The cost of operating World Bare Knuckle Fighting Federation and putting on the organization’s first card more than two months ago seems to grow with each passing week. The looming question, will the bills ever be paid? News continues to spread in regards to monies owed to both fighters and WBKFF staff. Yet each time an apology or explanation is put forth, more and more horror stories are uncovered.
The inaugural WBKFF fight card was held Nov. 8, 2018 in Casper, Wyoming, and here we are, more than two months since the event and it appears as if most, if not all of the competitors are yet to receive any pay.
The WBKFF promotion is owned and operated by Tomasz Stankiewicz. While UFC Hall of Famer Bas Rutten, who assumed the role of WBKFF President, has issued several explanations on social media, and even provided a statement where he alleged that some fighters have received partial payment, only a few competitors are willing to confirm or backup the comment.
To make matters worse, MyMMANews was recently notified that the host hotel received a bogus payment and now more than $70,000 in fees are owed to them.
Clues that the WBKFF would hit a few hiccups along the way started to circulate weeks before the event took place. Fighters began to pull from the card citing contractual issues. Two of the biggest names in this vicious news cycle were former NFL star Shawne Merriman and former Bellator title contender Brennan Ward. Merriman went on Jim Rome’s show to say, ““I don’t know. The ball’s in their court. I literally got a call about two days ago and they are trying to restructure and renegotiate and I don’t understand, how do you do that off of a guarantee? There’s a reason why you sign fighters to a guarantee and you move forward. I’m all about the honesty and the integrity and just doing what I’m saying I’m going to do. This is something, I’ve been in a seven week training camp now…. I’ve been there almost eight weeks now and two weeks before the fight you want to say ‘Hey look, we might have a problem.’? Well, what’s the problem? People want to see me fight. People have already bought the pay-per-view.”
A few days later Merriman was officially pulled from the card.
What started out looking like an extremely shady business, only continues to become more and more untwined. The promotion initially launched after the success of another startup bare knuckle boxing organization held their first card just several months prior. Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship held their first card in Wyoming as well, just five months before WBKFF’s.
A man named Paul Tyler was put in charge of matchmaking for the WBKFF event in November. Tyler apparently had ties to BKFC and was in Wyoming for the June event but then jumped ship to work with Stankiewicz and WBKFF. Tyler’s time with WBKFF was extremely short lived as he did not stay with the promotion and was released before the first event in November.
Rutten and staff took to social media to place blame on Tyler for the contractual issues that led to the WBKFF having problems and then not being able to pay competitors.
After Tyler’s departure, Rutten left two very lengthy detailed posts in response to critics who faulted the promotion for wrongdoing. Rutten claims that the funds which were to be used to pay the competitors are currently frozen but that they will be released and everyone will be paid.
Tyler in return made his own posts and accused Stankiewicz of prior wrongdoings. Tyler’s post also states that WBKFF graphic designers, photographers, pay-per-view production, and ambulance services were not paid.
Tyler then states that Rutten was paid to put out the posts in defense of the WBKFF organization.
“Tom Stankiewicz told me hes got Bas Rutten on his hip Tom pays him every month so he’ll say whatever Tom wants him too everyone loves Bas so they will Believe him and try to use me as a escape goat but it doesn’t make any sense tell them to show proof that I stole money,” Tyler’s Facebook post said.
The key takeaway from Rutten’s most recent December 20 update is that he states the money will unfrozen within four weeks.
“UPDATE DECEMBER 20TH. In 4 weeks the money will be unfrozen, if he by then didn’t pay, go ahead and be super angry, until now I would wait, I KNOW this is a nightmare, trust me I know, but lets give him that chance. There is nothing more then me wanting the fighters to be paid.”
Four weeks from December 20 puts the date at January 17, which is this coming week. Whether some of the funds, all, or any will be released remains to be seen.
$70K Unpaid In Hotel Fees
A staff member at the hotel which hosted WBKFF fighters and staff in Casper during fight week tells MyMMANews, “Yes, this is true. They wrote a check at the end of the stay and unfortunately the check is not good. They owe us a little over 70K. They had a contract with us for rooms and food and agreed to pay at the end of the stay. It is typical for a large group to pay with a company check or credit card at the end of the stay, but not typical for the check to not be any good. We just had no idea that they were not legit especially being sanctioned I just didn’t think that they would burn their bridges in Wyoming.
“Of course we all know that 70K is a federal offense and our company will pursue legal action but I have a feeling that they are professionals at this and have done it more than once,” the staff member said.
Because legal action will be taken, the name of the hotel and the staff members are being withheld.
Should Bas Take The Fall?
Rutten, a well-known, iconic, and loveable figure in the world of combat sports was brought in as the promotion’s President not long before the event took place. He became the face of the organization, his name now forever tied to the promotion. The problem here is that Rutten now becomes the one with egg on his face because he assumed the roles and responsibilities of the organization’s President. Whether Rutten knew all the ins and outs and day to day activities that were taking place before the show is not known which leaves two possibilities. One, the UFC Hall of Famer did not thoroughly look into what he was signing his name on to, or two, he knew. Nobody knows who Tomasz Stankiewicz is, but they all know Bas Rutten.
I don’t think there is a single person in the industry that would say Bas did this on purpose. Nobody is thinking that. Not at all. But, it happened under his watch nonetheless and he probably should have looked into the financials side of things a little before he took that type of ownership. All the apologies in the world can be offered here but there are still unpaid fighters, fighters with injuries, and medical bills. There were athletes that were counting on these payments to help pay for rent, mortgage, car payments, gifts for Christmas.
In the comments section of Rutten’s lengthy Facebook post he went on to say that even he has not yet been paid. We then spoke with former UFC personality Burt Watson who believes otherwise. That conversation, recorded with Watson’s permission can be listened to below. “The Babysitter to the Stars” Watson took a contract position with the WBKFF organization, one he would label as “onsite coordinator.” He states that he himself still has not been paid but that some of the higher profile figures within the promotion have received compensation. Listen below.
What if Stankiewicz cannot come up with the money?
There were 22 fighters that competed on the show, not to mention all the supporting staff members who have yet to be paid. Add to that the more than $70k in hotel fees, and who knows what else is out there pending, and the monies owed is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Dakota Cochrane who defeated former UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks on the WBKFF card, tells MyMMANews that he has received some of the money from the November 8 fight.
“Yes I have received some $. Very little compared to my purse but he (Tom) has sent some. He answers when I call and seems sincere in wanting to get us paid,” Cochrane said.
Joey Angelo, one of the fighters who competed told MyMMANews that he is owed $15,000 plus a brand new Ford Mustang. Rutten addressed the car issue in his December 13 post, stating, “He (Tom)just assured me that the fighters WILL be paid 100% certain, also the cars (Mustangs) that were promised to Julian Lane and Joey Angelo WILL be there once they go through inspection. These cars are ‘one of a kind’ cars, special engine, color, rims, wrap around it, etc, they just need inspection before they are going to be OK’d, that’s why. And since Tom has his mind ONLY on getting money for the fighters, it, unfortunately, it is taking longer.”
Angelo states that he also sustained injuries that required medical attention and those bills too have gone unpaid.
Joey Munoz, who took and won a short notice fight against Marcelo Alfaya, is another fighter to have not yet receive any payment. Relatives of the fighter reached out to MyMMANews asking for help in attempting to get him paid.
“Joey received a check for half of his purse, but unfortunately that check bounced,” one relative said.
MyMMANews has confirmed with Adam LeBarr, who was working public relations/media for the promotion, that he is one of the individuals who has not yet been paid. LeBarr has not come out to publicly lament the organization as some of the fighters have but has distanced himself from the organization.
As previously stated, I don’t believe Rutten was out to do any harm. It seems he too was taken for a ride in this ordeal but at some point, Rutten has to cut ties and stop defending Stankiewicz.
The competitors and family members that were impacted are at a loss. Unless Stankiewicz can mysteriously come up with a large chunk of cash, they will likely never receive their pay and even if they do receive some, it may not be all. That does not mean however that there are no options available. See commission’s comments below about possible class action or individual lawsuits.
Where Did The Money Go?
In Rutten’s posts he states that several sponsors pulled from the event after being promised by Tyler that they would make millions of dollars. It would appear as if the promoters were going to use sponsor money to help fund the card.
Aside from the allegations of Tyler taking some of the money (which if he did, there has been no legal action taken against him as of press time), where was the rest of the money that WBKFF officials were going to use to pay everyone involved?
Were they really banking on sponsor money to cover the costs?
Did they think they were going to get paid for pay-per-view purchases that night? Were the WBKFF executives unaware of how payment for these types of events typically work?
The Wyoming Sports Combat Commission sanctioned the event but did not require the organization to provide athlete payment up front. (More on that below).
The event was available through pay-per-view for a retail price of $29.99.
According to the pay-per-view service provider, they cannot release the number of purchases made due to privacy issues, but they do tell us that they are not owed any money by the WBKFF organization.
The way pay-per-view traditionally works however is that the promotion or event organizers putting on the show do not get paid until 60 to 90 days after the event has been conducted. The reason for this is so that billing cycles have completed and allow for the customer to pay for their purchase. It also allows for any cancellations or non-payments to be accounted for.
If there are enough pay-per-view buys, the organization could possibly pay for some or all of the associated costs, but will it be enough? Will the fighters be satisfied with the extremely late payment? They likely won’t turn the money down as it is owed to them, but would they return should WBKFF decide to hold another event?
We spoke twice to Watson (second of the two conversations is recorded with his permission below). Watson tells MyMMANews that he had his hand in pretty much everything as far as logistics go. Getting fighters to and from hotels and airports, the show, etc.
“In my 30 plus years in boxing and MMA, I have worked with most everyone, but I’ve always gotten paid, up until now,” Watson said.
Watson states that as a contractor, there is a 30-day requirement for his invoiced services to be paid in full. After 60-days he says it is considered late. Now, more than 60 days from the Nov. 8 fight card, Watson remains unpaid.
“I kept believing them because they would call me and give me updates. First, it was let’s just say about three weeks ago. They told me it would be in my account. It wasn’t. Then they called against another week later and said they are working on getting it. Still nothing. Then they called this past Monday and said they would have it in my account Wednesday or Thursday.”
After several calls from WBKFF officials and still no money, Watson feels disrespected.
“I worked with this WBKFF… I did what I do best, plain and simple. I gave my services man. Like I said, I did what I do best, and I don’t think too many people do it better than I do. And I di that. I’ve had conversations with the organization. I know that they were having financial problems,” Watson said.
“A couple of days before the event there was an announcement that there were some financial issues going on in house,” Watson said but states that he did not know the extent of it.
Watson said that he does know that some of the higher profiled fighters did receive some payment up front which is why he believed in the organization.
“I’ve had what I want to be my last conversation with organization (WBKFF),” Watson told MyMMANews after several attempts to receive his money. “As of four days ago I received a direct phone call that said ‘you are going to be taken care of,'” Watson said. “Five days later that didn’t happen, so I’m done. PERIOD! Plain and simple.
“If I got disrespected….. and the amount of money that is owed to me is not comparable to the hotel or what is owed to the main event guys. If I got disrespected to the point where I didn’t get it, and I had a person verbally say to me that it was going to happen and it didn’t happen…. I’m not trusting that to happen,” Watson said.
“As of now, the word of mouth coming from that organization is no good. And it has not delivered. I’m pissed,” Watson said.
“I do know that there are some people who have been paid. I feel even more disrespected with that because I got hired the same time these people did and they got paid and I didn’t. And these are high profile individuals, but I know they got paid. Because I called them,” he continued.
When we told Watson of the Facebook posts put out by Rutten, Watson said, “I’m not trusting that anymore. And, also keep in mind. This event, they had not only high profile names in fighters, they had profile names in talent and the people around them. The production, their on-air talent. They had some pretty high profile names in that production. It wasn’t just the fighters. Some of those high profile talents that they had, I know they got paid. I was told that they got paid. I was told by them that they got paid. But I know damn well I didn’t get paid. And I was told that as of yesterday it was going to be done and it’s not done. I think it is totally disrespectful,” Watson said.
LISTEN TO SECOND OF TWO DISCUSSION WITH BURT WATSON BELOW:
Commission’s Plan To Make For A Better Future
MyMMANews contacted the Wyoming Sports Combat Commission to find out what, if anything, can be done about the situation. While it does not seem the commission will be able to assist the fighters, and it is not their responsibility to fix the hotel issue, it does seem that steps are being made to help prevent further situations like this from happening in the future.
Chairman of the Board, Commissioner Bryan Pedersen returned our call.
“The bonding that we have, does not cover the hotel,” Pedersen said.
Pedersen, a former legislator, tells us that he does plan to present a proposal at the board’s February meeting which if approved would afford more protection for the competitors.
“I am expanding more legislation this year, based on this (WBKFF) experience. We have never had an MMA, or boxing, kickboxing, or bare knuckle event that went awry like this,” he said.
“What I am proposing in legislation is to offer bonding that would cover more of the possible liabilities. We currently don’t cover fighters’ fees. Half the states do, half the states don’t. Some states collect prior to the event, some don’t. We hopefully will have that. Because of the narrow way that we initially drafted the bill was based on Colorado’s legislation at the time, it is limited to cover the expenses that are listed for the commission, not in excess of that. The way these fighter fees and the hotel bill would be handled, the jurisdiction that would handle that, is civil court because it is private contracts. We are not the regulatory body that can enforce the private contracts because the contracts are not made through us. We provide essentially promoter and fan safety as it was created,” Pedersen said.
“In speaking with him following the event, and folks that have been in contact with him have said that he (Tom Stankiewicz) ‘wants to continue in the industry’, but if he does not pay these folks he will not continue in the industry because no one will allow him to put on fights,” Pedersen said.
“What will be interesting will be to see if a lawsuit is filed, whether a class action or individually by the fighters, in time, throughout the Wyoming Civil Court.. It is still a legal contract that is enforced in the state in which the event was written. So, they could sue and then seize his assets, the way normal contract law would work. I do not believe they are helpless underneath law,” Pedersen said. “We’re just not the appellate body in this particular case.”
“I believe in the sport and this could irrevocably damage the sport,” Pedersen said of the WBKFF issue. I know that this has happened in boxing, I know that this has happened in MMA, but that doesn’t make it right or okay. Please know that I am lobbying to change legislation and the soonest that this could come to fruition would be the latter part of February,” he continued.
“I’m trying to do this on an ‘effective immediately’ basis meaning if anyone else holds a show after that date they are protected.
Pedersen said that the current bonding covers up to $10,000 but that the revised plan he propose reads “an amount established by the board, not to exceed the total expenses of the officials, participant purses, estimated gate tax based on full attendance with good and sufficient surety conditions on the faithful performance and conditions of this chapter.”
The Chairman states that there will be “better protection for fighters,” under the proposed legislation. “We established the commission to protect the fighters,” Pedersen said.
The sad reality here is that people were taken advantage of and people were hurt as a result. Whether the promoters did not intentionally mean to do harm, the end result is, they did. If the money was not in the bank, the card should have never been held to be held. If legal contracts were being drawn, they should have been handled by trusted officials who are in control of organizational finances. This is Business 101. We hope that this entire situation is resolved correctly and promptly and are happy to see that legislation is being presented to help prevent further similar situations from happening.
As of press time WBKFF officials, including Tom Stankiewicz were unable to be reached for comment.