Twelve fighters have faced Justin Gaethje, and all 12 have fallen short. | Photo: Keith Mills/Sherdog.com
Like all world-class athletes, Justin Gaethje wants to test himself against top-flight competition.
Gaethje will defend the World Series of Fighting lightweight title against Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Melvin Guillard in the WSOF 15 co-main event on Saturday at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa, Fla. The five-round showdown will help shape the future of the Las Vegas-based organization’s 155-pound weight class.
A Grudge Training Center export, Gaethje last appeared at WSOF 11 in July, when he stopped Nick Newell on second-round punches to retain his lightweight crown at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, Fla. The undefeated 25-year-old has secured 11 of his 12 career victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission. An aggressive, offensive-minded fighter, Gaethje has rattled off five straight wins since entering the World Series of Fighting in March 2013, having disposed of Newell, Richard Patishnock, Dan Lauzon, Brian Cobb and Gesias Cavalcante.
Based on big-fight experience alone, Guillard represents a significant increase in degree of difficulty. The 31-year-old American Top Team representative made his WSOF debut in July, when, on the heels of his latest UFC release, he put away Cavalcante with second-round punches and elbows. Wins over Mac Danzig, Dennis Siver, Jeremy Stephens and Evan Dunham anchor the Guillard resume. “The Young Assassin” has struggled to find consistency of late, as he has not posted consecutive victories since winning five in a row from February 6, 2010 until July 2, 2011.
With the Gaethje-Guillard title fight as one of the hooks, here is what to watch for at WSOF 15:
Divisional gold eluded Yushin Okami during an extended run in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but that has not dissuaded the Japanese judoka from pursuing it elsewhere.
Okami will challenge David Branch for his World Series of Fighting middleweight championship in the WSOF 15 headliner. The 33-year-old made his promotional debut at WSOF 9 in March, when he submitted Svetlozar Savov with a second-round arm-triangle choke and announced his ambitions by force. Okami already holds victories over onetime Bellator MMA titleholder Hector Lombard, former middleweight King of Pancrase Nate Marquardt and 2001 NCAA wrestling champion Mark Munoz. “Thunder” fought for the UFC middleweight belt in August 2011, falling to the great Anderson Silva in decisive fashion.
In his way stands the surging Branch. The Renzo Gracie-trained Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has begun to blossom since signing on the WSOF dotted line, as he has pieced together a four-fight winning streak. Branch, 32, captured the World Series of Fighting middleweight strap in June, when he submitted Jesse Taylor with a first-round brabo choke.
STRAW THAT STIRS THE DRINK
More than four years have passed since Jessica Aguilar experienced defeat. In that time, she has become the world’s premier women’s strawweight.
Aguilar will put the WSOF 115-pound championship on the line for a second time when she faces organizational newcomer Kalindra Faria. Operating out of American Top Team, the 32-year-old champion will enter the cage on a nine-fight roll. Aguilar sports a pair of victories over Japanese legend Megumi Fujii and has not lost a fight since winding up on the wrong side of a split decision against Zoila Frausto Gurgel under the Bellator banner in September 2010.
Faria, 28, has won 11 fights in a row, six of them finishes.
LIKE FINE WINE
Jorge Patino has seen just about everything in his 52-fight career.
Patino has beaten Ronaldo Souza and Efrain Escudero; he has lost to Carlos Diego Ferreira, Kazuo Misaki, Pat Miletich and Jose Landi-Jons; and he was a two-division titleholder within the Legacy Fighting Championship organization. Having debuted in 1995, the 41-year-old Brazilian now finds himself in the latter stages of what can only be viewed as a successful march through various MMA circuits. Patino will seek his first WSOF victory at the expense of Bellator alum Eric Reynolds.
Reynolds has finished 16 of his 18 pro wins, including a 30-second knockout of Anton Kuivanen in September 2013.