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mixed martial arts:

New fight league ready for inaugural card, optimistic about future

World Series of Fighting President Ray Sefo, a fighter himself, brings credibility to upstart MMA league

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

MMA light heavyweight Anthony Johnson is seen in the offices of World Series of Fighting, Oct. 31, 2012. Johnson is fighting D.J. Linderman in the co-main event of the WSOF’s inaugural card.

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World Series of Fighting President and Chief Operating Officer Ray Sefo talks about the organization's upcoming inaugural card Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012.

Ray Sefo’s days often are filled with more appointments and phone calls than he has time for.

Sefo, president of the World Series of Fighting, has been meticulous in handling every detail of his upstart mixed martial arts league in preparation of its inaugural card Saturday at Planet Hollywood’s PH Live Theater, knowing the importance of making a strong first impression to fight fans will be paramount in the league’s long-term success.

Step one foot into his office at the league’s Dean Martin Drive headquarters and the time crunch is obvious. His cellphone rings virtually every five minutes, emails constantly pop up on both of his desk computers, and there’s enough paper randomly lying on his desk to open an office supply store.

“I’m not starting something that might fall apart after one or two events,” he said. “You put in all the work, keep your fingers crossed and get the right people in place to get things done right. Obviously, this is crunch time. The whole process has been fun and exciting.”

Sefo and his small staff often have worked into the wee hours of the morning in the past few weeks. But no matter how hectic his schedule or how difficult it is to wake up on a few hours of sleep, Sefo typically is in the same spot when the sun rises the following day: the gym.

Long before Sefo became a fighting promoter, he was a fighter — and a good one.

Sefo, 41, is a six-time world kick-boxing champion and eight-time K-1 World Grand Prix Finals tournament participant, and he has two fights scheduled in the next six months.

His reputation as a fighter, not a promoter, is one reason why some are confident the World Series of Fighting can succeed.

The initial card features several notables in the sport, including former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arloviski taking on Devin Cole in the co-main event, and respected MMA veteran Anthony Johnson facing D.J. Linderman in the other co-main event. Miguel Torres, a former WEC champ, also is on the card.

Fighters with such high pedigrees, even ones with limited options after being cut by the UFC, typically don’t line up to fight for an upstart league. But with Sefo at the helm, those fighters have had no reservations signing contracts for three or four fights.

“This organization will do very good if they keep their head right like I know they will, especially with Ray Sefo,” said Johnson, who has a 9-4 MMA record (seven in the UFC) with three wins by submission. “He understands the business in and outside of the cage.

“He is a legend. I have watched him kick-box many times. I like his style. He understands where we come from as far as being treated right and being treated like athletes, not just cattle.”

Two years ago, Sefo remembers doing a radio interview and complaining to the host about how some fighters weren’t being treated fairly by their promoters. The following morning, some 12 hours after the interview, he received a phone call from the World Series of Fighting’s unnamed silent partner with plans to launch the new league.

They went out for breakfast and pieced together plans that later became the foundation for the league.

“From Day One, I have stressed we have to crawl before we can run,” Sefo said. “We aren’t here to compete with anyone. We are here to compete with ourselves and make sure we put on a good card.

“I don’t know what the process was for other leagues, but for us, it has taken two years to get here. With that said, we have hit some bumps along the way, but those bumps were a blessing in disguise because we could look at things with a different perspective and move forward.”

Sefo doesn’t intend for the World Series of Fighting to directly compete with the UFC, but his plans don’t necessarily include it being a feeder system for the UFC. Nor are his plans for it to be a league for strictly up-and-coming fighters. Think of it as the Japanese Baseball League in comparison to Major League Baseball.

“Other leagues have had problems because they want to compete with the UFC,” Sefo said. “You can’t compete with the godfather of MMA if you will. I have a great relationship with the UFC. Nothing but love and respect for what they have done for the sport. We use them as inspiration.”

Other second-tier leagues such as Bellator and Titan are more established, but the World Series of Fighting won’t be far behind because of its television deal. Saturday’s fights will be televised by the NBC Sports Network, bringing instant credibility to the league.

While only 30 percent of the 7,000 tickets for Saturday have been purchased, fighters were sold on signing with the league because of the notoriety of competing on national television. Even though they aren’t on the big stage of the UFC, they are still near the spotlight.

“The World Series of Fighting has a good roster of guys who will go out and fight and just have fun,” Johnson said. “At the end of the night, most fighters will have put everything they have on the line because that is what we do. We love to fight. Not many promotions get started on major television like the World Series of Fighting. That says a lot. It makes a big statement to the MMA community.”

The World Series of Fighting’s next card will happen in Las Vegas in January. Sefo says the third promotion will be outside the area, and he hasn’t ruled out putting himself on one of the upcoming shows.

After all, just like the league’s offices on Dean Martin Drive that still are under construction, Sefo knows growing a league from nothing to respectable won’t happen overnight. He’s willing to be patient.

“We understand what is ahead and what we want to achieve,” he said. “It’s not going to happen overnight.”

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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