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Promoting Extreme Fighting – Extreme Headaches

Donald Zuckerman was one of the few mixed martial arts promoters who was able to, at least for a moment, position himself alongside the Ultimate Fighting Championships in terms of exposure. Zuckerman was an entertainment entrepreneur, who had been involved in the music business, managing such acts as Patty Smyth and Scandal, owned nightclubs like the very popular Ritz in New York City, and produced a movie called “The Low Life,” which starred notables like Sean Astin, Rory Cochrane, Kyra Sedgwick and J.T. Walsh.

Zuckerman obviously had connections in Hollywood, and he was attracted to the idea of MMA very early on, even before the UFC had begun to stage shows. He was a fan of the Gracie family’s “vale tudo” videos, and felt that with his show business flair, he could create quite a production from this kind of competition. Zuckerman thought he had succeeded in taking on Polygram, the huge record company, as an investor. But the company pulled out of the event when it lost a ton of money on the unfortunate promotion of Woodstock II.

Zuckerman regrouped and found an investor in Penthouse magazine publisher Bob Guccione, who installed his son Anthony as an operations executive. Zuckerman’s company, called “Battlecade,” set out to do mixed martial arts shows under the imprint “Extreme Fighting.” The first show was set for November 18, 1995 in Brooklyn. There was really no problem selling tickets, but politics and litigation made the show a genuine headache, and due to a series of circumstances the show was moved to a much safer location – North Carolina – where ironically a state law to ban mixed martial arts had been passed, but had not gone into affect yet. The show was a spectacle, with Penthouse Pets parading around the venue. Zuckerman got Carlson Gracie Jr. and Ralph Gracie to participate; and for the first time, there were separate weight classes, something the UFC had not done yet.

Marcus Silvera won the heavyweight class in the first EF show, and Carlson Gracie Jr. fought to a draw in the “superfight.” To avoid the kind of anti-MMA sentiment that was permeating the U.S. as a result of Senator John McCain’s vainglorious efforts, the second Extreme Fighting show was set for Canada, on the Kahnawake Mohawk reservation. But this time Zuckerman had to worry about the governments of Canada and Quebec. Even though the show itself couldn’t be stopped on an Indiana reservation, that didn’t mean politicians and law enforcement couldn’t prevent participants from coming into the country, or arresting them when they tried to leave. This is exactly what happened. On top of that, Zuckerman’s story was that the rival UFC, hearing the footsteps, had paid off some of the fighters who had committed to show not to fight, thus committing an act of sabotage.

It was a rocky start, and things did not get much better.

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