Lance Palmer (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

WSOF 21: Palmer vs. Horodecki Preview and Predictions

World Series of Fighting makes its return after almost two months for WSOF 21. The promotion heads to the Edmonton Expo Centre in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada for a card that features two title fights at the opposite ends of the weight-class spectrum.

The main event is a featherweight title tilt between current champion Lance Palmer and Bellator, WEC and IFL veteran Chris Horodecki. Palmer won his title at WSOF 16 in December when he submitted Rick Glenn. This will be Palmer’s first title defense, and it comes against a tough veteran in Horodecki. Despite only being 27 years old, Horodecki has a lengthy MMA career spanning 27 fights.

The co-headliner pits Bellator veteran Blagoi Ivanov against the reigning WSOF heavyweight champion, Smealinho Rama. Rama is another newly crowned champ fighting on the WSOF 21 main card. He defeated Derrick Mehmen in October at WSOF 14 with a quick TKO to win the belt. Ivanov hasn’t fought in over a year since losing to Alexander Volkov in the Bellator heavyweight tournament finals at Bellator 120.


Two additional fights round out the main card. At featherweight, striking specialist Hakeem Dawodu returns to face fellow prospect and promotional newcomer Chuka Willis. And at welterweight, Mark Drummond clashes with Mike Hill.

The first three preliminary-card fights will stream on MMAJunkie beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET. The remaining four prelim fights will air on MMAJunkie at 11:05 p.m. ET, after the main card. The main card airs on the NBC Sports Network at 9 p.m. ET.

FW Championship: Lance Palmer (9-1) vs. Chris Horodecki (21-5-1)

Palmer has a very easy game plan to implement in order to try to keep his belt. He has high-level wrestling stemming from a great NCAA Division I wrestling career. It has been his route to earning the victory so far in 10 professional fights. Palmer looks for the takedown, and he is very powerful once he gets a hold of his opponent.

As a member of Team Alpha Male, Palmer isn’t the typical wrestler who looks to blanket his opponent. He can hold his own on the feet and looks for the finish when on the ground. Palmer probably isn’t going to get a knockout, but the 27-year-old can tap opponents. He has five submission victories in his career. Palmer can be expected to gauge the distance and shoot for takedowns early and often to beat Horodecki.

Horodecki’s Bellator career was really a mixed bag. He went 1-2-1. His last two Bellator fights left a lot to be desired, too. Granted, the fights were against Marlon Sandro and Mike Richman, two top-notch foes, but better performances had to be expected from a guy who faced a lot of good fighters in the WEC and IFL ranks. Horodecki is only 27, so he is really just entering the prime years of his career.

Horodecki has an uphill battle in this fight. Palmer’s a tough guy who is going to test Horodecki’s takedown defense. Horodecki, a Canadian, will enjoy the home-field advantage, but he needs to stay off his back and turn this into a striking battle, which is where Horodecki will feel most comfortable.

Horodecki has a few inches of height on Palmer and about an inch in reach. That little bit could help Horodecki stay on the outside and keep a steady volume of jabs and leg kicks flowing to neutralize Palmer’s takedown game.

Horodecki has a huge edge in experience and an advantage in striking. He has been great against regional talent, but he has failed to pick up big, meaningful wins against high-ranked talent in the bigger promotions.

This is a tough fight for Horodecki. Palmer is a skilled fighter and he has a good camp behind him. Palmer will take the fight either with a mid-round finish or a unanimous decision.

HW Championship: Smealinho Rama (9-1) vs. Blagoi Ivanov (11-1)

Before the featherweights throw down in the main event, the heavyweights take to the cage in the first of the evening’s two title fights. Bellator veteran Blagoi Ivanov challenges MFC veteran Smealinho Rama for the heavyweight strap in the co-headliner.

Rama is an exciting, fan-friendly fighter. The 23-year-old has only been to a decision once in his professional career. The Calgary native wasn’t the hot pick in his last fight against Derrick Mehmen, who was 18-5 at the time. Yet, Rama finished Mehmen in the first round, in under a minute, with a TKO.

Rama doesn’t really have a great set of takedowns, so he will probably end up trying to outstrike Ivanov. Rama has been knocked out once so far in his career, when Anthony Hamilton landed a flush head kick at MFC 38. Hamilton has really been an average fighter in the UFC and kind of sets the bar for the type of fighter who can beat Rama at this level.

Rama’s striking defense is really subpar. He doesn’t keep his hands glued to his chin and eventually drops them altogether. It might be a cardio problem with his arms tiring out, or it could be just a bad habit. Some fighters have good defense that helps make that less of a problem, but relying on timing the shot to duck out of the way of the incoming strike can have serious ramifications if the timing isn’t spot on.

Ivanov is a good grappler with a sambo background. He once defeated Fedor Emelianenko in a sambo match. If the 28-year-old is able to get Rama down, he could possibly have his way with the champ on the ground.

Ivanov needs to get inside and really work Rama up close. Ivanov will need to rely on his black belt in judo and work the inside for some trips to eventually bring down Rama. If Ivanov can inside, this fight could be finished very quickly with one trip and a submission.

Rama is only about an inch taller and enjoys a nice three-inch reach advantage over Ivanov. That should help Rama keep on the outside in striking range, but Ivanov has been there before with bigger heavyweights, most notably Alexander Volkov and Lavar Johnson. Eventually, Ivanov will find a way to bring the fight to the mat and submit Rama to take the belt.

FW: Hakeem Dawodu (4-0) vs. Chuka Willis (4-0)

This is an excellent fight for the WSOF. It pits two solid featherweight prospects against each other. Both guys are still undefeated, but they took totally different paths to get to the 4-0 mark.

Hakeem Dawodu is a striker and a very talented Muay Thai fighter. He is definitely impressive on the feet with a wide-ranging arsenal that makes him quite capable of taking out anybody. All four of his wins have come by knockout. Dawodu had a tough battle with Tristan Johnson in his last fight. The two traded a ton of shots before Dawodu finally landed the final blow in the third round. That fight shows how good Dawodu can be on a strong night. His speed and accuracy were great and he was able to set a pace that Johnson eventually couldn’t handle.

Dawodu is obviously going to look to keep this fight with Chuka Willis on the feet. The 23-year-old is going to try to establish a high pace and overpower Willis with strikes in high volume. Dawodu will also seek to use leg kicks to keep Willis from achieving takedowns.

Willis needs those takedowns if he wants to win this fight. Of his four fights, only one has been finished before the third round. His other three contests have gone at least three rounds and include two decision victories. The 22-year-old is going to look to slow Dawodu’s pace and bring the fight to the ground. Willis needs to sap Dawodu of his energy and grind him out for the win.

Willis isn’t likely to finish Dawodu inside the distance unless he gets a chance at a submission, but it’s fair to assume that Dawodu has put in extra time during his camp for submission defense, which is his one weakness.

Dawodu is a confident pick in this fight. He has a lot of potential, and this fight is a good place for him to showcase his skills. Dawodu should take the win, by knockout, early in the third frame after wearing Willis down with heavy hands and leg kicks.

Undercard Predictions
Fight Prediction
WW: Mark Drummond (7-2) vs. Mike Hill (7-3) Hill by unanimous decision
MW: Matt Baker (12-7) vs. Marcus Hicks (19-24) Baker by second-round TKO
LW: Dan Lariviere (4-3) vs. Mike Scarcello (7-3-1) Scarcello by third-round TKO
BW: Louie Grover (1-2) vs. Michael Hay (1-1) Hay by unanimous decision
Catchweight (160 lbs): Stephen Beaumont (7-2) vs. Jose Rodriguez (7-3) Beaumont by second-round submission
LW: Roger Alves (2-1) vs. Danny Doig (2-2) Alves by unanimous decision
LW: Tim Smith (14-8) vs. Spencer Rohovie (11-8) Smith by third-round submission
LW: Nick Hrabec (3-1) vs. Garret Nybakken (7-7) Hrabec by unanimous decision