Many fighters and managers had high hopes for the World Series of Fighting when it first appeared on the mixed martial arts scene. In a UFC dominated market it offered another option for national exposure and a healthy purse. Those same fighters and managers are now expressing frustration with the promotion for a lack of communication with its athletes and for failing uphold their agreements.
Last month Jacob Volkmann took to a social network to tweet his displeasure with the WSOF. His comments were met with a quick response by WSOF matchmaker Ali Abdelaziz, who said: "I honestly can't believe this guy. We went out of our way to take care of Jacob Volkmann, and now he's going to talk trash about us? Unbelievable."
Speaking to Volkmann about the incident, he took issue with Abdelaziz's statement that they went out of their way to take care of him. Instead he says the cause behind the dispute was WSOF's failure to live up to the agreement they had with him.
"Before I signed with World Series, I asked Ali how long would I have to wait between fights. It was important to me, because I didn't want to be sitting around. He texted me 4 to 5 months. Promised me it would never be any longer than that. I saved the text. I got it right here on my phone."
"At the end of September it had been three months since my last fight so they owed me one and offered me Luiz Firmino. But they told me they could only pay me 6 and 6, even though my agreement said 9 and 9. They promised me that they'd get me on the January show and pay me 11 and 11 to make up for it if I did it. I wanted to fight and needed the money so I said yes."
"January comes around and I'm planning on having a fight. I'm getting ready but I don't hear anything. A week before the event I get a call telling me they're sorry but they can't get me one. I'm mad. I'm also broke. I'm out money from what I should have made for my last fight and now I'm not going to get 11 and 11. I need the money so Shawn [Lampman] felt sorry for me and said he'd give me $3,000 right away to help make up for it. I'm happy he did but it still didn't make up for what I should have got."
"And they still don't have a fight for me after that. So I ask them to let me take a fight outside [WSOF]. They agree, so I fight in April, and since I really need the money now I do something dumb and take another fight on three days notice against T.J. O'Brien and lose."
"Now they don't want to give me any fights because I lost outside of World Series of Fighting and I am 'damaged goods', even though I had to do it because they weren't getting me fights and paying my bills to begin with."
"I tweeted about it so I could warn other fighters. So after that they tell me I'm no longer with World Series of Fighting, and make a big deal about how they verbally released me back in February even though they didn't give me the written release until now."
Volkmann's is not the only such case. Earlier this year Josh Burkman also took to twitter to voice his dissatisfaction, which was met by a quick response by Abdelaziz, triggering an ugly back and forth.
Burkman's complaints were almost identical to Volkmann's:
"I've got a clause that keeps me active, meaning they have to give me a certain amount of fights in a certain period of time. Going into the [WSOF 9] card, we were coming right up on that deadline where they owed me another fight. I told Ali that I wanted to fight on the card, but he said the card was filling up and at budget."
"So, they put me on the card against Stinson but sent me a bout agreement that paid me less than what my contract with them said I am supposed to get paid."
With another event not scheduled until months later, Burkman reluctantly agreed to the new terms.
While both of these incidents became to the public's attention through twitter, they are not the only ones. John Gunderson has confirmed that he too got into a heated dispute with the WSOF when he was asked to take a smaller amount than what his contract called for in order to get a fight. (Gunderson also wanted it known that he and WSOF have since made amends and that he now gets along great with Ray Sefo and Ali Abdelaziz.)
Other fighters and managers, who wished to remain anonymous, have told us similar stories, of being told that they could only book them in a fight if they agreed to fight for less than what their contract stipulated.
As one industry insider explained it:
"It's something you see small, rinky-dink shows doing. Promise a guy the moon and then once he's signed tell him you don't have the space or money to pay him what you said you'd pay him. They know the fighters aren't going to fight them. None of them are rich enough to hire a lawyer and take it to court. They have bills to pay so they're going to swallow their pride and take what they offer. And the promoters know this."
"Ali and them can pretend they're bending over backward to help these guys out by saying, 'hey the fighters signed an agreement for the new amount so they must have been OK with it.' The truth is they're telling people one thing to get them to sign and then not delivering on their end of the deal."
This is not the only source of grievances with the promotion.
"I'm very appreciative of what's they've done for Rousimar Palhares," says manager Alex Davis. "Of hiring Rousimar, of giving him a title shot. Very appreciative. The only thing I need for me to do my job correctly, which is good for them and Rousimar Palhares, is I need straight answers. That's all."
Unfortunately, according to several fighters and managers, straight answers are lacking. Our sources have expressed frustration with what is, according to them, an unreasonable lack of communication by WSOF. As examples they cited incidents where fighters were told they were booked for an event only to learn much later that they weren't appearing on that card, of bouts being announced without the fighter or manager being informed or agreeing to them, of promises of new contacts never materializing, and of long waits with no word of when they will eventually be given a match.
We contacted World Series of Fighting to request an interview with Ali Abdelaziz or another official from the promotion, so that we could ask them about the accounts that were relayed to us. They denied that request but emailed us a statement by President Ray Sefo.
World Series of Fighting has unfortunately at times not been able to get all of our athletes fights at the due in part to scheduling windows from NBC Sports. Also, on a few occasions when a fighter has been injured, we've been unable to find an opponent at the last minute, so the non-injured fighter - again unfortunately - must wait. All promotions have these issues.
As far as fighters agreeing to fight for less money, when we have a budget - as all companies must have - and we tell a fighter they are not scheduled on a card and must wait until a future event as the card is full and budget is met, certain fighters have agreed and asked to fight anyway, even if it's for less money, and we have accommodated these requests. For this to happen, a fighter must sign an amendment to his agreement. Fighters always have the option to wait, or if World Series of Fighting has not given a fighter a fight in the time specified in their agreement, then the fighter may cancel the agreement and go compete for another promotion.
The experience has proved so frustrating for Jacob Volkmann that he told us he has decided to retire, having determined that it is impossible to have a career within mixed martial arts.
Josh Burkman is also ready to move on. "I have three fights left in the World Series of Fighting and my goal is when I'm done I'm not resigning, I'm leaving and going to the UFC. World Series of Fighting is just a job now"