The Professional Fighters League travels to the Xfinity Arena in Everett, Wash., on Saturday, July 29, for the promotion’s second event since rebranding from the World Series of Fighting to the PFL.
The promotion’s top featherweight, Andre Harrison, looks to keep his unblemished record intact when he meets Costa Rican Steven Rodriguez, who rides a nine-fight winning streak into the contest.
Yushin Okami, one of the greatest fighters to ever come out of Japan, returns to the cage for the first time this year following a split-decision victory over Paul Bradley at WSOF 34 on New Year’s Eve 2016. The UFC veteran welcomes Jungle Fight middleweight champion Andre Lobato to the PFL ranks.
The main card features one of the best welterweights in the sport’s history, Jake Shields, who is looking to end his two-fight skid against Danny Davis Jr. UFC veteran Bruno “Carioca” Santos faces off with Rex Harris, who is undefeated under the WSOF banner.
Elsewhere on the card, UFC veterans Mike Kyle and Jared Rosholt meet WSOF title challenger Jose Copeland and Bellator alum Nick Rossborough, respectively.
The preliminary card airs live at 6 p.m. ET on Combat Press via Fite TV. The main card begins at 9 p.m. ET and airs live on the NBC Sports Network.
Is Andre Harrison the real deal? Can Steven Rodriguez spoil his fellow featherweight’s run?
Before we answer the question, let’s take a look into Harrison as an evolving product inside the cage.
Harrison began his career as a wrestler first and foremost following an All-American career in the NJCAA with Nassau Community College and in NCAA Division II with Fort Hays State University. He reeled off seven wins inside the Ring of Combat promotion to kick-start his professional career, winning the featherweight title along the way. He signed with Titan Fighting Championship in 2014 with a large amount of hype behind his name.
Harrison made it apparent he would move on to greater things as his competition continued to increase in difficulty. He scored the biggest win of his career at the time when he knocked off UFC veteran Kurt Holobaugh for the featherweight title at Titan FC 34. Harrison continued his unstoppable streak by defending his title four times against Des Green, Steven Siler, Deivison Ribeiro and Alexandre Bezerra, before finally exiting the promotion and joining the WSOF ranks.
Prior to his promotional debut, Harrison’s combined opponents winning percentage inside the Titan FC cage was above 76 percent. There is no arguing that Harrison has worked for his place in the spotlight. He was once considered a one-dimensional fighter who couldn’t finish fights. However, Harrison has taken the slow build while also competing against tough competition, which is a path that more fighters should be open to as it becomes harder and harder to separate oneself from the plethora of prospects in the regional ranks.
Now, to the question at hand. Harrison takes on Rodriguez, who was able to win his promotional debut against former title challenger Alexandre de Almeida. Rodriguez was awarded a split decision, but there was no controversy here. The “Avenger” lost the first round when he was taken down and controlled from back mount. However, he came out aggressively in the second frame and took over the fight on the feet.
Rodriguez is an active mover with a propensity to throw a varied attack of strikes to the legs, body and head. The Costa Rican gets more comfortable as he gets into the rhythm of attack, but he tends to be open for counters when entering boxing range. He attempts to negate this deficiency by never attacking the same target or from the same angle in back-to-back exchanges. This keeps his opponent guessing, a skill he absolutely needs to display against Harrison.
Harrison showed off his improvements in his championship-winning performance against Lance Palmer at WSOF 35. Harrison dropped Palmer three times in the contest and hurt him on even more occasions. Harrison showed off his ability to fight in either stance, but, more importantly, he showcased his ability to fight on the outside with a strong rear-leg teep kick from the orthodox stance and a strong jab with both his left and right hand. Harrison pushed the pace at points in his match-up with Palmer, but he was always looking to score with his counter right hand against the southpaw. Rodriguez is an orthodox fighter, which will potentially give us a new look at the ever-improving striking game of Harrison.
Harrison has an advantage in every aspect of the sport. It seems highly unlikely that Rodriguez will come close to taking Harrison down, and the Costa Rican is just a little too small and hittable to be effective in the stand-up. Harrison is certainly the prospect that he has been made out to be, despite the notion he is a boring fighter who lacks a high finishing rate. Harrison will walk away with his 17th career win, and it would be a surprise if he doesn’t finish this fight inside of five rounds.
UFC veterans Yushin Okami and Jake Shields compete in separate fights on the PFL main card against unheralded opponents. Okami meets Andre Lobato at middleweight, while Shields clashes with Danny Davis Jr. at the welterweight level. Will Okami and Shields win their respective fights, or will this be a star turn for Lobato and/or Davis?
I’m going with the veteran in both affairs. However, the challengers present some interesting problems for their far more experienced opponents.
Okami was a perennial middleweight contender in the UFC for over six years. The 36-year-old picked up 13 wins in his 18 UFC contests, which is only three behind the all-time leader, current UFC champion Michael Bisping. Okami places in the top 10 in the statistical categories of strikes landed, takedowns landed, takedown percentage and, maybe most important for this upcoming fight, takedown defense. He has only ever lost to fighters who have fought inside of the Octagon, which in its own right is an incredible feat.
Okami looks considerably smaller and physically weaker at 170 pounds. He has won three of his four bouts in his new weight division, but his latest performance left something to be desired. Okami was able to get the split verdict against Paul Bradley at WSOF 34. However, the fight featured Okami fighting off of the fence for far too long. The Japanese great has shown impeccable takedown defense throughout his entire career. He once again showed it off after being put in a bad spot in the first round after eating a counter hook from Bradley. Okami collected himself and landed some solid left middle kicks and straights from the southpaw stance in the following two rounds.
Okami meets debuting Brazilian Lobato, who is a southpaw himself. Lobato, 32, is a strong, athletic fighter with a well-rounded game. He is a stellar grappler with a love of the striking arts. Lobato displayed his left straight with a quick knockdown of Alexandre Hoffmann in his last fight at Jungle Fight 80 for the vacant middleweight belt. The slick grappler finished off the fight with a heel hook following the heavy shot that dropped his previously unbeaten opponent. Lobato has won 10 straight. However, his level of competition compared to Okami is like comparing the UFCs and Bellators of the world to a trainwreck of a promotion like Xplode Fight Series.
Ultimately, Okami’s move to welterweight hasn’t quite paid off like he would have liked, despite winning his last three fights. Lobato is making the drop to welterweight, which could give Okami the stamina advantage if this fight goes into the third round. Lobato hasn’t seen a third round since his last defeat in 2012. Okami will come out the victor after surviving the early rounds against the aggressive Brazilian.
Shields might just be the most underrated fighter in MMA history. The former EliteXC, Strikeforce and Rumble on the Rock champion has put together one of the best resumes in the history of the 170-pound division. Shields has 31 career wins with 15 finishes and victories over current UFC champ Tyron Woodley, Demian Maia, Robbie Lawler, Dan Henderson and the aforementioned Okami. Shields, 38, made the move to New York to train for this fight. It might be the change he needed to snap his two-fight skid against Rousimar Palhares and Jon Fitch.
Shields welcomes Davis to the PFL. Davis is a WSOF veteran with victories in three of his six fights with the organization. The Xtreme Couture product has won his last two bouts outside of the promotion over Casey Ryan and Anthony Hernandez. Inside the WSOF, he defeated UFC vets Adam Cella and Jorge Lopez. Davis is a fighter who likes to stay on the outside until the moment he presses forward for a takedown. He is a long fighter with a significant reach for welterweight.
This style match-up doesn’t exactly suit the strengths of Davis. He tends to grapple when things are going wrong on the feet or when he gets tired late in a round. Those flaws will most certainly be put to the test against the American Jiu Jitsu pioneer Shields. If Davis can’t find a consistent work rate from the outside, he will inevitably be stuck against the cage fighting for his life. Shields is one of the best grapplers to ever enter the cage, and if Davis finds himself on his back, the former UFC fighter is primed to lock up a fight-ending submission.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
When Louis Taylor was announced to get yet his third scheduled opponent, the local option was actually a fight that could bring some excitement. Zach Conn doesn’t have a name, but he always brings it. On a week’s notice, however, his chances are bleak against Taylor. So, we’ll turn instead to a battle of grizzled veterans of the sport, Luiz “Buscape” Firmino and Eddy “Fast” Ellis.
Firmino is responsible for one of the best grappling-orientated fights against Luiz Azeredo at Pride Bushido 6 way back in 2005. Firmino is a 17-year veteran of the sport with some big wins in his illustrious career that includes time in Pride FC, Dream, Shooto and the WSOF. Azeredo has lost his past two fights against Justin Gaethje and Brian Foster. However, the 35-year-old had won seven straight prior, including wins over Luis Palomino, Caros Fodor, Jacob Volkmann, and Tyson Griffin. That span included a successful fight on the 21st season of The Ultimate Fighter.
Ellis is also a 17-year veteran of the sport, with time spent in Absolute Championship Berkut, the WEC and Strikeforce. Ellis is a finisher who has scored 17 of his 21 wins by way of stoppage. The Washington native fell short on TUF 16 to eventual season winner Colton Smith. Ellis has won three of his past four, but he only has four fights in the past four years.
Ellis might be a question mark due to his inactivity. Firmino was riding a solid winning streak before back-to-back setbacks. This is the type of fight that produces two fighters hungry for their place in the promotion and, more importantly, their place in the $1 million dollar tournament bracket.
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