World Series of Fighting looks to crown to a new champion Saturday night, as the promotion moves forward to anoint an inaugural titleholder at 125 pounds.
But the flyweight matchup between Magomed Bibulatov and Donavon Frelow won’t be headlining the show. In fact, it’ll serve as the opening bout to the main card at WSOF 24, which harbors a second title fight between WSOF heavyweight champion Blagoy Ivanov and Derrick Mehmen.
Surprisingly enough, Ivanov and Mehmen won’t be the headliners either; that honor is bestowed upon a welterweight matchup between former UFC title contenders Jon Fitch and Yushin Okami, as both fighters look to inch closer to the vacant 170-pound title.
- Magomed Bibulatov def. Donovan Frelow via submission
- Nick Newell def. Tom Marcellino via submission
Vinny Magalhaes vs. Matt Hamill
Former UFC veteran Matt “The Hammer” Hamill makes his return to the MMA cage at the Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut Saturday for the first time in two years. Never quite considered a top contender at 205 pounds, Hamill quietly had himself a solid career up to this point.
A former TUF contestant during the series’ third season, Hamill only ever lost to notable UFC fighters like Michael Bisping, Rich Franklin, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Alexander Gustafsson and Thiago Silva. He’s the author of victories against solid competition in Tim Boetsch, Mark Munoz, Keith Jardine and Tito Ortiz. He’s also, you know, the only man to own a victory against Jon Jones (but that doesn’t really count, now does it?) A three-time NCAA Division III National Champion in wrestling, “The Hammer” certainly has the skills to give Vinny Magalhaes a rough night.
Fighting out of Syndicate MMA in Las Vegas, Magalhaes is coming off of a championship performance, earning the Titan FC light heavyweight title with a fourth-round submission win over Jason Brilz. He vacates the title for the relatively deeper waters of the WSOF 205-pound division helmed by David Branch. A decorated submission grappler with dozens of international accolades, Magalhaes stands as a second-degree Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under the tutelage of Vinicius Aieta and Royler Gracie. A relatively more active fighter — with only two fights in the span of Hamill’s two-year absence — Magalhaes has a better idea of what it takes to step into the cage.
The winner is said to be getting Thiago Silva for a title eliminator; unfortunately for Hamill, he won’t receive the opportunity to exact revenge.
Prediction: Magalhaes def. Hamill via unanimous decision
Blagoy Ivanov vs. Derrick Mehmen
WSOF color commentator and three-time UFC title contender Chael Sonnen referred to Ivanov as “the guy who beat Fedor,” which, if taken at face value, is absolutely true. World Series of Fighting heavyweight Blagoy Ivanov did, in fact, defeat Fedor Emelianenko in 2008. It didn’t come atop a mixed martial arts platform, though; Ivanov defeated “The Last Emperor” in sambo.
It may not be quite as impressive as, say, Fabricio Werdum’s victory under the Strikeforce banner, but it’s still a pretty valuable accolade to keep pinned atop his resume. Emelianenko is widely revered as one of the greatest fighters to ever compete in MMA, but he’s also recognized as one of the greatest sambo practitioners in the history of the lone martial art as well. So, yes, Ivanov has quite an impressive bullet point to add to his 12-1 MMA career heading into his first title defense as WSOF’s heavyweight champion.
A much larger man in stature, Mehmen enters the bout the more experienced fighter, boasting 12 more fights than his Bulgarian counterpart. With the height comes the reach — about five inches, if we want to get specific. And that’s where Mehmen has to take advantage in this bout: utilizing what physical advantages he wields over a far more impressive technical fighter.
Taller, longer and leaner come fight night likely won’t help Mehmen overcome what gap exists between himself and the champion.
Prediction: Ivanov def. Mehmen via TKO
Jon Fitch vs. Yushin Okami
The average mixed martial arts fan should know plenty about these two fighters.
Fitch, the longtime welterweight, is typically remembered for his skills as a grinder. He won’t wear an opponent out with superb striking abilities, nor will he outwit an opponent on the mat before sneaking in an unforeseen submission. Fitch doesn’t do any of that; he marches forward, finds an opportunity to shoot a double-leg and outworks his opponents for 15 minutes at a time.
Save for a unanimous decision loss to the division’s greatest fighter in Georges St-Pierre, a knockout loss at the hands of the division’s best one-punch KO fighter in Johny Hendricks and a unanimous decision loss to arguably the division’s best grappler in Demian Maia, Fitch’s system worked. He was 9-3-1, long seen as the second best fighter in the division who couldn’t quite best the best.
Saturday he faces another fighter who often fell short of shining on the biggest stage. Okami went into his UFC 134 title fight with Anderson Silva touted as the last man to defeat the unconquerable champion. If you’ve paid enough attention to Silva’s career, you’ll know he only lost via disqualification for inexplicably upkicking the life out of Okami from the full guard. Then there was the second method the UFC’s marketing team undertook to sell the fight between Silva and Okami in 2011: Okami, standing at 6-foot-2, was one of the largest fighters Silva had faced during his title reign.
By that logic, you’d be safe to imagine Okami as one of the larger fighters Fitch will have seen since making the full-time commitment to 170 pounds — 15 pounds lighter than Okami’s usual weight class. Bigger or not, Okami’s likely to struggle Saturday night.
Prediction: Fitch def. Okami via unanimous decision