By Ben Fowlkes
October 10, 2008

There's a thin, often blurry, line between unethical and illegal. EliteXC walked right up to that line this past Saturday, but it didn't cross it.

Here's what EliteXC did (if we can believe the varying accounts being offered by Seth Petruzelli and Head of Operations Jeremy Lappen): When Petruzelli was offered the bout with Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson at the last minute, EliteXC sweetened the offer with the promise of a knockout bonus.

That's not unusual. It's not illegal or even unethical. Fight organizations often offer incentives for fighters to finish their matches instead of letting them go to the judges.

But EliteXC didn't offer a finish bonus -- it offered a knockout bonus. By Lappen's own admission, EliteXC flat out doesn't give submission bonuses. Not at all.

This is where things get tricky.

EliteXC denies offering Petruzelli extra money to stand and trade punches with Slice, as he originally claimed on a morning radio show. Petruzelli has since backtracked from that claim, and EliteXC has helped him "clarify" those remarks. But in offering Petruzelli a bonus only for a knockout and not a submission, EliteXC's intent was clear: It didn't just want to see a finish to the fight -- it wanted to see a particular type of finish.

That's not the same as telling a fighter how to fight, or asking him not to use some aspect of his skill set, which would be both illegal and unethical. Petruzelli could have, in theory, taken Slice down, put him on his back and knocked him out to receive his bonus. At least, that's what Lappen says.

But when EliteXC said knockout bonus, Petruzelli heard, "stand and bang." He heard, "don't take him down and don't submit him." That might be a miscommunication between fighter and organization, but it's one that EliteXC invited by making this specific offer.

The fact that EliteXC offers knockout bonuses (only to some fighters, mind you) and not submission bonuses makes me wonder if the organization really understands the sport of mixed martial arts. If knockouts are the only type of finish that interests the people at EliteXC, perhaps they should look into promoting boxing. Or, better yet, figure out what MMA is all about.

Rewarding only one aspect of a fight essentially means rewarding only one type of fighter. EliteXC may not have explicitly told Petruzelli to knockout Slice, but it certainly made it profitable for him to do so.

There's a reason there are rules prohibiting this kind of interference from the promoter. Trying to dictate the outcome, even in this relatively subtle way, comes dangerously close to fight-fixing. For a young and growing sport like MMA, even the accusation of fixing is damning. It harms the sport's overall credibility, and EliteXC should know that.

The fact that the promotion doesn't, that it seems to think this unethical but not quite illegal practice was perfectly acceptable, is what should really concern MMA fighters and fans.

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