Ray Sefo (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

WSOF President Ray Sefo: ‘We Build Our Champions’

Outside of the UFC’s Octagon, the MMA landscape features another night of exciting action from the nation’s fight capital.

World Series of Fighting 22 takes place this Saturday, Aug. 1, and will feature the much-anticipated title showdown between WSOF welterweight champion Rousimar Palhares and former Strikeforce champ Jake Shields. Palhares has had a bit of a troubled history in MMA, and this hasn’t gone unnoticed by WSOF President Ray Sefo.

“It’s always a risk in any fight because of the sport [and] because of what’s involved,” Sefo told Combat Press. “Armbars and broken arms — it’s all part of the risk factor in the fight game. I’ve talked to a couple people who know him on a personal level and they say he’s very nice, a gentle giant.”


Palhares has already been suspended previously in his career for holding onto a submission for too long, and he came under scrutiny once again in his last bout against former UFC top contender Jon Fitch. However, Sefo was quick to point out a factor that may have caused Palhares to secure his vaunted leg lock for a few seconds after the tap.

“The referee for the Jon Fitch fight specifically told both fighters [that] if they get into a grappling match, don’t let go until he touches them on the back/shoulder,” Sefo said.

Outside of the Palhares-Shields grudge match, the WSOF 22 card also features one of the company’s homegrown stars, Marlon Moraes. The Brazilian has been with the promotion since the first event and has become one of the best bantamweights in the world under the WSOF banner. Abubakar Nurmagomedov, brother to the UFC’s Khabib Nurmagomedov, will also be featured on the card.

While the event lineup features a list of exciting prospects and established fighters, it has the unenviable task of going head-to-head with UFC 190. The delayed start time — the WSOF 22 main card kicks off at 11 p.m. ET — helps the World Series of Fighting’s cause, but scheduling conflicts are a problem for which Sefo and his team don’t see a quick solution.

“The way the UFC is, with having shows sometimes twice a week, it’s something we can’t avoid,” Sefo said. “Fortunately, the UFC has a show overseas, and by the time UFC 190 will be over, we’re on. It’s good for fans to tune in from one to the other.”

The WSOF has had an uphill battle since it jumped into the MMA game. With the UFC and Bellator as the established No. 1 and No. 2 promotions, the WSOF hasn’t always gotten a fair shake from MMA fans. To help combat that, the promotion has signed a number of well-known fighters who’ve stepped foot in the Octagon. Palhares, Shields, Fitch, Yushin Okami and Thiago Silva are just a handful of names who have fought in some of the biggest promotions in the world. Still, the promotion is keen to build up its own stars from within as well.

“We build our champions,” Sefo explained. “To see Marlon go from an unknown to a superstar in his own way is a great thing to see. The World Series of Fighting give guys opportunity and guys to take it by the horns. Anthony Johnson rebuilt his career here. Andrei Arlovski, too.”

Another big name that’s been floating on the waiver wire is Fedor Emelianenko. The MMA legend recently announced he’s coming out of retirement, and while initial belief was that he’d sign with Bellator, the WSOF was quick to throw its name in the hat for the “Fedor Sweepstakes.”

“Anything is possible,” Sefo said. “At the end of the day, if he’s happy and we’re happy with the deal, something can be done. It’s just one of those things where he’s a legend, one of the best, and I think he’s going to find what works for him and where he feels most comfortable.”

Helping the WSOF cause is Sefo himself. The man is one of the most established kickboxers around, and he has been in the ring with some of kickboxing’s best fighters. Sefo has dipped his toes in professional boxing and has strapped on the four-ounce gloves for a handful of MMA bouts. His martial arts past is something Sefo can point to when it comes to athlete relations. You won’t see him engaging in any Twitter tirades or see fighters taking potshots at their boss.

“I couldn’t be anymore respectful of the athletes to compete at such a high level,” Sefo explained. “Treat people with respect, you get treated with respect. My reputation as a fighter has rolled over into me being a promoter. I’m there for fighters to answer questions, whether it’s fighting or business.”

WSOF 22 will be shown on NBC Sports network, a channel the promotion has been in business with since 2013. The company signed a three-year deal with the network originally. With 2016 quickly approaching, negotiations are on the horizon.

“We’re very happy with NBC Sports. We’re at home here.”

If the promotion can continue to put on quality cards filled with both prospects and established names, then it definitely has a bright future. The WSOF also needs to work out the scheduling difficulties, but, as Sefo pointed out, the UFC is putting on more and more shows, which makes it harder to avoid going head-to-head. Although the UFC and Bellator are the established names in the MMA world, the WSOF has proven to be a very successful promotion for fighters to either begin their road to becoming a superstar or to rebuild on lost glory.