Fight Snub

The last people you would want to stiff are cage fighters, but it appears thatís what one promoter did

But did Garcia really do everything in his power to keep the fighters from getting ripped off? That's open to debate.

One question is how Tsuneyoshi got a license to promote MMA contests. Fight promoters are supposed to pay a $1,000 licensing fee, put up a $20,000 bond, and go through a background check before receiving a license. The background investigation is intended to weed out dubious characters and mob types — the kind of folks who might scam fighters or fans, or corrupt the sport by convincing combatants to take dives, thus turning a wager into a sure thing.

So it's a little surprising that the commission overlooked Tsuneyoshi's criminal history. Federal court records obtained by SF Weekly show he was busted in 1997 on felony drug charges for participating in a major coke ring that distributed powder around the Pacific — from the Big Island to Australia to New Zealand to Guam. He was convicted in 2000 of conspiring to distribute more than 5 kilos of coke, and was sentenced to five years in prison to be followed by five years on probation.

In June, the same month Tsuneyoshi put on the Bay Area Brawl, he was hauled back into court for violating the terms of probation by associating with felons, court documents indicate. Federal probation officer Joyce Lum declines to say whether his probation status is being investigated, citing privacy rules.

Tsuneyoshi's promotion company, Platinum Activities LLC, is also troubled: The company hasn't filed the required paperwork with the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Commercial Affairs, and is "not in good standing," according to state records.

Garcia says his employees did the proper due diligence before licensing Tsuneyoshi. "We checked him out," says Garcia. "He seemed legit. He seemed like a good guy." According to Garcia, Tsuneyoshi worked in tandem with a Berkeley man named Jeff Weller. SF Weekly was unable to reach either Weller or Tsuneyoshi via telephone. However, we did have an interesting e-mail exchange with Tsuneyoshi, who told us, "I have no problems with you writing a story, in fact you should write a story; however, you may not like what you hear when the facts come out." He went on to claim that the commission itself may get "investigated for wrongdoing," and that "fighters are being paid as we speak."

Don't let this give you the idea that all MMA promoters are sleazy. Take Rich and Jeff Cairns of the Pacifica-based Full Contact Promotions — they're smart, upright guys who truly seem to love the sport and care about the athletes.

The father-son team are putting on an MMA event called "Malice at the Palace," Sept. 9 at the Cow Palace, the aging, cavernous arena on the southern edge of the city. Jeff says he and his pop have sunk $150,000 into the event, the first they've promoted, and insists that everyone will get their money regardless of how many fans show up. "I want to have the fighters come back and fight for me again," says Jeff, a beefy 35-year-old deputy sheriff who's taking a leave from the San Francisco County Jail to prep for the event. "I like these guys." His dad is a retired police captain.

San Franciscan Jake Shields, one of the top-ranked welterweight MMA fighters in the world, coached Marks during his bout in Oakland and, like his fellow athlete, he's seen his share of questionable activity in the fight game. "Promoters have been taking advantage of the fighters for years by underpaying them," he gripes.

But at this point he's got faith that Rich and Jeff Cairns will put on a decent event. "It's awesome to be fighting in San Francisco," he says. "I think it's going to be successful." Besides, he adds half-jokingly, "They're the police, they can't be screwing people over and cutting out."

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