It didn't take long for people to start taking the World Series of Fighting promotion seriously.
In just two events, both televised on the NBC Sports Network, the promotion has given a solid mixture of top UFC veterans and rising prospects the platform they need to either raise their profile and get back into top form or perhaps score a signature victory and become a contender.
UFC veterans like Josh Burkman and Anthony Johnson are now on the verge of returning to the promotion while prospects like Marlon Moraes and Justin Gaethje have exploded onto the scene.
And no one is happier about the early success than promoter "Sugar" Ray Sefo. Sefo comes from a combat sports background as one of the pioneers of K-1 kickboxing in the promotion's hay day and he knows what it takes to get things done.
World Series of Fighting returns home to Las Vegas next Friday night (June 14, 2013) for it's third event and Sefo spoke to MMAmania.com during a guest appearance on The Verbal Submission talking about his goals, the upcoming Jon Fitch vs Josh Burkman main event and the promising future in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Josh Burkman initially said he didn't want to fight Jon Fitch until he proved himself with a victory in World Series of Fighting. How did you convince him that it was the best decision for him to accept the Fitch fight for the main event?
Ray Sefo: Well Ali Abdel-Aziz is our matchmaker and a partner. He's done an amazing job and he was able to discuss that with Josh Burkman. Obviously they came to an agreement so it was great. That main event is a great main event. One, because they're both terrific fighters, but also because it's a rematch and I love rematches. The most exciting thing about that fight is that Josh Burkman has shown the world that he's a force to be reckoned with in his last two outings, particularly with how quickly he was able to put away Aaron Simpson in the first round in his last fight. Having Jon Fitch, one of the top welterweights in the world, it's exciting because he won't be facing the same Josh Burkman he fought seven years ago. Now he's fighting a complete fighter.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): The resurgence of Josh Burkman has been one of the best stories of World Series of Fighting thus far. Ever since he returned to fighting after taking time off to deal with injuries, he's just been downright ferocious. What do you think has been the key to his success?
Ray Sefo: I think the biggest inspiration for him has been his child and his family. He's married with a new kid and he loves that child just like any parent would. Understanding where he stands in society and with himself, he's matured in his game and as a person. His family has been his biggest inspiration by far. I can understand because my own son is my world and we draw a lot of strength from that.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): One of the fights that ended up not happening on this card was Tyrone Spong's fight. The first reason was visa issues, then they said he didn't have enough time to prepare. He's instead going to fight on the Glory 9 show a week after your event. How did that come about? Did that strain anything with you and your promotion, or are you still looking forward to working together in the future?
Ray Sefo: He's fired. Just kidding! (laughs) Tyrone's fine. He's a world class kickboxer and as an MMA fighter, he's still new to the game. He wanted more time to prepare for June and for him, it wasn't enough time and he didn't have anyone in Holland to work with. We talked to him about competing at Glory to stay active and it worked out. That being said, he'll definitely fight for World Series of Fighting in August. He definitely wants to fight MMA, he just didn't feel he had enough time to prepare and that's understandable.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You guys made waves with the announcement of the middleweight tournament for your fourth show. Are you planning on doing more things like this or is it a one-time thing?
Ray Sefo: Ali and myself sat down and talked about it and it just made sense. Honestly, it's something that's possible to happen again in the other weight classes, but that being said, these four guys, the idea is to crown a middleweight champion and the fallout will be a great champion.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Almost all the middleweights were fighters that had competed for you already, but one of the 185-pounders was Elvis Mutapcic, who's the MFC middleweight champion. How did that come about?
Ray Sefo: Well he's now exclusive to us. It's funny because Elvis was one of the guys that I signed probably a year into preparation before we had our first show. There were a few setbacks and we had to release him and we're really fortunate to have that come back around again and he was available for us to pick him back up and sign him again.
The first time I ever saw him fight was in a show called SCC here in Vegas and I spoke to his manager right away about signing him. He showed he had good ground, good defense and he liked to bang. That's a middleweight that can climb the ladder really high and get to a championship belt. The other guys in that tournament are tough as well so we'll see.
Villefort and Branch fought really well in our last show and we thought they deserved to be in that bracket and get in line for a title shot.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I'd like to talk to you about your promotion's strategy. You've picked up several top veterans like Anthony Johnson, Andrei Arlovski and Jon Fitch, but you guys also have picked up some top prospects like Justin Gaethje and Marlon Moraes. Are you trying to get that perfect blend of veterans with young talent?
Ray Sefo: Yes, we have no problem signing veterans, guys with a name in the sport because people have a huge following. Just for an example, Jon Fitch who's a well-respected athlete in the game and is top 10. When he became available, we were immediately looking to sign him and fortunately for us, we were able to make a deal. We're signing the veterans because they're the ones that have built the sport.
That being said, these young guys like Justin Gaethje, Marlon Moraes and Marlon Moraes, they're the future of the sport and they're coming along really well. They show so much promise and there's no doubt in my mind those three names, it's just a matter of time before they become champions.