At the end of the day, Pro Elite is still deciding what it wants to do, and I don’t know what it is. Right now, there is no direct talks between our company and their company."
"Every day the story is different; nothing ever comes to fruition," said Walker, who specifically mentioned UFC and Strikeforce as possibilities for Carano.
Walker also questioned whether fighter contracts would even be assignable in a sale. Originally, Elite XC was going to auction off the contracts individually as a way of raising some money for the companies it owed money to, but agents representing 60 of the 80 fighters worked together in getting the auction canceled.
Even if a deal for the company was reached for a sale this week, it would be March at the earliest before a show could be arranged and properly promoted, and there is no indication that any kind of a sale is imminent.
With their MMA careers on hold, some fighters have started looking in other directions.
Slice, the company’s biggest star, flew to Japan in December as a guest on a K-1 show, where he did some television commentary, but has been unable to commit to a match there yet.
Slice’s 14-second loss to Seth Petruzelli on the Oct. 4 CBS special set the wheels in motion for everything that has happened since.
Elite XC, with more than $55 million in losses and little money left, was in negotiations to sell to CBS and Showtime. Petruzelli indicated in a radio interview, which he later claimed was misinterpreted, that Elite XC officials made it clear they wanted the fight to stay standing.
The scandal got significant sports-media play, CBS and Showtime pulled out of negotiations, and Showtime recalled the loans that had kept the company afloat. At that point, the company was forced to lay off virtually its entire staff and cancel all future events.
James Thompson, the U.K. heavyweight who lost to Slice on the first CBS special on May 31, and hasn’t been able to fight since, has had to take a freak-show fight on Feb. 6 in Montreal to pay bills. The fight will be against former-minor-league-hockey-enforcer-turned-fighter Steve Bosse on a promotion called Strikebox.
It’s a sport involving boxing, but with takedowns, similar to the martial art San Shou or the Japanese sport of Shootbox, except using smaller MMA gloves instead of boxing gloves. The rules: Punching and takedowns are allowed, and takedowns are worth points, but there is an immediate stand-up after a takedown, with no ground fighting allowed.
Shields and Lawler are both ranked in the world's Top 10 in their divisions in most polls. Cox and Jack Shields both confirmed UFC having interest, but said that UFC officials won’t negotiate until the fighters are legally free of their contracts.
"Everyone is interested in Lawler: Japan, UFC, Strikeforce, Affliction," Cox said. "But no big company wants a one-off (single-fight) deal. UFC isn’t interested into getting into a lawsuit over it. Our goal is to find a way out of the contract."