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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 YouBet.com 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 FiveOuncesOfPain.com 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 MMAjunkie.com 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.

CLICK HERE TO READ PART II OF THIS INTERVIEW.

24 COMMENTS
  • The TRUTH says:

    JOKE!!!

    This guy claims he never even saw a MMA fight and now he is running the company?

    Stupid CBS…I dislked Shaw, but at least he was a real promoter and knew how to hype an event

    Hey EliteXC….can I be VP? I at least have a degree AND actually watch MMA

    Idiots…stupid EliteXC

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  • Sam Caplan says:

    I really don’t get comments like these.

    Running an MMA company is more than just watching some fights and making matchups. Yes, matchmaking is a big part but there’s a lot more to it… especially with a company that is public and a startup.

    A public company has many legal obligations when it comes to reporting on its operations. If you don’t have an experienced CEO, you’re liable to find yourself in hot water with the SEC. Even in the UFC, which is private, you still have people handling the operations, legal, and financial departments of the company. Dana White isn’t the one preparing tax returns.

    A startup needs to be financed. The UFC gets all of its financing from the Fertittas. EliteXC needs to go out and present its business plan to investors. Someone who knows who all the top prospects are at 155 lbs. might not necessarily be qualified to try and raise financing.

    There are many other aspects of the MMA business you are neglecting to look at, such as business development, marketing, media relations, internal corporate operations, production, etc. Champion is the right guy to oversee ALL of ProElite’s operations. He’s not the guy making the fight decisions.

    As Champion states in the interview, he’s going to be leaving those decisions up to Jeremy Lappen, J.D. Penn, Rich Chou, Jared Shaw, J.T. Steele, and Turi Altavilla. They are all experienced guys when it comes to the nuts and bolts of the fight game.

    Again, there is more to running an MMA company than just matchmaking. Look at the UFC. Dana White was doing a strong job but things got to such a point that Lorenzo Fertitta had to step in and assume a lot of the day-to-day business operations of the company.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  • GoofyMonkey says:

    Well put Sam.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  • finkrod says:

    Caplan slappin’ down chups on the regular. Hey #1, would your degree happen to be in the buger sciences? Also, that guy has an awesome name. Charles Champion. Sounds like a superheros alter-ego.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  • platypus says:

    fans should not be executives

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  • Fabricio says:

    Color me stupid, But it appears that a businessman is running the business. Who’d have thought of such a thing. A foward thinking executive, who realizes how important it is to be surrounded by good people………..

    Elite XC has a long way to go as does any start up company, MMA is the LEAST of their problems. They need and X’s and O’s guy who can think outside the box.

    This old ( I mean this in the nicest of ways) guy made a move to the internet!! If you had any idea how rare that is in and of it self you’d cut him a break…………and that’s the TRUTH

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  • Joseph says:

    Great interview Sam.

    I don’t get all this EliteXC hate going around.

    Seriously, MMA fans are the worst fans out of any sport I have ever seen.
    Childish, elitist and insecure are the perfect words to describe these organization nuthuggers.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  • […] read the rest of Part 1 of this interview, click here.  For Part 2 of this interview with Champion, stay tuned to Octagon […]

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  • rollshop says:

    sam, do you have an opinion on how well suited this guy is to be the new CEO? thats all i want to know brother.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  • Cathedron says:

    I hope this does well for EliteXC. After seeing the vast improvement of their CBS fights, I’m thinking they could really go somewhere. UFC needs some decent competition in the States.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  • Truth (not the clown from the 1st post) says:

    Running a business is about getting the right people in the right place to do the right things. Not all IT companies have a computer scientist as CEO, not all auto manufacturers have a mechanical engineer as CEO, not all petrol companies have a petroleum engineer as CEO, etc. Anyone who says you have to know MMA inside-out to run an MMA company simply has no clue about how businesses operate.

    Champion sounds like he has the right idea about how things should be. Good luck to the man.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  • Jesse says:

    Great read Sam. Nice job.

    People can hate on EliteXC all they want, I hope it does well. More MMA is exactly what I need.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  • Mike Wolfe says:

    Let’s see how he does. Personally, I have some doubts. An executive needs to have skills to run a company that don’t necessarily revolve around the day-to-day operations of the business. But to succeed, he needs some understanding of the business. You can’t just bring in a guy with prior successes in other industries and assume he’s going to succeed in a business about which he knows nothing. The only transferrable skill Champion brings to Elite is marketing, but that’s not Elite’s challenge. With a network deal, it has access to all kinds of advertising. Elite’s biggest challenge is to increase its roster of top tier fighters. Arguably, it doesn’t have any. Meanwhile, it has to have fights that maintain and increase the fans’ interest. He doesn’t yet know how to do either.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  • Joseph says:

    Mike Wolfe,
    I dont agree with what you said.

    They need someone that can make some revenue for them and make the right deals. They can’t sign top talent if they are losing money. That just doesn’t make sense. They need someone to start making money with the assets they already have, like all the orgs they posses and the massive library they own, and all they media outlets they have access to. They have enough people around him that know about MMA and the industry to do right. They just need someone to start making better deals and making money, advertise, etc so EliteXC can grow.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  • Kelvin says:

    The best question is….Is it too late for EliteXC?

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  • Jesse says:

    elite xc is corporate crap .. this guy seem nice but he doesn’t have a love for the sport

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  • Michaelthebox says:

    Mike Wolfe: EliteXC has access to all sorts of marketing avenues, but I don’t think they’ve done a good job of it. Marketing includes the overall branding, presentation, and the coherent message it sends to fans, and on that level I don’t think EliteXC has done a particularly great job. People harp on how ‘tired’ UFC’s graphics and presentation is, but theres a reason for that: the UFC sticks with stuff that works really well, and gradually makes minute changes.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  • Eric Muldrow says:

    Everyone seems to forget that the UFC was bleeding money rapidly when they first started. I watched A special on CNBC about the UFC and Can recall them saying that they were like 20 mill in the hole. EliteXC has an uphill battle, but I believe that they can be successful. Only time will truly tell, but I wish them the best.
    Constructive criticism is one thing, I just don’t understand all the hate.If you are a true mma fan, we should be rooting for more organizations….which in turn mean more fights for our enjoyment!

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  • mike wolfe says:

    I hope Elite succeeds, but it has an uphill battle. UFC was in the red to the tune of 30-40 million before it turned things around courtesy of Griffin vs. Bonnar. And that was at a time when it had no meaningful domestic compeition for fighters or customers. Now that UFC has succeeded, Elite has to build itself from the ground up in a much more competitive environment. I suppose it can be done, but can it afford to lose even more than the UFC did during its start up phase? That’s the same problem Elite and other orgs face with branding. If it can’t sign top tier talent, sooner or later the customers will perceive it as an inferior product as compared to UFC. All sizzle and no steak.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  • Jay K. says:

    Sam,

    Great interview. It’s teh ‘Tards that slam a corporate guy who’s honestly making a go at this. It’s refreshing to read this. Good on him and I hope EliteXC succeeds as a brand identity of it’s own.

    Cheers,

    Jay K.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  • Mike says:

    Chuck will bring some crediblity to ProElite, So what if has not been an MMA fan since UFC1, I bet he sees things diffrent than a fan, he sees it like a business, The UFC almost died, Pride is long gone, Dreams is losing its TV deal in japan, it seems like the business of MMA can be rough. Thanks Chuck for helping to save MMA, come on guys fighters are fighters not business men, let the business men fight in the board room.

    WAR CHUCK CHAMPION

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  • Joe Lawyer says:

    Comments positing that this guy is just another “suit” and can’t hack it are ignorant. If EliteXC is going to succeed it needs more capital and revenue to put into marketing and recruitment and growth. Like it or not, that’s about top business management skills –it’s not about climbing into the cage.

    This excellent interview shows that Mr. Champion has serious respect for the fighters. That plus top business talent is all that’s required.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  • […] Friday, we debuted Part I of our exclusive interview with new ProElite Chairman Chuck Champion. Champion was gracious enough to sit down with Five Ounces of Pain for an extended interview. In […]

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  • FYI says:

    I think this is a good interview. Really good, just as all Sam’s interviews.

    I have doubts about Champion only because i’m not sure he has the passion for MMA. However, it’s true that MMA can bring the passion up in any new fan and hopefully he’ll get there.

    One thing i found interesting though about this article and made me want for more is the lack of information on DeLuca’s resignation. To my understanding DeLuca brought ProElite to the table and assemble the team that created it and brought the investors.

    DeLuca brought Showtime as well, he was the only one in the entertainment world and his conections made it possible for PE to get to where it did. Through Showtime Shaw came into the picture and probably became an important aspect of the negotiation. DeLuca was also the main factor in the negotiation with CBS and apparently responsible for the FSN new deal AMONG so many others. They guy has amazing connection and most of all a great passion to help bring MMA to the next level. Also a great team worker and, i’ve been told a very humble and charismatic person.

    I’m not sure how or why he would resign. I hope is true, what Champion says, that he’s still consultant to the organization that he (DeLuca) also partially owns (ProElite) – I hope he certainly continues to consult and work in the background and with the team – a great team – making new transactions and bringing new values to MMA.

    To think about it, the good thing about both him and Shaw was their passion: Shaw’s for fighting in general and DeLuca’s for the great vision for MMA.

    I think more should be asked about DeLuca and told as well. I regret he’s leaving if he is and, not only thank him for his vision, participation, and what he brought to the space but also wish him good luck.

    Maybe Sam Caplan could get an interview with the guy? Sam?

    Respect to all and GOOD LUCK to ProElite and its entire team.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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