The uncomfortable truth: WSOF should concentrate on survival

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World Series of Fighting promoter/owner/Dana White-impersonator Ali Abdelaziz has been making headlines once again in the MMA media world, this time over his bold claims that WSOF 15 will be bigger than both Bellator 131 and UFC 180 which take place on the same night.

What on earth gives Abdelzaziz that idea? “I think it is going to be a bigger card than UFC and Bellator because it’s going to be free on NBC Sports and it’s going to have three title fights,” he told MMAFighting. Well, those things are factually true. However, the idea that those two things alone make an event bigger than a UFC pay per view is pretty far fetched. At any rate, Bellator 131 headlined by Ortiz vs Bonnar will also be on free TV on the same evening. Beyond that, MMA fans don’t seem to mind paying for quality MMA cards – that’s why a million of them paid for UFC 168 for example. However, we’ve also seen from UFC pay per views that title fights alone do not sell fights. Just ask Demetrious Johnson.

The fact is that the WSOF will come off worst in this three-way dance. It’s very hard to compare either Bellator or WSOF with the UFC pay per view card, but between the two companies putting shows on free TV it is highly likely that the Bellator card will draw at least three or four times as many eyes as the WSOF card. Since Tito Ortiz probably has more drawing power than the entire WSOF card combined it’s entirely possible that Bellator could reach towards 1m viewers, something WSOF could only dream of on NBCSN. This WSOF card and an average Bellator card may well be comparable in terms of talent, but this is not an ordinary Bellator card. With Ortiz/Bonnar, Brooks/Chandler, King Mo and Melvin Manhoef all on deck for Bellator 131, this is a card which dwarfs WSOF 15.

As for the suggestion that WSOF 15 would be a better card than UFC 180, I’ll have some of what Ali is having. This is not just a regular UFC pay per view – it’s the first pay per view in Mexico with a heavyweight title headliner and a number of other big fights on the card. WSOF, and Abdelaziz in particular, are very fond of throwing shots upwards and portraying themselves as plucky underdogs squaring up to challenge the big boys. The truth is that the sustainability of WSOF is something of a question mark within the sport, and sustainability should be the goal of WSOF right now.

A few weeks ago, WSOF announced that they would be producing their first pay per view in late 2015 with a profit sharing model that, while many joked about there being any profits to share, was genuinely a new and welcome innovation and at the very least started a discussion within MMA about direct profit sharing and why it happens in practically every sport but ours. However just a couple of weeks later we learn that the pay per view idea has been kicked into the long grass, another misstep and a sign of a lack of real organisation and forward planning.

At their most recent event we saw yet another example of the kind of bush league stuff that have sadly happened all too often to WSOF as questionable headliner Ryan Ford later claimed he fought the event with a broken arm, something which should not be allowed in any MMA organisation at any level – something WSOF has yet to comment on, or explain how it happened. Ford had caused controversy throughout the week leading up to the event as reports of his criminal and violent past came to light, a PR storm WSOF failed to get out in front of at any point. This comes after a number of public spats with fighters like Jacob Volkmann, Josh Burkman and Cody Bollinger over pay, contractual obligations and personality clashes with Abdelaziz – who very much seems to enjoy playing the Dana White antagonist role.

With promises of competing with the UFC, pay per view, expansion in Brazil and more all coming from WSOF, beneath the surface there are far more problems than you might expect from a promotion with such lofty aims. Instead of trying to run before they can walk perhaps WSOF should concentrate on getting their house in order and flying below the radar for a little while, instead of making headlines all too often for the wrong reasons.

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