The Good, Bad & Strange from WSOF 2
Much like the song Jeff Bridges' character Bad Blake penned in the film Crazy Heart, the world of fight promoting is "No Place for the Weary Kind."
Over the past several years there have been plenty of promotions, both high and low profile, looking to establish themselves in the sport of mixed martial arts. The majority of these upstarts saw a brief glimmer of hope before ultimately folding up their tents and moving on down the road, but there have been a few organizations which have managed to remain in a UFC-dominated universe.
The World Series of Fighting was looking to strengthen the momentum built off their inaugural showing this past weekend when they rolled out their sophomore effort live from Atlantic City.
The Ray Sefo-led promotion put together a solid card with a mixture of established veterans and fighters on the verge of breaking through into a larger realm of visibility.
This was all to be topped off with notable main event matchup between former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski and multi-divisional threat Anthony Johnson.
The WSOF had a fair amount of expectation surrounding their second showing, which for the most part they were able to deliver. But after an event filled with a handful of quality fights, plenty of bizarre behavior and a rough night in the commentary booth, there is plenty to talk about in the aftermath of WSOF 2.
The first major difference from the WSOF's debut event came in the lack of mismatches. In their debut showing the organization pitted established fighters with plenty of gas left in their tanks against opposition who had zero business being in the same cage. While K-1 monster Tyrone Spong could get away smashing Travis Bartlett because it was the 27-year-old's MMA debut, the same could not be said for Anthony Johnson dismantling D.J. Linderman.
This time around, this lack of balance in the matchmaking was nowhere to be found. Every bout on the card made sense, and in some cases like Marlon Moraes vs.Tyson Nam, the promotion was able to highlight two up-and-coming names on their roster.
By all means, the WSOF put together a solid card and nearly every bout on the docket delivered. Save for David Branch vs. Paulo Filho, every scrap featured two fighters looking to carve our their place in the new promotion.
Veterans like Danillo Villefort, Waylon Lowe and Josh Burkman were able to show their fighting careers were far from over as they each picked up impressive victories on the night. But the spotlight wasn't going to be ruled by the experienced fighters alone.
In addition to the stunning head-kick knockout Moraes landed in the televised card, young buck Brenson Hansen hit a spectacular highlight-reel-worthy flying knee knockout in his bout against Tom Marcellino on the preliminary portion of the card.
All the action on the card did well to set up the heavyweight showdown between Arlovski and Johnson. While "The Pitbull" found himself on shaky ground near the end of the first round, the Jackson's-Winkeljohn-trained fighter was able to re-establish his footing and battle through. In the end it wasn't enough to tip the balance on the scorecards, as Johnson earned the unanimous-decision victory.
Despite fighting up a weight class from where he is most comfortable, Johnson put on a solid showing in Atlantic City. He was able to control the fight throughout using his striking to back Arlovski up and his wrestling to tie up the Belarusian against the cage.
No doubt Johnson appeared to be running out of steam as the fight carried on, but aside from UFC champion Cain Velasquez, there aren't too many heavyweights who are known for having tremendous gas tanks. This is an issue which should be remedied for the most part when Johnson returns to light heavyweight, which the 29-year-old confirmed he would be returning to in his post-fight interview.
While Arlovski came out on the business end of the match with Johnson, there are still some positives to be taken in the loss. Following his stint competing in the Octagon, the Chicago-based fighter has been plagued by the reputation of having a weak chin. This label is due in large part to a stretch of Arlovski's career where he lost four consecutive bouts, with three ending by way of brutal knockout.
The former UFC champion may not have erased that reputation entirely on Saturday night, but he did a lot to quiet such talk against the heavy-hitting Johnson.
In fact, in the aftermath of the bout it was revealed Arlovski suffered a broken jaw and had several teeth knocked out during the opening frame, but still continued regardless of his condition.
That's tough any way you cut it, ladies and gentlemen.
In the world of mixed martial arts, it has become commonplace to take shots at the commentary teams working high-profile events. Fans watching from home see the action from their own perspectives and when the man working the play-by-play calls things from a different angle, Twitter lights up with criticism.
Calling live-action mixed martial arts bouts is a tough gig by any stretch, but what took place on Saturday night at WSOF 2 was in a class of its own.
The voices calling the fights are a large aspect of the presentation and they are there to guide the viewers through the action over the course of the night. When the job is done right, the commentating team blends into the fight experience—remaining both present and anonymous at the same time.
In a case like what Todd Harris and MMA legend Bas Rutten displayed this weekend in Atlantic City, the missteps and uneasiness came front and center on multiple occasions. Harris's delivery on the play-by-play was choppy from jump street and remained this way throughout the entire card.
The former WEC commentator was off his game in a major way and it showed, with his biggest gaffe of the night coming when he referred to WSOF's biggest free agent signing to date, Jon Fitch, as Aaron Fitch.
While this may seem like a minimal hiccup in the grander scheme of things, the WSOF is in the early and ever-important stage of establishing their brand. Fans tuning in need to buy into the hype of future events. When you mangle the name of a fighter they may recognize, the very reason you mentioned said fighter in the first place goes flying out the window.
That being said, the failed commentary wasn't Harris's cross to bear alone as Bas Rutten did his fair share of damage throughout the evening. "El Guapo's" enthusiasm in the commentary booth has been a large factor in his career beyond the cage, but at WSOF 2, the typically amped Rutten appeared to handle the task at hand with nonchalance.
Where Rutten struggled the most came when handling post-fight interview duties. When talking to lightweight Justin Gaethje, who had just earned a victory over J.Z. Cavalcante by way of doctor stoppage, the former King of Pancrase asked Gaethje if he was going to fight Jon Fitch in his next outing.
The response was a classic blend of confusion and awkwardness as Gaethje pointed to the fact that Fitch competes in a higher weight class and Rutten simply shrugged off the question as a mix up.
Was it a huge mistake? No. But was it a bad look? Absolutely.
It also needs to be understood that finding a rhythm as a commentary team takes a bit of time, and with this event only being the second outing for the team of Harris and Rutten, there are going to be some growing pains.
Saturday night's presentation certainly came with its fair share of awkward moments, and it is important for the promotion to recognize how large of a role this plays in the presentation.
When the dust settled at WSOF 2, there were several aspects of the night's events that swerved into curious waters, but Josh Burkman's post-fight interview was certainly the strangest.
"The People's Warrior" had a solid showing in the promotion's inaugural event when he defeated Gerald Harris via unanimous decision. On Saturday night, Burkman upped the ante when he served a blistering knockout to fellow UFC veteran Aaron Simpson in the first round of their welterweight tilt.
The victory over "The A-Train" made it four straight for Burkman, and seven of his last eight. His only setback over this stretch came against surging young talent Jordan Mein in 2011, but Burkman has put in solid work to regain momentum.
In the weeks leading up to the event, the WSOF signed Fitch and announced the winner of the matchup between Burkman and Simpson would face the AKA staple at their next event in June. With Burkman just minutes removed from crumbling Simpson against the cage, the table was perfectly for the "big sell" in his post-fight interview.
The promotion ushered Fitch into the cage and Rutten set about his business. But where the ideal situation to hype a summer showdown with the former wrestling standout from Purdue University was sitting at the ready, Burkman decided to take a different route.
For starters, there are no WSOF titles in any of their divisions. President Ray Sefo told the media during a fight week conference call that several events would pass before the organization would implement championship belts. But that didn't stop Burkman from talking about his place in the title picture and where be believes Fitch should fall into place.
When Rutten asked Burkman if he was ready to fight Fitch in the summer, the Portland-based fighter said he believed Fitch needed to win a fight under the WSOF banner before earning the opportunity to face him.
Not only is this a stretch because the lack of divisional structure, but you would be hard-pressed to find any ranking system in the MMA world where Burkman and Fitch are even remotely close to one another.
Despite being released by the UFC several weeks ago, Fitch is widely recognized as a top-10 caliber welterweight. While Burkman has found a bit of momentum over the past year, alluding to Fitch not being worthy of a matchup is a stretch.
If anything, one would figure Burkman would like to avenge his second-round submission loss to Fitch from 2006, but this didn't appear to be the case in his post-fight ramblings, and was absolutely a missed opportunity where the promotion is concerned.
Burkman had the perfect opportunity to light the hype fires for their clash at WSOF 3, but his post-fight posturing turned an ideal moment into a web of confusion.
While there were other elements of strange (Arlovski's UFC glove, Canvas-gate and Paulo Filho) laced throughout the WSOF 2 experience, the move by Burkman topped them all.
This, of course, is my opinion. But that is what this platform is for, I suppose.
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