For a long time, Joe Kelly and the Titan Fighting Championship have been flying under the radar.
Now, with an HDNet deal in his back pocket and some of MMA's biggest names under contract, Kelly, Titan's CEO, is looking at 2011 as a year of growth. That started in January with Titan FC 16 and continues March 25 on HDNet with Titan FC 17. Even though growing and expanding the company is something he wants to do, Kelly said the ultimate goal is simply to put on exciting fights.
"We want to have a show that the fans want to see," Kelly said Tuesday on Bloody Elbow Radio. "Sometimes you can get too caught up in trying to build prospects and compete with Strikeforce, compete with Bellator, compete with the UFC or compete with these other promotions and you kind of take yourself out of your business model. That's not something we're going to do. We have a very structured idea of what we want to do. If we were to expand, they would be in strategic areas where we also have an advantage, whether we have other members of our team that live in that area or I have past relations from the boxing world ... so we'll always grow at a slow, measured pace but we will grow."
Having run many of his shows in Kansas City, Kan., Kelly said Titan is looking at two Midwest venues he has ties with or Philadelphia (due to a partnership with Sam Caplan) as potential homes for Titan's shows outside of Kansas City's Memorial Hall, an arena that falls under Kelly's management group. He said this gives him a lot of advantages that many promoters don't have but it ultimately won't stop Titan from expanding to new markets.
"With that being said, the goal is always to expand," Kelly said. "We have a great TV partnership with HDNet, they made a commitment to us to go out on the road with us as long as everything works out. We're planning on trying to do that in probably May or June. We will be trying to take our show on the road and expand. We'll always expand at a comfortable, measured pace, but we'll definitely continue to grow as a company and not just do our shows here in Kansas City."
Before Kelly takes the show on the road, though, Titan returns to Memorial Hall for Titan FC 17. After having fighters like Rich Clementi, Jason High, Drew McFedries and Tim Sylvia at Titan FC 16, Kelly has brought in Bobby Lashley and Phil Baroni for Titan FC 17, calling it a "really exciting opportunity."
"It's a blend of one of the true original superstars of MMA in Phil Baroni," Kelly said. "Not very often do you have a guy as charasmatic and exciting as Phil. Win, lose or draw, he's always a warrior, always in exciting fights.
"Then a rising star like Bobby Lashley that has amazing crossover appeal from his days in WWE and TNA. ... I feel he's a spectacular athlete that's going to be very, very good in mixed martial arts one day."
Kelly also is excited about one of his homegrown talents, bantamweight Anthony "Shark Bait" Gutierrez, who made his pro debut at Titan FC 16 with a first-round TKO win over Jacob Aiken. The 20-year old returns at Titan FC 17 against Jon Hollis.
"(He's) really exciting, really aggressive, real talented and a student of the game," Kelly said of the 5-foot-11 Gutierrez. "That's a kid to watch out for. By fighting for our organization, he'll be able to fight on TV most of his fights and that'll allow his growth and his experience to shine through. I think he'll be really good. He's just a talented, athletic kid. He's an exciting one to watch. He'll be a future star of this sport. That I can guarantee."
With the future looking solid, Kelly is eagerly awaiting Titan FC 17.
"There's a lot of intrigue," Kelly said. "It's a night of redemption, I guess. Does Phil Baroni have anything left to continue on? If you're a fan of his, you definitely want to tune in and see that. And was that an abberation for Bobby to lose? Is he going to come back in and dominate? ... You never know. It's exciting."
You can hear the complete interview with Kelly, along with chats with Matt Horwich and Tyson Jeffries, on Tuesday's edition of Bloody Elbow Radio. Join us at 4 p.m. ET Thursday for another edition of the show as we're joined by Eliot Marshall.