With three victories in eight weeks for the Texas-based Ultimate Warrior Fighting organization, welterweight Lucas Pimenta (8-2) did his job. After Pimenta's paycheck for the tournament win bounced, he's hoping the Texas Department of Licensing and Registration (TDLR) can do the same.
Onetime Bellator MMA veteran Pimenta expected to be paid $25,000 for his work, which included wins over John Malbrough, Mitch Whitesel and "The Ultimate Fighter 13" cast member Shamar Bailey, the last of which took place this past June. Instead, a bankrupt promoter and commission red tape means the Brazilian is struggling to pay his bills.
"Lucas quit his job to train for those three fights, and he borrowed money to pay for his airfare, which he's trying now to pay back," Pimenta's manager, Wade Hempel, told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
). "He had to pay his cornermen for the fights, too. After that, he didn't have money to pay for Christmas gifts for his family. He's two months behind on rent. He's in a bad spot."
Ultimate Warrior Fighting was launched in 2011 by Oscar Enriquez and debuted with a splash, as UFC veterans War Machine and Roger Huerta squared off in the main event. The promotion would eventually host four events in Texas, including the three fight cards on which Pimenta competed, as well as one co-promotion with Bellator MMA.
Unfortunately for Enriquez, who started the promotion after retiring from a 30-year stint in the construction business, the events were not profitable.
"I lost about $260,000 of my money," Enriquez said. "I lost my retirement.
"I'm about 50 years old. I retired from construction a year-and-a-half ago. I had an opportunity to get into this. I did, and I lost my entire life savings."
According to Enriquez, Pimenta was the lone fighter from his cards that did not get paid. While TDLR officials require fight-purse checks to be written in advance, Enriquez ultimately put in a stop payment order on the check when the commission pointed out that he had not withheld a government-mandated $7,800 to be paid directly to the Internal Revenue Service. When it came time to re-issue the check, Enriquez says there was simply no money left in the bank.
"I'm not one of these promoters that took off running with the money," Enriquez said. "I lost my whole entire life savings. I had to go back into the construction business to pay my bills."
Fortunately, it would seem, the TDLR (like most athletic commissions) has a backup plan in place to prevent such tragedies. Enriquez secured two separate bonds worth $15,000 each through Washington International Insurance Company. One bond was to be considered an insurance policy for taxes on the event's gross receipts while the other would help to protect fighters against any unpaid purses.
End of story, right? Unfortunately, it's not.
"I've been working with the state," Enriquez said. "I've done everything I possibly can. I called the commission and told them I was short on money but had the bonds in place. What's really frustrating is that the state won't do s--- about it. They work like molasses. Since the bonds remain to the Texas Department of Licensing and Registration, they're the only ones that can actually cash it in."
As it turns out, the state also had an issue with Enriquez, who also did not have the money needed to cover the event's sales taxes, which totaled $3,195.12. The state also filed a complaint against Enriquez and levied a $3,500 "administrative penalty," payable in 12 monthly installments beginning Feb. 5, 2013.
Enriquez said he has already made the first payment on that order.
So if the TDLR is already receiving money to make up for what they're missing, why isn't Pimenta? According to the state, it's simply a matter of waiting through the due process required in such a case.
"We have 28 different statutes," a representative from the TDLR explained. "We have over 600,000 licensees. So we receive a lot of complaints, and it's just a matter of time. What happens is the complaint goes to enforcement, and they determine whether or not it's in our jurisdiction. Then it's turned over to an investigator, who investigates the facts. Then it's turned over to a prosecutor, and a prosecutor looks at it and determines what the violation is and how much we'll be asking for in an administrative penalty. Then a notice of violation goes out, and they have 30 days to respond to that.
"It's just a long process. Unfortunately, that's just the way it is. I would say that he does always have the option – and I know distance is a consideration here – but there's always small claims court."
As for Enriquez, his promoter's license expired this past September, and with mounting debts, he declined to renew.
"The whole reason I got into promotion was because of the fighters," Enriquez said. "I was trying to bring something to them, and the bad thing is the only money we generated was through ticket sales, and at the end it just wasn't there."
In the meantime, he did in September send $1,500 via wire transfer to Pimenta's wife. However, Pimenta said his bills are still mounting, and he has had to cut back on training in order to take a day job in construction and a night job as a bouncer. He hasn't competed since a September 2012 loss to Jeff Rexroad at Legacy Fighting Championship 14.
"I just wish I could get that money," Pimenta said. "I'm not in a very comfortable situation. It's getting desperate.
"I'm still trying to train as hard as I can. I want to be the best 170-pounder in the world, and I know I can do it. But right now, I can't afford to train. I have to get my bills paid. Once that happens, I can actually do what I love."
One of Pimenta's primary sponsors, Dom Fight Gear, has committed to donating 50 percent of its February profits to the fighter. Additionally, he's accepting donations via Paypal at email@example.com
Ultimately, it seems Pimenta will at least have a rightful claim to one of the $15,000 bonds. Whether or not he'll be able to collect any money from the second bond remains to be seen, as does a target date for the release of those funds.
In the meantime, Enriquez said he's done with MMA and offers his sincere apology to Pimenta.
"He's upset, and he should be, without a doubt," Enriquez said. "I'm upset about it, too.
"I don't need anybody to feel sorry for me, but what just knocks my head is there are bonds in place and Lucas can actually get all of his money if the state would just get off their ass and file the paperwork and do what they do so he can get paid."