Shark Fights tries to carve niche
Shark Fights made its pay-per-view debut Saturday in Amarillo, Texas
Shark Fights is another organization trying to separate itself in crowded field
Antonio McKee has earned the opportunity to fight top-tier 155-pounders
As fight towns go, Brent Medley is aware of what he has in Amarillo, Texas.
"That was one of the reasons I knew this would be a good place to start the company out of," the Shark Fights president said last week as his promotion prepared up for its debut pay-per-view event.
Since 1997, when the Unified Shoot Wrestling Federation first held fights in roping arenas and dusty fairgrounds, the Texas panhandle town has propelled mixed martial artists to the highest perches of the sport. Respected names. Evan Tanner. Heath Herring. Paul Buentello. Paul Jones. Medley, a former USWF lightweight champion, thinks TJ Waldburger might be the next fighter to make it out of Amarillo.
Waldburger, the Shark Fights 170-pound champion, heads to Austin on Wednesday for his UFC debut against highly regarded Californian David Mitchell. And while Medley would have happily promoted the 22-year-old welterweight Saturday night, he says he's interested in raising talent that "makes it to the next level."
Judging by the names Medley promoted over weekend, however, he has more ambitious goals. Working with single-fight contracts, sometimes in conjunction with willing promoters, Shark Fights, which debuted in 2008 and just held its 13th event, is yet another organization in a crowded field attempting to differentiate itself from the pack. Few, if any, have ever had a mascot (for what it's worth, Shark Fights is set to unveil one in a few weeks), which Medley sees as a way to reach mainstream viewers with a product he wants to believe is family friendly. (If you watched the pay-per-view for $29.95, you know that's not true because of the indelicate Don Frye.)
Promoters can dress up their show any which way they like, but in the end the amount of attention they're paid should be based on the quality and relevancy of the fights they produce.
On Saturday, Keith Jardine, a veteran of the UFC since the debut season of The Ultimate Fighter in 2005, continued to scuffle, losing his fifth straight, this time to blown-up middleweight Trevor Prangley. What value there was in matching two fighters, both well past any sort of prime and not anywhere near the top of their respective divisions, for the evening's main event is a matter of taste. Jardine and Prangley came to fight for the crowd in Amarillo and those watching at home, especially in the final enthralling minute. But, really, so what? The same could be said for Houston Alexander and Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou. Both known names. Neither top-flight mixed martial artists. It was a fun fight, with Alexander rebounding after serious trouble in the first to destroy Sokoudjou in the second. But outside of the rush that comes with seeing one man come back from the brink, so what?
If there was news to be had Saturday night, it came out of Paul Daley's decision over Jorge Masvidal, and Tarec Saffiedine's impressive three rounds against Brock Larson. Both welterweights set themselves up for bigger fights, though Daley's weak wrestling and struggles against an inflated lightweight may cost him his top-10 ranking -- a lingering result of exposure in the UFC.
Medley intended to mix local Texas flavor with national talent to further brand Shark Fights in Amarillo, which routinely turns out a crowd approaching 10,000, and gain attention among larger MMA media. He accomplished both.
"I knew eventually we'd push to a network or pay-per-view," said the promoter, who hoped for 30,000 to 50,000 buys. "I wanted to do it backward from some of the other promotions we've seen. I wanted to make sure we had packed houses and the live gate was built up enough. The only difference is you come in and plug your cameras into something that shoots it out across the nation."
Even if he's unable to convince consumers, whose dollar is stretched like a locked armbar, to purchase pay-per-views not any better than Wednesday's free UFC Fight Night on Spike TV, Medley will still have Amarillo.
Lightweight Antonio McKee has earned an opportunity to fight top-tier 155-pounders. It does not sound like Zuffa, which promotes No. 1-ranked UFC champion Frankie Edgar, has any interest in signing the MFC champion. But fortunately for the outspoken wrestler, he's in a division that features talent across the globe.
McKee, 40, destroyed Luciano Azevedo (16-9) Friday in Edmonton, Alberta, like something out of a slasher film, pushing his unbeaten streak to seven years and 15 fights.
Heavily criticized and largely ignored by MMA's biggest promoters because of his penchant for playing it safe, McKee (25-3-2) has scored consecutive opening-round victories and is finally emerging in the public consciousness.
It's time for promoters to give McKee a chance, just as it's time for McKee to step in with a ranked fighter and prove how good he really is.