The announcement that WSOF was no more came in mid-April. The assets of the promotion were reportedly acquired by Russ Ramsey along with venture capitalists Donn Davis and Mark Leschly. The new ownership group quickly rebranded their purchase as the Professional Fighters League.
A lot more than a simple name change took place when the promotion changed hands; there was also a change in philosophy. Instead of a roster of fighters competing for gold belts, the PFL will feature fighters in seven weight divisions competing in a season-style format. At the end of the season, the competitors with the best records advance to a single-elimination postseason playoff with the winners taking home a $1 million prize.
While the PFL season officially launches in 2018, the promotion is holding four events in 2017. The first of those fight cards takes place Friday and is headlined by a bout between former WSOF welterweight champion Jon Fitch and former WSOF lightweight title contender Brian Foster.
While the wins and losses on this card won’t count toward the fighters’ season records, the bouts will be much more than exhibitions, as the promotion intends to use the results to help determine fighter seeding when the season opens in 2018.
“PFL: Daytona” takes place at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. The fight card airs live on NBCSN.
Here are five reasons to watch the event.
1. One chance to make a first impression
Several of the major players involved in the WSOF remain with the PFL, including former President Ray Sefo and former CEO Carlos Silva, who now serve as President of Fighting Operations and President of Event Production and Business Operations, respectively. The continued involvement of Sefo and Silva might make fans feel as if they’re going to see nothing more than a name change with the first PFL card.
The promotion needs to have something more than a new logo and new talking points heading into its first card as a new entity, and that’s not just for the sake of the fans. The promotion also needs to impress any fighters it hopes to attract for its inaugural season in 2018.
There are going to be a lot of eyes on this first PFL card, and with the UFC and Bellator as the top players in the game right now, the PFL needs to hit it out of the park in Daytona. If there are stumbles or missteps, they could be costly and hard to recover from, because if we know anything in 2017, we know the MMA world is not always a forgiving place.
2. The retirement talk was premature
The last time we saw Fitch, he had just ground out a unanimous decision win over Jake Shields to retain his WSOF welterweight title at WSOF 34. Not long after his hand was raised in victory, Fitch, who has been fighting since 2002, said a “funny reading” on his pre-fight brain MRI had him contemplating retirement.
Fitch recently spoke to MMAjunkie Radio about that MRI and said what it showed is something that needs to be monitored on an ongoing basis and not something that needs to be acted upon immediately. To be on the safe side, Fitch paid a visit to the Cleveland Clinic and also had conversations with his doctors.
At this point, Fitch (29-7-1) feels safe continuing his MMA career. Something he will do against Foster (27-9). The winner of this bout will grab the No. 1 seed for the 2018 PFL season in the welterweight division, and while we know there are no gimme fights in MMA, being the top seed should provide the victor with a bit of an easier path to the finals.
Foster enters this fight coming off a submission win over Luiz Firmino at WSOF 33.
3. Establish a foothold
The light heavyweight contest between Smealinho Rama and Ronny Markes has a lot of potential. In Rama, you have a young, former WSOF heavyweight champion looking to establish himself at 205 pounds. In his first bout at light heavyweight, the 25-year-old Rama put a beating on Jake Heun. During that contest, which took place at WSOF 34, Rama looked excellent, showing that the weight cut did not reduce the power in his strikes as he earned a TKO win over Heun.
As for Markes, the former UFC fighter has struggled as of late, going 2-4 after starting his career on a 14-1 run. The move to the PFL could be just what Markes needs to reset his career. He’s still only 29 years old, so he has time to work his way back into the mix.
While Rama (10-2) and Markes (16-5) both have good submission skills, don’t be surprised if these two get after it on the feet, looking to make a statement in the first light heavyweight bout in PFL history.
4. Forget the past
Jason High was seemingly one fight away from fighting for the WSOF lightweight title when he met Joao Zeferino at WSOF 33. At the time, High was 2-0 with the promotion, earning both of those victories via TKO. A questionable TKO stoppage in the second round of the Zeferino bout halted High’s path to title contention.
High, one of the more unheralded fighters in the lightweight division, returns to the cage for the first time since that October defeat, and you can bet he’ll be anxious to get back in the win column.
High faces Caros Fodor, who is coming off a decision win over his brother, Ben Fodor, at WSOF 32. For Fodor (10-5), the lightweight bout against High (20-6) will allow him to put that emotional contest behind him and move forward with his career.
5. So close
In April 2016, Joao Zeferino dropped a unanimous decision to Fitch in a battle for the vacant WSOF welterweight title. Zeferino followed that with a TKO win over Jason High, earning a shot at Justin Gaethje and his WSOF lightweight belt. Unfortunately for Zeferino, an injury prevented him from battling Gaethje.
Now healed up and back at welterweight, the submission ace returns to the cage for the first time since his win over High in October, and you know Zeferino’s (21-8) plan is to use a victory over Herman Terrado to launch himself into the welterweight mix when the PFL season begins in 2018. Terrado (14-3) is unbeaten in his last four fights and has only gone the distance three times in his career.
For more on “PFL: Daytona,” check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.
Filed under: News, WSOF
Source: MMA Junkie