World Series of Fighting 9 preview: Two titles on the line, plus Yushin Okami's debut

World Series of Fighting

Bloody Elbow previews World Series of Fighting 9, which takes place in Las Vegas, NV on Saturday, March 29th. The main event features welterweight champion Steve Carl against controversial former UFC fighter Rousimar Palhares.

This weekend's World Series of Fighting 9 has been billed as the promotion's deepest and best card to date, and it's hard to dispute that. The main card consists of multiple top 25 fighters, and arguably a top 10 bantamweight. In the main event, welterweight champion Steve Carl makes his first title defense against the dangerous leglock specialist Rousimar Palhares.

Palhares isn't the only Brazilian looking for a WSOF belt, as bantamweight striker Marlon Moraes battles Josh Rettinghouse in the co-main event for the inaugural 135 lbs title. Also on tap is the debut of former UFC title contender Yushin Okami, plus the return of recently defeated WSOF title challenger Josh Burkman.

The entire main card is available to US TV viewers at 9 PM ET/6 PM PT on the NBC Sports Network. However, the main card plus several preliminary card bouts will also be available for US and international viewers at 7 PM ET/4 PM PT on NBCSports.com.

Steve Carl (21-3) vs. Rousimar Palhares (15-5)- WSOF Welterweight Championship

Steve Carl has assumed the underdog role for this fight even as the champion, but his underdog status didn't matter when he slapped on a triangle choke on Josh Burkman and put him to sleep in the 4th round. Carl is on a run of 7 straight victories, all by submission, and 6 by either rear-naked choke or triangle choke. Before his days as a WSOF fighter he had a four-fight stint in Bellator, entering two welterweight tournaments and losing in the semifinals on both occasions. He's been on a tear, but we have to put into perspective that prior to beating Burkman he'd faced less-than-stellar competition. A Palhares win, even considering his inexperience in the division, would certainly be another good addition to his resume.

We know of Palhares' story. "Toquinho" dropped to welterweight following a KO loss (and failed drug test) in his fight against Hector Lombard in December 2012. His 170 lbs debut came against grizzled veteran Mike Pierce, who he submitted in just 30 seconds, but his UFC job was thrown by the wayside when he continued to hold onto Pierce's leg after the tap. This isn't a first offense for Palhares, and his reputation has drawn the ire of Jon Fitch, who made it clear that he will not accept a fight with him. Which reminds me, the winner of this fight will take on Jon Fitch, so Fitch might want to change his tune if Palhares wins and Fitch absolutely wants a shot at winning the WSOF belt.

Carl probably has the striking advantage (but not necessarily power), and there are still question marks over Palhares' gas tank at 170 given his first fight lasted a half-minute. The deciding factors for this fight are whether or not Carl is willing to engage with Palhares on the ground where, despite Carl's impressive submission rate, Palhares is clearly superior, and if Palhares' cardio can hold up in the later rounds. It should be noted that this is Palhares' first ever scheduled five-rounder.

Marlon Moraes (12-4-1) vs. Josh Rettinghouse (10-2) - WSOF Bantamweight Championship

It's no secret that Moraes has been rampant ever since his debut on the promotion's inaugural 2012 card. The Brazilian has a strong case for being the best bantamweight not in the UFC, along with Eduardo Dantas of Bellator. If you're into MMA Math, Moraes destroyed Tyson Nam, who famously KO'd Dantas in a non-Bellator bout in Brazil. Moraes' last appearance was a quick half-minute KO of Carson Beebe, who looked equal parts overwhelmed and terrified of the dangerous Muay Thai striker.

Looking to play the role of spoiler en route to becoming champion, Spokane's Rettinghouse presents a stylistic difference as he's keen to go to the ground and submit his opponents. His nickname is "The Finisher" and aside from his last two fights he's lived up to his moniker, with 6 submission wins and 2 knockouts. Rettinghouse earned the title shot following a surprise decision win over Alexis Vila, who is best known for his own crushing power (ask Joe Warren) and run to the Bellator season 6 tournament final.

It would certainly be a stunner if Rettinghouse can win this. The key for him is obviously to put Moraes on his back as soon as possible, or else Moraes has a very clear advantage over him (and everyone else in the WSOF BW roster) as a striker. His punishing leg kicks, powerful punching, versatility, and athleticism are probably going to be far too much for Rettinghouse to handle. There's also no guarantee that if Rettinghouse can get Moraes to the ground that he'll show himself to be the superior grappler, as Moraes is competent in his own right, but it's his best chance for an upset. The obvious pick here is the 6-to-1 favorite Moraes, who has been nothing short of brilliant in World Series of Fighting.

Yushin Okami (29-8) vs. Svetlozar Savov (12-4) - Middleweights

I don't think anyone could've forecast Yushin Okami in this position even as recently as the beginning of 2013. The UFC standout had been a mainstay in the top 10 of the division for years, and it culminated in a 2011 title shot against Anderson Silva. Okami was KO'd by Anderson, then after dominating Tim Boetsch he was stopped by "The Barbarian" in Japan to start 2012. After winning 3 straight following the Boetsch loss, Okami was surprisingly axed by the UFC brass after he was stopped by consensus top 5 middleweight Ronaldo Souza in a co-main event fight. In just three years he went from title challenger to co-main event fighter on Fox Sports 1 to not even co-main event of World Series of Fighting.

Savov is an upstart 25-year-old out of Bulgaria who is making his United States debut. He comes in as the former World Freefight Challenge middleweight champion, an organization based in Slovenia and once home to the legendary Nandor Guelmino. Savov basically has spent his career predominantly in Eastern Europe and has otherwise not faced any competition in Okami's league. He is regarded as a finisher, with 11 of 12 wins coming by knockout or tapout, and he enters this fight with wins in 3 of his last 4.

You don't need me to tell you that it would take a big surprise for Savov to be competitive in this one. Okami can keep him at bay with his long, stinging jab, has always had great takedown defense, and is very savvy on the ground. Savov hasn't beaten anyone of note and unless Okami's chin has eroded so badly, he probably won't catch him with a big shot. If Savov looks for the finish then watch out for his guillotine choke, which he's used to win 7 times out of 8 submission victories.

Best of the Rest

Josh Burkman (26-10) vs. Tyler Stinson (27-9) - Welterweights

Burkman's great run in WSOF, which included the stunning knockdown and then submission of Jon Fitch last June, ended at the hands (well ... legs) of Steve Carl when the two competed for the inaugural belt in October. "The People's Warrior" was put to sleep by Carl's triangle choke, which snapped his 5 fight winning streak. Stinson has competed in several notable promotions, including Bellator, Strikeforce, TitanFC, and he made his WSOF debut this January. The 28-year-old has big KO power and is very keen to get the stoppage as early as possible. Neither man has ever been KO'd but they've both been submitted in a majority of their losses.

John Gunderson (34-15-2) vs. Chris Greutzmacher (11-1) - Featherweights

Gunderson had an unremarkable run in the UFC, losing 2 of 3 fights, all by decision, before getting released in 2010. His post-UFC form hasn't been stellar, but he did pick up wins over Justin Buchholz and Karo Parisyan. He comes into this fight having lost his last 2, including to Dan Lauzon in his WSOF debut. Greutzmacher is an interesting prospect to watch out of the MMA Lab. The 27-year-old has won 10 straight bouts, with 8 coming by stoppage. Greutzmacher's biggest wins have come against Zuffa vets Rolando Delgado and Frank Gomez. A big question mark concerning Chris is his long layoff, as he hasn't competed since June 2012. If he can shake off the ring rust and get an impressive win over Gunderson then he won't be far off from being promoted as a new contender in WSOF's 145 lbs division.

Full Card

Main Card

Steve Carl vs. Rousimar Palhares
Marlon Moraes vs. Josh Rettinghouse
Josh Burkman vs. Tyler Stinson
Yushin Okami vs. Svetlozar Savov
Mike Corey vs. Shane Kruchten

Preliminary Card

Ozzy Dugulubgov vs. Johnny Nunez
Sean Cantor vs. Bryson Hansen
Brenson Hansen vs. Boostayre Nefarios
Phil Dace vs. Danny Davis
Jimmy Jones vs. Rudy Morales
Gil Guardado vs. Jimmy Spicuzza
Tanner Cowan vs. A.J. Williams

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