By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer
Colosseum Combat owner Mark Slater said his mixed martial arts show has been forced out of the Ivy Tech Kokomo Event Center, likely leaving him no choice but to move the show to another city.
Just two days after his most recent event, he received an email Tuesday from an Ivy Tech Kokomo region official that said, “The Chancellor is now concerned with a College building being used for MMA [or anything similar] events. He would like the use of Ivy Tech facilities to take a different direction than these types of events.”
The news caught Slater off guard. It’s hard to understand what prompted it, he said.
Slater has held 12 events at that building in the past 2 1/2 years, and nothing has ever gone wrong, he said.
“We haven’t had any violence in the crowds,” he said. “We haven’t had any fights. There was never any property destroyed. We keep it family-friendly.”
Ivy Tech Kokomo Region Chancellor Steve Daily said that’s not entirely true.
He said Slater was a great client, always respectful and mindful of the college.
“The audience he attracts isn’t always as respectful,” Daily said.
Following events, there was often trash everywhere and damage to painted walls and wood trim and hundreds of cigarette butts laying around, Daily said.
The chancellor said Ivy Tech just spent $1 million renovating the event center. The college uses it for classroom space and for statewide conferences.
“We need to keep it looking good,” Daily said.
Slater said he offered to help the maintenance staff clean up after events, and he denied there being any property damage.
The college had considered bumping Slater’s damage deposit up to $5,000, but decided, instead, to ask him to find another venue, Daily said.
Slater said there are no other venues in Kokomo big enough for his shows, which attract more than 1,000 people. He will likely be forced to move his show to another city, like Indianapolis or Fort Wayne. He was trying to avoid that, he said.
“I could move my show to Indianapolis and make more money, but I’m trying to have something here in my hometown,” he said. “This is my reward.”
He’s worried about the economic impact it will have on the city, too.
Slater said he holds multiple shows a year, and they bring in at least 800 people from outside the area.
People all over the state come in for the fights. He recently sold four VIP tickets to people from Wisconsin. The Quality Inn fills up with fighters and audience members. Many eat at local restaurants and fill their gas tanks up at local gas stations, he said.
Slater said his each of his shows likely pumps at least $120,000 into the local economy.
Daily said he doesn’t want to hurt the economy. He said Ivy Tech has a track record of supporting economic development.
But he has to worry about his college, he said.
“I have to look out for my business,” the chancellor said. “I’m making sure we have the proper space and the proper environment to educate men and women in the community.”
Slater said he feels like some people in the area are just biased against the sport. He said he’s never even seen Daily at one of his events.
“It’s not barbaric,” he said. “I’m not pulling these fighters out of bars. These are real athletes. Three guys are from the Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV.”
He said businessmen and women, ministers, families with children and even his grandparents attend the shows.
Slater said his is considered the premiere MMA show in Indiana, and only three other people are licensed to hold the kind of shows he does. They’re in Terre Haute, Valparaiso and Indianapolis.
Slater received an outpouring of support from people on Facebook, who’ve said they would flood the college with complaints about the decision.
“They see what the event brings to Kokomo,” Slater said.
The fight to keep his show in Kokomo is not over yet, Slater said.
“It’s a fight I may lose, but I won’t back down,” he said. “They’re going to hear about it until I’m out of breath.”