TAMPA — A Tampa company that promotes mixed martial arts events saw its first foray into the international market canceled and its second nearly provoke an international incident complete with time in a Turkish prison for owner and president John Prisco.
Prisco is hoping the third time will be a charm for his Xtreme Fighting Championship.
The company is known to many fans of the sport through its fight cards in the United States, as many as seven a year, and tonight it hosts a night of fights in Sao Paolo, Brazil.
This is the first of 10 XFC events in Brazil in 2014 as part of a new series known as the MMA Copa, where fighters from Latin America will face off against fighters from North America. Each event will be broadcast on Rede Globo, the largest television network in Brazil.
The events will be rebroadcast on satellite entertainment channel AXS TV, formerly HDNET, founded by Dallas entrepreneur Mark Cuban. The channel has been a partner of XFC’s since 2009.
“We’re excited about this new partnership with Rede,” Prisco said. “In order to grow as a brand, we need to continue to reach out to new markets. Brazil is one of the largest international markets for mixed martial arts.”
The first XFC event was held in 2007 at the Dallas Bull, a country nightclub at 3322 U.S. 301 in Tampa.
XFC later expanded to arena shows at the Forum downtown, signed a television contract with AXS and held fight cards outside Tampa in Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, New Mexico and Michigan.
Regular overseas events are the next step.
“Big things are coming for the XFC,” Prisco said. “Hopefully it leads to other countries.”
The expectation of international success hasn’t come easy.
“We’ve been dealt a few harsh blows over the years when trying to expand overseas,” Prisco said. “But we never stopped trying.”
In December 2009, one week before the XFC was set to travel to Berlin for its first night of fights outside the United States, the venue pulled out of the deal.
“A senator was running for re-election in Germany and decided to make banning mixed martial arts part of his platform,” Prisco said. “He beat up on it so bad in the press that the venue owners changed their minds. It was too close to the event to find a new venue, so we had to cancel.”
Then, in October 2010, Prisco was caught in the middle of a financial dispute between Turkey and the owner of a casino resort in the island nation of Cyprus, where XFC was hosting an event.
The Turkish government has self-declared northern Cyprus a “sovereign state” under its rule since the 1970s. The United Nations describes it as an “illegal occupation.”
The Turkish government demanded a portion of the XFC event’s proceeds, but the casino owner refused.
Prisco did not learn of the situation until he and his team of fighters and crew arrived. He was offered an opportunity to cancel but decided the show must go on.
“I’m a fight promoter,” he said. “How would I have looked if I chickened out?”
Forty law enforcement officers under Turkish control lined up inside the venue, and Prisco was convinced he was going to jail.
Fifteen minutes before the fights were set to begin, the president of Turkey had a change of heart. The show was allowed to go on, and Prisco was spared.
“I don’t know what went on behind the scenes, and I don’t care,” he said. “We had a blast, and so did the fans. We had a great night of fights.”
He expects his promotion’s reception in Brazil to be a lot warmer.
“They are big on mixed martial arts in Brazil,” Prisco said. “They are looking forward to our arrival and longterm partnership.”
The XFC has always held open tryouts for unknown fighters in cities that host their fights, winning fans as it goes.
Up-and-coming Brazilian fighters now will have that chance.
“I have no-name fighters who can beat up those so-called stars,” Prisco said. “And they do it for much cheaper.
“We don’t buy champions. We discover them. We’re looking forward to meeting future stars in Brazil.”
This deal with Brazil’s Rede Globo has come at a price, though. The negotiations took longer than expected and forced Prisco to cease plans for a February fight card in Tampa.
Local fans of the XFC need not worry. Prisco said the XFC has signed a deal with the Sun Dome and expects to hold three shows a year there.
“We love travelling the country and the world,” Prisco said. “But we’re always most excited to come home.”