NEW YORK – In less than seven months, ProElite’s respected live fight division, EliteXC, has gained the reputation for delivering consistently competitive, thrilling and memorable live Mixed Martial Arts events that showcase the world’s top fighters.
Under the watchful eye of Live Events President, Gary Shaw, EliteXC and SHOWTIME already have produced many significant accomplishments and has made MMA history on a couple of occasions; the most noteworthy of which: EliteXC is the first and only MMA organization on premium television.
On Saturday, Sept. 15, at Oahu, Hawaii, EliteXC will establish another first when it presents the most significant MMA event in Hawaiian history and the initial collaboration between EliteXC and Hawaii-based promoters and former rivals, ICON Sport and ROTR (Rumble On The Rock). The remarkable event will feature an explosive five-fight telecast airing live on SHOWTIME at 10 p.m. ET/PT (delayed on the West Coast) followed by four fights streaming live at the premier mixed martial arts social networking and entertainment site, ProElite.com.
In an excellent championship main event, Murilo “Ninja” Rua will make his initial EliteXC title defense against always-dangerous ICON Sport titleholder, “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler.
One of the top pound-for-pound fighters in MMA, the well-regarded Nick Diaz will make his anxiously awaited EliteXC debut and first start in six months when he faces Hawaiian star Mike Aina in the “Uprising” semi-main event at Blaisdell Arena.
Diaz trains with Cesar Gracie’s camp in California. Aina is a member of BJ “The Prodigy” Penn’s camp in Hawaii. Their clash will be the second of two gripping Team Gracie vs. Team Penn matchups.
The other Gracie vs. Penn matchup will pit Gracie’s talented, streaking top-10 welterweight, Jake Shields, against Penn’s Renato “Charuto” Verissimo.
The Golden Girl of MMA, sexy Gina Carano will face tough-taking Tonya Evinger in a 140- pound fight while Joey Villasenor and fellow tough guy Riki Fukuda will collide at 185 pounds in the telecast’s other bouts.
With the exception of the championship bout, “Ninja” vs. Lawler, all of the televised bouts are slated for three, 5-minute rounds.
The popular Ninja (14-7-1), who’s aggressive style makes for scintillating scraps, rallied from a first-round knockdown to capture the first EliteXC 185-pound crown with a second-round TKO over Villasenor on June 22, 2007, at San Jose, Calif.
After getting dropped in the opening round, Ninja landed a flurry of punches early in the second before decking Villasenor with a right hand counter. Rua rushed in on the downed opponent and landed several more unanswered blows before the referee halted matters at the 1:05 mark.
“I am really looking forward to fighting again and fighting for the second time with EliteXC,” said the crowd-pleasing ‘Ninja,’ whose strategy will be take the fight to the ground. Ninja possesses power and a good all around game, but he is weakest at standup, which is Lawler’s strength.
“We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” said ‘Ninja.’ “This will be a great fight.”
Ninja is a jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai black belt. He and his brother, Mauricio (“Shogun”), are members of the Brazilian Hall of Fame.
Long regarded as one of the world’s top middleweights, Lawler (14-4, 3-1 in ICON sport) is known for utterly destroying opponents with an aggressive, almost reckless style. Of his 14 victories, Lawler has recorded 11 knockouts with his machine-like power punches,
In an excellent performance, Lawler, of Davenport, Iowa, registered a fourth-round knockout over UFC and Pride veteran Frank Trigg to earn the ICON Sport middleweight belt on March 31, 2007.
A fan favorite who puts as much heart and bad intentions behind his punches and lethal flying knee attacks as anyone could expect, Lawler was supposed to defend on June 30, 2007, but he separated his shoulder and the fight was cancelled. This is his first fight since. “I am ready now,” he said. “Let’s go.”
Highly revered by MMA fans, Diaz owns a win over Lawler and has challenged Frank Shamrock. “I watched his last fight and no disrespect intended, but I think I would whoop his butt,” Diaz said.
Diaz, of Stockton, Calif., will be making his EliteXC debut after fighting some of the sport’s biggest names during a three-year stretch (2003-2006).
“We’ve kept our word about signing fighters and letting them fight in other organizations,” Shaw said. “I think this a great move for Nick. He wasn’t happy or doing well in the UFC; now he can be one of the top dogs.
“As everyone knows, EliteXC is getting better and better. Nick’s still young and a great fighter.”
A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Diaz will be entering the cage for the first time since an impressive gogoplata submission victory over Takanori Gomi in a Fight of the Year candidate that wound up going into the books as a no contest.
For his return, Diaz will compete as a lightweight. When he submitted Gomi in February 2007, he fought as a welterweight.
Aina (8-5-1) specializes in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and kickboxing. He may not have a lot of name recognition, but he is better than his record indicates and owns victories over Rick Screeton, Rosco McClellan, Albert Rios and Kaleo Kwan.
Like Diaz, Aina has never turned down a fight and wants to brawl. “I’m tough,” Aina said. “Standup is my strength, but over the years, I’ve become pretty well-rounded. I can do pretty much everything well, so I’m comfortable anywhere.”
The Hawaiian trains at Penn’s gym in the former oven room of a cracker factory, which has produced a multitude of up-and-coming fighters hoping to emulate the proprietor.
“It’s opened things up for me,” said Aina, a mechanical technician by trade. “My skills have improved by leaps and bounds. I came here a few years ago, and I’m continuing to learn. Over the years, I’ve stayed pretty consistent and I’m looking to just keep going.”
Shields, of San Francisco, is undefeated since December 2004. If triumphant against “Charuto,” Shields may get a shot at the first EliteXC welterweight championship in his next outing. In a division that worldwide is top-heavy in talent, Shields is considered one of the best at 170 pounds.
“Charuto is a tough veteran I’ve been looking forward to fighting,” said Shields, who has upended Yushin Okami, Hayato “Mach” Sakurai and WEC welterweight champ Carlos Condit and recently called out Frank Twigg. “I was supposed to fight Charuto about a year ago so I’m happy it’s finally going to happen.
“This is the kind of fight true fans of ground fighting should really appreciate. We are two good grapplers. But I have been working on my stand up and I’m sure he’s been doing the same.”
Verissimo, a jiu-jitsu black belt, is considered one of the top Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitors in the world. Charuto, which means cigar in Portuguese, is hoping to smoke Shields.
A former world title contender, Verissimo has been in against the best, including Carlos Newton, Matt Hughes and Trigg. This will be his first start since March 2007 when he defeated Lars Haven by TKO. That fight was his first since returning from a self-imposed nine-month retirement.
“It was too important to me to stay away from fighting, especially in Hawaii,” said Verissimo, who is known for accepting bouts only against top-ranked opponents. “I wanted to come back in a good way and show everybody that I could still compete.”
“Charuto” was raised in Rio de Janiero, but moved to Hawaii 10 years ago to become a blackbelt instructor. One of his students was BJ Penn. When Penn started competing in the Octagon, Renato also became involved in MMA. Ironically, Penn trained Verissimo during the latter stages of his retirement.
“I just kept training hard with BJ and then I felt like I wanted to compete again,” he said.
One would be hard pressed to find an athlete in any sport whose star has risen as far and as fast as the incredibly popular, personable Carano (4-0), who is signed to a multi-year contact with EliteXC.
Since a breakthrough performance during EliteXC’s debut event on SHOWTIME in February—her epic victory over Julie Kedzie came in the first nationally televised women’s bout—Carano spent the following months pursuing various outside the ring ventures, including doing fight commentary, interviews, photo shoots and starring in Oxygen’s “Fight Girls” reality television series.
It’s apparent the moment you meet Gina that she’s the epitome of strength; a strong woman by any measure you elect to use: mentally, spiritually and physically. Yes, she is more than a pretty face.
Carano, 24, of Las Vegas, was slated to fight June 2 but contracted an intestinal virus while shooting the Oxygen show in Thailand. She was hospitalized a week for dehydration.
“I’m healthy now and feeling great,” said Carano, who trains at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas. “I was feeling better a week before the June 2 fight, but that wasn’t enough time so I had to withdraw.”
Carano, who got national notoriety for her quote—“We’re not hitting tennis balls. We’re hitting people. Isn’t that more exciting?” —knows better than to underestimate the rugged Evinger.
“I don’t take anyone lightly,” Gina said. “I know I’ve got a big target on me, so I don’t care what a person’s record is, I’m going to train hard and be completely healthy for it.”
Gina had better be fit.
Evinger (4-2, 4 KOs), of Oak Grove, Mo., is regarded as one of the meanest, roughest, toughest athletes in MMA. Her family owns a racetrack, but she doesn’t horse around in a cage.
The confident, fast-taking Evinger, a slammer and banger in the truest sense, doesn’t come to merely win, but to dominate and destroy. A nationally recognized former grappling champion who participated in the Pan American Games, she has been wrestling 13 years, training in jiu-jitsu for four years and kick-boxing for three.
“This fight could make my career, so I want to win bad.” said Evinger, who moonlights as a construction worker at a cement factory. “I can’t tell you yet how she’ll take a loss because I don’t know exactly how tough she is. I guess I will find out soon enough.
“Hopefully this will be an exciting fight all around with me winning. My wrestling is the stuff so all I have to worry about is beating my opponent’s standup. I can take her game away and I think that is the most important part. I want to throw and I know Gina will, so we’ll see who has the heavier hands.
“I love to knock opponents out and that’s what I’m going to do, but I will never risk a fight on a KO if I have a submission available. Either way, Carano had better take a good look in the mirror before the fight because she won’t be able to recognize her face when I am done with her.”
A dedicated athlete, Villasenor lives, breathes and eats MMA. He is never in a dull fight, and will be looking to regain his winning ways against the often-avoided Fukuda.
“Fukuda is a guy nobody wants to fight, but this is a fight I want and I am looking forward to,” said Villasenor, of Albuquerque, N.M., who impressively defeated David Loiseau on Feb. 10, 2007, on SHOWTIME, but lost to “Ninja” by TKO in his last start. “I am ready to prove that the result of my last EliteXC battle was a fluke.”
A five-time King of the Cage champion and former IFC light heavyweight champion, Villasenor established a record for fastest knockout in an MMA fight, a four-second victory over Hank Weis in 2004. “On Sept. 15, I will prove I am back and show what I am really all about,” Villasenor said.
Fukuda does not speak English but his talent and skills speak volumes. Some feel, while still untested, he is legitimate championship material.
Up to now, a guy with a solid wrestling background has been his own worst enemy. Fukuda may be too good for his own good. The talented yet still unknown is too strong for the up and comers, and too risky a proposition for the established guys.
“All I can do is wait for the fights and beat the guys they put in front of me,” said Fukuda, who trains at the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) in San Jose. “Eventually, my time will come and the top guys will have to fight me.”
In his EliteXC and SHOWTIME debut last Feb. 10, Fukuda looked like a future star en route to dominating Chris Gates en route to a first-round submission due to strikes.
“We are very excited about EliteXC working together with ICON and Rumble On The Rock to bring this type of tremendous fight card to the islands on Sept. 15,” Shaw said. “Working together is works and we are going to prove that with a card aptly titled ‘Uprising.’
“This cage fight card from top to bottom could easily be a pay-per-view event. But EliteXC was committed to bringing its first fight card to the islands at no additional cost.”
“ICON was the originator of this sport in Hawaii, but there is no question that ROTR were the innovators,” ICON president Patrick Freitas said. “ROTR came in and definitely raised the bar. Now the two of us, Hawaii’s two largest arena organizations by far, are coming together for the first time.
“The collaboration of these two juggernauts has been a long time coming. At one point, for the longest time, we were our biggest rivals. But now, we are working together with EliteXC to put on what will be Hawaii’s biggest MMA extravaganza. Fans are in for a great night of fights on Sept. 15.”
Offered JD Penn, who heads up ROTR: “This is a natural step up in the process of ROTR. We always had our eyes on the biggest prize. And, for now, this is it. With the expertise from both our groups, ROTR and ICON Sport, and EliteXC, we have the makings of becoming an unstoppable force in MMA.
“I am really looking forward to the first of our many collaborations, and I know fans on the island and viewers on SHOWTIME are, too.”