Before UFC 175 takes center stage in this MMA-heavy Independence Day weekend, World Series of Fighting airs live on NBC TV at 4 PM ET/1 PM PT. Lightweight champion Justin Gaethje makes his first title defense against fellow unbeaten prospect Nick Newell, while Jon Fitch meets Dennis Hallman in the co-main event after Fitch had about 64 prior opponent switches.
It's a good card and WSOF's best to date and it's worth at least some of your attention. There's a good mix of UFC vets and talented prospects populating this show, so let's look at the big questions that hover over each main card fight:
Just to note: A scheduled lightweight fight between TJ O'Brien and Luis Palomino was scrapped at the last minute.
Justin Gaethje vs. Nick Newell: How good are both of these guys?
Serving as the main event in Daytona Beach, Florida are these two 11-0 fighters with a bright future in the sport ahead of them. Justin Gaethje is the lightweight champ and has looked like an unstoppable beast in World Series of Fighting. His speed, power, and brutally accurate striking has made him one of the top lightweights outside of the UFC. He's already dispatched such notable ex-UFCers such as Brian Cobb, Dan Lauzon, and Drew Fickett, and he won the title in less than 75 seconds against Rich Patishnock, who admittedly was a last minute replacement. Gaethje's diverse attacks set him apart from the rest of the division, particularly his usage of leg kicks, standing elbows, and knees.
Newell's story obviously can't be told properly without referencing the fact that he is a one-armed fighter, having no left arm due to a congenital disorder. Yet here he is today, a standout wrestler in high school and college and a dangerous submission specialist with 8 of his 11 wins coming via tapout. Newell won his WSOF bouts over Sabah Fadai and Keon Caldwell in a combined 3:28.
If Gaethje proves that Newell can't exploit his weakness -- fighting from his back -- or if he prevents the opportunity to test it altogether, then it'll be a really really brutal night for Newell. But many people (self included) have doubted whether Newell could handle an increased level of competition and so far he's steadily kept up his dominance. Signs point to a Gaethje win, but by no means should you completely write off Newell as a challenger.
Jon Fitch vs. Dennis Hallman: How much does Jon Fitch have left in the tank?
Jon Fitch's days as a top UFC welterweight crashed the moment he was flattened by Johny Hendricks and then ragdolled by Demian Maia, but even after his shock release he was still expected to be a cut above the rest of the welterweights at World Series of Fighting. When Josh Burkman dropped him and put him to sleep with a guillotine choke it really put into question just how far he'd fallen.
A sluggish performance against Marcelo Alfaya proved to be just enough for him to scrape by with a split decision. At first, Fitch was due to fight Rousimar Palhares for Palhares' title, but that was scrapped when Palhares pulled out and Jake Shields stepped in. Shields' injury canceled those plans and Burkman was lined up for a 3rd fight with his rival, but that wasn't meant to be. Now Fitch has drawn Dennis Hallman, a UFC veteran best known for his two wins over Matt Hughes and the infamous speedo he wore versus Brian Ebersole. Hallman is 39, well past his best, but his strength has always been his wrestling and submissions, particularly his chokes.
Don't get me wrong, Fitch is likely to win this even if he resorts to a kickboxing duel, but how he performs against Hallman will determine whether or not he can even still be competitive with 170's best at WSOF. At 36 years of age it seems that the wear and tear has caught up with him, but just how badly has it affected his game? Hallman is a live dog in this one and it's evident to me that Fitch's wrestling (offensively and defensively) has eroded, so I think we're in for a close fight.
Melvin Guillard vs. Gesias Cavalcante: Can Guillard salvage his career?
It's fair to say that after his lackluster performance against Michael Johnson that Melvin Guillard's release was inevitable. While he wasn't exactly a beacon of consistently winning, he at least was reliable enough to produce some good action regardless of the outcome. When the action ceased, so did his UFC tenure. So here we are on this 4th of July weekend looking at a post-UFC life for Guillard, who faces "JZ" Cavalcante.
Like Guillard, "JZ" is in the middle of a bad stretch, winning just 4 of his last 11 fights, but he is 2-1 in WSOF. The Brazilian has spent significant parts of his career in Hero's, Dream, and Strikeforce, and has touched down in this promotion. He submitted TJ O'Brien before getting dominated by Justin Gaethje and losing via (perhaps a questionable) cuts stoppage, but then returned to the winner's group with a TKO of UFC vet Tyson Griffin.
This is more or less a fight to salvage relevancy for both men, but primarily for Guillard. It's a fight where Guillard should have an advantage on the feet both in overall striking skills and athleticism, but Cavalcante clearly can boss Guillard on the ground with his dangerous BJJ skills.
Cody Bollinger vs. Pablo Alfonso: Who can emerge as the next bantamweight contender?
Marlon Moraes needs challengers, and the Bollinger vs. Alfonso winner is probably next in line. Bollinger's problem on TUF 18 was well-documented, as he became the first fighter in the show's history to be kicked off the show for missing weight. Bollinger was obviously denied a UFC contract and immediately signed with WSOF before TUF 18 even ended. While not particularly entertaining, he did enough in the eyes of the judges to defeat Tyson Nam by decision.
Alfonso's only win in WSOF actually came at featherweight against one of the sport's former top champions. He knocked down and then choked out ex-WEC champ and #1 bantamweight in the world Miguel Torres back in October. Obviously that version of Torres is a ghost of his former self, but in terms of name value it's definitely Alfonso's best victory.
As much as Bollinger was ridiculed for his weight-cutting mishap, his actual skills weren't in question, and he's still a viable prospect in a relatively thin division. This is only his 2nd fight at BW, while Alfonso is making his 135 lbs debut. If we're being brutally honest, and this isn't to degrade either fighter but instead trump up praise for the champion, even if the winner does receive a title shot, I can't see these two posing a threat to Moraes. From the standpoint of breaking down this fight, Alfonso has the better submissions and good control from top position, but Bollinger is the better overall MMA fighter, and his physical tools and long reach could pose problems for Alfonso.
Bloody Elbow will have full event coverage of WSOF 11 on Saturday afternoon, with the preliminary card to be streamed right here at 2 PM ET. International viewers can watch the whole card here right up to the main event. Here's the full fight lineup:
Justin Gaethje vs. Nick Newell
Jon Fitch vs. Dennis Hallman
Gesias Cavalcante vs. Melvin Guillard
Cody Bollinger vs. Pablo Alfonso
Kendrick Miree vs. Jake Heun
Neiman Gracie vs. Dustin Holyko
Jose Caceres vs. Maurice Salmon
Muhammed Dereese vs. Rashaun Spencer