In 2011, when I was living in Las Vegas, I began hearing rumors of a huge MMA tournament being organized by legendary kickboxing star and MMA trainer Ray Sefo.
Rumors fly everywhere in Las Vegas, especially when you live and operate in the MMA scene. You really never know what to believe. And from what I'd heard of Sefo's idea, I wasn't sure it could ever be pulled off.
I'd heard Sefo wanted to organize a big MMA tournament, to be held over the course of a few days at Caesar's Palace, with the winner awarded a $1,000,000 prize. It seemed too good to be true. It also seemed remarkably similar to the plot of the movie, "Warrior."
But most of all, it seemed completely outlandish; the Nevada State Athletic Commission would never sanction such an event.
It was a pipe dream, albeit one that held plenty of intrigue for longtime fans of mixed martial arts. It was like the old days with the crazy PRIDE tournaments, a throwback to the days when fighting was still something of an underground thing, followed closely only by those who frequented mixed martial arts message boards.
Sefo's old-school dreams eventually became the World Series of Fighting, which makes its debut this Saturday night at Planet Hollywood. It's not the tournament Sefo originally envisioned, but rather a simple and traditional MMA card, albeit one with some of the biggest names available outside the UFC. Andrei Arlovski headlines the event. Miguel Torres takes his first post-UFC fight on the main card, and superstar kickboxer Tyrone Spong makes his MMA debut.
But Sefo told me last week that he'd still like to see the tournament format utilized by WSOF at some point.
"That was 100 percent WSOF. We were looking at tournaments at that point in time. We signed a lot of fighters, but we couldn't uphold our end in terms of dates, so we had to release a lot of fighters," Sefo said. "It obviously changed with time. We're going with the format we're using now because it works, and we'll create our roster from there and then eventually look at the tournament style.
"I would have loved for the tournaments to happen. But that was something we would need to have approved before finalizing anything," he said. "It was never anything outside of talks in the office. But it would be kind of cool if it did happen."
Sefo is everywhere in Las Vegas. I used to see him at every local fight card, at Xtreme Couture and at the UFC offices. If a location had something to do with martial arts, Sefo would be there. And so I wonder aloud if Sefo has the time on his busy schedule—he's a prolific trainer of fighters while still maintaining his own fighting career—to manage the responsibilities that come with promoting events.
But World Series of Fighting isn't Sefo's first foray into the promotional end of the sport. Few people realize it, but Sefo and his business partner promoted K-1 events in New Zealand. To hear Sefo tell it, WSOF is a natural progression from his career as a fighter and trainer.
"It's definitely the next chapter in my long life in martial arts. It's what I wanted to do," Sefo said. "I wanted to stay in MMA and also share these experiences with fans and fighters."
How will Sefo fit WSOF into his already busy schedule?
"Right now I don't have a problem doing it. I'm just one of those guys that stays busy," Sefo said. "My only concern is traveling. But with WSOF, everything is in Vegas. It's good because I'm getting to spend time with my son. It's all possible to do, and I love doing it."
Sefo's role with WSOF is much like Dana White's role with the UFC. He's the figurehead. He'll take the lead at press conferences and do all of the interviews promoting the event. His business partner in WSOF has remained silent and hidden behind the scenes, leaving Sefo to handle the brunt of the publicity work. It's a role he's not used to, but he says he'll gladly do it.
"The crazy thing is that I don't see myself as that guy. I am that guy as the President of WSOF, but I don't see myself being pressured to be that guy. I love it and I enjoy it, and everything works," Sefo said. "I love coaching, competing and being president of WSOF."
"Everything is moving the way it's supposed to. There may come a time when it's too much, when I'm too busy," he said. "If that happens, I'll take a look at it and make adjustments."
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