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Coliseum event staggers to the opening bout

Firm promoting mixed martial arts card has been taken to the mat by state athletic commission rules.

June 01, 2007|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

A week ago, the Japanese promoters promising the largest North American crowd to ever watch a mixed martial arts fight card had not received their license to stage Saturday's Showtime and pay-per-view televised show at the Coliseum.

The promoters also have endured two fighters' failed medical results, and they've told state officials of plans to hand out more than 70,000 free tickets.

"It's been an interesting venture, to say the least," said Armando Garcia, executive officer of the California State Athletic Commission.

Japan's Fighting and Entertainment Group (FEG) is co-promoting the nine-fight card with Elite Xtreme Combat, the U.S.-based mixed martial arts organization formed last year by boxing promoter Gary Shaw and others. Elite XC has staged one prior show, in Mississippi, which lacks a commission that demands the licensing requirements of California.

FEG has promoted its K-1 kick-boxing shows in Las Vegas, but the licensing process was handled by the host casino-hotel, such as the Bellagio, Garcia said.

As the deadline approached for an FEG pay-per-view card that will feature former pro wrestler Brock Lesnar and former USC and NFL receiver Johnnie Morton in their mixed martial arts debuts, the Japanese organization was slow to produce financial statements proving to the California commission that the company could finance a show with estimated costs of $2 million in commission fees, site fees and fighter purses, Garcia said.

"This is very much different to [FEG]," Garcia said. "In many places throughout the world, the promoter is the commission. They have their own doctors, they set the fees....This much regulation is new to them."

The medical and ticket issues also have been affected by California's regulation.

The state athletic commission declined to provide medical clearance to two fighters scheduled to appear on Saturday's "Dynamite!! USA" card, including Lesnar's scheduled main-event opponent, 7-foot-2 South Korean kick boxer Hong Man Choi. The other rejected fighter, 300-pound Antonio Silva, was allowed to fight at the Elite XC show in Mississippi.

A source familiar with the medical results of Choi and Silva said each was found to have pituitary gland tumors. Choi was ruled out of the show last Friday, but he continues to appeal.

"We have very strict medical rules in California, they can't just accept out-of-country medical [reports]," Shaw said.

South Korea's Min Soo Kim (2-5 in K-1 competition) will fight Lesnar, a former college wrestler who was a high-profile "champion" performer for the staged World Wrestling Entertainment. In other pay-per-view fights, Morton makes his debut against Bernard Ackah and 40-year-old MMA legend Royce Gracie fights Kazushi Sakuraba.

Michael Kogan, FEG's event producer, said the chaos surrounding the show is under control.

"This is a huge undertaking, but we didn't go into it crossing our fingers that it would happen," Kogan said Thursday at a Los Angeles hotel. "It would be arrogant of me to say I was sitting back in my chair twiddling my thumbs, but at all times we've been confident this event would happen.

"It was crunch time for us. But look where I am now. My fighters are all approved, I'm hoping for a big pay-per-view and to sell even more tickets."

FEG officials chose the Coliseum in an effort to break the national and world attendance records for an MMA show. In March, 19,079 attended Randy Couture's Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight title victory over Tim Sylvia in Columbus, Ohio. In 2002, a Tokyo crowd estimated at 71,000 attended a fight between current UFC fighter Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic and Sakuraba, according to the Wrestling Observer website.

There's a significant discrepancy in the ticket numbers for Saturday's show, however.

Kogan said FEG has sold at least 40,000 tickets ranging from $10 to $100. State athletic officials argue that in an outline of ticket distribution plans, FEG officials reported they planned to sell only 10,000 tickets, distributing 20,000 free tickets to stadium "entertainers" and another 50,000 to fans.

The true numbers will emerge Monday, when the state athletic commission releases its official gate report of tickets sold.

Kogan said despite costs that include a $500,000 bill to use the Coliseum, FEG expects to turn a profit.

"I'm expecting a packed house," Kogan said. "There will be some complimentary tickets, but am I standing out on street corners giving away tickets? No. This event will be an event like no other.

"It's not about ticket sales. We want people to enjoy mixed martial arts for the future of FEG and the future of the sport, and this event will have more exposure than any other MMA event ever produced in the U.S."

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

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