MMA’s lost stories is a series looking back on the weird and interesting stories from the sport’s past that may have slipped from the fanbase’s collective consciousness. This week, returning to a little promotion called Shark Fights.
On October 24, 2008, Shark Fights held their inaugural event, headlined by MMA footnote Shannon ‘The Cannon’ Ritch’s 47 second heel hook submission of John Wood.
The Amarillo, Texas-based fight promotion would, over the next year, become a moderate force among other “stepping stone” promotions, thanks to Don Frye twice competing in their cage – including a loss to Dave Herman in the main event of Shark Fights 6. Among those who stepped into the Shark Fights cage over the first year of operations were Frye, Herman, Ovince Saint Preux, Darrill Schoonover, Jesse Taylor, T.J. Waldburger and Gerald Harris.
The Shark Fights 3 main event between Eric Davila and Ritch was the setting for an article in ESPN The Magazine focusing on the dubious career of ‘The Cannon.’ Promotion president Jim Larsen was front and center in the article, doing the kind of hustle and slick talking required on the regional scene:
SHANNON RITCH spent his first day in town driving around with Jim Larsen, the fight’s promoter. They took the title belt in the jump seat of Jim’s big red pickup to show off to sponsors. They went to the Chevy dealership and said howdy and passed around the belt, giving out tickets to the fight as folks oohed and aahed. Jim reminded everyone that the belt was made special just for this show and that the cage out at the dance hall was the biggest setup in North America-33 feet across. The UFC is only 32 feet across, he told them. Only 32.
Sadly, weeks before Shark Fights 6, Larsen’s wife died following a battle with cancer.
“Sheila was a beloved mother, wife, daughter, sister and friend,” Sheila Patrice Larsen’s obituary reads. “A truly beautiful person both inside and out.
“Her strength of character, her kindness, love and compassion for others shined as a beacon for those around her. Her children were her greatest joy.”
On October 29, 2009, Shark Fights put out a press release announcing Jim Larsen had stepped down as president, handing the reins over to Brent Medley.
“My decision to resign as President of Shark Fight Promotions was a very difficult one, but it was a decision that I had to make,” Larsen stated in the release. “I could not fully dedicate my time to establishing the Sheila Larsen Foundation if I remained with the company, especially as President. Although I have relinquished my role as President, I will always hold my Shark Fight family close to my heart”
The move was understandable following the death of his wife and new role as single father to four daughters.
Less than three years later, Larsen lay in the middle of an Amarillo street, dying from a gunshot wound.
Larsen spent the late hours of August 3, 2012 arguing with a man named Brian Embry before driving to his home for a physical confrontation.
Larsen was dating the estranged wife of Embry and rode Embry’s own motorcycle to the confrontation after an argument via text message over who was the better father and who should stay away from the woman.
Embry fired a 9mm pistol after Larsen became physical before calling 911 and attempting CPR.
Larsen died at the hospital.
A report on Amarillo.com at the time quoted friend and early years “voice of Shark Fights” Warren McCarthy on the state of Larsen’s life over the previous years:
“Jim was extremely passionate about MMA, but his personal life was a mess,” McCarty said. “When his wife died, it really crushed him.
“After her death, dealing with Jim Larsen was dealing with a completely different person than they had before.”
A grand jury ultimately refused to indict Embry and Randall County Criminal District.
Attorney James Farren summed up the situation with a solid bit of combat theory, “When you bring martial arts to a gunfight, you’re not going to do well.”
And Shark Fights?
The promotion closed up shop after 21 events, ending much the way it began: With an MMA footnote in the main event as Bobby Lashley stopped Karl Knothe in the first round.