by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
Just days after both Ben Rothwell and Mike Whitehead were
officially dropped from the International Fight League Grand Prix many stories
started circulating questioning the reasons behind their respective exits from
When Kurt Otto, commissioner of the IFL, on Tuesday
announced that Rothwell and Whitehead were out, he also indicated that he felt
his event was being “held hostage” by the fighters and their management.
MMAWeekly spoke to Monte Cox, manager for both Rothwell and
Whitehead, who explained the situation from the fighters’ side in great detail,
much of which differs from Otto’s explanation of the situation.
Monte Cox in his own words:
The way this all started you have to go back to a year
ago. The IFL wanted to sign everyone to a year contract with a year option. I
said I’m not comfortable doing that for people like Ben Rothwell, Jay Hieron
and Mike Whitehead. These are guys who have already proven themselves and I
think after a year, we’re hoping that they do well and I’d like to test them
then on the open market. We had some trouble getting that done, but eventually
we came to terms and we signed a one-year deal.
When we signed the contract, there was no Grand Prix
included. There was no Grand Prix. They hadn’t even considered it yet. It’s not
in the contract. It’s not included in any of the bouts that they are supposed
When they came out with the Grand Prix and they announced
the names of all the people who were in it, when I first saw my guys, I was
like “wow, that’s bold!” to list all my guys without even asking me if we’re
going to compete in it.
I called the IFL and I go, “What’s with listing the
names?” They go, “Oh no, we’re just listing the names who qualified and if they
decide not to do it, we’ll just change them.” And I thought that was an odd
procedure, but okay.
Then we got down to where we’re a month-and-a-half out
from the show and they say, “Hey, if your guys are going to compete in the
Grand Prix, they have to sign a new contract.” I said, “What?” They go, “Yeah,
you have to sign a new deal.” And I said, “Well that’s interesting; we signed a
one-year deal for a reason. Not to come back and then throw that away then sign
a new one three months early or four months early.”
So they sent us a contract and it ends up it’s a two-year
contract. It’s a one-year with an option and I go, “Hey, we’re not going to
sign any of these. There is no way we’re going to sign on for two more years.”
They said, “Well, if you don’t sign on for two more years, you’re out of the
Grand Prix.” I said, “I guess we’re all out of the Grand Prix.”
Then about a week or ten days ago, they came back and
they said, “We’re sending you new contracts and you have two days. You have to
sign them in two days or else they’re no good.”
I look at the contracts and they’re one-year deals for
Jay Hieron and Mike Whitehead and, honestly, they were pretty good deals. I
liked the numbers, I liked the terms that they had on them and I called the
guys and went through it and I said, ‘I think we ought to sign them. This is
Ben’s numbers were also better, but again, I think Ben’s
a star. I think he’s got a chance to make a lot of money in the sport and we
want to wait until his contract has expired, so I’m free to go out and
negotiate other deals and see what I can get on the open market.
I called the IFL office and I said, “Good news. Jay is
going to compete. Whitehead is going to compete. They’re both going to come in
and sign tomorrow.
They said, “What about Ben?” I said, “You know with Ben,
I’m still not comfortable. I want to wait until his contract is up and see what
he’s worth on the open market.” They said, “If Ben doesn’t sign, the other two
And I said, “What are you talking about?” He goes “Yeah,
they’re out. It’s a package deal.” I go, “Are you (expletive) kidding me? Jay
Hieron and Mike Whitehead, two guys that have done nothing but fight for you,
go out and win for you, qualify for the Grand Prix, and they want to sign a
one-year extension and they want to fight in the Grand Prix, but they’re out
because Ben’s not going to sign?”
It was like blackmail. I won’t stand for it.
They go, “That’s the deal,” and I go, “Well, we’re all
That’s the way it stood. I called all the guys and
explained it to them and the next day the IFL calls (Jay) Hieron and says, “We
need to talk to you in private.”
So they come down and get him in a car and talk to him.
Hieron calls me and he goes, “Monte, you’re not going to believe this. These
guys just tried to make me sign a contract in the back of their car.” I go,
“What?!” and he goes, “They were sitting there trying to tell me I have to sign
this. That you did not represent me well and if I knew what was good for me,
I’d do this.”
I go, “What, are these guys like the Sopranos?” And he
goes, “No, I didn’t do it. I told them I’m not signing anything without my
So I go, “Well, what happened?” and he goes, “They gave
me the contract and said I have till noon tomorrow.”
I said to fax it to me. He faxed it to me and it was the
same contract we already agreed to. So why are they trying to make him sign
something we already said yes to?
As much as I would have loved to have Jay Hieron tell
them to take a flying leap, it was a good deal and everything, so I said,
“Yeah, go ahead and sign it.”
So Jay signed the deal and then (Mike) Whitehead calls me
and says. “What about me?”
I go, “Have these guys called you?” and he said no. He
said, “I’ve been trying to call them, but they haven’t gotten a hold of me.”
So finally Kurt (Otto) got a hold of him and Kurt goes,
“Yeah you can sign, you were supposed to sign yesterday. It was a done deal.
There was a deadline. Didn’t your manager tell you? He knew all about it. He
screwed you over.”
Mike said, “You’ll understand if I tend to believe Monte
on this one?” and he goes, “Well, why can’t I sign right now? Hieron is signing
right now.” And (Otto) said, “Oh no, the deadline passed.
The bottom line is Mike Whitehead has done nothing but
good things for this group. He went on a crappy team. He was the only one that
stood out on that team. He makes the Grand Prix. He wants to fight in the Grand
Prix. He wants to fight in the league next year. He’s ready to sign the new
deal and now that they got their butts hurt over Ben (Rothwell) not signing
like they wanted, Whitehead’s got to be sacrificed? He’s going to take the
pressure for this? I’ve never heard anything more juvenile in my life. And
that’s the way it stands now. They’re out of the Grand Prix.
Now they’re coming back, I’m hearing, “Oh, they’re just
out of the Grand Prix. They can both re-sign for 2008.”
Well, Mike Whitehead has a better chance of becoming an
astronaut than going back to the IFL after the way they just treated him.
It’s like he said, “You’ve got to have some dignity.
Obviously they don’t give a (expletive) about me. Obviously I’m expendable.
They don’t like me for whatever reason. I don’t want to fight for people like
So much for the IFL’s “we care more about fighters”
With all of this going on, rumors have circulated that the
IFL believed a deal was already in place and that was why, when the deal wasn’t
finalized, that the fighters were dropped from the Grand Prix. Cox commented on
that point as well:
Kurt Otto, I hear he keeps claiming, “Oh, we had a deal.
We had Rothwell. We’d agreed.”
Come on, this is business. Until a guy signs a dotted
line, you don’t have a deal. Anyone who doesn’t understand that, they better
not be running a company.
There were times that I told him, “Yeah, this looks good.
We’re thinking of heading back to the IFL.” But in the end, after talking to
Ben, we decided it’s in our best interest to just wait and see what they have
They have a 180-day matching clause. They don’t have to
get all upset. If we get a legitimate deal, they have a chance to match it. So
they can keep Ben if they want him. They’re just not getting him on their terms
and that seems to be a little bit too much for them to handle.
From Cox’s statement, it seems a foregone conclusion that
Whitehead is unlikely to return to the IFL, but what about heavyweight standout
Ben hasn’t been happy with the IFL for a while. He wasn’t
happy when he fought Ricco Rodriguez because Ricco spit in his face and no one
cared. No one did anything about it. That bothered him. He just doesn’t feel
like they care.
Both fighters are still under contract through 2007 and
cannot negotiate with another organization until year’s end.