“You never know what can happen,” Ray Sefo says in a telephone call from his Las Vegas home.
Sefo, the president of World Series of Fighting, isn’t talking about this week’s monsoon — the Las Vegas area’s worst in memory.
He’s talking about the last minute changes to this weekend’s WSOF 13 event in Bethlehem, PA, which saw its main event nixed with an injury to headliner Josh Hill. Hill, an undefeated prospect from Canada, was to challenge feared striker Marlon Moraes for the WSOF Bantamweight Title — but a back injury has him sidelined indefinitely.
Then, on just nine days notice, WSOF veteran Cody Bollinger, who had announced he was going to move to featherweight earlier this year, agreed to replace Hill to battle Moraes at a 140 lb. catchweight.
It’s a bout that may be an even more interesting match-up for fans.
“We’re very thankful for Cody,” Sefo says. “It makes for an interesting match. His wrestling and submission game are going to be his strong points, but Cody can stand and bang too. In his last fight he finished with a first round submission (against BJJ black belt Pablo Alfonso), so he’s well rounded.”
“Whatever the outcome of the fight,” he says, “I’ve told Cody his status won’t change. He won’t fall back to the back of the line in title contention. If he pulls off an upset, it’s great for him, whether he wants to fight for the 145 title or the 135 lb title. So, he’s in a good space.”
Sefo’s experiences in his own long fighting career may offer some perspective that his contemporaries in MMA leadership may lack. In fact, he’s been in situations similar Bollinger’s, and, even Hill’s, ten years ago in the K-1 organization.
Sefo had been out of action for the better part of a year due to injury (“I had broken my arm and was inactive throughout the period,” he says), when the call came to fight in Shizuoka, Japan.
“I was a last minute replacement when I fought Bob Sapp,” Sefo recalls. “I had put myself through a kind of training camp, to be ready in case of a last minute call, or to just be in shape when they call. So I was in shape when they called, and on five days notice I was ready to go.”
At the time, Sapp held a 7-3 record with two wins over Ernesto Hoost. Sefo would win that bout with a second round knockout.
Of course, Sefo notes, “I would have preferred to get a full camp in. But, Cody’s ready, or he wouldn’t have taken the fight. He’s very grounded, and he wants to compete – compete at the highest level. To fight someone like Marlon Moraes, it doesn’t get higher than that. It’s a good opportunity: nothing to lose, and everything to gain if he pulls off the upset. Moraes is a beast, so it should be good exciting fight.”
Sefo is excited for the WSOF 13 undercard as well.
“Timur Valiev is one of these guys who’s well rounded, hasn’t lost in his seven fights,” Sefo says. “That’s going back four years. Isiah Chapman is a black belt in judo and tae kwon do. Ozzy Dugulubgov has got a wrestling background but prefers to stand and bang. Keon Caldwell is another guy with heavy hands.”
“I’m looking forward to the whole card,” he continues. “I think the whole card is going to be exciting.”
Sefo is also excited about WSOF’s plans to hold shows in New Zealand, where Sefo was born and raised, and Japan, where WSOF was said to have developed a relationship with pioneering MMA organization Pancrase.
“We’ve had a few setbacks, and that’s normal,” he says. “So we’re probably looking for, hopefully, the end of February for New Zealand, and later in the year for Japan. We haven’t finalized dates yet.”
“We’re produced great fighters from there,” Sefo says of his native New Zealand. “They want to be on a big show internationally. With (WSOF’s partnership with) NBC, we’re on countries around the world, so that’s a big platform for them to be a part of.”
As for his own fighting career, Sefo, who still trains at Xtreme Couture, isn’t so certain: “Right now I’m so busy with WSOF, but, you never know. I’m in the gym six days a week. We’ll see.”
Sefo, now 43, fought last year in an MMA bout. He was offered an opportunity this year to compete in a kickboxing event in Japan, but plans fell through.
It was yet another case of “anything can happen,” but Sefo stays upbeat.
“I’m staying busy,” he smiles. “I enjoy it. My whole life I’ve been involved in martial arts, and it’s something I really love. I’m blessed to do what I love to do. Thanks to the fans, for all their love and support.”
WSOF 13 will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network at 9 pm EST / 6 pm PST Saturday night, from Bethlehem, PA.