By FIGHT! contributor Jeff Harder
It’s a little more than a month away from World Championship Fighting’s seventh show and Joe Cavallaro has had a phone fused to his ear all day trying to make the card a reality.
“If you have 15 fights, that’s 30 fighters, 30 personalities, 30 wives or girlfriends that have opinions,” he says, “Trying to keep everybody happy is very difficult sometimes.” Just this week the promoter scrapped a slated match up. Two fights have been announced in its stead.
Outside of New England, Joe Cavallaro is best known as manager to higher-profile fighters like Kenny Florian and Marcus Davis. But within the region, the 43-year-old Lynnfield, Mass. resident is “Joe Cav,” the head of World Championship Fighting, an organization that has helped launch locals like the WEC’s Mike Campbell and Affliction’s Dan Lauzon to the national stage. But if you ask him, he’s a fight fan first.
“There’s something about the fights that captured my imagination when I was a kid and just never let up,” he says. Cavallaro’s attraction to fighting started with Kenpo karate lessons around age seven. A lifelong boxing fan, Cavallaro later began working out with former middleweight boxing champ Dana Rosenblatt under the tutelage of trainer Joe Lake. Cavallaro became a training partner on Rosenblatt’s team, and Lake schooled him on the ins and outs of fighter management.
Meanwhile, Dana White—whom Cavallaro had befriended while working at a Boston hotel—had a message for him. “When Dana got involved in the UFC, he said, ‘You know, this might be something that’s right up your alley,’” Cavallaro says.
But Cavallaro’s first glimpse of MMA came long before. In the 1980s, a friend from his karate classes showed him his stash of Brazilian vale tudos on VHS. Cavallaro remembers being skeptical of the efficacy of submissions. “I just figured you could hit ‘em and that would be the answer to all the questions,” he says. While the nuances went over his head, the sport’s appeal resonated immediately. “It’s part of the way we’re built as humans: you need to understand where you are in the pecking order, and [MMA] is a really good way to figure that out,” he says.
Through his connection to White, Cavallaro began managing MMA fighters shortly after Zuffa took over the UFC. Besides Florian and Davis, Cavallaro has worked with Patrick Cote, Drew Fickett, Alex Karalexis, and others through the years. He manages an intentionally small roster of fighters at any given time—which enabled him to also hold down a lucrative sales job at Sun Microsystems—but he says he never shortchanges his clients.
“My job is to negotiate the best deal I can for my fighters, getting them the best fights for the most money, and moving the fighter forward,” he says. “It’s not just about putting two guys in the ring.”
As the UFC’s popularity grew and MMA became familiar to ordinary folks, Cavallaro began considering building a promotion of his own. “When my mom started telling me she thought Chuck Liddell was gonna beat so-and-so, I knew it was time,” he says with a laugh. Cavallaro saw a chasm between the prestige of the UFC and the local fights he saw in cramped venues around New England. A show in a bigger venue with more casual sports fans, he thought, could fill that void.
In September 2007, World Championship Fighting held its first show at the Aleppo Shriners Auditorium, a 4,000-seat venue in Wilmington, Mass. Since then, attendance at each of the WCF’s six shows—all held at the same auditorium—has hovered either at or near capacity. He’s invested heavily in WCF Rewind, a roundup of fight footage and interviews broadcast on Comcast SportsNet New England, an effort to coax casual fans to come to the fights. “I know that once they come, it’s over,” Cavallaro says. “They’re hooked.”
World Championship Fighting’s next card will be held at the Aleppo Shriners Auditorium in Wilmington, Mass. on June 27. For more information, visit www.wcfighting.com.