Ivanov Retains Heavyweight Crown with Grueling Decision Over Copeland at WSOF 31

By Tristen Critchfield Jun 17, 2016

Blagoy Ivanov emerged from his 25-minute encounter with Josh Copeland at World Series of Fighting 31 bloodied and exhausted, but most importantly, with his spot atop the promotion’s heavyweight division intact.

The Bulgarian outlasted Copeland in Friday’s headliner at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Conn., winning a unanimous decision to retain his heavyweight belt. Two judges scored the bout 49-46, while a third submitted a 48-47 tally, all in favor of Blagonov (14-1), who won his third straight fight within the Las Vegas-based promotion.

Copeland (12-4) hung tough throughout, absorbing many of his opponent’s best offerings without blinking. However, “Cuddly Bear” was too often caught with his hands down or his back turned, which allowed Blagonov to rack up points with hard punching combinations. While Ivanov did his best work in close quarters or with counters, Copeland relied on speed and movement to do damage. Still, it was Blagonov who more often landed the most memorable blows in exchanges.

The bout nearly ended prematurely after a significant cut was opened on the right side of Ivanov’s head early in the fight. The contest was briefly halted in the second round as a doctor examined the cut, but fortunately for Blaganov, much of the bleeding went down the side of his head instead of into his eye and he was able to finish the fight.

In the evening’s co-main event, Jason High reversed his fortunes in a matter of moments to become the promotion’s No. 1 contender at lightweight, as he rallied for a win over Mike Ricci. Just as he appeared to be fading in the second frame, High (20-5) landed a lead hook-straight left hand combination that sent Ricci (11-5) stumbling to the canvas. The American Top Team HD representative followed his foe to the ground and unleashed a series of approximately 10 unanswered hammerfists before the bout was stopped at the 4:08 mark.

The matchup between two former UFC talents featured several momentum swings. High controlled round one by landing takedowns, pushing his man against the fence and generally stifling any efforts by Ricci to fight at range. “The Kansas City Bandit” ended the frame attached to Ricci’s back.

That changed early in round two, as the taller Tristar Gym export began tagging High with straight punches from distance. Ricci appeared to be on the verge of a finish after stuffing a desperation takedown and moving into top position to land punishing ground-and-pound on his bloodied adversary. Somehow, High recovered and returned to his feet to mount what turned out to be the fight-ending rally.

Elsewhere, after a rough stretch led to his release from the UFC, John Howard was successful in his initial WSOF foray, taking a unanimous decision triumph over short-notice foe Michael Arrant. “Doomsday” swept all three scorecards by identical 30-27 counts. Arrant stepped in to replace Thiago Meller in the middleweight clash earlier this week.

While Arrant (15-11) was more active than Howard (24-12) early and showcased solid wrestling defense, the Boston native consistently landed the harder punches throughout the contest — even if his output was sporadic. Howard authored the most significant moment of the fight in round three, when he floored Arrant with a right hand in a flurry and then slammed his opponent to the canvas, ultimately ending the fight in full mount.

Former 145-pound title challenger Sheymon da Silva Moraes spoiled Luis Palomino’s featherweight debut, as he captured a unanimous decision over the 35-year-old Peru native. All three cageside judges scored the bout 29-28 in favor of the 25-year-old Brazilian, who has won two straight since coming up short in a championship bid against Marlon Moraes at WSOF 22. Palomino, meanwhile, has lost four of his last five outings.

For the most part, Moraes (9-1) was able to avoid the type of wild action fight favored by his opponent. The Team Nogueira product controlled the center of the cage for large portions of the bout, keeping Palomino (24-13) on his heels with crisp kicks to the legs and body. While the two combatants engaged in a couple spirited exchanges, those moments were not enough for Palomino to put a lasting stamp on the fight.

Phil Hawes dominated Joshua Key in a featured middleweight contest, winning via technical knockout in the opening stanza. A barrage of punches from back mount mercifully brought the bout to a close 2:52 into round one in what was the WSOF debut for both fighters.

Key (6-12) was never competitive. Hawes (4-0), who was eliminated in the opening round of “The Ultimate Fighter 23,” marched forward and absorbed a few leg kicks from his opponent before sprawling on a takedown attempt and briefly considering a guillotine. Instead of forcing the submission attempt, the Jackson-Wink MMA representative transitioned into full mount and began battering Key with elbows and punches from above. Key briefly returned to his feet after being threatened with an armbar, but Hawes quickly grounded and mounted him again and resumed his assault until the fight was halted.

In preliminary action: Devin Powell (6-1) captured a split-decision triumph (29-28, 27-30, 29-28) over Tom Marcellino (7-5) at lightweight; Justin Willis (4-1) earned a technical knockout over Juliano Coutinho (7-3) at the 2:30 mark of round two in a heavyweight scrap; Tyler King (11-4) submitted Lorenzo Hood (9-4) with a guillotine choke 4:20 into the second round at heavyweight; Bruce Boyington (13-8) garnered a split verdict (27-30, 29-28, 29-28) over Saul Almeida (18-7) at lightweight and Marcus Surin (4-0) stopped Christian Torres (0-1) via technical knockout 2:51 into round two at lightweight.
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