World Series of Fighting (WSOF) returns to NBC Sports Network this Friday (Oct. 7, 2016) with its latest mixed martial arts (MMA) event, which will take place inside Kansas City Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo.
Two title matches will headline the card -- a stacked six fight affair for WSOF. Justin Gaethje will go for his fifth title defense against Ozzy Dugulubgov, while David Branch defends his Light Heavyweight title against Vinny Magalhaes.
Let's break down WSOF 33's main card matches below:
155 lbs.: Justin Gaethje (16-0) vs. Ozzy Dugulubgov (8-2)
With every consecutive fight that "The Highlight" Justin Gaethje wins, his profile rises and the list of worthy WSOF contenders shrinks. It's to the point now where just having a good showing with Gaethje can guarantee you a rematch. While a couple of the night's earlier fights could crown new contenders, the current man of the hour is Ozzy Dugulubgov, currently on a three fight win streak (all in WSOF) dating back to Sept. 2014. How good are his chances?
Dugulubgov's striking game is good as a Jackson-Wink fighter, but not Jon Jones or Donald Cerrone good. He's won four of eight fights by knockout (50%) so some may say that in his young career he hasn't had time yet to pile on the finishes. The problem with that theory is that Gaethje is the same age (27) and has 13 knockouts in 16 wins. Gaethje is a natural born striker and his only real flaw is how reckless he is -- he'll take a punch to land two. So far that hasn't hurt him but the day may come where it will.
The thing Dugulubgov's going to want to do, which most of Gaethje's opponents have failed to do, is turn this fight into a grappling battle on the mat. Dugulubgov does have two submissions and one in WSOF, though they've come against much lower level competition. The good news is that Gaethje's only sub came in 2012 in his pre-WSOF career. The problem again is that Gaethje has been an elite level wrestler since high school, so if he doesn't want to be taken down there's a good chance he won't be, so finding an armbar or a rear naked choke isn't going to happen either.
Anything can happen in a fight though, and while most people won't take Gaethje down, Dugulubgov is a little better than a lot of wrestlers Gaethje has faced. I consider it an unlikely scenario at best, but not outright impossible.
Final prediction: Justin Gaethje improves to 17-0 with a second round TKO
205 lbs.: David Branch (18-3) vs. Vinny Magalhaes (14-7, 1 NC)
Vinny Magalhaes has come a long way since his pro debut, a fight which ended in a no contest when both fighters fell out of the cage. Since that time his record of medals in jiu-jitsu tournaments stands as high if not higher than his accomplishments in MMA, though he's been on a career resurgence since leaving UFC and has four wins, and not surprisingly three of them by submission. 78% of his wins in total come that way -- Magalhaes is just not the guy you want to roll with.
David Branch is as fearless as they come though, and currently holds that rare distinction guys like Conor McGregor lay awake at night dreaming about -- world champion in two weight classes. Branch puts his Light Heavyweight title up in this fight knowing full well how dangerous Magalhaes is, but like him he seems to have only improved since leaving UFC. He's had eight WSOF fights, and he's won eight WSOF fights. The only men with a comparable track record are Justin Gaethje and Marlon Moraes.
Magalhaes has to think he has the edge if it goes to the ground, and if this was Abu Dhabi and not the Decagon, he'd be 100% correct. Three of Branch's last five wins have come by submission though, so Branch is ready to roll and Magalhaes has to be cautious and not rush for submissions and wind up either getting his bell rung (five knockouts for Branch) or leave an opening Branch can exploit. Branch may not have the tournament medals, but he has the WSOF titles, and to take one Magalhaes needs Branch to do something he hasn't in WSOF yet -- make a mistake.
Final prediction: David Branch retains by unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Jason High (20-5) vs. Joao Zeferino (20-8)
Joao Zeferino has nothing to lose. Jason High has everything to lose. The pressure is on and both men need this win in a big way. For High this would be his third straight victory and third since coming to WSOF, and as Dugulubgov has already proven it only takes three to get on "The Highlight" reel. Meanwhile Zeferino has been in a tailspin since the WSOF 25 Lightweight tournament. He ultimately lost to the same man he had submitted earlier in the tournament, then to add insult to injury he lost a unanimous decision to Jon Fitch in a match for the vacant Welterweight title.
At 30 "The Brazilian Samurai" Zeferino has time to rebound, but "The Kansas City Bandit" High has been fighting like a man reborn since (surprise surprise) his release from UFC. It's a familiar theme around the Decagon. Two spectacular second round finishes of Estevan Payan and Mike Ricci have increased his knockout total to five, when previously he was better known for submissions (eight). Zeferino's game IS submissions -- it accounts for 75% of his wins (15 out of 20). Unless High comes in and shits the bed though I think his BJJ defense can handle Zeferino. He couldn't tap Fitch and that makes me suspect he won't tap High either, and then BOOM goes the dynamite of High's striking.
Final prediction: Jason High wins by third round knockout
155 lbs.: Luiz Firmino (19-6) vs. Brian Foster (25-9)
If High isn't the next man to face Gaethje, Luiz "Buscape" Firmino might be. Foster already had his chance and came up short, while Firmino is on a much longer winning streak than High (six and counting) and is also undefeated in WSOF. The reason High might get the nod over Firmino though is that he delivers exciting fights. Firmino's last five victories are all by decision, and he only has one knockout in his entire career. He's good on the ground (seven subs) but he just hasn't shown it much lately.
Firmino's nickname isn't "Mr. Excitement" but if Brian Foster had one that could be it. He either wins big or loses big but rarely and I do mean RARELY goes to a decision in a win -- only once in 25 wins. He's been knocked out twice and submitted seven times, and the latter story is the telling one given the aforementioned Zeferino tapped Foster out only for him to come back as an injury replacement and win an immediate rematch. Thankfully Firmino doesn't have to face Foster twice in one night so this might be the time to go for broke and show he deserves the title shot.
Final prediction: Luiz Firmino gets a rear naked choke in round one
170 lbs: John Howard (24-12) vs. Abubakar Nurmagomedov (12-1)
The lesser known of the Nurmagomedov's compared to Khabib, Abubakar's stock has been rising thanks to three straight wins since his WSOF debut, the last coming by TKO. John "Doomsday" Howard won his WSOF debut in June in a less than sensational bout, which raises the question of how much stock to put into a man who lost four out of his last six. At one time he was a feared finisher, and with nine KO wins there's no doubt he's got "Doomsday" power, but at 33 his reflexes seem to be slowing while at 26 Nurmagomedov's are getting quicker and his finish of Matt Frincu showed us a new tool -- heavy hands. Three years ago this pick would have been the exact opposite.
Final prediction: Nurmagomedov finishes Howard with strikes in round two
265 lbs.: Shawn Jordan (18-7) vs. Ashley Gooch (10-4)
I always thought of Shawn "The Savage" Jordan as a decent but not superb UFC Heavyweight -- the kind of guy who gets on 2-3 fight win streaks but then loses to somebody you'd think he could beat. He'd beat Pat Barry and then lose to Gabriel Gonzaga. He'd beat Derrick Lewis and then lose to Ruslan Magomedov. Every time he had some momentum going things would fall apart like Chinua Achebe. Maybe it's that he lives and dies by the same sword. 14 out of 18 wins are by knockout, but so are four out of seven losses. The little known Gooch is on an eight fight win streak and he's a stand-up specialist too in 70% of his wins, but recently submitted Josh Diekmann via RNC.
Now is absolutely the time for Jordan to either shit or get off the pot, and if he goes on a run in WSOF he's got Blagoy Ivanov in his future, but in the present he can't afford to look past Gooch.
Final prediction: Shawn Jordan wins a slobberknocker by TKO in round three
That's a wrap!
Remember: MMAmania.com will deliver live play-by-play coverage of WSOF 33: "Gaethje vs. Dugulubgov" on Oct. 7, 2016, beginning with the first preliminary bout at 8 p.m. ET on WSOF.com and continuing with televised fights at 11:00 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network.