On July 22nd, MMAJunkie.com broke the news that James McSweeney was to replace Buentello’s original opponent, Marcus Sursa [12-8], citing only that he had been “forced out” of the light heavyweight main event.
What does that even mean, “forced out?” Was Sursa injured in training? Did he ultimately decide a fight on August 23rd just wasn’t feasible for him at this time? More importantly, how do we go about finding out why Amarillo-born Sursa hasn’t fought in his home state of Texas since 2011?
I soon discovered that Sursa did not vacate the card on his own accord: the Texas Department of Licensing and Registration [TDLR] had not approved the fight with Buentello. Speculation as to why this happened can often get a bit carried away, so I decided to educate myself further on the regulations handed down by the TDLR [found here]. Under Chapter 61.20, it states that, “Professional combative sports contestants… who… participate in a regulated professional event authorized by the Code must be licensed or registered by the executive director.” Chapter 61.19 discusses sanctions and penalties. It reads, “If a person violates Texas Occupations Code, Chapter 2052, or a rule, or order of the Executive Director or Commission relating to the Code, proceedings may be instituted to impose administrative sanctions and/or recommend administrative penalties…”
Upon further research, I came across this 29-page chart provided by the TDLR dated March 5, 2010. Sursa is the only fighter listed as “suspended indefinitely” with an otherwise blank entry, besides a note that curiously reads “CONTACT TX.”
Was Sursa’s problem a valid license? Not according to his manager, Train, who informed me that Marcus’ paperwork was, to his knowledge, up-to-date. What I did find out, however, is that the TDLR did give a reason to Sursa’s camp regarding his dismissal from the Legacy card…but not one Train could find on the regulations. “[The TDLR] said he was ‘too volatile’ for weigh-ins,” Train explained. “That’s a matter of opinion. You’ve seen weigh-ins where guys punch each other all the time and yell at each other. It’s a combat sport. He’s never done anything at weigh-ins that I’m aware of. He’s got in some verbal arguments or some pushing matches, but so have a lot of guys.”
“We have requested to know what the basis for suspension is, legally, so we can appeal it by the book,” says Train in earnest. “We have contacted Greg [Alvarez, Assistant Combative Sports Program Manager] and the Regional Director of the ABC [Association of Boxing Commissions] Josef Mason, but have not received a response from either.”
I did confirm a suspension levied by the commission, one that Train insists Sursa completed after an incident with none other than would-be opponent, Paul Buentello, in 2011. “There is no existing suspension or code that cited for him not getting a license in Texas that I’m aware of,” he says. When I asked, Buentello confirmed that the two fighters were, indeed, in a fistfight on June 18, 2011. Upon receipt of this information, I noted that Sursa had fought that night for now defunct Undisputed MMA promotion out of Amarillo. Finally, I begin to connect the dots.
I wanted to wait a few days to see if I could get in touch with Marcus and get his side of the story. After a few tries, I was able to get several details, including what incited the blowout between him and Buentello in 2011.
“It’s complicated,” Sursa begins. “All I know is that the commission won’t accept or give me my license to fight. I’ve already done my 90-day suspension and Paul’s already done his 90-day suspension. They cleared Paul to fight, but they won’t clear me to fight. I think Paul doesn’t want to fight me.”
Are these simply the musings of a downtrodden opponent? Sursa has a different story. “[Paul] used to be my first boxing coach. I know all about him; I’ve trained with him a bunch. [That night] I was fighting Nate James out of American Kickboxing Academy. I saw Paul was in James’ corner, which pissed me off because Paul’s from my hometown; we’re both from Amarillo. You don’t corner against someone that’s your friend or someone that you’ve coached. I would never corner against Paul. NEVER.”
Sursa continues, “After the fight was over, I ended up losing a split decision. I felt like Paul was a lot responsible since he was in my opponent’s corner. I told Paul when we were going back to the locker room that I thought they hadn’t beat me and they were all, ‘Ha-ha! We beat Marcus Sursa!’ and laughing about it. So I walked over and I was like, ‘Screw you guys; you won a s****y decision and you didn’t beat me.’ Paul got in my face and was like, ‘Well, I’ll beat your ass,’ and I was like, ‘I bet you don’t.’ I told him to get out of my face and he goes, ‘Make me get out of your face!’ so I head-butted him. I split his head open and I split mine open. He knocked my dad down…knocks two of my coaches down. So I threw him in the corner and started beating on him and some people pulled me off him.”
“I did some investigation on why Paul was in his corner,” Sursa admits. “Come to find out, Paul was managing Nate James. I thought he was my buddy, my friend. He was asking me how training was going and how my weight loss was going…questions about my camp. I gave him the answers because I didn’t know he was a part of Nate James’ camp.”
“He knows I beat his ass in that locker room,” Sursa says with confidence. “He’s looking for a fight that’s going to make him look good and get him back in the show [UFC]. He doesn’t want to lose. James McSweeney is an easy win for him. If James does take Paul down, I think he could win the fight; but I think he will try and stand with Paul.
Perhaps contributing (and ultimately unhelpful to his cause) was Sursa’s previous altercation with UFC 155er, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in October 2010. According to several reports, including one from MiddleEasy.com, the brawl took place backstage at an Evolution Combat Sports card in Clovis, New Mexico, where Sursa was to fight in the main event that evening. Sadly, the bout never came to fruition. Cerrone showed up with Sursa’s ex-girlfriend and both got heated after several choice words were exchanged. Sursa ended up with a cut above his eye and “Cowboy” with a busted lip.
“I was in my locker room, where it was supposed to only be people on the team and people that had corner passes. No family members, no friends could be back there,” Sursa tells me. “I have my phone, my wraps, and all my stuff in my hands. Then Donald Cerrone is standing inside the locker room where no one was supposed to be. I see him and I see my ex-girlfriend and they look all mad. So, I take my headphones off and I’m like, ‘What’s up man?’”
Sursa explains further, “My girl broke up with me and started going out with Donald. She broke up with Donald, came back and started dating me again and told me a bunch of stuff. So, I told him, ‘This girl was cheating on you when she was with you.’ So he’s like, ‘You talking s***t?’ and I was like, ‘What’s up?’ and he pushes me. So we got into a pushing contest. I go to push him again and he sticks me right in the eye with his right hand and it cuts my eyeball. I went crazy and I pushed him kicked him and knocked him down. I went to kick him again and knock his head off, but my dad came through the curtains and pulled me off. So that’s how that went down…Donald initiated it. He came into the locker room to look for trouble.”
I ask Marcus if he thinks this incident is being held over his head, in addition to the scuffle with Buentello. “Definitely,” he laments. “There’s another thing that gets on my nerves. They talk about how I’m aggressive at weigh-ins. Well, Jim Larsen [now deceased] and Brent Medley, the two presidents of Shark Fights…they used to tell us, ‘Get in each other’s faces; go crazy and yell at each other. It will pump the fights up for us so everyone will want to come out and watch.’ So, that’s what I would do. I would get up in the opponent’s face and build the fights up so there was some drama. I mean, we’re going to fight each other, not playing dominos. Now, I’m reaping the consequences off of all of that.”
Train recounts that Marcus has had a hard road and was very much looking forward to this fight. “He just had a kid,” he tells me. “We received the contract [for Legacy FC 22] and we were fighting in it. He had a warrant in Amarillo for some child support payments and basically, to show how responsible he is, he drove 18 hours to Amarillo and spent nine days in jail, so he wouldn’t get picked up at the fight. So, he spent everything he had to go down there and take care of that, so he would legally be okay for that date to fight. All of this happened when he was in jail, so he didn’t even know that they denied his license. When he got out, he was expecting to have a main event fight and a nice payday and he hears that they’re not going to license him. [Marcus’] position is if he’s too volatile to fight, the guy that he got into it with is still fighting,” says Train. “If they were worried about volatility or someone doing something in the back room, that’s a contradiction in itself.”
With that, the question still remains: what code did Sursa violate that prevents him from fighting under the Legacy banner, or in Texas at all, for that matter? What would have happened if Sursa had attempted to fight someone other than Paul Buentello? All questions that, for now, go unanswered.
A request to the TDLR for more information has been submitted, but no response has been received as of yet.
Marcus would like to thank: “All my family, Premier Combat Center here in Omaha, Nebraska, Jason Brilz, Houston Alexander, Anthony Smith, my coach, Kurt Podany, for helping me not only training, but getting my life back together and back to winning again!”
…Thoughts expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer….