Dominican Disaster

It seemed like a great deal: a match in the Dominican Republic resort town of Punta Cana, with paid airfare and accommodations, on an event featuring multiple UFC veterans streamed worldwide via online pay-per-view.

That is what the fighters on Florida-based Nemesis Fight Promotions’ “MMA Global Invasion” card expected. What they appeared to have gotten was a surreal, disorganized evening of fights and paychecks which were not worth the paper they were written on.

Veteran light heavyweight Keith Jardine was originally scheduled to fight Francisco “Kiko” France in the show’s main event on Nov. 13 at the Barcelo Bavaro Hotel and Casino Convention Center. When Hurricane Tomas threatened to strike the island in early November, that date was pushed back to Dec. 10, and Jardine left his home in Albuquerque, N.M., to fulfill a previously booked engagement filming a movie in Canada.

“I was out in a real, little small town in Canada for a month before the fight, just running on a treadmill to train,” Jardine told “I was taking a harbor plane once a week to fly over to [Zugec Ultimate Martial Arts] on [Vancouver] Island to train over there, so I was getting one good session a week in.”

When the new date rolled around, “The Dean of Mean” departed for the Dominican. Even before he arrived, Jardine sensed all was not well. Despite being one of the headliners, he had done no interviews or press for the show. When he arrived, the promoters took him to the venue so he could see the event posters on display; there were none.

“They just acted like it was no big deal,” Jardine said.

When fight night came, Jardine and the show’s other competitors quickly began to understand just how dire the situation was. Backstage, there were issues with hand wraps, and fighters were told they would have to share gloves, as there were not enough pairs to go around. The disorganization escalated as the opening fight got under way in front of a tiny crowd, which various estimates placed between 20 and 100.

“I was sitting on the stage ... watching the first fight happen, just to see how it would go. First of all, there’s nobody in the backstage to tell the fighters to come out,” said Jardine. “So, the fight goes on. The round goes. The round seems to go forever. It seems like it went too long. I guess there was some scrambling by the cage -- they didn’t have a bell for the fights. So, after that, they found a whistle and just started using whistles to determine the end of the round.”

Determining the end of the round was an issue unto itself, as multiple sources told the scheduled five-minute rounds were independently timed at upwards of six minutes. Flyweight prospect John Dodson, one of several Greg Jackson-trained fighters on the card, took a decision over John Moraga in a match that went the distance -- and then some.

“My fight was actually like 17, 18 minutes long,” said Dodson. “It was unorganized. They didn’t have anything well put together.”

“There was a lot of things going on,” said Travis Marx, another Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts product, who dropped a unanimous decision to Jose Tezanos.

Although he was docked a point for an illegal kick in the third period, Marx asserts there was no way he lost the fight.

“It’s one thing to say, ‘I got screwed by the judges.’ I hate saying that. I’m not one of those kind of guys. It was one of the craziest experiences for me, because I’ve been in a couple of decisions that were close. This fight, I felt like I dominated from start to finish,” said Marx. “His own trainer came to me and told me, ‘I’m so sorry. He’s my boy. I train him, and you won that fight.’”

As all this went on, Jardine sat backstage, waiting for his fight against France and ruminating on his situation.

“I had a conversation with myself as I’m sitting there. I’m like, ‘Well, I don’t really know if I’m gonna get paid here or not. This thing’s a mess.’ I didn’t have gloves to fight in. I don’t even know if there’s a doctor for the fight, this and that,” Jardine said. “I mean, it’s about the love of fighting. It’s not about the business of the sport. At that point, I’m sure everybody had the same thought, and they went out and fought their hearts out. And that’s a beautiful thing.”

Jardine did decide to fight, earning a unanimous decision over France after three hard-fought -- and accurately-timed -- rounds of what he describes as a “classic striker versus grappler” matchup. For Jardine, it was a positive end to a largely negative night, but the good feelings did not last for long.

A number of fighters told they flew back home with checks in hand but soon found out the bank account on which they were drawn did not have sufficient funds to cover the payments.

“They said there was gonna be money in the account,” said Isaac Vallie-Flagg, another Jackson’s MMA fighter, who scored a come-from-behind knockout of Alejandro Villalobos in the third round of their bout. “I went to cash the check [the next] morning, and there wasn’t any more. They wouldn’t tell me why, but I couldn’t get out money.”

The promotion’s Web site listed the fights as airing “live on pay-per-view,” but the Internet broadcast was scheduled for Dec. 13, three days after the event. The fights were never shown, and the site now lists the broadcast as “rescheduled” with the “date to be announced soon.”

Jardine is currently exploring legal avenues of recourse, including the possibility of obtaining the rights to the event video, in hopes of broadcasting the show and securing some form of compensation for the fighters involved. In spite of the tumult before, during and after the event, Jardine says that what took place inside the cage that night was truly special.

“It was complete chaos, but everybody there -- Paul Buentello, Eliot Marshall, these are UFC-caliber, world-class fighters -- they were just great businessmen. They were just fighters. They did their job that they do and put on just an incredible show,” Jardine said. “That’s the beauty of it, is that every single fighter, every single group went out there and put on a world-class fight. I’m not exaggerating that. Wait ’til you see these fights.”

Repeated requests for comments from Nemesis Fight Promotions have gone unanswered.

Tristen Critchfield contributed to this report.

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