Four days after it was revealed Josh Barnett had once again tested positive for steroids, one of mixed martial arts' most anticipated heavyweight fights in years is lost, the card it was set to headline is scuttled, and a chief partner in the promotion opted to quit the business.
Affliction Entertainment confirmed Friday that its co-promoted event on Aug. 1 in Anaheim, Calif., with M-1 Global, which received significant attention for a bout between top-ranked heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko and the talented Barnett, was off because it could not "find a replacement and adequately promote the new main event," the company said in a press release.
Hours after officially announcing the card's cancellation, Yahoo! Sports reported Affliction had ceased operations as a promoter and would be reintroduced as a UFC clothing sponsor. Separate sources confirmed the news to SI.com.
Following another late night of deliberations and negotiations over a handful of potential replacements for Barnett, SI.com reported Friday morning that Affliction Entertainment vice president Tom Atencio was informing fighters in the final week of strenuous training that "Trilogy" would not go on as planned. For Affliction Entertainment, which marked its first anniversary as a promoter this month, the decision to cancel meant for the second time in four tries it failed to deliver on a heavily marketed card.
The teething promoter reneged on a proposed fight last October, which is when discussions between Affliction and the UFC began on an arrangement that would put the clothing manufacturer out of the fight promotion business while giving it access to UFC events. When talks fell apart, Affliction held its second card in January and Emelianenko knocked out Andrei Arlovski.
Though many fighters expressed interest in filling the spot vacated by Barnett, with several including Vitor Belfort and Brett Rogers agreeing in principle to fight against Emelianenko, the decision came down to quash the event. It's unclear whose call it was to make. Attempts to reach Atencio for follow up questions have gone unreturned since Affliction, a Seal Beach, Calif.,-based clothing company that jumped into the promotion business after its apparel was banned by the UFC, released its statement Friday morning.
Showtime, which was slated to carry Affliction "Trilogy" on pay-per-view from the Honda Center, declined to comment, as did Michael Cohen of the Trump Organization, a well publicized partner of Affliction Entertainment. HDNet Fights CEO Andrew Simon called the news disappointing. The premium television network was scheduled to air Affliction Trilogy's undercard.
Promoted by and a part owner of M-1 Global, Emelianenko's contractual status is firm. A source told SI.com the No. 1 heavyweight in MMA could resurface on the Russian-based MMA company's foray into major Stateside promotion Aug. 28 in Los Angeles. No opponent was mentioned. He was already scheduled to appear that evening in a grappling match against Gegard Mousasi, who was also supposed to fight Aug. 1 on the Affliction card and is similarly contracted to M-1.
Unlike the EliteXC/ProElite bust that put fighters in limbo for months as the public company attempted to free itself of debt by selling off assets, most of the nearly 40 fighters signed to Affliction contracts appear free to negotiate with other promoters, several sources told SI.com. Non-exclusive language in the contracts already allowed fighters to compete in other organizations so long as the now defunct promoter did not have a date set. And sources confirmed Affliction's time-restrictive multi-fight deals demanding a number of bouts over a set period of time had already lapsed, effectively making fighters free agents.
Barnett, meanwhile, said he would defend himself against the CSAC test, though he doesn't bring much credibility when it comes to steroid allegations. In 2002 following a trouncing of Randy Couture in the UFC, Barnett was subsequently stripped of the organization's heavyweight belt after the Nevada State Athletic Commission imposed a six month suspension for the presence of banned anabolics in his system: Boldenone metabolite, Fluoxymesterone metabolite and Nandrolone metabolite. The commission maintained at the time that the drugs were "stacked" to enhance their result. Barnett also allegedly failed another test in Nevada. That result, nearly five months prior to the Couture fight, wasn't made public nor was a suspension delivered because it came during a trial run of the respected commission's testing for performance enhancers.
Barnett alleged failures in NSAC's testing protocols during a contentious defense in Las Vegas. He continues to deny use of performance-enhancing drugs in advance of the Couture fight. He has also claimed innocence in the wake of California testing that unveiled 2a-methyl-5a-androstan-3a-ol-17-one, an anabolic steroid, in a sample he provided June 25.
Ticket holders for the canceled event should contact Ticketmaster or ticketmaster.com for a refund.