Former WCF promoter to launch inaugural Combat FC event June 17th at Shriners Auditorium in Wilmington
“I WAS actually the guy that told him not to go.. to just stay in Boston,” Joe Cavallaro tells me with a laugh during a late afternoon lunch at Champions Pub in Peabody.
The “him” being referred to is UFC President and MMA tycoon Dana White, a close friend of Cavallaro’s.
In the late 1980’s the two were working together at the Boston Harbor Hotel by day, and training in boxing by night.
Sharing both tips at the popular Seaport resort and a ring at Peter Welch’s gym down the road in Southie, the man known in fight circles as “Joe CAV” and the future UFC kingpin were developing quite the bond and friendship.
“We were doing very well at the time,” Cavallaro explains. “Him and I were easily clearing $1500 a week, which is like $4k today.”
White, however, had just received an offer to head west and start working with fighters in Las Vegas -both boxers and those participating in a new “No Holds Barred” type of combat called “Mixed Martial Arts.”
Despite his buddy’s advice, he took the offer. As White began to build his stable in the fight game as a manager -one that included the likes of future UFC Hall of Famers Chuck Lidell and Tito Ortiz among others- Cavallaro continued to establish himself back in Boston.
He was working regularly with Dana Rosenblatt, a southpaw boxer from Malden, who would go on to amass a professional record of 37-1 (avenging his only loss -a 1996 TKO to Vinny Pazienza- with a 1999 split decision over his Cranston, RI rival, winning the IBO Super Middleweight title in the meantime.)
On weekends Cavallaro would board a flight to Las Vegas to visit White. The two would continue to train together, and with Vegas being a hotbed for both boxing and MMA fighters, Cavallaro also rubbed -and traded- elbows with many in both combat sports.
“I was in decent shape back then,” Cavallaro remembers. “One day I was shadow boxing in the ring (on one of the visits to see White in Vegas) and I hear a voice asking if he could join me. It was the ‘Bodysnatcher’ Mike McCallum (one of the better boxers of the late 80’s and 90’s who has shared the ring with the likes of Roy Jones Jr, James Toney, Julian Jackson and others)..that was pretty surreal being able to shadowbox in the same ring with him.”
The other thing Cavallaro was able to experience firsthand on these trips was the growing popularity of MMA -both as a sport and business- something his buddy Dana White was emerging as the face of worldwide.
In 2001 White, along with two of his old HS friends Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, purchased the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) for $2 million. Cavallaro was seeing up close how White was laying the blueprint for a sport -that had once been described as human cockfighting- into one that would topple $5 billion in revenue for the UFC in 2021.
Shortly after White and the Fertita’s transaction of the UFC, Cavallaro began managing fighters for the newly minted Zuffa brand, building his own stable of talent. Working closely with mostly New England guys Joe CAV helped to develop and guide the careers of Kenny Florian, Marcus Davis, Patrick Cote, Drew Fickett, Alex Karalexis, and others.
Given Boston’s rich history in pugilism, and the number of fighters from the area both that he was managing and that were developing in other circuits, Cavallaro knew the time was coming for him to open his own promotion.
So on September 21st 2007, Cavallaro, a Lynnfield MA native, hosted WCF 1 (World Championship Fighting) out of the nearby Aleppo Shriners Auditorium in Wilmington in front of 4,000 passionate New England MMA fans.
The event was a hit, and over the next four years Joe CAV would promote ten more cards under the WCF header, becoming a springboard and opportunity for many fighters to ultimately find a home in White’s UFC.
Among the alumni of World Championship Fighting that went on to compete with the UFC/WEC or Bellator (another top promotion) include: Calvin Kattar, Dan Lauzon, Rick Hawn, Sam Hoger, Tom Gallichio, Mike Campbell, Saul Almeida, Josh LeBerge, Ryan Quinn, Damien Trites, Greg Rebello, and Ken Stone.
None were bigger though than June 20th 2008 at WCF 3, when a young Jon Jones -now considered by many the greatest MMA competitor of all time- made quick work (36 seconds) of current UFC heavyweight Parker Porter in his fifth professional bout, helping pave the way to what has been his storied career.
“We knew he was going to be special,” Joe CAV says speaking of Jones at the time. “But he was also young and still raw. Porter, we also knew was tough as nails and was going to have a good career. The way Jones finished him that quick, I knew we were potentially looking at one of the all-time greats, even back then.”
In addition to quality fights, WCF events were a popular spot to be seen from 2007-2011. Members of the Boston Celtics, New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, and Boston Bruins were regularly seated cageside (ringside back then) along with many local actors, models, socialites, and city business magnates. Appearances were made by Kimbo Slice, and of course Cavallaro’s pal Dana White as well.
“It was important for us to create something that wasn’t just for ‘fight fans’” Cavallaro explains. “We wanted our events to be an experience that everyone from the casual sports fan to the person looking for something to do for an evening out would enjoy.”
Following WCF 11 in 2011, Joe CAV took a step back from running his own promotion to concentrate on real estate and other business ventures. He remained active on the fight scene, however, spotted at many UFC events, and planned for an eventual return to promoting in New England.
He created the brand new Combat FC, and targeted a 2020 opening for his new promotion. Like many businesses in 2020, the pandemic altered those plans, but in this case, perhaps there is a silver lining.
“Had we opened then (2020) as originally planned, we wouldn’t have been doing it with the UFC FIGHT PASS deal in place,” Cavallaro says.
ON Wednesday May 25th, Combat FC and Joe Cavallaro in conjunction with Dana White and UFC FIGHT PASS officially announced that Combat FC will have an exclusive broadcast deal with UFC FIGHT PASS beginning with Combat FC 1 June 17th at the Shriners Auditorium in Wilmington.
“We’re excited to add Combat FC to UFC FIGHT PASS,” says Crowley Sullivan, Vice President and General Manager of UFC FIGHT PASS. “We are committed to showcasing up and coming talent from all over the world. This partnership provides our subscribers with thrilling events from the New England area.”
Adds Cavallaro: “The Northeast has some of the best fighters in the country. We ‘re so excited to be partnering with UFC FIGHT PASS to give our athletes an amazing platform to showcase their talent. In addition to putting on an exciting event, our goal is to help the area’s top talent get to the next level, and FIGHT PASS is the best platform to do that. “
Headlining the inaugural event under the Combat FC banner is Dana White’s Contender Series participant, and Peabody native Rico DiSciullo as he takes on Gareth De la Cruz of the famed Jack-Wink camp in a 140 pound catchweight match. The winner of this bout is believed to be in line for a coveted UFC contract.
The opportunity for these fighters, and local marketers and sponsors to be showcased on UFC FIGHT PASS through Combat FC is massive. While the UFC, for confidentiality purposes, cannot release exact numbers, the ratings and viewership offer a tremendous value that is unique for marketers and brands in this area.
UFC FIGHT PASS is the world’s leading digital subscription service for combat sports. Since launching in 2013, UFC FIGHT PASS is now available in more than 200 countries and territories. Sponsorships with Combat FC undoubtedly will have both a very credible local and global impact for a brand.
For the June 17th card, Cavallaro expectedly is rounding up the aces for Combat FC 1.
“We will have Glover Texiera (UFC Light Heavyweight Champion) here and Sean Wheelock (considered by many the best MMA announcer outside of UFC) on the broadcast team,” Joe CAV reveals. “And I have a couple other big ones I can’t announce yet, but we should have lined up soon.”
The plan after the 17th, Cavallaro says, is for Combat FC to have fight cards in the fall (October) and then again in the winter (February 2023.)
The question, of course though, that everyone wants to know is will we be seeing Dana White at an upcoming Combat FC event?
“He’ll be here eventually. It’s just a matter of getting his schedule to line up with one of our events,” Joe CAV says with a smile. “And it’ll be just like old times.”
To purchase tickets for Combat FC 1, please click here. For more information on Combat FC x UFC FIGHT PASS sponsorship opportunities please email Matt Ribaudo at: email@example.com