The Fight Is On!

Mixed martial arts competition is getting vicious -- outside the ring.

Although technically the commission regulates only professional mixed martial arts -- in which contestants are paid -- Mason is also concerned with keeping amateur fighters safe. He wants to make sure that amateurs don't get into the ring with professionals, so he checks several websites for fight results and rankings.

Across the country, mixed martial arts competitions are divided into nine weight divisions, ranging from under 125.9 pounds to over 265 pounds. Colorado rules call for a mouthpiece for each fighter; if the mouthpiece falls, the ref will stop the fight so that it can be replaced. There's no holding the fence or your opponent's shorts. No head butts, no eye-gouging, no biting, no spitting, no hair-pulling, no fish-hooking, no groin shots, no fingering the orifices. No downward elbow strikes, no small-joint manipulation, no shots to the spine or the back of the head, no heel kicks to the kidney, no throat strikes, no clawing, no pinching, no flesh-twisting and no clavicle-grabbing. When someone's on the ground, you can't kick, knee or stomp him in the head. Profanities and unsportsmanlike conduct are prohibited in the ring, and there's no attacking between rounds, on the break or while a fighter is in a ref's care.

But there's also no timidity allowed -- no faking injury or purposely dropping the mouthpiece for a break. A fight ends by submission, a failure to rise from the canvas, a judge's decision, a draw, a disqualification, or if the ref or ringside physician stops it.

Inside the Ocho: Rico Vecc delivers the bad news at 
last Saturday's fight.
Jim J. Narcy
Inside the Ocho: Rico Vecc delivers the bad news at last Saturday's fight.
Come out fighting: Contestants mix it up at the ACF's 
mixed martial arts bout.
Jim J. Narcy
Come out fighting: Contestants mix it up at the ACF's mixed martial arts bout.

While mixed martial arts fighting has exploded, the UFC has been going through some changes of its own. In January 2001, it was purchased by Zuffa LLC, which moved the offices to Las Vegas. That same year, the cable ban was lifted.

Gracie himself still fights. He's lost in Japan, where ultimate fighters consistently get six-figure fees and where events, which sell out huge stadiums, are televised nationally during prime time. But in the UFC, Gracie remains undefeated, and he'll be fighting in the UFC's sixtieth fight later this month in California. "We'd love to come back to Colorado," says UFC president Dana White.

The UFC will find plenty of competition in the state it last visited more than a decade ago. And not only is the competition tougher, but promoters have gotten rougher, always ready to pick a fight with a competitor.

In September 2003, the Lake Tahoe-based International Fighting Championships held the first -- and so far only -- mixed martial arts event at the Pepsi Center. Jeff Weller was announcing from inside the ring at the IFC's Caged Combat and remembers having to watch where he walked, because the hastily assembled ring had a "speed bump" in the middle, and a last-minute spray-paint job turned fighters black when they rolled in it.

"It was just a royal disaster, un-fucking-believable," Weller says of the IFC. "I quit 'em about three years ago because they weren't doing business; they were doing snatch-and-grab."

Paul Smith, the IFC's president, labels Weller a disgruntled employee who's bad-mouthing the IFC because he's with a different promotions company now. "One of the best shows we've done to date was there at the Pepsi Center," Smith says, adding that about 3,800 tickets were sold that night and a total of 5,200 people showed up. But according to Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Pepsi Center, just 2,500 seats of the available 9,000 were sold.

Kroenke spokesman Brian Kitts says the Pepsi Center is open to hosting another mixed martial arts event, and both Bean and the ACF's Vecc have expressed an interest in putting bouts there. But for Gino Carlucci, president of the Worldwide Fighting Championship, one bout in Denver may have been enough.

The WFC established itself with an event at the Denver Coliseum last September. Carlucci had previously booked bouts with a different promotions company in Arizona, but his new outfit calls Colorado home.

Carlucci may be new to Denver fights, but not to legal battles. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed a complaint against him in 2003. The following year, Carlucci was ordered to pay back more than $1 million obtained through a scheme to sell securities to hundreds of investors located primarily in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, perpetrated out of a boiler room in Laos. Carlucci consented to the final judgment without admitting to or denying the allegations in the SEC complaint. "They didn't prove anything against me, and that was the end of it," he says.

In January, the UFC sued the WFC for using its trademarked Octagon. Carlucci settled that dispute by agreeing to pay a licensing fee so that his group can call its eight-sided ring an Octagon.

The WFC's fifth show will be in Cheyenne on May 13, and its sixth at its new home, the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, on May 20. According to WFC media director J. Mesa, pro fighters earn between $1,000 and $6,000 for showing up, and another $1,000 to $6,000 for winning. Last year, the WFC took a lot of unwarranted hits from other promoters, Mesa says. "We were the new guy a few months ago," he notes. "And it's dumb, it's really dumb."

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