WSOF picks up weekend slack
Thursday, Friday and Saturday featured noteworthy mixed martial arts televised live throughout the U.S. Even without a UFC to hold their attention, MMA fans had plenty of worthwhile fight-watching options, though only hard-cores dared to pull off this weekend's trifecta.
Bellator's wild card in Lewiston, Maine, unloaded a series of fast finishes. It saved the best MMA for last when Dave Jansen battled Marcin Held over three rounds. A name worth remembering is Michael Page (4-0), the fast and twitchy British welterweight who already has earned a reputation as a showboating finisher. It's no mystery why people are falling for the lanky 25-year-old, but I need to see him fight a quality wrestler before jumping on the bandwagon.
On Friday, the Resurrection Fighting Alliance went to Denver for the first time. Brandon Thatch disposed of Mike Rhodes midway through the first. He's a welterweight worth watching, and RFA will continue to promote him unless the UFC shows interest and wishes he'd join the party. The rear-naked choke finish was pretty, but it wasn't enough for him to jump out more than 22-year-old featherweight Mirsad Bektic, who improved to 6-0 with an early win over Nick Macias.
And Saturday's second World Series of Fighting event in Atlantic City, N.J., put on 13 contests, most of which were well matched. WSOF is the focus of this week's Report Card, which features the night's televised winners.
Fast, powerful, accurate. Marlon Moraes (10-4) brought it all to secure an opening-round stoppage after bouncing a shin off Tyson Nam's head. Following a mixed start to his career, Moraes, just 24, has won four straight. He looks terrific at 135 pounds so far, a real threat based on his combination of physical attributes. Nam was the guy with a bunch of hype behind him, but Moraes turned the tables on that and looks like a fighter WSOF can put on a card and fans will know what to expect, in a good way.
In case you weren't aware, Josh Burkman, 32, is still around. The UFC veteran looked awesome against Aaron Simpson, who fought outside of a Zuffa promotion for the first time since 2008. Burkman offered crisp, aggressive attacks. His punching accuracy was brilliant. And so he put away Simpson in style at the 3:04 mark of Round 1. Afterward, Burkman (25-9) complained about being set up to fight Jon Fitch next. What there was to complain about, it's hard to say.
A kid like Justin Gaethje is reason enough to watch cards like WSOF. Unbeaten in eight fights, the 24-year-old wrestler is extremely aggressive and he showcased that in half a round against Gesias Cavalcante, prompting a doctor stoppage because of a nasty gash on the Brazilian's head. It didn't happen by accident. Gaethje pursued Cavalcante, unloading everything with power when he was in range. Big upside here, the least of which reveals an exciting lightweight.
Anthony Johnson (15-4) is one of the few fighters in MMA who can lay claim to competing in four weight divisions. His heavyweight debut was actually better than it set up to be. "Rumble" appeared chubby standing on the scale at 230 pounds, but on fight night Johnson, 29, made use of his quickness and speed. Most impressive was his ability to hurt Andrei Arlovski with punches. Johnson can crack, no question about that. He looks like a perfectly balanced light heavyweight, though that will require dieting and weight cutting. Compared to making 170, 205 shouldn't provide any problems. Easy for me to say. He has won five straight since losing to Vitor Belfort in the UFC.
David Branch, 31, dominated Paulo Filho over three rounds, yet it's difficult to peg the value of this win. Filho doesn't resemble the fighter who once hovered near the top of the middleweight division. That Filho would not have given up takedowns to Branch (12-3) the way he did Saturday. He would not have been stuck on the bottom, or fallen into the crucifix submission attempt, or taken a bevy of unanswered strikes to the head. Branch's grappling and top game was near perfect, but it didn't result in a stoppage. It's easy to look good against someone incapable of fighting back. And it's easy to dismiss the fighter looking good. To do so in this situation wouldn't be fair to Branch, but you have to regard the result with some skepticism because of Filho's regression.
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