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World Extreme Cagefighting Matchmaker Explains How Fights Get Made

One of the fun things about being an MMA fan is playing matchmaker: You talk to your friends about which fights you'd love to see, which fighters you'd love to see sign with another organization, and so on. But what's it like to actually make those decisions?

To find out, I talked to Sean Shelby, the matchmaker for World Extreme Cagefighting, about how he finds the right fighters for the WEC, and how he puts them in the right fights.

"My job, in a nutshell, is to bring viable challengers to compete against the champions," Shelby said. "I have to form a line of credible athletes and keep the line moving. I owe it to the champions. Of course there are so many things that go along with that, but I'm trying to find out just who is the absolute best in the world. Not only that, but who is second best, third best, fourth best, and so on. The bulk of the time though, is spent in contract negotiations, scouting, paperwork, meetings, etc. There is more day-to-day operations stuff at Zuffa than you can imagine."

Shelby works closely with UFC matchmaker Joe Silva, and Shelby's name is listed on UFC.com as the person that aspiring fighters should send tapes to. But Shelby said that in the age of YouTube, videotape has become a thing of the past.

"Four years ago I had so many videotapes that I was running out of room to store them," he said. "But now, since the advent of YouTube, I've moved my VCR out and I just spend a whole lot of time on YouTube. It's indispensable. It's incredible. Before I had to try really, really hard to find tapes and go through fighters' reels. Now with YouTube it's cut way down on the amount of work you have to do to see fighters. A guy gets a fight, puts it on YouTube, sends an e-mail with a link and that's it."

Shelby mentioned James Krause, who will make his debut with the organization against Donald Cerrone at next month's WEC 42 event in Sacramento, as a fighter who looked particularly impressive on YouTube.

"I came across James Krause, who's got a fantastic record," Shelby said. "He's 10-0 and only one guy got out of the first round with him. I started watching his fights online and it was really easy to see that he's a good fighter."

Shelby said the UFC and WEC spend enough time scouting fighters that at this point, they're aware of the fighters who are good enough to compete at the highest level.

"Anybody who sends in letters and tapes saying, 'I want to fight in the UFC,' those get funneled through me, but I don't get that many anymore because now if a guy is really good, Joe Silva and I know about him," Shelby said. "In each weight class I've got about 20 guys I keep my eye on to see if they're still fighting and still winning, and so then when there's an opening, I'll call one of the managers for those guys."

The bottom line in finding the right fighters, Shelby says, is he knows them when he sees them.

"I want somebody who looks like a pro," Shelby said. "I want somebody who's got a lot of ring time, at least four pro fights. I want somebody who's got crisp stand-up and is a complete martial artist. And also somebody who's a scrambler as well, meaning they'll really go after it."

As for putting those fighters in the right fights, Shelby said he buys into the old adage that styles make fights. But more importantly, he said, is simply making sure two talented fighters are put into the cage together. Shelby said he thinks the WEC has reached the point where its featherweight and bantamweight divisions are consistently putting those top fighters against each other. He referred to the WEC 42 main event of Urijah Faber vs. Mike Brown as "the best featherweight fight in history," adding, "I can't wait for it. I get goosebumps just thinking about it."

And Shelby said the featherweight fight on the undercard of WEC 41 between Jose Aldo and Cub Swanson is "more or less a No. 1 contender fight." He sounded particularly excited about getting big fights for Aldo, who is 4-0 in the WEC and has finished all four opponents.

Ultimately, matchmaking is about putting good fighters in good fights, and when it's done right, the fans get classics like the main event at WEC 40, between bantamweight champion Miguel Torres and challenger Takeya Mizugaki. That fight was made on short notice after Brian Bowles dropped out with an injury, and Shelby said he couldn't have been more pleased with the way it turned out.

"When Bowles fell out, Joe Silva and I were talking, and we just said, 'Let's just get the toughest sonofabitch we can find,'" Shelby said. "We owed that to Miguel Torres, because Miguel doesn't like easy fights. So I thought Mizugaki was an opponent the hard-cores would like. Not a lot of people knew about him in the United States, but I thought it would be a good fight. And it turned out to be an awesome fight. An incredibly awesome fight. And I think it shows that WEC caters to the hard-cores. If you're a real, hard-core fan of MMA, you like what the WEC is doing."