At initial glance, there appears to be a void when it comes to leadership at ProElite with both Chairman Doug DeLuca and Live Events President Gary Shaw having tendered their resignations in favor of taking on reduced roles as consultants.
DeLuca, a television producer, was a founding member of the company. Shaw, a former boxing regulator turned promoter, joined up soon after the formation of ProElite and was one of its original directors.
There’s little doubt their contributions to the company were major. DeLuca is a charismatic businessman with strong connections in the entertainment industry. While Mark Burnett and IMG played large roles in making the deal with CBS happen, it’s been said that DeLuca was the driving force.
Shaw was a polarizing figure in the MMA community who never gained widespread acceptance from the sport’s hardcore fan base that has followed MMA before it was cool to do so. That being said, it’s debateable whether the company would have ever gotten off the ground if not for the deal with SHOWTIME. Considering Shaw’s existing relationship with key decision makers at SHOWTIME, it’s not a reach to say the SHOWTIME deal would have never happened without him.
Up until December of 2006, SHOWTIME was still involved in negotiations with the Zuffa about a potential deal with the UFC. When word spread in the industry that HBO had interest in getting involved in the MMA business, the Zuffa took a deal with UFC off the table and instead tried to pitch SHOWTIME on a potential deal with the WEC. SHOWTIME took exception to the move and broke off all negotiations.
Once it became apparent that a deal between SHOWTIME and Zuffa wasn’t going to happen, multiple promotions made a renewed push at trying to land a contract with SHOWTIME. However, MMA was still a risky proposition at the time and SHOWTIME wanted to go with a proven commodity within the MMA space. But outside of the UFC, there wasn’t a proven commodity. The next best solution was doing business with a familiar boxing promoter such as Shaw.
So while some will be quick to dismiss Shaw and his shortcomings (something this site has done on frequent occasion), he was an impact player and also the public face of the company for an extended duration. The roles that both Shaw and DeLuca played aren’t ones that will be completely eliminated. Key figures will have to step up and fill the void. But the reality is that both Shaw and DeLuca had been operating in reduced roles for the past several months and their replacements are already in place.
When it comes to the corporate side and providing the leadership required to make a publicly traded company work, Chairman and CEO Charles Champion has been with the company since February. He has an established reputation for being a corporate savior and has turned several companies around in the past, most notably online paramutual betting company YouBet.com.
Before getting involved with YouBet, Champion made a name for himself working on the business side of major newspaper companies such as the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, the Los Angeles Daily News, the Chicago Sun-Times, and the Orange County Register. When he joined YouBet in 2002, the company was near-bankruptcy, according to published reports. The hiring made little sense at the time because Champion had little background in the technology sector. However, he had a reputation for being able to right sinking ships and YouBet was all bet sunk at the time of Champion’s arrival.
In a 2005 article published in the San Fernando Valley Business Journal, Champion was said to have demanded the resignations of employees that weren’t committed to making YouBet a winner. He then went so far as to remove the door to his office to emphasize that the company would not only have an open door policy, but that it would have a no door policy.
Under Champion’s guidance, YouBet became one of the fastest growing technology companies around and had a five-year growth rate of 930%.
But ProElite could be his biggest challenge to date. In only two years of operation, the company has made major deals with SHOWTIME and CBS. It has also lost over $30 million in funding and has been forced to make major personnel changes in recent months. While it takes time to build infastructure and a company has to spend money to make money, it remains to be seen whether some of ProElite’s investments will ever pay off.
Champion also has to contend with the fact that prior to joining ProElite, he had no experience in the fight game whether it be boxing or MMA. The fight business is one like no other and it’s one that is unforgiving. Kurt Otto and Gareb Shamus learned on the job when they started the IFL and the reality is that there is little margin for error in MMA. But unlike Otto and Shamus, Champion is not expected to be involved with major fight decisions. While in the newspaper industry, he allowed his publishers and editors to make editorial decisions and while at YouBet, he relied heavily on his technology officers.
At ProElite, Champion will be relying heavily on his fight team, one that currently consists of Head of Fight Operations Jeremy Lappen, Vice President of Talent Relations Jared Shaw, Director of Fight Operations J.D. Penn, Manager of Fight Operations J.T. Steele, Matchmaker Rich Chou, and Vice President of Fight Management Turi Altavilla. With the exception of Shaw, all had prior experience in the fight game before joining ProElite.
Lappen started in MMA as a agent and worked big-name fighters such as Ken Shamrock before crossing over into an executive role with the now-defunct World Fighting Alliance. Penn, the older brother of UFC lightweight champion B.J. Penn, was involved with his family in the Rumble on the Rock promotion where Chou helped play a major role. Altavilla got his start out of college with Terry Trebilcock’s King of the Cage promotion before being recruited by the PRIDE Fighting Championships to be a top-level executive in its Los Angeles office.
Suffice to say, there is no shortage of experienced fight executives for Champion to turn to.
The promotion will still need a decision maker to step up and assume the role created by Shaw’s resignation. Thus far, it appears Lappen is that guy, even though he has been reluctant to make any public pronouncements of being the fight team’s go-to guy. However, during recent conference calls and press conferences, it’s been Lappen who has served as the public face of the company’s fight operations.
Champion is clearly the replacement for DeLuca while Lappen is considered to be Shaw’s heir apparent. The leadership voids that some may perceive to exist within ProElite have already been filled. Whether or not the new leaders can get ProElite headed in the right direction is a question that can only be answered over time.