World Series of Fighting moved their way north of the border for the first time when they set up shop in Vancouver's Agrodome for their seventh event. I was able to go to the show with a few friends of varying levels of MMA fandom, and their reaction to their surroundings was a fun case study in how people that aren't hardcore fans like myself view non-UFC offerings. I'll offer up my perspective of the show in the paragraphs below.
I showed up and got to my seat for the second preliminary fight. Every fan that wanted one was given a free white World Series of Fighting shirt when they came in, which I thought was a pretty smart idea. They had a big screen set up to follow the action since the Agrodome is an ancient arena and doesn't have anything like that. It was quite helpful to see how much time there was left in the round and when the fights went to the ground as the view of the decagon (they're really trying to push the decagon thing) was regularly obstructed by cameramen and the like.
The prelims featured a lot of local fighters and the crowd was pretty vocal for them. The first prelim fight we saw featured two guys from the Lower Mainland, Myles Merola and Dan Ring. The fight was pretty decent and Merola got the win, which the crowd popped pretty big for. Then they all got up and went to the beer garden.
You could barely see the decagon from the beer garden, but that didn't stop about half the crowd from spending the entire night in there. The screen was right above it so you could see what was going on easily enough I guess. But it was fairly obvious that a lot of Vancouver fans didn't really care about what was going on the cage, which is a bit of a shame. But not really unusual.
There was a big police presence inside and outside - easily the biggest I've seen for any sporting event in the city in a while. Vancouver has a very sketchy relationship with the sport of MMA, which is maddening and also why you won't see the UFC here any time soon again. But thankfully there were no issues at this show.
The card carried on with a lightweight bout between Californian Gabriel Solorio and local fighter Shawn Albrecht. I personally thought Albrecht should have got the nod, but it was Solorio that was awarded the unanimous decision. The funniest part of the night was the look of shock and elation Solorio's face when they raised his hand - even he looked like he thought he wasn't going to win.
David Perron is apparently a popular man in this city. The local fighter had one entire section (the only full section in the arena) going bonkers when he entered the cage and again when he secured a beautiful triangle choke that forced opponent Matt Baker to tap out in the first round. And as soon as they were done basking in the glow of the victory, all of them disappeared. By the start of the main card there wasn't a single person in the entire section any more. Not one.
The final prelims fight between Michael Hill and Richard Arsenault featured an unfortunate leg injury for Arsenault that ended up stopping the fight in the second round. It was plainly obvious to everyone in attendance that Arsenault could barely stand at the end of the first and I really don't think the bout should have been allowed to enter a second stanza. But after a couple of kicks and 90 seconds of hobbling, it was finally called off.
There was a full 50-minute delay between the end of the prelims and the start of the main card, which killed a lot of the fan momentum in the arena (but did a great job of fueling sales in the beer garden).
Kalib Starnes kicked off the main card with some vicious striking that eventually took out Dwayne Lewis. It was an excellent performance from the ex-UFC fighter, who showed some real fire and intensity. The elbow that finished it was just nasty. Lewis has now been stopped in three of his last four fights (albeit against good fighters).
The crowd was hyped for the Starnes win, and that energy carried over to the next bout between Sabah Fadai and Nick Newell. Fadai was local and got a good amount of applause, but Newell got a rousing ovation and really came off like a star despite only being on TV a couple of times before that. His quick submission win was awesome and everyone was truly impressed with the man's skills. I hope it came off well on TV because Newell was definitely the highlight of the night in my eyes.
Then came Jesse Taylor and Elvis Mutapcic and it killed the crowd. 15 minutes of ground fighting led to a bunch of booing and stupid comments from the crowd. There was a long delay between the end of the fight and his interview with Bas Rutten and Taylor tried to play to the crowd a bit, but just got booed for his troubles. It was a good win for JT Money, but Mutapcic didn't look good at all. Taylor will meet David Branch for the promotion's middleweight title early next year.
The main event featherweight title fight between Lance Palmer and Georgi Karakhanyan could have gone the same way as the last bout, but luckily it didn't. Palmer won the first round in my eyes with some much-improved striking, scoring with a bevy of hard left hooks. He then used his wrestling to control the second and almost the whole third round while the crowd was so dead that the only people talking were the cornermen. Then came the finish.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Karakhanyan snatched up a guillotine and rolled over into mount. And just like that, Palmer was tapping for the first time in his career and Karakhanyan was the promotion's featherweight champion. The crowd popped like a Pride event for that - five minutes of silence, then a big "WAAAAAAH!" and a lot of clapping. Definitely a good capper on a good card.
Overall, the experience was fun. The older arena was only about half full, so I'd estimate attendance in the 2000-2500 range. There were some technical glitches (like the ring card girl carrying around the big "2" sign when it was obviously the third round in one of the early prelims) and the delays for commercials are always odd in the arena since everyone is just sort of standing around in the cage awkwardly. But other than some general disorganization, the show went off pretty much without a hitch.
If WSOF came back to Vancouver again, or somewhere else in the local area, I would definitely attend the show. I'd suggest not running the Agrodome though - there are much better places to run a show in the area if you're looking at the 2000-5000 range for fans. Also, I think attendance might have been hurt a bit by the WWE, who ran a house show right next door at Pacific Coliseum at the same time. I know there's not a massive crossover between the two, but I do know people that wanted to go to both but picked WWE over WSOF.
It really is too bad that we didn't get to see the Anthony Johnson vs. Mike Kyle bout though. A lot of people were disappointed by that, but injuries happen.