New York, NY – Dec. 31 – World Series of Fighting lightweight champion Justin Gaethje (17-0) energized a sold out Theater at Madison Square Garden with his never-say-die attitude and his bottomless well of energy. After dropping the first two rounds on all three judges’ scorecards the reigning titlist roared back with a huge third round against Luis Firmino (19-8) who had taken the fight on three weeks notice after an injury forced Joao Zeferino from the card. It was a steady diet of uppercuts that did much of the damage to the bloodied but undeterred challenger.
Gaethje’s rally in the third left both fighters visibly damaged but Firmino’s right eye was nearly closed due to massive swelling under the eye. The ringside physician from the New York State Athletic Commission deemed him unfit to continue and the bout was called for Gaethje by TKO.
“We’re all competitors, warriors, I didn’t expect him to go anywhere,” said Gaethje. “We’re fighting on national television before millions of people, it brings the best out of you. That man was tough. Most people would have quit after some of those shots but he was still there, ready to fight.”
As for his performance, the young champ was pretty critical.
“I just get too aggressive sometimes. I really concentrate on entertaining people and I could do it differently but once I get moving forward, I’m just too hardheaded, I hate to back down.”
Long-time welterweight standouts Jon Fitch and Jake Shields (31-9) battled it out in a 25-minute struggle of attrition that saw Fitch (29-7) retain his WSOF title. It was a back-and-forth affair with Fitch earning the decision with unanimous 49-46 scores on all three judge’s cards.
The man who has plied his trade for so many years amongst the best 170-pounders in the world spoke about possibly retiring in the cage after having the belt wrapped around his waist once again. The years of wear and tear have left him unable to train the way he has been accustomed to for so long and he made it clear retirement was something that he was considering heavily.
“I feel pretty good after the fight but, you know, I’m always my biggest critic but I’m getting older and my body is falling apart,” said Fitch. “I can’t train the way I know I need to and I feel like it shows. I just can’t grapple anymore, my neck’s been jacked up for a long time. I’ve had a lot of cortisone shots over the years and the last time I had one it was a sport’s medicine doc and she told me, ‘you’re done, You’re done. Why are you doing this, stop doing this.’
“I’m still grappling with retirement, I want to talk to some people and see what they can do. They’ve come a long way with stem cell injections so with the degeneration I have in my spine, if I can get back to grappling and actually having fun grappling like I used to then we’ll see. Retirement would be like cutting off an arm or a leg.”
Popular WSOF bantamweight boss Marlon Moraes (18-4) handled business against newcomer Josenaldo Silva. The popular Brazilian, now training in nearby New Jersey, lit the partisan crowd with his perpetual attack, hammering at his fellow countryman before landing a flying knee that forced Silva (26-4) into an awkward landing that left him crumpled on the mat in pain. The apparent knee injury ended the bout and gave Moraes his 13th straight victory.
He was ecstatic about fighting so close to home.
“I live in Tom’s River now and it’s really close,” said Moraes. “I’m happy to fight, to perform now and I get to go home and sleep in my own bed.
“That was amazing fighting in New York City. I had a lot of people cheering for me and it always makes me so happy, happy and I think a lot of them are happy now too.”
Two-division champion David Branch dueled with challenger Louis Taylor before finishing him with a rear naked-choke in the fifth round of their championship fight. Branch, who also holds the middleweight belt, retained his light heavyweight title with the victory.
“A lot of people have been saying I’m the best 185’er not in the UFC,” said Branch. “I think I’m the best 185’er in the world regardless of promotion and I’m planning on proving that in 2017.”
WSOF President Ray Sefo was encouraged by the performance of the fighters and was excited about the company’s prospects heading into 2017.
“It was a great night of fights we had to finish off 2016. Seeing all the fans come out to pack the house was great and I know I appreciate all of them and I’m sure the fighters do as well,” said Sefo. “I can’t wait to get back to work to bring more big MMA shows to our fans in 2017.”
- Justin Gaethje def. Luiz Firmino by TKO (doctor stoppage) at 5:00 R3
- Jon Fitch def. Jake Shields by unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 49,46)
- Marlon Moraes def. Josenaldo Silva by TKO (knee injury) at 2:30 R1
- David Branch def. Louis Taylor by submission (rear naked-choke) at 2:00 R5
- Yushin Okami def. Paul Bradley by split-decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
- Caio Alencar def. Jared Rosholt by TKO (strikes) at 1:17 R1
- Smealinho Rama def. Jake Huen by TKO (strikes) at 3:30 R2
- Shane Krutchen def. Jeremy Mahon by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Bruno Santos def. Vagab Vagabov by split-decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29)
- Andre Harrison def. Bruce Boyington by submission (rear naked-choke) at 1:54 of R1
- Tom Marcellino def. Matt Denning by submission (guillotine choke) at 3:30 R1