The Two Dans had a huge impact on Joe Cavallaro’s life.
There was Dana Rosenblatt, a 37-1-2 middleweight boxer who briefly held the WBC and IBA titles. Then there was Dana White, an 18-year-old bellhop who introduced himself while they were working at the Boston Harbor Hotel in 1987. The latter subsequently became the head of the world’s largest MMA promotion. Both, however, provided an entry into the world of fighting that set Cavallaro on the path of a promoter.
On Friday, the founder of World Championship Fighting returns to the business after a 10-year hiatus with Combat FC 1, which takes place at The Shriners Auditorium in Wilmington, Massachusetts and streams on UFC Fight Pass. Former Bellator commentator Sean Wheelock will be attending the event.
Cavallaro has helped send fighters like Jon Jones and Calvin Kattar to the big show. Now he intends to do the same with a new generation of fighters.
“We did this before it was a business model,” Cavallaro, 57, told MMA Fighting.
Rosenblatt’s longtime training partner, Cavallaro was educated in matchmaking by the boxer’s manager. He began his MMA career as a cutman, flying to Las Vegas at White’s invitation to work fights after the UFC was bought by Zuffa LLC.
“I found out [the business] through Dana, being close to the battles,” he said.
Cavallaro recalls stepping into the Octagon with client Marcus Davis at UFC 72 in Belfast. When Davis’ song “Jump Around” was played through the speakers, the entire arena shook and the crowd went wild.
Cavallaro turned the WCF into a reliable regional player as the sport’s popularity skyrocketed. But a walk in real estate turned into a full-time career that took him away from the sport. Like everyone else, the pandemic delayed his return to normal. When prices went awry, he turned his attention away from real estate. White put him in touch with the UFC Fight Pass team when he was finally able to plan the show.
A lot has changed since he left the business, Cavallaro admits. First, everyone is older. The fighters he relied on are 10 years older and don’t fight anymore. The production talent has also changed.
“Our ring card girls were 22 years old,” he said. “Now they’re 30 with kids.”
He then has a streaming contract that brings him to the worldwide platform. He had to re-shoot his entire commercial because his library was filmed in the ring and not in the cage. Regional fighters could no longer be his only talent pool. To attract big numbers, he needed to diversify — a tough task, he says, when everyone is looking to make their career in the UFC.
“I think it’s harder to get guys to fight hard fights,” he said. “Everyone thinks they will get into the Contender Series and that will be their route. So they don’t necessarily take tough fights. They just want to get to 6-0 and then they think they’ll get a chance to go to the UFC. And in many cases, that is exactly what happens. The guys come, but they are not ready.”
Cavallaro said he and longtime matchmaker Rick Caldwell did their best to fold the cards. His co-headliner, Salaiman Ahmadyar, is a 7-2 up-and-comer dubbed “Thug Killer”. Ahmadyar has a large scar on his throat, which indicates a surgical scar from a tumor that doctors removed from his jaw; the tumor was discovered when he hit his nose with his knee in a fight and was sent to the hospital. His opponent, Tim Caron, is a Bellator and Contender Series veteran. Keith Florian, brother Ultimate Fighter 1 Finalist Kenny Florian dispatched jiu-jitsu black belt Sanada Armuti, who strangled Contender Series rookie Billy Goff in amateur competition. Fabio Alano, another main card fighter, is a three-time jiu-jitsu world champion who made his MMA debut.
None of the names are common knowledge, but it’s a start that Cavallaro hopes will open the door. Despite the difficulties, he said that he was lucky that he discovered his passion for MMA and was able to return to it.
Also useful when you have one of the most prominent figures in the sport on speed dial.