Opinion: Will World Series of Fighting Survive?
By Jesse Heitz
The struggles and successes of second-tier MMA promotions has always been a fascination of mine. The current contenders for the UFC’s crown routinely provide opportunities for fans and writers alike to reflect upon and ponder the future of these promotions. Today is undoubtedly one of those days.
In a recent Sports Illustrated article entitled, “Arlovski vs. Johnson Showdown could be just the Beginning for WSOF”, the author hypothesizes that this particular matchup and the free agent signing strategy that the WSOF has employed since its inception, may allow the organization to blossom into a viable MMA promotion.
World Series of Fighting President Ray Sefo commented on the situation by stating,
“Martial arts is like life itself. You’re going through a great stretch, and suddenly it all falls apart. You don’t know what happened. But you have to find a way to get on with it.”
“Our biggest challenge is ourselves. We need to focus on putting on exciting fights.”
One can certainly applaud Sefo’s efforts to put on exciting fights, but let’s face it, a matchup between Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, a current light heavyweight (who spent his career fighting at welterweight and middleweight) and a former UFC Heavyweight Champion in Andrei Arlovski, is not necessarily the path that leads to sensational ratings or the exceptional revenues that a leading MMA promotion often garners. These two fighters didn’t facilitate the survival of the likes of: Strikeforce, EliteXC, or Affliction.
On top of the fact that neither of these two fighters at this given moment are large draws, their accomplishments outside of the UFC leave much to be desired. Ray Sefo touted Arlovski’s recent five fight undefeated streak (4-0, 1 N/C) as something special, but let’s put things into perspective. Arlovski’s four wins came against: Devin Cole, Mike Hayes, Travis Fulton, and Ray Lopez. By no means is that a murderer’s row. Now he’s set to fight an undersized “Rumble” Johnson in a heavyweight bout, the headlining fight for the WSOF 2 event.
Most recently we have the WSOF signing Jon Fitch, while he’s still one of the better welterweights in the world, it was proven that he could no longer compete with the upper echelons of the UFC’s welterweight division. Again, Jon Fitch was not the biggest draw. Yet Sefo, like any promoter, has pumped up his new acquisition, stating,
“Look at Randy Couture, one of the icons of the sport. He wasn’t the best striker out there. But I tell you what: He had the biggest heart, and he would grind till he stopped somebody. Fitch is that kind of guy.”
Jon Fitch is a nice guy and a capable fighter, but a Randy Couture he is not. Couture was a perennial champion in two different weight divisions. While not the most dynamic striker, he was able to find a way to stop guys, something that Jon Fitch has long been criticized for being unable to do.
Sefo has described his company’s talent signing strategy and even his own possible efforts to deepen the pool as follows,
“We’re signing fighters from all over the world. If any of those guys make sense (UFC free agents), we’ll make it happen.”
“I’ve had a couple of offers to fight in Moscow and an offer or two from Australia and Japan. When I presented the offers to my team, they were like, ‘Why don’t you fight in our own league?’ So, keeping fingers cross, I’ll hopefully be in the cage for the World Series of Fighting by the end of the year.”
This is a strategy that has been tried time and time again, all to no avail. Gobbling up fighters that have been cut or otherwise released from the UFC will not sustain a growing MMA promotion. Ray Sefo donning MMA gloves for the fourth time in his career will not lead to promotional solvency. The only way an organization like the WSOF can survive is if it follows a strategy such as Bellator’s. It absolutely must grow its own exciting talent. There simply is not another option.