Mixed martial arts groups to fight for fighters

Times Staff Writer

Emerging as a potential challenger to Ultimate Fighting Championship, Elite Xtreme Combat, a new mixed martial arts organization -- Showtime television contract in hand -- was introduced Thursday.

Elite XC arrived on the scene the same week UFC announced its purchase of a second-tier mixed martial arts circuit known as World Fighting Alliance.

And in announcing the main event of its first card, Elite XC said that Frank Shamrock, who was UFC’s first middleweight champion, would fight veteran Renzo Gracie on Feb. 10 in Southaven, Miss.

“I won’t interfere with a contract, but we’ve been contacted by other fighters and I do want to work with other fighters,” said Elite XC President Gary Shaw, a veteran boxing promoter. “If they’re coming out of contracts, we’ll talk.”


Shaw had one of those conversations Thursday when unbeaten UFC heavyweight Brandon Vera (8-0) attended the Elite XC news conference at Hollywood’s Roosevelt Hotel, and said he had only one fight remaining on his UFC contract.

“Whoever wants to take care of me the best,” Vera, 29, said when asked what organization he would continue fighting with.

Said Vera’s manager, Mark Dion, “If UFC wants to keep all of its fighters in house, they can, but it’s people like [Elite XC], who have money and a platform like Showtime, who will compete for fighters now. This is the first time UFC is not the monopoly.”

Shaw announced that Elite XC and Showtime had struck a three-year deal to televise at least six cards in 2007, eight in 2008, and 10 in 2009, with two pay-per-view cards scheduled for next year. Elite XC fighters will battle in a chain-linked, circular ring known as “the cage,” Shaw said, a twist on UFC’s octagon.

“There are plenty of kids out there who haven’t had a sufficient opportunity to fight who they want to in UFC,” Shaw said. “I don’t care how big [UFC is], they can only handle so many fighters. You can’t keep 50 stars happy. I think it’ll be hard for them to retain every athlete.”

Elite XC Chief Executive Doug DeLuca said he envisioned an MMA future that would allow fighters in his organization to have bouts against UFC opponents, but UFC President Dana White dismissed the new organization.

“No one in that business has a clue how to do MMA,” said White, whose organization is anticipating a $4-million live gate for its Dec. 30 title fight pitting light-heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell against Tito Ortiz in Las Vegas. “I’ve never lost a big star in my six years here. A couple other organizations, who had more talent, with guys who knew more, have already tried to do what these guys are, and they’ve failed. These guys don’t know the difference between MMA and thumb wrestling.”

White said UFC was in negotiation with HBO to have some of its cards televised “very soon.”

HBO Sports President Ross Greenberg said, “We have been tracking and talking with the UFC for a long time, but beyond that I really can’t say much.”

Shamrock, 34, defeated Ortiz in 1999 and then relinquished his title by retiring from the UFC, ripping his former organization.

“The problem is that the top five guys in UFC make all the money, and the rest make scraps.” Shamrock said.

Shaw said Elite XC had fewer than 10 fighters under contract, including a woman, Gina Carano, and K.J. Noons, a fighter whom Shaw will promote in boxing as well as MMA.

He predicted, “Some big names will sign with us, but we’ll also establish our own fighters.”

Showtime’s broadcasters will be former pro wrestler Bill Goldberg and actor Mario Lopez.

Times staff writer Larry Stewart contributed to this report.