The last time we saw Justin Gaethje in action was his split-decision win over Melvin Guillard last November, and the judging was not the only controversial thing about the fight. Guillard verbally sparred with the WSOF Vice President before WSOF 15 even took place, then failed to make the contracted weight, turning the fight into a non-title affair.
It was probably best for all involved that Gaethje won the bout, but it's unlikely his next challenger will have the fight-week meltdown Guillard did. Luis "Baboon" Palomino is looking for his third knockout in a row in what promises to be the toughest fight to date in the undefeated champion's career, a challenge he is eagerly anticipating.
WSOF 19: "Gaethje vs. Palomino" takes place on Sat., March 28, 2015 at the Comerica Theatre in Phoenix, Arizona, with the live card airing on NBC Sports. Let's take a look at all four bouts scheduled for television including the title fight.
155 pounds: Justin Gaethje (13-0) vs. Luis Palomino (23-9)
If you want to see aggressive, straightforward fighting from a man with dynamite striking, Luis Palomino fits the bill. In his last two World Series of Fighting bouts, he crumpled Jorge Patino and Lewis Gonzalez to the mat in equally explosive finishes, the latter coming even faster than the former. 57-percent of all of his wins come by KO or TKO. He's exactly what WSOF is looking for: a challenger who will push the undefeated Justin Gaethje to the limit.
Gaethje is not called "The Highlight" by accident, and his finishing statistics are even more impressive: 10 of his 13 opponents (77 percent) have been laid out with punches or kicks, and one was even knocked out with a slam in classic Quinton "Rampage" Jackson fashion.
Gaethje believes you only lose when you're moving backward, which sets us up for a potentially rock 'em-sock 'em style fight where both men stand in the middle and trade. On the other hand, if people are expecting a war, that could be Gaethje's opportunity to go back to his wrestling roots, as a two-time wrestling champion in Arizona and a Division-1 All-American for the University of Northern Colorado.
Only 23-percent of Gaethje's fights go to a submission or a decision, but 100-percent of his fights go in the "W" column, so Gaethje will take it where he can get it. Palomino has won by decision eight times, but he's also been beaten nine times: twice by strikes, three times by submission, four going the distance. If Gaethje weathers an early storm, opportunities will present themselves to finish Palomino off, or he can simply let cardio do the work and make a muscular Palomino gas.
Final prediction: Justin Gaethje wins via unanimous decision.
205 pounds: Thiago Silva (16-3) vs. Matt Hamill (11-5)
This was never supposed to be a rematch of Hamill's fight with Silva back in 2013, but Vinny Magalhaes was contractually unavailable to take this fight in the WSOF light heavyweight tournament, so a rematch is what we've got.
The last time these two met, Hamill was competitive early and then got hammered in the second round, winding up a standing zombie by the end of the third when Silva didn't pull the trigger on the finish. He won't do that again. Hamill's best (and realistically only) chance is to take Silva down and hold him down, and that didn't work the first time.
Final prediction: Thiago Silva wins via knockout in the second round.
205 pounds: Jake Heun (7-3) vs. Teddy Holder (8-1)
Officially a "reserve bout" for the light heavyweight tournament, the winner could step in for any of the other four men if they are sidelined with an injury. "Honey Bear" Heun has finishing power in 57-percent of his wins, but the American Top Team (ATT) prospect can also go the distance if necessary.
Submissions are rare for Heun, as he hasn't had one since his first pro fight in 2011. Holder hasn't had one since 2012 himself, and his last four fights were all first-round striking finishes. It's the second WSOF fight for Heun and only the first for Holder, but the latter seems like a man on the rise.
Final prediction: Teddy Holder wins via knockout in the first round.
135 pounds: Ed West (18-9) vs. Timur Valiev (8-1)
He may be a more familiar name to Bellator MMA fans, but after going 4-4 in the promotion both sides decided to part ways. "Wild" West will now try his luck against "Lucky" Valiev, a Russian prospect who would be better named "Luck Is For Losers" if that was catchy enough for a ring announcer or fight banner.
His only loss was in his first pro fight in 2010, and since that time he's knocked out or ground out every opponent save one (armbar). West has dropped four of his last five, so judging strictly based on the trends, Valiev looks to pick up his third WSOF win.
Final prediction: Timur Valiev via unanimous decision.
That's a wrap!
Remember: MMAmania.com will deliver live coverage of WSOF 19 "Gaethje vs. Palomino" Saturday night (March 28, 2015), with the first televised fight taking place at 9 p.m. ET on NBC Sports.
See you then!