World Series of Fighting returns to the Revel Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey for their 5th card since their late 2012 debut. The original main event was supposed to be a light heavyweight bout between former UFC welterweight Anthony Johnson and the heavy-handed Mike Kyle, but "Rumble" pulled out with an injury and was replaced by Andrei Arlovski.
Unfortunately for WSOF, all attention (and rightly so) in the combat sports world will focus on the mega-PPV in boxing, as Floyd Mayweather Jr. fights Saul Alvarez in a highly anticipated main event.
In addition to Arlovski/Kyle we've also got the middleweight tournament semifinals, where the winner will be crowned the promotion's first 185 lbs champion. The main card start time, which was pushed back so that it wouldn't potentially run directly against Mayweather/Canelo, airs live on NBC Sports Network at 9 PM ET/6 PM PT. The prelims start on Sherdog.com's live stream at 6 PM ET/3 PM PT.
Andrei Arlovski (19-10, 1 NC) vs. Mike Kyle (20-9-1, 2 NC) - Heavyweights
Arlovski has been with WSOF from the start, headlining the debut show against Devin Cole last November. It took just 2:37 for Arlovski to drop Cole and finish him with ground strikes (as Cole failed to fight back). After winning a decision against Mike Hayes outside of the division, Arlovski drew WSOF main event duties against Anthony Johnson, where he survived both a knockdown and a timekeeping error -- the 1st round went 20 seconds longer than it should have -- but still lost a unanimous decision.
Kyle has shifted between heavyweight and light heavyweight throughout his career, and perhaps his biggest win was a 1st round KO of Rafael Cavalcante back in 2009. He also had recent UFC title challenger Antonio Silva on the brink of defeat before he himself succumbed to a 2nd round KO. Alas, it's been a career of mixed results, this lowlight against Brian Olsen, and bouncing around from promotion to promotion. The majority of his recent fights took place in Strikeforce, and after a submission loss to Gegard Mousasi the 33-year-old seemingly retired. The retirement was short-lived, and Kyle found himself in Florida rematching Travis Wiuff -- the two fought to a no contest after Kyle punched Wiuff after the bell -- and this time he needed only 21 seconds for a clean KO win.
Both men are past their primes, and Arlovski in particular has had a rough go of it since his days as a championship level fighter in the UFC. But that doesn't mean this doesn't have potential to be a fun scrap. Arlovski still possesses good KO power, as does Kyle, and they both tend to be wide open defensively, hence the numerous KO losses on their record. Arlovski is more varied and technical on the feet, has a superior ground game, and has solid takedown defense. I think Kyle's best path to victory is to goad Arlovski into a kickboxing battle, where he stands more than a fair chance of shutting Arlovski's lights out. The odds for this fight are all over the place, and while Kyle is the slight favorite, I'd side with Arlovski based on his superior size and skills.
David Branch (12-3) vs. Danillo Villefort (14-4) - Middleweight Tournament Semifinal
Branch's best UFC highlight unfortunately is when Gerald Harris slammed him into unconsciousness at UFC 116. A submission loss to Rousimar Palhares sent Branch out of the UFC, but he's won 4 of his last 5 since the release. The 31-year-old Renzo Gracie BJJ black belt is undefeated in WSOF, including an admittedly dull decision win over Paulo Filho.
Villefort was deemed to be an intriguing prospect out of Brazil, but he was given the heave-ho by the UFC after just one bout, a controversial TKO (cut) stoppage in the 3rd round against Jesse Lennox in 2009. He's 5-1 in his last 6, and he edged out TUF 11 runner-up Kris McCray in his WSOF debut.
Historically, Branch's fights are not exciting. That doesn't make him a bad fighter by any means, but a high-paced action-packed display of MMA is seldom seen in a Dave Branch bout. He's best suited to take this fight to the ground and use his grappling and top control to stifle Villefort's offense. Villefort has the definitive striking advantage, and he's a judo black belt himself, but I think Branch will try and force the issue by making it one of those ugly, grinding contests that will be effective for him, but not easy to watch.
Elvis Mutapcic (13-2) vs. Jesse Taylor (26-9) - Middleweight Tournament Semifinal
Mutapcic is a talented striker who is not only one of the prohibitive favorites in this tournament, but a potential signing for the UFC down the road. He's on a 5 fight win streak and enters the WSOF tourney as the MFC middleweight champion. His biggest career victory was a 21 second left hook knockout of TUF Brazil winner Cezar Ferreira back in 2011. "The King" has KO power in both hands as well as good knees from the clinch and heavy leg kicks.
Taylor is best known for his erratic behavior, which resulted in a forfeiture of his finalist position on season 7 of The Ultimate Fighter, and after losing to C.B. Dollaway post-TUF he was promptly released by the promotion. It's been 5 years since his time in the UFC, and he's fought a long list of familiar names in the sport, including Hector Lombard, Thales Leites, Luke Rockhold, Denis Kang, and Kendall Grove. He's won his last 6 fights and recently defended his Cage Warriors title with a 1st round submission.
This is undeniably the more exciting of the two semifinals, if not solely for the intrigue of watching Mutapcic. If Mutapcic can get past Taylor, look for him to be the significant favorite against the Branch/Villefort winner. Taylor's strength is his wrestling, and he'll almost certainly need to eliminate the threat of Mutapcic's striking with takedowns and positional dominance.
Best of the Rest
Rolles Gracie (8-1) vs. Derrick Mehmen (15-5) - Heavyweights
Rolles' only UFC fight was an embarrassing TKO loss to Joey Beltran, who avoided a 1st round submission and took advantage of Gracie's porous cardio in the 2nd round. He's 5-0 post-UFC disaster, and he's finished all of his wins, and when you can finish Bob Sapp you know you're on your way to stardom. All of his wins (except Sapp) are either by arm-triangle or rear-naked choke, so you can hedge your bets as to what he'll try against Mehmen.
Mehmen is a career light heavyweight who is moving up to heavyweight on the heels of 3 consecutive victories. His wins are over nondescript opposition, and three of his losses are to the likes of Rodney Wallace, Dave Branch, and Gian Villante. Mehmen has been submitted twice, and Gracie is definitely the superior grappler, but if Mehmen can keep it on the feet or at least force Gracie to tire out again then he can make his HW debut a successful one.
Georgi Karakhanyan (21-3-1) vs. Waylon Lowe (14-4) - Featherweights
Karakhanyan had a disappointing run in Bellator, but he's been on fire over the past 2 years. He ended 2011 by winning the Tachi Palace Fights featherweight belt and then later defended it against Micah Miller. Karakhanyan overcame illness to eke out a good win over veteran Din Thomas, which was his last win before WSOF signed him up. He's a very dangerous striker with good Muay Thai and boxing skills, but most of his wins (11 of 21) are by submission. There's plenty of reason to be excited about Georgi's WSOF debut, as he's poses huge problems wherever the fight takes place.
Lowe is a collegiate wrestler by trade, but after a 2-2 run in the UFC, which abruptly ended with a submission loss to Nik Lentz, he's been showcasing his striking. Four knockout wins in his last four fights, and he destroyed TUF 9 alum Cameron Dollar in his WSOF (and featherweight) debut with a perfectly placed left hook. Of course, his name was last in the news for non-MMA related reasons, but that will soon be a footnote if he continues his winning streak.
Gregor Gracie (7-3) returns while Neiman Gracie (0-0) debuts
There are two members of the Gracie clan competing on the preliminary card. Gregor Gracie was stopped by Tyson Steele in his WSOF debut, which gave him his 2nd loss in 3 fights. He faces Richard Patishnock (5-1), who fought Igor Gracie and was declared the winner after Igor injured his shoulder.
Meanwhile, 24-year-old Neiman Gracie makes his MMA debut against Darren Costa, whose sole professional fight ended in a TKO loss. Not a single Gracie has won in WSOF yet, so tomorrow evening they have three cracks to break the goose egg on their record.
Bloody Elbow will have live coverage of tomorrow night's event from the preliminary card all the way to the main event.