When it appeared that the UFC was going to be successful and that a market indeed existed for mixed martial arts, there was really no shortage of opportunists who heard the call of the almighty dollar and took the plunge into the promotional waters.
Many of them did not last very long.
Among these groups was the World Combat Championship (WCC), which was the brainchild of young Christopher Peters. Peters was the son of Oscar-nominated actress Lesley Ann Warren and producer Jon Peters, who was responsible for such immensely successful films as “A Star is Born,” “The Color Purple,” “The Witches of Eastwick,” “Rain Man,” “Batman” and “Ali.”
The first show as held in Salem, North Carolina on October 7, 1995 and drew a crowd that was in excess of 6000. Peters had been able to recruit Renzo Gracie into the event, and another intriguing participant was James Warring, a martial artist of some renown who was one of just a few competitors in history to win world titles in both boxing and kick boxing. Gracie wound up winning the tournament, choking out Warring in less than three minutes in the final. With the television revenue, the show was actually a modest success, although Peters’ financing fell through and the Salem show proved to be the only outing for the WCC. Peters nonetheless stayed in the MMA game, eventually managing such fighters as Frank Shamrock.
Another of these outfits was Martial Arts Reality Superfights (MARS), an Atlanta-based organization that took flight under the stewardship of a doctor named John Keating. MARS started to make big mistakes right out of the gate; Keating was well-meaning but a novice who digested some very bad advice and proved to be an “angel” quite capable of losing a lot of money not completely by his own choosing. An offer was actually made to MARS by TVKO, the pay-per-view sports arm of Home Box Office and Time Warner, but that opportunity was turned down as Keating’s advisors felt more money could be made by undertaking the independent pay-per-view route.
The first show was scheduled for 1996 in Birmingham, Alabama under the guise of being a team event, billed as “Russia vs. Brazil.” Quite a bit of money on travel, accommodations and consultants was wasted from the outset, very little of which went into the product itself. Keating was getting quite an introduction to the fight business. To further that education, he had to endure something that boxing promoters have become very familiar with – the fighter who holds up the promoter in the dressing room before the fight. In this case it was Oleg Taktarov, the Russian who was well-known in the UFC, which had to be compensated for his appearance.
Taktarov was set to tackle Renzo Gracie in the main event of the show, but not before he tried to squeeze some extra money out of Keating under threat of not entering the cage. Keating did not buckle under, but instead assured him that either he would compete as per his agreement or find himself the victim of a “chickening out” story his ring announcer would tell the whole world (well, at least that part of the world that was watching). Such a story might be very believable, since after all, the opponent was a member of the fabled Gracie family. Taktarov relented, then proceeded to get knocked out with a kick to the chin, after which he was hit with a few gratuitous head shots.
Later, he blamed his manager for the “misunderstanding” in the dressing room. That was no comfort to John Keating, who found himself out a lot of money at the end.