He began training in combat sports at the age of five. He won six world fighting titles and is a Hall of Famer – not bad for a fighter barely out of his teens. “I’m going to be turning 21 tomorrow,” said Ray Sefo, deadpan, during an exclusive interview with Combat Press.
Sefo, President of Fighter Operations with the Las Vegas-based Professional Fighters League, is actually 50. But he still looks like he could get the job done in the Octagon, a boxing ring or on the mats. He continues to train with and coach world-class mixed martial artists.
Age jokes aside, Sefo and his colleagues will be all business in the coming weeks as the PFL enters its crucial playoffs phase. The organization will determine which fighters will advance to the year-end championship. That includes a shot at a $1 million grand prize in each weight class.
The playoff events take place Aug. 13, 19 and 27 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla. They come after a brief pause following the end of its regular season.
Founded in 2018, the PFL’s fast rise is supported by a unique league format much like major sporting leagues including the NFL and NBA. The format puts the fate of all fighters into their own hands.
Sefo, who has dedicated his life to combat sports as a fighter, coach, matchmaker, promoter and executive, couldn’t be more excited about the rest of August. The PFL should dominate the MMA stage during the month.
“I can’t wait. For us, there’s the regular season, the playoffs and the championship. We’ve been off air for the past month and a half. I can’t wait to get back there, get this thing going and see who’s going to make it to the championship,” he said. “All the fans should tune in to all the playoffs because that’s how they’ll find out who’s going to make the championship.”
According to Sefo, the PFL is leaning toward holding championship night (date to be determined) in Las Vegas. But that is subject to change, adding that Florida is also one possibility.
PFL stars Rory MacDonald, Ray Cooper III and Kayla Harrison will lead a charge of established and new fighters competing during the three-week playoffs. The bracket for all three events can be found here.
Perhaps Sefo’s only regret about the next three weeks is that he won’t be competing himself. His extensive background in combat sports dates back to his childhood in his native New Zealand.
“I learned how to box with my dad when I was five years old. Myself and my brothers and my cousins and everybody. Everybody boxed in my family. At five years old, my dad handed me my first boxing gloves. I was sparring with my cousins and brothers who were 6, 7, 8 years old. That was my first introduction into combat sports,” he recalled.
“And then, at the age of seven, my dad rented a Bruce Lee movie, which was, I think, ‘Fists of Fury.’ And Jackie Chan’s movie the ‘Drunken Master.’ I was hooked. Right away I was like, ‘Wow, I want to do that.’”
At age 12, Sefo trained in Wing Chun for six years and then moved into Muay Thai. Years later in the United States, he met MMA legend Randy Couture. Sefo joined his Xtreme Couture team, training out its facility in Las Vegas to fine-tune his ground game. He remains a coach there.
Although Sefo’s titles were in kickboxing, he also competed professionally in boxing and MMA.
“Mixed martial arts has been part of my life since I was five, and it’s still part of my life,” Sefo said. “With the PFL, I love what I do. It’s allowed me to stay within the game. [I] take my own expertise and help other fighters coming up in the rankings [and] wanting to achieve the goal of becoming world champion.”
While the league format is unique to MMA, it’s nonetheless been a major success. Sefo co-founded the World Series of Fighting in 2012, where the format originally began.
“The World Series of Fighting was made to start off with the format. But there were things that happened that didn’t allow us to go down that route. So, it wasn’t until I think four years later, we were able to, when our new partners came in, implement this format. They loved everything about it, as I do. And the format works. I think the fans love any form of mixed martial arts fighting, and it doesn’t matter if it’s UFC, or PFL, or M-1 or Bellator. Fans are fans and they love the fight game,” he said.
“But with the PFL, what makes us different is you can follow [fighters’] journeys to the title. They pretty much control their own destiny. When you win, you move on. If you lose, you go home,” Sefo said. “When it comes to the championship bout and fighting for $1 million, that’s not up to me or anyone in the PFL organization. It’s up to the fighters.”
There were no $1 million winners in 2020 because the PLF opted to postpone its entire season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sefo said the organization is better off for that decision.
“With COVID and whatnot, that was something we did. And a lot people agreed with what we did. We decided to do [it] in regard to the safety of our fighters, our staff and everybody else. We feel like we haven’t missed a beat; it feels like we didn’t miss a whole year,” he said. “The format in itself is exciting. The journey of the guys – you gotta follow that journey to see where they end up and see if they make it to the championship or not.”
As pundits will invariably do, they have continually compared the PFL and UFC as being in some sort of cage match for MMA supremacy. Sefo wholeheartedly disagrees.
“We’re not in competition with the UFC, we’re in competition with ourselves. I’ve said this from day one. We are doing what we do best. We’re in competition with ourselves, to continue to move forward, continue to challenge ourselves, and to continue to learn from the mistakes that we make,” he said.
“Feedback from PFL fans, MMA-focused media and partner television networks has been very positive,” said Sefo. “It’s telling us that we’re doing the right things and we’re moving forward accordingly. Do we want to be as big as the UFC one day? One hundred percent, absolutely. But just like anything, you’ve got to take baby steps. And we feel like we’re there taking the right steps, making the right moves and continuing to move forward.”
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