With the unfortunate cancellation Saturday of the World Cagefighting Organization show billed "The Return" many people were left scratching their heads wondering how the organizers of this event could let it happen. While many questions still remained unaswered at this point, MMANews.com had a chance to sit down and chat with WCO promoter Bruce Bellochi on Monday evening to discuss where things went wrong and to my surprise there appears more was going on behind the scenes than one may have expected.
After what felt like nearly 400 calls to his cell phone over the weekend Bellochi felt it was time to speak and let people know what happened. He didn't expect everything to go down like this and is not sure why. Right now though he isn't feeling the best, "This would have to be the worst thing that could possibly happen to me personally and from a buisness standpoint."
What has been reported is that the funds were not in place to pay the fighters. Although technically that may be true as the funds needed to be in the Valor Fighting account, the money to pay the fighters was in the account of the WCO. The reason this stirred a problem is because Valor held the promoters license and WCO was basically renting their license to put the show on but at the end of the day the money was in fact there for the fighters. The WCO wanted this show, the fighters wanted to fight, and the fans wanted this show to happen. So where did it go wrong?
Bellochi says that it had a lot to do with Rick Bassman and the CSAC. "I went through every hoop they asked me to go through and at the end of it I just had to leave. The crap they were pulling was just ridiculous."
The WCO's promoter's license had not gone through and so Bellochi and Bassman had a contract signed allowing the WCO to use Bassman's promoters license. "It was a $20,000 consultation fee that we had with him. It stated that the WCO was responsible for the show expenses. I've never had a check bounce and I never had any problems in the past. Nowhere in the contract did it say I had to bring Bassman a pile of cash and put it in his bank account." A few weeks before the show Bellochi found out about a show in Connecticut that was cancelled and had found out that Rick Bassman was involved with it. This made him weary considering he was just finding this out and was already doing buisness with him. What happened there was that Bassman wanted the fighters paid with cashiers checks which raised a red flag for Bellochi. "I've had 20 professional fights and have worked with people like Don King and I've never been paid by cashiers check before. Mark Kerr was supposed to fight on his show and pulled out because of that [and] then the commission ended up cancelling the show."
72 hours before the January 12th show, Rick Bassman requested $225,000 dollars be put into his account. Bellochi did not want to do this because of the fact that it was nowhere in the contract and this was news to him. The money was in the WCO account and Bellochi was content with it being there. Bassman did not want it that way and told him it had to be put in the Valor account. Bellochi was weary of this but talked to his investors to see if he could make it happen. After a background check on Bassman, the investor, who Bellochi calls a "squeaky clean guy and if you had a check bounce 10 years ago he isn't going to give you money," came back and told him that they couldn't deal with Bassman and give him money. It was too late to give Bassman the money because they couldn't trust him.
The money was in Bellochi's account on Saturday morning and at 12:20pm his Wells Fargo Branch Manager sent a fax to Armando Garcia saying that the funds were secure. "I told him to get all the fighters together in a room and explain to them that he couldn't cut the checks because I didn't put the money in his account and that they would be dealing with me to get their money. I was fine with that. I didn't plan on screwing anyone over. The fighters would have been fine with this because I was friends with a lot of these guys. We talked it over and the plan was that all the fighters would fight for $100 dollars because Rick only had $3500 in his account and I would pay them at the end of the night. All the fighters said that was fine." All Bassman needed to do was say there wouldn't be a problem. Bassman said no and the commission said no at this point.
Now this is where things get interesting. One week out from the show Bellochi received an email from Zuffa lawyers informing him that they plan to sue him and shut his show down for using the name "World Cagefighting Organization", stating it too closely resembled WEC (World Extreme Cagefighting). "They felt that the public would think it was a WEC show so our lawyers had to go back and forth and it came down to that we didn't have to change the name but that was still only three days before the fight."
As petty as this seems it's hard to ignore and brings to the forefront Zuffa's desire to have a monopoly over the sport. No one wins with those ideals. Every fighter that people want to see are not in the UFC or WEC and trying to halt shows because of something as petty as the word "cagefighting" is exactly that, petty. The fact that cagefighting is not trademarked lead to nothing coming out of the case so at that point the show still had a life. With that behind him, Bellochi then received a text message from an agent who shall remain nameless telling him that: "The UFC doesn't want this show happening Bruce, don't be surprised if something happens and be ready for bumps in the road."
The morning of the show Bellochi met with Bassman and his lawyer and at this point it seemed like they just had excuse after excuse. "I asked them what the problem was, everytime I resolved an issue they kept coming back at me with another. They said they were worried about me bouncing checks and this really annoyed me. I said to him 'In buisness we write checks and if you thought that I was going to bounce checks why the fuck did you get into buisness with me in the first place?' The money was in the account and all Bassman had to do was tell the commission that the show could go on. That little cocksucker wouldn't do anything to make this show happen."
A quick thought flashed through my head so one question I was curious about was whether Bassman had any ties to Zuffa and that gets intersting as well. "Yeah," Bellochi started to explain to me. "He's friendly with their lawyers. He also told me that he's friends with Dana White. Now I don't have any facts to back it up but that's what he told me. He was also one of the guys that told me Zuffa didn't want to see this show happen. After I heard about it I asked him what he thought and he backed it up saying that he felt it was true."
None of this can ever really be proven though and if there was funny buisness going on behind the scenes no one is going to talk about it. The CSAC can't really be to blame because they did go out of their way to make things happen and although it's not against the rules to "rent" out your promoters license, the CSAC recognized Valor as the promoter on record and therefore the funds had to be within their account. Bassman could have easily made the show go on by telling the CSAC that the funds were there even if they weren't in his account. "It's doesn't make sense, he ends up looking like a schmuck too at the end of the day. I don't know what he had to gain from all of this. If I knew the UFC wrote him a check for $50,000 under the table then it would make sense," joked Belloch. "But at the end of it I really am not sure why it went down like this."
At the end of the day there is a lot to be learned for this unfortunate turn of events and pointing the finger in any direction is only really going to lead nowhere. There are still going to be questions left unanswered but that is sometimes the nature of the game. People looked forward to this show. It had a very interesting card and although not filled with top ranked fighters, still had fighters that many fans were looking forward to seeing fight again such as Mark Kerr and Ricco Rodriguez, just to name a few. Renato "Babalu" Sobral was scheduled for the main event and although he's not on the UFC's most-favorite-people list right now he is still a popular fighter amongst fans of the sport.
What will be next for the WCO you may be wondering? "We'll be back. We just have to go back to the drawing board and do some re-thinking. I'll never do anything like I did with Bassman in the future. I'll get my own license from now on." That's probably a good idea to start with. "I just seen over $100,000 flash before my eyes over some bad decisions and unreasonable people. There was a lot of things that fell through because of all this happening. I'll also most likely never do buisness in California again because of the difficulty of the CSAC. They are unpredictable and sometimes hard to deal with."
With a card as filled with as many names as this one was it may be hard to pull off again anytime soon. "I'll do some smaller shows and work my way back up to a big one like this. It's very disappointing for me personally because this was such a good card."
Bellochi also plans to go to his investors and work it out so that the fighters can be paid in full. Bellochi wants everyone to know that he is sorry for what happened.
"I'm deeply sorry to everyone involved that this happened like this. Like I said everything was going so well then it all started to come crashing down. Whether Zuffa was involved, whether Bassman had something to do with it, I don't know. Bottom line is that mistakes were made and I can only hope that the fans and the fighters will still have faith in the WCO. I just want everyone to know that we did not lie to anyone and that we had the money to make this show happen. It was an unfortunate turn of events and I want to assure everyone that this will not happen in the future."
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