CASPER — Casper police are investigating an Illinois-based bare-knuckle fighting company that held its inaugural event in Casper on allegations it failed to pay fighters as much as $40,000, court documents filed last week indicate.
The World Bare Knuckle Fighting Federation held its “Rise of the Titans” event Nov. 9 at the Casper Events Center. Three fighters later contacted the Casper Police Department after they were unable to cash their checks because of insufficient funds, according to a sworn statement filed by a police detective seeking a search warrant. CEO Tomasz Stankiewicz allegedly gave the fighters checks valued at $40,000, $14,000 and $5,000, according to the affidavit.
Eleven fights were held at the event, and according to the investigator’s statement, “there are indications” none of the checks were honored. Some fighters’ contracts contained a percentage of the profits from the event’s pay-per-view broadcast.
Authorities expected to receive additional reports, including from corporations that were involved in the fight’s promotion, the documents state.
The documents, filed in Natrona County Circuit Court, indicate police sought a judge’s authorization to acquire records related to the company from a PNC Bank in Cleveland including: photo identification, copies of checks written from the account and monthly statements, among other things. Thursday, the detective received records from the bank. A receipt provided no details about the records.
Stankiewicz recently pleaded guilty in a separate federal case to wire fraud in Illinois. According to the plea agreement, he was responsible for financial institutions losing an estimated $1.98 million.
“This is bad for the sport,” said Bryan Pedersen, chairman of the Wyoming Combat Sports Commission. “We’ve had nothing but good events in the past. … We’ve never seen anything like this.”
The commission, which received its payment from the federation, does not enforce contracts, Pedersen said. Rather, contracts are privately made between two entities.
He said state inspectors receive calls “every week” about not receiving payments, and that Stankiewicz, in his communications with the state, says that payments are still coming. Stankiewicz has made some small payments, Pedersen said, but he does not know to whom or how much.
While the company could potentially forfeit its license, Pedersen said, it currently maintains one with Wyoming.
The November event followed a June bare-knuckle fight held by a different organization in Cheyenne — the sport’s first ever sanctioned event. Wyoming became the first state to sanction bare-knuckle fighting in March when the combat sports commission added the sport to its rules.
After the Casper event, Bas Rutten, president of the World Bare Knuckle Fighting Federation president and UFC Hall of Famer, posted a 4,600-word statement to Facebook that is cited in the affidavit. In the post, Rutten said all fighters would be paid before the end of the month and claimed an unnamed former company employee had mismanaged funds and taken advantage of Stankiewicz. Rutten did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Contract disputes led to multiple fighters dropping out of the Nov. 9 event, including a headliner and a former NFL star. The production company also backed out of the fight just days before, according to Rutten.
Based in Woodstock, Illinois, the federation listed a Cheyenne location as its business address in its initial filing with the Wyoming Secretary of State. The foundation’s website does not list any upcoming events.
A representative for the company declined to comment.
By Brandon Foster
Casper Star-Tribune Via Wyoming News Exchange