Putting Stéphane Patry’s comeback under the microscope. Part 2 – The Fighters

With Stéphane Patry‘s announcement last week that he intends to return this October with Instinct MMA to the Quebec scene he dominated for much of the 2000s, Montreal MMA News is taking a closer look at the issues and challenges in play for the former TKO promoter.

Monday’s Part 1 considered the licensing issue, and Patry’s recent promotional activities. Today’s Part 2 focuses on the fighters Patry has signed up for his comeback. Check back later this week for Part 3, looking at the impending promotional showdown with Ringside MMA.

Part 2 – The Fighters

Pat Côté and Steve Bossé fighting for Patry in 2007 at TKO 29.

During his return declaration, Stéphane Patry made it clear he intends to quickly reclaim his place atop Quebec’s MMA mountain, right off the bat aiming for numbers in the range of his peak attendance at TKO 31 in 2007 (per Patry over 8000 tickets sold).

Patry looks in part to be working to tap into people’s nostalgia for his past promotional successes by putting his familiar face front and centre in the comeback announcement. Coming off a recent bout with skin cancer, the 37 year-old says he’s now better, six months into remission.

As he divulged a long list of fighters during a  conference call last week, it at times felt like the Bill Murray vehicle Groundhog Day.

Patrick Côté, Steve Bossé, and Derek Gauthier, the same fighters featured at a press conference for last April’s Ringside 10 event, were on the line, each confirming their pleasure to be back with Patry, who said he’d done the lion’s share of the matchmaking for the first event. Future matchmaking, starting with a planned second event in December, will be handled by an American, Chris Cordeiro.

For now, only half the story can be told, as the list of opponents for the Quebec fighters won’t be revealed until a press conference next Wednesday. Until then, here’s a look at the names Patry did give out for October, many of them TKO veterans that he specified he’d signed for exclusive multi-fight agreements.

Steve Bossé fought five times for the TKO promotion from 2007-2008, going 4-1.

Steve Bossé (8-1): Debuting in 2007 for TKO, Bossé quickly became a popular draw with fans, contributing to the promotion’s growth, and achieving headliner status by his third fight. With the end of TKO in late 2008, Bossé was involved in 2009’s Strikebox/Titans Fighting debacle (more on that in Part 1), before taking fights with other promotions, including Ringside.

Fightless since June 2010, the feared former North American Hockey League enforcer has had a tough 2011 thus far.

Ringside announced his return for Ringside 10 in April, but an injury forced him off the card. Bossé’s relationship with the organization began fraying soon after when he and his team declined to take part in June’s Ringside 11 event in Quebec city, citing it as less profitable than a Montreal fight, according to Ringside president Eric Champoux, who in turn opted to sign Donald Brashear.

An attempt by Bossé’s manager Gary Chartrand to promote a Bossé-centred event in June, Challenge MMA, failed, and effectively terminated Bossé’s association with Ringside (he was stripped of his light-heavyweight title).

Patry appears to be banking heavily for his October return on his past success promoting Bossé, though after his long lay-off it remains to be seen whether or not the tough light heavyweight still pulls in crowds like he did early in his career. Additionally, Bossé has openly stated his intent to break into the US market, and may eventually take off, though when this would be is unclear. Patry has promised an ex-UFC opponent for Bossé, who’s said he’s working hard to expand beyond being just a stand-up fighter.

If Patry’s comeback falls through for any reason, Bossé will be in a tough spot – most likely persona non grata at Ringside, having no comparable promotion in Quebec to sign with, and unable to attract as much salary or ticket sales out of province. His comeback with Patry is as important for him as for the promoter.

Patrick Côté fought seven times for UCC/TKO, going a perfect 7-0 and capturing the organization’s light-heavyweight and middleweight titles. Photo by: Matt Consalvo

Patrick Côté (15-7): Since being cut by the UFC for a second time in late 2010, the always friendly Côté has made it clear that his sole goal is to get back to the big leagues, where he fought Anderson Silva for the middleweight title in 2008 (read about his trials and tribulations over the last few years here).

Unremarkable decision wins this year over fellow UFC vets Khalib Starnes (Ringside 10), and Todd Brown (Ringside 11) proved too little to convince Dana White or Joe Silva to call him back. With Ringside president Eric Champoux citing insufficient fan interest in his fights, no agreement for a third fight was made by the promotion and Côté.

Now back with the man who gave him a start in the business in 2002, he’s again made it clear he hopes a convincing win will get him back to the UFC, possibly in time for December’s UFC 140 in Toronto. Patry has said he’s sympathetic to Côté’s wishes, and made a point of saying during an appearance on Ringside Report Radio that he’s found him a more interesting and engaging opponent than Ringside did, specifically a fighter with UFC and K-1 experience.

If all goes to plan for Côté, it’ll be a one and done deal with Patry. But if he can’t get a good enough win, his sojourn in Quebec MMA could last longer than he’d originally hoped.

Eric Barrak has scored KOs in both his boxing fights this year.

Eric Barrak (0-0): A 33 year-old 5-0 heavyweight pro boxer, Barrak will be making his MMA debut for Instinct if all goes to plan in October. With four KO/TKO wins in his five appearances, Barrak clearly packs punching power.

How successful he’ll be making a transition to MMA at his age remains to be seen (see the recent fates of James Toney, Robert Masson). Barrak mentioned in a regional newspaper that he hopes it’ll help get into shape for a possible November boxing bout. He added he’s unlikely to commit to MMA for the long run.

Why Patry thinks the combat sport switch is a good idea is for now unclear. Quebec’s extremely thin heavyweight MMA roster could be one reason (the majority of the province’s fighters compete at 170 lbs. and lower). The potential attraction of a big man delivering solid knock-outs could be another.

Derek Gauthier (6-3): Known as the ‘Sex Machine,’ Gauthier has hit a rough patch over the last two years. After a 5-0 start to his career, the lightweight dubbed in 2008 as ‘the next GSP’ by Patry, has since gone 1-3, most recently dropping an uninspired decision at Ringside 10. Though Patry later admitted ‘the next GSP’ label had been pure promotional hype, he appears to be banking on his ability to nurture the former rising star back to his winning ways, something Gauthier alluded to during the conference call.

Dimitri Waardenburg (7-5): Coming off a loss due to injury against Stéphane Pelletier in a bantamweight title fight at Ringside 11, the usually entertaining Waardenburg will look to recover from his last fight, which snapped a five-fight win streak.

Guillaume Lamarche (7-5): Another fighter fresh from the Ringside banner, ‘the Showman’ dropped a decision at Ringside 10, which followed a submission loss in October 2010. Lamarche’s first five fights were with TKO (he went 4-1), before taking six of his next seven bouts with Ringside. Another former promising prospect Patry will hope to rehabilitate.

Other fighters Patry mentioned included Yan Pellerin (9-13, lost at Ringside 11), Shawn Davidson (4-1, inactive since a 2003 TKO loss), Yannick Galipeau (2-4, fought at TKO’s final event), Devin Henry (1-1, last seen at TKO 34 in 2008), Syd Barnier (3-3), and Dave Bedard (2-0).

Guillaume Vigneau (1-1), cousin of former TKO fighters Stephane and Steve Vigneault has also been signed. The young light-heavyweight is coming a TKO loss at Rising Star 3 in May.

In all, Patry’s announced list of names includes several TKO/UCC veterans, many recently seen fighting within the Ringside promotion, and coming out on the losing end. This will likely allow Ringside to cast many of them as damaged goods, promotionally speaking.

Whether Patrick Côté can deliver the exciting knock-out finish he’s been promising, Bossé is as popular as he once was, Barrak has cross-over appeal, and Patry can re-start the careers of other former prospects remains a question mark, and far from a sure thing.

Whether the fighters will depart for greener pastures when and if the opportunity opens up is also a factor to consider. It’s something all promotions outside the Zuffa banner have to deal with in the long run.

Much depends on the opponents Patry will deliver his local fighters. In the past he’s shown himself more than willing to pull in international mixed martial artists to help sell his cards. What is clear, at least until next Wednesday’s press conference, is that Patry is leaning on many of his old stars to recapture his share of Quebec’s MMA market. How wise a strategy that is should be known soon enough.

Check back later this week for Part 3, looking at the impending promotional showdown with Ringside MMA.

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