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Even in death, ProElite and EliteXC finding ways to hurt the sport

Halloween was this past Friday and it appears that ProElite went trick or treating as a zombie corporation — a dead fight company that still walks amongst the living.

In case you haven’t heard the news, ProElite has responded to several of its fighters and their representatives claiming that they have not in fact committed a material breach of their contracts, as they have every intention of promoting shows in 2009. That’s right, the same executives who wrote the memo several weeks ago that the promotion was closing shop apparently neglected to read it.

The question has been asked to me several times: if ProElite’s demise good or bad for the sport? I’ve had a difficult time answering it because on one hand, one could get confused and believe that the initials EXC stood for Elite Xtreme Controversy. While the promotion held many strong fight cards, the quality of fights and fighters involved with the show was often obscured by one or two major controversies. Whether “standgate” was a reality or not, the promotion’s subsequent handling of the crisis was without question a detriment to the sport.

On the flip side, the promotion was offering a great deal of free MMA to the consumer and was employing many talented fighters and fight-related personnel. While former EliteXC executives Jeremy Lappen and Gary Shaw have come under enormous public criticism, the promotion had been employing sound MMA minds such as Jaydee Penn, Rich Chou, Turi Altavilla, and J.T. Steele; not to mention countless others who operated below the radar. EliteXC is also responsible for bringing fighters such as Rafael Feijao, Antonio Silva, Wilson Reis, Dave Herman, Brett Rogers, and several other undiscovered talents to the forefront. As you can see, the company did offer some positives to the sport.

Yet in the end — the very bitter end — I am now left to believe that the company’s demise is actually a good thing. While I disagree with UFC President Dana White’s proclamation that the death of EliteXC was a “great day for the sport,” the reality is that a company that is unable to sustain itself financially can’t continue to exist just so people can be employed in the MMA industry. No matter how hard everyone behind ProElite and EliteXC worked, a public company that had managed to lose over $55 million in two years cannot remain in operation as nothing more than just a charitable trust.

But it’s not the SEC filings and the balance sheets that have pushed me over the edge, it’s the promotion’s latest legal posturing in which they have responded to notifications that they have breached the contracts of several of their fighters by informing them they still intend to promote shows in 2009. When notified by the representatives of fighters such as Robbie Lawler and Nick Diaz that they were in breach of their contracts, ProElite didn’t have 30 days to respond, it had 30 days to cure the breach. And to avoid all the legalise, what ProElite has done is offered a quasi-cure by responding to the legal complaints that the company won’t be promoting shows by telling everyone that they will.

Now, I’ve read many of the headlines that suggest “ProElite is not dead yet” and “ProElite to promote shows in 2009″ and quite frankly, those headlines are almost erroneous. While ProElite hasn’t filed for formally filed for bankruptcy, the company is essentially dead and I’d be willing to bet everything I own that the promotion will never again promote a show under the ProElite name. It’s simple math, as you need fighters, personnel, and money to compensate the fighters and personnel to hold an event. ProElite technically still has the fighters, but they no longer have the personnel or the money.

It’s true that the remaining staff of executives, accountants, and attorneys at ProElite could always go out and get funding and begin to promote shows again, but it’s also true that Warren Buffet might offer me tens of millions of dollars to acquire a share of this website. While both are possible, the odds of either event transpiring is virtually impossible.

So while Rogers, Scott Smith, Joey Villasenor, and countless others reduce their holiday gift giving plans, ProElite’s remaining staff of high-level executives, accountants, and attorneys continue to cash paychecks for a few more months. If the promotion couldn’t attract significant funding coming off the heels of the successful ratings from their CBS debut on May, it certainly won’t now. And to think, the economy was only partially-crappy back then as opposed to completely crappy.

To even entertain the idea that ProElite will ever promote another show is a total charade. What this latest development essentially amounts to is the last remaining rats on a sunken ship deciding to hold contracts hostage as collateral for a safe getaway. ProElite has tarnished the reputation of MMA long enough; it’s time for the company to act in the sport’s best interest for once and let the fighters go free so that they can seek employment elsewhere.

The fighters currently on the promotion’s roster are in a state of extreme purgatory, as fighting is their chosen profession. They are being told that ProElite isn’t going to be able to pay them to fight anytime soon, yet they aren’t able to go out and seek full-time employment elsewhere. Sure, there’s always a promotion such as DREAM for a fighter like Nick Diaz or Adrenaline MMA for Thomas Denny, but for the vast majority of EliteXC fighters, they are unable to negotiate a new contract with another promotion until they are completely free and clear.

I’ve talked to several managers in recent days and they feel there is a race against time taking place. They aren’t looking for a short-term fix by just getting their fighter a one-off bout with a small promotion. What they want and need is total contractual freedom so that they can approach the major players in the sport and get their fighter the best deal possible.

The growing concern is that Affliction won’t make it in the long run and that once further consolidation within the industry sets in, it will be a UFC-only world. And once that happens, a fighter negotiating with the UFC will likely be left with the choice of taking the UFC’s offer and making peanuts competing in front of millions of people, or leave the offer on the table and make peanuts competing in front of hundreds of people. Managers want to lock their fighters into contracts now while they still have a shred of leverage left.

There are no unions in MMA; no 401Ks; no pensions; no financial support services — if you fight full-time in MMA, you do so without a safety net unless you are one of the chosen few fighters able to make enough that you don’t live paycheck-to-paycheck. If a full-time fighter doesn’t fight, he or she doesn’t eat. Yet here we are and ProElite has no compunction in regards to taking food off the table of dozens of athletes.

We’ve been told by fighters, managers, and mid-level executives affiliated with ProElite that the company is dead. Yet even in death the company that did as much to tear down the sport as it did to build it up is still finding ways to sully MMA’s image. “Standgate” left us all with bad tastes in our mouths but the farce that is taking place now is downright nauseating.

If there still happens to be an Internet connection in ProElite’s barren offices and an accountant, lawyer, or executive is reading this, please do what’s right and release the fighters from their contracts. You’re not just hurting the sport, you’re hurting actual people.

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