Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that when it comes to the World Series of Fighting (or, really, any MMA organization not named UFC or Bellator), we can all agree on what the question is.
Let’s say we all agree that the question is something along the lines of, how do you draw in fight fans with familiar names from other organizations, while at the same time convincing them that you aren’t just a second-rate UFC knockoff? In other words, how do you make use of fighters who were ousted from the UFC without becoming the organization known for scooping up the UFC’s leftovers? How do you get people to take you seriously?
Former UFC middleweight (and current WSOF welterweight) Gerald Harris has an answer he’d like to suggest. It goes like this: Don’t give Jon Fitch a title shot.
At least, not right away. Not in his first fight with the organization, and not when he’s coming off a loss in the UFC.
“A title shot to me is a very valuable thing,” Harris told MMAjunkie.com (mmajunkie.com). “It’s something we all train for and something we all work for. When you get in an organization, if your title is going to mean something and it’s going to have some value, it can’t be given. It has to be earned.”
If you follow Harris on Twitter or Facebook, you’ve probably heard his opinions on the matter already. Ever since Saturday night, when the WSOF began angling for a Fitch-Josh Burkman rematch following Burkman’s TKO win over Aaron Simpson at the WSOF 2 event in Atlantic City, N.J., Harris has been telling anyone who will listen what a bad idea it is.
And, honestly, Harris makes some pretty good points. After all, what kind of message does it send to bring in a fighter who was very recently cut from the UFC and immediately make him the top contender for the as-of-yet purely theoretical WSOF welterweight title? If you’re trying to tell fans that you’re more than just a back-up plan for UFC rejects, why scoop up a recent UFC castoff and treat him like your welterweight heir apparent? At that point, aren’t you telling people that your title doesn’t really mean that much?
That’s why, according to Harris, slotting Fitch in for an immediate shot at the top spot is “just straight-up ridiculous.” He doesn’t have to be the one to greet Fitch in his first WSOF fight, though he’d like to, but, “He’s got to fight somebody.”
“I understand,” Harris said. “They’re a new organization, trying to get on the map as soon as possible, but that’s just a bad move. For your fighters that are below that level, for fighters that have been there for a short time, they’re not going to respect the organization.”
And when you’re trying to carve out a market share for yourself as a promoter, respect is kind of a big deal. If both fans and fighters don’t regard you as a serious, legitimate long-term player, that’s a problem you can’t solve by writing big checks or signing big names.
Especially when it comes to championship belts, perception is reality. That hunk of leather and metal around a fighter’s waist can either be the hard-won fruit of a lifetime of hard work, or it can be another meaningless trophy that’s valuable only as scrap metal.
It is whatever enough people decide that it is, and some of those people are the fighters vying for it. If the WSOF decides that its title will go to the winner of a bout between Burkman (who’s won two straight in the organization) and Fitch (who’s won zero fights in the organization, and is entering it off a UFC loss), it might inadvertently declare that not quite good enough in the UFC is championship material in the WSOF.
“That’s the problem for the World Series of Fighting and anywhere other than the UFC,” Harris said. “People see it as the minor leagues. There are some very talented guys here. You see those Strikeforce guys go in and just whoop ass in the UFC. There’s some very talented guys, but they’re just not known. …You can’t just speak of the World Series of Fighting title like it doesn’t mean anything. To me it means a lot.”
There’s another angle to consider here, at least for Harris. While his helpful, unsolicited advice on social media may spark interesting conversations with fans and media, it might not be so welcome by his employer. Let’s not forget that Harris is a fighter who’s currently 0-1 in the WSOF. The UFC released him following a 3-1 stint, so you have to wonder what his career options would look like if the 33-year-old welterweight ran afoul of another MMA organization thanks to some indelicate public criticism.
According to Harris, that’s not something he’s all that worried about.
“I don’t really care about losing my job because I don’t consider it my job anymore,” he said. “I consider it more fun to me, more of a sport. I’m getting paid to compete in a sport. I know that sounds weird, but I’m not too worried about it because [WSOF] really doesn’t fire or cut people like that. That’s the beauty of the organization. … What are they going to do? They’re not going to release me over it. I’m just voicing my opinion. It might be a positive or a negative. They might say, well, he’s kind of right.”
And, when you think about it, maybe he is. Then again, there are times when being right only helps you so much.
For more on WSOF 2, stay tuned to the MMA Events section of the site.