Three, as in the number of titles that will be on the line at World Series of Fighting 35, which takes place in Verona, N.Y., on March 18 and airs live on the NBC Sports Network.
Three, as in the number of victories in the winning streak heavyweight champion Blagoy Ivanov brings into his heavyweight title defense against UFC veteran and powerful striker Shawn Jordan.
Three, as in the number of major promotional titles Andre Harrison hopes to display in his trophy case after he challenges Lance Palmer for the WSOF featherweight title.
Three, as in the number of years, almost to the day, since 32-year-old Donavon Frelow started searching for a professional MMA championship. He’ll get his crack at achieving that goal when he clashes with Bekbulat Magomedov for the promotion’s vacant bantamweight crown.
It’s an evening of title fights, but it commences with a preliminary card on Combat Press at 8 p.m. ET before heading off to the NBC Sports Network at 11 p.m. ET for the main attractions.
Blagoy Ivanov has been perfect since coming to the WSOF after a stint in Bellator during which he was submitted by the promotion’s former champ, Alexander Volkov. Can Ivanov continue his ascent up the heavyweight rankings, or will UFC castoff Shawn Jordan derail the Bulgarian’s hype train?
Volkov is no slouch, but that one blemish on Ivanov’s record is a bit puzzling. Volkov went on to lose to Cheick Kongo and Tony Johnson, Jr., a pair of guys who focus heavily on clinch work and, even in Kongo’s case, grinding wrestling and ground control. How could those two men hand Volkov losses, but a strong judo black belt and sambo specialist can’t? Perhaps Volkov’s length was too much for Ivanov. His wheelhouse seems to be in fighting and defeating brawlers. That’s been the case so far in his WSOF run, where the Bulgarian captured the title with a win over Smealinho Rama and defended it against Derrick Mehmen and Josh Copeland. That group has a combined 21 knockouts and just nine submissions. Ivanov, meanwhile, has more submission finishes (six) than knockouts (five).
Ivanov’s next challenger, Jordan, is a two-time high school state wrestling champion, but a glance at the UFC castoff’s record reveals a fighter who has largely abandoned his wrestling game in favor of the knockout. He’s a forward-charging brawler with 15 finishes via strikes and only three submission finishes. He also happens to have a questionable chin that has led to four knockout losses.
Jordan fits the profile for an Ivanov WSOF opponent, but Ivanov was rattled in at least one of his WSOF outings and could fall victim to Jordan’s early surge. If, however, Jordan can’t score a quick knockout, then Ivanov should continue his trend of neutralizing opponents for another victory and successful title defense.
Lance Palmer recently reclaimed his featherweight crown, but now he must defend it against Andre Harrison, another tough challenger. Will Palmer’s title reign continue past Saturday night?
Palmer has been one of the promotion’s darlings, but I’m just not completely sold. Perennial part of the WSOF title mix? Sure. Dominant champ? Nope.
Perhaps it’s his recent loss to Alexandre de Almeida — a loss that forced the WSOF into a rematch scenario so that Palmer could reclaim his title — or maybe it’s his earlier submission loss to Georgi Karakhanyan, a solid fighter who never has risen to the level of dominant champion either, but Palmer just doesn’t seem so overwhelming. The four-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler out of Ohio State is a member of Team Alpha Male and displays the same grit and strong wrestling base as many of his teammates, but he’s lost to a pair of fighters who are far less dominant than Harrison has proven to be.
This is Harrison’s chance to force everyone to remember his name. He’s not an exciting knockout artist or submission specialist — the Bellmore Kickboxing product has just three knockouts and two submissions among his 15 wins — but he gets the job done through a relentless wrestling attack. The former NCAA Division II All-American wrestler sports quick combinations and a good amount of power when he utilizes his boxing arsenal. He’s turning into a solid all-around competitor, and the only knock on him thus far is his habit of working for decisions rather than finishing fights.
Harrison a very successful champion during his time under the Titan FC banner, has a great opportunity here. He should be able to take full advantage, too. It won’t be easy — we’ll see a lot of scrambles, back-and-forth wrestling and nice exchanges on the feet — but Harrison will walk away with a decision nod and the WSOF featherweight crown.
The WSOF is ready to crown a new bantamweight champion. The hopefuls are Bekbulat Magomedov and Donavon Frelow. Will either of these man make a long-term impact on the division?
Sorry, but what we have here is an inexperienced 30-something (Frelow) against a Russian fighter who can be outworked by a clinch- and wrestling-heavy fighter like Josh Hill.
Hill, who now sits at 15-2, is no slouch, but he’s turning out to be a mid-tier grinder. If Magomedov couldn’t find a way to finish Hill or at least taken the Canadian to task and get the judges’ verdict, then it’s highly unlikely he’s going to overwhelm anyone tougher than Jesse Brock, whom the Russian went the distance against as well.
Frelow, meanwhile, might have a better chance if he returns to the flyweight division. His only loss at 125 pounds came to Magomed Bibulatov, a top flyweight prospect, via unanimous decision. His five wins include an unspectacular split decision showing against the now 5-2 Zeke Enrique. Frelow’s been dangerous on the ground, but only when feeding on unproven prey. Toss him in with a tough foe like Bibulatov, and Frelow can’t seem to get the job done.
The main problem with both fighters is a lack of notable victories on their resumes. Magomedov has Brock and untested Chinese fighter Guan Wang as his two highlights, and Frelow can only claim the Enrique victory, which is hardly notable, as a win over a fighter far above the .500 mark. Let’s give these guys a few years and see if they make a case for themselves beyond any victories over mediocre opponents.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
There are several other goods fights on this card. Fans get to see a Nurmagomedov brother in action, albeit not Khabib. They also get former WSOF featherweight titleholder Alexandre de Almeida buried far down the card. Middleweight Phil Hawes is back, too, in an attempt to rebound from a loss to veteran Louis Taylor. However, the most intriguing sleeper might be the showdown between UFC vet Steven Siler and undefeated featherweight up-and-comer Hakeem Dawodu.
Siler gives the seven-fight veteran Dawodu a truly tough test. Siler, who competed on The Ultimate Fighter 14, is nearing 50 pro fights and has just under 30 victories. He’s been in the cage with the likes of Chad Mendes, Diego Brandão, Cole Miller, Darren Elkins, Mike Brown, Dennis Bermudez, Rony Jason and Andre Harrison, and he even emerged with wins over Miller and Brown. Siler’s ground game can be lethal — he has 15 submission victories — and his work at Pit Elevated and MMA Lab has combined to give him a strong all-around game.
Dawodu, by contrast, only has seven fights. His biggest victory came over the previously undefeated Marat Magomedov in a rematch of a bout that ended in a majority draw. Their second clash resulted in a TKO finish for Dawodu. The Canadian fighter has, in fact, scored all six of his victories via strikes. Yet, his other notable finishes come against early-career undefeateds like Jake Macdonald, Mike Malott and Chuka Willis. He’s handed out a lot of career-first losses, but he’s hardly seen the level of competition Siler has encountered.
This is the true coin toss of this card, however. Dawodu has a devastating striking toolbox that’s just as effective in the third stanza as it is in the first. Siler has experience for days, plus a lot of tough opponents in his past that have probably helped to sharpen Siler’s own skill set. Can Dawodu’s power overcome Siler’s savvy? The answer comes on Saturday night in what could be an early candidate for the best fight of the evening.
Main Card (NBC Sports Network, 11 p.m. ET)
HW Championship: Blagoy Ivanov vs. Shawn Jordan
FW Championship: Lance Palmer vs. Andre Harrison
BW Championship: Bekbulat Magomedov vs. Donavon Frelow
Preliminary Card (WSOF.com, 8 p.m. ET)
WW: Abubakar Nurmagomedov vs. Matt Secor
FW: Steven Siler vs. Hakeem Dawodu
WW: Andrews Nakahara vs. Manny Walo
LW: Islam Mamedov vs. Natan Schulte
MW: Phil Hawes vs. Elijah Wynter
FW: Alexandre de Almeida vs. Steven Rodriguez
LW: Tommy Marcellino vs. Bill Jones
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