In the words of Titan Fighting Championship CEO Joe Kelly, 2011 was a sort of “soft launch” for the Kansas City based mixed-martial arts promotion. Not only did the organization make its debut on HDNet in January, but it also used the five events it held within the last calendar year to lay a firm foundation from which it will use to launch its expansion efforts in 2012.
On Friday, March 2, Titan Fighting kicks off 2012 with Titan Fighting Championship 21. The event will take place at the historic Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kan. and will be broadcast LIVE on HDNet.
In the main event UFC vet and former Sengoku middleweight champion Jorge Santiago (23-10) will take on fellow Brazilian and submission specialist Leonardo Pecanha (14-7), while Joe Wilk (14-6) is set to face Andrew Carrillo (5-2) in the co-main event of the evening. Also on the card and making his Titan debut will be Joe Ellenberger (12-1) who is the twin brother of UFC fighter Jake Ellenberger.
ProMMAnow.com (www.prommanow.com) spoke with Joe Kelly this past week about the upcoming Titan 21 card, fighters to keep an eye on in 2012, holding events outside of Kansas City, and where the promotion fits in today’s MMA landscape.
PRO MMA NOW: Looking back, how would you summarize the year Titan Fighting had in 2011, and what are some of the things you’ve got in the works for 2012?
JOE KELLY: You know 2011 was a great year. It was our first year with HDNet, so we were really excited about that. We feel that we put on some great shows with high caliber main events that really launched Titan from a mainly regional to mid-west promotion to a promotion that has some real national flavor to it. Last year was our soft launch so to speak to get all of the kinks worked out before we leave and start doing shows in other areas of the mid-west, and that’s the plan for 2012. We have other shows planned throughout the mid-west and our schedule is all the way booked through August so far, so we’re really excited about that. We’ll be taking the show on the road a little bit starting in June.
PRO MMA NOW: How many shows are you planning on putting on this year, and can you elaborate a little bit more on holding shows outside of Kansas City?
JOE KELLY: Well we did five shows in 2011, and we’re probably going to do about eight shows in 2012. Four shows will be in Kansas City and four shows will be out of town to kind of split it up a little bit. We’ve got a really unique show in a really unique setting in June. We don’t have everything finalized yet from a contractual standpoint, but it’s going to be announced here in the next few weeks. Then we’ll be doing a show in Omaha, Nebraska and things like that, so it’s just a really exciting time.
PRO MMA NOW: Earlier this year you signed Anthony “Sharkbait” Gutierrez (4-0), who was recently named as HDNet’s top prospect to watch in 2012, to an exclusive contract with Titan. Can you talk about signing Gutierrez and what he means for your promotion long-term?
JOE KELLY: You know our model is a little different than what I think everyone else’s is. Since we have our TV deal we want to be able to showcase the highest-level fighters that we can. Well obviously the highest-level fighters are in the UFC and Bellator and whatnot, so what we’re trying to do is give access to the prospects because fighters can’t jump right into the UFC. We’re going to have the highest-level and best available prospects and that’s who we’re signing now, and Sharkbait was the first one of many that we’ll be signing over the next few weeks. So our shows will be really top prospect driven with guys that will be future champions and future stars of the UFC moving forward. Obviously we’ll keep smattering in high caliber fights between already established stars like Jorge Santiago and fighters like that, but we also have some really exciting stuff in the works for prospects that we’re signing like crossover people from other sports and guys like that who will be making their MMA debuts. It’s something that will be really spectacular for our brand.
PRO MMA NOW: Now Gutierrez was originally scheduled to be on this Titan Fighting 21 card until he was forced to pull out of his fight with Brandon Pfannenstiel (3-0) because of an injury. Their fight is now scheduled for your May 25 card, but can you talk about the sort of verbal sparring so far between those two, and the fight that is going to replace them on this card?
JOE KELLY: The back and forth banter between those two has been great. I think that there is some genuine dislike between the two of them. I think Brandon doesn’t like Sharkbait because Sharkbait gets a lot of publicity and press from the fights that he had for Titan in 2011. You know I think that there is some, I don’t want to say jealousy, but I think everyone wants to be named that elite level prospect and the next big thing, and I think everyone is going to be gunning for Anthony to take that spot. So every fight Anthony has now he is going to be getting someone’s A game, so not only will that make him better as a fighter, but it will make for much more exciting fights. I can say that there is some genuine dislike between the two of them, and it’s not just some Twitter banter. They just don’t like each other. It’s unfortunate we lost that fight for March 2 because it was going to be a really exciting fight, but we have one of our other prospects Mirsad Bektic who will now be making his Titan debut on TV. Bektic is 2-0, and he is the number one prospect coming out of American Top Team in Florida. We signed him as well to a four-fight deal, so that’s another fighter to really look out for in his fight with Cody Carrillo.
PRO MMA NOW: Now Sharkbait isn’t the only fighter you’ve signed as of late, and it seems like Titan has really started signing more guys than it has in the past. Can you talk a little bit about that and maybe some of the other fighters you’ve signed?
JOE KELLY: During 2011, while we were figuring out what we wanted our model to be and what we wanted to do, we didn’t want to be obligated and not fulfill anything that we had promised to a fighter because that can be very detrimental to your brand. So once we figured out exactly what we wanted to do we’re starting to sign basically all of the best available prospects because everyone needs four, five, or six fights or whatever before they’re ready to go to the UFC or Bellator and what better opportunity for these high level guys to get their first four, five, or six fights on television and create their star before they go into the UFC or Bellator? I think it allows us to showcase much higher talent and what you’ll see moving forward is a lot of these big stud prospects that we’ll be signing will be fighting some former established stars to kind of craft their name and create their own brand. We’re really excited about it and Ramiro Hernandez Jr. is another guy we’ve signed. He’s 12-4, he’s really exciting, and he looks kind of like Roberto Duran with his standup. He’s fighting Kevin Croom who is a guy that beat another one of our fighters, Brian Davidson, on the Bellator show. It’s just a great fight and Brian was the one to beat Jens Pulver a few months ago. It’s going to be a great fight as well. Kevin is a talented guy and trains down at Greg Jackson’s camp. We’ve just got really good fights from top to bottom and I think our matchmaker Ryan Stoddard has done a great job putting this one together.
PRO MMA NOW: Looking at this entire Titan Fighting 21 card, can you talk about what fights your looking forward to and why fans should make sure they don’t miss this event?
JOE KELLY: Well the Jorge Santiago fight is going to be spectacular. Pecanha is a fighter that is very underrated and has fought really tough competition. He’s one of the best ground fighters in all of MMA and he’s fighting Jorge Santiago who was widely considered one of the best middleweights in the world after his Sengoku run going into his past two UFC fights. He hit a little stumbling block but he’s now training down at the Blackzillian camp with Rashad Evans, Tyrone Spong, and all of those guys. That fight is going to be spectacular. They’re both really good at all aspects of the game. Now Jorge is a really great standup Muay Thai fighter and Leonardo is no slouch at that either, but Leonardo’s ground is so spectacular and it’s just going to be a great dynamic. Wherever they go it will be competitive and that’s all you can as for in a main event. This could really propel Jorge back, or Leo into future fights with bigger organizations. That’s what we want to do is give these guys opportunities to grow and reach their goals of fighting for the UFC. We like to think what we do with Titan is great, but we’re not the UFC, and we think people want to go beyond what we do. If we can provide an avenue for them to do that then we’re excited about that. Then we’ve got Joe Ellenberger making his Titan debut and one of my favorites, Joe Wilk, will be fighting another great fighter in Andrew Carrillo. That fight is going to be spectacular. I think competitive matchup wise this is the best card we’ve had from top to bottom.
PRO MMA NOW: Looking at the fighters on the Titan Fighting 21 card and even further into 2012, are there any names of fighters that you think that fans should keep an eye on?
JOE KELLY: I think that since they’ll be fighting multiple times over the course of the year, Anthony Gutierrez and Mirsad Bektic are going to be two future superstars in the sport, and before they reach the big show they will have had most of their fights for Titan. Those are two guys to really watch out for. They’re just two of the best prospects in the game at 135 and 145 and I just think that they’re going to be future stars, so we’re really excited to help them craft the early parts of their career, and that’s what we want to do. We want to provide an opportunity for the stars of tomorrow to shine on TV today, and I think those are two guys to watch out for. We have a few more signees that we’ll announce in the coming weeks, but as of right now for the guys fighting or who were scheduled to fight on the March 2 Titan 21 card, those are the two to look out for.
PRO MMA NOW: Now there is more going on for fans at Memorial Hall than just Titan Fighting 21. Can you talk about the TNA Impact Wrestling show you’ve got the night before the fights, and also the fighters that will be in attendance and signing autographs before Titan 21?
JOE KELLY: Yeah, we’ve got an exciting event with TNA Wrestling on March 1. It’s the first foray for us to promote a show with them so we’re excited about that. Their brand is really growing and they’re kind of doing what we’re doing. They’re giving new stars an opportunity to shine with people like Bobby Roode and Austin Aries and a lot of great fighters that they are showcasing as their champions right now. It’s exciting and that’s kind of what we’re going to do. It’s a great weekend in Kansas City. You can catch a great pro wrestling event on March 1 and come out for Titan 21 the next night and see Jake Ellenberger, JZ Calvacante, and Mike Brown who will all be signing autographs before the show. So three high level fighters that you don’t get to see often that will be there signing autographs and rubbing elbows with the fans.
PRO MMA NOW: Anything else you might want to add?
JOE KELLY: Just that we’re going to continue at our measured pace and grow as fast as we can within what we have, so it’s going to be an exciting year. We’ll definitely be a lot bigger and better than we were in 2011 while maintaining our structured growth platform. We’re excited. HDNet is spectacular and we have a lot of fun fights scheduled over the next few months and we’ll make a big announcement about our May 25 and June 15 shows at Titan 21, so we’re really excited about that.
Tickets for Titan Fighting 21 and the TNA Impact Wrestling show are still available at Ticketmaster.com. For more information about Titan Fighting Championship visit their website at TitanFighting.com and follow them on Twitter (@TitanFighting).