A 20-day state government shutdown in Minnesota -- which ended this week with the signing of a $35.7 billion budget -- made national headlines and put in jeopardy the Cox-promoted Extreme Challenge 188 “Larson vs. Davila” mixed martial arts event on Saturday at the Target Center in Minneapolis.
“Even though we were told that it was OK and our event was approved, we then were told about three weeks ago -- July 1 is when it started -- by the commission, ‘Hey, if this shutdown doesn’t end, the commission will not be working and they won’t let us have a show,’” Cox told Sherdog.com. “As it got closer and closer, it started to get pretty hairy. We got to last week, and there was no meeting set for last week.”
“They were hoping for Monday, and then Tuesday,” he added. “Finally, on Wednesday, they got the thing back together. We got a call from the commissioner, and he said our event’s good to go -- only three days before the show.”
Extreme Challenge 188 will be headlined by a welterweight bout pairing UFC veteran Brock Larson with Eric Davila. “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 6 finalist Tom Speer, two-time NCAA All-American Paul Bradley and WEC veteran Courtney Buck will also compete at the event, which will air in the coming weeks on the Fight Now TV network.
“I think we’ve put together a really competitive card with a lot of the top guys in Minnesota that are free to still fight,” Cox said.
Because of the shutdown and the resulting doubt involving the show, ticket sales lagged. Still, Cox (Pictured; file photo) pressed forward with event promotion, hoping the impasse would be resolved in time.
“We kept going as if there was no doubt we were going to have the show,” he said. “We did our advertising the same and everything like that. Definitely, people were more hesitant to buy tickets, waiting to see what was going to happen. From what I’m being told, around 2,600 [tickets have been sold]. We were hoping to be around 3,000 [by now] and end up at 4,000. That was kind of our goal. Now, we’re more likely to end up at 3,000 or 3,500.”
According to Cox, he had to deal not only with the government shutdown but underhanded tactics from rival promoters, who attempted to use the situation to their advantage.
“You know how MMA is now,” he said. “All the smaller shows around the area -- promoters for those shows -- they were all out spreading the rumors we were going to get shut down, all counterproductive. So we kind of got off to a slow start. We’re hoping here in the final week that everything will pick up and everything will be fine.”
Cox, whose company invested “six figures” in the event, never considered pulling the plug on it. “The problem with that is it didn’t matter at that point,” he said. “What are you going to do? The deposit on the arena is done, the advertising is spent, the posters are purchased, the fliers are done, the plane tickets ... all that stuff is done, so holding on until the very end doesn’t add anything. You can maybe cancel your commercials and get $500 back, but there really is no reason to pull the plug.
“We just crossed our fingers,” Cox added. “There really isn’t much that you can do.”
Dealing with government-related obstacles was not a new experience for Cox.
“In Illinois two years ago, we had a deal where we had three shows that were already done,” he said. “One was a casino show that was already sold out, and the commission came down with a decision that they were going to take a month to two months off to re-evaluate what they were doing and weren’t going to sanction any shows through that time. We had to cancel our shows, and it cost us a lot of money.”
Other promoters, according to Cox, thumbed their noses at the Illinois commission’s decision, only to receive a slap on the wrist.
“A lot of other promoters, especially the smaller ones, went ahead and did their shows,” he said. “When the commission came back, they fined them, but they fined them, like, $2500. Well, crap, I would rather have been fined $2500. I learned from that. You don’t always gain from doing the right thing.
“I run a company,” Cox added. “I have seven people that work for my company. They rely on the company to make money to live on. When [what happened in Illinois] happens, it’s real frustrating. It’s tough on them. It’s tough on the company, but there isn’t a whole heck of a lot that you can do.”
Cox, who has promoted MMA events since 1995, has seen it all.
“I’ve done almost 700 shows, so I’m not learning much anymore,” he said. “It’s hard to run into something that I haven’t run into after 700 shows, but you definitely learn not to get nervous and not to panic and overthink it. You keep concentrating on doing the right things and just hope it works out.”
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