The suspension of combat sports events in California and state business restrictions have had a major impact on the local MMA scene on several levels.
How Covid-19 impacted Lights Out Xtreme Fighting
On the night of March 11th, the NBA suspended its season after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for Covid-19. The next day on March 12th, the NHL and MLB both announced they would be suspending and delaying their seasons.
Also on March 12th, the California State Athletic Commission suspended all combat sporting events in California due to the Covid-19 outbreak. The suspension of events was supposed to last until March 31st. On April 2nd, the suspension was extended through the end of May. This resulted in the cancelation of an event the UFC was set to hold tomorrow in San Diego. Bellator MMA was also forced to cancel two cards that were set to take place in California this month, including one that was scheduled to be held in Temecula.
Smaller MMA promotions also had to cancel or postpone their events as a result of the CSAC’s decision. King of the Cage postponed multiple events due to the outbreak, including one slated for April 5th at the Toyota Center in Ontario, CA. Roy Englebrecht Promotions, who promote hybrid boxing/MMA events throughout Southern California, were scheduled to hold an event on March 14th. That event, along with other future Englebrecht Promotions events, was postponed.
On March 13th, Lights Out Xtreme Fighting was scheduled to hold LXF 5 at the Commerce Casino. For LXF, the timing of the CSAC’s decision to suspend all live combat sporting events in California couldn’t have come at a worse time, as it happened on the day of the weigh-ins for LXF 5. LXF promoter and former San Diego Chargers star Shawne Merriman told SoCalUncensored that his promotion expected Covid-19 to have an impact on MMA events. They just didn’t expect things to happen as soon as they did.
“We had a good sense that week something could happen. We just didn’t know when the regulations and the rules were going to come down. And they came down the day of the weigh-ins.”
The promotion was in contact with the California State Athletic Commission in the week leading up to the commission’s decision to cancel all events in California. Even though Merriman was expecting something to happen, he wasn’t sure what to expect and hoped that LXF 5 would’ve been able to continue, even if restrictions were in place.
“We were in contact with the California State Athletic Commission the entire week on what if something could possibly happen or how it was going to happen,” said Merriman. “Initially they said you couldn’t have more than 500 people in one gathering. By the time we got towards the end of the week, it was around 100, 50, or something like that. So we knew something was going to come down, we just didn’t know when. We were hoping to actually be able to have a fight card before everything happened.”
While the situation was a negative one for many, Merriman has looked at the positives of the cancelation.
“It could’ve prevented a lot by us not fighting. So I try to look at the positives, and that is keeping the fighters healthy and keeping the fans healthy by following safety protocols such as social distancing and the availability of N95 masks for sale is the key to ending the pandemic. It came at a good time, but I’m a former athlete and I feel very bad for the fighters. They’re constantly on my mind every single day. These guys are warriors. They’re gladiators, and they were in training for months at the time and they couldn’t go and perform. These guys have families, people they need to take care of. It was just overall bad stuff.”
When asked if the fighters were paid, Merriman regretfully said the promotion was unable to reimburse its fighters due to the cancelation of the show.
“We were unable to distribute anything,” Merriman said. “We weren’t able to compensate the fighters and take care of the guys like I wish we could have.”
Regional promotions such as LXF rely heavily on ticket sales and sponsorship money to finance their events. Without those important sources of revenue, MMA promotions can’t afford to pay their fighters or hold evens.
For LXF, the cancelation of their March 13th event meant no ticket revenue and no ability to pay their fighters show money.
According to Merriman, LXF events usually sell 95% of their tickets in advance. Walk-up sales result in the events becoming sell-outs. LXF’s March 13th event was expected to draw a sell-out crowd of 1,100 people.
In an April 8th, 2020 article on SI.com, the promotion was said to have lost “upwards of $200k” in anticipated profits due to the cancelation of the event. The article also noted that while fighters weren’t able to get paid their show money, the promotion was able to cover travel expenses for fighters who were in town and production staff who had been setting up for the scheduled event in the days leading up to it.
Along with the cancelation of the event resulting in lost ticket revenue, the promotion also lost out on sponsorship money, which is another major revenue stream that MMA promotions such as LXF depend on to finance their events. While Merriman stated the loss of sponsorship money was devastating, he noted that LXF’s sponsors will be having to deal with the ramifications of the Covid-19 outbreak as well.
“Our sponsors have their own companies that they have to go figure out, do certain things,” said Merriman. “There’s going to be a lot of restructuring going forward in just how daily life is.”
Merriman also told SoCalUncensored the promotion took some losses due to the costs of having a mat, round card graphics, and other materials made for the event.
While there is so much uncertainty in this world, Merriman remains optimistic about the future of LXF.
“The future still looks extremely bright for Lights Out Xtreme Fighting. I talk to the fighters daily, and everybody is in high spirits. Everybody still feels good about Lights Out and we want to get back going as fast as possible. But we want to do it in the safest manner.
“We can’t wait to get back to it. We know that the fans want to see us put on a fight. They want to see us put on a show, and we want to give them the best quality show we possibly can when the time is right.”
How Covid-19 impacted LXF 5’s main event fighters
LXF 5 on March 13th was scheduled to be headlined by Mike Quintero vs. Blake Troop for the LXF Heavyweight Championship.
Leading up to the bout, LXF Heavyweight Champion Mike Quintero was focused on his fight. Much like LXF promoter Shawne Merriman, Quintero had a sense that something was about to happen. He just didn’t expect the impact of Covid-19 to hit so soon.
“I was completely dialed in and focused for the fight, so I wasn’t paying attention to the news,” Quintero told SoCalUncensored. “But the writing was definitely on the wall. I knew a storm was coming but had no idea it was coming so soon and destructively.”
While Quintero wasn’t paying much attention to the events that were unfolding, his opponent, Blake Troop, was staying updated on the pandemic after hearing about various developments that were occurring. Troop told SoCalUncensored that after talking to one of the owners of LXF, George Bastmajyan, on the night of Wednesday, March 11th, it seemed like the fight would go on as planned.
“I talked to George Bastmajyan after hearing some things in the professional wrestling community about events being shut down for a significant amount of time,” Troop said. “That Wednesday night I talked to George at about 8 or 9 pm because I had been hearing rumblings of all events potentially being shut down. He told me at that time we were a go.”
The very next day, Troop woke up to a text message from Bastmajyan with the shocking news that the event was canceled. Troop stated that he was probably one of the first fighters to know about it after being in contact with Bastmajyan the night before. Troop also stated that after hearing the news, he reached out to his opponent, Mike Quintero, because he felt it was the appropriate thing to do. Much like Quintero, Troop wasn’t expecting any of this to happen the way it did.
“I had never seen anything like this. I didn’t necessarily think it was going to shut down the world in the way that it has. I’ve been around for a bunch of ‘pandemics’ before like ‘Swine Flu’ or whatever the fuck, so I didn’t think that the event getting shut down was that realistic of a thing initially.
“As it got closer, I had some concerns about potentially getting sick, but I was very shocked to see the event got shut down. I’ve never seen anything like what is going on currently.”
For the vast majority of MMA fighters competing on the regional level, selling tickets to fights and getting sponsors is where they make the bulk of their money in the fight game. A lot of times, these factors can make a difference in whether or not a fighter makes a profit after paying for things such as medical exams, training fees, taxes, and other expenses that go along with being a pro fighter.
Heading into LXF 5 on March 13th, Mike Quintero was looking to make a fair amount of money based on those two factors.
“I had sold out two weeks earlier,” Quintero said. “70 tickets were bought from my favorite people. Everything was going perfect. I even finally got two big-money sponsors. After many years of losing money in the fight game, I was finally going to make a decent payday.”
Unfortunately for Quintero, the cancelation of LXF 5 meant he was losing out on everything he had been building his entire career towards.
“That all poofed up in smoke.”
Blake Troop, who tends to sell a lot of tickets for his fights, had also sold a fair amount of tickets for his March 13th fight with Quintero.
“I’m a big ticket seller, so I always sell a lot of tickets,” said Troop. “I had already sold over 100 tickets. At my last fight, I sold about $11k worth of tickets. I sell a fuckload of tickets, so I didn’t have as much trouble.”
But as March 13th approached and the world began to learn more about Covid-19, Troop felt the outbreak might’ve had a slight impact on his usual sales.
“I probably could’ve sold more tickets if all that wasn’t going on. But it came up so late that it didn’t necessarily impact my ticket sales substantially.”
Following the cancelation of the fight, both fighters went through a variety of emotions. For Mike Quintero, this was a huge blow for him from a career and financial standpoint.
“I was crushed. Disbelief, anger, bitterness, acceptance,” said Quintero when asked about how he felt when he got word of the cancelation.
“I went through the spectrum of emotions. I put my entire soul into my training camps. Especially because I’m in my 40’s. I treat each fight like it could be my last. And this one was special. Defending the belt on Fox Sports West. I was 100% healthy which is tough to pull off at my age. And I spent so much money on recovery, and extra training. And against a great exciting matchup that was generating a lot of buzz. It was my moment to shine. Let’s just say it was a sucker punch to the groin.”
Even though he was aware that things were becoming more serious as the days went by, Blake Troop remained focused on his fight before the cancelation. Once he got word of the fight cancelation, he reacted naturally.
“I was laying in my bed and yelled ‘Fuck!’ three times.”
His reaction got the attention of his roommate, who texted Troop 30 seconds later asking him “you good?”
“It was a bummer,” Troop said. “I had the biggest fight of my career and I felt fantastic going into this. I had a great camp, great preparation, I was mentally and physically in a very good place, and a lot of money on the line as well.”
With lots of businesses closing down due to state regulations, many people have had to deal with various struggles when it comes to their finances. Like many Americans, Quintero has had to deal with financial issues as well.
“The whole world is suffering,” Quintero said. “So I take it on the chin no problem. But personally, just from that fight alone, I lost about $7k between purse and sponsors. Plus I spent another couple of thousand on training and $2k on advanced medicals every year. Then my normal income got cut by 70% these past 2 months. It’s a crazy surreal curveball that no one saw coming.”
While Quintero has taken a financial hit from all this, he has kept his fellow competitors in mind.
“I feel most for the struggling fighters with lots of kids, living check to check. I gladly would have donated all the money I lost to help them out.”
Much like Quintero, Blake Troop was impacted financially by the cancelation of LXF 5. At the same time, he realizes that he’s not the only one dealing with hardship.
“It definitely was a financial impact as well as a morale thing. But everybody in the world has got some shit going on right now.”
Before the pandemic struck, Mike Quintero had been looking to retire from the sport this year.
“I’m an older fighter that started late. So this really was a rough slap in the face. This was actually supposed to be my last year fighting. I was planning to squeeze 3 or 4 fights this year. But now I’ll be lucky if I get one.
“I still love to fight and will never stop training, so we will see what the future begins.”
While Quintero hopes to have at least one more fight this year before he hangs up his gloves, Blake Troop has been using this time to focus on his future and for self-improvement.
“It’s been a speed bump in all different aspects of my career because I’m also trying to get into the professional wrestling world,” said Troop. “Everything has been put on pause, but I wouldn’t say I’m on pause. I’m still developing and evolving to where I see advancements being made in those areas of my career, even though those areas of my career are on hiatus. There are things I could still do to become a better entertainer, performer, fighter, wrestler.”
Troop also encourages others to use this time to be more productive so that people can help better themselves.
“My advice for everybody is to find out where you can evolve. There are places in your life that you could be evolving right now, I don’t know what that is. Maybe it’s learning another language. Finding out what they could be doing to get to the fuck where they want to go. Now is the perfect time. There are ways people could be evolving right now, and if people aren’t evolving, it’s because they’re choosing not to. I get it, it sucks for everybody. Everybody is in a different spot. It might be different for every individual, it’s shitty times, but make what’s best out of it.”
How Covid-19 is impacting local gyms
Along with promotions and fighters, gym owners are also dealing with problems that have been created by the Covid-19 outbreak.
One gym owner who has been dealing with the impact of Covid-19 is former fighter Chad George.
During his MMA career, Chad George fought for LXF, World Extreme Cagefighting, and Bellator. He is also a decorated grappling competitor and was featured in the documentary Occupation: Fighter.
Since 2014, Chad George has owned and operated California Mixed Martial Arts and Fitness in Gardena. His academy teaches Boxing, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and fitness. For him, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic struck at a time when his business was looking to grow.
“I don’t think anybody could’ve expected this to happen with that kind of impact,” George told SoCalUncensored. “I was right in the middle of the stage where my academy was growing at a great rate. We’ve been open for six years and we were looking to expand. In fact, we had planned on expanding the academy to twice its size at the end of April. When all this hit, that obviously came to a screeching halt. Now we’re just trying to figure out how to survive.”
He went on to add that the ramifications of the Covid-19 outbreak hit his business instantly.
“We got impacted by this immediately. As soon as people got wind that it was a contagious infection, this is where everyone started freaking out. And obviously, with a gym environment, it’s very close quarters. We do boxing classes, kickboxing classes, jiu-jitsu classes, and as soon as it caught wind that people were potentially able to get this from any type of interaction with people, we were the first ones to get hit by the impact.”
With their businesses closed, small business owners have been struggling to come up with enough revenue to stay open. This is no different for gym owners like Chad George, who are dealing with the financial issues this pandemic has created.
“Every day that this thing goes on, we lose more and more members. I know plenty of gyms that have already shut their doors. They’re done, and won’t be reopening. We’re trying to do everything we can to stay alive and be able to beat this thing and fight through this “
In an attempt to keep his business running, Chad George applied for financial relief when it first became available. However, like many American workers and small business owners, he was unable to receive anything and ran into the same issues that other small business owners and self-employed workers have been experiencing.
“It’s been a complete nightmare,” said George. “This thing has been a horrendous, bone-chilling nightmare. So many businesses, including myself, haven’t been able to receive anything. The unemployment process for the self-employed has been a ridiculous shitshow. Recently, they’ve gone back and re-done the [Employment Development Department] program, but for myself, I applied for it right when it came out and I got nothing. So for all these gyms and other small businesses, we are getting no help.
“Even when the first relief programs came out, there were all these major businesses that sucked up the money for small businesses. They pulled out all the loans so that there was nothing left for real small businesses. It’s been a disgrace what they’re saying what ‘real small businesses’ are. You’ve got companies and small businesses like myself that have bled, sweat, and cried over every inch of what we have and it’s being taken away from us. We’re losing everything.”
In an article published by The Hill yesterday, data from a United States Census Bureau survey of small businesses showed that of the nearly 75% of respondents who applied for a forgivable loan through the Paycheck Protection Program that was created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, only 38.1% received financial relief. While the money from the PPP created through the CARES Act was meant for small business owners such as Chad George, most of it went to larger businesses such as AutoNation, Shake Shack, and Ruth’s Chris Steak House to name a few. Even the Los Angeles Lakers received a PPP loan.
With no way to make money to stay in business and no financial safety nets being provided by the government, Chad George has been left with frustration and unanswered questions about what he and his fellow gym owners are supposed to do.
“It’s crazy, you know what I mean? So basically you’re telling us we can’t run our businesses and make a living. We can’t get unemployment because we’re self-employed, and we can’t get any of the loans because people who have more than enough money took all that from us. So, how do we survive? In LA County, they’re allowing the homeless to take hotels now. They’re able to get living situations, they’re able to get that for free, and we’re sitting here stuck trying to figure out how to pay bills.“
Since Covid-19 restrictions have been in place in California, only businesses that have been deemed “essential” by the state have been allowed to stay open. While fast-food restaurants and liquor stores have been deemed essential in the state, gyms and fitness centers have not. In Chad George’s mind, he feels that businesses like his should be classified as essential.
“I think that gyms and fitness are extremely essential,” George said. “Look at how many people are becoming alcoholics. Look at how many people are getting obese because they’re sitting around doing nothing. Training and fitness is part of therapy. This is something people need for their mental well-being. Once you take this away from them, the only thing that’s going to happen are habits that take you down a dark path.”
Despite the hardships this pandemic has created, he does see a silver lining in all this when it comes to people becoming more aware of their health and safety in the future.
“When we do reopen, people are going to pay more attention to health consciousness,” he said. “They’re going to be more aware of their hygiene, things being clean when they come in, their equipment not being as dirty or smelly, and people being a little more respectful of their surroundings. So that’s going to change a little bit. I think that’s going to help.
“There’s going to have to be all the hygiene requirements and making sure that sick people are not allowed at the gym. I know one of the things people say is ‘I just want to go to the gym and work out this cold. I’m starting to feel better.’ It’s like, ‘no, keep your ass at home. Don’t come to the gym and infect people.’ That’s going to be one positive light that does come from this.”
While his gym remains closed, Chad George has been using technology and social media to keep in touch with his clients by doing training sessions on Zoom, Instagram, and YouTube. He also plans to launch an online academy at the end of the month outfitted with a training regimen, technique videos, and seminars. In Chad George’s mind, that is the future of training.
“That, I believe, is going to be the future of where training is going to held. It’s going to be online. My advice to gym owners is you’ve got to start thinking ahead of the curve. Right now, what’s right in front of you is going to change. The landscape is going to change. It’s going to be important for you to really start thinking outside the box.”