Covelli Centre to host WEC show

By David Skolnick

The mixed-martial arts event will be broadcast live from Youngstown.

(Editor's note - This is a corrected story from the original that stated Varner was stripped of his title)

YOUNGSTOWN — Top mixed-martial arts fighters are coming to the Covelli Centre Sept. 2.

The World Extreme Cagefighting show will be the first live nationally televised event at the city-owned facility since it was renamed the Covelli Centre in April. Versus, a sports cable television station, will broadcast most of the Sept. 2 show live.

WEC is a sister company of Ultimate Fight Championship with the WEC focusing on lighter weight classes of 125, 135, 145 and 155 pounds. Mixed martial arts is a combat sport that combines several fighting forms including boxing, wrestling, kickboxing, karate and jiu-jitsu.

“We’ve been trying to get bonafide UFC fights here for a long time,” said Eric Ryan, the center’s executive director. “This is something we wanted to get from day one. This is the real deal. To be live nationally is great for us.”

The last event at the center to be shown nationally was the Kelly Pavlik fight Feb. 21, which was broadcast on pay-per-view.

Capacity for the WEC show is 6,500 to 7,000 with Ryan saying he expects a “strong turnout” for the show.

Tickets for the show go on sale July 9. Ticket price are $125, $75, $45 and $25.

This is the first WEC card in Ohio.

“We looked at a number of areas because we want to go and grow in new markets,” said Reed Harris, WEC’s general manager and founder. “Youngstown is a great fight town. We also looked at Pittsburgh and Cleveland, but we felt Youngstown would be a centralized venue.”

The main event for the card, with 10 or 11 bouts, is for the interim lightweight title between Donald Cerrone and Ben Henderson.

It is interim because current champ Jamie Varner, who won a fight by split decision in the fifth round in January against Cerrone, has been unable to fight since then.

That fight had to be stopped after Cerrone hit Varner in the head with his knee in an illegal move.

During that fight, Varner broke a hand and a foot, and may never fight again, Harris said.

Should Varner be able to fight in the future, he would face the winner of the Henderson-Cerrone match.

Versus regularly shows WEC fight cards and is broadcasting eight live events, including the one in Youngstown, this year, Harris said. Versus plans to broadcast 10 WEC shows live next year, Harris said.

It takes a week for the WEC to set up a facility for a live event.

WEC employees alone will use 170 hotel rooms in the Mahoning Valley on the day of and the day before the fight, Ryan said. Overall, the company’s employees will have about 700 hotel room stays in the area preparing for the event, Ryan said.

The center’s July, August, September quarter is light with events, as is typical for the center and most indoor facilities.

“This is a great find for us for the beginning of September,” Ryan said. “It’s going to be a big production.”

The center lost $141,775 last year between July and September with only two paid shows during that time frame.

The center will also lose money during that three-month stretch this year, but is working to make that deficit as small as possible, Ryan said.

“I’m very pleased with what we’ll pull off this summer,” he said. “I’d rather have one good event than plenty of bad ones just to fill dates.”

Besides the WEC card, the center has only four other ticketed events on its calendar between July and September. Among the events is the July 25 home season finale of the Mahoning Valley Thunder. The af2 football team has struggled on the field and with attendance.

In addition to the WEC event, the biggest show this summer at the center is the Aug. 20 concert of Journey with Heart, Ryan said.

As of Monday, 5,600 tickets were sold for the concert. The center’s capacity for the concert is 6,000.

Only single-seat tickets and “obstructed-view seats” are left, Ryan said.

The latter are seats on the side of the stage that may have a cable or other item in the way that would obstruct the view of those sitting there, Ryan said.

“About 99 percent of the time there is no obstruction and they’re great seats,” he said. “It’s highly unlikely there will be an obstruction, but we can’t guarantee it.”

Obstructed-view seats are available only at the center’s box office.

The two other ticketed summer events are Mike Epps and Friends Comedy Tour on July 10, and the Pedal to the Metal Tour with Mudvayne and Black Label Society on July 29.

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