September 4th, 2009 was a good night.
Miami, as usual, pulsated and sweltered. But now it was intrigued by the new event that graced its downtown arena, the James L. Knight Center. The biggest MMA gym of the state was being honored by a fight promotion naming their athletes as the ones to beat against a crew of top-tier competitors and South Florida came out to pay homage to the spectacle.
“We were right there in American Top Team’s back yard,” said Shine matchmaker Ron Foster. “They essentially gave us anybody who they had available that was high level and available to fight. We had Yves Edwards, we had Micah Miller, obviously we had “Jucao”, we had some really good guys all UFC or WEC vets and the crowd was full of people. “Bigfoot” was there, Jeff Monson was there, Thiago Silva was there. It was full of people there from ATT to support their guys and that helped us to really get a lot of attention.”
(Ron Foster, Photo Credit: MMASpot.net)
After the nominal buzz garnered from Shine 1: Genesis, which took place four months earlier, we wanted to see the product have the ability to reach a diverse audience across state lines, regardless of the lack of a television distribution deal. Rap music and the internet provided refuge as local Miami artist Black Dada performed his summer hit, “I’m A Zoe”, and an online streaming company out of Tucson, Arizona created the digital pay-per-view platform.
“We knew how we wanted to bring this thing along,” said Shine CEO, Devin Price. “The first one was done as a regional show, 'let's learn it.' The second one was, 'let’s stream it, lets get it more out there.' Each one from a learning standpoint was huge but also it allowed us to build up steam. Obviously, doing the fight there allowed for me to meet Ricardo Mayorga, which led to Shine 3.”
It was on the heels of the second outing's success that a courting process began with former unified WBC and WBA welterweight champion Ricardo Mayorga who attended Shine 2: American Top Team vs. The World.
“I met Ricardo Mayorga at a boxing match in South Beach and he came up to me and he was like, 'I want to do MMA,'” said Price. “At first I just thought he was talking sh*t, but then you listen to him and I knew this guy might be serious. Then I thought, 'well he’s a boxer and he may be in a contract still with Don King.' We met with Shine’s legal team and we decided to go with it. MMA and boxing are two separate sports, so it’s not a violation of anybody’s contract. So we signed him and he was happy.”
The event began to take shape. And the now arduous task of finding a suitable opponent to meet both the fickle boxer turned mixed martial artist’s standards, and that of the scrutinizing fighting consumer, was a challenge that Ron Foster had to now overcome.
“At first, my thoughts were, 'Let's get him a warm-up fight because it's different.' Mayorga said, ‘I want to fight the best MMA fighter that you can find me. If it’s not a champion, I don’t want to fight him.’” said Foster. "So he kind of put us up against a wall. If Mayorga would have came out there and got a big win over a highly-touted or highly respected MMA fighter, that essentially would have changed the game.”
Foster reached out to Cesar Gracie to see if Nick Diaz would fight Mayorga, envisioning a trash-talking match of the century.
Eddie Alvarez was a consideration, as was Charles “Krazy Horse” Bennett. The team even spent a weekend out in Las Vegas with K.J. Noons to gauge his interest in a fight with Mayorga. The goal was to find someone crazy enough to not only take the fight, but to stand up and bang with Mayorga instead of instantly attacking his weaknesses on the ground which could instantly end a fight and the chance to extend Mayorga’s mixed martial arts life.
Then the phone rang.
“MMA manager Alex Davis called me and said, ‘What about Din Thomas?’" said Foster. "I didn’t know because Din is a black belt in jiu-jitsu and we know Din would want to take this fight to the ground. I talked to Din and he was a huge boxing fan who always had prided himself in his boxing. He really wanted to give it a shot against Mayorga. So we came back and Mayorga said, ‘Okay I want to fight him.’”
(Shine Fights 3: Worlds Collide/Mayorga vs. Thomas Ad, Photo Credit: Shine Fight Promotions)
The hunt for a supporting cast around the fight was a foot because unlike boxing, in MMA the entirety of the card is the draw, not just the main meal. Olympian Rick Hawn was slated to fight Abu Dhabi jiu-jitsu champion Braulio Estima. Murilo “Ninja” Rua, brother of former UFC Light Heavyweight champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, was set to fight UFC vet Niko Vitale.
Nick “The Goat” Thompson agreed to fight Anderson Silva's Blackhouse product Eduardo Pamplona. The names rolled on and on and Shine was geared toward a card worthy of lofty mentioning.
(Ricardo Mayorga and Din Thomas Separated By Ron Foster, Photo Credit: Peter Giannetti)
“The fact that we were able to secure a pay-per-view deal with Direct TV was essentially unheard of because there were no other MMA promotions getting deals with Direct TV,” said Foster. “It was just the UFC, and we were going to be the first. We had a legitimate world class boxer who had been on cards that sold a half a million pay-per-view buys, if not more.”
(Devin Price, Dorian Price, NYSAC Chairperson, Melvina Lathan and Ron Foster, Photo Credit: Shine Fight Promotions)
The team even went to New York City, hosting the official press conference there with the blessing of Melvina Lathan, Chairperson of the New York State Athletic Commission, who attended the hype fest where Ricardo Mayorga slapped a startled Din Thomas for all the cameras to see.
Behind closed doors, the possibility of bringing MMA to New York State was discussed and her personal approval of the small team of promoter upstarts was given.
But there was still a little matter lingering that no one could yet see. His name is Don King.
“When Don King first reached out and said that he wanted to have a meeting, we had been advertising this fight for five or six months," said Foster. "And now, we’re three weeks away. It didn’t make any sense to meet with him at that point,” said Foster. “We thought that there was nothing positive that would come out of that meeting, other than him wanting to take over.”
“He saw we were starting to gain steam, we were starting to get into bigger publications, we started to get bigger interviews, and it really started to ramp up,” said Price. “Then we got a pay-per-view date and our commercials were running during the Miami Heat NBA Finals. It became real. I really think that he looked at it and said, ‘Oh sh*t, these guys are really going to do that, so let me stop it.’”
A couple of days before the fight, during an open workout in Fayetteville, North Carolina, a group of autograph-seekers were given audience by Mayorga. One of them gave him a picture atop a piece of paper for a signature. When he signed the paper, the picture was was removed, revealing a court document. The man posing as a fan said, “You’ve been served.”
Mayorga gave chase to the now fleeing man, but the damage had been done. Don King was ready to hold battle in Florida’s Broward County Courthouse.
(Don King, Photo Credit: Palm Beach Post)
“At that point, I alerted our PR team and the PPV individuals because the machine was already running,” said Price. “We’re in court, it's Friday and the fight is Saturday. The hearing is at 9:00 am and takes all day. Don King walks into the courtroom early that morning and he’s waving an Israeli flag and an American flag.
"My attorneys were caught off guard because we thought that he was trying to curry favor with the judge, who happened to be Jewish. The judge says, 'I need more information so we will carry this forward tomorrow,' meaning Saturday. They literally opened up the Broward County courthouse for this one case.”
Stay Tuned for Part 3...