As Shine Fights COO Jason Chambers announced on Twitter in the days leading up to the tournament, first-round tournament matches between Drew Fickett and Charles "Krazy Horse" Bennett, Rich Crunkilton and Carlo Prater and James Warfield and Kyle Baker were confirmed by the promotion Wednesday night. Also made official was the fourth bout, Shannon Gugerty vs. Dennis Bermudez.
The promotion's first lightweight grand prix – a single-night, eight-man tournament – will take place Friday at the First Council Casino in Newkirk, Okla., 75 miles south of Wichita, Kan., and is scheduled to air live on pay-per-view.
That's the simple version. Behind the scenes, and the last week publicly, it seems to have been a scramble for Shine Fights just to keep the event alive.
Last Saturday, MMA Fighting was first to report the promotion was moving the event to Oklahoma from Fairfax, Va., where it was originally to take place, because the commission would not license it. A source close to the promotion told MMA Fighting the main issue was Shine's decision to have fans select the first-round matchups via e-mail. Shine Fights CEO Devin Price later said in an official statement that he was given verbal approval for the event a month in advance, but the Virginia commission became concerned with allegations that Shine still had not paid some fighters from its May 15 pay-per-view event in North Carolina, which was scrapped the day of the show.
Once the move to Oklahoma was announced, Oklahoma State Athletic Commission director Joe Miller told MMA Fighting that because the event will be on land owned by the Otoe-Missouria Tribe, the commission has no authority. The event will not be sanctioned by the Oklahoma commission. Miller said Friday's fighters will not be able to get license approval in Oklahoma for a 60-day period following the fight.
On Wednesday, Chambers told MMA Fighting the restrictions and "major concerns" about the event that Miller has were a "non-issue" for Shine Fights. Chambers said the fighters on the card have been told by the promotion's matchmaker that they could face a 60-day license suspension in the state. But Marcus Aurelio told Tapout Radio that he had to hear that from his lawyer.
For Aurelio, that's now a moot point. After Aurelio took a fight with Dream lightweight champion Shinya Aoki at DREAM.16 in two weeks, Chambers told MMA Weekly on Monday that Aurelio was still a part of the Shine tourney – but that his contract with the promotion was an exclusive one and he had not given Aurelio permission to fight for Dream.
On Wednesday, the promotion announced that Aurelio had been sidelined with an injury while training for the tourney and would be replaced by Gugerty. "I am sad to see Marcus pull out of the tournament and wish him a fast recovery," Chambers said in a statement from the promotion.
Though the tickets page at Shine Fights' official website lists a link to the Oklahoma event, its home page banner, as of Thursday morning, still lists the Virginia location, as well as now-scrapped participants Aurelio, Josh Shockley and Hector Munoz. Shockley had to withdraw with an injury and was replaced by Baker; Munoz was replaced by Bermudez.
The event is still planned for a $29.95 pay-per-view broadcast – if it can be found. All the 11th-hour scrambling by the promotion caused DirecTV to pull plans to offer it to subscribers. "We pulled it off the schedule given the possibility that the event may be canceled based on the last-minute venue change ...," DirecTV told MMA Fighting on Wednesday. The event is also not scheduled to be provided by Dish Network, DirecTV's satellite competitor. Comcast, the largest cable provider in the U.S., does not have the event listed. And AT&T's UVerse cable service had the event listed on Wednesday night, but it no longer appears in event searches as of Thursday morning.
Yet, despite all the obstacles, the promotion's official stance remains positive: "It is no secret that we have faced a barrage of challenges with this tournament," Chambers said Thursday in a release. "However, the Shine team has persevered and done an amazing job of ensuring both the fighters and fans get to be part of an amazing show."
Fickett is the tourney's most veteran fighter. At 37-13 with 26 submissions, he has wins over UFC veterans Josh Koscheck, Kenny Florian, Kurt Pellegrino and Dennis Hallman. His opponent, Bennett (23-17-2), has wins over Strikeforce vet KJ Noons and former WEC bantamweight title challenger Yoshiro Maeda.
Crunkilton (16-3) fights for the first time in nearly a year. He started 7-0 in his WEC career, all pre-Zuffa. But with only three fights the last three years due to injuries, going 1-2 in that stretch, the promotion released him last fall. Prater (24-7-1) has wins over UFC vets Spencer Fisher and Carlos Condit, as well as Strikeforce's Pat Healy. He also fought Fickett more than six years ago, losing by submission.
Warfield (21-6) has all of his victories by stoppage. He fought on Shine's second event a year ago, losing to Yves Edwards by triangle. Baker (9-4) would have been a fan favorite had the event remained in Virginia, where he lives and trains. His most notable win came at a Virginia event in April 2009 – a knockout win over Fickett.
Gugerty (12-5) was let go by the UFC in the spring after going 2-3 with the promotion. Back-to-back losses to Terry Etim and Clay Guida sent him packing. Both his UFC wins – and all three of his UFC losses – ended with choke submissions. Bermudez (8-0) is the lone unbeaten fighter in the tournament. He was a Division II All-American wrestler at Bloomsburg (Pa.) University and is a recent training partner of Urijah Faber.