Joe Cavallaro was working as a doorman at a Boston hotel when he met a new bellboy who ended up changing the story of his life.
The new 18-year-old messenger was a guy named Dana White, and later he took Cavallaro (known to almost everyone as “Joe Cav”) to places he never thought of.
Nearly 40 years after meeting the future UFC president, Cavallaro admits his life changed dramatically simply because he befriended a colleague who shared a deep passion for martial arts.
“I had a fabulous life,” Cavallaro recently told MMA Junkie. “… I am a die-hard fight fan. I’ll watch any fight as long as it’s a civilized fight. I wouldn’t watch a street fight. As long as it’s a competitive fight, I’d watch two nuns fight if they thought they were going to. I am who I am”.
Although he has worn several martial arts headgear over the years, Cavallaro is just that – a fan – more than anyone else. It all started with karate for Cavallaro, who trained at the Revere Karate Academy in Revere, Massachusetts until he ended up at Nautilus, a giant gym that has opened in the area.
However, although his kicks were powerful, his kicks were not well received in the new gym. Once Cavallaro called Joe Lake, who took him under his wing and taught him how to box. He entered Lake’s training circle and there he met Dana Rosenblatt, a future outstanding boxer who was managed by Lake. Oh, and there was a guy named Joe Rogan who did taekwondo.
Of course, Cavallaro learned new tricks and skills. He introduced previously foreign aspects of martial arts into his repertoire. But he learned the business most from Lake during the rise of Rosenblatt’s boxing career.
While all this was going on, White was far away from the hotel. He was on his way to bigger and better things across the country in Las Vegas. Despite dozens of separations, Cavallaro remained in touch with White. They traveled all over the world not only for UFC events, but also for boxing. Cavallaro was even at White’s wedding.
When White acquired the biggest MMA promotion in the world, Cavallaro’s life path really changed. Fandom has become a business, all in one.
“When he bought the UFC, I was selling technology for about 15 years,” Cavallaro said. “He told me, ‘You should think about managing some of these guys. It’s fun. You know your business and I trust you. I’d rather do business with you than with anyone else. I said, “You know what? It makes sense.’ So, I have a boyfriend named Sam Hoger. He was the first guy I ever managed.”
Hoger was featured in the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. Famous names such as Kenny Florian, Marcus Davis, Patrick Kot and Drew Fickett joined Cavallaro. His stable grew, as did the sport.
“I had the best guys in the business,” Cavallaro said. “What a blessing to be a part of this. What a cool thing. I worked full time as a salesperson, so I was on the road all the time. I was single, and every weekend I had an excuse to go somewhere to fight, whether it was a local fight or the UFC.
“At the time, the UFC only did it four times a year. But I would go to all the big fights. I would invite the guys to participate in the show. Not only did I enjoy and be a part of this event, Dana always treated me with respect. He was just generous to me.”
In 2007, Cavallaro had a conversation with his mother that opened his eyes to a void that needed to be filled. MMA was a big event, but in his region, fighters lacked the opportunity to rise to the next level.
“I knew there was a possibility because my mother was telling me why she thought Chuck Liddell would win his next fight,” Cavallaro said. “People started watching it. It started to become mainstream. So I said to myself, “I’m going to start a promotion.” I started a company called World Championship Fighting (WCF).”
From 2007 to 2011, WCF hosted 11 events and produced big names such as Jon Jones, Calvin Kattar and Rick Hawn. The events were popular in the region and even attracted some celebrities such as Kevin James and numerous members of the Boston Celtics to participate.
When real estate opportunities were too great for Cavallaro to pass by, he turned down the promotion, a decision that was expected to be temporary. The hiatus year turned into two, then four, then 10. The plan was always to come back, it was just a matter of time.
In 2020, Cavallaro finally made the decision to reboot — bad timing. The COVID-19 pandemic thwarted his plans before they were even completed.
Back in the saddle, Cavallaro officially launched Combat FC. Its first event will take place on Friday at the Shriners Auditorium in Wilmington, Massachusetts. The event will be streamed on UFC Fight Pass.
Former Bellator player Sean Wheelock and current UFC bantamweight Randy Costa will be on call. Island Fights and iKon Fighting Championship head Dean Tool will lead show operations.
“We’re back and we’re back forever,” Cavallaro said. “The UFC Fight Pass deal changes everything.”
The first event will feature Dana White Contender Series alumni Rico DiSciullo and Tim Caron, as well as IBJJF MMA debutant Fabio Alano. Other activities are already in the works, Cavallaro said. Shriners Auditorium will be home for a start, but other states in New England and beyond will be on the horizon.
“I’m all in. I am 100 percent,” Cavallaro said. “We want to be like the LFA. We want to be like CFFC and Titan FC. We want to be equal with these guys. I know all these guys. They are all very good guys. They all put on amazing shows. They all have amazing fighters. We want to be the same type of promotion in the same light. … Once we start, we will have the best fighters, especially in the northeast.”
Oh, and the 18-year-old guy he met almost 40 years ago will be watching too. Unable to attend in person, White revealed that he was planning a remote viewing party to see if “Joe Cav” was still his promoter after all these years.
“Thank God, I have wonderful people working for me,” Cavallaro said.
Combat FC 1 takes place Friday at the Shriners Auditorium in Wilmington, Massachusetts. UFC Fight Pass.