The Good, Bad and Strange from World Series of Fighting 9

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The Good, Bad and Strange from World Series of Fighting 9
Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

When Rousimar Palhares' name is on the card, anything can happen. And it usually does.

The powerful Brazilian grappling ace rose to prominence as one of the most feared submission fighters in the middleweight ranks, and he has carried that mystique with him into welterweight waters since his transition into the weight class in 2013.

"Toquinho's" ability to end a fight with a leglock is well-known, but his inconsistency when it comes to letting go of those submissions has brought on trouble for the Team Nogueira fighter.

The 34-year-old veteran was released from the UFC when he held a fight-ending heel hook he had locked on Mike Pierce well past the moment when the fighter tapped out. The incident added another strange chapter to the Brazilian's career, and on Saturday night, he was hoping to get things back on track when he made his promotional debut at WSOF 9.

The task he would face under in his new organization was to derail welterweight champion Steve Carl, who became the inaugural champion in his previous outing. The two fighters squared off in the main event at WSOF 9, and Palhares wasted no time in adding another leglock submission to his collection and a new world title to put around his waist.

Carl tried to start things off with a haymaker, but Palhares put him on his back as soon as the action got under way. After playing in Carl's closed guard for a minute, Palhares dropped back and latched onto the champion's heel. While Carl attempted to spin out of the hold, the Brazilian locked on the inverted heel hook, and the fight ended shortly thereafter.

While the co-main event featured two of the more established names under the WSOF banner, the bout put the spotlight on one of the fastest-rising bantamweight stars on the MMA landscape in Marlon Moraes. The 25-year-old Brazilian locked up with Josh Rettinghouse to determine the first 135-pound champion for WSOF, and a barrage of leg kicks sealed the deal for Moraes.

Moraes spent the entire fight chopping away at the lead leg of Rettinghouse until his opponent submitted. He made it a long night for his opponent. In victory, Moraes takes home the WSOF bantamweight title and Rettinghouse's left leg for his mantle.

 

The Good

After being banned from the UFC for refusing to let go of a submission hold he had locked on Mike Pierce, Palhares needed a special performance on Saturday night to regain some of the shine to his name.

Felipe Dana

The Brazilian leglock ace brought his suspect reputation into his promotional debut at WSOF 9 and made quick work out of welterweight champion Steve Carl in the process.

"Toquinho" landed a takedown in the opening seconds of the fight and then waited patiently for his opportunity to grab hold of one of Carl's legs. Once the opportunity presented itself, Palhares locked on and forced Carl to tap in rapid fashion.

With the victory, he becomes the champion of what is arguably WSOF's deepest division. He will face former perennial UFC contender Jon Fitch later this year in what will be an interesting stylistic matchup between two of the top grapplers in the welterweight ranks. 

The majority of recognizable names on the WSOF roster originally made their bones in other promotions, but bantamweight Marlon Moraes has the potential to be the organization's first homegrown star.

Credit: MMA Fighting

The 25-year-old Brazilian has been lights-out since signing with WSOF in 2012. He was undefeated under the promotional banner coming into his title bout with Rettinghouse on Saturday night.

While the bout ultimately went the distance, it was as one-sided as it gets, as Moraes brutalized his opponent's lead leg with monster kicks early and often. Rettinghouse may have survived the entire 25 minutes, but that is all he did in the fight.

With the victory, Moraes has now been successful for seven consecutive showings, including all five of his outings for WSOF. He is quickly picking up steam as he's becoming recognized as one of the best bantamweight fighters on the planet. He will likely hold the 135-pound gold for WSOF for quite some time. 

It doesn't matter which promotion he's fighting for, Yushin Okami is absolutely one of the best middleweight fighters in the world.

MMA fans were shocked when "Thunder" was released by the UFC last year after a loss to Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza broke up a three-fight winning streak. Nevertheless, the 32-year-old Japanese fighter was released from his Zuffa contract, and WSOF swooped in to scoop him up.

The savvy veteran made his promotional debut on Saturday night and mopped up fellow newcomer Svetlozar Savov in the process. After hammering Savov from the top mount for the entire first round, Okami continued to drop punishment on the Bulgarian before finishing the fight via arm-triangle choke midway through the second round.

With the victory, Okami has now been successful in four of his last five showings and will be a front-runner to get a shot at the WSOF middleweight title. Where he was the "Samurai Guardian" to the 185-pound crown under the UFC banner, he could have a long reign as the middleweight king of WSOF.

Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Burkman has been experiencing a career resurgence under the WSOF banner. "The People's Warrior" floated around the MMA landscape for several years, fighting for numerous promotions before landing with the Las Vegas-based organization in 2012.

After finding victory in his first three showings for WSOF, the 33-year-old Utah-based fighter came up short against Carl back in October, and that brought an end to a five-fight winning streak.

He was looking to get things rolling again on Saturday night, and he did so by blistering Tyler Stinson with a smashing right hand in the first round.

Burkman put Stinson on the canvas with a haymaker and then sent his opponent's eyes rolling back in his head with an uppercut to finish things off. While Stinson is far from the biggest name in the welterweight ranks, Burkman's victory will keep him in the WSOF title hunt as a major player at 170 pounds.

 

The Bad

While the fights taking place inside the cage are ultimately the entertainment for MMA fans to consume, the team calling the action cageside is a huge part of the presentation. In other words, the men who are making the call are a crucial part of the show. Unfortunately, Todd Harris and Bas Rutten just aren't getting the job done for WSOF.

The team has put on some lackluster showings in the past, but their call on Saturday night was nothing short of awful. While Rutten's experience is legendary, his inconsistency on the mic is tough to deal with. In some fights, he pays attention; in others, he simply doesn't. That can't happen if WSOF wants to be taken seriously. The sad thing is, that is far from the worst part.

Despite Harris having years of experience doing his job, he continues to botch things in a major way when calling WSOF shows. In addition to flubbing several live calls during the broadcast, he continuously put forth factually incorrect information.

Fans watching the show learn about fighters from what the commentary team adds to the broadcast, and Harris is apparently pulling the information he uses from outer space.

If Ray Sefo wants to keep his promotion on the upswing, a total reconstruction of the commentary team is in order.

While Harris pulled enough gaffs to fill up this category on his own, referee Jason Herzog earned a mention for the way he handled the co-main event between Moraes and Rettinghouse. By the end of the third round, the Brazilian wrecking machine had smashed Rettinghouse's lead leg to bits to the point where he was dropping to the canvas with every kick that was thrown.

Fighter safety is the key reason for the referee being inside the cage, and with Rettinghouse obviously injured, Herzog needed to step in and end the fight.

Fighters by their very nature are too tough for their own good, and it is the referee's responsibility to protect fighters from themselves. But as Rettinghouse repeatedly winced, limped, dropped and hobbled around the cage, Herzog stood by and allowed the fight to continue.

It was a bad look from Herzog, who is typically a solid third man in the cage on most nights.

 

The Strange

Gift giveaways in the world of MMA are nothing new, but no organization does it more strangely than WSOF.

Credit: MMA Weekly

The promotion created one of the most awkward moments in recent history last year when Joey Varner attempted to present knockout machine Tyrone Spong with a Boost Mobile phone he had won. The "King of the Ring" had just finished adding another victim to his growing list, and Varner did his best to get Spong to care about the Boost Mobile phone.

Spong looked at Varner and then at the phone for a moment—and then confusion reigned supreme.

While there was no Boost Mobile incident on Saturday night, WSOF sponsor Shout 2 Win's attempt to give away a Ducati motorcycle was nearly as strange. During the live television broadcast, the CEO of Shout joined Varner on camera to talk about the contest that was under way, and after a rough minute of explanation, nothing was made clear.

Maybe the motorcycle would be won by a fighter? Maybe the motorcycle would be won by a fan in attendance or at home? The only thing made clear was that someone would be winning the spectacular piece of machinery...well, maybe.

Of course, the only thing that could make that situation more curious would be Harris chiming in, which he absolutely did, only serving to make the moment more "sideshow" than it already was.

In the description of the contest, they never once mentioned where the winner would be announced. Would it be on the broadcast or online? Who knows, and that lack of clarity qualifies the contest for this particular category.

Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

Another element of the show that could have been cast into the "bad" category was the WSOF 9 card matchmaking.

The promotion has catered to the bigger names on the roster with squash matches at previous events, and that trend didn't necessarily stop on Saturday night. That said, this aspect of the event wasn't nearly as bad as it had been at recent shows, as former UFC middleweight title challenger Yushin Okami was the only high-profile fighter to have an unknown opponent.

It is understandable that the young promotion's lack of depth would create these situations, but the window of allowance for such things is coming to a close. WSOF has now instituted a belt system to crown champions, and the weight classes are filling out nicely.

In order to keep things moving in the right direction going forward, Ray Sefo and Ali Abdel-Aziz need to match their stars up with opponents who either make sense or carry equal status in the fight game.

 

Duane Finley is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

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