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WSOF shows different strategy from Bellator in second show

The most obvious thing when looking at Saturday night’s second installment of the World Series of Fighting was to make a comparison with the other promotion battling for the No. 2 spot on the U.S. scene: Bellator. Bellator comes in with the obvious huge advantage, which really should be insurmountable. They are owned by Viacom, and have a regular Thursday night slot on Spike TV. WSOF runs every few months on NBC Sports, a far lower rated station. Bellator’s concept is to take largely up-and-coming and lesser-known fighters, and put them in a tournament format with the idea the format will create new stars that then challenge for championships. WSOF is relying on former UFC fighters, and name fighters from the end of the Japanese heyday. This has its advantages in immediate name recognition, but as Saturday’s event from Atlantic City, N.J. showed, some obvious disadvantages of using fighters whose heyday was five or more years ago. In most cases, there is a reason those fighters aren’t in UFC today. The main event was strange to begin with. Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson (16-4) is a physically talented fighter who would be in UFC today, possibly as a star, except he continually had issues making weight. Part of that issue was trying to drain himself down to welterweight, a class he was far too big for even though at times he did make weight. The other issue was a lack of weight management between fights where he’d often get up to 225 pounds and then have to cut to make 170. Eventually, he was ordered to move to middleweight. Once again he got heavy between fights. In his last UFC outing, his body shut down when he tried to cut, and he ended up 11 pounds over weight. He lost to Vitor Belfort and was cut. WSOF put Johnson in a weight class he wasn’t going to have trouble making, heavyweight, against the company’s best known fighter, former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski (19-10). The fight made little sense going in, as both scored impressive knockouts in different weight classes on the first show. And even though he won the fight, Johnson has a frame too small to be fighting heavyweights, which he immediately pointed out after it was over. Still, Johnson wasn’t fat at 230.5 pounds, notable for a guy who did on several occasions make 170. But he didn’t appear to be at his optimum weight, looking somewhat bloated in the face. What ended up happening was a fight that had some entertaining stand-up action. Johnson was quicker and landing the more solid punches. He dropped Arlovski twice at the end of the first round, and just as it appeared it was over, the bell sounded to end the round. Johnson’s corner continually urged him to keep the fight standing. So, naturally, Johnson’s strategy in the next two rounds was to beat Arlovski to the punch, rock him, and try and take him down, a strategy that was doing no damage. Arlovski has always been known for his takedown defense as a heavyweight. While Johnson is a good wrestler, once winning the junior college national title, he’s not a heavyweight wrestler. This created a unique stall situation of Johnson not getting takedowns against the cage for most of rounds two and three, although he was able to get Arlovski to his back once in each round. Johnson after the fight explained that his right hand and his shin hurt from landing on the bigger man, as to why he didn’t listen to his corner and abandoned a standing game that was working well. He indicated his weight class is light heavyweight. These guys are too big, he said, noting heavyweight wasn’t his idea to begin with and he was just doing something asked by the promotion. If World Series of Fighting asks me to do it, I’ll do it. But the question is who at light heavyweight does Johnson face next. An obvious potential name is Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson. Jackson’s UFC contract expired and Jackson has said he won’t renew. While Jackson would provide WSOF with by far the biggest drawing card the company could have, the question is if a guy who was unhappy in UFC making more than $1 million per fight, would come in for anything less than breaking-the-bank money. A seven figure payoff on an NBC Sports television contract on the surface makes no economic sense. There is an argument you go for a name like Jackson, lose money on the deal, with the hopes it draws fans to the product. Whether Jackson is the right call is very much debatable. But building around Arlovski, as WSOF did for its first two events no longer seems viable. Arlovski’s UFC career ended in 2008. His contract expired and he signed a deal with Affliction that called for a fight purse that would gradually increase to $1.5 million, ridiculous numbers, as Affliction’s rapid demise showed. UFC decided against trying to match it. At one point, he then lost four fights in a row. Today, Arlovski is fighting for a fraction of that figure, as he earned $60,000 in his win over Devin Cole on the first WSOF show. His performance here ends any illusion that at 34, an…

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