photos: Lucas Noonan/WSOF — Steve Carl pushed himself to the limits, and he walked away as World Series of Fighting’s first-ever champion.
Battling through injuries that hampered his final weeks of preparation, an exhausted Carl choked out resilient challenger Josh Burkman to claim the promotion’s inaugural welterweight belt.
The two squared off in the main event of Saturday’s “World Series of Fighting 6: Burkman vs. Carl,” which took place at BankUnited Center in Coral Gables, Fla. and aired live on NBCSN.
Carl and Burkman wasted little time in getting to work, as each looked to attack from the opening bell. It was Burkman who took the upper-hand with an early takedown, but Carl worked hard to defend underneath.
As the fight wore on, both men enjoyed moments of success on the floor. Each had submission attempts that seemed destined to end the fight, but neither opponent would go away quite so easily. But as the bout entered the championship rounds, Carl emerged as the better fighter.
As the two grappled yet again, Carl went willingly to his back, where he locked in a tight triangle choke. Burkman tried hard to escape but was ultimately choked out at the 1:02 mark of the fourth frame. With the win, Carl claimed the first championship belt ever awarded by World Series of Fighting, but admitted he was capable of more.
“I felt like I could have performed a lot better, but there’s something not a lot of people know,” Carl said after the win. “Two weeks ago I was in the emergency room with torn muscles and a bulging disc in my back, unable to walk. My last two weeks have been nothing but rest and rehab to get here. I was bound and determined to take this fight, and I’m not really happy with my performance.
“I was so tired I wanted to quit there a couple times. Josh is a really game opponent, and he kept bringing it. Honestly, I didn’t think I could do it for a while. My cornermen just kept pushing me through it, and here we are. We did it.”
Carl (21-3) now boasts an impressive seven-fight win streak. Burkman (26-10) sees a five-fight win streak snapped, but will no doubt remain a top contender for the promotion.
In the night’s co-feature, Marlon Moraes earned his fourth World Series of Fighting victory with an impressive first-round finish of Carson Beebe.
With Beebe rushing forward for the takedown, Moraes defended the efforts while rattling off powerful punches. A few early uppercuts left Beebe rattled, and a massive left hook sent him toppling to the floor. Moraes pounced with a few short punches to finish the deal, and the bout was stopped after just 32 seconds.
Afterward, Moraes said Beebe’s wrestling skills also made him a vulnerable target.
“He’s a wrestler,” Moraes said. “He came hard to take me down, but I was ready. He was too close to try to take me down. I could hit him with some punches.”
Moraes (12-4-1) is now a perfect 4-0 for World Series of Fighting and would appear to be in line to challenge for the company’s first bantamweight belt. Beebe (14-3) falls to 1-2 in his past three appearances.
Welterweight contender Jon Fitch is no stranger to adversity, but he once again proved his heart in a gritty, three-round war with Marcelo Alfaya.
While Fitch (25-6-1) was heavily favored heading into the matchup, underdog Alfaya (15-7) pushed forward from the opening bell, bringing the fight to the floor and outgrappling Fitch, a vaunted wrestling ace. Alfaya tried to repeat the performance in the second before Fitch escaped to the feet and turned to his striking to shift the momentum. It was a wise decision.
After a tightly contested second frame, Fitch took over in the third, outworking Alfaya by defending takedowns and snapping his head back with several stiff strikes. It was clear Fitch took the final round, but the result of the fight remained in doubt until the judges’ scores were read.
Two of three judges sided with Fitch, and he was awarded a split-decision win. Afterward, he said he was confident he’d done enough to take home the win.
“I was fairly confident I did enough,” Fitch said. “I did a lot of damage, a lot of striking, a lot of stuff on top. He was able to control a lot of positions on me, which I wasn’t expecting. He was really strong, but I don’t think it was enough to win a fight.”
In the night’s first main-card matchup, lightweight Justin Gaethje shed the “prospect” tag in favor of a “contender” label with a brutal stoppage of durable veteran Dan Lauzon.
Gaethje and Lauzon engaged from the opening bell, but by the end of the first round, a dizzying barrage of leg kicks left Lauzon hobbling. He switched stances in the second, but Gaethje simply chopped away at the other limb before scoring two huge right hands that send Lauzon to the floor. Another punch on the floor sealed the TKO win at the 1:40 mark.
After the win, Gaethje said Lauzon’s lack of movement led to his demise.
“My strategy is always to work hard; I take the opportunities I get,” Gaethje said. “I definitely saw him planting his feet, so yeah, I was trying to tee off on that leg.”
Gaethje (10-0), who remains perfect for his career, is now 3-0 under the World Series of Fighting banner and may soon contend for the promotion’s inaugural lightweight belt. Lauzon (17-5) sees a five-fight winning streak snapped.
In the headlining attraction of the preliminary card, the unheralded Pablo Alfonso took advantage of the biggest opportunity in his career, wobbling and submitting former WEC champion Miguel Torres in impressive fashion.
Alfonso blitzed Torres in the early going and rocked him with a quick flurry of punches, including a pair of uppercuts that landed flush. As Torres hit the floor, Alfonso passed on an opportunity to look for a submission, choosing instead to try and strike his way to the win. Torres briefly recovered, but Alfonso (9-5) stayed on the attack and worked in a guillotine choke. With the hold tightening, Torres (40-7) tried desperately to pull free but was ultimately forced to tap out at the 3:05 mark of the first.
Thirteen-year MMA veteran Luiz Firmino has faced a who’s who list of opponents, but he picked up one of the most important wins of his career with a decision over fellow lightweight Jacob Volkmann.
The two grappling specialists relied heavily on their wrestling games, with Firmino perhaps surprisingly getting the best of the takedowns in the early going. Volkmann struggled to shift the momentum throughout the tedious three-round affair, but Firmino kept establishing top position and earning points with the judges, eventually taking a unanimous-decision win over Volkmann (16-5), 29-28 on all three judges’ cards.
In a grappling-heavy catchweight contest, Chad Robichaux used a non-stop submission attack to tap out a previously undefeated Andrew Yates.
Robichaux looked to end the fight early, latching on to a guillotine choke in the opening seconds and later transitioning to a triangle. However, Yates survived each hold, eventually slamming Robichaux to the canvas, and crawled back to his feet. Unfortunately, he remained in hot water for the entirety of the round.
Robichaux (13-2) continued the assault in the second, and while Yates (7-1) continued to flash impressive defense, “Robo” nailed a beautiful sweep from the bottom to turn over and lock in a north-south choke, putting “The Golden Boy” to sleep with 51 seconds left in the round.
In an early barnburner, 23-year-old Josh Rettinghouse scored an upset win over Olympic wrestling medalist Alexis Vila.
The taller Rettinghouse also flashed impressive speed, as he moved in and out of Vila’s range and delivered both punches and kicks to all levels. Meanwhile, the powerful Vila walked confidently forward and threw heavy leather, constantly hunting for the knockout. After back-and-forth action in the first two rounds, Vila took over in the third. An early takedown scored points, as did a few knees on the floor. Rettinghouse worked back to his feet and looked to strike, but Vila’s grappling scored him two more takedowns.
A gutsy Rettinghouse (10-2) flurried in the final minute and pressed until the final bell of the spirited contest. In the end, judges felt he had done enough to take home the win, as he was awarded a unanimous-decision win over Vila (13-4) with scores of 29-28 on all three judges’ cards.
In early featherweight action, undefeated prospect Nick LoBosco (7-0) announced himself as a fighter to watch with a brutal first-round knockout of veteran Fabio Mello (11-7). After a brief feeling out process, LoBosco launched a high kick that landed flush and sent Mello to the floor. From there, LoBosco pounced with massive right hands that finished the job at the 2:02 mark of the first round.
In the night’s first fight, grappling ace Alexandre Pimentel (13-1) submitted a game Jade Porter (9-4) in the third frame. While Porter showed excellent submission defense throughout the fight, Pimentel finally worked to the back in the third round. While he was unable to finish with a rear-naked choke, he instead transitioned beautifully to a triangle choke earning the tap at the 3:05 mark of the final round.
In a walkout bout, Hans Stringer (21-5-3) and Francisco France (8-3-1) battled their way to a draw. Stringer, who trains with the Blackzillians, had a point deducted from him after he caught France with a low blow for the second time.
About World Series of Fighting
World Series of Fighting is a professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fight promotion dedicated to delivering an incredible, action-packed entertainment experience for fight fans by producing the best possible matchups between elite fighters from around the globe. For more information please visit WSOF.com. Follow World Series of Fighting on Twitter @MMAWorldSeries and World Series of Fighting President Ray Sefo @SugarRaySefo.