Elite XC out of business

By Tom Donelson
Updated: October 25, 2008

IOWA CITY – Elite XC went out of business, and question that remains what does it mean for Mixed Martial Arts? Elite XC became a staple on Showtime and appeared to have decent ratings on CBS so it came as a shock when they went down for the count.

But on the inside, many factors doomed the upstart Elite XC.

The Mixed Martial Arts is relatively a new sport with new organizations vying for the right to be the MMA organization and challenging the UFC domination. What we are now seeing a shakeout as rival organizations in their competition with each other run smack into the reality that there is only so many entertainment dollars available at any one time.

Elite XC showed that MMA could be a popular event even on network television as two of their three broadcast events registered nearly five million viewers; making it competitive with fares like major league baseball or even NBA basketball during the season.

(If not actually better, I am not comparing these numbers with championship affairs but in season games on various network and cable outlets.)

When combined with cable outlets like Spike TV, Versus, and Showtime, MMA has proven to be popular affairs. Spike TV broadcasts of selected UFC events have drawn numbers similar to Elite XC on CBS.

Elite XC’s popularity was not enough to keep the organization solvent and recent failed negotiations with CBS and Showtime doomed the organization.

One Elite XC promoter, T. Jay Thompson felt that the recent CBS card that saw Kimbo Slice knocked out may have sealed its fate as far as getting CBS support for the adventure.

Thompson stated, ” I was there cageside and watched the whole thing happen,” he said. “I think (CBS) got cold feet watching. The way the Ken Shamrock pullout was handled, all the way from the beginning to the end with Seth Petruzelli.”

“Watching Jared Shaw jumping up and down and screaming as a representative of the company, I think was disgusting and embarrassing.”

The latter event saw Seth Petruzelli knock out one of Elite XC biggest draws in Kimbo Slice and it didn’t help that he insinuated that there were attempts to influence the bout.

Thompson’s own view was that CBS backed out of any future involvement with Elite XC and now CBS is working with the promotion company Affliction for future cards into 2009.

Many fighters just as Elite XC welterweight champion Jake Shields are waiting to be released from their contracts or have their contracts bought up by other rival organizations including UFC.

This past summer, I wrote, “Interesting, these stations gave rise to various MMA organizations and it would appear that MMA is repeating the mistake of boxing. Boxing popularity shrinkage occurred at the same time that many sanctioning bodies proliferated.”

“As many boxing fans or former boxing fans told me, “I simply don’t know who is the champion or even care. Boxing, steep in tradition, have upset its core fans and fail to move beyond its core for popularity.

“MMA is a newer sport and fans are more tolerant of the various organizations and simply want to see some good fights as well as see their favorite stars. They don’t care if they fight for the WEC or UFC.”

For many in MMA, it was a philosophy of if you built it; they would come.

Now we know that is not true.

The demise of Elite XC may be representing a move toward a unified body for the MMA. Bas Rutten told me that he was not that concern over the proliferation of organizations and that eventually it would all shake out with the fans picking the eventual winners.

His theory was that each organization bought something different to the table and allowed more fighters opportunities.

What does this mean for the stars of Elite XC?

For Jake Shields, it means that he will eventually be a free agent with a shot at a big contract with UFC; the premier MMA organization. For others like Kimbo Slice, the future is murky.

Elite XC saw their biggest ratings with Slice as the headliner, but he was a young inexperienced pro with much to learn. If Slice defeated Petruzelli, his stock would still be high and a target for any organization like Affliction looking to be make a splash.

Slice’s defeat in the opening 14 seconds damaged the Slice franchise and the real question that remains, would he still be a main attraction? He was promoted due to his name recognition but the skill level was not quite up to the promotional hype and now Slice is back at ground zero, a name but is it a wounded name?

As for the MMA itself, there was movement afoot when Affliction attempted to merge with the UFC but this failed and now Affliction is moving toward an alliance with Golden Boy promotion and possibly CBS for 2009.

For Affliction, there will be many Elite XC stars like Slice or Gina Carana, the poster gal for the MMA to sign. There will be competition between the remaining organizations for the Elite XC bigger names like Jake Shields, Joey Villasenor or Robbie Lawler.

Elite XC doesn’t represent a decline in the MMA popularity but a symbol of a sport starting to mature as it seeks mainstream recognition.