Shamrock FC CEO Jesse Finney is in a unique, yet ideal, situation. The Missouri-based promoter is a rare example of one who encapsulates every area of the fight game.
A large chunk of Finney’s successful perspective stems from the fact that he once competed inside the cage with a pair of MMA gloves. Following years of competing in boxing and kickboxing until he went to college, Finney launched his professional MMA career in 2007. He went 6-1 overall, including two victories under the Strikeforce banner. That experienced almost never happened, however.
Finney said that when he was 24 years old, he started his own gym business, Finney’s Kickboxing. Around that time, MMA was just getting its start as a sport, so very few MMA gyms existed. Mixed martial artists would train different disciplines at different gyms. Finney was training kickboxers at the time, when MMA fighters came into his gym to work on that aspect of the sport. The rest is history.
“I started training a bunch of guys, and a few MMA guys came in and wanted to spar,” Finney told MMASucka. “The MMA guys tried talking me into fighting MMA, and I told them that they were absolutely crazy, and there was no way on God’s green earth I’d get in there. They kept talking me into it.”
Eventually, Finney caved and it happened. Seven professional fighters later, he hung up the gloves shortly after Strikeforce was sold and merged into the UFC. Finney was not one of the fighters taken into the UFC, but that wasn’t the only reason he decided to retire from competition.
“I lost to Josh Neer, and I knew for me, business was getting too big and I was 35, 36 years old at the time,” Finney said. “I was running Shamrock and owned three gyms. I was managing guys, promoting guys, and I was trying to fight, myself. It was too much.”
Now 42 years old, Finney has used the different hats he has worn in the fight game to his advantage as a promoter.
“I feel like I can see all sides of the fight game,” he said. “I can see the fighters’, managers’ and coaches’ sides. I’m a fighter’s promoter. I see their side better than most promoters do. I understand their emotional rollercoasters because I’ve lived it.”
Finney founded Shamrock FC in 1997 as a kickboxing promotion. Just three years later, the organization began to feature MMA bouts.
Finney said that he knew he wanted to be a promoter since the time he was 13 years old after traveling the country with his mother and step-father to watch combat sports shows. As his self-proclaimed addiction to the fight game grew, he realized he could put on better shows than the ones he watched, and used that as motivation to create Shamrock. His love of the fight game was his biggest stimulant, though.
“I’ve always loved the fight game,” he said. “I absolutely love it. Once you get into it, it’s hard to get out of. A lot of people get addicted to caffeine or drugs and alcohol, but I’m addicted to the fight game.”
Naturally, Finney loves the business side as well, considering he said that he enjoys staying five steps ahead of other MMA businessmen.
He used that knowledge to craft his ideal fight promotion, Shamrock. To do so, he combined the entertainment aspect of shows with his knowledge of combat sports in order to provide local fans with an exciting night out. As of 2010, Finney also had his full MMA career under his belt, so he was able to add a completely new dimension to his promotional know-how.
“A lot of guys that are promoters were not fighters,” he said. “They don’t really understand. It’s a business or a hobby for them. I know how [former Strikeforce founder and CEO] Scott Coker treated me, and that’s the way I want to treat fighters.”
To this day, Finney recognizes Coker as his mentor and friend. That professional and personal comradery has allowed the two promoters to make deals between one another. Coker serves as the president of Bellator, arguably the second most well-known MMA promotion behind the UFC, so it was wise for Finney to make a deal with his old promoter.
“When [Coker] gives you his word, his word is golden, and I feel I’m the same way,” he said. “We’re both martial artists, and that’s why we’ve clicked so well together.”
Finney said that if Shamrock fighters win the promotion’s title and successfully defend it once, they automatically earn a five-fight Bellator contract. Shamrock has served as something of a partial farm system to Bellator, and Finney said he’s glad to have that mutually beneficial relationship in place with Coker.
Rebecca Ruth and Joaquin Buckley are a pair of ex-Shamrock veterans that have made it to Bellator. As for fighters under his own banner, there are a few that Finney is especially excited about.
He specifically named UFC veterans Bobby Voelker and Jake Lindsey, Titan FC veteran Zak Bucia, and prospects like Kelvin Tiller, Corbin Howard and Erion Zekthi.
Finney said that all of those fighters encapsulate the type of mixed martial artists he’s looking for to fight for Shamrock FC.
“First and foremost, we look for character in a fighter,” he said. “It’s not just about their skill-set. As hard as we run, we demand respect and professionalism at all times.”
Finney pointed out Zekthi specifically as a man that is in line with his vision for fighters representing his promotion. Despite Zekthi losing his last fight to Demetrius Wilson via a closely contested split decision, Finney said he was more than happy to extend Zekthi’s contract because “he fought as hard as he could and left it all in the cage.”
Finney, happy with the state of his contracted fighters, is looking towards his promotion’s future with wide eyes. Shamrock FC will likely be celebrating its 300th show by the end of 2017, but the CEO said that it’s only the beginning.
“I’m more excited about the future than the past. I feel like we’ve touched so many fighters’ lives. Next year, we have some really big shows planned. We’ve been here for 20 years, and we’re looking to be here for another 20 years.”
Finney and the rest of his team at Shamrock FC shouldn’t have an issue with that as long as they continue to abide by the same philosophy that has earned them their past two decades of success.
Author Michael DeSantis is the sports editor of the Stony Brook Press, and writes about MMA for MMASucka!