World Series of Fighting will be the second major mixed martial arts promotion to plant its flag in the hallowed ground of Madison Square Garden when it hosts its blockbuster year-end event on New Year’s Eve.
WSOF is following in the footsteps of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which held its first-ever card in New York City at the legendary venue on Nov. 12. While UFC 205 was in the actual arena, WSOF 34 will be held inside The Theater at Madison Square Garden. Nonetheless, WSOF President Ray Sefo hopes that the high-profile event will draw more eyes to the promotion.
“That’s the hope and the dream is to attract more fans to the sport but also to WSOF,” Sefo said on the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown” show. “There’s three major leauges in the U.S.: UFC, WSOF and Bellator. Anybody that deserved to be at the Garden first was the UFC. It’s great to see the sport come so far and improve so much.”
MMA organizations outside of Japan tend to traditionally avoid booking fights on New Year’s Eve. To wit: UFC 207 (current odds) will take place on Friday this week so as to avoid conflict with the fight-loving public’s potential celebration plans.
However, Sefo believes WSOF will not encounter such issues with an early start time: Prelims begin on WSOF.com at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT before moving to NBC Sports Network at 2:30 p.m. ET/11:30 a.m. PT; the main card is begins on NBC at 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT.
According to Sefo, securing the venue on New Year’s Eve was a coup for the promotion.
“It was [difficult]. It’s who you know, not what you know. That’s how it came about,” Sefo said. “We were able to finalize it and move forward with it. We’re fortunate and blessed we get to be in New York City and Madison Square Garden New Year’s Eve. There’s so many legendary names and fighters that have fought in this arena, so I can’t think of a better place for New Year’s Eve.”
WSOF 34 will feature a quartet of title fights: Justin Gaethje vs. Luiz Firmino at lightweight; Jon Fitch vs. Jake Shields at welterweight; Marlon Moraes vs. Josenaldo Silva at bantamweight and David Branch vs. Louis Taylor at middleweight.
Of those, Sefo is most looking forward to the showdown between Shields and Fitch, both of whom were 170-pound title challengers in the UFC at one point.
“It still surprises me that these two guys have been in the game for so long and they’re icons of the sport, yet they’ve never met. I’m looking forward to every fight on that card but I would have to say Jon Fitch vs. Jake Shields is sticking out a little bit because they’re big names of the sport and they’ve never faced off against each other,” Sefo said. “So it’ll be a first.”
While New York is a city with plenty of options when it comes to entertainment, Sefo is confident WSOF 34 will stand out as an attractive possibility come Saturday.
“We have a great team down there, a PR team….we’ve got some of the best people in the business in New York City, making sure the whole city of New York knows what’s going on New Year’s Eve,” he said.