The mixed martial arts world is abuzz by post-fight comments made by Seth Petruzelli, the little-known, last-minute replacement on CBS' national broadcast of Elite XC fights Saturday who needed only 14 seconds to knock out popular heavyweight Kimbo Slice.
On Monday, while speaking to a Florida radio station about his stunning victory over Elite XC's biggest star, Petruzelli said he was approached by promoters before the bout and encouraged to fight Slice standing up, rather than wrestling him to the mat. That would have played to the strength of Slice, a former street fighter famous for his fights shown on YouTube.
Petruzelli told the radio station that Elite XC promoters "hinted to me, and they gave me the money, to stand and trade with [Slice]. They didn't want me to take him down. Let's just put it that way."
Slice has been the main draw for Elite XC in three nationally televised fights this year. He was scheduled to fight MMA veteran Ken Shamrock last weekend, but Shamrock suffered a cut eye. Petruzelli, who was outweighed by 29 pounds, was put in as Slice's opponent.
But Petruzelli won anyway.
In a sport followed by legions of fans -- with many already skeptical of Slice's MMA credentials -- reaction to his loss was immediate and harsh.
"It's [stuff] like this that will hurt MMA much more so than the whole Kimbo charade," Steve Barry wrote on MMAconvert.com. "People got sick of boxing because of all the corruption, and while this is nowhere near the level of what's taken place in boxing, it all starts somewhere, and it's a road I hope we never see mixed martial arts go down."
Petruzelli has since retreated on his radio comments. And Elite XC officials deny they did anything more than urge Petruzelli to fight an "exciting" match.
Still, Petruzelli's original statements raised some concerns within the MMA community about the lengths a financially struggling company would go to protect its biggest name fighter.
Pro Elite, Inc., Elite XC's parent company based in Los Angeles, reported first-half losses this year of $24.4 million and Showtime Networks has had "exploratory discussions" to acquire assets of the company, according to an SEC filing.
"What happened on CBS makes me sick to my stomach. It disgusts me," said Dana White, president of the sport's dominant organization, Ultimate Fighting Championship. "I've been working . . . for 10 years now to show the world what an amazing sport this is, and what amazing people are in it. It goes against everything the UFC stands for."
The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Slice made his reputation with several underground bouts that became wildly popular on the Internet. In his first MMA-sanctioned bout, Slice knocked out former heavyweight boxer Ray Mercer. Elite XC then signed Slice and the company hoped to profit from the fighter's popularity in nationally televised fights.
But Slice lost some credibility during his third-round victory over James Thompson in May, when Slice spent several minutes getting pummeled on the mat during the second round. And Slice's quick knockout loss on Saturday didn't provide CBS with a compelling main event for an audience of 4.5 million viewers.
"Seth Petruzelli beating Kimbo did nothing for no one except Seth Petruzelli," said Frank Shamrock, CBS' MMA analyst and an Elite XC fighter.
Elite XC officials have spent this week explaining Petruzelli's radio comments.
Jeremy Lappen, Elite XC fight operations chief, said, "Press reports that Elite XC suggested or paid money to . . . Petruzelli to keep his fight against Kimbo Slice off the ground are false. . . .
"Seth Petruzelli was offered a fee to fight Kimbo Slice, plus a knockout bonus, a common practice throughout the industry. Elite XC organizes and promotes fights. We have not, do not, and will not suggest or dictate fighters' strategies or tactics. How the fighters perform in the cage is at the sole discretion of the athletes involved."
Petruzelli has since tried to clarify that the "money" he earned for standing and trading punches with Slice was the knockout bonus.
But Elite XC consultant Gary Shaw said he wouldn't hesitate to "go to a fighter and say, 'We're looking for a stand-up fight.' You're not asking him to throw a fight. You're talking about a fan-friendly fight, not about protecting Kimbo."
Shaw said he has urged MMA fighters in the past to maximize the action, to avoid an abundance of yawn-inspiring wrestling.
"Do I think that's unethical? No," Shaw said. "Because in MMA, you get bonus money for a knockout. I don't see it as unethical . . . asking him to be TV and fan friendly."
Meanwhile, questions persist about whether Elite XC tried to protect Slice from a loss. When Ken Shamrock bowed out of the fight, Frank Shamrock, a former UFC champion (and Ken's adopted brother), said he volunteered to fight Slice.
Slice instead selected Petruzelli.
"It would've been great TV, and Kimbo losing to me, a respected veteran, would've been OK," Shamrock said. "I bet a lot of it was Kimbo's decision. You can see him making it: 'Do I want Frank, with all these records? Or this no-name [Petruzelli] with pink hair?'
"As for Pro Elite, are they looking after their baby? I hope so. Are they conspiring to ensure he wins? I don't think so."
Slice has not commented on his loss to Petruzelli.
Slice will probably be on Elite XC's next CBS show. Shaw acknowledges the ex-street fighter is a "work in progress," but continues selling the charisma of the former bodyguard.
"I don't think the loss does anything. He's got the 'it' factor, like Mike Tyson," Shaw said. "He walks into a building and the place erupts."
Times staff writer Dan Arritt contributed to this report.