World Series of Fighting: Main card preview, analysis and match-up Dissection

Class, let's welcome our newest member: the World Series of Fighting introduces itself to the MMA world this Saturday on NBC Sports.

It's going to be a strange weekend, yes?

Accounting for the write up of Friday's Resurrection Fighting Alliance 4 card, this marks the weekend's second watch-worthy card being hosted by an upstart fight promotion with promising potential. The main card of the inaugural World Series of Fighting event will air on the NBC Sports Network at 10:30 p.m. ET this Saturday on the heels of a free stream on Sherdog.com of the preliminary card -- both of which are attractively adorned.

Past UFC and WEC belt-holders carry the weight in former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski, who draws previous Strikeforce rep Devin Cole, and former WEC bantamweight champion and top pound-for-pound candidate Miguel Torres, who'll meet Marlon Moraes in the co-main role. Anthony Johnson, who competed mostly at welterweight in the UFC, faces D.J. Linderman. World class competitors in BJJ and kickboxing round out the main card, as decorated sport grappler Gregor Gracie fights Tyson Steele and reputable kickboxing crossover Tyrone Spong clashes with Travis Bartlett.

A pile of former UFC fighters punctuate the undercard -- which will be previewed separately -- as well: Ronys Torres vs. Brian Cobb, Gerald Harris vs. Josh Burkman and David Branch vs. Dustin Jacoby. The full roster for both cards are listed before the match-up analysis below.

Main Card: (NBC Sports at 10:30 p.m. ET):

Andrei Arlovski vs. Devin Cole
Miguel Torres vs. Marlon Moraes
Anthony Johnson vs.D.J. Linderman
Gregor Gracie vs. Tyson Steele
Tyrone Spong vs. Travis Bartlett

Preliminary Card: (streaming on Sherdog.com at 7:45 p.m. ET)

Ronys Torres vs. Brian Cobb
Gerald Harris vs. Josh Burkman
David Branch vs. Dustin Jacoby
Steve Carl vs. Ramico Blackmon
Gesias Cavalcante vs. T.J. O'Brien
Waylon Lowe vs. Fabio Mello

Andrei Arlovski (17-9) vs. Devin Cole (20-9)

"The Pitbull" Arlovski was the UFC's champion and unparalleled heavyweight circa 2005-06. His dominant reign did take place before the Zuffa roster was bolstered with talent from the purchase of Pride FC and Arlovski was eventually unseated by Tim Sylvia, who won the last two of their trilogy. Unable to reconcile with the UFC, Arlovski left the promotion on unusual terms, having mounting a 3-fight win streak following his title bid to conclude his contract.

He thundered on with consecutive knockouts over now-UFC heavyweights (Ben Rothwell in Affliction and, aided by one of MMA's worst referee stand-ups, Roy Nelson in Elite XC) before he hit the skids. Arlovski would fall in his next four outings and was left unconscious by way of TKO in three, though each opponent was highly respectable: Fedor Emelianenko (TKO), Brett Rogers (TKO), Antonio Silva (decision) and Sergei Kharitonov (TKO).

Cole was an All-American wrestler at the NAIA level who competed under the IFL banner early in his career. Though his IFL stint was forgettable, Cole also encountered A-list competition in Rafael Cavalcante, Ben Rothwell and Krzysztof Soszynski. Cole's last three bouts took place in Strikeforce, where he lost to surging prospect Daniel Cormier (decision) but ended with wins over eventual UFC crossover Shawn Jordan and Gabriel Salinas-Jones (both decisions).

Match-up wise, fighting range should be the biggest influence in this headliner. Arlovski is exceptionally agile and athletic for a heavyweight, and is at his best when keeping his foe on the fringe and at the far-end of his crisp boxing combinations. Cole will look to keep the fight at a closer distance where his average boxing can be augmented with the threat of his clinch and takedown game.

Footwork and motion will dictate what range they engage one another in: Arlovski will be tasked with popping off punches but staying light enough on his toes to circle into open space or keeping enough balance to defend Cole's takedowns. Cole is burdened with navigating through Arlovski's swarm of long strikes to transmit more punching power at phone-booth range or switch gears and force a tie up.

Arlovski's Achilles Heel is more like an Achilles Chin, yet those past losses were delivered by crunching strikers; a billing Cole doesn't fit. The wrestler's ideal tactic is to constrain Arlovski with some type of control, be it wearing him down in the clinch with dirty boxing or imposing takedowns and riding out the top position. I wouldn't put it past him, but Arlovski, who is admittedly inexperienced against wrestling-oriented opponents, has demonstrated the capability to execute a sprawl-and-brawl strategy and should be able to do it here.

My Prediction: Andrei Arlovski by decision.

Anthony Johnson (13-4) vs. D.J. Linderman (13-3)

Johnson once earned the reputation as a hot up-and-comer as a UFC welterweight. Coupling impressive size, strong wrestling and vicious kickboxing, Johnson notched a few highlight-reel knockouts but his Octagon tenure was overshadowed by trouble making weight. Addressing that problem by relenting to a higher weight class -- actually, two weight classes higher -- Johnson now competes at 205-pounds and trains with the ever-growing Blackzilians fight club.

Linderman is a big boy with a hard-nosed mentality and a decent medley of striking and wrestling, which allows for stand-up exchanges, takedowns or top-side offense that consists of ground-and-pound and the pursuit of simple submissions. He's had average success against average competition and hasn't shown anything to persuade me he can hang with a juggernaut like Johnson, whom I expect to bomb on Linderman early, hard and often in a showcase performance. Salient X-factors stand in Linderman's rugged chin (no TKO losses), which could emphasize Johnson's cardio and conditioning if he can withstand initial barrage.

My Prediction: Anthony Johnson by TKO (referee stoppage due to strikes).

Miguel Torres (40-5) vs. Marlon Moraes (8-4)

Lanky bantamweight Torres brings in an exorbitant amount of top-notch experience and a sizzling union of highly effective striking and submission grappling. While Torres is not known for his wrestling, either offensively or defensively, his kickboxing and BJJ are thoroughly potent enough to compensate.

Moraes hails from The Armory and boasts a balanced finishing ratio with 3 TKOs and submission apiece. His record is particularly devoid of name-fighters other than former WEC fighter Deividas Taurosevicius, who snared a 1st-round arm triangle on Moraes. I won't claim to be intimately familiar with Moraes but also don't feel it's a stretch to pick Torres, a longtime pound-for-pound king and alpha-bantamweight, by a landslide.

My Prediction: Miguel Torres by submission.

Tyrone Spong (0-0) vs. Travis Bartlett (7-2)

Spong, a well-known kickboxing specialist and Muay Thai champion, will make his long awaited MMA debut as a light-heavyweight. Spong has set up shop with the Blackzilians to mentor the team with striking instruction and tailor his kickboxing foundation to MMA's foreign environment.

Bartlett is a reasonable test: he's 9 fights deep in his career, having fallen to his only A-list opponent in Tom Lawlor, and generally prefers to handle things standing with 5 TKOs. This will be a fair litmus test for Spong's acclimation to MMA -- his kickboxing is elite by default and he should've spent enough time with his established teammates to weld up sufficient takedown defense.

My Prediction: Tyrone Spong by TKO.

Gregor Gracie (7-2) vs. Tyson Steele (9-1)

You guessed it: Gregor Gracie submits people. The following is a list of his sport grappling credentials from BJJHeroes.com:

  • 2x World Champion (2004 & 2005 purple)
  • Pan American Champion (2006 brown)
  • Brazilian National Champion (2005 purple)
  • 2x Brazilian National Teams Champion (2003 blue, 2004 purple)
  • 4x Grapplers Quest Champion
  • ADCC Bronze Medallist (2009)
  • Nogi World Championships Silver Medallist (2008)
  • Pan American Silver Medallist (2001 blue)

Gregor is the half-brother of Igor and Rolles Gracie who's compiled 6 of his 7 wins by submission. He's competed at a methodical pace in MMA with 9 fights since 2007 and recently had a 3-fight turn in ONE FC in which he went 2-1.

Not unlike Bartlett being selected for Spong, Steele is a once-beaten, middle-of-the-road welterweight who also prefers the submission game, having won 7 of 9 by catch. He's a fair and understandable adversary for Gracie, who should have an obvious edge in submission grappling and the means to enforce it.

My Prediction: Gregor Gracie by submission.


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