Sports

World Series of Fighting finding success in the shadows of UFC

Ray Sefo and the World Series of Fighting have proven that the Ultimate Fighting Championship does not have a chokehold on the mixed martial arts business.

There are plenty of talented fighters, and plenty of dollars, for both promotions to coexist, Sefo believes, and he’s looking forward to proving that Saturday night when the 2-year-old MMA organization brings WSOF 16 to Sacramento’s McClellan Conference Center.

“(Sacramento) is a huge MMA market, and the fans are extremely knowledgeable and passionate,” said the 43-year-old Sefo, the WSOF’s president and former six-time Muay Thai kickboxing world champion who still competes in MMA. “There are great fighters in the Sacramento area, and we’re excited for our first fights in Sacramento.”

The WSOF welterweight and featherweight titles will be on the line when welterweight champ Rousimor Palhares (16-5) faces Jon Fitch (26-6-1) and featherweight champ Rick Glenn (14-2) squares off against Sacramento’s Lance Palmer (8-1). Palmer fights out of Urijah Faber’s Team Alpha Male. Palhares and Fitch are both former UFC fighters.

Palmer’s only loss was to Georgi Karakhanyan a year ago in Vancouver, British Columbia, for the inaugural WSOF featherweight title. Palmer accepted the fight on three weeks’ notice after Glenn was injured and lost by submission in the third round. Glenn then beat Karakhanyan in June, setting up Saturday’s battle for the strap.

“(Losing) was a great experience,” Palmer said. “I lost, but the fight put me on a bigger platform.”

Palmer said the WSOF allows fighters plenty of latitude to grow their careers and gain sponsors. The UFC last week signed a six-year deal with Reebok that forces its fighters to wear Reebok gear during fight weeks and in the octagon.

“The WSOF hasn’t been around very long, so it’s hard to compare it to the UFC, which is such a monopoly,” said Palmer, who conceded that his ultimate goal is to be a UFC champion. “But it’s certainly not an insult to be fighting in the WSOF with guys still building their careers; guys like me. The WSOF welcomes its fighters to broaden their appeal, and they do pay us well.”

Joining Palmer on the main card is Team Alpha Male’s Justin Buchholz (15-8), who fights Lewis Gonzalez (9-1) in his return to the cage. Buchholz also is a valued cornerman for UFC fighters and teammates TJ Dillashaw, Chad Mendes, Joseph Benavidez and Faber.

The main card will be broadcast live at 6 p.m. on the NBC Sports Network. Preliminary bouts, which feature six local fighters, begin at 3 p.m. The entire card has 13 fights. Sacramentan Dave Huckaba (21-7) anchors the preliminary card with his heavyweight matchup against CJ Leveque (8-7).

Sacramento’s David Mitchell (16-4) takes on Justin Baesman in a middleweight match, while Sacramentans Erick Sanchez (1-1) and Drey Mitchell (2-2) face off in a featherweight bout. Sanchez and Mitchell are members of Team Alpha Male, as is Joseph Morales of Sacramento, who makes his pro debut against Christian Espinosa (2-0) as a flyweight. Folsom’s Justin Durham (5-0) looks to stay undefeated against Dylan Blakesley (6-2), and Lodi featherweight Chris Avila (1-1) takes on Jason Powell (1-1).

“From start to finish, I think this might be the most exciting card we’ve ever put together for NBCSN,” Sefo said in a statement. “The two championship fights are absolutely incredible. Then you have top prospect Lewis Gonzalez returning to the World Series of Fighting decagon against a battle-tested fan favorite in Justin Buchholz. I think we’re in for a very special night of fights.”

Sefo said the key to building the WSOF brand was having the partnership with NBC SportsNet at the promotion’s launch. That synergy has allowed the WSOF to partner with IMG to promote its brand in more than 80 countries. It’s an impressive start for the WSOF, and the UFC has taken notice. The UFC purchased its then-closest rival, Strikeforce, in 2011 with plans to keep it around. But the promotion ended in 2013. Sefo said he has no plans to sell to the UFC, which he said he has no animosity toward. Nor has the UFC made an overture to buy, Sefo said. He’s still working hard, he said, to bring the best cards he can to MMA fans around the country and soon the world.

“I’ve always had a good relationship with the UFC, and they’ve done a great job of promoting the sport,” Sefo said. “Had they not done such a great job, there probably wouldn’t be a World Series of Fighting.”

Mark Billingsley covers MMA for The Bee. Reach him at editorwriter@att.net or @editorwriter001.

IF YOU GO

When: Saturday, Preliminary bouts 3 p.m. Main card 6 p.m. Doors open at 2:30 p.m.

Where: McClellan Conference Center, 5411 Luce Ave., North Highlands.

Tickets: $50 and up

Info: www.wsof.com.

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