Photo above by Jerry Chavez
Shamrock FC will be hosting its 300th show this Friday, December 1, 2017 at The River City Casino and Hotel at St. Louis, Mo. Shamrock FC 300 promises to be one of the Midwest’s most exciting cards of the year with a fight card stacked from top to bottom.
I caught up with Shamrock Fighting Championships President Jesse Finney to discuss the organization’s historic event.
How does it feels to reach this hallmark?
“It feels good. When you think we’re still here after 19 and a half years and 300 shows with over 80 shows in the last four years. Crazy! Crazy! Just in the last four weeks, we’ve put on four shows. It’s a lot of work but I love what I do.
Did you ever imagine taking it this far?
“I definitely wanted to grow it to where it’s at and I think we can only get better. The only organizations out there that are above us are the UFC and Bellator; but if you watch one of our events or if you come to one of our events, the experience and the energy we have going on in the building, I don’t know anybody better.
We’re a team of 1500 people. The production quality that we’re doing is second to none. I don’t know who else out there in MMA, out of say LFA, KOTC, Titan, I would definitely say no matter what, we’re one of the top five organizations now in the United States no question about it especially with our consistancy. Right now we are booked and contracted out half-way through 2019.”
Out of those approximately 3,600 fights, which fighters stood out and got your attention?
“When we were co-promoting the undercards for Strikeforce with Scott Coker back in 2008-2009, I knew Tyron Woodley would be our superstar. I knew Michael Chandler would be a superstar. When Michael Chandler fought on Strikeforce we co-promoted two or three of those cards. A kid by the name of Justin Lawrence is still in Bellator. He was six years old kickboxing on our amateur undercards and now he’s in Bellator. He’s probably two wins away from fighting for the title. So guys like Andrew Sanchez, he’s in the UFC right now. The list goes on and on with talent. To name just one would be short-sighting everybody else and all the guys coming in through the organization. It’s been an amazing ride after twenty years and we will be here for another twenty.
“We are probably the longest running organization out there that has not changed hands. If you look at the UFC – sold; KOTC – sold to Lucas Oil. So, if you look at it we ARE the longest running organization in the country.”
What are some of the obstacles faced that you’ve overcome or mastered?
“Some of the struggles were the fact that we can’t ever think about us as just another organization or just as one individual. There have been times where we had ice storms and snow storms and we’ve lost 50K in one night. The reason we never cancelled shows and I won’t cancel shows is because so many other people are counting on you when you say you’re going to do something. The fighters, the business owners, the auction people, the referees, the judges and all these other people are thinking about money. There have been many times that we’ve taken a bath in twenty years, but we keep pushing forward and say, ‘Hey, listen, this isn’t about us. It’s about the fighters and others depending on this payday’. Thinking about the people who are depending on us like the backstage crew, the cage crew – people count on this money. It’s not just about us because there are times we’ve made a lot of money. I think slow and steady wins the race.
“For me, personally, being in this position I feel grounded. Guys who ego trip, the excitiment, it’s like a nightclub to them and they’re like a club owner. They love it at the beginning but then they forget everyone else. Well, for us we could have signed many many many big-time television deals over the last twenty years but it would have been competing with other organizations. They’ll go away and go left because they want to put their ego in front of their pocketbook. We can’t think like that. We can sign the big television deals but we’re paying for them and then all of a sudden a few years later – out of business. Look at what’s happened in other organizions out there that have done that on numerous occasions. We are NOT one of those. It’s not about us. It’s about the fans and it’s about the fighters.
“For us, all our titles are vacant. Here’s why: Every single title we have is vacant and the reason why is because if you want our title you receive a four or five fight contract leading directly into Bellator. You automatically receive that. So most guys either try to get a title with UFC or they automatically receive a contract to Bellator. So all of our titles always remain vacant and then they move on. We are the only guys out there probably in the world that know that do this. We set up our fighters from the amateur ranks all the way up to the professioal ranks. We set up a path to guide their feet.
“Three fighters who I think could be in battle contention would definitely be Garrett Gross, he’s one of them coming up. Rashard Lovelace is another one and, I’m unsure right now but later on, will be Erion Zekthi. He’s got a really exciting story. He’s three or four fights away from the title shot. He’s a very sharp young man.”
In the crowded bantamweight division, the title shot won’t be given to anyone who lays and prays. Were you referring to any specific fighter?
“No. I have made it very clear to these guys that they need to be more exciting. We personally won’t string them along while they’re getting ready for Bellator. I’m very honest with them. I think I have a very unique style because I was a fighter, a trainer and a manager. Not many guys or promoters out there can say that. I can go and talk to these guys in fighter-fashion and talk with them with the understanding that, hey, if you get the “W” understand that if you go off and sign with another organization, you are representing us. Right? So we can’t get that reputation that our fighters aren’t going to go out and lay it on the line. That’s what they do. Everyone knows that. Erion knows that, Ettling, Demetrious Wilson – they all know it. When you take a guy down you have to be exciting as well. There are many ways to do that. I’m all about the grappling. I like the jiu-jitsu game. I’m a jiu-jitsu guy; but at the same time, they can’t play the whole game down on the matt for fifteen minutes. For us, that’s not just about me. If they want to move their career on, that’s what they need to do. There are many ways. Matt Hughes took people down but he was exciting with wrestling and ground and pound. He was really good at passing guard and submissions which is different than just taking someone down. I’ve made that very clear that other promoters could not be as honest. These fighters come to me and ask me, “What do I need to do?” And I’m going to be honest with them in a very professional way.”
What do you need to see from these guys? With Zekthi you want to see him stand up more and not see so much lay and pray, right?
Correct. I think Erion. if you’ve seen his fights, he’s a very talented wrestler, top control game and he has very elusive moves that he doesn’t use nearly enough. He could continue to get more exciting by standing up on his feet. He needs to work on more ground and pound and to be more exciting on the ground. That’s it. He’s got the whole package. And as far as the other guys, we gotta see Garrett Gross really improve on his wrestling. It’s his Achilles heel all the way through his whole career. There is no one that’s in better shape than Garrett Gross in our organization. He comes to fight. He brings it hard every single time but he’s also one of these guys that can step in and get taken out. Garrett Mueller has got good grinding and is a heavy wrestler. Garrett Mueller holding Garrett Gross down is going to be the key in the main event. Garrett Gross has really improved on his wrestling. He really needs to look at where he’s at. He’s in title contention. As far as Rashard Lovelace, he lost his last fight but he won the first round. He lost the second and third rounds because he was not in shape. I think this time he will definitely be in shape and will come out and prove that. The sky’s the limit for him. Powerwise, he might be one of the strongest guys we have around.”
Do you ever see another grudge match between Ettling and Zekthi?
“I do. I think that’s a match to be made here probably at the end of this. I think another match to be made is between Erion Zekthi and Demetrius Wilson as well. I think Ettling can make the weight cut. He’s a very mentally strong young man.”
Do you expect Matt Hughes to be in attendance?
“I sure hope so. Matt’s had his struggles and he’s getting better; but I think that that’s up to Matt. Matt’s always welcome. He was at the show before last. Just recently at our shows, we’ve had Matt Hughes, Ozzie Smith, Marcus Allen and all kinds of other celebrities. Celebrities really do come out. Tech 9, the rapper, came the last two or three shows. I think we’re really unique in that situation. The stars really do want to come out. We make it an experience. We don’t just make it a fight night like everybody else. We bring in a quality production value which we run as pure entertainment. We try to make it exciting for everybody. We really try to make it a mini-Bellator. We bring in pyro. We bring in lights. We bring in sound for the production value. Nobody does what we do. Nobody.”
Have you seen any marked improvement in any of your fighters that sticks out in your mind?
“That’s on this card? I would say there’s two that I personally have seen a lot of improvement from and that’s Rashard Lovelace and Erion Zekthi. These guys, they know what they need to do which I currently admire and appreciate. They’re training together. What’s great about that is they’re both good at opposite things. Erion is very good at jiu jitsu and Rashard is very good at being elusive – in and out – picking his shots. So they can help each other very much which is important.”
With the Co-Main Event, we have Lovelace and Luke Nelson, a Marine. I can see you appreciate the guys who call out the top contenders. Right?
“Absolutely. It gets them in and it’s a good way to go. It helps them, actually, because it really lets people know who they really want to fight. That’s a very important part of it.”
Adam Cella is coming in with a six-fight losing streak and his opponent Larrea is coming in with a seven-fight losing streak. How do you see that fight going?
“I think with Adam Cella, he’s been having a string of bad luck. To me, the guy has been in the UFC. He’s been in Bellator. He’s been in WSOF – all good organizations. As far as luck, he’s gotten in the UFC, so there’s good luck and bad luck. There’s highs and lows. I think they are a very fair match. Do I think they’ll be UFC world champions or Bellator world champions? No. I don’t; but these guys both lay it on the line and they both are tough. You can’t fault them on that.”
Who is your matchmaker?
“John Donaker, from day number one. He runs all the matchmaking operations.”
What can we expect from you in the future?
“I think for us, we’re going to continue to put on bigger and better shows and continue to soldify ourselves as one of the best organizations. I really believe that. I think it’s debatable who is number three. I think our relationship with Bellator makes us stand out very much. LFA has a good relationship with the UFC and they do a great job but it’s not a garunteed contract. We want to solidify ourselves as the top three organization in the world. We are the longest running organization in the country. Shamrock FC has not changed hands or been sold to somebody else; so I think that should say something.”
Shamrock FC 300 fight card:
Garrett Gross vs. Garrett Mueller
Rashard Lovelace vs. Luke Nelson
Scott Ettling vs. Yohance Flager
Erion Zekthi vs. Jordan Collins
Adam Cella vs. Eddie Larrea
Joe Mueller vs. Matt Murphy
Colin Parr vs. Miguel Lisboa
Justin Angle vs. Mark Kirkland
Jeff Glover vs. Chuckie Brooks
Edrick Dillard vs. Devin Anderson
Jason Gavril Vs. Kirk Vessell
Vince Hutchens vs. Tim Jackson
Shaun Briggs vs. Derrick Davis
Tyler Albert vs. Mark Chappal
Elijah Brockman vs. Dylan Hatley