So, let’s start with how we got here.
The original bout paired Jon Fitch and Jake Shields for the vacant 170-pound title of the World Series of Fighting. The title had been stripped from Rousimar Palhares after the Brazilian showed a preference for putting a little something extra on his submissions. Palhares held his submissions just long enough after a tap to send a message. That message cost him his belt. With Palhares out of the picture, the two best welterweights in the WSOF were deemed to be Fitch and Shields. Shields, who had lost to Palhares, submitted Brian Foster and Ryan Ford previously in the WSOF cage. Fitch had also lost to Palhares, but he is coming off a victory over fellow UFC castoff Yushin Okami. The stage was set. Then Jake Shields read the fine print.
Shields, citing a disagreement over his contract, pulled out of the fight. His issue? The WSOF is playing “bullshit little games,” he says, the crux of which seems to be that there is a championship clause that would kick in should Shields win his next fight. This would mean Shields is locked into his old contract if he wins. There is no out, and the WSOF isn’t giving him a non-title option either. It’s not about the money, but about the flexibility. For its part, the WSOF is saying Shields signed the contract and therefore he should honor it. This is all according to Dave Doyle of MMA Fighting.
Let’s cut to the chase. Shields and the WSOF are both right… from their own perspectives. The by-product of this stalemate? Fitch is now set to fight João Zeferino.
That’s actually good news.
This fight could be a good one. It all depends on how you assess Zeferino based on his showing in the recent eight-man tournament. I tend to assess him as a wrecking ball who was blasting that tournament on the floor. The loss in the final, well, credit goes more to Brian Foster than it detracts from Zeferino. Foster made the necessary adjustment, while Zeferino thought it was gonna be more of the same from their meeting earlier in the night. It got the Brazilian cracked.
Also, while it seems like Zeferino is coming up in weight, that’s not the case. He has fought at 170 and 185 pounds for most of his career. He poses a lot of problems for Fitch, both on the ground and in his willingness to stand and trade.
What can we say about Fitch that hasn’t already been said? He’s a grinder. He’s done it his whole career and doesn’t show any signs of stopping. The one thing I have always wanted to see from Fitch is the dirty boxing. He controls the upper body as well as anybody. Wearing his opponents out is the name of the game. Fitch is out to break his opponent. He was the second or third best welterweight fighter for what seemed like five years.
The upside to this fight could be Zeferino’s aggressive submission game. Outside of the Foster loss, the last two years of his career consist almost entirely of submission wins. We know Fitch can be had — Palhares got him. True, Palhares may have the best MMA submissions at welterweight in all of MMA, but Zeferino is slick as well. Fitch is 3-2 under the WSOF banner. When he’s not winning decisions, he’s tapping the mat.
This seems to be much more of an action fight than the Shields fight. The name appeal of that fight was certainly higher, but this new pairing has the making of maybe being a better fight. Shields brings a high-level grappling game, but there just doesn’t seem to be the pop in his stand-up that Zeferino shows.
Now, the intangibles.
Zeferino made an impression in the recent tournament. He showed himself to be a top fighter for the promotion. He seems to really want to take the next step in his career. A Zeferino win could help give the WSOF some flexibility with its fighters to sell them on having a willingness to move around in weight. A guy like Zeferino could in theory contend for the belt at 155, 170 and 185 pounds.
If Fitch were to claim the crown, it affects him outside the cage as well. The WSOF is entrenched as the No. 3 promotion. Fitch is still looking to fight and win, but he seems to have one eye on what is next. It may be a role as a fighter advocate. He is at the forefront of the fighter-union movement. As he transitions into that world, it will carry a lot more weight if he is a current or former champion. This means more to those he may be dealing with outside of the cage — lawmakers and such.
In short, Zeferino is fighting for his career and Fitch is fighting for his legacy. The stakes are high. Who these fighters are and who they look to be, that’s what makes this an exciting fight.