FightTicker.com Exclusive: Interview with XFC President John Prisco

Just a few days before the XFC's debut live event on HDNet, XFC 8: Regional Conflict, I caught up with XFC President John Prisco to discuss the upcoming event, his feelings on the live broadcast and special guest Bobby Lashley. As always, Prisco took the time to give some thoughtful answers.

Check after the jump for the full interview with Prisco.

FightTicker: Your first show in Tennessee was an exciting night of great fights – what can we expect the second time around?

Prisco: Thanks so much for the kind words, Brian. The great thing about the XFC is that our shows are always so unpredictable. I know it’s become a cliché to “expect the unexpected,” but there’s a lot of truth to that expression. Of course, some of this is by design: As a matter of policy, the XFC does not protect any of its fighters, and every single bout on XFC 8: “Regional Conflict” – on paper – is a toss-up. And what could be better than a night of young, hungry, well-trained fighters battling each other in the pursuit of MMA greatness?

There’s going to be some brutal knockouts. There’s gonna be some tactical wars. There’s gonna be some shattered dreams and broken hearts. But there’s also gonna be a number of rising stars that take the next step – taking a giant leap forward on national television in their quest to become superstars.

That’s what the XFC is so passionate about, Brian – launching the careers of the next generation of MMA champions. I might have no idea which fighters will ultimately prevail, but I fully expect to see some full-fledged cage wars erupt this Saturday night!

FT: How do you think the turnout will be with this show since it’s on a Saturday night and not on a Friday night like your last show in Tennessee?

Prisco: Being on a Saturday generally helps, because it’s easier for people outside of your immediate area to travel to the event. So while I expect most of the audience to still be from Knoxville, we have heard from a number of MMA fans in Nashville and Memphis that are planning a weekend road trip to watch our show.

Saturdays usually work better for our younger fans, so I’d also expect many more college kids, 20-something-year-olds, and teens than last time. Which is something we love, since these fans tend to be exceptionally loud and especially vocal – and the fighters really feed off the energy of the audience. A hot crowd really does make a big difference.

So if you’re coming to XFC 8: “Regional Conflict” this Saturday, April 25, at Knoxville’s Thompson-Boling Arena, plan on getting rowdy! It’s gonna be a tremendous night of MMA action!

FT: How does it feel to have the XFC card televised live exclusively on HDNet?

Prisco: It’s huge for us. In just one night, more people will see the XFC product than ever before – and we’re instantly transformed from a Southeastern promotion into a national promotion. Just one year ago, we were putting together the biggest fight cards in all of Florida – out-drawing everyone else, the UFC included – and now MMA fans from coast-to-coast will finally get to see what all the fuss is about! And what’s so special about what we’ve accomplished in such a short period of time is that we’ve done all this without compromising our core vision. See, some promotions – i.e. EliteXC – tried to buy their way into prominence. Others spent big money on past-their-prime “names” to draw a crowd. But the XFC has been singularly focused on developing new talent, growing the sport, opening new markets, and showcasing the superstars of tomorrow.

This vision has worked because our product is good: The fighters couldn’t possibly be more motivated, the fans are loud and boisterous, and these young warriors are now reaching new heights of prominence. And we’re very excited about finally sharing this product with MMA fans nationwide!

FT: You’ve already made great headway in Florida, and in hosting the first sanctioned Pro MMA card in Tennessee – how do you think this TV deal is going to further increase the XFC’s exposure?

Prisco: It doesn’t just increase our exposure, Brian. It also increases the exposure for all our young fighters. And if you’re an emerging star with big dreams – and you firmly believe in your heart of hearts that you have the skills and discipline to be a champion – then what could possibly be better than joining a promotion where all you have to do is perform, and everyone throughout America will get to see you in action?

Forget about all the politics and inter-promotional rivalries. We don’t get involved in that. What we do is provide a platform for emerging stars to perform against the top rising talent in their division. After that, it’s up to the fighter.

Which means that the XFC isn’t for everyone. If you’re a fighter with holes in your game and you need to be protected, we’re not a good fit. If you’re more concerned with inflating your record against so-so competition while hoping for a future payday, you’ll have to do it elsewhere. And if you’re a veteran looking to cash-in on your name recognition against an overmatch opponent, we’re not interested. But if you’re ready to battle the best available fighters – and do so live on national television – then we can truly help launch your career.

I think this mentality in and of itself will not just separate the XFC from everyone else – but will also separate the kinds of fighters that the XFC attracts from everyone else.

FT: New MMA Heavyweight Bobby Lashley is going to be there to present the XFC featherweight belt to the winner of Bruce Connors and Jarrod Card – when can we expect to see Lashley fighting for the XFC?

Prisco: I don’t want to negotiate through the media, but we think very highly of Bobby Lashley. His amateur wrestling background is superb, and I respect the hell out of him for walking away from the guaranteed paydays of the WWE to pursue his MMA dreams and start anew in a brand new profession. That takes a great deal of courage and a lot of faith in his abilities. Part of the appeal of Bobby is that nobody knows just how good he can be, but in my opinion, his ceiling is exceptionally high.

Bobby wants to work with us and we want to work with him. And when both parties have that kind of temperament, good things usually happen. So stay tuned!

FT: Ovince St. Preux will be making a return in front of his hometown crowd after his KO of CT Turner at XFC 7 – what are you expecting from St. Preux in his performance against Ombey Mobley?

Prisco: Ovince will definitely have his hands full with Ombey Mobley. Ombey is a former professional boxer and an absolute terror in the XFC training facilities, but Ovince has an uncanny knack for elevating his game and delivering when it counts the most. What’s so compelling about this fight will be all the emotions – and how each fighter handles them.

Ovince just won the biggest fight in his entire career with a highlight-reel knockout of CT Turner, instantly becoming a part of the light heavyweight conversation and is now a big celebrity in Knoxville. Will he be able to maintain his focus? Will he be able to build on his last victory?

Ombey is a close, personal friend of CT, and he’s legitimately outraged by how he believes Ovince has disrespected CT. Will his temper get the better of him? Or will he be able to control his emotions and simply take care of business in the cage? Psychologically, how will Ombey react when Ovince tries to kick him in the head – the same way he kicked and KO’d CT?

Either way, there’s definitely the potential for some serious fireworks!

FT: You have some other great match-ups on the card - Julio Gallegos will be facing CT Turner in Turner’s first fight for the XFC at Middlweight and XFC Lightweight Champ John Mahlow will be taking on Rafaello Oliveria at a catchweight of 160, to name a couple – is there a particular match-up you really think the crowd should look for as Fight of the Night?

Prisco: Gallegos against Turner is a fascinating matchup. Both men are in their 20s and both men have dealt with serious setbacks in life. Turner was homeless and fighting in the streets before he discovered MMA, and Gallegos’ mother and father were both killed in a senseless, violent crime while he watched as a young boy. In both instances, Julio and CT’s personal demons were exorcised, in a way, by this sport. I just know that neither man is gonna back down to the other, and both men are willing to sacrifice almost everything in order to prevail. Their hearts are just huge. Both men are class acts.

Mahlow versus Oliveira is another fight I’m really looking forward to watching. Mahlow is the XFC lightweight world champion, and since losing a tightly-contested split decision to WEC title contender Jeff Curran in May of 2007, Mahlow has gone 5-1, including 2-0 in the XFC. In his last three fights, Mahlow has defeated Eben “The Big O” Oroz, stopped UFC’s “Fight Night 13” veteran Ryan Roberts, and submitted Belator’s Luis Palomino in the fifth and final round of their XFC championship bout in December. Mahlow’s victory over Palomino attracted a particularly high level of media interest, especially after ex-UFC heavyweight champion Antonio Nogueira publicly declared Palomino to be his “personal protégé” and a future world champion. He’s a fighter who’s just starting to reach his peak.

Oliveira is a Brazilian-born BJJ black belt fighting out of Premier Martial Arts in Knoxville, where he works as a fighter and trainer. Interestingly, he trains one-on-one with UFC lightweight champion B.J. Penn in Hawaii, serving as Penn’s sparring partner for his past three title fights. Penn flies him over to Hawaii, specifically to help Penn work on his BJJ. Oliveira is 7-1, and his one career loss was the byproduct of a doctor’s stoppage – by cuts – on the undercard of the “ShoXC Elite Challenger Series” on Showtime in October of 2008. He was winning that fight, too, when an inadvertent elbow sliced him.

Oliveira versus Mahlow should be an exceptional battle – and I honestly have no idea who’ll win!

FT: You beat the UFC to the Tennessee market with XFC 7, and now you’re hosting XFC 8 approximately a month after the UFC’s first show in Tennessee – what sets the XFC shows apart from the UFC’s?

Prisco: I have enormous respect for the UFC. More than anyone else in all of MMA, the UFC has helped grow the sport and create a climate where an organization like the XFC can prosper. For that, the XFC – and every other promotion – should always be grateful and respectful. But there are differences.

At its heart, the UFC is a private, invitation-only fight club. They crown their own champions within this fight club, and promote their most marketable matchups within their private universe. And they’re great at it.

But the XFC strives to be an open market for all rising MMA superstars – no matter where they’re from or who they are – with no politics and no hyperbole. See, the UFC is more about the present, and we probably focus more extensively on the future. The UFC showcases some of the best fighters of today, but the XFC’s guiding principle is that there’s more undiscovered talent than established talent – and if we can identify and promote these fighters first, we can really help build this sport – raising it to even greater heights for decades to come. Not that the UFC doesn’t care about MMA’s future, of course, but each company goes about safeguarding the future in a very different way.

I don’t view the XFC and the UFC as being in competition with each other, not in the classic sense. They’re older and much more established, while we’re younger and still forging an identity with fight fans nationwide. But to us, the bottom line is that the UFC and Dana White are good for the sport, and although they’re not perfect, they’ve earned every single accolade they’ve received, because the UFC is a tremendous, world class product. And this isn’t just something that I’m saying to you, Brian – I’ve also said it personally to Dana White.

But I’d also like to think that our work with young, emerging fighters is a positive for the sport as well, and that we both bring something a little different to the overall equation.

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