Every promotion has its premier division. In the UFC’s heyday, the light heavyweight division overshadowed all other weight classes. Strikeforce, and Pride before it, showcased an impossibly large roster of top heavyweights. Tachi Palace Fights garnered attention for its flyweights. In the case of the World Series of Fighting, the spotlight falls on its welterweight stable.
The promotion certainly has talent at other weights, but the company has put together something special at 170 pounds. From reigniting the careers of Josh Burkman and Steve Carl, to providing a showcase platform for its controversial champion, Rousimar Palhares, and UFC contender-turned-castoff Jon Fitch, the WSOF has brought together some of the best talent on the free-agent market. When the UFC decided that Jake Shields was on the decline, the WSOF scooped up the former Strikeforce middleweight champion to add to its impressive roster.
Now, Shields, an immediate title contender, is set to fight for his chance to prove that the UFC jettisoned him far too soon. Shields enters WSOF 17 as the obvious next challenger to Palhares, but first he must conquer another challenge.
That challenge comes from another fighter whose UFC tenure came to a premature end. Brian Foster entered the UFC in 2009 and stumbled to a 1-2 start with the promotion, but he turned things around and won two in a row with the promotion. Injuries forced him to the sidelines, and the UFC opted to part ways with the welterweight in 2011. The UFC’s loss is the WSOF’s gain. Foster reeled off six wins over his next seven appearances before sliding right in to the headlining slot in his first WSOF outing. Should he manage to stun Shields in their welterweight battle, Foster could be staring down a title shot of his own and a chance at redemption.
The welterweight tilt tops a lineup filled with prospects. Jonathan Nunez will look to establish himself as a legitimate threat in the lightweight division when he meets veteran Brian Cobb in the co-headliner. Middleweights Krasimir Mladenov and Brendan Kornberger square off in a battle of undefeated prospects. Rounding out the main card, bantamweight Bryson Hansen takes on Rudy Morales and welterweight Danny Davis Jr. looks to extend the longest winning streak of his career when he clashes with The Ultimate Fighter alum Adam Cella.
The five-fight preliminary card airs live on nbcsports.com at 7 p.m. ET. The main card follows on the NBC Sports Network at 9 p.m. ET.
WW: Jake Shields (30-7-1) vs. Brian Foster (22-6)
Following a Strikeforce middleweight title reign and a 4-3 (1 NC) stint with the UFC, Jake Shields has landed in the WSOF, where he joins one of the promotion’s deepest divisions in the hunt for a title which currently resides around the waist of fellow UFC castoff Rousimar Palhares. Shields made his entrance into the WSOF cage with a win over Ryan Ford, and now he steps up to meet fellow UFC veteran Brian Foster. The winner is likely to make the short list for consideration as the next challenger to face Palhares.
Shields and Palhares share the distinction of having their UFC careers cut prematurely short. In Palhares’s case, the end came as the result of his habit of holding on to submissions far too long after the referee has stepped in. Shields, meanwhile, suffered from some underwhelming performances — a lackluster win over Tyron Woodley; a decision loss to Hector Lombard — and hadn’t exactly endeared himself to UFC President Dana White. The expert grappler did, however, challenge for the UFC welterweight strap held at the time by Georges St-Pierre and posted victories over Martin Kampmann, Yoshihiro Akiyama and Demian Maia, in addition to the aforementioned Woodley. While White may have pegged Shields as being “on the downswing” of his career, the Cesar Gracie fighter was able to add to his resume in his WSOF debut with a win over the promotion’s Canadian welterweight champion, the aforementioned Ford. Shields ended Ford’s night in the first round by way of a rear-naked choke.
In Foster, Shields is facing a 28-fight veteran who is now more than four years removed from his last UFC outing. The 30-year-old Foster is another fighter whose UFC release seemed a bit premature. He posted a 3-2 mark inside the Octagon and won his last two fights with the promotion, but he required surgery after a pre-fight physical revealed a brain hemorrhage and then sustained a burst testicle during training that extended his absence from competition. The setbacks led to his UFC release and turned Foster into a journeyman fighter who has since made stops in seven different promotions, including Cage Warriors and Titan FC. Along the way, Foster, whose UFC victories included a submission finish of Matt Brown, added to his resume with a submission finish of Jack Mason and a decision victory over fellow UFC veteran Gilbert Smith. Foster’s only loss since his UFC release came via submission to another UFC vet, Daniel Roberts.
The 36-year-old Shields appears to be the biggest remaining threat remaining for Palhares on the WSOF roster. Although he ran into his share of setbacks under the UFC banner, Shields can hardly be faulted for losses to St-Pierre, Lombard and Jake Ellenberger. Furthermore, he also delivered wins against some of the promotion’s fighters who remain contenders to this day. Foster may have found some success in his own UFC tenure, but wins against Brock Larson and Forrest Petz hardly count as being on the same level as Shields’s victories over Woodley and Maia. Yes, Foster did beat Brown, but that was before everything started to click for Brown. Adding to the uphill battle for Foster in this fight, the veteran has suffered five of his six losses by way of submission.
What we have here is a battle of grapplers. Foster does have nine wins by some form of knockout and has dabbled in kickboxing, but he’s destined to find himself on the mat with Shields early and often in this affair. There’s just no comparison between the grappling skills of these two men. While both combatants have excellent offensive games on the ground, Foster lacks the submission defense to remain competitive. Shields, an ADCC bronze medalist and Pan-Am gold medalist, will certainly have his opponent outmatched on the canvas, and he’s not exactly an easy knockout either. Foster might hang in there, only to lose on the scorecards. However, it’s more likely that he falls, and falls quickly, to a submission from Shields.
LW: Brian Cobb (20-8) vs. Jonathan Nunez (5-0)
Beyond the headlining duo of Shields and Foster, Brian Cobb stands as the most recognizable name on this WSOF card. The 34-year-old lightweight has a decade of experience spanning 28 fights, and he’ll add another contest to that resume when he takes on undefeated prospect Jonathan Nunez in the evening’s co-headliner.
Cobb is seeking to right the ship after a competitive showing against Justin Gaethje resulted in Cobb’s second loss in three fights. The UFC veteran — he appeared once in the Octagon and lost to Terry Etim — had entered the WSOF following a loss to Antonio McKee under the MFC banner. He won his WSOF debut at the promotion’s first event, but then lost to Gaethje in June 2013. Cobb has been out of action since the loss, making this his first fight in a year and a half.
Syndicate MMA’s Nunez has a chance to turn heads in this affair. The 29-year-old debuted in 2012 and put up four wins, but those victories came against opponents who have a current combined mark of 9-12. His WSOF debut came in early 2014 against Ozzy Dugulubgov and marked Nunez’s first win over a significant opponent. Nunez had to work hard for the victory, a split decision verdict, but it added to a resume that already featured two TKO stoppages and a first-round submission finish.
Nunez is a well-rounded prospect, but he’s faced with a big challenge in this fight. Cobb is a tough fighter who does his best work on the mat and is capable of holding his own on the feet. Cobb was able to hang in there into the third round with a knockout artist like Gaethje, and he has only suffered one submission loss in the last seven-plus years.
Cobb’s long layoff is the one x-factor in this match-up that may work in Nunez’s favor. If Cobb can’t shake off the ring rust, Nunez might manage to edge out another hard-fought, razor-close decision. Yet, Cobb has to be considered the favorite heading into this affair. Nunez barely outworked Dugulubgov, and Nunez’s most impressive stoppage wins came against opponents who were 0-0 and 1-2 when they squared off with the Syndicate MMA fighter. Cobb, meanwhile, has put up admirable efforts against the likes of Gaethje and McKee and posted victories over such notables as Ronys Torres, Drew Fickett and Rad Martinez. Cobb’s experience and grappling skills should lead the veteran to a submission victory in this contest.
MW: Krasimir Mladenov (11-0) vs. Brendan Kornberger (5-0)
With veteran Jesse Taylor forced to withdraw with an injury, the WSOF has taken the opportunity to pit two undefeated middleweight prospects against each other in a featured main-card bout. Krasimir Mladenov, who was originally slated to fight Taylor, now pairs with fellow undefeated up-and-comer Brendan Kornberger in this clash of middleweights.
Mladenov hails from Bulgaria and sports a background in wrestling — his nickname is “The Wrestler.” The 28-year-old made his pro debut in 2008, but he didn’t start competing regularly until 2010. He compiled an undefeated mark through nine fights before entering the WSOF in 2013. His first two appearances with the promotion netted him a pair of grinding unanimous decision wins over Kendrick Miree and Angel DeAnda.
Kornberger is a striker who has made just one appearance per year since his pro debut in 2010. The 30-year-old may not fight often, but he has delivered when called upon. The Dynamic MMA product has finished four of his fights via TKO, including his last three outings. Among those fights, Kornberger has made one appearance with the WSOF. That appearance came at WSOF 7, where Kornberger scored a second-round TKO stoppage against Micah Brakefield.
Mladenov was able to stifle DeAnda’s offense with his relentless pursuit of the takedown. The Bulgarian’s wrestling is undoubtedly his biggest weapon, and it provides him with the perfect counter to what is sure to be a striking-heavy attack from Kornberger. Mladenov does like to attack his opponent’s arms, but he’s more of a grinder than a finisher. He’ll keep the pressure on with his takedowns, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll be able to finish the fight. Instead, the Bulgarian will use his wrestling to grind out another judges’ nod.
BW: Bryson Hansen (7-2) vs. Rudy Morales (3-1)
The WSOF is largely built upon established stars, but the promotion is attempting to unearth some homegrown talent. Among that lot, Bryson Hansen has certainly received a ton of the spotlight. The bantamweight is coming off a loss, but he hopes to shine on the WSOF 17 main card, where he clashes with Rudy Morales.
The 28-year-old Hansen trains out of Xtreme Couture. He has delivered five finishes by some form of knockout, including a knockout via suplex. Hansen, who made his pro debut in 2007 and returned to active competition in 2013 following a two-and-a-half-year absence, impressed in his WSOF debut with a 46-second TKO finish of Sean Cantor, who was a 1-0 prospect when he entered the cage against Hansen. In his sophomore appearance with the WSOF, Hansen ran into a much stiffer test in the form of Matt Sayles, who sported a 2-0 mark before the contest and left the cage with a third victory after taking the decision over Hansen. Hansen’s only other career loss came against Russell Doane, who went on to a career in the UFC.
Wand Fight Team’s Morales stumbled in his 2013 pro debut against Roman Isbell, but he turned things around with three straight wins. The 30-year-old hasn’t exactly overwhelmed his opponents, though. While his first pro victory came by way of a convincing knockout, his last two outings ended in split verdicts where he just edged out his opponent for the win. Morales scored the knockout over an opponent who was 0-1 entering the contest and now stands at 1-3. Meanwhile, his split decisions feature opponents who now stand at a combined 6-5.
Morales has bounced between the bantamweight and much larger lightweight class, and he has found success for the most part. He’s not much of a finisher, but he’s had a knack for grinding out decisions. The same can be said for Hansen, who also has two split decision victories on his resume, though Hansen does have a much better finishing rate.
Hansen has been successful with his striking, but Morales is a bigger fighter who has fought larger opponents. His chin hasn’t failed him so far, and Hansen is unlikely to find success in that arena, especially when giving up two inches in height and more than five inches in reach. This will be a closely contested fight, but Morales is capable of edging Hansen for the decision win.
WW: Danny Davis Jr. (10-8-1) vs. Adam Cella (6-2)
The WSOF 17 televised card kicks off with a battle of welterweights. Adam Cella, The Ultimate Fighter 17 cast member best remembered for his knockout loss at the hands of Uriah Hall, battles veteran journeyman Danny Davis Jr.
Hall’s spinning head kick put a devastating end to Cella’s TUF aspirations and a loss to Tor Troeng at UFC on Fuel TV 9 brought a close to Cella’s UFC career, but the prospect hasn’t been deterred. He entered the TUF competition with a perfect record through four fights and left the UFC with an official record of 4-1. He has added two wins and a loss to that record since departing the Octagon. The holes in Cella’s game continue to haunt him, as the UFC veteran’s second career loss came to middling veteran Lucas Gwaltney via third-round TKO. Despite his setbacks, Cella is always a lethal threat in the first round, where he has scored all six of his victories.
The 32-year-old Davis is on the best streak of his career. The Xtreme Couture and Drysdale Jiu-Jitsu product debuted in 2009 and posted a 4-1-1 mark through his first six fights. He hit an extremely rough patch over his next nine fights, in which he garnered just two victories. In 2013, everything started to click for Davis. He picked up four straight wins, the longest streak of his career. The two most recent victories in that span came under the WSOF banner against Phil Dace and UFC veteran Jorge Lopez. Davis is a grinder (six decision wins) who tends to lose on the mat (five submission defeats).
Cella is a fighter who finishes fights or gets finished in the process. That’s an aggressive style to pair with Davis’s slower, point-based protocol. Cella has a well-rounded arsenal that has resulted in three submission wins and three victories by some form of knockout. The grappling portion of his game will be of the most use in this contest, though. Davis has two sub-30-second striking finishes on his resume and Cella’s chin has failed him before, so Cella will have to be careful and avoid Davis’s power. If the TUF alum can manage to keep his chin tucked and tie Davis up for the takedown, this bout should come to a quick end with Cella picking up the submission win.
Preliminary Card Predictions
LW: Gil Guardado (3-1) vs. Sinjen Smith (2-0)
Guardado by second-round TKO
LW: Jimmy Spicuzza (5-2) vs. Joe Condon (11-7)
Spicuzza by unanimous decision
FW: Jordan Rinaldi (8-4) vs. Soslan Abanokov (4-3)
Rinaldi by first-round submission
FlyW: Taylor McCorriston (8-6) vs. Donavon Frelow (2-0)
McCorriston by second-round submission
MW: Jamie Point (1-0) vs. Trey Williams (0-0)
Point by first-round TKO
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