So far, 2011 has been a breakout year for Titan Fighting Championship. With the success of their first televised fight card on HDNet this past January, and with the recent signings of both Phil Baroni and Bobby Lashley, odds are you’ve heard of the Kansas City based MMA promotion by now.
On March 25, the organization’s second televised card, Titan Fighting Championship 17, will broadcast LIVE on HDNet.
The event’s main card will feature a heavyweight bout between Abe Wagner (8-3) and Aaron Rosa (15-3). Former WWE star Bobby Lashley (5-1) will make his return to MMA after a six-month hiatus to take on James Jack (5-4-1), and “The New York Badass” Phil Baroni (13-13) will face off with Nick Nolte (3-2).
ProMMAnow.com’s (www.prommanow.com) Josh Cross caught up with Titan Fighting Championship CEO Joe Kelly this past week to talk about Titan Fighting Championship 17, the details of Lashley’s signing, their partnership with HDNet, taking their show on the road and where they fit in today’s MMA landscape.
PRO MMA NOW: Can you start off by talking a little bit about this card?
JOE KELLY: The whole goal of the Titan Fighting Championships is to put exciting fights on for television that people want to see. So we started out with the first show and the very first fight we signed was Abe Wagner and Todd Duffee and we all know that we released [Todd] and he went over and fought Alistair Overeem and we replaced him with Tim Sylvia. We also had Rich Clementi and Drew McFedries and Alanzo Martinez and Aaron Derrow and a lot of great people on the first card. Afterwards, it got such a great review that it opened up a lot of doors and a lot of opportunities for us to sign some of the other fighters I know. For this card I’ll start off talking about the Abe Wagner fight. We have Abe Wagner vs. Aaron Rosa. That fight is going to be awesome. You have Strikeforce veteran Aaron Rosa fighting Abe, and it’s a spectacular fight. Abe is a kind of a new found star in the sport after knocking Tim out, so it’s really exciting to have another high quality fight between two guys like that. Then you have the addition of the New York Badass Phil Baroni. He is a special, special fighter. He is one of those rare guys in the sport that is so charismatic, so exciting, that no matter win, lose, or draw, everyone wants to see him fight. He is a true warrior and a true star of this sport. Then, to cap all of that off, we have the crossover appeal of former WWE superstar Bobby Lashley making his return to MMA. It’s a really exciting card and we’re really excited about it. I think the fights are going to be phenomenal. A lot of up and coming prospects on the show too so I think it has got a great blend in what we’re trying to do with national stars while also creating our own prospects that someday will be the stars of tomorrow.
PRO MMA NOW: What can fans expect to see when they tune in to watch the fights?
JOE KELLY: From the way the fights are set up I think they can expect to see fireworks. I think all the fights are competitively matched. You’ve got to take away the fact that you might not know some of the opponents that are fighting Bobby Lashley and Phil Baroni, but all the fights are competitively matched. We made the conscious effort to make sure that the fights were visually appealing and would lead to great television; exciting stand up slugfest with the fight with Phil Baroni and Nick Nolte, and then a great competitive fight for Bobby Lashley. So I think the fights are going to all be exciting, much the same as they were on our previous card.
PRO MMA NOW: Is there any fight or fighter that you think could deliver be a surprise hit or deliver something unexpected?
JOE KELLY: In MMA there is always the opportunity for an upset. We had Aaron Derrow beating Rich Clementi last show. I think that is kind of going to be the same scenario with this fight. I think there is a good shot that Aaron could have a really tough difficult fight and pull off another one of his magic submissions with Alanzon, but that fight is going to be great. It’s a really exciting fight. I think the fight that stands out that is probably going to be the best is Eric Marriott, former Bellator veteran, fighting William DeSouza, who is a Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu black bet and a really highly touted prospect. There is a very big disparity in the number of fights they have had, but that is going to be an awesome, awesome fight. As far as upsets go, you never know. Everyone has got a puncher’s chance. I think the fights will be explosive and exciting and we’re just really happy to have them on.
PRO MMA NOW: You’ve said that this is the first leg of Phil Baroni’s comeback tour, and with this being Lashley’s first fight back, do you think that “comeback” could be the theme of this show?
JOE KELLY: Yeah, I think that is what it is. I think it’s redemption for those guys. Phil is a spectacular fighter. When I do interviews I talk about Phil. Phil has never had an easy fight. I mean you look at Phil’s record, he’s 13-13, but he has fought at the very minimum 24 really good people. He’s always fought good people and he always puts on an exciting fight. Win, lose, or draw, he never fails to disappoint and that’s all you can ask for. That’s why he is so popular, and this is his first leg of his comeback. He didn’t show exactly what he had left in the tank when he fought his last fight. He did really well, scored a knockdown on the Ion broadcast for UFC 125, and he looked like he was well on his way to win that fight and then kind of just lost it. It’s one of those things where, when you start losing fights you know how people say they are not accustomed to losing so they just know how to win well that happens when people win a lot and I think Phil is kind of on the opposite end of that. So this is a great, great way for him to get his confidence back. And for Bobby Lashley, it’s the same thing. We all so on the last Strikeforce show that Chad Griggs is a real fighter. He’s a good fighter and a good heavyweight prospect. I think Bobby was winning that fight, you know had the questionable stand up out of the mount, I don’t know what that was all about, but it kind of switched the fight, Bobby gassed a little bit, and then the rest is history. But this is another way for Bobby to show that he is an elite prospect and has all of the potential to be a champion in this sport as well. So to answer your question, yeah, this is like redemption. It’s comeback, it’s redemption, it’s all those terms and phrases, but it’s a great way for these guys to right their careers and get back on track. We’re happy to have them fighting for us at Titan Fighting, and we look forward to putting on many more fights with both of them.
PRO MMA NOW: Can you give us a little bit of back story of how you were able to get Bobby Lashley on this card? I think it was a real surprise to everyone when you announced that you had signed him.
JOE KELLY: Our company is located in Kansas City. Not many people know that Bobby is from Junction City, Kansas, which is only a few hours outside of Kansas City, so we have that kind of hometown connection. Bobby you know took some time off after his last fight and was waiting for an opportunity to fight that was to his liking. We made contact. We had kind of known each other in the past and talked a couple of times. We had a connection being that both of us are from the Kansas area, and so we started striking up a conversation. He really wanted to make his comeback and he wanted to make it in a place where he could dictate the pace of his fight, how often he wanted to fight, when he wanted to fight, who he wanted to fight, and at Titan Fighting we can do that for him. We could offer him all of these opportunities. So that’s how it came about and we’re just really excited to have him on. I think he is a true heavyweight prospect and a real star in the sport and we are excited to have him.
PRO MMA NOW: Now Titan Fighting Championship 16 was your first televised card on HDNet. Can you talk about your relationship with HDNet and what some of the benefits of working with them are?
JOE KELLY: The neat thing about HDNet is that they have really made a commitment to grow the sport of MMA and give fans a channel that is truly driven by MMA. It’s a channel that you subscribe to, you switch from Time Warner Cable, which doesn’t carry HDNet to DirecTV or Comcast or whatnot because you want that channel and you want to watch MMA. I’ve had the relationship with working with them in the past with M-1 Global and all that and we’ve just been negotiating and talking for about the past year about bringing the Titian Fighting brand to HDNet, and when the opportunity arose we jumped all over it. I feel like we’ve put on some pretty exciting cards and have given the fans a pretty exciting batch of fights to watch. Different from what they already have on their air. They are an amazing partner. They wholeheartedly support us. I couldn’t ask for a better TV partner and it has really helped our brand grow and allowed me to make the commitment to sign the type of fights and fighters that I wanted to. You know it won’t really be worth it for me to put a Bobby Lashley, a Phil Baroni, an Aaron Rosa, and Abe Wagner on a card off TV. I just wouldn’t get the benefit out of it. With them as a TV partner, we can really do those fights and expose fans to Bobby Lashley that may have never seen him other than his WWE career. They’ve just been spectacular, and we are so happy to have them on board with us. They’ve really helped us take our promotion to the next level.
PRO MMA NOW: All of these fight cards take place at the Memorial Hall, which you manage, in downtown Kansas City. Can you talk about the facility and the benefits of holding all of your events in a building you manage?
JOE KELLY: It’s an aspect of our promotion that makes us really unique and a little different than maybe anyone else besides Strikeforce. As you know, the San Jose Sharks group is part of Strikeforce, so they have the HP Pavilion in San Jose that allows them to do kind of a home base show when they need a place to go. It allows us to grow our brand faster. We have a home base and we could do a show every other month in Kansas City, in our market, and we don’t really need to search for a venue. It allows us to do a lot of different things; ticket promos, ticket giveaways, special offers. It allows us to act a little different than someone that is going in and renting an arena. We can kind of organize our arena for the fight. We can make any renovations we need. We can make any changes. We can actually make it a fight-based venue for us, so that really helps. It takes a lot of pressure off as we’re going to start doing shows elsewhere as well. It takes a lot of pressure off from having to go out and find venues, and go out and find 12 different locations to do a show every month. It makes it really easy for us and it allows us to do different things.
PRO MMA NOW: Can you talk a little more about your plans to do shows elsewhere outside of the Memorial Hall and Kansas City?
JOE KELLY: The ultimate goal is to take the show on the road starting maybe either April or June will be the first show. We’re working on an April location right now. If that doesn’t come to fruition then we’ll definitely be on the road in June and start ruining kind of an alternating scenario where we go Kansas City and then another location and do a show every month.
PRO MMA NOW: Bobby Lashley has said that he would like to fight as often as every other month. What do you think the likelihood of that happening is?
JOE KELLY: Bobby and I have been speaking about that for the past three or four weeks since we’ve been working together to structure our deal. Yeah, as long as everything comes together correctly, we have plans later this summer, once Bobby is available, we will having him fighting as often as he wants to fight. So yeah, those are plans that are already in the works, and we are really excited to have him fight for us multiple times.
PRO MMA NOW: Other than taking the show on the road, is there anything else we should be on the lookout for regarding Titan Fighting Championship this year?
JOE KELLY: As of right now we’re going to continue to put on fights like we’re doing. We want to put on fights that the fans want to see. I get asked the question of where do I fit in the landscape of MMA, and I don’t really know. I know we’re on TV and there are not many people that have that. I know that we put on exciting fights, and we’re just going to continue to grow from there. I think the sky is the limit, but I’m very happy with where we are now, and we just want to grow at a pace that is acceptable for us.
PRO MMA NOW: And tickets are still available?
PRO MMA NOW: Anything else that you would want to add?
JOE KELLY: I think this is going to be a really exciting card. I think the fans, especially in the Kansas City and Midwest area, have their second opportunity to come out and see a nationally televised card, which doesn’t happen very often in that area. I think they need to take advantage of it. It’s going to be an amazing card. How often do you get to see Phil Baroni and Bobby Lashley, guys of that caliber, fight on a card all at the same time and have it be live on national television with out partners HDNet.