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Saturday’s co-promotion between EliteXC and Affliction could be the start of something beautiful… or something ugly

On Saturday night the MMA world will get to witness a former UFC heavyweight title holder taking on the final reigning IFL heavyweight champion representing Affliction in an EliteXC cage and beamed to the United States on CBS’ airwaves.

Isn’t that what MMA should be all about: promotions working together in order to bring the best fights possible to the viewing public on a widely-viewed platform?

It remains to be seen whether EliteXC and Affliction reap financial benefits from Saturday’s agreement to showcase Affliction’s Andrei Arlovski vs. Roy Nelson during the third installment of CBS’ Saturday Night Fights. However, it’s already a certainty that one group that will benefit are MMA fans.

Already a good show on paper with matches between Benji Radach vs. Murilo “Ninja” Rua, Gina Carano vs. Kelly Kobold, Jake Shields vs. Paul Daley, and Kimbo Slice vs. Ken Shamrock slated, the addition of Arlovski vs. Nelson easily makes tomorrow night’s edition of SNF the show’s best lineup on paper to date.

But looking beyond Saturday, an alliance between EliteXC and Affliction has the potential to create a clear-cut number two promotion to the UFC, something which the industry has lacked for quite some time. However, despite initial reports to the contrary, sources speaking on the conditioning of anonymity have revealed to that there is no agreement in place for the two companies to work together past Saturday.

Yet sources have also indicated that all parties are open to the idea of working together in the future. As of now, everyone involved wants to gauge how Saturday goes before any decisions are made moving forward.

If Saturday proves to be a fruitful endeavor for both companies, the framework to do something bigger may already be in place. Both EliteXC and Affliction had been speaking for slightly over six weeks before last week’s accord was announced. Five Ounces of Pain also learned this week that the agreement to do add Arlovski vs. Nelson to the card was a relatively small item compared to other proposals that had been discussed.

One future option that had been discussed informally was the possibility of televising Affliction’s January event on either CBS or Showtime. As of now, Fedor is Affliction’s biggest drawing card. But the promotion would like him to become an even bigger star and a source indicated this past week that the feeling is the exposure that network television provides could do wonders for Fedor’s stock in the U.S.

A possible co-promotional telecast in January is apparently just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to possible ways in which the two fight promotions could collaborate. But again, whether we ever see Affliction and EliteXC work together all comes down to Saturday. And there are no guarantees that everything will run smoothly.

While I’ve seen nothing specifically to suggest that Affliction and EliteXC officials can’t co-exist, past history could be working against them. After all, Saturday’s alliance between them is not a first in MMA. A strong case can be made that there’s never been a co-promotion of this magnitude but there’s also no argument when it comes to the fact that a co-promotional accord has never lasted for an extended period of time.

What cannot be ignored is the fact that the track record of promotions working together in MMA flat out sucks. Shall we review?

The UFC and PRIDE had worked together in the past before the demise of the Japanese-based promotion and Zuffa’s eventual acquisition. In 2003, the UFC sent both Chuck Liddell and Ricco Rodriguez to compete in the rings of PRIDE.

The UFC, which was not running monthly events at the time, was looking to increase its global presence so it loaned Liddell and Rodriguez without receiving anything tangible in return.

Liddell was a participant in PRIDE’s middleweight Grand Prix tournament, defeating Alistair Overeem in the first round before a dream match between him and Wanderlei Silva was spoiled by Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in the second round.

On the same night that Liddell advanced at “Total Elimination,” Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira also won a unanimous decision over Rodriguez, who was sent over to Japan by UFC officials after losing the UFC heavyweight title to Tim Sylvia at UFC 41.

The decision to loan Liddell and Rodriguez to PRIDE reaped few benefits. Not only did the two lose, but the UFC never ended up featuring any of PRIDE’s talent on its shows. It wasn’t until 2006 when the two promotions attempted to work together again. With PRIDE in desperate need of attention of U.S. exposure, they sent Silva to participate in a pre-arranged stare down with Liddell following Liddell’s win over Renato “Babalu” Sobral at UFC 61.

While a dream fight between Silva and Liddell was announced after framework of a deal had been put into place, the match never came to fruition during PRIDE’s existence. Plans to work together began to unravel after PRIDE and UFC officials could not agree on the duration of Silva’s tenure with the UFC.

EliteXC and Strikeforce have promoted two shows together in the past, but the partnership between the two has been an uneasy one. The decision to work together actually stemmed from a settlement negotiated by lawyers after Strikeforce sued EliteXC in 2007 for torturous interference after the San Jose-based promotion claimed Elite violated its contract with Frank Shamrock.

Shamrock had been scheduled to fight Phil Baroni for Strikeforce in April of that year and apparently had a clause in Shamrock’s contract that he could not fight for anyone before the Baroni fight had taken place. Either Shamrock didn’t know the terms of his own contract, or the lure of being a headliner on the first-ever MMA telecast on premium-cable network SHOWTIME was too great to ignore, because he signed with EliteXC to fight Renzo Gracie in February anyway.

When EliteXC and Strikeforce have worked together, the result has been two of the best shows both companies have ever promoted. But putting on quality fight cards didn’t equate to better profits as the Shamrock vs. Baroni pay-per-view numbers were disappointing and while March’s main event between Shamrock and Cung Le drew a strong rating, a viewing universe can only be so large on a premium-cable channel such as SHOWTIME.

Both EliteXC and Strikeforce are contracted to work together one more time but whether that happens remains to be seen. The alliance between the two is so uneasy that Strikeforce promoter Scott Coker refused to be seen with then-EliteXC Live Events President Gary Shaw during press events in San Jose the week leading up to the Shamrock vs. Le show.

There have also been smaller partnerships that went nowhere. When HDNet Fights needed a replacement to challenge Jason “Mayhem” Miller last December, they received permission from the IFL to use Tim Kennedy even though he was slated to fight for the IFL at the end of the month. The two companies would end up working together again as broadcast partners but the impact of the decision to loan out Kennedy was minimal, as HDNet Fights is no longer promoting shows and the IFL filed for bankruptcy last month.

And who could forget when K-1 HERO’s, EliteXC, Strikeforce, BodogFIGHT, Cage Rage, and Spirit MC all announced a “super-alliance” in response to Zuffa’s announcement that it had acquired PRIDE? Oh wait, you did forget? Could that be because the fight company orgy fell a part almost immediately after it was announced? All that the announced alliance produced was FEG hiring EliteXC to help promote a debacle of a stadium show in Los Angeles known as “Dynamite USA!!”

There are many proponents in MMA that believe in order for the sport to grow that companies need to work with each other as opposed to against each other. I can’t say I disagree but thus far, companies coming together in the best interest of the sport has been nothing more than a Utopian dream. The concept of partnerships in MMA usually make a lot of sense on paper, but when it comes time to execute a working relationship, politics and logistics usually leads to unfulfilled expectations.

The reality is that on the surface there is almost no downside between Affliction and EliteXC working together in bringing fans a match between Arlovski vs. Nelson on free television. But with both companies struggling financially, one match isn’t going to save the day for either promotion. The two could stand to do more and Saturday could be the start of something beautiful… or something ugly.

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