Newell provides spark to WSOF that struggled to find momentum

Sunday August 11th, 2013

Nick Newell moved to 10-0 in his career with a win over Keon Caldwell at the World Series of Fighting 4.
World Series of Fighting

ONTARIO, Calif. -- The World Series of Fighting's fourth event seemed to mostly satisfy those who trekked deep into Southern California's desert community for the event. Still, the night's card had its ups and downs and didn't crescendo the way it should, as the main event didn't leave viewers wanting more.

Kickboxing implant Tyrone Spong closed the night, improving to 2-0 while bludgeoning tough-as-nails Angel DeAnda (11-3) for nearly three rounds for a unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28). The bout didn't feel like a headliner, though, but more an exercise in building up the green star-in-the-making (at least until someone takes him down), as more evenly matched fights lied further down the card.

Nick Newell, a congenital amputee who's left arm stops midway up his forearm, was one of the night's highlights. He fought in the sixth bout of the nine-fight card and his wily submission of one-time UFC fighter Keon Caldwell was an inspiring testament to the 27-year-old fighter's persistence.

Here are three thoughts on WSOF 4:

1. Nick Newell deserves some of your respect.

For all the fuss about what advantages he has because opponents can't quite prepare for his unique physicality, Newell excels where he shouldn't. About a minute into his lightweight bout with Keon Caldwell (9-2), the now 10-0 Newell dropped levels and shot for a beautiful takedown, grasping Caldwell's legs as best he could. From cross-faced half guard, Newell dropped to his side, no hooks in, and sunk in a modified guillotine choke (with shades of a D'Arce in there), coaxing out the tapout at 2:07 into the first round. He used his under-formed arm, clasped by his single fist, to pressure Kaldwell's neck, compensating that much more without the standard grip other fighters have naturally.

Newell's not an unbeatable fighter. His striking -- both in punches and in kicks -- lacks power. His creative grappling overcompensates and he is driven, but any fighter can be driven. These are not advantages. These are qualities all fighters have to work toward. Newell's putting the work in.

2. What message does it send when the president of a fight promotion fights at its fourth event?

Don't get me wrong. Ray Sefo is as congenial as they come and has a great rapport and genuine concern for fighters that shines through. A striking coach to many accomplished fighters, Sefo is considered one of the good guys. Still, isn't he needed in the front office? His absence might have only lasted a couple of months as he prepared for his bout, but for a fledgling fight show, that first year is a make-or-break one. Shouldn't it be all hands on deck?

Luckily for the 42-year-old Sefo, he knows how to work a crowd and produced an entelrtaining romp, despite losing to Dave Huckaba (20-5) with standing punches 4:37 into the second round.

Sefo seemed to have his timing down halfway through the first round, peppering Huckaba with high and low kicks at will. Huckaba eventually attempted an ill-executed trip and Sefo landed in side control. Of course, the novice grappler couldn't do much from there until the bell, but he won the round amply.

Sefo encouraged Huckaba to come at him in the second stanza and he obliged, as Sefo grinned and got the crowd going. When Huckaba missed another trip, Sefo's leg-chopping commenced and a knockout seemed imminent. Huckaba was too tired from his attack to do anything other than absorb the blows until ... things got interesting. Sefo missed with a high kick and as his body rotated around from the motion and he faced his opponent again, Huckaba moved in with a left that stunned the former world-champion kickboxer. Huckaba pounced on the stumbling Sefo and swung away at him on the fence until referee Mike Bell stopped it.

Sefo was an asset Saturday night, and the crowd clearly appreciated Sefo and Huckaba's willingness to pulverize one another, but for a promotion to be taken seriously, its employees should stay on their side of the cage.

The bout brought to mind promoter Jamie Levine, a convicted felon who was recently denied a new license by the Florida State Boxing Commission. In 2005, he hijacked the main event of his own WEF event in Las Vegas. It was a disaster.

The WSOF needs a strong figurehead, and if Sefo is so expendable, it gets one wondering. You don't see UFC President Dana White climbing in the octagon (though Tito Ortiz might have gotten him close at one point). White knows his place and his business is flourishing.

3. The WSOF has some ways to go before it becomes a must-watch promotion.

This isn't surprising given that the promotion has hosted only four cards. It takes time for an MMA promotion to find its identity through inventive matchmaking and the atmosphere it creates at the venue, which hopefully translates to viewers watching at home. The question is: Will the WSOF get there before the funds run dry?

Though its fight schedule seemed out of order (and I'd be hard-pressed to name which fight should have been the headliner), Saturday's card had some decent bouts.

En route to his unanimous decision win (30-27 all), Marlon Moraes' dissection of a game, but outskilled, Brandon Hempleman was surgical. After five minutes, the Brazilian bantamweight's repeated left high kicks left bruising that could have been mistaken for a brush of rouge across Hempleman's right cheek. Hempleman's bleeding began with a small trickle from his forehead. After Moraes grounded him and began punching from half and then full guard, Hempleman's face erupted as if he'd put on a red mask. A doctor checked in, but allowed the bout to continue.

In the second round, Moraes (11-4) focused on Hempleman's lead leg with brutal outside kicks that crippled Hempleman (9-2). He was a standing duck, but again made it to the bell. It's a shame Moraes eased up in the third round and coasted to the bell. Calm and calculated, Moraes could have punctuated his performance with a finish. Either way, with his massive growth potential, he has to be on the UFC's radar with two stellar back-to-back victories for the WSOF.

In the most technically competitive bout of the night, Gesias "JZ" Cavalcante (18-7) stopped Tyson Griffin (16-7) with punches at 1:37 into the third round. Both Griffin and the crowd objected to the finish fervently.

Lightweight Griffin eked out a close first round of ferocious exchanges with a well-timed takedown at the bell. The first round, full of dogfight trading, high kicks and general aggression, set the tone of the fight between former top-10 lightweights.

Cavalcante edged ahead slightly in the second round, stuffing an early Griffin takedown and then wobbling Griffin later with a left.

Griffin started the final round with urgency, lunging in with combos, spurring Cavalcante to shoot a takedown about 40 seconds in. Once Cavalcante passed to mount, Griffin flipped to his stomach, where the Brazilian flattened him and continued to punch his head. Referee Mike McCoy moved in, and though the stoppage wasn't a robbery, it would have been more prudent to let the match go. Griffin, who has one of the widest bases in the sport, looked to just be maneuvering into something when the bout was called.

Gerald Harris (22-5) rebounded from his November loss to Josh Burkman with a unanimous decision (29-27 all) over fellow UFC alum Jorge Santiago (25-12). Santiago's leg kicks scored early, and he maneuvered into a triangle choke from standing off a Harris takedown, but was deducted a point for using the cage lip. Santiago cut Harris' legs out from under him dramatically two times in the second and third rounds, but Harris used his wrestling to recover and ground Santiago until he could get to his feet. Though I had the bout for Santiago, and there was some debate on press row, Harris walked away with the win.

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