New Jersey commission explains World Series of Fighting's pre-show issues

Photo: Matt Kaplowitz

Matt Roth sits down with New Jersey commission counsel Nick Lembo to discuss the issues that faced the World Series of Fighting in the hours leading up to their second show.

This is a guest piece by former Bloody Elbow writer Matt Roth. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattRoth512 and check out his work at his website Pretty Hate Machines.

Atlantic City -- World Series Of Fighting (WSOF) 2 aired Saturday night on NBC Sports as scheduled, but the show was in serious jeopardy of being cancelled due to several issues regarding the cage and fighting surface. I first learned of those issues from NJSAC counsel Nick Lembo at Friday’s weigh ins, which were delayed because the pre-fight paperwork needed to be filled out for almost every fighter on the card.

The conversation was brief but as Lembo explained, the corner pads were too thin and the canvas was too short. After learning of these issues, I spoke with a WSOF staffer who was completely unaware of any problems and abruptly walked over to the rest of the WSOF that was on-site.

Following the event, I had the opportunity to speak with Nick Lembo to find out just how close the commission came to calling off the fights at the Revel Casino’s Ovation Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

The conversation began with a discussion of the pre-fight paperwork issues. While it was a hassle and caused the weigh ins to be delayed close to an hour, he doesn’t anticipate there being issues should WSOF return to New Jersey this summer.

"It was their first show in New Jersey and I think they were a little unfamiliar with the process and slightly overwhelmed. I think there may have been a misunderstanding or a miscommunication with paperwork that needed to be completed and given to me before the first fighter hit the scale."

However, whether there were promotional jitters or not, there were still some real issues with how WSOF organized the event. Fighters have to fill out a ton of paperwork before they can step on the scale and the fact that most had not done so is a concern.

But as Lembo explained, it’s pretty common with promoters when they hold their first event in the state. In fact, Bellator went through the same growing pains when they got started.

"It was comparable to other promoters when it's their first time in New Jersey. There are certain license fee checks, official fee checks, the bout contracts fully executed and the medical forms completed and executed for each fighter." He continued, "so certain organizations like the UFC and Ring of Combat have been in Jersey since 2000 are okay, but Bellator had the same issues early on like the WSOF."

"The paperwork is due before the start of the weigh ins. It could be much earlier. Most of the time when I arrive at the weigh ins, that's when all the paperwork is transferred over. I wouldn't expect issues next time, they understand the process and they're fully aware of it now."

Paperwork issues aside, there were some significant problems with the WSOF decagon. The canvas was cut a foot too short and the pads the cover the steel posts that hold up the cage weren’t up to code and presented a real danger to fighter safety.

"The canvas as it was, was just cut a foot too short. They have an odd cage. It's a 10-sided cage. So basically on the corner, you could see the grommets where they're supposed to hang a foot over," Lembo explained. "But as I was told, it wasn't their error, it was the error of the supplier who had cut the cage to the right specifications for their first show in Las Vegas. They didn't anticipate there would be an issue with them."

While a short canvas appears to be more of an aesthetical issue from the outside observer, thin corner padding could cause severe injury should a fighter’s head or spine be driven into the post. WSOF’s pads being too thin was a real concern and was only rectified because the promoters of Cage Fury Fighting Championships (CFFC) lent WSOF their spare pads for the event.

"The corner pads need to be of a substantial thickness and padding. It's where you have the metal posts and on the bottom you have a significant amount of metal so you need thicker pads to protect the fighters."

For those that followed along with Brent Brookhouse’s on-going coverage of WSOF, you are aware that as of late Friday night, the cage was not only not approved and the replacement canvas was not in New Jersey. WSOF flew the new canvas in from Las Vegas early Saturday morning and needed to get the "OK" from Lembo before the event could be held despite the claims from Ray Sefo that there weren’t any problems and the event was going forward as planned.

Lucky for Sefo and company that the Cage Fury promoters who were assisting with promotion of the event are not only very familiar with the NJSAC’s policies, but have construction experience to dismantle and then rebuild the decagon before Lembo’s arrival in Atlantic City.

"You have to have an approved canvas. They were working with Rudy and Chick from Cage Fury who were helping them rectify the cage issues. I've worked with them (CFFC) for a long time and they know what's exactly expected. They were telling me that things were fixed so when I did arrive at 4:30 PM, I didn't expect any issues and upon inspection there weren't any."

And for those that believed the card was never in any jeopardy of being cancelled and that this was a "non-story", Lembo has cancelled events because of problems with the fighting structure and surface.

"In the last year we cancelled an event because there was one cage door and we cancelled an outdoor event because the humidity was causing the canvas to be too slippery."

So the question remains, with the doors scheduled to open at 5:30 PM and the first prelim set to air on Sherdog.com at 6:00 PM, if there had still been a problem with the cage, would the event have been cancelled?

Probably not.

While Nick is a stickler for fighter safety and follows the rules to the letter, he would have been open to finding a solution before calling off the event.

"I think we would have tried to find a solution because no one wants to cancel a show. But we would have needed to have a safe fighting environment for the fighters. We would have delayed the show trying to find a solution. No one on the commission wants to see a show cancelled. We were all looking forward to the card. We were all on site at the time."

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