The World Series of Fighting debuts this Saturday night from Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. I know what you’re thinking, “The World Series of what?” I think that was most people’s reaction when they first heard of this new start-up MMA organization.
The first thing that passed through my brain was thoughts of cynicism when I heard that the WSOF would be trying to get a piece of the MMA pie with pretty much the same business model as the now defunct Affliction MMA. It’s really hard not to compare the WSOF and Affliction; I guess you can throw in Elite XC into the conversation too.
Regardless, Affliction came into being back in 2008 with a star-studded card of UFC castaways and Fedor Emelianenko that cost them a pretty penny. Not to mention their first show had Megadeth performing which could have been a “Bad Omen.” Affliction only did two shows before tapping out in 2009 and going back to just being a brand of t-shirt worn by the Jersey Shore crowd.
I don’t want to be a cynic because you never know; maybe we will see a true player rise up and surprise us all. However, this time around it’s not some shady former boxing promoter or a trendy T-shirt guy running the show. The president of WSOF happens to be a guy who truly understands the fight game. “Sugar” Ray Sefo, who is a former elite K1 kickboxer and world Muay Thai champ, is the man in charge. I had a chance to chat with “Sugar” on MMASucka Radio this week and he fully understood my skepticism.
“I don’t blame the skeptics. They’ve seen from experience and from past leagues. I don’t just jump into anything half hearted and have a one-off show. I do this because I knew there was room for another league and I knew if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it 150 per cent. I know with the people behind me that it will 100 million percent work!”
One-hundred-million percent is a lot — I recommend saying that with your best Dr. Evil voice.
Now, was he alluding to something else? Could it be that the WSOF has a ton of bank backing them up? To break into the professional mixed martial arts game, you either go regional and build, or throw all your eggs into one basket and hope the money doesn’t dry up or the ratings don’t drop. Another rule is don’t go into the fight game pretending that you’re going to dethrone the UFC anytime soon, that is something Sefo fully understands.
“We aren’t coming out here and trying to say that we’re going to be better than UFC or better than this league or that league or we’re going to take the world of MMA by storm. We understand the game and we understand that we have to crawl before we walk. Our league has nothing but love and respect for UFC. They’ve done an amazing job for the sport. If they didn’t do what they did, then we probably wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing. In a lot of ways they’re an inspiration for us, because they’ve done an amazing job. I also coach a lot of the top fighters that fight in the UFC and we have a great relationship. We are taking one step at a time and we’re not trying to compete with anybody; we’re competing with ourselves.”
How many times have we heard a promoter say that? “We are not here to compete with the UFC; we respect the UFC… blah, blah, blah.” Yeah that is all sweet and dandy, but here is a news flash, you are competing with the UFC and nowadays more so than ever. The UFC puts on at least two shows a month. They have completely saturated the market, so much so, they are even finding it difficult to sell out their own events. An MMA fan has a hard enough time tuning into a UFC on FUEL card or any MMA event these days. How is the WSOF going to get a casual fan’s attention? Hardcore fans may tune in, but last time I checked they don’t fill up an arena, just ask the Showtime executives about Strikeforce’s attendance. Also the casual fan won’t put aside time to watch a promotion they have never heard of, not when there are so many other things to do on a Saturday night.
Maybe I’m wrong, maybe Sefo and his team know something I don’t know. Yet paying fighters who are on the preliminary card an exuberant amount of money seems like a high risk game of poker, so maybe having it play out in Vegas is fitting. It has been rumoured that the WSOF has spared no expense in fighter pay. However, the man who wears many hats as fighter, Xtreme Couture coach, and now WSOF president, doesn’t feel the pressure nor does he think there is any inherent risk by putting all his eggs into one basket within the current MMA landscape.
“There is no risk at all. People that say that don’t understand everything that goes on behind the scenes. We are 100 million percent confident that not only are we going to produce this great card, but obviously our goal is to keep producing good cards. I didn’t do this because it is going to be a one-off hit, I’m doing this because I’m passionate about it, I love the sport, I enjoy it and I know it can work. It’s providing another major stage for fighters and I have no doubt in my mind that this is going to be big.”
You have to give credit to Sefo for his courage to say there is no risk. Again, this is a guy who has fought some of the best kickboxers out there in the K1 ring, so you know he has some serious cojones. With all the money that investors are allegedly throwing at this you would expect that the tickets for the show would be expensive and only affordable for the Las Vegas elite. Not so fast, “Sugar” is sweetening the pot, not only is it going to be a fun night of fights, but it will be affordable entertainment for everyone.
“Tickets start at 20 dollars. When was the last time that you got to enjoy such an amazing card like this for 20 dollars? The most expensive ticket is 100 dollars and that gets you sitting cageside. The team and I sat down and we thought that the economy hasn’t been great for the past four or five years, so we want all of our locals to come and enjoy our show. It’s a show that not only will be an ‘A’ Class show, but also an affordable show.”
So if you are in the Las Vegas area this weekend, you get to see the likes of Andrei Arlovski, Anthony Johnson, Miguel Torres, Gregor Gracie and the MMA debut of one of K1’s greatest champions in Tyrone Spong, for 20 bucks. That doesn’t clean out the wallet like the blackjack tables do. For the rest of us who live in Canada you can watch the WSOF on The Fight Network.
So although there are many skeptics out there who think that this is just another flash in the pan promotion looking to cash in, maybe we need to think again. The information that is floating around out there is that NBC Sports Network is in this for 8-10 shows and WSOF 2 is already being scheduled for the end of January. Maybe it’s not fair to be already engraving the WSOF headstone right beside the Affliction plot.
Yes it’s true that we are in a so called “down period” of MMA. These things are cyclical, and maybe the best time to get things rolling is during a slow period. With the predicted demise of Strikeforce, and no real No. 2 organization out there with a sweet television deal, maybe it’s the World Series of Fighting that comes out of nowhere, swings for the fences and surprises us all. Heck it’s what Sefo used to do.
In the end, a gimmicky 10-sided cage or a 20-dollar price point isn’t going to be what will allow the WSOF to succeed. It will need a combination of entertaining fights matched with an audience who will give a damn. If you are like me you are going to watch, but something tells me we have seen this movie before.
For the full Ray Sefo interview in its entirety listen to MMASucka Radio HERE.
(Photo by @WSOF)