Elite XC, which produced seven of the 10 most-watched MMA matches in U.S. history on two CBS specials in recent months, will be closing its doors at the end of the week. This leaves a roster of fighters, including top draws Kimbo Slice and Gina Carano, looking for work in a constricted environment.
Elite XC joins the International Fight League and Bodog Fight
as high-profile competitors to the industry leader, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, to fold during the past year.
With deals with CBS and Showtime, the latter a major shareholder, Elite XC had the exposure the other failed challengers lacked, but lost more than $55 million in its two years of operation. Its losses included having a bad television deal in the first year with Showtime, causing them to lose money on every show; losing millions on trying, and failing, to build a website that was designed to be a destination for the MMA community; and purchasing four promotions outright and putting money into a fifth.
One of them, the U.K.-based Cage Rage promotion, set them back $18 million in losses.
"I got a call earlier [Monday] telling me they were shutting down," said Frank Shamrock, who was a television commentator, a main event fighter and a shareholder in the promotion.
Elite XC's two biggest attractions, Slice and Carano, are unlikely to be moving to the sport's highest-profile group. UFC president Dana White has repeatedly said he won't use Slice, who made his reputation as a backyard streetfighter on YouTube videos but is not the caliber of even a mid-level MMA pro. White also has said he's not interested in promoting women's fighting, although Carano's success as a draw may cause him to reconsider. Her match with Kelly Kobold two weeks ago ended up adding more new viewers than any MMA match on television in the U.S.
Several agents for fighters have been in contact all day with the UFC. Some, like welterweight champion Jake Shields, would be welcomed into the promotion.
It had been widely known that due to the losses, and the inability to raise new capital, that the Elite XC would either be sold to Showtime or be forced to fold by the end of the year. Others within the company said bankruptcy papers would be filed.
Kelly Kahl, the CBS senior executive vice president of programming operations who oversaw the three Elite XC events on the station, declined to comment on the situation.
It is not known if CBS will start its own MMA company or strike a deal with one of the two companies left standing, the UFC or Affliction. Affliction was a sponsor and co-promoter of the Oct. 4 show, paying for the Andrei Arlovski-Roy Nelson match. The other active match promotion, Strikeforce, has a late night television deal with NBC, which has had preliminary talks with the company about doing live events.
The Elite XC sale was believed to be close to completion heading into the Oct. 4 show on CBS. The show was a ratings success, beating both Major League Baseball playoff games and both major college football games in the target male 18-49 demographic, but left the brand tainted due to a controversy stemming from the main event.
CBS funded the event because Elite XC didn't have the money to continue while negotiations for the sale continued.
Ken Shamrock, scheduled as the opponent of Slice, got into a money argument with Elite XC officials before the show, and then, to blow off steam, did a training session in which he suffered a cut above his eye that required stitches. When he returned from the hospital, the Florida State Boxing Commission wouldn't allow him to fight.
Seth Petruzelli, a journeyman fighter in a light heavyweight preliminary match, was chosen as the fill-in opponent for the 236-pound Slice, and the scenario couldn't have gone worse, as Slice charged in, Petruzelli threw a jab on one leg and still knocked Slice down, and finished him with punches on the ground in 14 seconds.
While CBS officials were thrilled with the ratings, a controversy over a radio interview done by Petruzelli looks to have foiled the purchase.
"The promoters kind of hinted to me and they gave me the money to stand and trade with him," Petruzelli said two days after the fight on "The Monsters in Orlando" radio show. "They didn't want me to take him down.
"Let's just put it that way. It was worth my while to try and stand up and punch with him."
The next day Petruzelli said that what he meant was that he was offered a bonus for a knockout. Jeremy Lappen the head of operations for Elite XC confirmed Petruzelli got a knockout bonus, believed to be between $20,000 and $30,000 to go along with his $35,000 guarantee and $15,000 win bonus, but not a submission bonus.
A media outcry followed, with accusations a company official tried to manipulate the fight in favor of Slice, even though it backfired, leading to an investigation by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations. The question was whether Petruzelli was offered a bonus to not take Slice down, which would be illegal, as opposed to a knockout bonus, which is legal and not uncommon.
With the investigation started, Showtime pulled out of negotiations and people inside the company were being told all day that Elite XC was shutting down.
Keith Kizer, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, said Monday that he had not received word that the next show, scheduled for Nov. 8, in Reno, Nev., had been canceled.
But the website Graciefighter.com, which represents Cesar Gracie, the manager of Nick Diaz, who was scheduled to fight next month, wrote Monday night, "We are confirming that Elite XC has folded. What this means for our fans and supporters is that there will not be a Nick Diaz vs. Eddie Alvarez fight on Nov. 8."