On paper, World Series of Fighting 24 was poised to be an exciting card. Poised.
Two up-and-coming flyweights were set to square off, putting their undefeated records on the line as they both looked to become the first flyweight champion in WSOF history. Matt Hamill was making his return to MMA after retiring for two years, taking on a submission specialist in Vinny Magalhaes. Add in a lightweight bout featuring an always-exciting Nick Newell and a heavyweight title matchup and you’ve got yourself a solid night of fighting.
Only it wasn’t exciting, and it wasn’t just because the card was headlined by Jon Fitch and Yushin Okami — two fighters whose styles could never quite mesh with the average MMA fan while competing in the UFC.
Some fighters, like Magalhaes and Blagoy Ivanov, came out to make a statement in their respective weight classes. Others, as you’ll soon read, fell short of dazzling the crowd inside the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut and those watching on NBC Sports Network from home.
Here’s how we ranked the main card winners at WSOF 24:
5. Nick Newell
With 10 finishes in 13 professional victories, Newell was rightfully classified as a finisher. A 77-percent finishing rate is impressive for any fighter. Considering Newell’s done it with one hand really puts things into perspective though.
But that finisher didn’t show up on Saturday night. Plenty would even question if the winning version of Newell showed up too, seeing as the 29-year-old settled for takedowns and somewhat lackadaisical grappling to ensure victory. His groundwork wasn’t very impressive, harboring semblances of Johny Hendricks’ second performance against Robbie Lawler. He found himself in, by definition, dominant positions; but he never really did anything with them, settling for having his head inside of an attempted guillotine to remain atop Tom Marcellino.
Many, including Marcellino, were torn with the judge’s decision, prompting the defeated lightweight to verbally contest the loss inside the cage after the fight.
The bout is Newell’s last as a mixed martial artist, which is a shame, really. One of the better stories, if not fighters, to come out of WSOF, Newell’s career should overshadow his underwhelming performance Saturday night.
4. Jon Fitch
Well, you couldn’t have really expected anything else. I mean, you could’ve expected the bigger man in Okami to leave the main event as the victor, but it would’ve been by the same sort of strategy, when you really think about it. This main event was never meant to live up to its hype, no matter what Chael Sonnen, Ray Sefo or Ali Abdelaziz were saying.
Having fallen victim to his own strengths as a grappler last December against ex-champion Rousimar Palhares, Fitch looked as vintage as ever against Okami. Vintage isn’t always a good thing though, no matter what the folks at Urban Outfitters may be telling you.
He looked relatively impressive on the feet, sticking a solid jab in the former middleweight’s mug in the brief moments off the canvas. But that jab was only a decoy; Fitch wanted the takedown. We’d only go a few minutes into the second round before he got one. From there, it was every bit of a Fitch-esque victory as fans would groan about when he was getting his hand raised against Thiago Alves, Ben Saunders and Erick Silva.
He likely gets Jake Shields for the vacant welterweight title next.
3. Magomed Bibulatov
Expect the finish, WSOF Vice President Abdelaziz warned before the fight. With five of Bibulatov’s nine victories and 80 percent of Frelow’s wins coming by way of stoppage, it was fair to assume the fight would come to a halt before the end of the fifth round.
But it didn’t, and we never got even close. Bibulatov wound up being crowned the promotion’s first ever flyweight champion in a bout that did nothing to quiet the average MMA fan’s concern over flyweight fighters. In fairness to Bibulatov’s unimpressive, but dominant performance, he never had a dance partner to make for an entertaining fight. Time and time again we saw Frelow backpedal and circle off, forcing the Russian fighter to just move forward and score points en route to his title victory.
The takedowns came in bunches as the fight dragged on, but Bibulatov never quite capitalized on any of the brief dominant positions he held over his Wand Fight Team opponent. Here’s hoping things are more exciting next time around.
2. Vinny Magalhaes
At one minute and eight seconds, Magalhaes’ victory over Hamill isn’t even the fastest submission victory of his almost decade-long career. It’s not even the second fastest — those came at 19 and 21 seconds.
But unlike most victories that come in less than 25 seconds — and most of which come within two minutes of the first round, for that matter — Magalhaes’ kneebar win came with a bit of adversity. He ate a nasty uppercut from “The Hammer” before dropping to his back, but collected himself enough to keep things g. Despite being staggered by the former UFC light heavyweight, Hamill should have been cognizant enough to avoid hitting the canvas against a man who’s won 85 percent of his victories by submission.
But he did opt in meeting him on the mat, and it cost him. Now Magalhaes meets Thiago Silva in a title eliminator, as both men inch closer to David Branch’s WSOF light heavyweight crown.
1. Blagoy Ivanov
At times it looked as if Ivanov and Mehmen was going to go the distance, which was frightening considering how tired Ivanov looked at the start of the second round.
Ivanov came out firing against his lankier counterpart, clipping him several times in Round 1 to convince audiences the stoppage was all but a few punches away. But Mehmen survived thy me early onslaught, forcing us all to think he was going to keep standing no matter what the Bulgarian heavyweight champion was going to offer. Regardless of how open the champion’s mouth became or how heavy his breaths grew, Ivanov kept swinging; he kept connecting.
Mehmen’s face was nothing short of a bloody mess when the final shot connected, forcing the title challenger to reach for his face and turtle up.
With the heavyweight division a wasteland in the sport, it’s hard to think of anybody under the WSOF banner capable of dethroning the champ right now.