World Extreme Cagefighting Boss: “We’re Not Going Anywhere”

World Extreme Cagefighting General Manager Reed Harris is a busy man. He has WEC 43 coming up on October 10th in San Antonio, a card headlined by an interim lightweight title fight between Donald Cerrone and Benson Henderson. On top of that, he spends plenty of time squashing the persistent rumors of a potential UFC/WEC merger.

Heavy’s Jeremy Botter sat down with Reed to discuss matchmaking, fighters complaining about salaries, and yes, the rumors of a UFC/WEC merger and why it’s not happening. You have WEC 43 next Saturday, October 10, in San Antonio. Can you take us through the process you use when selecting the towns you’re going to run?

Reed Harris: Well, the first step we take is checking with our television partner. We obviously schedule months in advance, and we check with Versus to see what dates they have available. Once Versus gives us available dates and times, we start looking cities with venues available on those dates.

The cities are usually determined by our television ratings in those markets. The areas where we are stronger, where we have a bigger television presence, will obviously get preferential treatment when it comes time to choose where we’re going.

We also look at the guys we want to have on the card that we’re proposing. We try to have guys fight in their hometown. Miguel Torres is a perfect example. We’ll try to have Miguel fight in Chicago, since that’s where he’s from.

We have to look at what venues are available in those cities and what dates they have available. It’s a tricky process and all of the stars have to align to make it happen. What made San Antonio appealing as a potential location for a WEC show?

Reed Harris: Versus had the 10th available. In San Antonio, the venue had the 10th available, but two or three other cities had the 10th available as well. So we looked at the market and determined that San Antonio would be a good location. We want the show to do well. How are ticket sales going for the show?

Reed Harris: Ticket sales are doing good. They are tracking right where we thought they would be. We’re going down to San Antonio on Saturday to do some promotional work. By the time the show rolls around, we expect the venue to be packed. Donald Cerrone and Benson Henderson are fighting for the interim belt at the show. Is Jamie Varner a long way from coming back, and is that why the decision was made to book the interim title fight?

Reed Harris: Jamie Varner is not a long way from coming back. The thing is, Jamie wasn’t going to be ready for this event. Cerrone and Henderson both wanted to fight. Both guys wanted to compete, so we made the fight.

Varner will probably be back in December or January. What other fights are you excited about on WEC 43?

Reed Harris: I’m excited about seeing Waggney Fabiano fight. He’s fighting Mackens Semerzier, and that will be a great fight. Manny Tapia is returning to fight Eddie Wineland. And Rafael Assuncao will fight Yves Jabouin, and that fight could determine the next featherweight contender. The winner of that fight will be right there in the mix and could get the next title shot. What’s next for Miguel Torres? Some people think that he should get an immediate title rematch because of his record. Is that the case, or will he have to win one or two fights before getting a rematch?

Reed Harris: I haven’t determined that yet. Typically, we like to make our fighters work for a rematch, to really earn it. What we do is after events like our October 10th card, I’ll sit down with (WEC matchmaker) Sean Shelby and go through the fights that he thinks are called for. He has a list of the fights that he thinks are worth doing, and we’ll talk those over.

We don’t have a plan for Miguel right now as far as his next fight goes, but he’s already training. He started training immediately after the Bowles fight. Along the same lines, do the hand injuries Urijah Faber suffered in his last bout against Mike Brown factor into the equation when you’re trying to figure out when he’ll get another title shot?

Reed Harris: The injuries are absolutely a factor. Urijah broke his hand in that fight, so it hampered him. His hand is one hundred percent healed now and he’s been cleared by doctors to fight.

I talked to Urijah last week, and he said he used a hyperbaric chamber to speed up the healing process. His doctor said that the hyperbaric chamber helped his injuries heal twice as fast as they normally would. When will you introduce the flyweight division?

Reed Harris: We’re bringing in the flyweights at the beginning of the year. We’re working it all out now. Is the flyweight talent pool deep enough to sustain a full division?

Reed Harris: Yes. In all candor, the flyweight talent pool is about four times deeper than I thought it would be. We put the word out about the division, and websites picked up the story and ran with it. Because of that and because of the level we’re at, we’ve had literally hundreds of people contact us wanting to fight for us.

And the thing is, there are lots of guys who are currently fighting at 135 and 145 who are fighting there because there is no 125 pound class available and there’s nowhere else to fight. We even have bantamweights who will drop down to flyweight once we install the division. We’ve heard complaints from fighters over the past few months about the WEC pay structure. You guys obviously can’t pay what other promotions like DREAM pay because you’re on free television. What kind of strategy can you employ in order to keep guys like Faber around when their contracts expire?

Reed Harris: Let me set one thing straight: our guys make more than what DREAM would pay them. That’s a fact.

There are lots of ways to pay fighters. We’re on television in America, which means these guys can get plenty of sponsorship money.

Over the next few weeks, the arguments will be quelled. You’ll see. In the history of the WEC, which I believe is eight years now, I have never lost a fighter because of money issues.

This is the problem I have with the money discussion. This entire story started with someone asking Urijah if he was happy with the money he’s making. But I’m telling you, if you call my wife and ask her if Reed makes enough money, she will say no. I guarantee she’ll say no.

Urijah is a great fighter and he can say whatever he wants. But nobody is ever completely happy with what they are making. But as competitive as the fight game market is, I’ve never lost a fighter over money.

It’s a matter of fighters liking us and the exposure we provide, so they will fight for less than they can get elsewhere because they get more sponsorship money when they are with us. Either that, or we are actually competitive in terms of money. We’ve heard tons of rumors over the past few months regarding a UFC/WEC merger. I’ve talked to you several times and you always dispel the rumors, but they continue to linger. With the DirecTV situation and with how many cards the UFC is planning to run in 2010, do you think it’s more likely now that we’ll see WEC fighters on UFC shows.

Reed Harris: No. I’ve had discussions with (UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva. His talent pool is incredibly deep. He has plenty of trouble getting fights for the fighters they have under contract. Look at the Dallas show. How many fights did it have? Thirteen fights. I was at the show and it was a very long night.

Reed Harris: Do you know why there were so many fights on that card? Because Joe has to give fights to the guys he has under contract.

I could see us doing a superfight. But the UFC is not taking over the WEC divisions. We have 60-70 guys under WEC contracts. Can you imagine trying to fit those guys onto UFC shows? It would completely throw the dynamic off.

The one thing we do at Zuffa that is different, and I believe it’s one of the reasons we are successful, is that our fights have meaning. Look at the fights on our undercards. Those guys are fighting to stay in the company, or they are fighting to move up into contention, to get noticed. There is always a reason why guys are fighting on our cards. They always make sense.

We have Leonard Garcia against Manny Gamburyan in November. Both guys are trying to get back into title contention. It means something.

Because of that, we don’t want to do one-off fights. I’ve done this for a long time, and there is so much more to the business than superfights. You can’t run a company based on superfights. Look at EliteXC, Affliction, the WFA and other companies. They had big fights, but they also had nothing waiting in the wings. And you only have to look at the aftermath of those shows to see that it’s not a good idea.

With our company, the champions come from within. They come from our roster. And they’ve earned their way into that title match. What do you see in the future for the WEC?

Reed Harris: We’re not going anywhere. Look at our shows on Versus. Our ratings have been continually building over the past year. Our ratings are strong. Our attendance is strong. We’re the #2 MMA company in the world.

And in this economy, people love free television. If we put these shows on PPV, then they aren’t free.

We lost DirecTV, but you know what? When that happened, a number of other cable providers decided to add Versus to their free tier. We’re in 75 million homes. In the end, it will work out, and I think we’ll actually gain viewers.

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