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WFA Promoters Lewis and Huntington Speak Out Regarding Recent Media Woes
It's usually a good thing when fans and press are still talking about a mixed martial arts show a week later, but in case of the World Fighting Alliance: Level 3 event held last week in Las Vegas, the less gab the better. With rumors still running rampant regarding a media mishap that took place just prior to the second to last fight of the night, promoters John Lewis and John Huntington are hoping to set the record straight as to just what went down.
Among those asked to leave the stage was the photographer for Full Contact Fighter, the oldest running MMA publication out there. Alongside "the Mouth of NHB", representatives from numerous media outlets were also affected, including MMAWeekly.com, Sherdog.com, Maxfighting.com, and FightSport magazine. World-renowned Japanese photographer Susumu Nagao also received the cold shoulder from the venue's security team; while Josh Gross, there to supervise the coverage of the event for Maxfighting.com and FightSport magazine, spent the rest of his evening retrieving his photographer Peter Lockley, who'd been removed from the building all together.
With someone having to take the blame for this media mess, all fingers pointed to Huntington, the "non-MMA" half of the WFA promotion team and the one who supposedly gave the orders in question. Huntington is the owner of "Club Rubber," a string of successful touring club events that have spanned the country. Teaming up with UFC and Extreme Fighting veteran Lewis, Huntington brings all the "night club" aspects to the mix. Just where was Huntington during all the commotion?
For the entire run of the show, Huntington says he was in a control booth located at the back of the house, a substantial distance from the stage. Running the lighting, video track and clips, DJ and fighters' entrance cues via headset, Huntington says he was first approached by the venue's technical director Nick Cavazas regarding not the media, but the fighters' entourages loitering onstage. Huntington recalls Cavazas expressing concern over safety issues regarding wiring and equipment in the area and asked Huntington to address the onstage overflow. At this point, between split-second cues, Huntington told Cavazas to find John Lewis to deal with the situation.
But Lewis says he was fighting his own battle downstairs with the Aladdin box office that had shut down for the night and was turning customers away (including those trying to pick up will-call tickets). Lewis entered the box office only to be told by the female supervisor on-duty that standard Aladdin protocol had them close the box office thirty minutes after a show is in progress. "I was very upset and I got loud with her and told her she needed to open the box office back up. Needless, to say she was upset that I was in there in the first place and she asked me to leave the room. I walked out and they opened the box office again and everything was fine -- fine except for the people that were turned away and left -- but at least the matter was dealt with."
If that were not the least of his problems, about thirty minutes following the box office altercation, Lewis says he was approached by five Aladdin security personnel and two uniformed police officers, who escorted the promoter up to his room to pack his belongings and then proceeded to kick him out of the casino… forever!
Back up in the control booth, Huntington recalls being approached by Nick Cavazas again, urging him to clear any unauthorized persons off the stage. With Lewis gone, Huntington knew he would have to deal with the situation on some level. "I told him that anyone with the proper credentials could stay onstage and those without would have to leave." Huntington also says that Cavazas did not cite any names or publications, but took these orders and exited the control booth.
So, if Huntington didn't give the nod to remove the media photographers along the cage, just who did? Perhaps the answer to this lies with Nick Cavazas and his security crew. Despite messages left on his cell phone, Cavazas did not return the calls to comment on what transpired. In the meantime, Huntington and Lewis have both come to their own realizations regarding what happened. "Someone must have used my name to clear that area," rationalizes Huntington. "It makes no sense for me to kick photographers or even writers out of the show. Why would I do that? That's who builds my show!" Lewis has come to the same reasoning as well. "What I'm thinking is the guy just went back and said 'Everybody off. John [Huntington] says everybody off.'" Added Lewis, "Why would we go to the trouble of making credentials for the media, if we didn't want them there? We had over fifty media representatives there and we gave all of them credentials. We let certain media go up on the cage, and then for the last two fights we decided to screw the press over? It doesn't make sense. It's kind of silly to even go there. That wouldn't hurt anybody but us, so I'd appreciate it if they [certain members of the press] would let that go."
"I have nothing but love for the MMA media," commented Huntington, who says he cut short a vacation in Cabo to come back and address the situation. Although Huntington admitted that he does not know every single media member by face, he stressed that he understands the value of their work immensely. "Of course I know Full Contact Fighter and I know that John has a great relationship with them, as well as other members of the MMA media. I would never in any way jeopardize any of these relationships."
It seems the MMA media were not the only ones spurned at the event. Lewis also points out that coverage for the event suffered on other avenues as a result of the Aladdin's security blitz. "The more people I talk to, the more people I hear had trouble with security overall," he lamented. "Wild On E! [popular show on the E! Channel cable network] and NBC were both turned away at the door because they didn't have their credentials yet. Even when they asked to send one person in to claim their credentials waiting inside, they were still denied access." Lewis says that despite the rude way in which they were handled by security, they have pledged to return and cover the next show for an upcoming Wild On episode.
And speaking of ambushes, did booted promoter Lewis ever get back into his own show? "I was on my way home when I got a call from my lawyer who was able to talk to the security team while I was gone. He got them to let me come back to pay everybody and make sure the end of the fights went okay. John Huntington had to leave the control booth to give Marvin Eastman his belt [in the second to last fight] because I wasn't there then. I was rushing back as fast as I could and made it there just in time for the Trigg-Hallman fight. I was escorted for the rest of the evening -- three hours of settling up with the hotel and everything else I had to do."
But as the plot thickens, Lewis says he has made one interesting discovery following the fights. "I watched the video yesterday and I took notice of who was on the stage. There were only six cage-side credentials handed out, including the two "Staff" ones [given to FCF's photog and Susumu Nagao that allowed them stage access as well], but I did notice a cluster of people up on that stage. Maybe people were going up and taking photos anyways. If that be the case, then certain members of the press took advantage of the situation, and they might have messed it up for the guys that were meant to be there. That might be the reason why everyone was asked to clear the stage. I hope the press that's upset with me remembers that." Had Lewis been in the area (or even the building) at the time of the wrongdoing, he says he "would have known who had credentials and who didn't and would have cleared the stage accordingly to accommodate the security's safety issues."
With plans for WFA: Level 4, scheduled for late February to early March, now underway, Lewis says he is already working to ensure that this type of occurrence doesn't happen again at any of his future shows. Besides paying closer attention to communications between security and his own staff next time, Lewis also hopes to accommodate more photographers along the cage at future shows by providing alternate areas for them to work in. "I'm learning as I go along. I realized the last time [at WFA 2] that we had a lot of people on the stage. I was really overwhelmed by this and it didn't look good on video, but on the flip side I had great coverage. I've got to find a way to keep the stage clear but still keep my great coverage and I'm willing to do what I have to do to make that happen."
Bottom-line, Lewis says he and his staff take responsibility for what has happened, but hopes that the full story will paint a more honest picture of what really went down on that night. "I'd like people to understand that a lot of stuff was going on that was security-related and that part of it was bad for everybody. The show was beautiful -- I was very happy with it and it seems like nobody knew what was going on except, unfortunately the press. I apologize to everybody that was inconvenienced by it all and I hope that the press knows me enough to know that that's not my nature. The people that are covering me and supporting the show are top priorities for me. There's a lot of people that have been there for me, like Full Contact Fighter, and I will do everything in my power to make sure nothing like this ever happens to them again."
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