It was a champion’s showcase at World Series of Fighting’s big first show in New York, and some of the promotion’s most familiar names punctuated the year.
Longtime veterans Jon Fitch and Jake Shields finally met in the cage at WSOF 34, in what was ultimately an anticlimactic bout. The fight was contested in large part on the ground, with Fitch neutralizing Shields on top and fending off submission attempts. In the end Fitch defended his welterweight title via a unanimous decision.
Afterwards, he said it may be the final time we see him in the cage.
“This was a big deal for me, defending my title. I’ve been dealing with a lot of medical sh*t over the years,” Fitch said. “I got a bulging disc on my neck. I got a funny reading on my brain MRI before this fight. This is a good chance that this is my last fight.
“I have to talk to some doctors and some neurologists and people, but I’ve been dealing with some medical issues lately, and there’s a good chance this is my last fight.”
In the main event, lightweight champion Justin Gaethje and Luiz Firmino put on an entertaining, particularly incautious fight that ended with a doctor stoppage just as the fourth round was getting started.
After a back-and-forth battle in which both men dropped bombs on the other, Firmino’s right eye was swollen completely shut. The cageside doctor rendered Firmino unfit to continue, and referee Dan Miragliotta signaled it was over. The stoppage was disappointing to fans on hand at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, as the fight was shaping up to become one of the most memorable of 2016.
“I guess they stopped it because he couldn’t see, but hats off to him, he’s tough,” Gaethje said. “He came to fight, and I love those. I love the competition, and I love entertaining people. I came out here and gave it my all. A little emotional, but I’m an emotional dude, and I’m glad I fight.”
The win was Gaethje’s fifth title defense, and it moved him to 17-0 overall as a professional. He is now a free agent.
To kick off the main card, bantamweight champion Marlos Moraes (18-4) made it 13 straight wins — and 11 since debuting in WSOF back in 2012 — with a TKO victory over Josenaldo Silva.
The 28-year-old Moraes — whose contract is up, and is able to sign with any promotion after Saturday — was taking the fight to Silva, but the fight was ended prematurely after Silva injured his knee during a flurry.
“My opponent, it was a tough fight,” Moraes said afterwards. “He was 25-4, he was undefeated in like six or seven years, and man you saw it. I hit guys and they go down. I feel like I am one of the best — if not the best — bantamweight in the world. I can hang with the best, and I can finish the best.
“I can hang with any 35er in the world. Any, any. Just put them in the cage, sign a contract with my name, and I’m going to show up ready.”
In the prelims, two-division champion David Branch defended his middleweight title by defeating Louis Taylor. The end came via submission (rear-naked choke) at 2:00 of round five.
Also, heavyweight Jared Rosholt had a rough debut for the WSOF, as Caio Alencar scored an emphatic first-round TKO (punched) of the former UFC fighter.