Uprising preview: Can EliteXC compete with UFC?
In America, UFC is MMA. Much like Xerox is synonymous with copy machines and Kleenex is synonymous with tissue, many casual observers still refer to the sport as "ultimate fighting."
However, there is a league called EliteXC that is beginning to take hold and make moves that appear to position it as a legitimate alternative to UFC for fighters and fans alike. EliteXC has a long way to go before it matches UFC in terms of brand recognition or depth and quality of its fighter roster. Still, the promotion has a lot of things going in its favor.
Pro Elite, the parent company of EliteXC, started off strong by recognizing that a TV deal is essential for a league to survive. The company procured a deal with premium cable channel Showtime right out of the gate. Since then, the company has also been open-minded in working with other companies, holding joint events with Strikeforce and King of the Cage (Pro Elite just announced that they bought King of the Cage.) And, now the company has begun buying some of the other established MMA promotions throughout the world such as last week's announcement that the company has bought England's #1 promotion -- Cage Rage -- as well as this week's announcement of the purchase of Hawaii's ICON.
With the Showtime TV contract in place, Pro Elite has also begun holding their version of a developmental circuit known as ShoXC (to mirror Showtime's ShoBox franchise) to showcase (Shocase?) some of the sport's up-and-coming fighters. The Showtime backing along with Pro Elite's reach, which now extends into Europe, should make the company an attractive destination for fighters.
And it seems that it has. Tonight, EliteXC holds an event titled Uprising in Hawaii that will be televised on Showtime live at 10 PM EST (in addition, www.proelite.com will be streaming the undercard fights on its site after the main event.) The event is full of names familiar to MMA fans and intriguing bouts that should provide plenty of skill and entertainment.
The EliteXC middleweight title is on the line as champion Murilo Rua (younger brother of Mauricio) defends his belt against ICON champ Robbie Lawler. Lawler is a former UFC and PRIDE veteran, while Rua made his name coming up in PRIDE.
Another interesting story line features two fights between the BJ Penn camp in Hawaii and the Cesar Gracie jiu-jitsu camp in California. In one fight, former UFC bad boy Nick Diaz (Gracie) goes up against Mike Aina (Penn) in a fight that would put Aina on the MMA map if he could win. Diaz is coming off a suspension for testing positive for pot at a PRIDE event earlier this year in which he defeated PRIDE lightweight champ Takonori Gomi.
The other Gracie-Penn fight features one of the top welterweights in the world, Jake Shields (Gracie). Shields goes up against Renato Verissimo (Penn). A win would go a long way to helping Verissimo's standing in the sport.
Another intriguing fight features middleweight fighter Joey Villasenor (who has PRIDE experience) against Riki Fukuda (out of Pancrase). Villasenor fought and lost to Rua in his last fight in June in the match that earned Rua the title.
While EliteXC appears to be strongest in the men's super-heavyweight, middleweight and welterweight divisions (as tonight's card illustrates), they have also departed from UFC's model by creating a woman's division. Clearly, the centerpiece of that division is Gina Carano, who gets just as much attention (if not more) for her beauty than for her fighting skill. This is Carano's second fight under the EliteXC banner and the kickboxer will fight Tonya Evinger in what should be an entertaining fight in the 140 lb. weight class.
As I watch tonight's card on Showtime, I will be very interested not only in the quality of the fights (and I think they will be good), but also in the quality of the production and the ringside commentary (which has drawn criticism in earlier events). In addition (and this could be the most important part), I will be interested to see what attendance is like for the event and what the viewership numbers are on Showtime.
EliteXC has made major strides in the last year. Tonight's event will be a good measure of where the promotion is compared to the consensus #1 MMA promotion in the country and possibly the world, UFC. And as long as a piece about EliteXC contains references to UFC, we all know the promotion still has work to do...
MMA Madness Radio did a preview of tonight's EliteXC show that you can listen to here.
In addition, MMA Madness has weigh-in pictures for the event that can be seen here (all fighters made weight.)