MMA Wreckage chats with WSOF CEO Carlos Silva about promotion’s future and Gaethje backflips

 

carlos

Next weekend the World Series of Fighting returns to the cage for WSOF 25. Live from Comerica Theatre in Phoenix, Arizona the promotion will host a one night only 8 man tournament in the lightweight division. The winner will be the number one contender and will face current champion Justin Gaethje(15-0) at a following WSOF event. Prior to next week’s event MMA Wreckage was able to speak with new CEO Carlos Silva. The interview includes questions on his role within the promotion and what the future holds for WSOF in general. The interview was conducted by featured columnist Travis Brown and we would like to sincerely thank Carlos for his time. It’s worth noted that prior to the interview Travis wanted to ask Carlos about the pending lawsuit against WSOF but due to legal concerns they were not allowed at this time.

How did you and WSOF come to be and what is your exact role in the company?

Sometimes things just happen. It turns out as WSOF was looking to make some management changes, I was also looking for more opportunities. They just happen to coincide. It’s sort of a funny story. I ended up in Los Angeles one day and I was doing some advisory work for another company out there and my phone rang and it was Mike Stevens. Mike is apart of our board and is the CMO of the New York Giants. He had been a friend for years because he worked for the Redskins and a bunch of friends from my time at AOL ended up working for the Redskins. So he called me out of the blue and was like “What are you doing?”. I told him I was out in LA and he asked if I have heard of this thing called World Series of Fighting because they are looking for a new leader. I was like “no not really Mike” I know the fighting space a little.” He’s like “it’s on NBC” and I said “yeah I think i’ve seen it”. Long story short it just turns out that he was a buddy and was going to join the board.

So he kinda put my name forward and it turns out another guy Mark Ford was also a board member at the time and I’ve known him since his Sports Illustrated days because I ran AOL Sports. So he called me and we talked and then I became very good friends with John Wieser who is the president of Sony TV Distribution. Lastly I got to know the owners and we all sort of put our heads together and I think I got some good recommendations because the oncoming new board members all knew me. They knew me from my time at AOL Time Warner and what I did for Universal Sports and launching that network. It just worked out and I had a long standing relationship with NBC which is our broadcast partner.

I ended up going to some meetings before I joined and I think there was a level of comfort there. It really just sort of worked and I sort had my eye on the fighting space because when you are involved sports like I have been for so long you just know what is happening in the major sports. It’s just kinda what we all do. You have to start telling your friends that you really aren’t a fan anymore because it’s part of your business. Your business is to be reading and knowing about sponsorship deals, knowing about what leagues are doing and distribution and being a media guy it becomes your hobby and your life all together. So I knew how big it was and I thought there was a great opportunity especially with our partnership with NBC to really grow it so I joined.

Can you tell us how much longer does WSOF have with the NBC Sports platform and are you looking to remain there longer?

I know the deal and know it well it’s part of my job but we can’t discuss the terms of the deal because that’s confidential between NBC and us. It wouldn’t be right to discuss. I can tell you on a personal note that I’m very happy to be partnered with a bunch of folks that I have worked with before like John Miller, Gary Quinn, Kevin Monahan, Rick Cordella and a bunch of good guys that I have worked with before. So that’s really great. We are really happy to be on this NBC Sports Network. I hope to stay and grow the league with them for as long as we can remain successful.

How excited you are for the WSOF 25 eight man tournament and why should fans tune in to see it?

I’m super excited about it. Everyone kinda talks about how it’s been done but hasn’t for a long time. It’s really what it’s all about. I think we put some really good measures in place to take care of the fighters especially during the quarters and the semis. I happen to be a guy that grew up with brackets because I played college tennis and tried the tour. So brackets have always been a big part of my life and March Madness has always been a huge part of what I’ve done in the media stage. I’m just a big believer in brackets. It’s one night, it’s eight guys, quarters, semis, final and then there is a winner. I just think that is going to be like everyones got that moment when you tune in to see something special. You tune into March Madness every year and you really don’t have a team you love because maybe your team is out or didn’t make it. Though as the tournament progresses you become a fan of team based on something they did. Maybe they made a 3 pointer in the round of 16 that got them into the quarters so then you root for them there. Whatever it is that’s similar to what we are going to see in that one night. You are going to see a guy that does something in the quarters that unexpected. Like a great knockout or a great submission or fantastic reversal. Then you are going to be cheering for him in the semis because he made you a fan in the prior round. I think that’s what brackets do and I think that’s why it’s going to be an exciting night.

I’m also a big endurance guy and I think the fitness part of what you are going to see from these athletes will be a big part of who wins too. I’m excited about that because I think the fighters know but I don’t think the mass market understands how great these guys are as athletes. A lot of people think they are just fighters but they really are not and once you get to know them you see which guys are quick and which guys are tactical. You see which guys are strikers as opposed to those who are good on the ground and you start to see how their athletic ability plays into what they do. Justin Gaethje does a backflip off the cage! You gotta be a good athlete to do that. Any basketball player or tennis player, football player all these good athletes wouldn’t be able to do that.

Right especially after going toe to toe with Luis Palomino!

It’s amazing I mean from the top of the cage it’s a big backflip that he does and lands it almost like Mary Lou Retton every time. So you got to give him credit.

Are there any plans for expansion of live events for WSOF other markets possibly overseas cards?

It maybe a little bit of a cop out of an answer but not really. When I got involved many of the fight in regards to location in 2016 were already set. The thing that i’m trying to bring to the team and our partner at NBC is locking that schedule in as soon as possible. The sooner I can release our 2016 lineup the better it is for sponsors, the city, the boards and the better it is for the fans. So they know what to expect from WSOF and where to go. So I will tell you that we are looking at some really exciting new venues. A few that I think will surprise you not just from the city that we are going to go to but the venues that we are going to go to. I’m in the middle of the talks so I’m not ready to mention anything. Soon as I am we will let you know.

How can WSOF stay competitive with the other top tiered promotions in mixed martial arts?

In a way you answered your question a little. I mean look I don’t have Ronda Rousey and god bless the UFC it’s great what they do. She’s huge and the UFC has shown us all the way in the last twenty years. So I think they are going to continue to do that and I’m happy to draft off them helping the public understand how amazing mma is in general. Bellator has taken over the slot on Spike and is doing a fine job of being owned by Viacom. UFC is on Fox and we are on NBC. So I think it’s about coming up with to your point the venue and cities, finding the fighters and the match ups. I think the one thing the World Series of Fighting has done and I think it’s a credit to Ray and Ali, and what I hear consistently is throughout our 25 cards, the fights have always been great. There has always been a couple of great fights. I really do think having that foundation of two fighters, a world champion in Ray Sefo and an olympian in Ali helps put on great fights. I think we are going to continue to bring great athletes and great fighters to the mix. I also think we will add in some of our unique things and the eight man tournament is one of those. I think we are getting a lot of buzz around eight guys who are all great fighters but they are all trying to do this so they can get a shot at Justin Gaethje. I think both the eight fighters and the event itself are winners.

I think we will continue to put on events like that, that help define why you will tune into NBC and NBC Sports Network to watch us. I also think we are going to do some things in 2016 with digital platforms and really expand the sort of fighting of the mma platform in general because that’s my background too. I’ve built audiences and run some of the biggest digital corporations. I’ve watched subscription based services and have run television networks. So i’m really going to look at how we can tap into the fighting lifestyle and fighting community and every that World Series of Fighting is a piece of to build our audience. That’s really what we are going to be doing in 2016.

Where would you like to see the WSOF in the future and what steps are needed to get the organization there?

Similar to what you alluded to in your earlier question there is really three major leagues right now. With UFC being the biggest Bellator being another one that’s now part of bigger company in Viacom and World Series of Fighting with our partner in NBC. I think establishing to the fighting audience that we are here to stay. We “are” one of those top three and I think all of us are going to have our high points around certain fights, certain match ups. Some of that is just sport and you get lucky in sport with a great knockout or there is a great five round fight that you would have never expected that becomes epic. I think that’s just part of being in the live sports business. It’s why live sports is so valuable. It’s a reason why I’m here and CEO because i’m a big believer in live. I was at the beginning of making an investment in Tivo back in early 2000. I was at AOL and I think it’s why live has become so important because it’s dvr proof and that’s really why I’m here. I have to continue to put the pieces together for the organization and our ownership and mostly in our sponsorship. It’s to help us grow World Series of Fighting and solidify us as one of the top three. I think we are there but I also think we can get so much stronger. I think we are on the right track and have already made some strides. We have a great team and if you can’t tell I’m pretty excited about it.

The live NBCSN telecast of the WSOF 25 is at 11 pm ET/8 pm PT start time on Friday November 20th. The prelims and quarterfinal stage tournament bouts will stream live on WSOF.com beginning at 8 pm ET/5 pm PT, before the live NBCSN telecast.

 

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Travis Brown

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