After 12 years and more than 300 live shows in the U.S., Canada, and abroad, King of the Cage is hitting the big time. On Feb. 12, the California-based MMA show will make its live national broadcast debut on HDNet, the first in a monthly series produced by reality television mastermind Mark Burnett. And to think it all started with some scribbles in a high school kids notebook.
“When I was a junior in high school, I took an ‘Intro to Business’ class that basically had us develop our own businesses as an assignment,” said Terry Trebilcock, president of King of the Cage (KOTC). “I didn’t know if it was going to be boxing, martial arts or some type of sporting event, but I basically laid out my plans in 11th grade for what would eventually become KOTC.”
As the years went by, Trebilcock kept his concept tucked away and earned his living playing professional golf and working as a regional manager for a health club chain. Trebilcock was hooked by the first Ultimate Fighting Championship pay per views and it wasn’t before he began incorporating the new sport into his business model.
“What I ended up doing was taking a lot of these guys like [UFC 7 Champion] Marco Ruas and [UFC veteran] Tedd Williams who had struggling businesses here and there, and I put them into some of my gyms to teach,” said Trebilcock, who began taking lessons himself. “I worked it out to where I ran the business and we split everything 50/50 and all they had to do was teach.”
Soon, Terry found himself surrounded with scores of pro fighters who had no place to fight aside from the UFC, illegal shows in California, or in Mexico.
“I was training a few times a week at various gyms. I trained with Joe Stevenson when he was 14-years-old, and Karo Parisyan when he was 15-years-old,” said the promoter. “And to see how advanced they were at that age, I figured [that fight promotion] was more of an opening for me than fighting was!”
In 1998, Trebilcock called Howard Zelener, an attorney he had befriended on the links in 1992. “Terry told me about his [KOTC] idea and he showed me a video of some brutal fight in Brazil to show me what he was hoping to do,” said Zelener. “I was a little stunned, but Terry assured me, ‘This is the next big sport in America.’”
That “brutal fight” that Trebilcock had used to make his point was a bout between Kevin Randleman vs. Tom Erikson from the year before. Trebilcock’s enthusiasm won the attorney over and together they formed King of the Cage.
“Our first event was held in 1999 on a tennis court, which was at a former-chicken-ranch-turned-12-step-recovery-program-camp,” the promoter said with a laugh. “Javi Vazquez, Karo Parisyan and Joe Stevenson all had their first pro fights on that card.” His partner fondly remembers witnessing the development of another MMA powerhouse at that first KOTC event as well.
“The TapouT guys were at the fights too,” said Zelener. “It was the first event where they sold T-shirts out of the trunk of their car…I think they made just enough to fill up their gas tank to get home.”
KOTC thrived over the next eight years, producing several cards each month around the U.S. through affiliate promoters. The brand expanded to Canada, the U.K., Australia, Singapore, and Hong Kong, and a who’s-who of future stars appeared on KOTC cards including Parysian, Stevenson, Urijah Faber, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Diego Sanchez, Keith Jardine, Rashad Evans, Thiago Alves and scores of others. In 2007 the company was valuable enough to be attractive to ProElite, a start-up looking to do big things in MMA without having to develop much of its own infrastructure. ProElite acquired KOTC and some of its mainstays, including Charles “Krazy Horse” Bennett and Joey Villasenor, joined the roster of ProElite’s own promotion, EliteXC.
“When we transferred ownership to ProElite, the deal was that they were going to give us all of this exposure on CBS and Showtime to help grow our brand,” says Trebilcock. But ProElite went belly up due to mismanagement less than a year into its groundbreaking primetime deal with CBS and Showtime, nearly taking KOTC with it. But through the dissolution of the company’s assets, Trebilcock and his team were able to regain full control of the company. It was a serious setback but the ProElite deal yielded one valuable take away, and that is KOTC’s relationship with Mark Burnett.
You wouldn’t recognize Burnett walking down the street but you’ve likely watched hours of television that he is responsible. The reality television maven is the producer “Survivor,” “The Apprentice,” “The Contender,” and MTV’s MMA-based hit, “Bully Beatdown.” The Jason “Mayhem” Miller vehicle was actually the first collaboration between Burnett’s company and KOTC, whose logos feature prominently in each episode of the show.
The HDNet deal calls for 36 monthly shows and according to Zelener, the company is working on reality TV concepts to help market its fighters. “The reality project won’t be anything scripted like some of the things you see on TV these days,” he said. “The whole point of the show will be to make people care about the KOTC fighters. They will get to see the stories behind these fighters and what makes them unique.”
The main card of King of the Cage: Vengeance will be broadcast on HDNet at 10 p.m. EST on Feb. 12. The show will feature three title fights including a heavyweight tilt between Tony Lopez and Tyler East, a bantamweight bout between Abel Cullum and Joe Coca and a lightweight scrap between Donald Sanchez and Victor Valenzuela. Also featured on the broadcast will be a heavyweight fight featuring Travis Wiuff and Mike Kyle and a Rich Clementi vs. Quinn Mulhern.
Michael Schiavello and Jason “Mayhem” Miller will call the action and Andrea Feczko will report backstage.