LAS VEGAS -- What started as a breakfast conversation with a business buddy for Ray Sefo, has turned into a full-blown MMA promotion backed by NBC Sports Network.
Sefo, the former K-1 kickboxer, joked about how a casual conversation more than a year ago led to the World Series of Fighting — MMA’s newest organization, which was announced Thursday during a media gathering at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino.
"It was a Friday night and I was interviewing with TapouT radio. One of the questions we talked about was an issue within K-1, and I said if I had the right people and the right funding I could do that and take it over," said Sefo, the WSOF president."The very next day my phone rings at 8 o’clock in the morning, a good friend calls (me to talk).
"Long story short, we had breakfast (and talked about ideas for new fighting promotion). The crazy thing is that everything he had in mind, I had in mind. That was the birth of what we have here today."
What the WSOF has now is a handful of former UFC fighters who will compete on its very first card, a Nov. 3 date featuring former World Extreme Cagefighting bantamweight champ Miguel Torres headlining against a yet-to-be-named opponent.
The event — like all of the shows that will take place in 2012 will air live on NBC Sports Network from Planet Hollywood — features Gregor Gracie (7-2) taking on Tyson Steel (8-1), along with Ronys Torres (25-4) vs. Brian Cobb (19-7), Gesias "JZ" Cavalcante (16-6) taking on John Gunderson (34-14) and Josh Burkman also fighting on the card. Other notable signings of WSOF include former pro wrestler Bobby Lashley and Ultimate Fighter alum James McSweeney.
"For me it’s a new future, it’s a bright future. Being on NBC Sports is a huge thing for me, and a big deal for all of us," said Torres, who was recently released by the UFC after suffering a first-round knockout loss to Michael McDonald at UFC 145. "I look forward to coming out on November 3 and putting on the best fight, the best main event I can for you guys."
Much like the many opportunities that Torres had to sign with varying MMA promotions, Burkman also felt the WSOF was the right place to call home over other promotions.
"I just came off a fight a week and half ago against Jamie Yager and I won that fight. I was just kind of sitting back and waiting for the right opportunity, waiting for the right phone call," Burkman said.
"Since I came out here and talked to everyone involved and being on NBC and with Planet Hollywood, I know I’m in the right place. We’re gonna make some noise in the MMA community. Ray wants to give the fans the right show and he’s treating the fighters great."
Indeed, if anyone knows how to relate to fighters, it’s the 41-year-old Sefo.
In addition to his decorated kickboxing career, the New Zealander continues to coach fighters in and around Las Vegas, a position he plans to continue holding despite his new responsibilities as WSOF president.
"I love challenges," Sefo said. "Being the president of a company is a huge responsibility and being a coach is a huge responsibility. I feel right now I can wear both hats. As long as I can do that, I’m good with it."
Much like the UFC, WSOF will utilize rules regulated by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, with possible minor changes being introduced prior to or after the inaugural event. However, one major difference from the UFC will be the WSOF’s use of a 10-sided cage compared to the UFC’s octagon.
Sefo says the promotion hopes to put on eight to 10 shows during its first year, which is also the length of the promotion’s contract with NBC — obviously the biggest partner of the WSOF, which also includes MMAWC (a Nevada-based company with longtime combat advocate and marketing guru Sig Rogich leading the way) and Caesars Entertainment.
While plenty of MMA promotions have come and gone in recent years, Sefo believes the fighters, fans, and backing of NBC Sports makes WSOF different.
"Just like anything you got to start from the bottom up," he said. "We believe there’s a lot of talent out there that is not contracted out in the UFC. I understand the goal for every fight out there to get to the UFC, or most fighters I should say. And so they should, as it’s the beast of the MMA world right now.
"But we’re not focusing on that, we’re focusing on what we bring to the table — which is creating more opportunities for fighters."