Interview with WEC's Harris (Part I)

August 28, 2009

MMAPayout.com recently had the chance to chat with WEC General Manager Reed Harris in regards to a variety of topics. It wasn’t really your typical question and answer interview, but more a meandering conversation between two MMA enthusiasts.

Below, part one of the interview largely discusses the business consequences of the WEC’s decision to postpone WEC 43, a bit of their strategy for 2009, how the organization plans to separate and distinguish itself from the UFC, and sets the record straight about the merger talks.

Enjoy.

KP: Everybody has focused on the reasons why you’ve cancelled the event but from a business perspective, what were the consequences for the WEC in cancelling the event? In terms of some costs or obligations to the venue, the city, hotels, flights, and things like that.

RH: Certainly there were a lot of discussions with the venue and there were also some fairly significant costs to postpone the event. So, it was something that we didn’t do lightly.

The main issue for us was that this fight had a lot of implications for us in terms of future events. We want to have the winner of this fight, fight Jamie Varner, and we felt that if we substituted someone in for Ben Henderson then it would almost as if we really couldn’t do that fight as an interim belt.

The anchor for the entire show was going away, and not only that but there are also other injuries on the card that I really can’t discuss. The notifications of those injuries all happened for us within a 24hr period. One of the other guys on the main card got injured and these are the type of injuries where, like in Henderson’s case, the doctor said, “look if you can take 2-3 weeks off you can be fine.” It wasn’t a break for him, it was a sprain.

KP: You looked at the consequences of cancelling the event – some of the costs, venue discussions, and those are pretty big – but on the other hand, the consequences of moving forward with the event, without Henderson and Cerrone, were also pretty extreme and not just for 43, but for future events.

RH: The focus of this show was to build the lightweight division. Obviously we’ve done a really good job with our 135 and 145 divisions, so now we want to start building the lightweight division at the end of this year; and, also adding the 125lbs. division. But without that [Henderson vs. Cerrone] fight, it almost kind of deconstructed our entire plans as far as what we want to do.

It was a tough decision, but we decided that if we could postpone it, we would bring the entire card back; meaning that none of the fighters are going to suffer as far as losing fights. And, the other thing we did is we talked to the fighters themselves – all the fighters on the card. I didn’t receive any real push back from any of them in terms of the delay and how it might affect their training. Some of the guys had to look at their schedules. For example, one of our guys, Eddie Wineland, is a fireman and he had to look to see if he was available, but he said, “Yeah, I’m good for the 10th.”

One of the things we’ve been doing for 3-4 months – I’ve said this publicly – is that we’ve been talking to Versus about going to Saturdays for our shows. We want to do that and versus was working on that for us, for either the November or December show. So we then came back and said, look we can make that work in October as well. In fact it was one of the only dates we could get: October 10th.

KP: Well, it makes a lot of sense in moving to the Saturday, not just because it’s a great “fight night,” but also because you’ve got the NFL on Sundays in the fall which is really tough to compete with I should think.

RH: Yeah, very tough! We don’t want to do that! You know, the stuff we do actually makes sense! [Laughs]

And I’m being totally honest with you when I say, I’ve never had a discussion with anyone from Versus about the TV thing. I can tell you that we’ve seen this – the DirecTV and Versus posturing – with FOX and Comcast last year. Comcast was saying that FOX was being unreasonable, and FOX was saying, “if you ever want to watch American Idol again, call Comcast and complain.” The whole thing was just a positioning thing for negotiation of payments.

Versus has really been a great partner for us, and our goal is to work with them to get as much exposure as we can.

KP: Has there ever been a consideration on the WEC’s behalf to move to bonafide network TV like CBS, FOX, ABC, etc.? The UFC has been hesitant largely because of the rights fee issue, but is the WEC in a better position to accept an offer from one of these networks? Especially considering it might provide the perfect platform to build the WEC brand and ready the company for PPV events.

RH: We’re always open to discussing anything, regarding business. However, I can tell you that we’re in a really good situation with Versus and I really don’t see that changing. They’ve been a great partner for us, and we’re actually in the process of actually working through another deal with them. I doubt seriously if that would change.

KP: The UFC has a lightweight division with BJ Penn and so many of the great fighters there, it really begs the question: do you feel as though the WEC operates in the shadow of the UFC and how do you steer the WEC away from that and build your own brand and separate yourself from the UFC?

RH: Well, to be honest, I’ve always felt like we’ve operated in the shadow of the UFC, because they cast a large shadow. What we’ve done though, and this was Dana’s idea, was to focus on the lighter weights which would allow us to focus on coming out from that shadow and also build a unique brand – something home to the best lightweight fighters in the world. I think we’ve done that over this last year or so.

The 155 division, we’re in the process of building, and we’ve actually signed new people which I can’t really discuss right now and we’re constantly looking for new talent.

If you talk about fighters in general, BJ Penn was fighting in Hawaii before UFC picked him up. My goal is to find the next BJ Penn that’s at a gym somewhere here in the United States or abroad, working out, building his record, and looking at an organization like the WEC.

We’ve done this with 35 and we’ve done this with 45 – we’ve got the best divisions in the world in those two weight classes. We control almost all the fighters, in those classes, that are ranked in the top ten. So, that’s our goal for the 55 division and soon also the 125lbs division, focus on those four divisions, and build our brand that way

KP: I’ve noticed other things too: the blue octagon, different commentators, and the different feel of a WEC event.

RH: I think our events are pretty dynamic. Our fighters are faster and they tend to be in really, really good shape. The fights are faster and more aggressive; and that’s kind of where we’re going with our brand. If people tune into our show, they’re going to see the best fights in the world.

MMA is a big sport and one of the things we’re trying to do is have meaningful fights and meaningful divisions. When you look at one of our cards, one of the reasons we wanted to save that fight because it had implications for the future, but also, if you look at the undercard, we’ve got guys at 155 fighting for contention spots. I think one of the things that we do differently – and the UFC – than a lot of the other organizations is that we’re not just doing one-off fights. To have our guy fight a guy that nobody has ever seen fight in our organization before – all of a sudden they’re fighting for a title.

KP: There was talk of a UFC-WEC merger – and it came from Dana White…!

RH: Here’s what Dana said! We talked about it. He was asked at a Q&A: had they ever talked about merging the UFC and WEC. He said, “yeah we’ve talked about it,” but I can tell you that we talk about everything.

We’ve had all kinds of discussions about how to best position the WEC and there’s absolutely no discussion at this time about merging us with the UFC. You look at it mathematically and it would be impossible for them to do it with their current roster already at about 200 people.

To get those guys the fights they need – typically you need to get 3-4 fights a year – is tough. That’s one of the reasons why we eliminated the heavier weight classes, we couldn’t during 6-8 shows keep our guys busy. Now that we’re going to 10 shows next year, with four divisions, it will allow us to keep all those guys. And the thing is, you can’t just do title fights, you have to do other fights to build the division and also build the contenders for the belt.

I’ve had a number of discussions with Joe Silva about it and there are absolutely no plans at this time to merge the two companies. The sport is big enough to support two organizations, wouldn’t you agree?

KP: Well, I think that’s up for debate in terms of having mainstream two organizations. I think, right now, the market has proven that it cannot support more than one UFC.

RH: I think you’re right, because I think the UFC will always be the dominant force and the biggest. But, I think the WEC certainly has the potential to be a close number two – our television ratings are very good and we’ve got huge ratings down in Mexico. We are from a numbers standpoint, the number two organization in the world right now. We’re out gating and out televising any other company out there.

4 Responses to “Interview with WEC's Harris (Part I)”

  1. norm on August 28th, 2009 10:05 AM

    I bought tickets to the show in Youngstown, but it was made pretty clear that the recheduled show will not be taking place in Youngstown, or Ohio for that matter. I received an email from Ticketmaster saying my tickets would be honored at the rescheduled show, but it’s not possible for me to attend if it’s out of state. Is the WEC going to inform Ticketmaster they should refund customers who bought tickets for the original show?

  2. Kelsey Philpott on August 28th, 2009 2:43 PM

    Hi Norm,

    I’ve asked Reed and he’s informed me that refunds are being honored.

    I would contact the box office directly by telephone.

    Regards,

    Kelsey

  3. Joseph on August 28th, 2009 3:10 PM

    http://www.bloodyelbow.com/2009/8/28/1005717/ufc-signs-jared-hamman

    I would check this site out. It seems Reed may be out of the loop, but it doesn’t look good for the WEC. Not only that, but it appears they will need the lighter fighters from the WEC to put on 3 shows a month on 3 different medias (Spike, New Network deal, PPV).

  4. UFC Fighter » Who's Number Two? | MMA Videos, UFC Videos | MMA moz on December 21st, 2009 3:39 PM

    […] UFC and WEC in several articles: Exploring a Possible UFC/WEC Merger Interview with Reed Harris: Part 1 and Part […]

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