Opinion: Is World Series of Fighting Just More of the Same?
By Jesse Heitz
Yesterday, the new startup company, World Series of Fighting, held a press conference that announced its official foray into the mixed martial arts business. The press conference has raised a plethora of questions, mainly the long-term viability of this new organization and whether or not it offers any kind of challenge to the Standard Oil of MMA, Zuffa and its subsidiaries.
Sig Rogich and Ray Sefo, World Series of Fighting’s CEO and President, respectively, have clearly opted to challenge Zuffa directly. The inaugural card of World Series of Fighting is slated to take place on Saturday November 3rd, less than two months away. What makes this date interesting is that Strikeforce: Mir vs. Cormier is being held on the very same night.
Sig Rogich certainly has a wealth of experience both in business and media and in the fight business—boxing to be specific, however, I strongly question whether going head-to-head against Strikeforce, a Zuffa holding and the second most prestigious MMA promotion in the world is the smartest move. There is no scenario in which I see World Series of Fighting coming out on top in this particular skirmish.
Even more troubling is that the first World Series of Fighting card is set to take place at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. It is looking to compete with the UFC in its own backyard—albeit in smaller venues, as Ray Sefo asserted that the immediate plans for World Series of Fighting are to remain in Las Vegas. Many companies have tried this strategy, several of whom were eventually gobbled up by Zuffa.
Perhaps the most crippling problem that this new startup will be forced to deal with is its lack of premier talent. Zuffa with the flagship UFC and essentially its minor league in Strikeforce, have the deep pockets necessary to acquire essentially all of the top fighters in the world. On top of that, the Zuffa brands can offer much needed exposure to their fighters, and the all-important recognition that they’re among and fighting against men who are unequivocally the best fighters on the planet.
Sure, World Series of Fighting and similarly less noticeable promotions like Bellator have some good fighters, however, when they establish themselves as top talent, they defect to the A-leagues. The exit of Middleweight Champion, Hector Lombard, from Bellator and his entrance into the UFC, is a perfect example. One would imagine that should they keep progressing, the likes of Askren, Konrad, Curran, and Alvarez will all follow the same promotional trajectory, a steady exodus toward the UFC and Strikeforce.
World Series of Fighting may even be worse off than Bellator. Despite its lack of prestige or perhaps even fan awareness, Bellator has a decent crop of up-and-coming fighters. World Series of Fighting on the other hand has had to fill its roster with journeyman free-agents and former UFC fighters like Miguel Torres and Josh Burkman. How can World Series of Fighting hope to compete against the UFC and Strikeforce when their roster is composed almost entirely of the aforementioned promotions’ hand-me-down fighters?
In all honesty, I would like to see World Series of Fighting succeed, as competition is good for the sport, and by extension, the fans. However, I don’t see it happening. World Series of Fighting misleadingly touted its deal with NBC Sports Network as something that was long-term and would allow it to challenge Zuffa. Now, a day later we have learned that NBC Sports Network deal is good for the inaugural card only. The ill-fated IFL had a TV deal much more lucrative than what World Series of Fighting has, and it failed. Bellator is even more advanced than the World Series of Fighting, it too possessing a long-term TV deal, yet in the best of times its cards only draw about 10% of the viewership numbers that live UFC cards pull in. The UFC and Strikeforce have gravitas which attracts viewers, its competition does not. Yet, World Series of Fighting pushes ahead, sure to squander its one shot on live TV by putting its sub-par card against a significantly more interesting Strikeforce card on the very same night.
On top of that, there is not one quality that World Series of Fighting possesses that is innovative—other than its decagon cage, it’s simply another run-of-the-mill MMA promotion. With all of this in mind, I cannot for the life of me see how this promotion will be any different than the many that have come before it. It’s just another organization thinking it has a business model that will allow it to carve out a piece of the Zuffa controlled MMA pie. I fear they will be horribly disappointed.