Mark La Monica is the deputy sports editor for cross media at Newsday and writes about mixed martial
The World Series of Fighting debuts Saturday night with a handful of well-known and accomplished MMA fighters on its inaugural card. That figures to boost ticket sales, pique general interest and nudge the television ratings a tick or two higher.
But as much as those help, it is the name behind WSOF that made the biggest difference initially.
"Anybody can be a front guy, but not anybody can bring the type of experiences that I have, that I've gone through in the fight game," said Ray Sefo, the kickboxing legend and president of the Las Vegas-based MMA promotion. "This is a fighter's promotion. I'm a fighter for fighters. Being a fighter, I truly understand what it entails in terms of discipline, sacrifices, training camps and all that."
Sefo is a known entity in the MMA world. He is an eight-time Muay Thai world champion, a kickboxing world champion, a boxer, a trainer. The 41-year-old native of New Zealand wears the mileage of close to 100 pro bouts in those legs and hands.
So when fighters not under contract to the three main promotions (UFC, Strikeforce and Bellator) hear about WSOF, knowing that Sefo is attached to the project only serves to bolster his sales pitch. Sefo can offer a paycheck to punch and be punched, and continued exposure.
"One big reason I chose World Series of Fighting was because the people that are running this organization have been through what I've been through with being a fighter," said Anthony Johnson, a UFC veteran on Saturday's card. "They know how it is inside the cage and outside the cage, and they really understand us as fighters. I really like Ray I lot. I've been watching him since his kickboxing days. That really motivated me to work with a guy like him."
On Saturday's card, which takes place at PH Live at the Planet Hollywood casino in Vegas and airs live on NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus), you also will find Andrei Arlovski and Miguel Angel Torres. Arlovski is a former UFC heavyweight champion. Torres, a former WEC bantamweight champion, has 20-fight and 17-fight winning streaks on his resume.
Additional familiar names include Manhattan's David Branch and Brazilians Gregor Gracie, Gesias Cavalcante and Ronys Torres.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think we'd have the great talent that we do on the card," Sefo said.
But names will get you only so far. At some point it becomes more about what occurs inside the cage rather than who is in the cage, a fact Sefo understands.
The marketplace for smaller MMA promotions is growing more crowded by the month. Is there room for another one, let alone one based in the "fight capital of the world,'' which just so happens to have UFC a few blocks down the Strip?
Sefo says yes.
"In terms of talent, there's no shortage of talent," he said. "There is a lot of room for another league, because if you look at our card, if there wasn't any room for another league, we wouldn't have the fighters we have on our card."
The World Series of Fighting also caught a break when Strikeforce canceled its Nov. 3 card featuring heavyweight Daniel Cormier and Frank Mir, a former champion on loan from the UFC. Mir was injured during training, as were other fighters on the card, and Strikeforce scrapped the entire card.
"The thing that's going to make me wake up and say it's all worth it is when these guys go in there and fight with passion and heart and soul and put on a great show," Sefo said. "Because at the end of the day, no matter what you do, that's why people pay to see the show and see these guys compete."