While EliteXC did not have a roster as deep in talent as its primary competitor, the UFC, the promotion was not without its share fair of good fighters. Some might say that EliteXC suffered from a lack of stars, but one could also counter that the company failed in being able to generate more interest in many of its talented fighters.
With the promotion set to formally file for bankruptcy later this week, it means that a great deal of fighters contracted to EliteXC are about to become unemployed. However, a lot of those fighters will not remain unemployed for long, as they will draw a great deal of interest from other fight promotions.
With that in mind, I decided to formulate a list of the promotion’s top fighters and break down who I think will end up where and why.
Kimbo Slice – This is a real tricky one. First, you can completely rule out the UFC. Let’s say UFC President Dana White was merely posturing with all of his recent anti-Kimbo statements, it still means he’s boxed himself into a corner. If he were to sign Slice now, he would take a ton of flack for it. But I believe he was sincere in his remarks and that there is no way we’d see Slice in the UFC. Maybe White actually would consider extending an invite for Slice to compete on The Ultimate Fighter, but season nine will not involve heavyweights and Slice may not want to sit on the sidelines until season ten. Oh yeah, there’s also the fact that there’s ZERO CHANCE he will compete for free on a reality television show. He’d probably do a YouTube street fighting reunion tour before he’d fight for free.
The options left for him really aren’t all that appealing. Slice could be an even bigger star in Japan than he is in the U.S. DREAM wants to do something big for its “Dynamite!!” show with K-1 on New Year’s Eve and Slice could be the next Bob Sapp. Sengoku is also apparently looking to make a splash for its live network show in Japan on Jan. 4 and they might have interest as well. But how viable of an MMA market is Japan right now?
Before competing for EliteXC, Slice fought an exhibition fight against former boxing champion Ray Mercer in Atlantic City for the now-defunct Cage Fury Fighting Championships. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Slice takes a step backward so he can take a step forward. If an up and coming promotion wants to make a splash, they could do so with Slice — so long as they are willing to show the money.
Also, don’t rule out Shane McMahon going to father Vince and trying to convince him that a Slice crossover to pro wrestling could be huge. Even if Slice has no interest in doing pro wrestling long-term, he’d have to think twice about a $1.5 million-to-$2 million payday for being involved in a short-term, high-profile feud that would culminate at Wrestlemania.
Affliction can’t be ruled out but matching him up would be very tough in a heavyweight division that includes Fedor, Josh Barnett, Tim Sylvia, Ben Rothwell, Roy Nelson, Pedro Rizzo, and Pau Buentello. Slice vs. any of those fighters would do well at the box office, but he’d be nothing more than a short-term fix. I don’t think his management will want to enter into a situation where Slice is viewed as disposable.
One thing that I would throw out of left field is for M-1 and whatever channel picks up Fighting Fedor to pay Slice to be one of the cast members of the forthcoming reality show. Paying a fighter to appear on a reality show probably has never been done, but attaching Slice’s name to the project might make it an easier sell to bigger television platforms. As of now, the star of the vehicle, Fedor, is largely unknown to the American mainstream. In Slice, they’d have a pretty recognizable co-star. They could hold Slice out until episode eight and match him with a total tomato can to ensure he remains on the show for an optimum amount of time.
Gina Carano – I read an article where a writer said “Poor Gina Carano.” Poor Gina? I don’t think so. The reality is that Carano was grossly underpaid and by becoming an unrestricted free agent, she’ll have much more leverage when negotiating a new contract. Affliction has said it has no immediate plans to promote a female fight. However, Affliction Entertainment Vice President Tom Atencio is a big fan of Carano’s and Affliction has a female-clothing brand “Sinful” that it would like to grow. What better way than to do it with Carano?
Before competing for EliteXC, Carano fought for Strikeforce, which still promotes female fights. I know that Strikeforce officials were none too happy with Carano when she left for EliteXC but the promotion needs more nationally-recognizable drawing cards. Carano’s quarter-hour ratings during her two CBS appearances clearly demonstrate she’s a national star. Strikeforce owner/promoter Scott Coker is a smart businessman and he’s not going to cut off his nose to spite his face. I don’t know for a fact, but I’d be willing to wager a lot of money that they’ll look at signing Carano.
And if CBS and SHOWTIME start their own promotion, Carano could be at the top of their list.
Frank Shamrock – What if ProElite and EliteXC had taken Frank Shamrock up on his offer to fight Kimbo as a replacement for his brother Ken? Granted, Kimbo’s camp ruled it out, but they also initially said they weren’t going to fight anyone other than Ken Shamrock the night of Oct. 4 until it became a financial no-brainer. What if they had offered an additional $250,000-300,000 to make Slice vs. Frank Shamrock happen? Sure, that’s a lot of additional money, but Shamrock beating Kimbo wouldn’t have looked as bad as Seth Petruzelli beating Kimbo and you know Shamrock wouldn’t have made the mistake of letting everyone it was in his financial best interest not to take the fight to the ground (which is not something we support, but loose lips sunk EliteXC’s ship). If Frank Shamrock had fought Kimbo, EliteXC would still be in business. Shamrock owed two more fights to EliteXC and now is only contracted for one more fight with Strikeforce. You’ll never see Shamrock in the UFC again but I don’t think he’s done competing. Shamrock is unique in that he doesn’t need a promotion behind him in order to survive. He’ll likely freelance and take fights next year vs. Ken Shamrock, Cung Le, and Tito Ortiz and make anywhere from $6-10 million doing so. Much like Carano, Shamrock will do just fine following EliteXC’s collapse.
Jake Shields – I’d be surprised if he wasn’t signed by the UFC by week’s end. I am dead serious. This is as about as big of a no-brainer as there is on this list. Shields will likely have to take a cut in pay, but his only other options are Strikeforce and Affliction. But long-term, it makes sense Shields to try and create leverage for himself towards a second UFC contract. His second deal will be far more lucrative than his first once he gets wins over some of the best in the world at 170 pounds. Now is the time to go after Georges St. Pierre, Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck, and Thiago Alves while he’s still in his athletic prime. The only other option is to keep feasting on b-level competition in second-tier promotions due to the UFC’s monopoly at welterweight. Shields is a true athlete and I think he’ll take the cut in pay just for the opportunity to compete in the Octagon.
Robbie Lawler – Lawler is not the lock to go to the UFC that some people think he is. He is managed by Monte Cox and Cox is pretty creative when it comes to finding multiple opportunities for his fighters. He’s not going to allow his client to be put in a situation where the only company he can negotiate with is the UFC. Let’s remember, Lawler was not with EliteXC from day one and despite showing significant improvement competing for ICON Sport, the UFC still didn’t make a strong attempt to bring him back. Anderson Silva vs. Lawler in an unofficial UFC middleweight champion vs. EliteXC middleweight champion bout is intriguing, but far from likely. It would not surprise me to see Lawler competing for Affliction.
Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante – Feijao is managed by Ed Soares, the same manager for Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida. Feijao not only trains under Silva, but also interim UFC heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. He’s completely destroyed his competition since moving to light heavyweight. The UFC is without question the odds-on favorite to be Feijao’s new home. It’s just a question of both sides agreeing on the money. If Feijao is unwilling to take a slight cut in pay, things could get tricky. But I see Feijao taking a step back for a three-fight deal so that he can improve his negotiation leverage following a couple of wins over name opponents.
Antonio Silva – Normally he’d be a no-brainer to go to the UFC but normal circumstances no longer apply to Silva. UFC Vice President of Talent Relations Joe Silva has already been quoted in the past as having an interest in Silva. However, he remains under suspension by the Nevada State Athletic Commision. He will get his day in front of the commission by month’s end and in the unlikely event that the suspension is completely overturned, Silva will be able to advance directly to the UFC and collect much more than $200. If the suspension is upheld and he’s out for the year, he might have to fight a few times outside of the UFC before he receives an offer. However, if it’s reduced to six months, he’ll still likely receive an offer as he’ll only have three months left on the suspension to serve.
Eddie Alvarez – If B.J. Penn defeats George St. Pierre on Jan. 31 for the UFC welterweight title, chances are you won’t see him back in the UFC lightweight division. Without Penn at 155 pounds, the division will lack a big-time draw. While Alvarez is not yet a drawing card in the States, he has all the tools needed to be one of the cornerstones of the UFC’s lightweight division. However, Alvarez is managed by Monte Cox so Zuffa will not be able to get him on the cheap. Even if DREAM folds, parent company FEG is still expected to promote MMA matches on its K-1 shows. Alvarez created a lot of momentum for himself during DREAM’s lightweight Grand Prix and apparently loves competing in Japan. K-1 will reduce the number of MMA fighters it has under contract, but Alvarez is definitely worth keeping around. He also has a contract with Adrenaline MMA and Cox could certainly explore other opportunities for Alvarez in the States. As much as I would love to see him in the UFC, I believe that you’ll see him compete 3-4 times a year in Japan and 1-2 times a year in the U.S. for a promotion such as Affliction or Strikeforce.
Another option to consider is Philadelphia. With MMA having failed so many times as a national business-model, we’re going to see a shift towards regional-based promotions. A lot of people talk about the Strikeforce model but they are successful because they have hometown heros in Cung Le and Frank Shamrock. Well, Alvarez could easily be the Le and Shamrock of Philadelphia. MMA is technically legal in PA but shows aren’t taking place because the rules haven’t been voted on by the House of the Senate yet. As of now, it’s possible the first MMA show in Philly could take place in early-2009 and if that’s the case, a local promotion could build a cottage industry around Alvarez.
Nick Diaz – Personally, I’d love to see Diaz in the WEC so we could see Carlos Condit pushed, but I just don’t see that happening. Diaz is good enough to compete for the UFC at welterweight. However, one Diaz brother might be enough for Zuffa. Considering they were so down on Nick Diaz that they let him walk after he won a UFC fight tells us all we need to know. Zuffa is likely out, and so is Japan, unless Sengoku makes a bid because Diaz has already competed for DREAM and is believed to be owed a significant amount of money. If I was a betting man, I say he ends up competing for Affliction. I think Diaz’s persona will mesh well with a brand that is trying to market edgy clothing.
Wilson Reis – There’s a lot of negative things that can be said about EliteXC, but not everything they did was bad. They missed out on some talent but also brought a lot of new fighters to the forefront such as Feijao, Dave Herman, Brett Rogers, Fabricio Camoes, and of course, Wilson Reis. Reis has exploded from a highly-regarded prospect on the Philly and Jersey MMA scene to a highly-regarded featherweight competitor on the national scene in just little over a year. He’s gained a lot of momentum in a short amount of time but the best is still yet come from the 23-year old jiu-jitsu black belt. Is he ready for Urijah Faber? Not yet, but give him 12-16 months and he will be. And while he’s not ready for Faber, he’s most definitely ready for the WEC’s 145 lbs. division and I believe he’ll end up there sooner rather than later.
Joey Villasenor – I actually believe we will see Villasenor end up in the UFC some point within the next 6-to-8 months. He has the Greg Jackson association and the UFC went after a lot of secondary guys that were on the IFL roster because they were good fighters who could be acquired at an affordable price. I see the UFC finding itself in a situation in the next six months where they need a late-replacement for a PPV fight at 185 and for them to turn to Villasenor.
Murilo “Ninja” Rua – Rua is coming off a loss and the UFC rarely signs fighters in those situations. He also will likely command more money than the UFC is willing to pay. I see Strikeforce as a great option because they aren’t averse to spending money on International talent and he would be an interesting opponent for Cung Le.
Scott Smith – Smith may not have the best record in the world but he’s a great television fighter and has gained a lot of exposure thanks to a stint during the fourth season of TUF, his highlight-reel knockout over Pete Sell during the show’s live finale, and his two CBS appearances against Lawler. The UFC likely will take a pass but Affliction and Strikeforce should both make a play for Smith. Strikeforce likes fighters with California ties because it promotes so many shows in its home base of San Jose, so it appears to be a great fit for Smith.
Paul Daley – I think he’s another lock for the UFC. The UFC wants more starpower in the UK and Daley has the potential to be every bit as big as Michael Bisping, thanks to his outspoken nature and exciting fighting style. With Bisping, Dan Hardy, and Daley all onboard, the UFC would have a nice trio of UK-based fighters to spearhead their European aspirations.
K.J. Noons – The argument as to whether Noons is free to leave EliteXC with two fights left on his contract is a moot point. He can now go wherever he wants. The WEC’s lightweight division is the best place for Noons but Zuffa won’t be an option as long as he is represented by Mark Dion, who is believed to be involved in litigation against the company as a result of the whole Brandon Vera situation. Sengoku is a possibility but I think Noons would also be an ideal fit for either Affliction or Strikeforce.
Dave Herman – Herman is quite the enigma but he’s 11-0 as a fighter with a solid wrestling pedigree. When I saw him compete live for the first time against Mario Rinaldi on the Feb. 16 undercard for “Street Certified,” I thought to myself “How did the UFC not get this guy?” He’s competed twice for EliteXC since the Rinaldi fight and has been totally dominant. He is young and athletic with the potential to be a star and the UFC should sign him immediately.
Brett Rogers – Rogers is another fighter I am surprised EliteXC beat the UFC to the punch on. As with Herman, the UFC should sign Rogers for its heavyweight division because you can never have too many undefeated heavyweight prospects on your roster. A future heavyweight division of Brock Lesnar, Cain Velasquez, Shane Carwin, Herman, and Rogers would look pretty nice. But whether or not Herman and Rogers sign with the UFC will come down to money. Being that they don’t have any wins over top fighters, the UFC may feel like they are unproven and that they should signed to entry-level contracts. Meanwhile, their management might see them as undefeated fighters who have received national exposure via CBS and SHOWTIME. It behooves the UFC to lock them up but I could see them falling through the cracks and ending up with Affliction.
Benji Radach – Radach has a crowd-pleasing style and is 6-1 since ending a three-year hiatus from the sport. The UFC told him he needed to win a fight outside of the organization to garner an offer, and he not only got a victory, but he got it on national television. The thing is, he made at least $40,000 for his last EliteXC fight and with a virtual monoply on the industry, I don’t see the UFC coming close to offering him that. Affliction and Strikeforce are likely his best options.
Cris Cyborg – Whevere Gina Carano goes, Cyborg, and all of EliteXC’s division should follow. Then again, if I had millions of dollars to invest, I’d look at the possibility of going out and signing Carano, Cyborg, Tara LaRosa, Sarah Kaufman, Kaitlin Young, Julie Kedzie, Shayna Baszler, Tonya Evinger, Marloes Coenen, Amanda Buckner, Roxanne Modaferri, Rosi Sexton, Michelle Watterson, Elena Reid and do an all-female promotion with divisions at 115, 125, 135, and 145. Female-only promotions have been done before and failed but one has never been done with all of the top females competing under the same promotional banner. I think there’s a business-opportunity there for someone to capitalize on.
Yves Edwards – Edwards is already scheduled to compete for Strikeforce later this month against the promotion’s current lightweight champion, Josh Thomson. Edwards has beat him once before so a win isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. If Edwards holds the Strikeforce lightweight title, the promotion will probably be able to keep him very active. A loss could mean that he’ll need to return to the regional circuit to fill out his dance card.
These are just some of the more notable names. But much like with the IFL and BodogFIGHT, I didn’t realize just how good of a roster of talent EliteXC had until it was gone. So much like the IFL and BodogFIGHT, EliteXC was guilty of not being able to properly market its fighters and bulld more stars. There’s a whole list of talented fighters that we will see end up competing on the regional level with quite a few of them only needing a win or two before getting another shot with a major national promotion. The names are many and include Fabricio Camoes, Phil Baroni, Nick Thompson, Hector Lombard, Bao Quach, Cyrille Diabate, John Alessio, Jon Murphy, Conor Heun, Edson Berto, Giva Santana, Seth Petruzelli, Matt Makowski, Mamed Khalidov, Shane Del Rosario, Jared Hamman, Po’ai Suganuma, Aaron Rosa, Lyman Good, Paul Bradley, Torrance Taylor, Malaipet, David Douglas, Bryan Caraway, Abel Cullum, Zach Makovsky, Thomas Denny, and Jesse Brock.