The final hours of Affliction as a promotion will go down infamously as the one time powerful mixed martial arts sponsor turned fight organization canceled its show dubbed "Trilogy" just days before the event was set to take place in California.
A positive steroid test from main event participant Josh Barnett led to the decision to scrap the whole show. Affliction vice president Tom Atencio told MMAWeekly Radio in an exclusive interview what the deciding factor was to call a halt to the show entirely.
"We were scrambling looking for a fighter, quite a few guys stepped up to the plate who were wanting the fight. Guys were doing it for a reasonable amount of money, too, which was cool, but just after talking to Showtime, after talking to everybody involved, it just, we couldn't have done it," Atencio commented. "It was a bummer, probably one of the worst things that's ever happened to me."
While much of the MMA world immediately pointed the finger at Barnett for the positive test, Atencio says at the end of the day, it's just business and he holds no ill will towards the former UFC heavyweight champion.
"Could things have been handled differently? Yeah, for sure, but it wasn't and it is what it is. I just move on. I don't look at the past. I only look at the future," Atencio said about the Barnett situation. "Now it's time to turn this around and start sponsoring fighters and get back to what I was doing. I think it's good. We sponsor a lot of great fighters, and a lot of fighters were bummed out when we left the arena and now we're back."
The head of the Affliction fight promotion also says that he has spoken with Barnett about the situation since the event was canceled, and all in all he chalks it up to bad timing for everything.
"I've spoken with (Josh) since and he apologized and, like I said, I even told him it would have been nice to have known ahead of time so I could have at least prepared. So I could have at least said when I found out I have no one to blame but myself now, but the bottom line was I had no clue," Atencio stated. "I had no idea."
The rumors circled following the cancelation of the show that it was the pay-per-view providers that balked at a replacement for Barnett to step in to face Fedor Emelianenko on short notice, but Atencio says it was a group decision due to marketing and not wanting to cheat the fans out of their money.
"We just did not have the time to re-market whoever was coming up. We could not have changed the commercials for all the pay-per-view providers. We couldn't have changed any billboards or put up anything saying main event changed or anything like that," said Atencio. "We could not have risked the fact that somebody ordered it thinking that Barnett vs. Fedor was the main event."
Following the decision to scrap the show all together, it was the partners at Affliction who made the call to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, a company they had longstanding ties with before becoming a fight promotion, and a deal was struck.
"We ended up contacting the UFC and we made a deal and everything else is history," Atencio said. "We're back to where we were, and I'm back to doing sponsorships and it's good for everybody I think."
Since the show's cancellation, the majority of the fighters under contract to Affliction have landed with other promotions, and Atencio says that just about everybody has been financially secured since the show was shut down as well.
"It's my understanding that everybody was pretty much taken care of as far as where they're going. As far as me taking care of everybody, 90-whatever percent of the guys I've taken care of. There's always a few guys no matter what you do it's not good enough, or no matter what you do they're not going to be happy and that's just life unfortunately," stated Atencio. "The vast majority of the guys have been taken care of, they're happy, and we have a continued relationship like I always try to do."
So with the fight promotion shut down for good, Affliction has already started to contact fighters, and fighters have already started to contact them about being back on board with sponsorships. Atencio says that he's happy to be back with the UFC, and that just being a part of MMA is enough for him.
"I've always said I wouldn't be where I was as far as promoting if it weren't for (the UFC). They built this industry," he said. "I'm not a person that likes to burn bridges, you never know what's going to happen."
In the interview, Atencio also disclosed that fighters could be seen fairly soon wearing the Affliction brand back in the Octagon, but he will stand by the fighters who already have existing contracts with other sponsors and not interfere with their deals. As for the fight game, Affliction will always be a part of the sport, as seen by the great many fans that still sport their shirts to every event no matter where MMA is seen.