Aggression. It can be the reason for victory, but it can also be the catalyst for defeat. Come in with too much aggression and mistakes are likely to be made. It’s the risk one must sometimes take in the hopes of overwhelming an opponent.
Luis Palomino hopes aggression will serve him well when he challenges Justin Gaethje for the World Series of Fighting lightweight championship at WSOF 19, which takes place at the Comerica Theatre in Phoenix. Palomino has always been aggressive, and that trait has led to some big victories. He knocked out Jorge Patino at WSOF 8, for example. Coincidentally, that was the same night Gaethje captured the gold with a win over Richard Patishnock, a fighter who was originally scheduled to meet Palomino that night before he was moved up to the title bout. Now, Palomino gets his chance. A chance that has been in the making since that night.
Gaethje wants to take that aggression and turn it against Palomino. The champion has put together quite the resume already, with wins over UFC veterans and fellow rising prospects. If he knocks out Palomino, Gaethje further solidifies his standing as one of the best lightweights outside of the UFC. Can the champion overcome his challenger’s aggression?
The answer to that question comes on Saturday night when the pair takes to the WSOF cage to cap off the four-fight main card of WSOF 19. In addition to the lightweight championship headliner, the promotion is kicking off its light heavyweight tournament. Former UFC stars Matt Hamill and Thiago Silva will vie for a spot in the finals of the four-man bracket in the evening’s co-headliner, while a featured bout between Jake Heun and Teddy Holder will determine the tournament’s alternate. Bantamweights Ed West and Timur Valiev round out the lineup of televised bouts.
The eight-fight preliminary card airs live on nbcsports.com at 6 p.m. ET. The four-fight main card follows on the NBC Sports Network at 9 p.m. ET.
LW Championship: Justin Gaethje (13-0) vs. Luis Palomino (23-9)
Justin Gaethje is among the best lightweights outside of the UFC right now. The reigning WSOF champ has another big challenge in front of him in the main event of WSOF 19. He’ll look to defend his lightweight championship against savvy veteran Luis Palomino.
Gaethje is WSOF’s biggest homegrown star. The Grudge Training Center product made his way up through the Ring of Fire and Rage in the Cage promotions before joining the WSOF and making his promotional debut at the company’s second event. After recording wins over Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante, Brian Cobb and Dan Lauzon, Gaethje fought Richard Patishnock for the WSOF lightweight belt. The striker needed just 69 seconds to finish Patishnock via TKO. He has gone on to defend his title by dominating Nick Newell and then eked past Melvin Guillard in a non-title affair. The 26-year-old has 10 victories by some form of knockout and one submission finish.
Palomino is a grizzled veteran who has had quite a bit of success on the regional circuits, but his only tastes of the big stage have come with the WSOF and Bellator. His lack of a UFC stint is even more surprising considering some of the fighters he has defeated. Palomino holds wins over Jorge Masvidal, Daron Cruickshank, the aforementioned JZ Cavalcante and Jorge Patino. The one thing that has held Palomino back has been his inability to go on an extended winning streak. The 34-year-old has never won more than four fights in a row. Palomino, like Gaethje, prefers to end fights with his hands. He has 13 wins by some form of knockout.
Gaethje stormed his way through all of his opponents en route to capturing WSOF gold, but he has seen his abilities tested more extensively in his two most recent outings. Newell put up a great fight in the early portion of the first round before Gaethje overwhelmed him, and Guillard, who missed weight for his slated shot at Gaethje’s title, pressed Gaethje enough to force a close decision. Yet, in both fights, the champ adapted and turned up the pressure.
Palomino is another great test for the undefeated lightweight kingpin. The Peruvian is an aggressive striker who has had extensive cage time against some very talented fighters. Pat Curran is the only man to stop Palomino since 2009, and “Baboon’s” other losses in recent years have come to the likes of Jonathan Brookins, Yves Edwards, Luiz Firmino and Efrain Escudero. This is a guy who can put up a fight in much the same manner as Guillard. He will face a disadvantage in the height and reach departments, however, which could be the deciding factor in this contest.
Gaethje has been showing off his striking skills and his ability to tweak strategies mid-fight. Palomino is no easy out, especially on the feet, but Gaethje should be able to keep on the outside and land with punches and leg kicks. It might be a close fight, just like the champ’s last outing, but he’ll walk away with the judges’ nod and retain the belt.
LHW Tournament Semifinal: Matt Hamill (11-5) vs. Thiago Silva (16-3)
One hasn’t been able to stay retired. The other has had trouble staying out of trouble. Now, the pair reunites for a rematch of the most recent bout on each fighter’s record… a bout that took place in 2013. Despite their long layoffs, Matt Hamill and Thiago Silva have the recognizable names necessary to justify their placement in the WSOF light heavyweight tournament bracket and in the WSOF 19 co-headliner.
Hamill has tried to retire, but it just doesn’t seem to stick. After back-to-back losses against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Alexander Gustafsson in 2011, The Ultimate Fighter alum announced his intent to hang up the gloves. He stuck to his work for approximately a year before returning to the Octagon and claiming a win over Roger Hollett. After another year away from action, Hamill returned and came up short on the scorecards against Silva. Hamill was released from the UFC after the loss, which marked his third defeat in four outings. It seemed like Hamill would resume his retirement, but now he’s back once again. He was once a solid wrestler with a strong ground-and-pound attack, but his skills have been in decline for several years now.
Silva, meanwhile, could have been a star for the UFC if not for numerous issues, both professional and personal. He has failed numerous drug tests, and there was also that unfortunate SWAT situation. It’s a miracle he’s fighting anywhere, let alone a promotion with nationwide exposure. Yet, putting those issues aside, Silva hasn’t been horrible inside the cage. The Brazilian entered the UFC as a 9-0 prospect in 2007 and won his first four fights inside the Octagon. That’s when the troubles started. He lost to Lyoto Machida and went 1-3 with two no-contests over the six-fight stretch that started with that loss. In addition to Machida, Silva dropped decisions to Rashad Evans and the aforementioned Gustafsson. Both no-contests would have been Silva wins if they had not been overturned for Silva’s poor choices. He seemingly righted the ship in 2013, though, with wins over Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante and Hamill. However, his personal problems, which included domestic violence and a standoff with police, forced the UFC to part with Silva.
Silva really never had trouble winning fights in the UFC. He was a borderline contender who was only sent back to the drawing board by contenders at the top of the ladder. And of those opponents, only Machida was able to stop Silva. Hamill actually has a similar history in the UFC, though he doesn’t get enough credit for his run in the promotion. His losses include the aforementioned fights with Silva, Rampage and Gustafsson, as well as losses to Rich Franklin and Michael Bisping. No shame to be found there. Jon Jones should be in that list too, granted, but that doesn’t change the argument that Hamill fared pretty darned well in seven-plus years with the UFC.
The difference is where these fighters stand now. Silva is still capable of being a contender if he can keep out of trouble and pass drug tests. Hamill, meanwhile, has been in and out of retirement and doesn’t seem to have the fire left in him to reach the same heights as his opponent. Silva topped Hamill on the scorecards in their first meeting, but he’ll be determined to make a huge statement in his return. The Brazilian will finish the fight, handing Hamill a TKO loss and prompting the veteran to consider retirement yet again.
Light heavyweights Jake Heun and Teddy Holder clash in the evening’s second main-card fight. The winner will secure the right to step into the promotion’s four-man light heavyweight tournament bracket in the event that one of the tournament participants is forced to withdraw from the competition.
Heun has spent most of his career at heavyweight, but he’ll slide back down to 205 pounds for this contest. “The Honey Bear” is a two-time participant of the UFC’s The Ultimate Fighter series, but he never made it into the TUF house. The 27-year-old trains out of American Top Team and has heavy hands that have accounted for four first-round TKO finishes. He enters this fight on the heels of a 20-second TKO stoppage of Ron Fields in the heavyweight division. Heun is especially vulnerable on the mat, where he has suffered three official submission losses and two first-round armbar submissions in TUF exhibition bouts.
Holder is a fighter with a sporadic record of competition. He made his pro debut in 2008 and went 2-1 through 2009. He didn’t return to action for his fourth fight until 2012. He won four fights in 2012 and added two more victories in 2013, but he fell inactive throughout 2014. This will be his first fight in a year and a half. Win or lose, the Team Pincer product has never even seen the four-minute mark of the first round. He has six stoppages by some form of knockout and two via submission. His only loss came by way of a submission.
Heun has to be happy with this match-up. He shouldn’t have to worry too much about the fight going to the ground. If Holder fights his normal style of fight, this one could produce fireworks on both sides. Heun has never been knocked out, but neither has Holder. It could all come down to the amount of ring rust Holder carries into this fight. If Holder looks sharp, he could embarrass Heun early. If he doesn’t — or if he has simply benefitted from facing sub-.500 fighters, including UFC veteran Sean Salmon, throughout his career — then this one is all Heun.
Heun needs a break, and he’ll get one here by coming out on top in an ugly slugfest.
BW: Timur Valiev (8-1) vs. Ed West (18-9)
Bellator veteran Ed West kicks off the main card by making his WSOF debut. The bantamweight is on a quest to right the ship after losing four of his last five, but he’ll have to get through up-and-comer Timur Valiev, who has won eight straight fights.
West, who made his pro debut way back in 2003, became a fixture in Bellator, where he competed in three tournaments and advanced as far as the finals in one of his tourney campaigns. He marched through Bryan Goldsby and Jose Vega in his first Bellator tournament, but came up short against Zach Makovsky. The Apex MMA product’s biggest highlight came in a non-tourney prelim bout where he landed a head kick to knock out Joshua Montoya in dramatic fashion. Despite the big knockout finish, West is more of a threat on the mat, where he has scored nine submission finishes. The 31-year-old’s recent setbacks came against strong competition, including eventual Bellator champion Eduardo Dantas (via split decision) and contenders Marcos Galvao and Mike Richman.
Valiev is another in a long line of fighters to emerge from Dagestan. The 25-year-old stumbled in his 2010 debut, which he lost by way of a decision. The Red Fury Fight Team and Jackson-Winkeljohn product has been perfect in his subsequent fights. He is a well-rounded fighter and decorated grappler, but he has displayed his fight-finishing abilities through striking more than through his ground game. Valiev is the brother of UFC fighter Rustam Khabilov.
Valiev is already undefeated through two WSOF appearances, with victories over Adam Acquaviva via a flying-knee TKO and Isaiah Chapman via unanimous decision. West is a seasoned veteran, but he does have nine losses to his name. The Bellator veteran isn’t an easy out, however, and he should really test Valiev’s abilities. The Dagestani fighter will pass the test with flying colors. It probably won’t end in a stoppage, unless Valiev can time a perfectly placed flying knee once again. Instead, this one is most likely headed to the scorecards, where Valiev will claim the win.
Preliminary Card Predictions
MW: Eddie Arizmendi (15-6) vs. Clifford Starks (10-2)
Starks by unanimous decision
LW: Lucas Montoya (8-3) vs. Raymond Pina (4-1)
Montoya by second-round submission
LW: Benny Madrid (7-2) vs. Jimmy Spicuzza (5-2)
Spicuzza by unanimous decision
MW: Joseph Gigliotti (3-0) vs. Brendan Tierney (11-6)
Tierney by first-round submission
BW: Juan Archuleta (5-0) vs. Randy Steinke (15-8-1)
Steinke by second-round submission
MW: Israel Aquino (0-0) vs. Dan Huber (3-2)
Huber by first-round TKO
WW: Matthew Frincu (5-1) vs. Eric Regen (15-24)
Frincu by third-round submission
FW: Joe Madrid (4-2) vs. Erik Villalobos (1-4)
Madrid by first-round knockout
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