A tournament to decide the next top contender to the lightweight championship is afoot, and it’s not happening in Bellator this time. That’s right, World Series of Fighting will be putting on the eight-man, one-night tournament in Phoenix on Friday night. The winner from the field will earn the next crack at Justin Gaethje, the WSOF lightweight champion.
The field is stacked with UFC veterans, top prospects and fighters in reserve in case of injury. Among the names we see are guys such as Mike Ricci, Brian Foster, Jorge Patino, Luis Palomino and Joao Zeferino. These men, among others will compete throughout the night on both the preliminary and main card. The two men who win their first two bouts will then fight in the main event, which is the tournament finals.
The co-main event will be a non-title bout that features former UFC and Strikeforce veteran Jason High’s WSOF debut. This will be his first fight since his cut from the UFC and suspension for shoving a referee after his last fight. He takes on brawler Estevan Payan, who is also a UFC veteran looking to get his feet under him.
This card, which takes place on NBC Sports, should be an interesting one, to say the least. Most of the fights on the card have tournament implications, whether they are official tournament bouts or reserve bouts. Either way, it makes the card feel more important than your run-of-the-mill Saturday night showdown. With that, let’s preview the card, including potential tournament matchups, and make some predictions for Saturday night.
Lightweight Tournament Reserve Bout: Benny Madrid vs. Ramil Mustapayev
With reserve rights on the line, Benny Madrid and Ramil Mustapayev will square off for the right to enter the tournament in case of injury. Madrid just came off the worst stretch of his career when he ended a three-fight skid in winning his last fight. Those three losses were telling. I think that Mustapayev, who was thrown to the wolves in his pro debut, has some good upside and an aggressive game that will make Madrid uncomfortable. Give me Mustapayev here by late finish or decision.
Lightweight Tournament Reserve Bout: LaRue Burley vs. Joe Condon
With reserve rights on the line, LaRue Burley and Joe Condon will square off for the right to enter the tournament in case of injury. Burley was one of the hottest prospects in MMA until his last fight, where Brian Foster turned out the lights quickly. That said, Burley is still a talented fighter with a lot of upside. Condon has failed to be consistent throughout his career, especially when taking on tougher opponents like Burley. That leads me to believe that Burley will win with relative ease in this one.
Lightweight Tournament Quarterfinal: Islam Mamedov vs. Jorge Patino
In the first quarterfinal, we have the old guard vs. the new breed. Jorge Patino is a 42-year-old veteran of the sport who has fought a who’s who of fighters in MMA. He has stayed relatively consistent throughout his career, which has allowed him to continue to fight top competition. He takes on a youngster in Islam Mamedov, who is from the MMA hotbed of Dagestan. He is a savage finisher that is continually getting better. He has the all-around tools to be a real darkhorse in this tournament, and will get by Patino to the semifinals.
Lightweight Tournament Quarterfinal: Mike Ricci vs. Brian Cobb
Two UFC veterans square off in the next quarterfinal, as Mike Ricci takes on Brian Cobb. Cobb has not fought in over two years due to various injuries, so his layoff will be an interesting factor here. He also has the unfortunate situation of running into Ricci, who also has not fought for a long time, but is hitting a stride in his career as of his last two fights. Ricci will have the advantage on the feet, and I don’t think Cobb will be able to ground him. That will lead to a win for Ricci and an advancement to the semifinals.
Lightweight Tournament Quarterfinal: Brian Foster vs. Joao Zeferino
Speaking of two UFC veterans, Brian Foster and Joao Zeferino are the next to quarterfinalists to square off. Zeferino is a grappler and needs to get this fight to the mat. I don’t think he will be able to do that, though. Foster is experienced and tough, and will likely be able to fend off shots from Zeferino. When that happens, Foster will light Zeferino up on the feet and likely finish him in brutal fashion.
Lightweight Tournament Quarterfinal: Luis Palomino vs. Rich Patishnock
Two-time title contender Luis Palomino is looking for a third dance with Justin Gaethje, but he must first get through Rich Patishnock to get that. Patishnock is a mini-Gracie killer, in that he defeated both Igor and Gregor Gracie under the WSOF banner. However, he was quickly smoked by Justin Gaethje for the vacant title, while a guy like Palomino was competitive. Palomino’s boxing skills and true grit make him a tough opponent for many. Patishnock will look to brawl, but get caught by a superior Palomino.
Jimmy Scully vs. Roberto Yong
A pair of subpar fighter meet up in a non-tournament bout, as Jimmy Scully and Roberto Yong look to move ahead of their .500 and sub-.500 records. Scully’s success has come against low competition in Mexico, but in looking at his 3-3 record, he has fought a couple experienced guys. Yong is famous for getting scissor choked by Ben Fodor, aka Phoenix Jones, but showed he could make it three rounds with UFC vet Estevan Payan. Flip a coin here, but I will take Yong.
Joseph Barajas vs. Erik Villalobos
You have a big difference in records for the next bout. On one hand, you have Joseph Barajas who is 11-1 and has shown good success so far. Then you have Erik Villalobos, a 4-4 fighter who hasn’t really taken on high competition. There is not a lot to analyze here. Barajas is going to impose his will and finish this fight early, much to the delight of fans.
Lightweight Tournament Semifinal*: Islam Mamedov vs. Mike Ricci
After predicting Islam Mamedov defeating Jorge Patino and Mike Ricci defeating Brian Cobb, they would run into each other in the semifinals. In this hypothetical matchup, you have experience in the big show represented by Ricci and a surging prospect in Mamedov. Ricci has shown some pours in his takedown defense, but he has also shown good hands throughout his career. He could definitely pout it on Mamedov, but I will go with the route less travel and say Mamedov outlasts Ricci to make the finals. It is a dark horse pick, for sure.
Lightweight Tournament Semifinal*: Brian Foster vs. Luis Palomino
After predicting Brian Foster defeating Joao Zeferino and Luis Palomino defeating Rich Patishnock, they would run into each other in the semifinals. In this hypothetical matchup, you have two men who have been around the block a few times. Both men love to bang on the feet, which could make this a Fight of the Night candidate. However, Foster can mix it up better than Palomino, as Palomino is mostly restricted to boxing. It’s that type of variation in his game plan that will catch Palomino off guard. Foster takes the win and streaks to the finals.
Jason High vs. Estevan Payan
The co-main event is a non-tournament bout, as UFC castaway Jason High looks to take on fellow veteran of the UFC Estevan Payan. Payan is a brawler that has faltered against anybody that is well-rounded or has good technique. High is one of those guys, who is not only athletic, but a strong wrestler with underrated striking. He will take Payan to school here, earning a win in his WSOF debut. He will also jump into title contention despite not being in the tournament.
Lightweight Tournament Final*: Islam Mamedov vs. Brian Foster
Our hypothetical tournament final takes the aforementioned Mamedov and Foster and pits them together. After all we have discussed, I think experience and well-roundedness will take over this matchup. Mamedov is talented, no doubt, and my darkhorse pick of the tournament, but I simply believe the line ends here. Foster is very well-rounded and quite experienced. He has fought guys like Mamedov before and shown some success. I think Foster will earn the tournament here with a workmanlike performance and remind people why he was once so highly regarded.