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Ali Abdel-Aziz: 'Bellator is bringing out the dinosaurs, we want to create our own champions'

The WSOF executive vice president spoke to MMAMania about the one-night, eight-man tournament taking place at WSOF 25 later tonight and about the promotion building its champions from within.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

One-night tournaments were once the bedrock upon which mixed martial arts (MMA) proudly stood.

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) used that format at its inception--as did Pride--and fight fans fondly recall the days of yesteryear, when men were men and fighter safety was an afterthought.

Fast forward to present day with the sport being fully regulated for almost fifteen years now by state athletic commissions, and the tournament has become basically obsolete among MMA promotions.

The Battlegrounds promotion revisited the format last October--with the blessing of the Oklahoma State Athletic Commission--and held an event in Tulsa, where Roan Carneiro won three fights in one night to take the tournament prize.

Most recently, Bellator held a four-man tournament at Bellator 142: Dynamite 1, which took place in San Jose, Calif., under the California State Athletic Commission, and which saw Phil Davis win two fights in one night.

Later tonight it will be World Series of Fighting (WSOF), who will jump into the tournament business tonight at WSOF 25 at Comerica Theatre in Phoenix, AZ.

WSOF executive vice president, Ali Abdel-Aziz explained how the plans for the tournament came to fruition.

"One day we were in the office and we wanted to be different and do something people haven't done in a long time," Abdel-Aziz told MMAMania. "We sat down, myself, Ray [Sefo], Carlos [Silva], and we talked about the tournament format. We understand brackets. In America, people love it. March Madness. People love the bracket and it's how MMA started. UFC 1 was a bracket. Pride was a tournament. People are kind of getting tired of just regular fights. I think an eight-man, one-night tournament is going to be great."

WSOF along with the Arizona Boxing and MMA commission have agreed upon the following rules for tonight's tournament to ensure the paramount safety of fighters:

  • The quarter-final matches will be two rounds in length and elbows will be illegal.
  • The semi-final matches will be three rounds and elbows will, again, be illegal.
  • The tournament final will be three rounds under the full unified rules.
  • There will be a tournament reserve bout, but the winner will only participate in the night's tournament if both the winner and loser of one of the brackets cannot continue.

The quarter-final matchups for the eight-man, one-night tournament are as follows:

Luis Palomino (23-11) vs. Richard Patishnock (6-2)

Brian Foster (23-7) vs. Joao Zeferino (18-6)

Mike Ricci (10-4) vs. Joe Condon (12-8), who is a last-minute replacement for Brian Cobb (details via MMAFighting)

Islam Mamedov (12-1) vs. Jorge Patino (38-15-2, 1 NC).

Palomino fought current WSOF lightweight champion Justin Gaethje (15-0) for the title twice, at WSOF 19 and WSOF 23, and lost by technical knockout both times. Patishnock also fought Gaethje for the lightweight belt and lost by TKO at WSOF 8.

Patino is a 42-year-old journeyman, who has been competing since 1995 in multiple organizations including UFC and Pride. Ricci, and Zeferino have both fought in the UFC as well and are making their respective promotional debuts.

Foster is also a former UFC veteran and is now 1-1 in WSOF. Mamedov is an up and coming prospect fighting out of Dagestan, Russia, has won his first two fights for the promotion. And rounding out the field on short notice is Condon, who has gone 1-1 in WSOF since coming over from King of the Cage.

The winner will get the next title shot against Gaethje on a future card at "the beginning of next year," according to Abdel-Aziz. All the lightweight participants are "evenly matched," he said.

What truly makes tournaments a fan favorite among combat sports enthusiasts is the fact that they are often unpredictable. There are always many variables that come into play, with fatigue and injury often being the greatest equalizers. One fighter can get a quick KO, while another has to go the distance and accrue more bumps and bruises than his next opponent in the upcoming round. It is quite often that a fighter who is the favorite ends up not winning, and a dark horse becomes a household name afterward.

"Tournaments create so many different things," Abdel-Aziz said. "You watch one guy and you become a fan of him in one night and then you are a fan for life. If you see a guy battle through the first round, continue, come back second round, come back the third round and keep continuing, you become a fan of this guy for life. Everybody is going to remember who won this tournament when we put on the next Justin Gaethje fight. Everybody is going go know Justin Gaethje and everybody is going to know who is fighting Justin Gaethje."

On the eve of the promotion's 25th event, Abdel-Aziz is excited about the end of this year and for 2016. He is confident in the talent on the WSOF roster and expresses pride they were able to build several of their champions and top fighters from within and not import from elsewhere.

"We believe we have some of the best fighters in the world," he said. "We even have some better fighters than the UFC and Bellator. Marlon Moraes is one of the best bantamweights in the world. Justin Gaethje is one of the best lightweights in the world. I think those guys aren't just good in WSOF, they are good anywhere.

"One of the things that makes us different from other promotions is that we grow fighters," he continued. "We've had guys that no one knew who they were, like Justin Gaethje and Marlon Moraes, and now everybody knows who they are. WSOF is capable of creating stars. We don't have two old guys fighting using names because they have fought somewhere else. We create our own champions. This is what we do. I think it is very, very hard for promotion to create their own champions."

The WSOF EVP was pressed about his comments, which were obviously implying Bellator's use of aging stars, like the upcoming Royce Gracie vs. Ken Shamrock fight at Bellator 149. Gracie is 48 and hasn't fought in over eight years, and Shamrock is now 51, and got knocked out by Kimbo Slice at Bellator 138.

"If Bellator is bringing out the dinosaurs we want to create our own champions. Whatever they do is good for them. Whatever we do is good for us."

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