What to do with the World Series of Fighting

After almost 2 months away, World Series of Fighting returns this Friday with WSOF 21 live from Edmonton. It is pretty solid effort on paper, featuring two title fights headlining the card. wsof-flat-color-outline

Once Friday night passes the question then becomes, what next? Sure, there is the welterweight grudge match between Jake Shields and Rousimar Palhares scheduled for later in the summer. But where is this whole thing going?

Over three years into its existence, WSOF is struggling mightily with establishing its identity. Heck, even its logo is confusing (Shouldn’t the logo boldly include WSOF somewhere in there rather than MMA?).

The UFC stakes its claim is the premier destination for the best mixed martial artists in the world. Bellator long differentiated itself by promoting the “toughest tournament in sports.” While that has fallen by the wayside, they have solidified themselves as the clear #2 and still continue to differentiate by instead focusing much of their promotion on “entertaining” fights while simultaneously bringing along younger fighters. Other smaller promotions such as RFA have even gone so far as to clearly acknowledge they are in the business of grooming prospects so that they can advance into the UFC.

So where does WSOF fit in? Sure, they produce the occasional exciting fight such as Palomino vs Gaetjhe. Sure, they also find some nice prospects such as Timur Valiev or Hakeem Dawodu. But the promotion is doing nothing to differentiate itself to appeal the broader MMA audience nor is it acknowledging some greater vision.

This lack of clarity, combined with some general mismanagement, has led to some poor decisions and even poorer outcomes for the promotion. For a while, WSOF boasted the best welterweight roster in the world outside of the UFC. That quickly changed when they allowed former champion Steve Carl to walk, released Josh Burkman so that he could pursue a deal with the UFC and were unable to sign then free agent Ben Askren.

They were unable to retain two of their biggest stars, Anthony Johnson and Andrei Arlovski, letting both fighters return to the UFC. Melvin Guillard was granted his release to seek fights elsewhere. Jessica Aguilar was recently granted her release so that she could pursue the UFC women’s strawweight title. Nick Newell has voice his frustrations with the promotion and his lack of ability to schedule fights. The list goes on and on.

More recently, the promotion has seen its share of weight issues impact its ability to put on accurately promoted events. Prior to his release, Melvin Guillard missed weight in a lightweight title fight. Matt Hamill fell ill during his weight cut causing an entire restructuring to WSOF 19 and its light heavyweight tournament. At WSOF 20, headliner Ronny Markes suffered the same fight and David Branch had to take a journeyman named Jesse McElligott in the main event.

From the outside it appears, for one reason or another, the fighters do not respect the promotion the same way the UFC and Bellator are respected. They are unafraid to ask out of their contracts for greener pastures. Weight cutting issues that seem to pop up far more regularly may suggest that the fighters are not taking preparing for WSOF fights as serious as others. One way or another, something has to change if WSOF wants to stay around for the long haul.

Start by establishing an identity, whether that is the where the best young fighters come to fight or where former stars look to reclaim their glory. Something. Anything. As long as it is coherent and actionable. Go from there. Fighters will understand the goal of the promotion. Fans will understand the the difference in the product. And if it is good enough, they may even tune in.