September 16, 2006

by Ken Pishna, MMAWeekly.com
Like most new fighting promotions, the rumors started to slowly trickle in about The World Fighter Championships. But with Cesar Gracie in charge of matchmaking duties and the signing of Frank Shamrock to a multi-million dollar deal, the pace picked up quickly. The World Fighter is here and aiming straight for the top spot in mixed martial arts.

Gracie announced his position with the company and the signing of Frank Shamrock on his website, GracieFighter.com, and days later, Sherdog.com published the confirmation from Shamrock that his deal with The World Fighter was a one-year, multi-million dollar proposition. The rumors then started to peak.

As a guest on MMAWeekly.com’s SoundOff Radio with Damon Martin and Jeff Cain, Gracie put the rumors to rest and discussed the new promotion, their plans, and some of the fighters that they have already signed and who they are going after.

Obviously, with the signing of Shamrock, The World Fighter is not looking at taking things slow. “They’ve got some pretty lofty ideas,” said Gracie.

The premise is to have a 16-man tournament in each weight class to determine a champion. Each show will consist of tournament fights, plus a super-fight, thus, the signing of Shamrock.

“The Shamrock name has been here for a long time… a lot of people remember him from the old UFC days. He’s a very exciting fighter… Ken was another one, they sell shows when he fights,” said Gracie in reference to the need to have a big name draw right away because The World Fighter intends to be on pay-per-view from the start. “We’re doing a pay-per-view deal. There are two different networks with offers on the table.”

Gracie and The World Fighter president Jason Aiello are fully aware that to make a splash on the MMA scene in the United States, they have to go after top-tier talent. In addition to signing Shamrock, Gracie has gone after many other name fighters, not all of which he would reveal.

“There are a couple of bigger names that I’m not really allowed to announce right now. There are contracts sitting on some people’s tables right now. I just got off the phone with Matt Lindland’s manager not too long ago. I’d love to have that happen. I think he’s a really good fighter,” said Gracie, naming some of the fighters they are going after. “Joey Villasenor has shown a lot of interest. We sent him out a contract. We’re trying to get the better fighters.”

He also knows that getting the top guys in the world isn’t going to be easy, “Obviously, the best of the best, a lot of the known names… we’re not going to get Chuck Liddell right now, or whoever, because they’re signed on to the UFC. If this thing grows like I think it’s going to, when their contracts are ending, I think they’re going to be jumping over.”

Gracie has already signed quite a few highly regarded fighters though. “[Former StrikeForce champion] Clay Guida is doing it,” he said, as well as confirming the signing of many of his own fighters including MMAWeekly.com’s seventh-ranked welterweight Jake Shields and tenth-ranked Nick Diaz along with Nick’s brother Nathan Diaz.

The thing that, if they are able to sustain it, could really bring the fighters flocking to The World Fighter is money. Shamrock is a good example of the kind of money that they are willing to put forth, but Gracie said that the fighters that compete for them will be compensated at a level that he feels they deserve.

“The winner of the tournament… you make over 2 million dollars on a weight class. That kind of money is huge. A lot of people kind of scoffed at that, but if you look at how much the top pro boxers make, they make $20 million a fight,” commented Gracie. “This thing is really going mainstream. As the money comes in, the sponsors coming in, it becomes more and more popular in the United States; there’s no reason the fighters shouldn’t make what they’re worth.”

Of course, a lot of this type of sentiment has been expressed before. Is The World Fighter really going to have the funding to pull this off or are they relying on future monies coming in from sponsors yet to be secured?

Gracie sounded assured that the money is there now. “With my talks with Mr. Aiello, I believe they’ve already got the money together for the first two or three shows already in the coffers. He’s a financier, so he’s been getting more and more people committed to it. So, the money for the first couple of shows is already in there.”

With such big money being thrown around, it’s likely that most fans and industry insiders will remain a bit skeptical until The World Fighter actually starts putting on shows and proving its worth. But we shouldn’t have long to wait as they plan on their first event, featuring Frank Shamrock in a soon to be announced headline bout, to take place in Las Vegas and on pay-per-view early in 2007.