The offices of Maximum Fighting Championship are located in Edmonton, Alberta. There you will find Mark Pavelich sitting at a desk on the phone – always on the phone – dressed in a Dolce and Gabbana suit with matching shoes. The suit and swagger get your attention but the fast-talking reels you in. Pavelich’s tongue is notorious in the MMA world, as demonstrated by his public war of words with Drew Fickett over a contractual dispute in 2008, and he is not shy to offer an opinion about a fighter or another promotion.
“I think we are the third biggest promotion out there,” says Pavelich. “Outside of UFC and Strikeforce, we have more names than the WEC.”
Pavelich is more than a mouth, though, as he’s spent a decade building Canada’s most successful mixed martial arts promotion.
The promoter was teaching Jeet Kune Do in 1999 when one of his students, attorney Martin G. Shultz, began working with Pavelich for the legalization of MMA. The process was exhausting and took a year and a half of work, but finally in 2001 they broke through and hosted their first-ever event.
“It was a whole lot of knocking on doors and not taking no for an answer,” says Shultz, who did the majority of his work pro bono. “They took the position, under the criminal code in Canada that it was a prize fight. We had to educate them and show them that it wasn’t.”
MFC 1 was held on March 3, 2001, in Grand Prairie, Alberta. The card wasn’t anything special and most of those fighters never had another professional fight, but it was Pavelich’s and Alberta’s first big taste of the fastest growing sport in the world.
“I am telling you, no one knew what MMA was,” says Pavelich. “We couldn’t get a big organization, one of the powerhouses of MMA up here. We just wanted to have a show. We didn’t care about money; it wasn’t till later we started to realize we could get money from this.”
Eight months later on Nov. 24, 2001, MFC held it’s second event, MFC 2: Rumble in the Jungle. The show took place in the middle of a blizzard but sold out anyways. Fans who were anxious to see another MMA event stood in a line that wrapped around the building to see fighters like Jason MacDonald throw down. But things began to go south after the success of the first few shows.
“When it started out, we were the only show in town,” says Pavelich. “Shows four, five and six didn’t do so well and we lost a lot of money.”
After three years of running the most successful MMA promotion in Canada, Pavelich left the game. Suddently he wasn’t the only show in town, his rooms were only half full, other promoters were putting on bigger and better shows, and the MFC wasn’t keeping up. So Pavelich stepped away from MMA and returned to the business where he made his money in the first place, booking talent for comedy shows and special events around the world.
After a year away from the game, Pavelich’s wife Manon offered him some business advice. “She told me we need to start running (MFC) like a business,” says Pavelich. “We needed to run it like the Lakers or Yankees and be a real show.”
Pavelich started working immediately with his son, Dave, on MFC’s return. On Sept. 9, 2005 they produced MFC 8: Resurrection, headlined by UFC Hall of Famer Dan Severn. The show sold out, and the MFC was reborn. Over the next few years, MFC became a regular stop for top prospects like Patrick Cote, Jason MacDonald, Chase Gormley, Matt Veach, Bobby Lashley, Paul Daley and Ben Henderson, as well as fighters who had already put in time in the Big Show like Marvin Eastman, Yves Edwards, John Alessio, Shonie Carter, Pete Spratt, Wilson Gouveia, Travis Lutter, and Dean Lister.
“The reason I am pulling off big names is guys know how many shows we do a year, and we have a live TV deal with HDNet,” says Pavelich. “And when fighters sign here we’ll get sponsorships for them.”
MMA agents and fighters concur. “In this game it’s hard to get a big pay day,” says Jake Hirsh, who represents several fighters in MFC. “What fighters want is to get their name out and this is something they do really well. They hype the fights, even the ones that don’t get on HDNet are still sold out.”
MFC Lightweight Champion Antonio McKee says that exposure, “gets a bigger fan base, so you can do a commercial, and then represent a product, that’s how you make your name.”
Recently Pavelich has taken some harsh criticism from MMA fans, announcing that the MFC will cut any fighter who pulls guard during a fight, drawing speculation that the promotion was gearing more towards kickboxing.
“Look I am not saying that if you use Jiu Jitsu I am going to cut you,” says Pavelich. “I just don’t want guys who flop on the ground during a fight. Do you know how many e-mails I get telling me how boring those fighters are? I want some exiting fighters not guys who are just one dimensional.”
With MFC and its feeder show, HeatXC, attracting top prospects and name free agents to fill out eight to 10 sold out cards a years, don’t expect Pavelich to step away from MMA again any time soon. And don’t expect him to stop talking, either.
MFC 25: Vindication will take place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada on May 7 and air on HDNet at 10 p.m. EST.