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WSOF 30 predictions, preview for 'Branch vs Starks' NBC Sports-televised main card

World Series of Fighting

World Series of Fighting (WSOF) returns to NBC Sports Network this weekend (Sat., April 2, 2016) with its latest mixed martial arts (MMA) event, which will take place inside Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.

WSOF 30's main event will feature dual champion David Branch returning to defend his Middleweight title against Clifford Starks, while the co-main event will see Jon Fitch and Joao Zeferino battle for the vacant Welterweight title.

That's not all.

Let's break down all of the WSOF 30 main card matches below:

185 lbs.: David Branch (c) (17-3) vs. Clifford Starks (13-2)

After a brief stint in Bellator MMA during its earliest days -- and an unremarkable 2-2 stint in four UFC fights -- David Branch has truly blossomed as a fighter inside the confines of WSOF's Decagon. He's a perfect in the promotion (7-0), and along the way, has acquired both the Middleweight and Light Heavyweight titles. As long as he can successfully defend both belts, who's going to argue that Branch deserves it? To that end, he's making a long overdue Middleweight title defense -- his last was against Yushin Okami in November of 2014.

Clifford Starks would like to be the man to knock him off that throne. "Big Cat" also had an unremarkable stint in UFC, going 1-2 in three fights, but he's perfect (5-0) since leaving, including two Bellator fights and three bouts in WSOF. His last bout may be his most impressive performance to date, knocking off the highly touted and previously undefeated Krasimir Mladenov in Sept. 2015. Mladenov's nickname was "The Wrestler," but he was unable to use takedowns effectively, and between ill-conceived attempts, he got lit up and busted up standing.

Starks would undoubtedly love to turn this title shot into a similar situation, but the diversity of Branch's skill set (five technical knockouts, six submissions and six decisions in 17 wins) shows there are very few holes in his game right now. He's quick to seize opportunities when they come, but wise enough to wait for the right moments to strike, as he didn't finish Okami until the fourth round of their aforementioned fight. That fight also gives little reason to think Branch will gas out even though Middleweight is a much tougher cut to make. Starks grinds out more than 50 percent of his wins (seven out of 13) but that won't help him here. As good as he is I really think he's up Shits Creek without a paddle here.

Final result: David Branch wins via rear-naked choke in round four

170 lbs.: Jon Fitch (27-7-1, 1 NC) vs. Joao Zeferino (20-7)

Lose a "Lightweight Tournament" and get a world title shot? That's not normally the way things work, but given that top contender Jake Shields is embroiled in a contractual feud, WSOF 25 runner up Joao Zeferino slides into this fight for the vacant WSOF title. "The Brazilian Samurai" was on a five-fight win streak coming into WSOF, and he nearly ran the table in the aforementioned tournament, so he's arguably worthy to get this spot. He wins 75 percent of his fights by submission (15 out of 20) so you definitely don't want to wind up on the ground with him.

Jon Fitch is a crafty veteran, proving over-and-over again he's not afraid to go into somebody's wheelhouse and challenge them to do their best or fail in the attempt. He's won three of his last four in WSOF, including a title eliminator against Okami in the latter's debut at Welterweight. In hindsight, that was too much of a cut for Okami to make, but this time Fitch's opponent is actually moving up a weight class.

The increased bulk he's carrying should slow down Zeferino enough for Fitch to take him down and dare Zeferino to apply his fearsome heel hook. Fitch has some of the best ground game defense going, which would have made for an awesome fight with Shields, but should make for a much easier fight with Zeferino. Fitch is going to be naturally bigger and stronger than Zeferino, so the chances of him sweeping for a submission are quite frankly unlikely at best.

Final result: Jon Fitch via unanimous decision to claim Welterweight title

205 lbs.: Vinny Magalhaes (13-7) vs. Jake Heun (9-4)

Once again we have another fighter who has been reborn outside UFC, as Vinny Magalhaes is now in his groove with a three-fight win streak that includes capturing (and subsequently vacating) the Titan FC Light Heavyweight title. His litany of medals in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and grappling competitions vastly exceeds the amount of gold he's won in MMA, but he's well positioned with an impressive win to challenge Branch down the road. Magalhaes is even better on the ground than the aforementioned Zeferino, with 84 percent (11 out of 13) wins coming by submission.

Attention Jake Heun: Ya' best protect ya' neck!

That's not to say "The Honey Bear" has no chance in hell. He's got four wins in his last five fights, with his only loss coming to this card's title challenger (Starks). The American Top Team prospect out of Anchorage, Alaska, has plenty of power striking (four wins), but can submit you or go the distance as well (five combined wins). He needs to come out of the blocks quick, land some strikes to knock Magalhaes off his game, and avoid takedowns at all costs. I still feel that Magalhaes has untapped potential that's just now starting to show in his WSOF run.

Final result: Vinny Magalhaes wins via submission in round two

170 lbs.: Danny Davis Jr. (11-10-1) vs. Abu Azaitar (11-1-1)

Looking at their respective records alone, you might take this fight for a joke. Danny Davis Jr. is not as bad as his win-loss record suggests, though. In his last two losses, he dropped a split decision to Matt Frincu (who is fighting on the "Prelims" of this card) and a unanimous decision to Abubakar Nurmagomedov (also on the WSOF 30 "Prelims"). WSOF expects big things from Abu Azaitar, though, who has won six fights via technical knockout in the first round, and one more that went to the second. If the German prospect delivers on his promise, he should hand a game but overmatched Davis his third straight loss.

Final result: Abu Azaitar wins via first round technical knockout

That's a wrap!

Remember: will deliver live play-by-play coverage of WSOF 30: "Branch vs. Starks" on Saturday night (April 2, 2016), beginning with the first televised fight taking place at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network.

See you then!

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