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5 Oz. Exclusive: Part I of interview with new ProElite Chairman Chuck Champion

Already the CEO of ProElite since February, Charles F. Champion added the title and duties of Chairman of the Board last week after former Chairman Douglas DeLuca submitted his resignation to the company.

While Champion has been involved with the company for several months, the MMA media is just now starting to become more aware of his presence. But just who is Chuck Champion and is he the right man to navigate ProElite and EliteXC through the rough financial waters of the MMA industry?

While Champion did not have a prior background in MMA before joining ProElite, he had earned a strong reputation in the business community as a turnaround specialist. He initially made a name for himself in the newspaper industry, helping several papers in major markets gain market share on their competitors. Champion rose to even greater prominence after entering the technology sector in 2002 upon joining as its eventual Chairman.

YouBet, an online site horse racing wagering, was struggling mightily at the time. At the time of Champion’s arrival, published reports indicate that YouBet’s wager processing level was $110 million. Largely under Champion’s guidance, the company increased revenue by 930% over a five year period and went on to become a success story in spite of many online companies falling by the wayside after the dotcom bubble had burst. By 2006, reports state that the company was processing $750 million in wagers.

Fast forward to present day and the 54-year old father of six once again finds himself in a turnaround situation. While ProElite has made great strides by landing corporate partners such as SHOWTIME and CBS, it’s a company that has lost over $30 million since its 2006 inception. Needless to say, Champion has his work cut out for himself.

Despite a busy schedule, Champion recently took time out to speak with for his first exclusive interview since joining ProElite earlier this year. In spite of not having a fighting background, Champion is not one to pull punches and was quite candid during our conversation, sharing his thoughts on the resignation of DeLuca and former EliteXC Live Events President Gary Shaw; whether Shaw’s resignation was voluntary or involuntary; if Vice President Jared Shaw will remain with the company; whether ProElite has the finances necessary to pursue big-name talent; what his role as the company’s Chairman and CEO entails; his thoughts on UFC President Dana White; whether he considers the company’s most recent CBS show to be a success; and much, much more in what is without question the most extensive interview ever conducted by Five Ounces of Pain.

Sam Caplan: I wanted to ask you about the recent resignations of both Doug DeLuca and Gary Shaw. Is there than meets the eye or were they something that’s been planned for awhile? In short, what’s your perspective on the two resignations?

Chuck Champion: They are two resignations in the context of a much bigger plan for ProElite. And I can tell you that both resignations were voluntary, and what personal factors entered into them I will direct you back to DeLuca and Shaw. These guys started this company approximately 18 months ago after having thought about it for three or four months before that so it’s been a two year journey.

They’ve taken the company to the level it’s at. They’ve brought a tremendous number of assets. They’ve brought in a great fight team and other good executives into the company. And they’ve positioned the company extremely well to go to the next step and this is part of that process. It’s a public company and they recognize that their skill sets are around startups and a love of the sport and they don’t want to see ProElite do anything but succeed.

Collectively, we all believe bringing in now additional help with different requisite skill sets to take this company to the next level and insure its success on a road that has had many, many failures.

Sam Caplan: In regards to Shaw, even before the resignation, it seemed as though his role within the company had been reduced. His son, Jared Shaw, a Vice President with the company, had mentioned that it was Gary Shaw’s decision to take a step back. Was that true or was there encouragement from the company for Gary to take a step back?

Chuck Champion: Gary Shaw will be the first to tell you that he is an entrepreneur and that living in a public company is an entirely different world. Adapting to that world was something that Gary was working on. It wasn’t always the most comfortable place. But Gary has been exceedingly successful in virtually everything he’s tried, and I would include this (MMA).

I think I’d rather have Gary speak to some of the personal issues around what kind toll this took on his life in terms of family, friends, his other business in boxing, and the rest of it. And to also have him talk about what it was like to make a change from working in an entrepreneurial world to having to work in an intra-prenurial role as an executive of a large public company.

There’s no secret that Gary and I, for example, went head-to-head and toes-to-toes over a number of issues. But those issues have frankly been resolved in the best interest of the company. And I can tell you that I have a tremendous amount of respect of what Gary has done for this company and what Gary will do for this company on a forward basis.

Sam Caplan: I wanted to know if you could elaborate on your answer about the difficulty Gary Shaw faced in going from an entrepreneurial role to an intra-prenurial role.

Chuck Champion: Sure. This guy has had nothing his entire life given to him. Nothing. Everything Gary Shaw has in his life, he’s earned or he’s been in a battle with someone else and he’s taken it. And the one thing that Gary Shaw is not is a lap dog, and certainly not a lap dog to millionaires. Shaw is who Shaw is and his successes are ones that he’s made. But again, he’s nobody’s lap dog; he’s not my lap dog. He ain’t a lap dog for nobody, including billionaires.

Sam Caplan: With Gary Shaw taking a step back, will Jared Shaw remain with the company?

Chuck Champion: Jared has been with the company from the beginning. Gary has often said that it was really Jared that brought Gary into it. Jared has continued to work on making matches and continue to promote ProElite and ProElite athletes. He’s continuing to work with the fight team. I haven’t talked to Jared about what he’s going to be doing ten years from now but I have talked to Jared about what he’s going to be doing for the next while with us. He’s enthusiastic and others are enthusiastic about his approach and what he’s doing now, so we think that is all going to work out well.

Sam Caplan: Since the company’s inception it seemed as though Gary Shaw was the go-to guy when it came to the fight team. With him now in a consultant’s role, has anyone stepped up in his place?

Chuck Champion: As I said earlier, Gary has really assembled a great group of guys and women to help us in this area. And as Gary pulled back from the day-to-day running of the operation, he was still in constant contact with me and with the company providing advice and suggestions. So now we’ve got a couple of guys; Jeremy Lappen has been around the sport for a long, long time. He worked the CBS event and I think that people recognized what a great event it was and in the arena how smooth the event was. The production looked great.

So with Jared and Rich Chou, T. Jay Thompson, and others helping and putting cards together with Jeremy and Turi (Altavilla) — there’s just a lot of experience in the building (and) a lot of great guys working really well together to bring the best experience to the fan.

Sam Caplan: Is the fight team that’s in place set or will ProElite possibly look to bring in someone to head the fight team and assume Gary Shaw’s previous role?

Chuck Champion: First of all, we are already bringing in others to help and assist — but they are already in the company. We went around the world and bought several brands and with those brands we brought with them good executives. Terry Trebilcock has really come up and is lending his support and his advice and his King of the Cage assets to the party.

Again, T. Jay out of ICON and J.D. (Penn) out of Rumble World with Rich Chou are all bringing their expertise and talents to the table. If you’re asking if we’ve got to search the world and try to find a fight operations guy — I feel very confident in the team we have on the ground right now.

(We’re) communicating slightly different. Responsibilities are parched out somewhat different. I expect that we’re going to be extremely successful with the guys that we’ve got. And again, Shaw has resigned as an executive of the company. He’s resigned as the president of the division. But Shaw has got a consulting contract with us (and) we have access to use him. He’s committed to help us in that regard. I just need not to travel his ass from pillar to post and burn him up in the process as well. I’ve got to be mindful of that.

Sam Caplan: I read an article on written by Steve Sievert and Sievert mentioned that in light of the resignations that there is a void within ProElite when it comes to leadership. Do you agree with that sentiment?

Chuck Champion: If you’re saying the guy at the top of the organization now — the Chairman and the CEO of the company — doesn’t have an in-depth background in MMA, the guy is absolutely 100% right. But I’m surrounded by people who have been in this sport since its inception and have been executive positions, managerial positions, and leadership positions from the very beginning. So I have tremendous resources around me that understand the sport (and) I’ve reached out to a lot of icons in the sport to help educate me to what it is important; to what are the mistakes made by others; where are the opportunities that have been missed.

I’m a believer that G-d gave me two ears and one mouth so that I can listen twice as much as I can talk. So I am absorbing it, I think fairly quickly. I think I’m getting the excitement of it. I can tell you, I am excited to be in it. I think that it’s not only huge today but I think that it’s going to be unbelievably huge. When you listen to large advertisers that say when they poll their audience that the number three sport behind basketball and football among the male 18-34 demographic is MMA, I think that’s amazing.

And it’s growing larger. Look at what happened on 5/31. The reason why the ratings aren’t as great on the 7.26 date, just look at those numbers (from 5/31); they’re fabulous. The sport is growing (and) it’s going to be huge. Just absolutely huge.

Sam Caplan: Since joining ProElite you’ve flown under the radar and haven’t taken on a major public role. Was that by design? And if so, with DeLuca having resigned are there plans for you to come out into the forefront a little bit more?

Chuck Champion: I think where my greatest skillset is that I’m an operator. And I work with executives inside companies to get their models right and to ensure financial success and to make sure that their products and services are the best products and services that can be consumed. You’ll find me in the forefront when it’s appropriate but I think that there are other people in the company that can do a great job for the company at promoting the fighters and promoting the fights and talking about the products and the services that we offer in the sport that we’re in.

So are you going to see me try and step up and fill the large shoes of Gary Shaw? Hell no. I’m not Gary Shaw and I don’t pretend to be and I don’t want to be. That’s not what I do. I run companies (and) I grow businesses. And I try to produce things that people want to buy in large numbers and I try work quietly and candidly more behind the scenes. And I don’t think a sport is about companies. I don’t think it’s about owners. I think it’s about fighters and I think it’s about fans. And I think that’s where we delineate ourselves from our competition.

It ain’t about us — it’s about those guys that get in the cage. It’s about the guys that put their nuts on the line. Every time they do — or the gals that go in there and fight their hearts out, that’s what this is about. That’s what needs to get camera time. Not guys like me who basically are there to make sure the financial underpinnings of the business are in good shape.

Sam Caplan: I want to ask a direct followup to that response. Do you feel that the way UFC President Dana White carries himself and projects himself out to the media, do you feel that’s healthy for the long-term growth of the UFC?

Chuck Champion: I think that Dana White brings a tremendous amount of attention to our sport. I think Dana White can be extremely entertaining and I think people like to listen to what he has to say. So anybody feels that he hasn’t been a force of change in this industry is making a mistake. I’m not suggesting he has, others have, I have not because I’ve never met him and don’t know him — but I think that if you think that if you’re bigger than the guys who go in that cage and do what they do; if you think that your organization is bigger than the fans that you serve — I don’t care whether you’re in this business — I don’t care what business you’re in — then at some point you’re destined to fail if you think it’s about you when it isn’t about you. It’s about everyone else.

It’s about those fans that buy those tickets, put their asses in those seats, buy the merchandise, and support those fighters. It’s about the men and women who show courage. It’s just unbelievable to me the dedication and commitment that these athletes make. I don’t have the guts to do what they do. Never did and never will and don’t pretend I do.

Sam Caplan: A lot of people in the MMA community aren’t familiar with you. Can you educate the MMA public about your business background?

Chuck Champion: I’m a son of a milkman. Not the milkman; a milkman. I learned how to start working when I was 14-years old. I graduated high school when I was 16 1/2 and got my own place. I was raised by a mother who worked two jobs and taught me what it was to work hard.

I started in the newspaper business when I was 19-years old and fortunately got a break there as a B-to-C executive. Basically, a sales and marketing and distribution and logistics guys inside of a newspaper on the circulation side. And (I) spent 30 years in the newspaper business either selling advertising, selling circulation, or managing the business. Most of those were newspapers that were second in the marketplace and also were turnaround situations. So basically my skill sets were developed by managing large organizations who were at a competitive disadvantage and turnaround situations.

I then went into the Internet because I didn’t think in terms of everything that was going on that print was going to be as dominant (and I thought) that the Internet was going to explode. And it’s really a lot of friends trying to educate me to that. So I got out and got into the Internet and of all things, I got into horse racing on the Internet. Another turnaround situation.

So when I came to ProElite, I came from situations where I honestly felt I had the skill sets that I developed over my entire career. Really, all of them were going to be put to use. Public company experience as a CEO and Chairman; a turnaround situation where the business model needed to be worked on; (and) up against a strong competitor that was already embedded. And so that’s why I feel my skill sets are uniquely applicable to this company today. Five years from now? Who knows. It depends on how the company grows and where it grows to and whether it makes sense for a guy like me to still be here. But right now, today, where the company is positioned and where the company’s potential is, I think that’s experience is going to come in handy.

Sam Caplan: When you were first approached about getting involved with ProElite as the company’s CEO, what was your initial reaction about transitioning into the MMA industry?

Chuck Champion: I didn’t know anything about it. I’m embarrassed to say it, but I never watched “The Ultimate Fighter.” I never watched a UFC event. Yeah, I had read stories about it in the paper, but I never watched it. With six kids, there wasn’t any spare time. So I didn’t get into the sport. I came to it, and I probably had some reticence about it as a 54-year old non-demographic of the sport. “What the heck is this all about?” But the more I’ve gotten into it, quite frankly, the more excited I’ve become by it. Again, it’s around the dedication of the fighter. It’s around his skills. And the more I learn the different styles and the art of it and the science of it, the more I understand it and the more excited I get about it.