They might be the new kid on the MMA block.
The World Series of Fighting held its debut card at the beginning of November, and it was a success for the most part. From an entertainment standpoint, the debut was a complete success. From a financial standpoint, it was so-so. Overall, it does appear that WSOF has something of a future to think about and plan for. Not to mention, they have a few pieces that could help them one day thrive instead of simply surviving until they cease operations.
I'll sum up my thoughts on the first show as simply as I can: Miguel Torres finally looked old, Tyrone Spong impressed the most, Anthony Johnson's knockout was superb, and Andrei Arlovski winning on American T.V. for the first time in a while was a bit nostalgic for me.
What WSOF has right off the bat that could separate them from a lot of other MMA promotions at this stage is they may have their hands on a future star, someone they could build the promotion around at the beginning. His name is Tyrone Spong and he made a successful MMA debut on WSOF's debut card. His debut was a quick and ferocious one, KO'ing Travis Bartlett in just over three minutes. Spong dominated every second of this fight, showcasing powerful strikes both with his fists and feet. It was all too much for Bartlett as Spong had the speed to back up this power and put it to productive use.
Spong has only been in one MMA fight up until now because he has a career in kickboxing that he is still involved in. He is even scheduled to kickbox Remy Bonjasky on March 23.
But it's not just the fact that he has prior experience in another combat sport that could help Spong become a star, it's the fact that WSOF has him right at the beginning. If a fighter is in this kind of position this early into his MMA career and he appears good enough, he can become a star. It can be about where you first land. Brock Lesnar going to UFC after one fight elsewhere is the best example of how being in the right place at the right time and being promoted the right way can make someone a star literally overnight. Can that happen with Spong? Probably not. But what can happen is that he can become a pet project and star of this up-and-coming promotion with another victory or two that are as impressive as the win over Bartlett. If this happens, WSOF would have to take notice because he is someone that people would only be getting familiar with, and that can give the promoter an edge when it comes to creating a perception. After that, all the fighter has to do is keep winning and not screw up too badly outside of competition.
The number of comp (free) tickets versus tickets sold was almost 3 to 1 for WSOF's debut card. At first this may seem like a terrible debut for this promotion at the box office, but that's not necessarily true. It will end up being bad if that's the ratio for every WSOF show moving forward, but for this particular night there's nothing to panic about. Because this was a debut show, a guarantee that the arena would be sufficiently full was needed and comp tickets is a way to fulfill that guarantee. Obviously a promotion doesn't want to give away tickets for the majority of the crowd, especially in smaller venues, but a debut show requires a certain perception to be created. That perception is one of wanting to see this promotion again. With UFC being the top dog in the MMA world, that perception now also includes instant ticket sales, especially if you're a promotion in Las Vegas.
That's the other thing about this promotion that intrigues me: they are showing they are for real right off the bat by starting out in Las Vegas. Most MMA promotions don't automatically start in Las Vegas. That's mainly because of UFC's stature within the sport and how they rely on Las Vegas for a lot of their cards. In other words, for any other promotion to be in Las Vegas is almost a status symbol. Look at Strikeforce: they didn't debut in Las Vegas until last year. They could have first went to Vegas a year or two earlier, but instead chose to develop their brand and their product. They did this mainly by becoming the San Jose territory promotion; Strikeforce was founded in San Jose, started and ran the majority of their major cards in San Jose, and their two biggest draws (Frank Shamrock and Cung Le) were very big in San Jose before the promotion was even founded. With WSOF, they don't have any signature star talent (unless you count Arlovski), and they are attempting to put up their flag in Vegas alongside UFC's.
In all, this is a promotion that is off to a good start. Yeah, I know that may seem like premature thinking after only one show, and I admit that. However, this doesn't appear to be a situation like Affliction trying to promote MMA a few years ago. WSOF is starting with a television deal, they're already in Las Vegas, and they have what appears to be a majority of fighters looking to make a name mixed with some fighters that have name value from previous career exploits. This means they have a lot in common with a lot of MMA promotions that failed to succeed, including Affliction. What WSOF can do to set themselves apart is making things work on the small scale they are starting with. WEC was able to do it to an extent, Strikeforce was able to do it to an extent and now it's WSOF's turn to see if they can do it.
Oh, and that ten-sided cage was more of an attraction in print than in person. It didn't really appear that different from the octagon, but it is something WSOF can call their own.
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