World Series of Fighting (WSOF) 26: "Palmer vs. Almeida" comes to "The Chelsea" at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, Nevada, later this evening (Fri., Dec. 18, 2015), featuring a main event between Featherweight champion Lance Palmer against new top contender Alexandre de Almeida.
It has been an exciting and memorable year for WSOF, highlighted by two incredible Justin Gaethje vs. Luis Palomino fights, Chael Sonnen joining the broadcast team and David Branch becoming a two-division champion. In fact, some could argue it was WSOF's best year to date.
How does WSOF President Ray Sefo see it, though? The landscape of mixed martial arts (MMA) continues to change and evolve with rival leagues UFC and Bellator MMA giving away big shows on free television, while NBC Sports seems to lag behind FOX Sports 1 in terms of penetrating cable and satellite homes for live viewers.
MMAmania.com recently spoke with both Sefo and WSOF's recently-appointed CEO, Carlos Silva, who joined the call to discuss business affairs pertinent to the promotion as we get their overview of 2015 and their outlook for the year to come.
The first order of business was to discuss their recently unveiled brand new WSOF logo:
Silva addressed the reason he felt this change was necessary:
"The overarching MMA of the original logo -- I always felt like it overpowered this great brand called World Series of Fighting. We worked with this firm (led by) Tom O'Grady. They had done a number of big time league and team logos. We worked through that process and I think where we came out represents the brand well with this shield and bit of regal-ness with the crown that represents what our champions are. I'm super excited about it."
Don't expect to see this logo at WSOF 26 tonight, though. Mr. Silva says it will take about 30 to 45 days to roll out on the website, television and on all related brands and merchandise.
Speaking WSOF 26, President Ray Sefo explained why he's really excited about the main event:
"Out of the three guys to capture the (Featherweight) world title, Lance Palmer is the first guy to have actually defended the title successfully. He trains out of Alpha Male, he has an amazing team out there, they have two or three world champions in his camp including him. Alexandre de Almeida -- he's an impressive story too because his first two professional fights -- he lost! Some people don't really carry on fighting after you lose your first two pro fights and after those two loses it's quite impressive what he's done."
The most impressive thing about Almeida is either his current four fight win streak or the fact that he earned his title shot in 83 seconds. Sefo is excited about the entire card and, in particular, the fights set for NBC Sports.
"When you have the likes of Josh Hill, who actually fought for the Bantamweight title and (is) looking to make another statement to get to that No. 1 spot (facing) that new kid (Bekbulat) Magomedov, who comes from a Greco-Roman grappling background -- he likes to stand and bang and knock people out. Sheymon Moraes, his last time out he fighting for the (Bantamweight) title, but now he's moved to 145 and he's fighting a veteran in Robbie Peralta. Robbie's fought a who's who of the game -- Clay Guida, Rony Jason, the list goes on. Then we go to our co-main event, Ozzy Dugulubgov, he's been really impressive in his campaign. Nic-Herron Webb brings an 18-6 fight record, his last 14 fights have been won by submission, but both guys can stand and bang."
I asked Mr. Silva about his familiarity with MMA before joining WSOF as the CEO this fall.
"I've been in the sports industry pretty much my whole career, around technology (and) media. Being a sports executive you have to be on top of where the sports world is going. It's pretty easy when you start to list the NFL's, the NBA's, the NHL's and the PGA Tour. I've been partners with all of them from my AOL Time Warner days through to Universal Sports and the Olympics. You go back to 2003-2005, UFC was still growing, and I had a chance to get an opportunity to learn a lot about MMA and UFC at the time was going. So I've been around earlier days and the growth, tracking it as an executive and also looking at potential investment in the space, so I did know it pretty well."
In answering the question, Mr. Silva brought up UFC several times, so I asked him how WSOF can stay competitive in the MMA landscape with a 600-pound gorilla that can seemingly go wherever, and whenever, it wants at any time.
"The simple answer for me and this is how I've approached growing all of my sports properties is that if more mass market know about MMA and know that these fighters are really great athletes -- not just fighters in a cage -- the better it is for everybody. UFC is obviously leading the way and have obviously had some huge events over the last couple of months between Ronda (Rousey) and Conor (McGregor), but that gets more on SportsCenter and more into regular mainstream sports marketing and as a result it helps all of MMA. I think right now there's three main players -- one's on FOX, one's on Viacom/Spike, and one's on NBC -- and we happen to be one of those."
Does that mean we can see a WSOF on NBC and not just NBC Sports? Mr. Silva was a little bit coy in his response.
"I would say stay tuned for our 2016 announcements. We can't really talk about everything in one interview! I really think NBC feels like the team has come together, especially as we've moved through the summer into the fall, and they're being a very supportive and good partner as we come out of this 'Best Of' show on the 27th. It looks like a good 2016 - I'm excited about it."
In short, he's not ruling out the possibility -- he's saying to watch the WSOF special on NBC on Dec. 27, 2015 -- and then we'll see what happens after that. However, the signing Chael Sonnen as a member of the broadcast team certainly raises its profile for the future on NBC, something both Carlos and Ray agree on.
Ray Sefo: "I had the opportunity to spar with him from time to time when he had camps here in Vegas. When he was available the discussions about bringing him on board were really exciting for myself personally. I had known him for a little bit and also knew he was a very intelligent guy, not only in the sport but everything in general, and really good in front of the camera. I said to him after a training session - 'Not many guys can talk the talk and then put it on the line.'"
Carlos Silva: "He's great. Not only is he great to work with, he's definitely an icon, I spent a lot of time with him yesterday because we flew out together. He lives and breathes the sport and he's got a great way of talking to the audience. I knew it before he came to work with us. I'd see him on ESPN and really I thought he brought MMA to the audience in the same way ESPN brings NFL, and the NHL, and soccer and all the sport they bring talking to that mass market audience. You'll be seeing more of him."
To see more of World Series of Fighting, tune in to NBC Sports on Friday night for WSOF 26 'Palmer vs. Almeida' at 9 PM ET, or head to The Chelsea at the Cosmopolitan for the live fights.
Complete audio of our interview is below and complete WSOF coverage can be found right here on fight night.