It's rare that a burgeoning, less-than-a-year old fight league can tantalize hardcore fans with just their fourth lineup, but that's exactly what Resurrection Fighting Alliance (RFA) has done.
The promotion has differentiated itself from other upstarts by appointing Ed Soares, the well-known manager of UFC champions Anderson Silva and Jose Aldo, as the RFA president, and punctuating their roster with former UFC, WEC or TUF talent. Jens Pulver, the UFC's first lightweight champion, Pride Fighting Championships and UFC veteran Gilbert Yvel, one-time UFC lightweight contender Joe Stevenson, old school UFC heavyweight champ Maurice Smith and former top-10 light-heavyweight Houston Alexander have all competed under the Resurrection banner. Strategic acquisitions of legitimate prospects in Bubba Jenkins, who won the 2011 Division 1 national championships as a wrestler at Penn State, and Sergio Pettis, a recently signed flyweight/bantamweight and the younger brother of UFC lightweight Anthony Pettis, were also effective lures that are sure to attract eyeballs.
This Friday at 10:00 p.m. ET on AXS TV (formerly HDnet), Resurrection Fighting Alliance 4 will debut two more UFC notables in Efrain Escudero, the lightweight winner of TUF 8, who tangles with recent UFC featherweight and lightweight contender Tyson Griffin in the headliner. Light-heavyweight Gilbert Yvel was set to take another turn after knocking out Houston Alexander, this time against Marcio Cruz, but the bout was scratched when Yvel was injured and undefeated Joe Yager will step in against Cruz instead. 23-year-old Chidi Njokuani, the younger brother of UFC lightweight Anthony Njokuani, holds down the co-main event slot against Phil Dace.
Reputable combatants grace the card in former UFC/WEC featherweight Fredson Paixao, who meets Lance Palmer, and former WEC lightweight James Krause in a tilt with Guilherme Trindade. Dakota Cochrane and Sergio Pettis round out the card's upper half in separate bouts. The full card is listed below and followed by a run-through of the spotlight fights.
Resurrection Fighting Alliance 4
Tyson Griffin vs. Efrain Escudero
Joe Yager vs. Marcio Cruz
Fredson Paixao vs. Lance Palmer
Chidi Njokuani vs. Phil Dace
James Krause vs. Guilherme Trindade
Sergio Pettis vs. Jimmy Jones
Derrick Burnsed vs. Dakota Cochrane
Chris Holdsworth vs. Tyler Shinn
Jordan Isordia vs. Joey Angelo
Steve Mocco vs. Tyler Perry
Cory Galloway vs. Gary Shapiro
Chris Holdsworth vs. Tyler Shinn
Tyson Griffin (15-6 overall with 6 TKOs and 3 subs)
Last 5 fights:
Bart Palaszewski -- LOSS (1st-round KO, featherweight bout)
Manny Gamburyan -- WIN (unanimous decision, featherweight bout)
Nik Lentz -- LOSS (split decision, lightweight bout)
Takanori Gomi -- LOSS (1st-round KO, lightweight bout)
Evan Dunham -- LOSS (split decision, lightweight bout)
Efrain Escudero (18-5 overall with with 12 subs and 1 TKO)
Last 5 fights:
Mac Danzig -- LOSS (unanimous decision)
Jacob Volkmann -- LOSS (unanimous decision)
Cesar Avila -- WIN (1st-round guillotine choke)
Mike Rio -- WIN (unanimous decision)
Fabricio Camoes -- LOSS (unanimous decision)
Griffin is still just 28-years-old and has a wealth of solid experience. Against a similarly styled wrestle-boxer in Escudero, who will carry in a 3" height and slight strength advantage, it'll be Griffin's speed, footwork and tight kickboxing combinations against Escudero's clinch control, takedowns and basic boxing. The minor disparity in size and speed should play a major role in their strategies, as Griffin should be better suited to stay elusive on the fringe while slicing in sharp low kicks and exploding with his hands before skating back out of range.
Conversely, Escudero won't be helpless from outside but should find more success by closing the gap and slugging with Griffin at close range or, ideally, by weighing on him in the clinch with dirty boxing and knees or imposing his takedown prowess. While he might be able to overpower Griffin if he gets deep on a takedown or corners him against the cage, Griffin is slippery in all aspects: his footwork is quick and technical, his low center of gravity and athleticism make him tough to manipulate in tie-ups and his takedown defense, guard play and scrambling are all excellent.
Both are capable with the standard arsenal of submissions but are only likely to catch each others neck in a guillotine or rear-naked choke in the clinch or during transitions. Though it's likely this will be decided on the feet, scoring takedowns followed by effective top control could largely influence their standings if the striking is anywhere close to even. Both are adept wrestlers with the ability to ground the fight but, again, their respective advantages of speed and quickness (Griffin) and size and strength (Escudero) should dictate their success in every aspect.
Griffin's cracking combos give him the edge in the striking department, their overall grappling is fairly comparable and the clinch game is close as well, though I give Griffin that category by a slight margin for his intractable defense. Griffin's Achilles Heel has been power-strikers and his submission defense is top-notch. Escudero, who's finished one opponent with strikes, wins by overwhelming his opponents with frenetically paced aggression, and Griffin should be too intelligent and technical to clash head-on with him.
My Prediction: Tyson Griffin by decision via striking finesse.
Chidi Njokuani (8-3) vs. Phil Dace (8-2)
"Chidi Chidi Bang Bang" is 10 years younger than his brother Anthony, but shares his strong base in Muay Thai and currently splits his time competing in both kickboxing and MMA. Having a base in Muay Thai is not uncommon, but few ooze the very essence of the Eight-Limbed art as well as the Njokuani brothers.
Njokuani unfurls a diverse blend of Thai offerings in explosive combinations with a compact stance and phenomenal balance. His laudable technique is complemented nicely by cerebral aggression and killer instinct. Where Chidi differs from his brother Anthony is in the few extra inches of height: Chidi is quite a tall and lanky welterweight at 6'3" (Anthony is 6'1") and uses his guffawing 80.5" reach well, pestering often with a long, busy jab and snapping off front kicks from out on the fringe.
Phil Dace is a striker at heart and a good-sized welterweight at 6'2". He comes in further rounded than Njokuani with serviceable wrestling and a purple belt in BJJ, and will therefore have another option to exercise if the stand-up exchanges are not to his liking. Njokuani has a slight edge in past competition but it's not substantial; he carries a 3-fight win streak into the event while Dace is on a 5-piece streak.
Njokuani should be favored here but Dace, a Team Tompkins fighter also sharpening his ground skills under Robert Drysdale, is a gamer and not to be overlooked.
My Prediction: Chidi Njokuani by decision.
Joe Yager (5-0) vs. Marcio "Pe de Pano" Cruz (7-3)
Cruz is best known for his 2006 UFC run in which he defeated a still ailing Frank Mir in his 2nd pro outing but went out with consecutive losses (Jeff Monson, Andrei Arlovski). "Pe de Pano" is also a ridiculously accredited sport grappler; the 2003 ADCC champion, an 8-time Pan Am champion and a 5-time Mundials champion. After leaving the Octagon, Cruz pieced together 5-straight wins, albeit at a drawling pace, but that surge was halted by Glover Teixeira in his last foray.
Joe Yager is an undefeated heavyweight who's yet to tackle A-list competition. His record consists of 2 TKOs and 3 decisions so, while Cruz is no spring chicken at age 34, his impressive sub-grappling and MMA experience should see him through.
My Prediction: Marcio Cruz by submission.
We'll close with some footage that shows the promising diversity of Sergio Pettis (5-0): the first video below is Pettis' MMA debut against Kyle Vivian, followed by his 3rd fight against Mike Lindquist and finally with his most recent outing against Tom McKenna.