June 2, 2007, FEG teamed up with MMA industry newcomer ProElite and Showtime to change the face of MMA in America with a mega-event in LA’s Memorial Coliseum. They planned to have Hong-Man Choi, Gina Carano, Antonio Silva, Mighty Mo, Ray Sefo, Melvin Manhoef, Jake Shields, JZ Cavalcante, Javier Vasquez, the MMA debuts of Johnnie Morton and Brock Lesnar and the highly anticipated rematch between Royce Gracie and Kazushi Sakuraba. What could possibly go wrong?
The event was in trouble right from the start. FEG couldn’t get a promoter’s license from CSAC, Hong-Man Choi couldn’t get medical clearance for his fight with Brock Lesnar (although that didn’t stop FEG from continuing to advertise that match), Gina Carano pulled out of the event, Antonio Silva was pulled from the event, Gabe Ruediger was announced as a replacement for Javier Vasquez and then quickly pulled from the event, Ray Sefo vs Marvin Eastman was pulled from the event and Sakuraba had trouble getting medical clearance. Events have troubles all the time but all of the above issues were going on two weeks before this huge stadium show was supposed to happen. 22 fighters on the card and 10 days out FEG had only had one of them cleared by CSAC and they still hadn’t put up their bond for the event or got a license to hold it yet. It was beginning to look like a Coliseum sized disaster but in the end FEG managed to get a temporary promoters license from CSAC, find Lesnar a replacement fight and get enough guys medically cleared to actually have an event. I imagine that a lot of FEG officials lost a lot of sleep that week but the hurdles had been cleared and the event was a go, all they had to do was sit back and watch the magic. To quote Mauro Renallo, "Yo, yo, yo, and away we go".
Showtime started with an hour of preliminary fights before the PPV. The announcers were Mauro Renallo, Jay Glazer and Bill Goldberg doing color. The only thing memorable from Jonathan Wiezorek vs. Tim "Big Perm" Persey was that "Big Perm" tested positive for Meth after the event. We got an "interesting" interview with a possibly drunk Phil Baroni and highlights of JZ’s 26 second blistering of Nam Phan then there was Jake Shields getting a trophy for manhandling some guy no one had ever heard of. EliteXC’s part wasn’t good but it wasn’t that painful either, shame the same couldn’t be said for FEG’s PPV.
It’s at this point that DJ Hoppa made his appearance. Apparently FEG thought it would be a great idea to hire a DJ to hype up the event, isn’t that what Americans like? DJ Hoppa was a complete disaster. From mispronouncing names to talking over announcers and fights to actually telling the fans to boo the fighters it just seemed to never end. You have to wonder at just who thought giving a DJ an open mike and complete freedom to say anything he wanted to at any time during an event was a good idea? They did pull out all the stops for their "opening ceremony", from bringing out Dennis Rodman to having a washed up pop group sing the national anthem to having Hong-Man Choi light the Olympic torch to hiring what looked like a parade of circus performers it seemed no expense was spared to blow the first half hour of the PPV.
The show finally got around to former NFL star Johnnie Morton fighting comedian Bernard Ackah. It lasted less than a minute and Johnnie Morton ended up being carried out with a neck brace on a backboard. The golf card ride to the ring lasted longer than Johnnie Morton’s MMA career. Morton also tested positive for steroids and refused to take a post fight test but honestly I think he had enough of MMA in the 38 seconds the fight lasted. "Warpath vs. Might Mo goes around a minute and a half before the expected happens. Dong Sik Yoon and Manhoef tear it up for a round and a half until Dong Sik Yoon gets the armbar in what turned out to be the most interesting fight of the night and Hideo Tokoro caught Brad Pickett with an arm bar early in their fight.
Then we got to Gracie vs. Sakuraba in a fight that had basically everything, that is if you can call butt scooting and clinching everything. They really tried but sometimes 7 years is just too long to wait for a rematch. Both guys looked old. After eight faster paced fights that ended early this one went the distance without offering much at all. DJ Hoppa tried to help out by telling fans to boo these two legends of MMA but to no avail, the fight still plodded along. Royce got popped for steroids and hasn’t fought since; Sakuraba has fought nine more times since then with most fans wishing he would just stop before he dies in the ring.
What could headline over two of the great legends having a rematch of one of the most important fights in the sport’s history? How about the debut of a former pro wrestler vs. a 2-5 judoka late replacement? Yea Brock mauled him as expected and Bill Goldberg gave birth to puppies due to the excitement of it all.
So what was good about the event? Well most of the fights were short. What was bad about it? Pretty much everything else. They did manage to sell 42,757 tickets to the event (about half full for the Coliseum); of course they sold 39,083 of them to themselves. There is no way to actually get a number on the attendance because they allowed entry through non-turnstile gates but the 42,757 is what people have gone with making it the most attended MMA show in North America. The PPV buy rate was 35,000 which means that more people actually had a ticket than ordered the event on TV. K-1 did put the fights on YouTube (without the commentary track thank goodness) which is very nice but it’s just not the same experience as watching the actual event. Fightlinker also did a video summing up the event in their own particular style which is worth a watch.