The latest promotion in the world of mixed martial arts at the sub-UFC level to capture the MMA fanbase's imagination launches their inaugural show this evening. And while there's no long-term television deal or any guarantee they put on a series of shows, there is hope and belief among many this promotion could survive to service MMA fighters and the sport itself by staging international-class MMA fights beyond the Zuffa universe.
Perhaps most importantly, tonight's show features intriguing figures whose career trajectories have garnered interest. Kickboxing great Tyrone Spong makes his first attempt at becoming a MMA fighter while UFC veterans Anthony Johnson and Miguel Torres look to earn strong victories over reasonably challenging regional MMA fighters, all in the hope of returning to the big show.
Can Johnson and Torres do it? What does Spong really have to offer in MMA? And can former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski finally get a post-UFC win streak going? I answer these questions and more with predictions for tonight's event.
What: World Series of Fighting 1 (WSOF)
When: The six-fight preliminary card airs live and free on Sherdog.com beginning at 7:45 p.m. ET. The five-fight main card airs live on NBC Sports at 10:30 p.m. ET.
Where: Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas, Nevada
Call me crazy, but I worry this bout has the makings of an upset. Cole is no world-beater, but he is extremely tough, very experienced and knows to turn a bout into a wrestling match if need be. Cardio as well as ring rust could be an issue, but Arlovski just fights with such autopilot inertia these days when a bout isn't at kickboxing range. If I'm reading too much into his four-fight losing skid in Strikeforce, so be it, but I'm betting Cole turns this into an ugly affair by sticking to Arlovski. He'll constantly pressure him forcing him into pummeling exchanges, wrestling leg and hip attacks or top control. If the fight stays standing, Arlovski should cruise, but I think it's naive to assume Cole is going to let the former UFC heavyweight champion comfortably rest there. Arlovski's takedown is historically very good, but he's also only faced takedown threats a handful of times (Ricco Rodriguez, Jake O'Brien, Antonio Silva, etc.). Cole can win this thing.
Here's another bout where the matchmaking at WSOF deserves some credit. They're setting up UFC vets to win, but not by feeding them stiffs. Linderman doesn't have the athletic or technical ability of Johnson, but he's a) very experienced, b) physically durable, c) accustomed to heavy punchers as a former heavyweight and d) isn't simply a flailing brawler. Where I think things will go wrong for him is in Johnson's speed and combination striking. Ultimately I don't see how Linderman has any answers for that, although Johnson may take a round or two to truly uncork on him. Either way, Johnson should walk away the winner.
This is actually a reasonable tune-up fight for Torres. In other words, Torres - if he's on his game - simply has too many tools for Moraes, but is going to have to work to bring them to life over a competitor who is not half bad. This is Torres' fight to lose, but Moraes is capable of making that happen. He's hung in there with very good fighters and defeated talent regional-level opposition along the way. Yes, Torres is a league above that, but in a game like MMA where controlling for all the variables can be difficult, the one-time WEC champ will need to be ready.
This is an interesting bout and one where the oddsmakers are lunchin'. It's true that Steele's best strength is Gracie's best strength and because Gracie is the far more decorated grappler, therefore Gracie deserves to be the favorite. All that is fine, but Gracie isn't exactly tearing it up in MMA over respected, known competition. Steele has largely faced other Canadian regional fighters. In any case, the difference in MMA ability is not as dramatic as they're making it out out to be. I like Gracie to win, but if there's an upset here, do not be the least bit surprised.
Tyrone Spong vs. Travis Barlett
WSOF has rightfully served up Spong a brawler for the kickboxing great's first foray into MMA. And so long as Barlett does what he's typically accustomed to doing, Spong should have his way. Still, I would caution everyone to manage their expectations about Spong. Even in brawling MMA contexts, things come into play that call upon MMA experience or acumen. And frankly, we know very little to nothing about Spong in that regard.