October 29, 2012

The inaugural World Series of Fighting event is still five days away, and already the new mixed martial arts organization has won its first fight. That would be a fight for attention.

With the Strikeforce card also scheduled for Nov. 3 having been cancelled, the night now belongs to the fledgling fight organization and its debut event, which is to be televised on the NBC Sports Network. No need to compete for viewers with Daniel Cormier's last bout with Strikeforce/Showtime before moving to the UFC. Sure, there are a couple of big college football games on TV that night -- No. 1 Alabama at LSU on CBS, No. 2 Oregon at Southern Cal on Fox -- but at least the fight telecast doesn't have to jostle with that other World Series.

That puts the spotlight squarely on the World Series of Fighting event at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, which is not lacking for ingredients that might make it a draw for fans of combat sports. There are two former UFC champions on the card, as well as a sprinkling of others with pedigrees in the Dana White Fight Club. There's the requisite representative of the first family of MMA, the Gracies. There's the debut of a reigning champion in a different fight discipline.

And there's also the presence of WSOF founder and president Ray Sefo, who by virtue of his status as a six-time world kickboxing champion lends instant credibility to the latest bright-eyed promotion to jump into the fight game.

Sefo, who at age 41 says he still has plans to add to the 93-fight professional record he's built in kickboxing, boxing and MMA, acknowledges feeling the heat of the spotlight.

"Of course, it's just like anything, like stepping into that cage," he said during a media conference call earlier this week. "A bit of nerves, but that's what keeps you sharp."

Sefo can only hope his headlining fighters are sharp. The main event features Andrei Arlovski, a 33-year-old former UFC heavyweight champion last seen in a farcical fight with another faded champ, Tim Sylvia. Before that no-contest in the Philippines, "The Pit Bull" had won two fights in small promotions to try to right the ship following four straight losses -- three by knockout -- in Strikeforce and the ill-fated Affliction promotion. Arlovski is going to have to show us something more next weekend, though, if he wants to truly resuscitate his career.

His opponent, Devin Cole, is a reasonable test. The former International Fight League competitor lost his Strikeforce debut to Cormier -- no shame there -- but then won two straight before the promotion dumped all of its heavyweights. Cole isn't championship-quality but is no pushover, either. As he put it during last week's conference call, "Andrei Arlovski obviously has a bigger name than me, but they don't want to put on a one-sided fight." If Arlovski doesn't make it one-sided, though, his name as a fighter will continue to fade.

The other ex-UFC champ fighting for the WSOF is less of a redemption project. Miguel Angel Torres did lose four of his last seven fights in the game's leading promotion, but all of those defeats came against top-level opponents ... and occurred after he'd run off a 17-fight win streak. However, between the recent losses and some ill-advised choices Torres made on his Twitter feed, here he is, facing Muay Thai and jiu-jitsu fighter Marlon Moraes. Torres should be capable of showing he's a different level of fighter. Problem is, there may be no higher level available for Torres' aspirations at this point.

Other names that might sound familiar: Anthony Johnson, famous for not making the middleweight limit in his UFC fights, will fight at light heavy against D.J. Linderman; welterweights Josh Burkman and Gerald Harris, both alums of the UFC and The Ultimate Fighter, will square off; Gregor Gracie, a two-time world jiu-jitsu champ, faces welterweight Tyson Steele; and Tyrone Sprong, a reigning Muay Thai world champion, makes his MMA debut against Travis Bartlett.

It's not exactly the UFC's Super Bowl weekend card, but the debut event of the World Series of Fighting has enough going for it that it might make some ripples, if not waves, in the MMA game. Name fighters, even those past their prime, can at least draw curious eyes. As can the Gracie name and a champion from a different style of combat. Having NBC Sports Network in your corner can't hurt. And having Strikeforce politely step out of the way and allow the evening of Nov. 3 to be all yours, well, sometimes a fighter just has to acknowledge that he's landed a lucky one.

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