In late 2013, Cody Bollinger’s face was recognizable to fight fans for all the wrong reasons. He had been mentally broken. He had quit when it counted. He gave up. Bollinger had the golden opportunity in front of him. He was a contestant on The Ultimate Fighter 18 and simply needed to make weight in order to continue, but he couldn’t do it.
Bollinger suffered the consequences. He was booted from the TUF house. His chance at a UFC career was seemingly gone. But, now, Bollinger is attempting to redeem himself. He’s off to a good start. The TUF alum emerged from the house and used his high profile from the reality series to land a contract with the World Series of Fighting. After picking up wins in his first two WSOF appearances, he’s now stepping in on short notice to headline the promotion’s 13th venture opposite the promotion’s reigning bantamweight champion, Marlon Moraes.
It may be a catchweight bout, ironically enough, but Bollinger has the chance to remind people that he’s more than just the person they saw on a reality show. He has the chance to prove he can take on a top bantamweight and succeed. But can he seize this opportunity?
Bollinger will get his chance on Saturday at the top of a bill that is heavier on prospects than it is on name talent. The TUF alum and the champion are joined by a lineup that includes another TUF alum, Keon Caldwell, and up-and-comers Timur Valiev and Frankie Perez. The evening’s action kicks off on wsof.com at 6 p.m. ET with a seven-fight preliminary card. The four-fight main card starts at 9 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports Network.
140-pound Catchweight: Cody Bollinger (16-2) vs. Marlon Moraes (13-4-1)
Marlon Moraes was set to defend his WSOF bantamweight title against Josh Hill, but when Hill pulled out of the fight on 10 days’ notice, Moraes was left with a catchweight bout against former The Ultimate Fighter contestant Cody Bollinger.
Bollinger is probably best remembered by fight fans for his failure to make weight for his bout with Anthony Gutierrez on TUF 18. The veteran bantamweight competitor was 14-2 with one no-contest when he entered the reality show competition and picked up a TKO victory over Rafael de Freitas to make it into the TUF house, but he broke mentally during the weight cut. His exposure on the show did lead to one big positive in his career: he was more attractive to other promotions for his name recognition. The WSOF snagged him up, and he’s delivered thus far. The Cobra Kai product made his promotional debut in January with a decision win over Tyson Nam, then returned in July and scored a first-round submission finish of Pablo Alfonso. The 23-year-old’s extensive record includes six submission wins and four victories via TKO.
Moraes has found his groove over the last three years. He debuted in 2007, but had an uninspiring 6-4-1 mark by late 2011. Then, he landed in the XFC, where he notched victories over Chris Manuel and Jarrod Card. In late 2012, he signed on with the WSOF and appeared on the promotion’s first show, where he eked out a split decision over former WEC bantamweight champion Miguel Torres. He has made four more appearances under the WSOF banner, and each time he emerged victorious. Along the way, he captured the bantamweight strap with a five-round decision win over Josh Rettinghouse. The 26-year-old has five wins by some form of knockout and three via submission.
This may be a 140-pound catchweight affair, but it’s scheduled for five rounds and Moraes is viewing it as a title fight. The champ will give up four inches in height to Bollinger, but only a half inch of reach. His early career stumbles might lead to some doubt in his ability to overcome a tough fighter like Bollinger, but Moraes is highly versed in the stand-up and grappling departments. He has the power and explosiveness to end fights in quick and devastating fashion. Three fights in his current seven-fight winning streak ended by way of a first-round knockout, and two of those wins came before the 50-second mark.
Bollinger will need to work his clinch game and use his wrestling base to secure takedowns. He lacks the striking game to contend with Moraes on the feet, and if he can’t get the fight to the mat, he’s going to be in trouble. The explosiveness displayed by Moraes in previous fights should make an appearance again in this affair. Bollinger has to close the distance to get the clinch or shoot for a takedown, but that provides the perfect opportunity for Moraes to score with knees to the body or head. Moraes has put away Card, Nam and Carson Beebe with strikes, and he should be able to do the same to Bollinger by punishing the TUF alum whenever the wrestler attempts to close the gap and tie up the champ. This one ends in a knockout finish before the midway point.
LW: Keon Caldwell (10-2) vs. Ozzy Dugulubgov (5-2)
Unlike the WSOF cards that preceded it, WSOF 13 is not a display of the depth of former UFC talent on the promotion’s roster. Instead, it serves as a stage for several of the promotion’s prospects, including lightweights Keon Caldwell and Ozzy Dugulubgov, who meet in the evening’s co-headliner.
The 24-year-old Caldwell has a promising record, but he has struggled to step up and post a win over a significant opponent. He has had two chances thus far. The first came in a 2010 fight against Dhiego Lima. Lima submitted Caldwell with just 16 seconds remaining in the opening frame. The second opportunity came under the WSOF banner in Caldwell’s return to action following two years on the sidelines. His opponent, the surging Nick Newell, handed him another submission loss. The Team Reality fighter has otherwise found complete success, scoring nine wins by some form of knockout and one via submission. Caldwell was a contestant on The Ultimate Fighter 13, but he lasted until just the second episode of the season before asking to go home.
Dugulubgov might be just 5-2, but he will be a tough opponent for Caldwell. The 25-year-old went 3-1 under the Cage Fury Fighting Championships banner before signing with the WSOF. In his promotional debut, the Renzo Gracie product worked his way to a unanimous decision over Chris Wade. He returned six months later and submitted Andrew Osborne. His most recent performance ended in disappointment when he dropped a split verdict to Jonathan Nunez in a fight Dugulubgov arguably won. The New Jersey-based fighter has picked up two wins by way of TKO and two via submission.
Caldwell is a striker who will enjoy a five-inch height advantage over Dugulubgov, but it might not be enough. Dugulubgov will constantly press for the clinch and takedowns, forcing Caldwell to play defense while seeking to connect with a knockout blow. Caldwell won’t have a chance to find his rhythm on the feet before he’s planted on the ground. Caldwell’s submission defense has always been a weak spot in his game and it’ll lead to his downfall in this match-up.
BW: Isaiah Chapman (6-1) vs. Timur Valiev (7-1)
WSOF bantamweight champion Marlon Moraes is fighting Cody Bollinger in a catchweight bout in the evening’s headliner, but it may not be long before he’s fighting the winner of this intriguing clash between 135-pound prospects Isaiah Chapman and Timur Valiev.
Valiev is the brother of rising UFC fighter Rustam Khabilov. The Red Fury Fight Team product trains alongside Khabilov at Jackson’s MMA, but he has also worked with Frankie Edgar and Edson Barboza. The 24-year-old has a well-rounded background in the martial arts, and he has claimed numerous pankration and grappling honors. The Dagestani fighter lost his pro debut in 2010, but he has rebounded with a seven-fight winning streak that includes three TKO victories and one submission win. Valiev made his WSOF debut in his last appearance, where he landing a flying knee against Adam Acquaviva for a third-round TKO finish.
Chapman enters this contest on a two-fight winning streak. The Ohio-based fighter has only been fighting professionally since 2012, but his amateur career extends back to 2009 and includes 12 wins in 13 outings. “The Beast,” who is also 24 years old, has fought exclusively as a pro for NAAFS, where he clashed with Bryan Goldsby for the promotion’s bantamweight title. Goldsby scored a fourth-round TKO finish, thereby handing Chapman his only pro loss. Chapman’s current streak comes against opponents who now hold a combined 15-5 record, whereas his first four wins came against a set of fighters who now stand at 14-20. The Rock Hard MMA fighter has one knockout, one TKO, one submission and three decisions in his win column as a pro, but his amateur record includes six submission victories and three wins by some form of knockout.
Chapman has the ability to finish opponents wherever the fight may go, but he’ll have his work cut out for him in this fight. Valiev is still developing as a fighter, but his fight against Acquaviva provided a flash of his potential. He is a high-volume striker who can overwhelm opponents with an excellent mix of punches, knees and kicks. He’s also capable of changing levels and scoring with takedowns. His grappling game makes him a threat on the mat as well. Chapman suffered a TKO loss against a middling fighter in Goldsby, whose record now stands at 17-16. If Goldsby could finish Chapman, Valiev has a good shot at doing the same.
Valiev will throw a lot of strikes in Chapman’s direction until something connects. Chapman may survive the first stanza, but he won’t make it through the second round before falling victim to a Valiev TKO finish.
LW: Tom Marcellino (7-2) vs. Frankie Perez (8-1)
The WSOF main card kicks off with a battle between Ricardo Almeida and Renzo Gracie students. Ricardo Almeida disciple Frankie Perez is set to clash with Renzo Gracie Latham fighter Tom Marcellino.
Perez has spent his entire three-year pro career in the Ring of Combat promotion. The 25-year-old picked up five submission wins, two decision victories and a TKO while running his record up to an unblemished 8-0. Perez then challenged Chris Wade for the ROC lightweight crown. He almost claimed the title, but fell just short in the split decision verdict. Perez has the benefit of training alongside Frankie Edgar, Edson Barboza and reigning WSOF bantamweight champion—and WSOF 13 headliner—Marlon Moraes.
Marcellino made his pro debut in 2006, but he didn’t fight again until 2011. He picked up wins, including two submission finishes, in his first four fights, but then stumbled in consecutive fights in which he dropped a decision to Andrew Osborne and suffered a knockout loss courtesy of a flying knee from Brenson Hansen. The loss to Hansen came in Marcellino’s lone appearance in the WSOF. The 30-year-old rebounded by returning to the regional circuit and picking up three more victories, including two via submission. The best opponents Marcellino has faced now sport 4-3 records, and his loss to Osborne, a fighter who now sits at 7-8, is cause for concern.
Marcellino has done well outside of the two-fight skid, but the level of competition just isn’t there. He’s a grappler, like Perez, which could lead to either an interesting chess match on the mat in this bout or a fight where two grapplers decide to test their stand-up skills. In either case, Perez would seem to hold the edge over his opponent. Marcellino may be able to survive until the final bell, but he’ll go on to drop the decision to Perez.
Preliminary Card Predictions
WW: Tenyeh Dixon (11-10) vs. Emmanuel Walo (6-1-1)
Walo by unanimous decision
Women’s FlyW: Katlyn Chookagian (1-0) vs. Brigitte Narcise (0-1)
Chookagian by third-round submission
WW: Matt Secor (4-2) vs. Brett Shoenfelt (7-5)
Secor by second-round submission
LW: Nick Browne (1-0) vs. Sidney Outlaw (3-0)
Outlaw by third-round submission
LW: Jonathan Hughes (2-4) vs. Daisuke Yamaji (2-0)
Yamaji by second-round TKO
LW: Luciano Cristovam (0-1) vs. Francisco Isata (2-1)
Isata by first-round submission
FlyW: Sidemar Honorio (8-5) vs. Matthew Lozano (4-2)
Lozano by unanimous decision
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