What do you get when you put a former welterweight mixed martial artist against a heavyweight, a two-time Grand Prix tournament champion against an unknown, and a handful of matchups between former UFC/WEC fighters?
Answer: World Series of Fighting 2.
After the fledgling promotion based out of Las Vegas, with one extra letter in its acronym than the big one, signed with NBC Sports Network and debuted to reasonable success back in November, the WSOF’s second show is set to take place this Saturday, while the UFC is taking the first of two straight weekends off.
A look at the WSOF 2 card and shows some of the same faces as the inaugural show: Andrei Arlovski (in the main event), Anthony Johnson (in a featured slot), Marlon Moraes, Josh Burkman, David Branch, Gesias (JZ) Cavalcante and even a Gracie.
This is not uncommon for an organization in its infancy. While holding a show once every four months and having a limited roster, you have to showcase whomever you can. We saw this with the last rival promotion that tried to go big on network TV, the now-defunct Strikeforce (come to think of it, we saw this in its late stages too before it went belly up and swallowed up by the UFC).
But this doesn’t have to be seen as a bad thing. As always, a little healthy competition to the UFC is fine. In fact, one may argue its cards are better than the de facto No. 2 Bellator MMA.
The question remains whether the matchups will produce entertaining fights. There were many one-sided finishes in the November show, which made for excitement and a nice setup to start its run. WSOF 1 had a total gate of just over $82,000 at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino, and television viewership of just under 200,000.
But WSOF founder Ray Sefo insists it’s not about direct competition with the world No. 1.
“We’re not here to challenge the UFC, but to challenge ourselves,” Sefo said on a conference call this week. “We want each card to be better than the last card … We feel this is. This is only our second event.”
A bit of a clichéd answer, but it’s refreshing to hear them not try for a good sound bite of why they offer something better than what the UFC does. (For example, Bellator touting their tournament structure, where “title shots are earned, not given.”)
There is actually very little pretense all around. Take Anthony Johnson, who infamously could never make weight as a 170-pounder in the UFC and was let go, with the door seemingly shut behind him.
But Johnson has won four in a row since leaving the UFC, including three straight at light-heavyweight. Now he makes a move up another division to face former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski — something that has led to the card and the promotion being the subject of ridicule.
I must admit, I thought it was laughable to hear Johnson fighting at heavyweight. But upon further review — and after hearing from the fighters — it is worthy of proper consideration.
Johnson was asked on the conference call what he would gain or what message he would send with a victory at heavyweight.
“I don’t have a message, I’m just here to fight, that’s it,” Johnson said.
But of course, there is no doubt that the message would be, especially if he wins impressively, that he is still a good fighter with value that the UFC would be hard-pressed to ignore.
At Saturday’s UFC 158 post-fight press conference, Dana White scoffed a little about the matchup, saying that Johnson is a welterweight. The 29-year-old, who weighed in at 230.2 pounds Friday, responded to the comments.
“It didn’t bother me, it’s his opinion. I don’t have hard feelings toward him,” Johnson said. “I don’t think it was meant in a harmful way, it’s just his opinion.”
Then Johnson couldn’t resist firing back at White, if just a little.
“I don’t know why he even said welterweight, I haven’t fought there in a year. Get with the program. Stop living in the past. Let’s not even talk about 170, let’s talk about 205 or heavyweight. I’m fighting at (those weights) now.”
Arlovski, who will have a slight weight advantage but nothing overwhelming after weighing in at 245.5 pounds, concurred that the weight at which a fighter chooses to take a fight shouldn’t be anyone else’s concern.
“First of all, I respect Dana White, and his opinion, he has been a long time in this business,” Arlovski said. “I agree absolutely with Anthony, it doesn’t matter what weight (a fighter is), it matters what he brings to the table. This is my hardest fight in my MMA career. I’m just focused on it.”
The most accomplished fighter on the card aside from the main event might be Brazilian Paulo Filho. At one point in his career the WEC middleweight champion was considered by many to be the best 185-pounder in the world not named Anderson Silva. But the man that some saw as “Spider Jr.” sort of disappeared after not making weight for his final title defence against Chael Sonnen in November 2008 and lost a three-round decision. He came back to win six of his next eight fights in other promotions while Sonnen went on to become a No. 1 contender in the UFC.
Filho then went on a three-fight winless streak (two losses, one draw) before taking a year off. But he won his last fight with a 47-second TKO of Murilo (Ninja) Rua, brother of Maurcio (Shogun) Rua at WSOF 1, and he looks to ride that momentum against David Branch, who also won in November.
Other matches pitting two former UFC fighters are Burkman vs. Aaron Simpson on the main card, and Kris McCray vs. Danillo Villefort and Waylon Lowe vs. Cameron Dollar on the undercard. (Okay, so Dollar never officially competed in the UFC, but he was on The Ultimate Fighter). The card also has some mismatches on paper, including two-time K-1 Hero’s middleweight tournament champion (JZ) Cavalcante facing relative newbie Justin Gaethje.
It was emphasized on the conference call that the WSOF is “NOT a feeder organization.”
While that may be the organization’s position, don’t think for a second that the fighters wouldn’t turn down a chance to get back to the UFC — or get there for the first time.
But for now they’re going to do their best to perform for an upstart promotion — and that can only be good for all parties.
Here are the full weigh-in results:
Main card (NBC Sports Network in the U.S., online worldwide 9:30 p.m. ET)
Andrei Arlovski (245.5) vs. Anthony Johnson (230.2)
Marlon Moraes (135.5) vs. Tyson Nam (135.2)
Dave Branch (185.2) vs. Paulo Filho (184.5)
Josh Burkman (170) vs. Aaron Simpson (171)
Gesias Cavalcante (156) vs. Justin Gaethje (155.6)