Ray Sefo is the front man for the World Series of Fighting. | Photo: Dave Mandel
A Las Vegas-based mixed martial arts organization will hold an event featuring former champions, potential stars and a host of other recognizable names on Saturday, all in front of a cable television audience on a prominent network.
Sounds promising, right? World Series of Fighting President Ray Sefo seems to think so.
“Putting this whole product together, I think we’ve done a lot of learning along the way,” Sefo said during a pre-fight media call. “We’re very confident, especially with all the guys [on the card]. We’re thankful for the guys we have. I’m very confident we’re going to do a great job. It’s like stepping into the cage; there’s a bit of nerves, but that’s what keeps you sharp.”
The WSOF’s inaugural event takes place at the Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino in Sin City and boasts a lineup that includes ex-Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight titlist Andrei Arlovski, former UFC welterweight contender Anthony Johnson and onetime World Extreme Cagefighting bantamweight ruler Miguel Torres, to name a few. The main card airs on the NBC Sports Network -- the channel formerly known as Versus -- while the preliminary card streams live on Sherdog.com.
All the ingredients appear to be in place for a successful debut, and the forecast grew even brighter when Strikeforce, the WSOF’s competition for the date, canceled its Nov. 3 event after a series of injuries decimated its own fight card. As a still-active fighter himself, Sefo is not reveling in the misfortune of others, particularly when the cancellation caused a number of his combat sports brethren to lose a paycheck. However, the fact that his promotion is essentially the only game in town on Saturday is not lost on the K-1 standout.
“We want everybody to tune in. The ratings are something that is really important to us,” he said. “With the card that we have, I have no doubt in my mind that all of these guys are going to come to perform.”
With that said, Sefo is not interested in developing a rivalry with the Zuffa, LLC brand. Instead, the WSOF figurehead wants the company to be measured on its own merits. Anything more than that would be premature.
“We’re really happy with where we are today,” Sefo said. “We’re not in competition with anybody; we’re in competition with ourselves to be the best that we can be. It’s obvious the UFC is the best at what they do, and they’ve done an amazing job to be where they are. At the end of the day, without them doing so well, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
That happy-to-be-here vibe was evident throughout an Oct. 24 teleconference. The three most prominent names on the WSOF marquee -- Arlovski, Johnson and Torres -- all have something to prove, and each is looking forward to capitalizing on the opportunity the upstart promotion provides.
“I’m still young. I have energy. I want to be a champion again,” said Arlovski, who faces International Fight League veteran Devin Cole in the main event. “I want to climb back on top. This is a great opportunity to prove to everyone that I’m not done yet.”
More than six years removed from the last time he stepped into the Octagon as heavyweight champion, Arlovski is looking to build upon a strong showing against Tim Sylvia at One FC 5 in August. Though the bout was ultimately ruled a no contest, the Belarusian appeared to have his longtime rival in peril before landing a pair of illegal soccer kicks to his opponent’s head. One Fighting Championship has since adopted Pride Fighting Championships rules, which allow soccer kicks at all times.
“I thought for some reason the referee gave me permission to [use the] soccer kick,” Arlovski said. “What happened happened. I’m not complaining about the result; it’s OK. I shut many, many mouths that said Arlovski has a weak chin, a glass chin. Sylvia landed a couple of good right hands and actually hurt me at the end of the first round.”
Meanwhile, the imposing Johnson is building momentum as a light heavyweight after spending the majority of his UFC career at welterweight. Well north of 200 pounds, “Rumble” often struggled to make the 170-pound limit. His transition to middleweight was no better, however, as the Blackzilians member missed weight again prior to a UFC 142 showdown with Vitor Belfort. Johnson was released by the promotion following a first-round submission loss to “The Phenom.”
With a pair of 205-pound victories already under his belt in 2012, Johnson feels revitalized at his new weight class. His third appearance at light heavyweight will come against Cage Warriors Fighting Championship heavyweight king D.J. Linderman in the WSOF decagon.
“I’ve had my ups and downs, but I don’t take anything back,” Johnson said. “It’s just a learning process. Fighting at 205 has been a blessing. You never see me smiling the day of weigh-ins. I’m usually mad at the world and don’t want to talk to anybody. I just want to step on the scale and just start eating, but now I’m more calm and relaxed. I just go with the flow and make weight.”
Regardless of how he performs in the coming months, a return to the UFC is not likely to be in the immediate future for Johnson. The Georgia native has signed an exclusive deal with WSOF, and he is content with the decision.
“I just think this is gonna be the next best thing around right now, and I’m just glad to be a part of it,” he said. “I think things [in my career] are really starting to kick off like they should have a while ago, but things happen when they’re supposed to happen. I’m not worried about anything, and I’m just happy to be in the position where I am now.”
While Torres was not part of the media call, the former WEC champion expressed enthusiasm mirroring that of Arlovski and Johnson during the promotion’s initial press conference in September. The East Chicago, Ind., native has lost four of his last seven fights while competing under the Zuffa umbrella. A win over Marlon Moraes would set up a meeting with Tyson Nam, who upset Bellator Fighting Championships bantamweight titleholder Eduardo Dantas via first-round knockout at Shooto Brazil 33 in August.
“The biggest thing for me is that it’s a new company, a new beginning,” Torres said in September. “Being on NBC Sports is a huge thing. Me and my manager and my trainer talked, and it was the best decision for me to come here. I’m happy with the deal we worked out.”
Sefo hopes the debut event will only be the beginning of an extended run in the MMA business. Eventually title belts, tournaments and fight cards outside of Vegas will become part of the WSOF equation, but those will have to wait. For now, the man known as “Sugarfoot” is happy to be in his current position, and he anticipates that the WSOF brand will continue to grow and prosper in the coming year.
“We’re taking one step at a time. You’ve got to crawl before you walk,” he said. “Our goal is to try to be one of the forces in the world of mixed martial arts.”