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WSOF 20: Reflections of a First-Timer

I have caught a few individual fights from the World Series of Fighting before, but Friday night's WSOF 20 was the first time I watched a card from beginning to end, and what an interesting experience it was. I'm not going to break down every fight because the professional MMA journalists will have that covered in a much better fashion, but there are a few quick things I thought I'd cover from the eyes of a first-timer.

I'll admit, good ol' Ben Fodor, aka "Phoenix Jones" was one of the main reasons I tuned in on Friday night. I've heard about the guy for a couple of years, and wanted to see him fight outside of grainy internet footage. And not that I was expecting a world-beater, but even with what I thought were realistically tempered expectations, Phoenix Jones was pretty disappointing. The first kick he threw was so slow, my first thought was that he might be dying of dehydration or exhausted from his walk to the cage.
Perhaps it was to judge his opponent, Emmanuel Walo's reaction?
The second kick he threw, it was painfully obvious we were in for a long, slow fight. I can't express enough how insanely slow the Superhero of Seattle was. Once or twice a round, Fodor would sit down on a flurry of punches with a little bit of pop, but I'd guess 95% of the strikes he threw looked more like a drunk bar fighter's than a professional mixed martial artist's. Don't get me wrong, he'd kick my ass 110 times out of 100, but it sure didn't make him fun to watch.
Actually, I just watched one of Fodor's "Phoenix Jones" Youtube videos, and when he was brawling a drunk Seattle citizen on the street, he showed much better lateral footwork and a crisp outside leg kick. Did the increased audience shake him? Did he have a severe cold?
Of course, the fight was also graced with some technical difficulties from either the network or the WSOF production crew, so at least watching Fodor swim through wet concrete was broken up by a chance to grab a drink and play with the dogs. It seemed like terrible timing for WSOF. It's hard to judge what kind of reaction the general public has to a fighter signing to one of the "smaller" (read: non-UFC or Bellator) promotions, but the superhero schtick definitely landed "Phoenix Jones" on a few peoples' radars who probably tuned in to the WSOF for the first time just to see him work.
Did I mention Phoenix Jones was ridiculously slow?

The Nick Newell fight was fun to watch. I won't go into the normal "inspiration" rant that seems to automatically accompany any mention of Newell, but he is a serviceable lightweight who pushes the pace. Watching him fight, it is hard not to wonder about a few of the considerations in being a one-handed fighter. Newell's congenitally amputated left arm ends below his elbow, but the elbow joint itself doesn't seem to work, so his forearm is always bent at a 90 degree angle to his upper arm. I couldn't help but to wonder if he fought a submission specialist, would it be possible to apply a compression submission on his left arm, essential hugging the forearm to the bicep?
Don't get me wrong, though; watching Newell fight has no air or feeling of watching a "freakshow fight." He's a scrappy wrestler who dives on submissions aggressively, and except for a few instances when his opponent circled to Newell's left side out of the clinch, Newell's status as a congenital amputee didn't really factor into my appreciation of his fighting style, or my enjoyment of the fight.
That is except when Renzo Gracie, one of the commentators for the night, struggled with new and interesting ways to call Newell a one-armed fighter.

And finally, the main event: David Branch, the WSOF middleweight champion moving up in weight and facing short-notice replacement Jesse McElligott. Not much to talk about the fight. Branch dominated from the opening bell to the finish by Von Flue choke in the second round, but that ending... wow, that ending. McElligott was choked unconscious, which isn't necessarily a rare occurrence in MMA, but through years of watching the sport, I have never seen a fighter look so dead. He wasn't moving at all, and it didn't look like he was breathing. Being on broadcast television, directly after the finish the feed cut to a commercial, and when we returned, McElligott was already out of the ring. It is maybe twenty minutes after the fight as I write this, and I have seriously been searching the internet to see if there is any news on McElligott. I rewatched the finish a few times, and it's hard to tell when McElligott's lights went out, but it isn't hard to imagine he might have been unconscious for upwards of 20-30 seconds before the ref, Dan Miragliotta, jumped in to pull Branch off. It's not Dan's fault. Even with the cameras trained directly on McElligott's face, it really is impossible to tell when he went unconscious. And as soon as the fight was stopped, Big Dan was frantic in waving the ring-side doctors into the cage to attend to McElligott.
Lesson learned: LET GO OF THE FAILED GUILLOTINE WHEN YOUR OPPONENT LANDS IN SIDE CONTROL POSITION. I'm not sure if, out of the three or four in professional MMA I've seen, a Von Flue choke has ever ended in anything but complete unconsciousness. Just let go of the failed guillotine. Please.

WSOF 20 was a pretty serviceable fight card for an early Friday night. For people used to slicker production values, the broadcast will probably be a little jarring. And there is no doubt that the quality of fights and fighters is quite a bit below WSOF's two big brothers in the MMA marketplace, but it's also pretty easy to see how the promotion is carving itself a little niche by putting compelling people, not always compelling fighters, into the cage to duke it out.