Last weekend, World Bare Knuckle Fighting Federation (WBKFF) hosted its first event. The sans gloves card, which went down in Casper, Wyoming, was headlined by a middleweight scrap between UFC veterans Chris Leben and Phil Baroni, and also featured a showdown between former UFC welterweight champ Johny Hendricks and Dakota Cochrane.
Originally, this inaugural WBKFF card was supposed to include quite a few other big names, such as former NFL player Shawne Merriman and former Bellator star Brennan War. Unfortunately, both of these stars withdrew from the card citing contract issues — which was certainly not a good look for the upstart bare knuckle promotion.
Speaking on Facebook on Friday morning, WBKFF President Bas Rutten opened up on the drama that led to Merriman and Ward’s withdrawals, and nearly derailed the entire show
See Rutten’s statements on WBKFF, which mentions everything from manager corruption, drug addiction, prostitution and heart attacks, below.
OK, finally here is my side of the story of what happened with the WBKFF. You are going to need some time to read this,…
OK, finally here is my side of the story of what happened with the WBKFF. You are going to need some time to read this, its a book, haha. But hopefully you have a better understanding after reading this of what happened:
“When you start a new company and are not familiar with the new business, you tend to attract the wrong people”.
After our former matchmaker, who from now on I will call FMM in this story, told a lot of lies to everybody and has tried to sabotage our show, I decided to write about what happened.
I was just waiting to wrap up our first show since, he and others, worked against us so much, that we all needed to focus on making this show still happen otherwise all the fighters would have trained for nothing because there would be no show.
Reading all the messages from angry fans who believed that guy and me NOT reacting to them because I needed to focus, oh yeah, I am pissed.
Believe me when I say that I am really holding back, I edited this story a lot, there is much more
I came into the WBKFF after the main contracts were already signed
Let’s start by saying this, for two fights the payout was $1,275,000
Two fights, 4 fighters, and 3 of them are represented by the same manager? Mmmmmmm, the manager I will call MGR in this story
This manager wanted 100K as well to bring fighters from different managers? Which Tom Stankiewicz, the owner, thankfully never said YES to, I mean, really, why didn’t they Google “Johny Hendricks’ manager” and do it themselves? What is so hard about picking up the phone?
But Tom had NEVER done anything like this in his life and was told by FMM that “he” (FMM) had put on at least 40 shows himself, and Tom simply believed him.
2 fights, 4 fighters, 3 represented by the same manager who also wanted $100K to bring in other fighters and negotiated ridiculous contracts. ($1,275,000 total payout for two fights only)
That’s what they call an “alarm bell”
Johny Hendricks told Tom the owner two weeks ago that he couldn’t believe that they offered him that kind of money since he had trouble getting fights.
Brennan Ward fought at Bellator for $50k to show and $50K extra when he would win. You think if we would have offered him $100K and $100K he wouldn’t take the fight? Of course he would have taken that, he would double his money!?
Why give him 5 times the amount? $250K to show plus $250K when he wins?
Merriman was going to get $500K plus some money per PPV buy. Bourke, $25,000.
So when I came in I saw immediately that the company was taken advantage off and told them we needed to renegotiate, and our former “matchmaker”, FMM, needed to do that since he made these ridiculous contracts and signed them immediately.
But they didn’t renegotiate, everything started taking time, super slow, ask ANY fighter on the card if FMM called them back if they contacted him. Yeah, he would call three days later. But NOBODY from production had received a call from him after he called that person ONCE to hire them, after that, zero. They send him texts, emails, voice messages, he would NOT reply
Just to let you know so you have an idea of what I was working with, in one of the first phone calls I had with him, he asked me: “Bas, weird question, do I need to get prostitutes for the fighters for after their fight”?
I said: “Yes, if you want to run the company into the ground, give them prostitutes. Come on now, I mean, we are doing bareknuckle boxing, a bunch of people are going to complain already and you want to bring in prostitutes?”
So now you know what I was dealing with
September 28th I went to meet the owner Tom Stankiewicz , FMM and the rest of the team in Chicago, and it was there that I found out that FMM used to do heroin, a long time ago, he told me personally. But, having had an OxyContin problem in the past myself, I know that we all have our vices that we have to overcome, so “I have no problem with that”, is what I told FMM
He started to really mess up, again, didn’t call people back, his phone had broken, already for over a week and he still didn’t fix it. Understand that this phone number was the only way people could contact him but he didn’t fix it? Tom gave him another phone, but it was a different phone so he didn’t know how to use it correctly
One more time, the guy who made all the deals did not fix his phone for like 2 weeks in total, he is acting as a promoter as well, think about this, nobody could reach him, ONLY when they would have his new number which nobody had.
The people who shot videos for us like 2.5 months ago, FMM wouldn’t tell Tom about their invoices (or he simply didn’t look at his emails), so they started complaining, thankfully they told me as well so once we found out, they got paid immediately
And STILL I was saying to Tom and JC (an employee who did an outstanding job), “Let’s keep him, I know he has had a drug problem, we all make mistakes and he needs the money, this could be a new life for him. Let’s let him only do the matchmaking because he does that well and we won’t let them do other stuff”.
Also, just so you know, FMM had no possessions, no money, not even a bank account, so Tom moved him to Chicago to work with him, got him a JOB, HOME, a CAR, a PHONE, BI-WEEKLY PAYCHECK and even FURNITURE for the home. (in return for that generosity FMM started stealing from Tom and the company, but you will read that later)
Now FMM was going to get help from a girl that he contacted over the internet to work for a new organization, so she would work for our company as well and live with him in the same house, she, her mother and her two kids.
That’s another crazy story, he would tell everybody, including myself, that she was his girlfriend, but we all came to find out that she was never his girlfriend. He slept in the basement of the same house they stayed in, while she was with her mother and kids upstairs. He told another guy that he was married to her twice?
I came back home, they called me a few weeks later and told me they wanted to let FMM go because it looked like he was trying to sabotage the show, worked extremely slow, still didn’t call people back.
He would come out of bed at noon while everybody else were scrambling to fix all the mistakes he made.
So finally, Tom asked him: “Are you back using drugs?”, he said “no”, Tom said: “Then call the doctor because I want you to do a test”. That’s when FMM came clean and said he was using methadone, not heroin.
So AGAIN we gave him another chance, same story: “we all make mistakes, this job can change his life for the better, let’s keep him and give him one more chance”.
Ward and Hendricks asked Tom in the past to send them money to train, (for the expenses they had), Tom asked how much they needed and they said: “10K each”. Tom wires the money to MGR but magically the fighters only received half?
Finally, Tom calls me and said that they let FMM go, it was too crazy, same storyline, it looked like he was trying to sabotage the show, it was either that or he had absolutely NO clue of what he was doing, so he was gone now.
Then the girl (who worked for FMM) realized that she received two payments of $2500 in her account from MGR (from which we have the bank statements). Since FMM doesn’t have a bank account himself he let MGR wire the money into her account and asked her withdraw it for him
OK, so that’s where $5k went, where did the rest go? We send $20K, but both fighters got only $5K, FMM got $5K, where’s the other $5K?
You decide for yourself, I have an idea, but I leave it like that.
Now these crazy contracts started to make sense and why these numbers were so ridiculous high, because it looked like FMM was getting “kickbacks”?
So now, after learning about all this stuff above, we believed that MGR had a side deal with FMM (as you can read, I said “we believed”, so I can’t be 100% certain, but I ask you, what would YOU think if you were in my shoes?) I mean, why did he get two payments of $2,500? He works for Tom, not anybody else?
Well, if this is happening with $20K (from which HALF disappeared), what is he getting from the $1,275,000 that was asked for, and again, was NEVER negotiated?
This is how that negotiation went:
The MGR would say to FMM: “We want $500K for Merriman and $250K for Ward and Hendricks and another $250K for the winner, $25K for Bourke. FMM answer?
“OK”, and he signed the contracts?
So now we really needed to renegotiate those crazy numbers!
Also, sponsors were promised by FMM, “they would bring in millions”, that’s what FMM told Tom when Tom told him he couldn’t afford THAT kind of money to pay the fighters.
“No worries, the sponsors will take care of that” is what FMM told Tom, and Tom, the good guy that he is, simply believed him
Joe Sevenson told us 3 weeks ago that he told FMM he had a whole bunch of sponsors for us and gave him their numbers. Joe told us that he told FMM that 7 weeks ago, but FMM never called the sponsors?! Why didn’t he, because he knew Tom was struggling to keep this card together and needed sponsor money. Didn’t he say that put on 40 shows himself? He has to know that there is need of sponsors, right?
Understand this as well
FMM used to work for our competition, the other bareknuckle company.
The reason he left that other company, (this is what he told us), was that the owner didn’t want to pay him $250,- for the work he had done for him. His exact words: “The owner told me that he would pay me when he would be back from the vacation that he was going to take. And since I had absolutely no more money, I left that company”.
He also told us he was best friends with that other company’s owner for 30 years?
By the way, he is back working for that company again and he immediately started contacting our fighters that they had to pull out because we wouldn’t pay them.
Just ask our fighters if this is true or not.
So now we have a dilemma with this crazy deal, way too much money, no sponsors, we won’t be able to pay the production and more important, the FIGHTERS, if we keep those crazy deals.
So, since I used to be a fighter myself, I figured that it is better to lose one fight, and to keep everything else so that all the fighters from the rest of the card didn’t train for nothing and will get paid. But let’s see first what we can do with renegotiating
Now the renegotiations started every day. We tried to give them lower numbers on their “show and win money” but with higher numbers on the PPV buys. Merriman told FMM and Tom that he was going to do a LOT of promotion for the show and that he would get us at least 300K PPV buys. He said that he worked (or still works) for ESPN and they are going to give him a lot of promotion on TV. FMM never asked him to put that in writing, he just believed him, so there was nothing that we could do to pressure him.
Oh, and later Merriman’s manager asked for $200,000 to pay for the promotion/commercials, something that was promised to be free?
But we didn’t see any promotions from Merriman, yes, on his IG, but those reached like 4500 people max per post, we needed a big push from him for that $500K fight money so we could get those 300K PPV buys he said he could get.
“OK”, we say, “why not lowering the $500K and we give you better numbers on the PPV deal?” (Because that will make him work harder to promote our show and his fight so that we could get those 300K PPV buy)
At this moment we were already willing not to make any money on this show, we just wanted to have this fixed and fighters to get paid. We went to numbers like $200K ($100K after the fight, $100K 30 days later) plus $5 per PPV, so if Merriman would be right and get us 300K PPV buys, he would cash $1,7 million total.
His “signed deal” was $500k plus low money on the PPV buys, which would be a total of about $650,000 when there would be 300K PPV buys.
So this new PPV deal could make him almost triple his money?!
But they didn’t want to do this which I understand because it’s a risk, then again, if Merriman truly believes he can get 300K PPV buys, it’s a much better deal for him
Then the Wyoming Athletic commission called us two weeks before the fight to tell us that they saw a Bourke fight from last year, something we didn’t know about. It was in Romania. And they said that they were worried about Bourke because that fight looked like a fixed fight, OR, Bourke would be super scared, which I don’t believe he is. I am not gonna say anything here, why don’t you just “YouTube”: “Mike Bourke fight in Romania”, and you judge for yourself.
The commission told us they were NOT going to clear him.
Merriman gets $500K for a fight (he never fought before), there is no big promotion happening on ESPN something that he promised, he fights a guy who is from the same management team as his, and if you watched that last Bourke fight, what would YOU think is going on here? Still, this what I am THINKING, so I could be completely wrong.
I finally made the decision to pull the Merriman fight because then we will be 100% certain that we can pay the fighters who were “in training” and the production as well, AND AGAIN, Bourke did NOT get cleared. I told Merriman’s manager this but he said that Bourke would be cleared
Of course, that stirred a lot of crap, (cancelling the Merriman fight) his manager keeps calling, keeps trying to get money, keeps threatening with law suits, etc.
Now we are in Casper Wyoming, the week of the show, Tom is still talking to the lawyers of Merriman and a judge, it’s an arbitration on the phone. The judge asks Tom, do you want Merriman to fight? Tom says “Yes your honor”. The judge asks: “Can you pay him the $500K plus a PPV deal? Tom says: “Your honor, yes I can do that, and not only that, if he fights for us I will even increase the PPV money per PPV buy”.
I have to explain this though, that $500K was going to be a lien on the PPV, so whatever amount of money would come in for our PPV buys, the first $500K from that would go to Merriman. So this deal meant Merriman had to wait for the PPV money to come in and that can take a while, plus if there are NO PPV buys, he wouldn’t get his money
Merriman declined that deal, he said he wanted to get paid NOT to fight (his managers words). This is recorded stuff guys (the judge mentioned that to everybody on the phone call that it was recorded), court cases are written out as well. So you can look it up that we DID honor the contract, we only couldn’t pay him the $500K immediately after the fight, but from our PPV numbers later (we tried to save that fight even though it was too much money)
Then, the athletic commission in Wyoming tells us last week, a day before the show, that they denied the Bourke fight like three weeks ago and send it in an email to FMM, so they all KNEW that the fight was off, that Bourke was not getting licensed, we have the email to proof it, I believe the date was October 18th. Yet, they were still trying to get money from us for a fight that was officially off?
Now our lawyer tells us not to talk to MGR anymore because of the money that had disappeared and he started to look into that.
By the way, Tom is still talking to Ward this whole time as well, but Ward didn’t believe that Johny Hendricks was on a plane to us, he said that he would come to fight if John would be there. But he didn’t believe us and cancelled like Wednesday evening, the evening before the weigh-ins that are scheduled the next day. By the way, we offered him the same contract as Hendricks, and if we have 100K PPV buys, Hendricks will make more money on his lost fight then he would have had with his first negotiated contract.
(the order of events might be a bit off, so much stuff happened, but it’s all true)
We go to the event hall before three days before the show to talk to the police and security, they asked us about the famous people who would come. I said “Who do you mean?”
They said: “Shak, Kobe Bryant, Wiz Khalifa, Snoop Dog” and a whole bunch of other guys. I started laughing, saying: “I think FMM told you this?”
YES was the answer……. wow, he lives in a different world….
We are about to pay Frank Belmont our producer, who is a SUPER good producer (produced Pacman vs Mayweather and way more), he needed half the money from the production total costs. We have been talking to him and his team for 4 weeks, every Thursday a conference call, this event was going to be SUPER well produced! You heard me saying in interviews that we would have the best production!
Now something really bad happened. The bank from Tom the owner, gets a phone call (You decide who you think called) saying that Tom is a drug dealer and is laundering money through the WBKFF. So, they freeze all his money and assets and start an investigation!?
Tom is super emotional, calling me: “I have never even sold a half a gram of weed Bas, they are trying to ruin me”. He ends up in the hospital that day because of his heart (this is the Friday before fight week), they kept him all day for testing, the doc told him he had not ONE but TWO early onset heart attacks. Comes out of the hospital, wants to pay Frank but can’t because the money is frozen plus it’s Friday evening, it’s too close to the show so Frank says that he will wait till Monday morning when the bank is open, once it became Monday, the money was still frozen, so Frank says, and I completely understand him, “NO”, and he is out. (Understand also that Frank is reading online all the messages that FMM is posting about us not paying anybody)
Now Tom made the mistake of not calling me first, he acted on emotion/panic and finds a more expensive guy who claims to have more “stuff” then the other producer (Frank Belmont) and that they can do it, “it won’t be a problem” the new company told Tom.
Well, you guys saw the production, that was NOT Frank Belmont standards. Friday was the show, they arrived Thursday morning, no fighter interviews, nothing. We had to use a camera from a local TV station to do our interviews with the fighters that we can use before they go up to the ring. And I am CERTAIN you saw those videos looked bad and sounded bad. This was US doing interviews with the fighters
Jessica Penne and myself would interview a fighter for 5 minutes (written interviews), then we send the fighter into a room for 5 minutes to do the video interview.
We did 24 fighters in 1 hour and 45 minutes because that was the only time we could have the camera that we borrowed.
(By the way, a HUGE thank you to Carmine Gemei, who works for the local news there, for doing this for us)
Understand that we already had all those conference calls with Frank Belmont, so everybody knew what we were going to do, everything was set, the production should have done those interviews three days before fight day
But we lost all that and we had the new company who came in a day before the fight
The day of the fight they had no clue what they were doing, microphones didn’t work, there were only TWO wireless microphones (one for Jimmy Lennon Jr and one for me doing the ring interviews, but mine didn’t work, so I needed to borrow Jimmy’s microphone every time), the “talk back buttons” didn’t work, (meaning, the producer would ask Kenny and myself questions while we were sitting ringside, but our “talk back button” didn’t work, so we could not communicate, which is, when you are LIVE, a HUGE problem) no “tale of the tape” graphics, no prerecorded PROFESSIONAL interviews from them that they normally would do three days before the show, so now we had to use our “5 minutes fast done interviews”. I am starting to get really worried, now we are an hour before the show we still didn’t have it right!?
The sound guy who has ONE job, was the worst ever. I needed to explain when he had to play the entrance music (remember, this is his job), we announce a fighter, you play music, once he steps into the ring and is inside the ropes, you bring the music down and wait for the next fighter and play his song, but this was apparently too hard for him? (go figure) So I told him, just look at me, we are sitting 10 yards from each other, when I bring my hand up, you play the first track, when I bring it down, you bring the music down. When I bring my arm back up, that’s when the second fighter comes, you bring the music up, when I bring my hand down, you take it down. That’s it, you need to pay attention to me for about 3 minutes before a fight, that it!? Do that 11 more times and it’s done
Show starts, fighter comes out, I bring my hand up, and he is talking to people and doesn’t look at me? He is turned around with his back to me!? You saw this, it was the first fight of the night, there was no music, and we are LIVE?!
No sound for 30-45 seconds, I am running over to see what the heck is going on….
The sound guy says that it’s not his fault it’s the truck’s fault (the production truck). Then, Mike Brounzoulis the fighter, who is sitting ringside, tells our crew: “I saw him pulling a plug”. The sound guy told us that he didn’t know what Mike was talking about, but when they let him put the plug back, magically the music was working?
Am I crazy here? Are we still getting sabotaged? Why would he pull the plug?
Last thing, fights were done, we all go back to the hotel, we go with the owner and other people who work for us to a room and Tom started writing the checks for the fighters who are waiting outside to get them.
While we are doing this, the fire alarm went off?
I told Tom, we are not gonna leave this room, we are going to finish writing these checks, it looks again like somebody is sabotaging us?
Thankfully it stopped like 10 min later, everybody got their check and it was done.
OK, some “thank you’s”, a HUGE thank you is going to all the fighters on our card. Joey Munoz for taking a fight on one day notice and winning it becoming an immediate fan favorite, I mean, the number of tweets I had about him, insane. I told him before his fight, “winning or losing, you will have a job with us for stepping up on one day notice, losing 17 pounds and fighting”.
The fights were insane, all you fighters saved our show, we will not forget this!! The reactions I am reading about all of you are so good. And that’s all because the fights were so good, the people didn’t even notice the production anymore because they were focused on you talented guys (and two ladies)
Thank you for staying with us and trusting us, from the bottom of my heart.
So I, and everybody at the WBKFF, we love you all!
And just so you know, the money was still frozen yesterday (courtesy of the person who called the bank), but it came free again and all the fighters will have their money this Friday or Monday the latest. A whole bunch of them already got their money, I promise you, you will get paid!
And this what I wrote here is nothing, more money has been stolen by FMM, he contacted other people who I have spoken to with crazy deals he tried, it’s insane what one person can do. And one more time, this guy had nothing, Tom gave him a job, car, home, phone, money, even furniture for the new home, and this how he repaid him, your parents must be proud of you.
Godspeed – WBKFF President Bas Rutten.
What do you think the future holds for WBKFF after their first event?
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 11/16/2018.