World Series of Fighting (WSOF) returns to NBC Sports Network this Friday (June 17, 2016) with its latest mixed martial arts (MMA) event, which will take place inside Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut.
The main event will feature the second Heavyweight title defense for Blagoy Ivanov, who is fresh off a second round technical knockout win over Derrick Mehmen in the exact same venue at WSOF 24 in Oct. 2015.
That's not all.
Let's break down all of the WSOF 31 main card matches below:
265 lbs.: Blagoy Ivanov (13-1, 1 NC) vs. Josh Copeland (12-3)
Former Bellator standout and current WSOF champion Blagoy Ivanov seemingly has the champion's advantage going into this fight. The division he's in has fewer challengers than any other class, and he's looked like a juggernaut both in defeating Smealinho Rama and his subsequent title defense. The majority of his wins (11 out of 13) are finishes -- five knockouts and six submissions. His short stature (5'11") actually works to his advantage when it comes to out-wrestling taller opponents, and the weight class allows him to put on a lot of muscle without worrying about tipping the scales.
Copeland is not a cupcake or a tomato can, though. He comes in with three wins in his last four fights, including his WSOF 29 debut over the very hard to finish veteran, Mike "300" Hayes. He's a former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) prospect who only got two chances to prove himself before he was cut, and both of those fights went to the third round. Copeland is a very versatile Heavyweight, splitting his wins equally with four knockouts, four submissions and four decisions. I favor the champion to retain his belt, but I expect Copeland to fight with "house money" knowing he's got nothing to lose.
Final prediction: Blagoy Ivanov retains the title via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Jason High (19-5) vs. Mike Ricci (11-4)
IMike Ricci's high opinion of himself is well known by now, and he should be feeling somewhat confident on a three-fight win streak, but nagging injuries are plaguing him to the point it could cost him a match and/or shorten his career. Nonethelss, Tristar Gym will have his mind ready ... hopefully his body follows suit. High is also well known among fight fans, most infamously for being fired after shoving a referee at UFC Fight Night 42; however, with a highlight-reel win over Estevan Payan at WSOF 25, he appears to be on the road to redemption.
Ricci's striking has improved greatly over recent years, and with more than 50 percent of his wins by (technical) knockout (six out of 11), he has to be considered more dangerous standing than on the ground (only one submission). With eight out of 19 wins by submission and a black belt from Ricardo Liborio, High arguably should have a ground game advantage over Ricci (although he deserves respect, too, as a Firas Zahabi brown belt). My chief knock against both men is coming up short in big fights -- High against Erick Silva and Rafael dos Anjos, Ricci against Pat Curran and Myles Jury. In this fight we'll finally see the cream rise to the top.
Final prediction: Jason High via second round submission (rear naked choke)
185 lbs.: John Howard (23-12) vs. Mike Arrant (15-10)
Howard was originally scheduled to face Thiago Meller, a decent fighter overall at 20-7, but only 2-2 in his last four fights. Meller withdrew from the card late into fight week and Howard will instead face "Mad" Mike Arrant at Middleweight. His record seems less impressive on paper, but if you dig a little deeper he's won six of his last seven appearances, with his last bout being a unanimous decision loss to Brock Jardine. I still favor "Doomsday," though, because of his power (nine knockouts) and ground game (six submissions), which are both areas Arrant is vulnerable to in 50 percent of his losses. Arrant is "playing with house money" and has nothing to lose, but this is an easier fight for Howard, who also has the benefit of a full training camp.
Final prediction: John Howard via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Luis Palomino (24-12) vs. Sheymon Moraes (8-1)
The hard-hitting Palomino is a live by the sword, die by the sword kind of fighter. At 1-3 in his last four bouts, however, that's not working out very well lately. Moraes, meanwhile, took a loss in a Bantamweight title fight to Marlon Moraes (no relation) as a sign that 135 pounds was not his ideal weight class. And since moving up, he found his power returning in a technical knockout win over the durable Robbie Peralta. He's the slightly bigger man at 5'8" by two inches and the younger fighter by 10 years at 25, so even though Palomino had a couple of classic wars with Justin Gaethje, I feel like his time may be running out.
Final prediction: Sheymon Moraes via second round knockout
185 lbs.: Phil Hawes (3-0) vs. Joshua Key (6-11, 2 NC)
The only significant knock on Phil Hawes right now is that he lost a unanimous decision to Andrew Sanchez over two rounds in a qualifying bout for The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 23. That doesn't count on his official fight record, though, and he was moving to 205 pounds just to try and get on the show, so perhaps we can let that slide. He's certainly got a tailor-made opponent in career journeyman Key, winner of two out of his last 10 bouts. I almost want to repeat that for emphasis, but I think it speaks for itself, so barring an amazing fluke we all know what's going to happen here.
Final prediction: Phil Hawes via technical knockout in the first round
That's a wrap!
Remember: MMAmania.com will deliver live play-by-play coverage of WSOF 31: "Ivanov vs. Copeland" on June 17, 2016, beginning with the first preliminary bout at 6 p.m. ET on WSOF.com and continuing with televised fights at 9 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network.
See you then!