Fans that tuned into last Friday’s World Series of Fighting 3 event on the NBC Sports Network were treated to a decent night of action. The event produced a few relevant story lines that got people talking enough to show that the promotion is headed in the right direction.

Most eyes were on the handful of main-event fighters that formerly fought under the Zuffa banner, and there were a few intriguing fights from the preliminary portion of the card. The main event delivered, but not in the way that anyone would have expected. As much excitement as it presented for the winner, Josh Burkman, it also gave an equal amount of controversy to viewers that were unhappy with the refereeing of Steve Mazzagatti.

The five prelim fights all went to a judges’ decision, but that doesn’t mean they were a bore to watch.

Dan Lauzon, the younger and much rougher-looking brother of popular UFC lightweight Joe Lauzon received a fair amount of attention for his decision win against John Gunderson. Lauzon took the fight to his opponent with a diverse striking attack for a full 15 minutes, but couldn’t finish the job. It was entertaining action, albeit not the most technical of fights. Lauzon has earned five straight victories since being washed out of the UFC following two losses in 2010. The 25-year-old has had his share of controversy in the past, but the WSOF could be a good place for him to call home, and many fans are interested in seeing him compete, partially based on name recognition alone.

Other than the main event, the most entertaining fight of the night came between promotional newcomers Joe Murphy and Justin Beebe during the online stream of the prelims. The fight was mainly contested on the floor with an exciting ground battle and a bit of stand-up in each round. Both fighters come from solid grappling backgrounds, but it was Murphy’s abilities that shined in the meeting, although not enough for the judges to award him victory. The beginning of the fight saw Murphy displaying fast hands with his boxing, and Beebe was content to take it to the floor. That’s basically how the rest of the fight played out. Beebe was mostly able to control top position, but wasn’t able to do much with it. Murphy stayed active from the bottom throughout the fight, often sweeping and reversing position, as well as threatening to end the fight with multiple submission attempts. When the fight was on the feet for a short time each round, Murphy impressed with his diverse abilities in boxing and Muay Thai, but Beebe stuck close to him to nullify the attack.

The fans in the arena were engaged in the action of the fight and both fighters proved that ground battles can be fun to watch. When it came time for a decision to be read, it was awarded to Beebe, leaving many spectators in disagreement that Beebe’s fighting for position was enough to win the contest. It’s hard to believe that Murphy’s stock will take a hit for losing via the judges and seemingly not via his opponent. Even WSOF president Ray Sefo tweeted that he thought Murphy won the fight, with no disrespect to Beebe for getting the win. It was a similar situation to what fight fans saw the following evening at UFC 161 when Yves Jabouin received a split decision over Dustin Pague. Pague spent much of the fight attempting submissions from various positions, but it wasn’t enough to earn him a decision when it went to the judges.

Both fights beg the question of the importance of scoring fights based on the relevance of each fighter’s position and the importance of a fighter attempting submissions from the bottom rather than just awarding rounds to the fighter that maintains top position. For nearly everyone else watching other than the judges, both fights had clear winners and they weren’t the names that were announced at the end of the fights.

WSOF 3 also saw Jacob Volkmann returning to action since being cast out by the UFC. He took on submission ace Lyle Beerbohm, and it was what we’ve come to expect from a Volkmann fight: a grinding affair that isn’t pleasing to watch. For the most part, Beerbohm was unable to negate Volkmann’s wrestling attack and spent much of his time clinching with his opponent, but being able to do little else offensively. Volkmann got the decision win, but it’s not a fight that will be remembered. With a performance like that, neither fighter is going to be gaining much popularity, but they’re still mid- to high-level lightweights. Beerbohm has only lost to good competition at this point in his career and Volkmann will offer a stern wrestling test for any opponent the WSOF can throw at him.

You’ve got to imagine that the UFC brass is happy with its decision of releasing Volkmann. He’s a fighter who has been vocal about fighter pay in the UFC and will now be forced to fight more often to earn what he was with his previous employers (He earned $14,000 for his WSOF 3 victory and $22,000 for his UFC 156 loss to Bobby Green). If he can avoid training injuries and be able to stay active, then maybe things will work out alright for him with the WSOF in terms of income. It makes you wonder if sometimes it’s better for a fighter to swallow their pride and be a company man and please fans to in return better their bottom line.

We can debate about the discrepancies between the amount of money an organization like the UFC takes in compared to what it pays its fighters, but the fact remains that there aren’t many other places for a fighter to go to earn big paychecks in the MMA landscape. Fighters are going to need to band together to form a union, perhaps even go on strike together, because lone fighters speaking out like Volkmann has (especially when those fighter don’t deliver exciting action in the cage) don’t have much power to demand better pay for themselves.

Finally, there’s the biggest moment of the night. It came from Burkman’s stunning guillotine finish of Jon Fitch. It took only 40 seconds and the decision to go for a slam to seal Fitch’s fate. Burkman saw the choke was there and squeezed until he saw that Fitch was out. Burkman turned over his unconscious opponent and stood over him in an iconic celebration before Mazzagatti even saw that Fitch was senseless.

Many fans, even UFC President Dana White, criticized Mazzagatti for not being on top of the action and calling the fight. Sure, he could have been a few seconds late on recognizing Fitch was unconscious, but it wasn’t a case of pure incompetence and is even something that takes away from Burkman’s big moment. It’s fair to point out that Kim Winslow officiated many of the fights that night and didn’t make any questionable calls. She has received a fair amount of criticism for her work in the past, such as when she allowed Muhammed Lawal to pound on Lorenz Larkin a bit too long before waving the fight at Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Jardine. Fans cried foul in that instance and swore that one day she will hurt someone. But not a peep was heard about the job she did at WSOF 3.

Something can be said about a ref’s job in combat sports, as well as the intense court of public opinion they are often thrust into. The problem is that they’re not always going to do a perfect job, and they will be heavily criticized by the fans and media for it. Nobody praised Winslow for not doing anything stupid at the event, but you better believe they will be there to crucify her for missing a single beat the way Mazzagatti supposedly did. Whether Mazzagatti botched the call is debatable (though not at all for some) and it definitely helped that Burkman didn’t hold the choke longer than he needed to. Fitch was not injured from the submission as far as anyone can tell. It was another instance in refereeing that got a few days in the headlines and then blew over and was forgotten.

Now, back to Burkman.

This is the best Burkman has looked in years. It’s an added bonus that he’s conducted himself with dignity like he did after beating Fitch. He even thanked the media in the post-fight interview. When was the last time you heard a fighter do that after a win? He’s now claimed a victory at each of the World Series of Fighting events against former UFC fighters and has looked better each time out. Burkman is obviously a lock to fight for the vacant WSOF welterweight belt after knocking off the biggest name in the entire promotion. Let’s hope his good will carries over to an excited fan base for that event.

It might have been easy for fans to overlook Steve Carl, who made quick work of Tyson Steele in the co-main event to earn his fourth consecutive victory by rear-naked choke. He’s a great choice to face Burkman for the belt. There might end up being be a better match to be made, but we can all agree that a rubber match with Fitch in the near future is not something that anybody wants to see.

Who Fitch goes on to face from here is anybody’s guess, but if fans are to believe that he can maintain top-10 relevance after leaving the UFC, then he’ll be in desperate need of a win after getting caught by Burkman.

There you have it, it was a pretty decent card from the WSOF. It produced arguably better moments than the UFC 161 card that followed it on Saturday, albeit the UFC event suffered from a few fights getting pulled due to injuries and some undercard fights being bumped up. Still, the WSOF’s effort displayed newcomers like Joe Murphy, an exciting fresh face, plus a host of veterans, many from the UFC, who got to have their time in the spotlight. Best of all was Burkman’s unexpected victory over Fitch, which likely will serve as one of the best submission wins in MMA history.

If fans are complaining about diversity in MMA, then WSOF is one of the best options for something other than the UFC or Bellator. Let’s hope the promotion can continue building upwards in its future endeavors.

Photo: Josh Burkman (standing) celebrates his technical submission of Jon Fitch (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.

  • Chris

    It’s funny, the WSOF was getting a lot of flack for only hiring old UFC stars, but they’re quickly building some intriguing young prospects. Steve Carl looked like a monster, Tyrone Spong will be back in the summer, their lightweight division is incredibly deep, and Burkman looks like a completely different fighter than his UFC days.

    I’m really rooting for these guys to succeed, and all in all, they’ve done an incredible job of inserting themselves into the MMA landscape in less than a year.