The biggest challenge for any MMA promoter is getting out from the shadow of the UFC and to some extent it’s cousin Bellator. Most fail, or shrink into insignificance, forever remaining the proving grounds for their more established “big league” colleagues. But refreshingly one promotion that has so far bucked the trend is the World Series of Fighting. Their first ever card was broadcast on NBC Sports and their second is the first since signing a three-year deal with the same network. Considering how saturated the market is, it’s an incredible accomplishment. So this Saturday, the WSOF 2 will take place in Atlantic City, where reasonably large - if somewhat faded - names will battle it out.
Andrei Arlovski - Anthony Johnson
Aside from former UFC staple Jon Fitch, Arlovski and Johnson are definitely the biggest captures for WSOF. Considering Arlovski is heavily faded from his UFC and Strikeforce days, it’s been quite a renaissance for him of late, having won the last of his five fights. With ample boxing skills to utilize and a natural athleticism that is not all too common in the heaviest of MMA sluggers Arlovski can be a rugged customer and hard to deal with. Sure, he sometimes fails to end opponents when he really has to, but he’s also showed there was a reason he was UFC heavyweight champion at one point. Just look at the power punch inflicted upon Devin Cole in the debut of WSOF. Only a smattering and dash of ground and pound was needed for a first round stoppage.
As for Johnson, what a turnaround for a man who was formerly a welterweight. At one point he claimed he shed close to forty pounds before each of his welterweight bouts. Now, as a fully fledged heavyweight after some bouts at light heavyweight Johnson is a formidable prospect. Whether he can carry the power through the weight classes is yet to be seen, but with the need to cut weight gone, the comfort level is surely there. His first round knockout of D.J. Linderman at WSOF 1 was perhaps a sign of things to come.
Marlon Moraes - Tyson Nam
While right now, the WSOF is populated with fighters for whom the limelight has become an all too distant friend, the fight between Nam and Moraes can do wonders for the WSOF. Are these guys veterans? Far from it. Instead they are in their prime: young and promising fighters who can set off fireworks. Take Moraes, a former muay Thai champion who debuted in MMA at the tender age of 18. He’s armed with a smorgasbord of kicks and strikes, while possessing the ability to punch and keep opponents at bay. Better still this is a bantamweight bout, in which speed is of the essence and both guys have it in abundance. The fact that Moraes also has a more than adequate ground game means that it could become a tactical encounter if it reaches the mat.
As for Nam, just the fact that he has been squirreled away for months training with Frankie Edgar shows the pedigree. Nam may have been mired in contract disputes with Bellator that invariably slowed down his progress, but if his knockout of Eduardo Dantas is anything to go by then it shows promise for an exciting future in the promotion.
Paulo Filho - David Branch
Filho owns a victory against Chael Sonnen, but it’s a far cry from where he’s at now. In fact his victory over Sonnen was followed by a loss to the same man. Since then Filho has been floating on a raft in the ocean of mediocrity, failing to truly grasp and utilize the undoubted talent he has. It’s this that makes him such an intriguing entity for the WSOF. He’s 4-3-2 since 2010. Which Filho turns up adds to the intrigue for a fighter who could prove to be the real wildcard of the promotion. He’ll be facing Branch who had a brief stint in the UFC, never made the grade, but is on a four fight winning streak. Branch is defensive and conservative by nature, while Filho is capable of manic, almost irresponsible abandon in his offensive strategy. A sure fire hit for fans.
Igor Guryashkin is a freelance journalist whose extensive work on combat sports has been featured in ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. He splits his time between New York and Louisville. Follow him on Twitter @IGuryashkinESPN.