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WEC 53: End of an Era

This is part II of an interview with WEC general manager Reed Harris regarding the prominent organization that he helped build, and its farewell tonight. 

Q: The WEC blossomed into MMA’s second biggest promotion, home to the best lighter weight fighters in the world. At what point in the organization’s existence did that become true?

Reed Harris: We had all weight classes. Our approach for our events was, ‘What’s the best way to draw fans to the event?’ Whether they were light or heavy didn’t matter. We tried to find local guys, known fighters, that would enhance the cards. Dana was the one that (the lighter weight classes exclusively) forced that on me, I didn’t want to do it. He told me he wanted to get rid of light heavyweight, middleweight and welterweight. I didn’t want to do it because I had Carlos Condit, Brian Stann and Chael Sonnen and all of these guys. I did not want to do it but Dana was like, ‘You’ve got to do this to break out from under our shadow, otherwise you guys are never going to make it.’ So we did it and it ended up working great. It was a great call.

Q: Is it safe to say the WEC was merely a regional promotion until Zuffa acquired you guys in December 2006?

Harris: Yeah, we were regional for sure. But we were on HDNet, so we had coverage nationwide. We did all of our shows in California and only did one show back east but it didn’t do well so we never went back. We were careful. Scott and I didn’t have rose-colored glasses. We were doing well in Lemoore, California and we had a great thing going. The problem is that a lot of these other companies try to be UFC and we didn’t want to be that.

Q: Worst fight in WEC history.

Harris: Paulo Filho/Chael Sonnen (their second fight). It wasn’t Chael’s fault; Paulo didn’t want to fight and didn’t seem to care about making weight. I told Chael later, ‘That fight sucked.’ Chael said, ‘It’s really hard to fight against a guy who doesn’t want to fight.’

There was also a Shannon Ritch fight. He came out and got submitted in like a minute, and then walked off the ramp and asked if he could get paid (laughs heartily).

Q: Reed, you’ve got the last WEC show coming up tonight. What are you going to miss most of all those experiences, all of the things you looked forward to whenever you hosted a WEC show?

Harris: I think the overall satisfaction I gained having my friends and family calling me and saying, ‘Wow, what a great show.’ I’ll miss talking with the fighters before the fights, you know, I would always give them a talk about what I expected from them. I don’t think I’ll miss the relationships and stuff because I think I’ll still have ‘em.

Q: Tell me how much the WEC’s success has exceeded your earliest expectations?

Harris: When I first got in we were looking at throwing one show. It was more like throwing a party than a fight show. It reminded me of a party. And then the next thing I know I’m standing up on stage, looking out at this huge crowd, and a guy walks up to me and says, ‘OK, let’s talk about number two.’ At that point it turned into a business.

Q: I hate talking about the message without talking about the messenger. For people who don’t know you, talk about your life before becoming a fight promoter.

Harris: I started as an appliance salesman and was working at the store and a guy from a real estate company came into the store. I sold him a VCR and he said, ‘Wow, you’re a good salesman. Go get your real estate license and you can come work for me.’ And I rode that into becoming vice president of a large company. It was all hard work. There were a couple years where I worked every day; I didn’t take any days off.

I actually started training taekwondo back in high school in Chicago but only trained for like a year and a half and then went to college. I took some Karate at the University of Iowa, my first year of college, and right when I started Christmas of my first year my dad was killed in a car accident. So I left school and went home to deal with that. It was real hard.

Q: How old was your father when he passed?

Harris: He was 43. My dad was a very ingenious guy. He was one of the first people to manufacture milk bottles in plastic. Milk had always been in cartons but my dad and this other guy had this idea to put it in plastic, gallon bottles. He invented the plastic milk bottle. I was going to work for my father. I had worked at his factory every summer in Chicago. My destiny was to work for him. And when he died that all changed.

My mom ended up moving to California and I did, too. I stayed with my aunt in the Bay area and started working in a stereo store. I was a pretty good salesman. My dad was a salesman, too. I was always the kid at Cub Scouts that sold the most gift wrap at Christmas.

Q: Why do you think there is such a Big Man Bias in pro sports?

Harris: I think people are just attuned to thinking that bigger athletes are better. But the people that really follow the sport like watching the little guys fight. I think things will change, like it did in boxing. It was heavyweights forever and now it’s (Manny) Pacquiao. I think it will happen in MMA but it might be five years or so. As the sport evolves, people will appreciate the lighter weight classes because they’re technically better and more fun to watch.

Q: This is your final WEC event. Do you expect to get emotional?

Harris: I don’t think I’ll be emotional, I think I’ll be nervous, because that’s how I get before shows. You know, I think of everything that I need to think about. There’s a lot of stuff that goes into doing a show. People don’t know that before every show I go into the cage and check it to make sure there’s not a gap between the canvas and the fence and things like that. I started checking the cage after my door flew open at WEC 4 and two of my heavyweights flew out! So it’s all stuff that I’ve learned. A lot of times I anticipate problems. I also check the fighters and make sure they are OK and ready to go. There are always issues that come up before the shows, especially with ticketing. So I’ll miss some of that but I think the expansion of the company will offset that and keep me busy.