Jay Larkin has been the President and COO of the International Fight League for only a month but he certainly is no rookie when it comes to the fight game. Larkin spent over 20 years at Showtime starting off as a junior publicist and ending as an executive producer. While at Showtime, he helped negotiate some of the biggest fights of the last quarter-century. His foray into the televised boxing world began in 1986 with Marvelous Marvin Hagler’s Middleweight title defense against John Mugabi and ended with Jeff Lacy’s Super Middleweight title defense against Scott Pemberton two years ago. Somewhere in between, he helped broker deals that would see legends such as Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Julio Cesar Chavez fight on Showtime. One of his greatest challenges (and one he succesfully overcame) was figuring out how Mike Tyson, a Showtime-exclusive fighter, would challenge Lennox Lewis, an HBO-exclusive fighter, for his Heavyweight title while satisfying both networks equally. Obviously, many people were responsible for putting that fight together but without Larkin the deal would have never materialized.
Five years later, he is faced with an even greater challenger. His task is to teach America that there is more to MMA than the UFC. For all intents and purposes, his mission begins this Saturday night in Chicago at the semifinals of the IFL Grand Prix. Saturday’s card marks the first-ever live IFL telecast on MyNetwork TV and with no deal in place for 2008 (yet) the league will hope enough viewers tune in to justify a new deal between the two parties. Strangely enough, though, Larkin won’t be at the Sears Centre in Chicago come Saturday. Instead, he will be in Cardiff, Wales overseeing HBO’s telecast of the Calzaghe-Kessler fight.
Confused? So, was I. Below you’ll find some answers in a fascinating interview with the man in charge of taking the IFL to the proverbial next level. Some of the topics Larkin will discuss are:
Why he will be in Wales instead of Chicago on Saturday?
Is he fully commited to the IFL or will he still work on boxing telecasts?
The future of the IFL on MNTV
Will the IFL try to take the spot the UFC was thought to have secured on HBO?
Is the IFL looking to hold their fights in a cage instead of a ring?
The future of Kurt Angle, Ben Rothwell and Mike Whitehead in the IFL
Next Saturday (11/3) is without a doubt the biggest night in the short two-year history of the International Fight League. The league will be holding its first-ever Grand Prix event with the semifinals emanating from the Sears Centre outside of Chicago, IL and the finals on 12/29 from the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, CT. When everything is said and done, the IFL will finally crown a champion in each of its five weight classes. The IFL’s team concept is a novel one and I can potentially see casual sports fans gravitate towards it but this event is long overdue. Surely it will help elevate some new stars and give fans a reason to root for specific fighters and not just teams. (Jarry Park will be previewing the GP all week long with tons of interviews so keep it locked here for the latest)
Sadly, though, this event has a few black clouds hovering above it. First, two of the IFL’s top stars – Heavyweight Ben Rothwell, Light Heavyweight Mike Whiteheadwill not be competing in the event after the league first announced they would be a part of the GP. The reason behind their absence is because the IFL wanted all the fighters competing in the GP to sign a contract for the 2008 season. Makes sense. The league would be foolish to crown an unsigned champion and then have them jump ship to another organization (see: Hart, Bret). Interestingly enough, both men are represented by MMA super-agent Monte Cox and apparently Cox was willing to have Whitehead and Jay Hieron (whose participation in the GP was in doubt for some time but not anymore) sign their extensions but not Rothwell. You see, Rothwell is in the midst of a 13 fight winning streak and is by far the top Heavyweight in the IFL. Cox believes Rothwell will command a lot of money from other organizations once he enters the free agent market at the end of 2007. Clearly, the IFL is aware of this because they have decided to treat this situation as a package deal and if Rothwell didn’t sign they didn’t want to sign Whitehead. Fiveouncesofpain.com’s Sam Caplan spoke to Cox and he had this to say regarding the situation:
“…I called back and I said ‘Whitehead’s in and Hieron’s in’ and they said, ‘What about Ben?’ I told them we’re not going to do anything with Ben (and) that I’m going to wait until the season ends. And they said that ‘If Ben doesn’t sign then these other two guys are out.’ I go ‘What do you mean?’ They said ‘If Ben doesn’t sign then the other two guys can’t fight in the Grand Prix.’…We 100% absolutely said we would sign with (the IFL) and Hieron and they wouldn’t let either guy sign and then they backdoored to get Hieron in and decided not to get Mike.”
We’ll never really know who is truly in the wrong here but the bottom line is the IFL is suffering the biggest consequences because a portion of next week’s GP semifinals will air live on MyNetworkTV at 8 p.m. EST/PST (7 p.m. CT/MT). IFL events have been airing on MNTV and Fox Sports Net for over a year but this will mark the first ever live telecast in the promotion’s history. While the telecast will only run for an hour (hardly enough time to make an impact), its imperative that it draws a solid audience. A good television rating could lead to the 12/29 finals airing live on MNTV but, more importantly, a new TV deal. You see, MNTV and the IFL have yet to agree on a new deal for 2008. You have to believe the MNTV executives will wait to see what next week’s ratings look like before committing to another deal.
Ok, now that we got all that business out of the way let’s look at who will be fighting in the first-ever IFL Grand Prix. Keep in mind that injuries to Brad Blackburn, Andy Reese and Andre Gusmao have changed the card a little bit. There will be two fights in the Lightweight, Welterweight, Middleweight and Heavyweight divisions. The winners in each bout will then move onto the 12/29 finals. However, due to injuries, the Light Heavyweight division will only hold one fight. Thus, a new Light Heavyweight champion will be crowned next week. Onto the card:
The fight I’m most looking forward to is Horodecki vs. Palaszewski II. Their first fight on February 2 2007, won by Horodecki via split decision, is definitely a candidate for fight of the year. Hopefully the rematch won’t be decided by the judges (highlights of their first fight can be found below). I’m really excited to see the IFL live on television for the first time in this new format. Again, keep checking back here for tons of fighter interviews leading up to the event.
Meanwhile, here are some of the highlights from Couture’s presser that was shown live HDNet and proelite.com were:
“I’ve had issues with Zuffa and the company since they bought it in 2001…It’s the little things that make athletes feel appreciated that weren’t done…weren’t being done from my perspective that were done for a lot of other athletes.
“Everyone’s trying to make a big deal out of the money. This was never a money issue. It’s been a prevailing feeling of respect that wasn’t being given for eleven years of my life I have tried to represent this sports with integrity…Represent this sport in a particular way for the owner before and the owners now and I’ve never felt that that was appreciated.”
“I think that the Fertitas and Dana White did a marvelous job in saving our sport. I think our sport was gonna die. Does that mean I agree with all the decisions they’ve made and how they’ve treated a lot of people…no, I don’t agree with a lot of that.”
“I’ve been taken care of, I’m the last guy to complain. People are gonna ask questions ‘oh you’ve signed a contract eight months ago you seemed perfectly happy with that contract then.’ Nah, I wasn’t happy with that contract then.”
“I asked for a signing bonus and wasn’t given one. I don’t really know why but I wanted to fight.”
The general theme, as expected, was that Couture was pissed they were offering huge contracts to the Pride fighters and he wasn’t making close to their contracts.
He said he heard Liddell made close to $17 million last year while his base salary for the Sylvia and Gonzaga fights was $250,000 per fight. He also made one dollar for 100,000 ppv buy and up to three dollars for 330,00 PPV buys. Not exactly the $3.25-3.75 million that had been reported.
He kept saying that it wasn’t about the money yet he kept talking about money.
Once the Fedor match was off the table, he felt as though he had nothing left to gain by staying in the UFC.
Couture claims that his “hollywood agent” (as White has called him) had nothing to do with this because his agent has been with him for a while and he is his sports agent.
“I’m tired of swimming up stream…something needs to change.”
“They were given every opportunity…I expressed face-to-face how I felt…I’m not going to get into a pissing match with Dana.”
Couture says that prior to returning to the UFC he was offered $3 million dollars to fight Fedor in Bodog and took that offer to the UFC. That is when White proposed the Sylvia match.
“I’m saying that I simply left the UFC at this stage. It would be silly for me to sit here and say I’m retiring again… nobody is going to buy that crap, anyway.”
Couture said that he received a bonus after the Liddell fights and the Sylvia fight yet he didn’t receive any kind of bonus after the Gonzaga fight. He was extremely bothered by that.
Couture acknowledged that he has nine more months left on his contract so he seems to be willing to wait it out and then look elsewhere.
Courtesy of RawVegas.tv here are two videos of Randy Couture’s press conference.
What a year its been for Olympic Gold medalist Kurt Angle. First, he leaves World Wrestling Entertainment after a legendary seven-year run. WWE claimed they fired him for repeated drug suspensions; Angle claimed he pulled a fast one on Vince and tricked him into releasing him. Rumors then begin to circulate that Angle is talking with the UFC about fighting for their promotion. Then, all of a sudden, he signs with TNA wrestling and it appears as though his wrestling career is back on track…That is until his name comes up in a Florida steroid investigation, BodogFight begins negotiating an MMA contract with him and he wins the TNA heavyweight title…