World Series of Fighting has their network debut on NBC with a card that features a title fight for its lightweight title. Champion Justin Gaethje puts his title for grabs against Nick Newell while UFC castoff Melvin Guillard make his organizational debut against Gesias Cavalcante. UFC veterans Jon Fitch and Dennis Hallman also do battle in a catchweight fight.
Will Newell make history or is Gaethje's roll through the division set to continue? I answer these questions and more with my predictions for Saturday's fights.
What: WSOF 11: Gaethje vs. Newell
Where: Ocean Center, Daytona, Fla.
When: Saturday, the four-fight preliminary card streams live on MMA Fighting at 2 p.m. ET and the four-fight main card goes live on NBC at 4 p.m. ET.
Justin Gaethje vs. Nick Newell
Few things would be better in sports than Newell winning. That's not to slight a very talented fighter in Gaethje, but the humble, humiliated silence of the discriminating able-bodied is joy worth savoring. Newell's athletic achievements shouldn't be viewed as some act or protest or defiance. That's far too cynical and calculating. Newell competes for the reasons any other fighter wishes to battle in the cage, but his success and failures do carry wider implications. One has to imagine every step of Newell's athletic life has been a competition as much in the sport of choice as it is the prevailing notions of what seemingly disabled people can do. For that matter, what they should do. Newell winning presents a fresh moment to broaden the perspective of what's possible in sports, both as a practical matter of physicality as it is mental durability from relentless and unfair scrutiny.
That said, Newell has his work cut out for him. Gaethje and Newell have similar skill sets, but Gaethje is a slightly better wrestler with significantly more ferocity. He is proactive on offense, a trait that corresponds highly with winning in modern MMA, and is superb at getting fighters to react to his offense in a one-sided game of speed chess. As you're reacting to his blitz of elbows and punches against the cage, he's mixing in takedowns. As you cover up from ground and pound, he's passing or getting opposition to turtle. Newell likes to force reactions, too, something Gaethje isn't known for succumbing to in his prize fighting career. Gaethje is wide open for counters, which means Newell always has a chance. But he won't get there without slowing down Gaethje and enduring early storms.
I think we've all been a bit disappointed in Fitch's WSOF run thus far, but it's not clear to me what Hallman has that could put Fitch in trouble. Superman has strong defensive jiu-jitsu and can catch Fitch if the AKA welterweight over commits, but how likely is that? Not very. Fitch still has the better wrestling and is probably still the more physical of the two. Hallman probably won't get run over, but he will get controlled and that's enough to get the job done.
Melvin Guillard vs. Gesias Cavalcante
This has to be the most intriguing bout on the card and yet, after its conclusion, the one that will likely make the most sense in hindsight. It'll could follow one of two paths. Either Guillard gets busy early, landing thunderous punches in rapid hand combinations and uses his superb finishing skills to send the once-great JZ packing or Guillard does this until he can't anymore. At that point, the more well-rounded Brazilian either finishes Guillard standing or manages to lord his superior positional and finishing jiu-jitsu over him.
I suppose the other option is Guillard could be reactive and pace himself as he did in the Michael Johnson fight. That's always a possibility. One doesn't know if Guillard missing weight heightens that possibility or forces the American to throw caution to the wind due to essentially being unprepared for a longer fight. Either way, though, Gaethje bombed on JZ and the fight was stopped because the Brazilian's flesh couldn't hang on. His consciousness was mostly just fine. If the champion of this division in this organization couldn't put JZ away, I have my doubts a weight-missing Guillard can.
Bollinger also missed weight, but still seems to simply be the better fighter, irrespective of the circumstances. He's faced better opposition and has a better record against them, even if we acknowledge he's got his own set of limiting issues as well. Still, I look for Bollinger to use the fence to take Alfonso down and pass guard en route to a choke from the back or a guillotine from a scramble.