With the spring thaw in full effect, things are heating up in the Great White North as Canada’s Maximum Fighting Championship prepares to host its 37th event, “True Grit,” on May 10.

The night’s main event features a heavyweight clash for the promotion’s vacant title. Undefeated Canadian Smealinho Rama will take on XFC veteran Chris Barnett in a five-round affair.

In addition to the headlining action, the promotion will host a bantamweight battle between Ryan Benoit and Anthony Birchak, lightweights Mukai Maromo and Kurt Southern look to get back in the win column, submission specialists Luke Harris and Jason Zentgraf go to war, and UFC veteran Jay Silva and TUF alum Sam Alvey face off at middleweight.

The night’s main card will be broadcast live on AXS TV starting at 10 p.m. ET, while a five-fight preliminary card will stream free on Facebook beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET.

For this event, The MMA Corner moved the round table out of the room, swept the floors and strapped on the gloves for a one-on-one sparring session between writers Rob Tatum and Bryan Henderson, who share their opinions for the entire main-card lineup.

MW: Jay Silva (8-7) vs. Sam Alvey (19-5)

Henderson: They may be in the leadoff spot on the card, but middleweights Sam Alvey and Jay Silva are the two names in this lineup that will be most familiar to many fans.

Alvey (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Silva seemed like a promising prospect when he set foot inside the Octagon in September 2009. He was 5-1 at the time and had scored all of his victories via stoppage. He managed to go the distance in both of his UFC appearances, but came out on the losing end of the scorecards against C.B. Dollaway and Chris Leben and was released by the promotion. Then he was fed to Hector Lombard in a non-title bout under the Bellator banner. In all, he’s gone 3-6 from the time of his UFC debut to present and his only impressive win was his submission finish of fellow UFC vet Kendall Grove at Superior Cage Combat 4. Silva can be a dangerous striker and is competent on the ground, but he can get overwhelmed in the early moments of a fight.

Normally a middleweight or light heavyweight, “Smilin’” Sam Alvey competed as a welterweight on season 16 of The Ultimate Fighter, where he qualified for the house with a first-round knockout of Leo Kuntz but failed to advance past his next fight when he dropped a decision to Joey Rivera. Alvey has since returned to 185 pounds and lost to Elvis Mutapcic via unanimous decision in a MFC title bout. Alvey has notched a win over Karl Amoussou under the Bellator banner, but he has lost to the likes of Vitor Vianna and Gerald Meerschaert. Eleven of his victories have come via some form of knockout and, like Silva, he tends to go the distance in his losses.

Silva (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

I have to admit that my confidence in Silva’s ability to win a fight has never been very high. In fact, I was surprised that he got the better of Grove. Alvey isn’t a world beater either and some of his losses are head-scratchers, but he is a tough guy and packs power in his punches. Silva’s chin is not very reliable and there’s a good chance that Alvey will test it throughout this affair. If Alvey could survive with Mutapcic on the feet, he’ll do so against Silva too. What he’ll also do is catch Silva with a punch that leads to a TKO finish.

Tatum: It’s hard to argue with Bryan’s outlook on this fight. Silva’s success has come against opponents that he could bully or overwhelm, but as soon as he began to face fighters that could match his speed or strength, he wilted. And to some extent, the same can be said of Alvey.

The question is, which fighter can implement their will on this fight?

My guess is that it will be Alvey. He showed a granite chin against Mutapcic and he should have the speed advantage over Silva. Couple that with the fact that 11 of his 19 wins have come via his heavy hands, and all signs point to another stoppage win for the Wisconsin fighter.

Silva’s inconsistencies are a major concern, especially against someone that hits as hard as Alvey. He’s only been finished twice in his career, but expect Alvey to add to that total with a violent first-round barrage that overwhelms Silva.

LW: Kurt Southern (11-4) vs. Mukai Maromo (8-3)

Tatum: Revenge may be in the cards when Canadian lightweight Kurt Southern meets Zimbabwe’s Mukai Maromo for the second time. Southern submitted Maromo in 2010 with a first-round triangle choke.

Maromo (Arnold Lim/Sherdog)

Since that time, Maromo’s slick striking attack has propelled him into the MFC spotlight, with wins in five of his last seven fights. However, the two losses are a concern, as Maromo’s lack of wrestling and grappling experience were exposed by Graham Spencer—much the way they were by Southern in the pair’s first meeting. On the feet, there may not be a more enjoyable fighter to watch than Maromo, but he has problems when his opponents decide to bring the fight to the mat.

Southern may not be as flashy as Maromo, but that doesn’t mean he’s ineffective. Although he shares similar holes in his submission defense as Maromo, Southern’s offense largely comes in the grappling department. Based on the first meeting, it’s unlikely that Southern will choose to stand and trade with Maromo, and don’t be surprised if he pulls guard to get this fight to the mat. If Southern can drag Maromo to his world, he has the tools to pick up yet another submission victory.

As hard as the MFC has pushed Maromo to become a star, the reality is that he still has room to grow. His Muay Thai is lethal, but unless he’s shored up his submission defense since his February loss to Spencer, he’s likely to fall to 0-2 against Southern as well. Look for Southern to score a second-round rear-naked choke.

Southern (Al Quintero/Sherdog)

Henderson: May 2010. That’s when Maromo became a professional MMA fighter. Before that time, he was competing solely as a Muay Thai fighter. Three, maybe four years of training in the ground game? I don’t think he’ll be able to shore that area of his game up any time soon to the point where he can compete against someone who can take him to the mat.

Maromo’s striking experience does indeed make him a pleasure to watch, but is it enough to get him past someone who has already solved the puzzle of defeating him? Maromo has been in that same boat before and didn’t fare so well. In fact, he fared worse in the second go-around. Of course, I’m talking about his pair of fights with Graham Spencer. The first encounter ended with a unanimous decision win for Spencer. The second meeting had Spencer winning in the third round via submission.

I, too, think the MFC’s attempt to push Maromo as a star is a bit premature. His striking can produce highlight-reel finishes, which is obviously why the promotion likes him so much, but the all-around game just isn’t there. He could always land a knockout blow and stun Southern, but Southern has been in this exact situation before and should know how to properly defend himself. Southern made quick work of Maromo in their first fight, but he might need a tad longer to get the job done this time. He’ll submit Maromo in the second or third round.

MW: Jason Zentgraf (7-1) vs. Luke Harris (9-2)

Henderson: Fight fans that love to watch two submission specialists vie for superiority on the mat could be treated to such a contest when middleweights Jason Zentgraf and Luke Harris step into the MFC ring. The two prospects have ended all of their 16 combined victories by way of submission.

Harris (Arnold Lim/Sherdog)

Harris has been training in judo since the age of eight, holds a black belt in the art and has competed as part of the Canadian national team. Further adding to his lethal ground game is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu earned under the tutelage of Robert Drysdale. Harris was a highly touted prospect entering his MFC 34 bout with Joseph Henle, but Henle halted Harris’ momentum with a first-round TKO of the judoka. Harris will look to bounce back in this encounter with Zentgraf.

Zentgraf is less than three months removed from a submission win over Clay Davidson at MFC 36. Davidson was an injury replacement for Harris, so this upcoming fight has actually been building for a while now. Zentgraf tends to finish fights early and has only lost once, via decision to UFC veteran Mario Miranda.

My biggest concern is that the elite ground games of these two submission aces cause them to choose to strike rather than grapple. The last thing I want to see is Harris and Zentgraf spar for 15 minutes. If it does head in that direction, Zentgraf will have the edge and could score a TKO or take the fight on the scorecards. But if these two embrace the best parts of their skill sets and opt to prove they have the superior ground game, then we could be in for a real treat. Zentgraf is dangerous on the mat, but it’s hard to overlook Harris’ black belts. If it’s a ground fight, look for Harris to emerge with the submission finish.

Tatum: Of course Bryan had to go and jinx this fight before it happens. While most grappling fans are frothing at the mouth to see these two go at it on the mat, it’s likely to be 15 minutes of sloppy haymakers.

Zentgraf (Jacob Bos/Sherdog)

I agree with Bryan that if this fight does find its way to the ground (as desired by fans), the edge goes the way of Harris. His ground game is one of the best in the middleweight division, but he lacks the striking arsenal to back it up. Both of his losses have come via strikes, most recently to TUF alum Joseph Henle last August. If this fight plays out on the feet, it spells a lot of trouble for the Albertan.

Zentgraf may not have the same accolades as Harris, but as Bryan alluded to, he does have a strong ground game as well. The Montana fighter has showcased a strong guard game, which may be important against an experienced judoka like Harris. But can he hold his own against Harris’ top control? That’s where this fight could get very interesting.

As much as I hope this fight becomes a chess match on the ground, I have a hunch that a lot of it will take place on the feet. That causes me to lean toward a second-round TKO win for Zentgraf.

BW: Ryan Benoit (6-1) vs. Anthony Birchak (9-1)

Tatum: Two highly touted bantamweights will meet when Texas-based Ryan Benoit takes on Arizona’s Anthony Birchak.

Benoit (Andy Hemingway/Sherdog)

Benoit has torn through the competition in Legacy FC, stopping UFC vet Joseph Sandoval in his last outing with a massive right hand. Despite being undersized for the 135-pound division at just 5-foot-5, Benoit’s hard-hitting attack has earned him five stoppages via strikes. Against Birchak, he’ll need to overcome a reach disadvantage and do what he can to keep the fight standing.

Meanwhile, Birchak has faced solid competition in Bellator MMA and in his most recent bout against Matt Leyva in December. At 5-foot-8, he has a long frame for a bantamweight, and he possesses a strong grappling base. Birchak will have to withstand the aggression of Benoit early and look to take the fight to the mat, where he can use his long limbs to his advantage.

This could easily be the “Fight of the Night,” as both fighters like to finish and rarely go the distance. Look for Birchak’s size and submission game to be the difference as he taps Benoit with a third-round arm-triangle.

Henderson: This is really a battle between two wrestlers. What they do with that wrestling is where they tend to differ.

Birchak (Wilson Fox/Sherdog)

Birchak is the more accomplished of the two in his wrestling career. He has shown more tendencies to use his wrestling to take fights to the mat, where he can score the submission finish. Benoit, meanwhile, has usually let his hands do the talking and is probably more inclined to keep the fight standing, as Rob suggested.

The southpaw Benoit is going to come out looking for the early knockout. How he approaches that strategy is key. If he charges forward a la Sheila Gaff in her fight with Sara McMann, he’ll stand no chance of winning. But if he can be aggressive without being reckless, then he could score the knockout. That’s not to say he will, however.

Birchak’s ability to submit opponents is what I see as the deciding factor in this match-up. He has the superior wrestling and the size to put Benoit on the mat, and his grappling skills should seal the deal. Birchak ends this fight in the first round with a choke of some sort.

HW Championship: Chris Barnett (7-1) vs. Smealinho Rama (6-0)

Henderson: You can’t get much better than a combined 13-1 record between two heavyweights competing outside of the UFC, but that’s exactly what the MFC has managed for its heavyweight title tilt with the pairing of Smealinho Rama and Chris Barnett. Rama is a top Canadian heavyweight and this fight should serve as an opportunity for him to showcase his skills to a large audience while fighting a tough opponent.

Rama (Jacob Bos/Sherdog)

Barnett’s boxing background and taekwondo black belt have led to seven victories, including five via some form of knockout. The 26-year-old has only lost once, and that was a close majority decision defeat versus Bellator regular Eric Prindle. The Floridian has knocked out M-1 standout Kenny Garner and has also brought an early end to the night for Mario Rinaldi. “Beast Boy” toes the upper limits of the division’s weight restrictions, and he carries all that weight on a 5-foot-9 frame.

The 21-year-old Rama could very well be one of the best heavyweight prospects out there right now. The undefeated Canadian possesses a black belt in judo and a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but he can get the job done with his fists just as well as he can with his submissions. The 6-foot Rama, having finished three fights by some form of knockout and three via submission, has never seen the judges’ scorecards. Despite his youth and only a little over a year as a professional, he sports an impressive six-fight record that includes a knockout of Mike Hackert and a submission of Ryan Fortin.

The thing that stands out on Barnett’s record is his lack of activity. Whereas Rama has been notching win after win in just over a year’s time, Barnett hasn’t seen action in over two years now. It wasn’t due to an injury or disinterest on Barnett’s part though. Rather, Barnett claims that his inactivity is the result of an unethical promoter who would harass any promotion that signed the big man to a fight. That doesn’t mean that he’s been sitting on a couch eating Cheetos all day. Instead, he’s been training with the Blackzilians, has won a NAGA grappling competition and knocked out his opponent in his professional boxing debut.

This certainly has the makings of an interesting heavyweight scrap. Rama is young and impressive, but Barnett has defeated some stiff competition and trains with an elite camp. Despite his striking base, Barnett also has a background in wrestling and BJJ that will come in handy in countering Rama’s ground game. To top it off, he’s training with an elite group down in Florida, even if that group hasn’t had the best track record lately. Despite those facts, my gut still says that Rama will be able to overcome Barnett and walk away with the title. He’ll do so with a submission midway through the fight.

Tatum: I share the same concerns as Bryan on Barnett’s lack of activity leading into this fight. While I feel for any fighter held hostage by a shady promoter, there’s no arguing that time away from the cage hurts a fighter’s game. It’s been two full years since he last stepped into a cage and that was his only fight since 2010.

Barnett (Sherdog)

Rama is every bit as impressive as Bryan described, having destroyed every foe put in his path thus far in his career. His well-rounded attack and propensity for brutal first-round finishes makes him a very intriguing fighter.

The wild card in this fight has to be conditioning, but for both fighters.

In one corner you have a stout 265-pound, 5-foot-9 Barnett that has been out of action for a lengthy period of time. He’ll be traveling to Edmonton, where the altitude is a half-mile higher than Florida. Combine that with the fact that his game is largely bullying his opponents around the ring, and the prospects of going a full 25 minutes seems bleak for the American.

But Rama should be equally concerned, even fighting in his own backyard. Although he’s younger and not nearly as stocky, the fact that he has yet to spend 15 minutes total in a ring over his six fights leaves a lot of unknowns about how he’ll perform over the course of a five-round affair.

I’m going to agree with Bryan on the outcome. As long as Rama is patient, he’ll capitalize on Barnett’s ring rust and score a third-round kimura to capture the promotion’s heavyweight belt.

Top Photo: Maximum Fighting Championship (MFC)

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