In mixed martial arts, a promotion is only as good as its roster is deep. Put everything on one fighter or a few champions, and things won’t last long. But take the time to build up challengers and nurture prospects, and the future could be bright. The World Series of Fighting has its champions. It has men like Dave Branch, Rousimar Palhares, Justin Gaethje, Rick Glenn and Marlon Moraes with title belts around their waists. Now, it’s time for the promotion to develop some challengers. The first step comes at WSOF’s 12th event, which takes place on Aug. 9 at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

Gaethje picked up the promotion’s lightweight title and made a successful defense of the belt at WSOF 11. At WSOF 12, the promotion looks to identify the next threat to Gaethje’s championship reign when it pits veteran Luis Palomino against rising star Lewis Gonzalez. Gonzalez brings an undefeated record to the cage, but he’ll have to overcome the experience and knockout power of Palomino.

The remainder of the main card serves as a launching pad for numerous veterans and prospects. Ronny Markes is moving back to light heavyweight, a division for which the WSOF has yet to crown a champion. He’ll face Cully Butterfield, a newcomer to the big stage. Elvis Mutapcic would like a chance at WSOF middleweight gold, but first he’ll have to contend with undefeated Kelvin Tiller in a 195-pound catchweight bout. The first two match-ups in the main-card lineup take place in the bantamweight division, where former Bellator tournament participant Alexis Vila squares off with Brandon Hempleman and prospects Bryson Hansen and Matt Sayles collide.

The evening’s action kicks off on NBCSports.com at 8 p.m. ET with a four-fight preliminary card. The five-fight main card starts at 10 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports Network.

BW: Bryson Hansen (7-1) vs. Matt Sayles (2-0)

The World Series of Fighting is giving a pair of bantamweight prospects the chance to shine on national television. Those prospects are Bryson Hansen and Matt Sayles.

With just two pro fights under his belt, Sayles has been granted a huge opportunity to make a statement on the national stage. “Robo” has only been fighting professionally since January, but he has posted a pair of impressive, quick first-round TKO finishes. One mark against him, however, is that his career has played out entirely under the Xplode Fight Series banner. Xplode is a promotion that has garnered some criticism lately for producing prospects whose records are padded with wins against questionable opposition. Does Sayles fit this pattern? Well, his two pro wins with the organization come against fighters who now stand with a combined 1-4 mark. His documented amateur run includes two wins over fighters who never competed in any other documented amateur bouts (one of those fighters does hold a 1-1 mark as a pro), and the other amateur victory came against a fighter whose amateur record now stands at 2-10. Those numbers do cast some doubt on Sayles, but the 20-year-old trains with Alliance MMA and has showcased power that has led to a combined amateur and pro tally of four out of five fights ending before the two-minute mark.

Hansen, much like his counterpart, relies on his fists to make quick work of his adversaries. His resume includes four first-round TKO wins and a second-round knockout victory via suplex. However, he has also squeaked by with two split decision nods and suffered a first-round submission loss to Russell Doane, who would go on to compete in the UFC. The current combined record of the opponents Hansen has defeated stands at 15-14, giving him a convincing edge over Sayles in that area. The MMA Development and Xtreme Couture product is a former X-1 bantamweight champion who has trained alongside the likes of Ray Sefo and Brad Tavares. The 28-year-old made his pro debut in 2007 and has never fought more than twice in a year. There’s a gap in his record from late 2010 to mid-2013, but he did participate in The Ultimate Fighter 14 in 2011, where he lost via TKO against Marcus Brimage in his bid to qualify for the TUF house. He has only fought twice since then, picking up a TKO win under the Xtreme Fighters banner and notching a 46-second TKO stoppage over Sean Cantor in his WSOF debut.

The long list of knockout and TKO victories on the records of these two combatants is evidence that we could be in for a fireworks display, but these two men have oddly similar styles. Rather than a stand-and-bang approach, they tend to shoot for takedowns at every opportunity. Hansen has been finished before, so Sayles could score the win if he lands one flush or gets Hansen down and delivers a ground-and-pound barrage. However, it’s difficult to overlook the disparity in the competition these men have faced. Hansen’s losses came against a pair of fighters who are members of the active UFC roster and hold a combined 5-2 mark inside the Octagon. Hansen has already fought and won on the WSOF stage, which should add to his confidence. The Hawaiian fighter will add another finish to his resume with a first-round TKO victory over Sayles.

BW: Brandon Hempleman (9-2) vs. Alexis Vila (14-4)

Olympic bronze medalist Alexis Vila is entering Randy Couture territory. He’s 43 years old. His Olympic medal and his World Championship gold medals came in the years when MMA was in the earliest stages of its infancy. But here he is, continuing to compete at some of the highest levels of the sport. The sometimes flyweight is back at bantamweight in this go-around against Brandon Hempleman.

That may not be such a wise decision for Vila. He has just four losses in his 18-fight career, and all but one of those defeats came at bantamweight. Oddly, though, bantamweight was where the Cuban made his biggest statement with a knockout victory over Joe Warren in the Bellator cage. Vila advanced all the way to the Bellator season-five bantamweight tournament finals before suffering his first career loss at the hands of Eduardo Dantas. He lost his next outing to Luis Nogueira, then transitioned to flyweight and fell to Josh Sampo in a CFA title bout. He won his next two CFA fights, then moved back to bantamweight and lost again. His most recent outing came at flyweight and resulted in a victory for Vila.

Vila’s opponent, Hempleman, fights out of the same camp as Czar Sklavos, a flyweight whom Vila defeated via unanimous decision in 2013. The Idaho-based fighter put together a 9-1 mark before running into Marlon Moraes in his most recent outing. The Brazilian was able to edge Hempleman on the scorecards at WSOF 4. Hempleman has five decision wins, three submission victories and just one TKO victory.

Hempleman is a ground specialist whose background lies in grappling and jiu-jitsu. Vila, meanwhile, is a wrestler who has fallen in love with striking. Although his wrestling is an asset, Vila loves to use his power to score knockouts. He has used his fists to finish seven opponents.

The big concern for Vila is age. How long can he keep going? Well, he has remained competitive as recently as early 2014, so there’s no reason to think he’ll have a sudden decline. That doesn’t mean he can win this fight, though. Hempleman is a solid prospect who went the distance with Moraes, a far more deadly striker. Vila may struggle to find the knockout, and he’s probably not very anxious to take the fight to the mat with Hempleman. That doesn’t leave Vila with many options. Hempleman isn’t the best striker around, but his leg kicks and combinations will score enough points to earn him the close decision.

195-pound Catchweight: Elvis Mutapcic (13-3) vs. Kelvin Tiller (6-0)

The 195-pound catchweight bout between Elvis Mutapcic and Kelvin Tiller is the result of a necessary shuffling of the card. Mutapcic was initially scheduled to meet Bulgarian prospect Krasimir Mladenov, but the undefeated Mladenov was forced out of the bout with an injury. Tiller, who was slated to meet Ronny Markes at light heavyweight, agreed to drop to 195 pounds and fight Mutapcic.

The 28-year-old Mutapcic is skilled on his feet and on the mat. He has finished five opponents via strikes and six by way of submission. His list of victims includes Sam Alvey, Joseph Henle and The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil middleweight winner Cezar “Mutante” Ferreira. “The King” has never been stopped in a fight. Instead, he has suffered two unanimous decision losses, including one in his WSOF debut against Jesse Taylor, and one split decision defeat.

Tiller has three Bellator wins, including a split decision victory over The Ultimate Fighter 19 participant Dan Spohn, among his six-fight pro career. The submission specialist has tried his hand at boxing as well, but he has an 0-1 mark with one knockout loss in that sport. The 24-year-old has been out of action for more than a year. Tiller fought some solid prospects—Spohn, Jeb Chiles, Rodney Collier—in the early part of his pro career, but he has fed on lower-level opposition recently, with wins over Jeremiah Riggs, Amaechi Oselukwue and Chris Henning, a trio of sub-.500 fighters.

Tiller has managed to emerge from each of his pro outings with an unblemished record, but he’s been very fortunate. He’s not very dominant in any aspect of the sport, and Mutapcic should enjoy a striking and a grappling advantage over “The Mama’s Boy.” Tiller’s one saving grace might come in the form of a size advantage, since he’s stepping down from light heavyweight, whereas Mutapcic is shifting up from middleweight.

The size edge for Tiller will be a minimal factor, though. Mutapcic has the striking skills to pick apart Tiller in the stand-up department. On the ground, Tiller might have four submission victories, but he is also vulnerable to sweeps. Tiller might not even want to test Mutapcic’s submission game. Regardless of where the fight takes place, Mutapcic should have the upper hand.

Mutapcic by way of TKO stoppage.

LHW: Cully Butterfield (13-3) vs. Ronny Markes (14-3)

When Kelvin Tiller was moved over to a catchweight bout with Elvis Mutapcic, Cully Butterfield stepped in to take his place in a light heavyweight match-up with Ronny Markes. Now, Butterfield, who has been inactive since April 2013 and last fought in King of the Cage, finds himself in a co-main event for a nationally televised promotion.

Butterfield’s move to this slot is somewhat of a surprise after a career spent primarily in smaller regional shows like the Great Lakes Combat Association and Driller Promotions. The 24-year-old is 10-1 over his last 11 fights, with the lone loss coming by way of a unanimous decision against Rodney Collier. The Grind Fitness Center product has been competing professionally since 2009 and holds a notable victory over Egidijus Valavicius. He has seven wins by some form of knockout and only three submission victories.

Markes is one of the most established names on the WSOF card, but the Brazilian is shifting back to light heavyweight after a run at middleweight in the UFC. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt entered the UFC as an 11-1 prospect and won his first three Octagon outings, including one as a light heavyweight against Karlos Vemola. All three of those fights went the distance. The Nova Uniao product’s fourth UFC outing ended in disappointment when he suffered a knockout at the hands of the surging Yoel Romero. In his final fight with the promotion, Markes missed weight and lost his fight to Thiago Santos. The two-fight losing streak and his failure to make weight was enough to prompt his release. The 26-year-old has a balanced record of five wins by some form of knockout and four via submission.

Butterfield might be in over his head in this fight. He has an impressive winning margin, but he’s never fought on a major stage and he’s certainly never met an opponent the caliber of Markes. The Brazilian can end this fight in whatever fashion he chooses, but the end is most likely to come via TKO.

LW: Luis Palomino (22-9) vs. Lewis Gonzalez (9-0)

The night’s headlining affair between Luis Palomino and Lewis Gonzalez could determine a future challenger to Justin Gaethje’s lightweight crown.

Palomino established himself as a contender with a victory in his WSOF debut against fellow grizzled veteran Jorge Patino. The win, a second-round knockout, was a strong rebound performance after the “Baboon” lost his previous fight to Efrain Escudero. Palomino is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and capoeira, but he favors his fists when seeking to end fights. He has 12 wins by some form of knockout, eight victories on the scorecards and just two submission finishes. The Peruvian-American fighter, who is 33 years old, has had an inconsistent career. He has posted wins over Patino, Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante, Daron Cruickshank and Jorge Masvidal, but he always loses just as he starts to gain some momentum. Despite more than 30 career fights since turning pro in 2006, Palomino has never won more than four fights in a row, and he’s only done that once.

Gonzalez is still perfect through nine pro fights. The 26-year-old made his debut in 2011 and picked up first-round wins in his first three bouts, including a submission finish of Justin Baesman. He’s been less efficient in his last six fights, with only one first-round stoppage. “Lethal” has five submission victories—three of those, however, came via strikes—and two wins by way of some form of knockout. He is a two-time high school state wrestling champion. His most impressive win came in his WSOF debut, where he defeated Antonio McKee via decision.

Palomino has a huge experience edge over Gonzalez, but he’s struggled to overcome his inconsistency. Gonzalez’s win over McKee signals that the young Californian is a legitimate prospect. Palomino has suffered submission losses to Pat Curran, Jonathan Brookins and even John Mahlow, so he’s certainly vulnerable in one area that also qualifies as a huge strength for Gonzalez. However, Palomino also represents the most dangerous striker that Gonzalez has ever encountered. This will be a test of Gonzalez’s stand-up skills and his chin.

Before Palomino knocked out Patino, Patino was able to score several takedowns on the veteran. Gonzalez is a more aggressive wrestler who will shoot immediately, but he’ll have to be careful of Palomino’s counters. Palomino is capable of surviving on the ground, so Gonzalez will have his work cut out for him. However, Palomino’s prior submission losses are proof that he’s not unstoppable. Gonzalez will take him down repeatedly, though he will also eat some big punches over the course of the fight. Eventually, he’ll find a way to submit the veteran fighter.

Preliminary Card
FW: Soslan Abanokov (4-1) vs. Bryson Gutches (2-0)

The 25-year-old Soslan Abanokov has more than twice as many fights as his opponent, Bryson Gutches, but that’s not saying much. Gutches competed at the amateur ranks as far back as 2004, when he was still in high school, before turning pro in late 2013. He’ll have a four-inch height advantage over Abanokov. Both men are wrestlers, but Gutches has the better credentials. It’ll be a grinding affair that goes the distance, with Gutches emerging victorious.

BW: Adam Acquaviva (1-1) vs. Cody Maltais (2-0)

After a 4-2 run as an amateur, Cody Maltais turned pro in late 2013 and notched two submission victories. His total time in action as a pro? A mere 95 seconds. He’ll get a chance to add at least a few ticks of the clock to that number when he collides with fellow bantamweight Adam Acquaviva. Acquaviva is coming off a TKO loss in his second pro outing and also suffered a knockout loss in a 3-1 amateur run. Maltais has had so much success with his submissions, and it’s difficult to see anything but another quick submission finish for him against Acquaviva.

WW: Danny Davis (9-8-1) vs. Jorge Lopez (11-4)

Danny Davis may be just one fight above the .500 mark, but he’s in the midst of his best stretch so far as a professional. Davis is riding a three-fight winning streak coming into his fight with Jorge Lopez. Lopez, meanwhile, is experiencing the worst skid in his career, with three straight losses. The difference is that Lopez lost two of those fights inside the UFC Octagon, whereas Davis has spent almost his entire career getting victimized on the regional circuit. Lopez, who has five wins by some form of knockout, will finally right the ship here by outstriking Davis for three rounds en route to a unanimous decision win.

LW: Lucas Montoya (6-3) vs. Jimmy Spicuzza (5-1)

After compiling a 3-1 mark on the regional circuit, Jimmy Spicuzza has taken up a spot as one of the stars of WSOF preliminary-card action with wins at WSOF 9 and WSOF 10. Now, he returns for a WSOF 12 lightweight bout against Lucas Montoya. Spicuzza has a well-rounded skill set that includes a background in taekwondo as a youth and time spent training at the Drysdale Jiu-Jitsu Academy. Montoya has five submission finishes, but he’s not quite at the same level as Spicuzza. Montoya has already suffered two submission losses in his nine-fight career, and Spicuzza is likely to add another tick in that column.