After what might have been its most successful night as a mixed martial arts promoter, ProElite finds itself on the defensive. For the past several days, the Los Angeles-based company has been fending off allegations of fight fixing.
Shortly after stopping Kimbo Slice in 14 seconds in Sunrise, Fla., on Saturday, last-minute replacement Seth Petruzelli began granting interviews. But it was the one he conducted Monday with an Orlando, Fla.-based radio station that has put ProElite under the microscope.
"The promoters kind of hinted to me and they gave me the money to stand and trade with him," Petruzelli said on "The Monsters in Orlando" show. "They didn't want me to take him down, let's just put it that way. It was worth my while to try to stand up and punch with him."
Petruzelli has since claimed his comment was "misconstrued." But the damage was too great to simply go away quietly. His words implied that ProElite attempted to influence the fight, causing the issue to mushroom.
After repeated calls from ESPN.com, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation -- which oversees the State Boxing Commission -- said Thursday that it has opened a preliminary investigation into the matter.
"While the Department of Business and Professional Regulation doesn't have any reason to believe there was a problem with the Slice-Petruzelli fight, given the interest in it, the Department has begun a preliminary investigation to thoroughly review the circumstances of the fight," said Jennifer Meale, Communications Director for the DBPR.
Jeremy Lappen, head of fight operations for ProElite subsidiary EliteXC, isn't concerned about the investigation. He insists there was no attempt to influence the fight in any way.
"We had a main event that fell out three hours before the fight was scheduled to start," Lappen told ESPN.com. "We had to scramble. And rather than call off the event, which is what most promoters would do, we put together something for the fans -- and tried to put on the best fight possible.
"We offered Seth Petruzelli a knockout bonus, a submission bonus and "fight of the night" bonus. If we were trying to influence the fight, why would we do that?
"We were not trying to protect Kimbo. He had been training to fight a guy in Shamrock who has a better ground game than Seth. If we were trying to protect Kimbo we would have sent him home. We put him in a dangerous fight."
ProElite's problems began Saturday afternoon when Slice's original opponent, Ken Shamrock, suffered a cut over his left eye. The Florida State Boxing Commission examined the injury and deemed it too severe to allow Shamrock to compete.
In an effort to keep Slice on the card, ProElite then made an offer to Petruzelli.
The Orlando, Fla., resident wasted little time accepting. Petruzelli, who was scheduled to face Aaron Rosa in a light heavyweight undercard bout, seized his opportunity by handing Slice his first professional loss.
In his excitement, Petruzelli began talking to anyone who would listen. But Petruzelli isn't used to being the focus of attention, so when his local radio station called, he opened up.
If the DBPR finds Petruzelli's statements during that radio interview to be true, it might cause irreparable harm to ProElite. It might also damage the credibility of mixed martial arts.
With so much at stake, Lappen stepped in to clear things up.
"We didn't try to influence the fight, and Seth said we didn't try to influence the fight. So there isn't a story," Lappen said. "If we are being hurt image-wise then it is extremely unfortunate because nothing happened."
Lappen is disappointed that so much attention has been placed on Petruzelli's statement. He points out that the card attracted more than 4 million viewers.
"I wish there was more focus paid on the fact that we had an amazing night," Lappen said. "There are a lot of great things that came out of Saturday night, the least of which is the ratings.
"That to me is a huge story. We went against other major sports -- a very big college football game, a playoff game in baseball and we did a better rating than they did. We were No. 1 in the key demographics [males 18 to 34 years old]."
But UFC president Dana White says a large television rating won't matter if it is found that ProElite attempted to influence the Slice-Petruzelli fight. White welcomes the DBPR's decision.
He believes any hint that a promoter influenced how a bout was fought will harm the integrity of mixed martial arts. White added that his organization could also feel the sting.
"The Mandalay Bay and Venetian [casinos] took bets on that fight," White told ESPN.com. "If you're a fan of mixed martial arts and you sit down and do all the stats and you're like 'man, if this thing goes to the ground, Seth Petruzelli can win this fight, I'm gonna bet on Seth Petruzelli.'
"Then you don't know the promoters are paying the guy and saying 'don't go to the ground?' That's criminal. If that was in Las Vegas and the Nevada Athletic Commission had put that fight on, the FBI would be investigating them right now.
"This is how it hurts [UFC]; it hurts our mainstream growth. The people who aren't hardcore fans ask me 'Oh, you have that Kimbo Slice guy.' And I have to say no, 'I don't have Kimbo Slice.' I would never bring Kimbo Slice into my organization."
Franklin McNeil covers boxing and mixed martial arts for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J.