As fight fans around the world gear up for Ronda Rousey to enter the Octagon this weekend, it’s easy to forget that the “Rowdy” one won’t be the only champion putting her title on the line on Saturday night. The UFC’s women’s bantamweight champion is far and away the most popular fighter in the sport at the moment, breaking down barriers by doing everything from starring in Hollywood blockbusters with the likes of Sly Stallone and Vin Diesel to winning multiple ESPY awards and trash-talking Floyd Mayweather. In fact, Rousey’s star has become so bright that even the rest of the stacked UFC pay-per-view card has gone almost completely ignored while the focus remains on the dominant champion’s presence. Major names like Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, the Nogueira brothers, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and Demian Maia are set to compete at this weekend’s UFC 190 event, but they’ve all been thrown to the wayside in favor of promoting Rousey’s title defense against Bethe Correia. And with former legends and contenders getting overlooked on the UFC 190 card, it should come as no surprise that the World Series of Fighting event set for the same night has been all but forgotten.
As far as WSOF cards go, this weekend’s WSOF 22 event is pretty solid. The main event between veterans Rousimar Palhares and Jake Shields is a really interesting fight that pairs two guys that fans should get a kick out of seeing compete. Marlon Moraes, one of the promotion’s top young stars, will be on hand to defend his bantamweight crown in the co-headliner. Throw in what could be a fun little war between light heavyweight sluggers Mike Kyle and Thiago Silva and you could argue that this is the most star-studded lineup that the WSOF has put together in over a year.
There’s a lot to like about the top of the WSOF 22 fight card, which is why one has to question why the company didn’t choose a different date for the show. The UFC announced its calendar for the entirety of 2015 late last year. While it’s admittedly hard to find a UFC-free weekend, once it became clear that the WSOF would be going head-to-head with Rousey, the promotion had to have known it was going to have a hard time getting the attention of the MMA community that week.
Even if somehow the WSOF main event is able to avoid running directly against the Rousey fight on Saturday, it’s going to be tough to draw viewers away from the rest of the UFC pay-per-view. Many of the fighters on the UFC 190 card are a fraction of what they used to be, but there’s a ton of nostalgia value in watching guys like Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and the Nogueiras step into the cage. After slapping down $60 for the pay-per-view, it’s doubtful that fight fans would switch over to free TV to watch the WSOF broadcast when they also have the option of that kind of star power in the Octagon. And if by some miracle the UFC card turns out to be a string of quick finishes and ends before the WSOF main event, anything Palhares and Shields do is probably going to feel a bit anticlimactic after a hectic night of fights in Brazil.
It’s sad to see a WSOF card of this stature getting overlooked. The headliner between Palhares and Shields is a great fight between two extremely good grapplers, and there seems to be a bit of legitimate bad blood in the Shields camp toward the Brazilian and his tendency to injure fighters by holding on for too long with his submissions. Shields is at his best on the mat, but grappling with Palhares is like playing with fire and a fistful of M-80s. If the fight hits the floor, like many fans are hoping it will, it could turn out to be an awesome chess match between two of the division’s best. Or, Palhares could end things violently because, well, that’s what he does.
Along with a solid main event, the WSOF is also throwing out its best homegrown star for the co-main event. Marlon Moraes has been a staple of the WSOF since he upset Miguel Torres at the inaugural WSOF event in 2012. The 27-year-old bantamweight has been on fire since joining the promotion, having earned seven straight wins and the WSOF 135-pound strap over the last few years. Along with lightweight champ Justin Gaethje, Moraes is one of the two fighters with the most potential on the entire WSOF roster. It’s a shame that he’s not going to get any of the spotlight this weekend with all eyes focused on Rousey and a big UFC pay-per-view. The WSOF actually built this card very well, and the bantamweight champ’s budding stardom could have been helped by the attraction of the two UFC vets in the main event. Instead, it feels like this card is destined to struggle to gain any real traction on Saturday night.
Considering that most of the recent WSOF events have had far less star power in their lineup, it would have made a lot of sense for the company to move the marquee fights on this card to a later event or even have moved the date of the card entirely. Needless to say, a Rousey fight isn’t the kind of card for the WSOF to test itself against. If this was a regular UFC weekend event on Fox Sports 1, a WSOF event of this caliber might be able to steal some viewers or at least make some headlines. However, the WSOF going head-to-head with Rousey and a host of Pride legends in Brazil is something entirely different. Against that kind of competition, the WSOF just doesn’t have the juice to get noticed.