The World Series of Fighting returns on Saturday night for WSOF 28, which airs live on NBC Sports Network from the Next Level Sports Complex in Garden Grove, Calif.
The card is headlined by World Series of Fighting bantamweight champion Marlon Moraes and No. 4-ranked contender Joseph Barajas. The co-main event of the evening pits No. 2-ranked bantamweight Timur Valiev against No. 3 Chris Gutierrez. Wait, if Valiev is ranked second and Gutierrez is third, then how come Barajas… OK, patience, we’ll get there. The card also features the return of Jamie Yager.
The WSOF is co-promoting this card alongside BAMMA USA. BAMMA USA’s Badbeat 18 event will serve as the 10-fight appetizer for the WSOF’s four-fight main card.
Let’s talk about this card from a macro perspective before we get into the fights. The World Series of Fighting is taking a good approach through co-promotion. The company did it with V3 for its previous card, and this time around it’s teaming up with BAMMA USA. It helps fill out the bout list, and it would be safe to wager that the WSOF is not the responsible party for paying the Badbeat 18 fighters. The logistics are probably less involved and the WSOF can focus its concern on filling out the card that’s going to be on NBCSN. Furthermore, it’s a huge opportunity for the BAMMA USA fighters to make an impression on the powers that be within the WSOF and reach a larger audience.
The WSOF 28 main card kicks off at 9 p.m. ET and airs live on NBC Sports Network. The prelims, meanwhile, are slated to stream live online.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room. Why is the fourth-ranked fighter fighting for the belt on the same card that features the company’s No. 2 and No. 3 bantamweights? This is a question that Combat Press will be posing to WSOF head Ray Sefo on Friday at the weigh-ins, but here are some theories: 1) It’s smart booking to put the two guys the WSOF ultimately wants to see fight in a high-profile fight on the same card. The goal here is to have Marlon Moraes fight Timur Valiev down the road. So these are match-ups that have the potential for each fighter to showcase themselves in advance of that fight. 2) If the challenger gets hurt before Saturday, the title fight can only improve.
OK, now let’s move on to talk about Moraes and his current opponent, Joseph Barajas, specifically.
Moraes may be the best fighter competing this weekend, even though each of the major three promotions has a card this weekend. Moraes is a well-rounded fighter who finishes equally by knockout and submission. He strikes his opponents at all levels (head, body and legs). He has some spinning and flying techniques, plus solid jiu-jitsu. He’s sort of a slightly less dynamic mix of his training partner Frankie Edgar and his countryman José Aldo. He’s similar in movement to Edgar, but he doesn’t move his head as much. He’s a good defensive wrestler, like Aldo, which should allow him to keep his feet and to do damage, on and with them.
Barajas is a grinder, no mistaking it. He is looking to close the distance, take his opponent down, pass and finish with ground-and-pound. He’s got a gas tank like a Prius, and he is relentless and opportunistic in his takedowns. Barajas takes what is available to him. He has a nice inside trip from the front head position.
What is each fighter’s path to victory?
For Moraes, it’s to let it fly. He’s the more dynamic of the two fighters, and he has an edge in the striking and the jiu-jitsu. There will be openings on the feet when Barajas goes for takedowns. If Moraes can stay on the outside, he can find the openings in the challenger’s stand-up game. Also, Barajas got caught in a submission against Sirwan Kakai that was similar to how Moraes caught Sheymon Moraes. So, Barajas can be had in a scramble.
Barajas, meanwhile, must stick to the Eddie Alvarez/Josh Hill game plan. He could pattenr his strategy after Alvarez’s approach against Anthony Pettis — in other words, close the distance and take away what Moraes wants to do, which is to beat up his opponent in spectacular fashion on the feet. If Barajas gives the champ too much space, then he will cut the lights out on the title hopeful. In his fight with Moraes, Hill demonstrated that a fighter has to dictate pace against the Brazilian. While Moraes can be an aggressive fighter, there are times when he lets his opponent determine the terms of the fight, even when he is coming forward. Hill did that. If Hill had been a little more disciplined and sharper with his counters, he could have maybe turned three of the five rounds in his favor. Moraes can be lulled into fighting his opponent’s fight. The problem (for Barajas, anyhow) is, he still may be better even when fighting in what is essentially not his ideal fight.
Barajas will get caught in the pursuit of a takedown in the second or third and finished.
In the second “showcase” fight, Timur Valiev holds most of the edges over his bantamweight opponent, Chris Gutierrez, a game fighter who has been a champion in other promotions.
As the saying goes, it’s better to be lucky than good. Well, Valiev is both. Nicknamed “Lucky,” he is a very good championship-level fighter. He has a variety of strikes and rarely falls into striking patterns. A Jackson-Winkeljohn trained fighter, he comes into his fights fit with a full tank of gas and a high pace. He lost his first professional fight, but hasn’t suffered a defeat since. He’s an action fighter who is always pressing his opponents and looking to finish with strikes. He’s a three-level (head, body and legs) kicker that closes distance and cuts the cage off well.
Gutierrez is a little more deliberate. He’s a very economical striker, seeming to only throw strikes he knows to be good. He likes the oblique kick to keep his opponent at distance and has a strong left low kick. He has some good strikes, including a spinning body kick, but he doesn’t tend to throw them in bunches. Gutierrez seems to prefer a stand-up fight and protects his head with his feet more so than with his hands, which he keeps low.
Valiev is superior on the feet. Despite being three inches shorter than Gutierrez, Valiev only suffers from a half inch reach disadvantage. He can press Gutierrez and likely find openings, but Gutierrez is known to throw hard in counters and could catch him. Valiev is a much more active top fighter than Gutierrez is on bottom. If he shows Gutierrez respect but can still be aggressive in exploiting the openings, they will be there and Valiev could make it a quick night.
The answer to Gutierrez beating Valiev may be found in Valiev’s fight with Tito Jones. Jones was patient, kept his distance and moved his head. This is a game plan that Gutierrez can utilize. He can be picky with his strikes, but he just needs to make them counters and not leads. If he can let the fight come to him and understand that Valiev is going to push the pace, that may be where he can score points. Valiev has never been finished, but if he can focus on picking his spots and being patient, he can maybe win the rounds.
Valiev will hold up his end of the Moraes bargain and defeat Gutierrez. Valiev will get a strike through and finish from top position. There’s also the possibility that Gutierrez can stay out of harm’s way, like Jones did, and still end up losing a decision.
When Jamie Yager steps into the cage at WSOF 28, it will be his first time in action in more than three years. That’s a long break for anyone, but even more so for a guy coming off two losses. Yager showed promise early in his career after picking up a couple of wins on The Ultimate Fighter before being eliminated. While the layoff has been long, it hasn’t been without evolution. Yager is now a Muay Thai black belt under Rafael Cordeiro. That’s a heavy credential to wield, and it will be interesting to see if the time Yager has spent in the last few years at Kings MMA has helped to fine tune his game. The fight is at 170 pounds, which is the weight he fought at in his last fight for Bellator — he was a 185er when he was on TUF — and he said in a BAMMA USA interview that he feels quicker at this weight. Yager is a true wildcard at this point. He’s always been a talented guy, but he has gone through a true transformation in the last couple years and may emerge as a new man.
Tom Gloudeman has obviously been busier in the last few years than Yager. He’s a guy who fights every six or eight months. His last fight, which took place last June, was a submission win. There’s not a lot of tape available on Gloudeman. A lot of his fights were at 155 pounds, but he was finished three times by featherweights. His finishes are largely on the ground. Five of his eight wins came by submission.
Most fights are determined by who controls distance and level. Yager wants distance. Gloudeman wants to close it. It’s the in-between area that will determine the fight. If Gloudeman is able to get inside Yager’s extended strikes, can he follow through to takedowns or does he fall prey to shorter strikes? With Yager having gained his black belt in Muay Thai, Gloudeman needs to be very concerned with knees and elbows in close, particularly because of the height difference. Any delayed takedown attempt leaves Gloudeman in range of Yager’s knees, which we can only imagine are improved.
There’s just too much to like about Yager in this fight. He was already a talented guy and the people he has surrounded himself with should lead to an improved skill set and a more mature fighter. Yager is better on the feet than Gloudeman, but a first-round knockout seems out of reach. Yager needs to get the rust out, so a late knockout is more likely.
Andrew Ramm is a card-carrying submission fighter. He teaches and trains at 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu. That isn’t to say that he won’t stand with opponents, but it’s just that he wins by submission and loses when he either gets knocked out or takes punishment on his feet. His last fight with Andre Ricardo was a war. Ramm took some big shots and kept coming. This is largely the criticism. Ramm can be hittable and takes more punishment than he needs to, whereas taking a more defensive posture on the feet may help him get the takedowns he wants to and then submit his opponents. The Greg Parker fight is a great example. Ramm still took a lot of shots, but he was working toward something throughout. Maybe Parker made himself more available to the submission than Ricardo did, but Ramm knew the advantage and stuck to it. He shouldn’t be looking for gunfights.
Ozzie Alvarez gets to business quickly. He’s 3-1 in his last four, and they are all first-round finishes — two knockouts and a submission. Alvarez, a Kings MMA fighter, so obviously he gets good work no matter what. What is unique to this camp is that he was able to train with Michael Bisping’s camp as Bisping prepares for Anderson Silva. Alvarez is a well-rounded fighter, but he prefers to stand and look for a finish. There’s a lot to like about Alvarez. His head seems to be in the right space and the skills are coming together. It’d be nice to have a little more tape on Alvarez.
Ramm has great submissions. If he can protect himself on the way to them, they may be there for him. He has to make a more dedicated effort to move his head or close the distance. He has a strong chin, but that can’t be the main defense against strikes. The kid is as tough as nails and he will go through hell to get to what he wants, but he shouldn’t have to. He can find a submission, but he will get blasted if he’s not careful.
Alvarez should keep the distance. If Ramm is willing to be hit, then hit him. A lot. The key is to keeping the strikes under control. Slips and misses can lead to bad positioning, which may end the fight and open things up for a submission win for Ramm. Alvarez must stay under control, remain calm and understand where the danger is. If Ramm is dropped, going in for the kill may seem promising, but it could lead to Ramm’s hands raised.
I’m gonna take Alvarez, mostly because Ramm is too open to being hit. Alvarez isn’t the kind of guy you want to engage with that behavior. The pick is Alvarez in the second by knockout.