In any business endeavor, growth is usually a good thing. However, when it comes to regional fight promotions, the game is not just growth, but also fighter development and a path to the upper echelons. Unfortunately, most promoters, whether operating with good intentions or not, do not offer these key components. However, Midwest promoter Shamrock FC has done everything in its power to redefine the landscape for up-and-coming fighters. With former Strikeforce fighter Jesse Finney at the helm, things have shaped up quite nicely.
Three years ago, Shamrock FC announced a partnership with one of the top promotions in the world. Through this partnership, fighters now have a clearly defined path to their future.
“One thing we’re excited about going into 2018 is that a lot of people have told us we’re the number-three promotion out there,” CEO Finney told Combat Press. “It’s either going to be us or [Legacy Fighting Alliance]. If you look at LFA, they do a nice job, but if you look at the longevity we have, and the deal with Bellator, with the production that we do, I think we’re number three. I really mean that. We’ve been in business over 20 years, we have done over 300 shows, and our deal with Bellator just sets us apart.
“With our deal, the night our guys win a belt, they are guaranteed a Bellator contract. That night, they are handed a contract. That’s for our champions.”
Three years in the making, it’s actually shocking that not as many people know about this deal as they should. To have a guaranteed contract is unheard of, but that’s the deal, and it’s working out nicely. This isn’t just some gimmick to get people onto Shamrock cards, though. Finney’s entire life background has been in the fight game, so he knows what the athletes both want and need.
“I was raised in a fighting family,” Finney explained. “My stepdad is Robert Biggs, who fought Bill Wallace in Bill’s retirement fight on Wide World of Sports. I come from a fight family. I’ve been in the fight game my whole life. When I was nine years old, I was carrying spit buckets and working the back rooms. Then I started competing in amateur kickboxing when I was eight or nine years old, all across the country. When I got out of college, I started fighting when I was 22. From my fighting career to being in Strikeforce to managing fighters to training fighters to being a fighter, there is nothing I have not seen.
“I know what these guys are looking for, and I know how they want to be treated to this day. And I respect the hell out of these guys, because I know what they’re going through. I know the small things mean so much, and they need the recognition they deserve. We have everything they need prepared for them, and that really sets us aside. We have all that. We have systems in place. We’ve been here for 20 years. My matchmaker and head of my operations is Rob Donaker, and he’s been with me for 20 years. We have a huge in-house staff.”
Outside of running tight promotions, with everything from matchmaking to having grappling mats set up in the back to timing walkouts to making sure the production itself is tip-top, the deal with Bellator has let Shamrock FC offer the fighters more than just a guarantee, but also a path to get there from the very beginnings of their young careers.
“Some of our undercards are amateurs,” Finney said. “We give them a chance to win that title, and from there, they get a three-fight contract in the pros. If they win that, they get another three-fight contract in the pros. If they win that and go 6-0, then we give them a title shot. If they win the title, they have a guarantee right into Bellator. Not many people can say, ‘Here’s your plan. If you follow it, you will succeed.’ It’s interesting. I wish someone would have done that for us.”
The Shamrock FC plan is not exclusive. It’s always up to the fighters in the promotion to choose what path they will take. However, in the fight game, a guarantee is very rare, and it’s an offer, at least until now, they cannot seem to refuse.
“With ours, you don’t have to go to Bellator,” Finney said. “If you want to go to UFC, and they pick you up, that’s fine. We just don’t have any guarantees with the UFC. With Bellator, we do. They have choices, and, as a former fighter, I want what’s best for them. If they think the UFC is a better option, I’m all for it.
“That being said, we have never had anyone turn down the Bellator offer, either. It’s right there in their faces.”
The beginning of 2018 marks the three-year anniversary of the deal with Bellator, and things are going quite well for Shamrock FC. The company had its 301st show to kick off the year, and the 302nd is coming up on Saturday night.
“We had a strong 2017, and we’re rolling into ’18,” stated Finney. “We just had a sold-out show at Ameristar Casino in St. Charles, Mo. The place was electric, so it was a good start to the year. We go to Kansas City next, so the foot is on the gas pedal.
“We work with Ameristar Casino in St. Louis and Kansas City. We work with four different casinos at the moment. We don’t strictly work with Ameristar. That’s just how it happened. We’re exploring other options as well.”
Shamrock FC 302 airs via a live stream on the Shamrock FC website. The stacked card brings in everything from young fighters looking to make a name for themselves to grizzled veterans.
“We’re really excited for it,” Finney said. “We’re ready to kick off the year in Kansas City, where we had a very successful 2017. UFC and Strikeforce veteran Bobby Voelker is headlining the card. We also have veteran Aaron Derrow as the co-main event. This is going to be our second event of the year, and I hope to have a sellout show like we did in St. Louis.”
Finney has been in in just about every aspect of the fight game a long time. The one thing that he and his team are very in tune with is the needs of the fighters. A lot of promotions speak to the fighter-first philosophy, but Shamrock FC actually executes. This is one thing that really sets them apart. On Saturday night, 22 fighters, in various stages of their careers, will get the opportunity to get into a big show.
“Right now, we are in a phase where we have a ton of young talent in the last year,” said Finney. “Last year, we were doing some small casino shows, but this year, we are only doing big casino shows. Big, meaning 1,600 to 1,700 people, but we are selling them out. And, they are 21 and older. We’re trying to do a bunch of quality shows, man, and if we continue to do quality shows, it’s going to show to the general public and the fighters that Shamrock is the place to be, because they can get a guaranteed contract right into Bellator.”