ProElite insider details company's rapid fall

Publish date:

In an interview with Monday evening, Icon Sport founder T.J. Thompson said crisis management, or lack thereof, brought ProElite down.

Thompson history with Elite began in August of 2007 when he sold his Hawaiian MMA promotion Icon Sport to the then-expanding company. As part of his deal, he entered into a five-year consulting deal with the Los Angeles-based company and participated in many strategic talks with its executives.

A 15-year industry veteran who got his start promoting fights in the backrooms of bars to a couple hundred fans, Thompson got a call Monday morning from EliteXC Head of Fight Operations Jeremy Lappen, who informed him that the company had filed for bankruptcy and everyone in the company would be let go.

Thompson said it was CBS, not Showtime, who backed out of an impending deal to purchase the ailing fight promotion. Last Tuesday, he spoke with Elite CEO Chuck Champion, who said the company had a 50-50 shot of surviving.

"His opinion was that the deal was either going to close in the next two to four weeks, or it was going to crash a lot faster than that," Thompson said.

Though he was not present during negotiations between Elite and CBS, Thompson believes the handling of Elite's third CBS televised card, "Heat," sealed their fate.

"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 JaredShaw jumping up and down and screaming as a representative of the company, I think was disgusting and embarrassing."

Almost as quickly as "Heat" was over, the Oct. 4 show was mired in controversy over comments Petruzelli made to an Orlando radio show. During his interview, Petruzelli implied that EliteXC officials had attempted to influence the outcome of the fight. Subsequent outcry from fans and media caused the Florida State Boxing Commission to open an investigation, another reason Thompson believes CBS pulled out of talks with Elite.

"I don't have a smoking gun, (but) I've been around long enough, I've talked to enough people that were there, I won't name names of executives in the company that I know -- Seth was paid to stand up. I'm confident of that. If the commission wants to talk to me, I'll tell them what I know."

Thompson believes his company and other MMA promotions under the ProElite banner are destined to languish in bankruptcy court, along with EliteXC's fighter contracts. On Tuesday, he will meet with his lawyers to determine whether it's possible to free Icon Sport from its parent company. He's not overly optimistic.

"(The promotions are) there for creditors to go after, really," he said.

As a promoter, Thompson says he's made hundreds of mistakes in his 15-year career. Elite's size and visibility did not give them that luxury.

"When things are going good, anyone can promote a show," he said. "KimboSlice knocking someone out, it's pretty easy to get good ratings. It's when crises happen that you earn your money as a promoter. It isn't an exact science. The people that have been at the helm of EliteXC didn't have the years of experience that are needed to promote MMA shows."