Will Brooks (BellatorMMA.com)
By Paul Fontaine, WrestlingObserver.com
This past weekend, while not having a truly “big” show, did have a lot of MMA action to choose from with UFC, Bellator and WSOF all running shows. These, along with the weekly AXS TV show and a GFL.TV show meant there was no shortage of fights for the MMA fan. Here’s a look back at the five stars of the weekend, along with a future star to watch.
To qualify here, the fighter usually, but not always, would need to have something of a name going in and/or be at or near title contention in their division. They would ideally have either won by KO or submission but if they were truly dominant in a decision, I would include them. A future star to watch would ideally be unbeaten or maybe have one loss on their record but would be someone you’ve probably never heard of but is likely to be a big thing in the sport in the next year or so.
5 -- Dave Branch (16-3) beat Jesse McElligott via second round submission at WSOF 20 in the semifinals of the promotions Light Heavyweight title tourney on NBC Sports Network
Branch is already the group’s Middleweight champion and is looking to become a dual champion. McElligott was a last minute (almost literally, as in the day of the fight) substitution for Ronny Markes. Branch stepped up and won big with a Von Flue choke at 1:28 of the second round. He’ll face Teddy Holder for the title later this year. Branch is now 6-0 in WSOF.
4 -- Maryna Moroz (6-0) beat Joanne Calderwood via first round submission at UFC Fight Night Krakow on UFC Fight Pass
In a meeting of two unbeaten strawweights, with Champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk at cageside, Moroz made her UFC debut and shocked the MMA world by submitting the highly regarded Calderwood with an armlock in 90 seconds. Calderwood was one of the top ranked fighters in the TUF 20 cast to crown a UFC strawweight champion and was expected to challenge for the title with a win here. Now that shot could very well go to Moroz. The Ukranian has now submitted every one of her pro opponents and challenged the champion after the fight in her post-fight interview. JJ looked like she was ready to go right there and definitely seems up for the fight should it be signed. For anyone watching the Fight Pass show, this is one they’ll probably be looking forward to.
3 -- Marcin Held (21-3) beat Tiger Sarnavskiy via third round submission at Bellator 136 on Spike TV
In an absolute submission grappling clinic, Held did what anyone who has watched him before expected and submitted the highly regarded Sarnavskiy at 1:11 of the third round with a leglock. This was his six straight win in Bellator and 11th in his last 12. He’ll be the next likely challenger for champion Will Brooks. Having just turned 23 years old, hard to realize since he’s been fighting in Bellator since 2011, it’s scary to think he good he could become.
2. Will Brooks (16-1), Bellator MMA, beat Dave Jansen by unanimous decision to retain his Lightweight Championship at Bellator 136 on Spike TV (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0twamdcCMhY)
With a dominant performance in the biggest title fight of the weekend, Brooks cemented his position as what many regard as the best fighter not currently in UFC. Jansen won the first round but was outclassed by Brooks as the fight went on and did well just to last the full five. Brooks seemed to get better with each round and he’s certainly getting better with each fight. He’s only lost once, to Saad Awad (who fought on the prelims of this card) early in his career. He’s only 28 and it’s a young 28 as he’s only been a pro for 4 years. If he manages to get past Held in what’s likely to be his next challenge, it’s hard to think where he would go next. Perhaps a move up in weight class.
1 -- Mirko Cro Cop (31-11-2) beat Gabriel Gonzaga by third round TKO in the main event of UFC Fight Night Krakov on UFC Fight Pass
In a rematch of their famous fight at UFC 70 almost seven years ago to the day, Cro Cop avenged that knockout loss with a TKO victory over Gonzaga at 3:30 of Round 3. Cro Cop had lost the previous two rounds and was busted up pretty badly by a series of elbows at the end of Round 2 by Gonzaga. He didn’t look particularly good leading up to it but when he staggered Gonzaga with a series of elbows that knocked him down, he sensed victory and for a brief moment, the old Cro Cop was back.
He pounded Gonzaga with a series of punches and elbows until the ref finally had to stop it and Gonzaga took a long time getting up. This was his third straight knockout win and fourth win in his last 5 fights. It’s unlikely he’ll ever be one of the top heavyweights in the world again but this performance should earn him at least 1 or 2 more fights in UFC.
*Future Star of the Week – Islam Mamedov (11-1) beat Leon Davis via first round TKO on the WSOF 20 prelims on NBCSports.com
Mamedov is a 25 year old from the MMA hotbed of Dagestan that was making his North American debut. The TKO victory at 4:41 of the first was his tenth straight, with all but one of his career wins coming via stoppage. There was never any doubt in this fight as he dominated from start to finish. It would not be surprising to see Mamedov pushed to title contention with one or two more wins in WSOF.