Titan FC 31: Ricci vs. Yoshida — A Preview/Breakdown of the Four Most Compelling Fights
It’s undeniable: Titan Fighting Championship is gaining ground. Formerly a regional promotion that seldom ventured outside of Kansas, the company has flourished under the guidance of former Alchemist Management CEO Jeff Aronson, who in his brief tenure as Titan FC CEO has secured a national broadcast deal with CBS Sports Network and attracted a passel of unsigned, viable talent. The result is a card like Titan FC 31: Ricci vs. Yoshida, which from top to bottom features some truly compelling matchups.
Verily, this card—which airs on CBS Sports Network on October 31 (yes, Halloween, giving you even more reason to stay home, watch the fights, be a good neighbor and give out candy to the neighborhood kids)—has something for all walks of MMA fandom. From its untelevised opener between Team Alpha Male prospect Matt Wagy and pro debutant William Sizemore (of American Top Team, Wagy’s former camp); to an assuredly violent welterweight scrap between streaking finisher Steve Montgomery and a former UFC fighter in desperate need of a win in Brock Jardine; to a heavyweight bout between Scott “The Bear” Barrett (who was in a non-UFC “Fight of the Year” candidate against WSOF heavyweight contender Derrick Mehmen back in January) and former M-1 champion Kenny Garner (who we last saw submit Matt Kovacs at House of Fame: A New Dawn less than two months ago); to, of course, the headlining contest between The Ultimate Fighter standout Mike Ricci and a very vital quadragenarian in Yoshiyuki Yoshida; Titan FC 31 is arguably better than any other event put on by its non-Zuffa contemporaries in recent memory.
Without further ado, let’s take a closer look at four fights which particularly pique my interest.
CBS Sports Network
10 p.m./7 p.m. ET|PT
Lightweight (155 lbs.) Title Fight—5 Rounds
Mike “The Martian” Ricci [10-4]
Yoshiyuki “Zenko” Yoshida [17-6]
When piecing together a main event, promoters are often inclined to search for a storyline—a supportive backbone upon which to lay the actual fight itself, as it were—and in this case there happens to be one. You see, Mike Ricci’s a tough dude. Training alongside his best friend Rory MacDonald at Tristar Gym Montreal under the tutelage of head coach Firas Zahabi (who serves as one of Titan FC’s cageside commentators), “The Martian” had a tough run during his UFC tenure. Of course, there’s no shame in losing a split decision against Myles Jury, who currently stands a win or two away from title talk. In his entire run, however, Ricci’s been stopped by just one man, Pat Curran, who knocked him out in just over three minutes.
Will defeating Yoshida make things even with Curran? Of course not, but these types of side stories are always great supplements to what is already going to be a terrifically fun scrap. Unbeaten since signing with Titan, Ricci is a win away from capturing the belt and likely punching his ticket back to the big show. He first hast to get past a battle-tested Japanese warrior in Yoshida, who has fought some of the best in the business and is riding a six-fight win streak.
Featherweight (145 lbs.)
Miguel Torres [42-8]
Desmond “The Predator” Green [12-3]
After a dejecting 2-2 run in the UFC sent him packing to the WSOF (where he lost back-to-back fights to bantamweight champion Marlon Moraes and Pablo Alfonso), former WEC bantamweight champion Miguel Angel Torres appears to be on the comeback trail. His opposition lately hasn’t been of great quality, however, so some uncertainty still remains regarding whether he can still compete at a high level.
His opponent, Desmond Green, is not going to be an easy fight for him. A former Bellator competitor who went 3-2 with the promotion (including a win over current UFC fighter Mike Richman), Desmond Green is a former state championship wrestler who, at 5’10” and without an inch of fat on him, should absolutely dwarf Torres, whose natural weight class is 10 pounds lighter.
Seeing whether or not Torres can shine once again is an enormous part of the allure of this matchup, as is whether or not Green can secure the biggest win of his young career with a victory over truly top-tier talent.
Light Heavyweight (205 lbs.)
Ken Hasegawa [7-0]
Matthew Thompson [19-9]
Aside from one detour to fight for Real Fighting Championship last October, 27-year-old Japanese fighter Ken Hasegawa has until now only competed for one promotion, Deep, for whom he is (or was) the heavyweight champion (or, as Wikipedia has it listed, the Deep Megaton champion). Undefeated in professional competition, Hasegawa will be making his stateside debut when he faces Matthew Thompson, who I already like because I have a good friend with the same name.
Thompson is just months away from celebrating his eighth year in professional competition and, with the exception of perhaps IFL – Houston, this is the biggest stage he’s fought on thus far. Relying on a well-rounded set of skills and a granite jaw (his only TKO loss occurred back in February 2007 at the aforementioned event against “Big” Ben Rothwell), the non-nicknamed Texan, at 6’5”, will likely tower over the comparatively diminutive Hasegawa (5’11”).
Both men are used to fighting at a heavier weight class than they need to. It’ll be interesting to see how well they acclimate to fighting lighter.
Welterweight (170 lbs.)
Hayder Hassan [5-1]
Felipe Portela-Queiroz [5-1]
Jose Figeroa [12-6]
Tyler “The Evolution” Stinson [27-10]
I’ll say it right now: The World Series of Fighting was very foolish to let Tyler Stinson go. A thoroughly entertaining competitor in every aspect of the game, Stinson was on a four-fight, four-knockout streak before a resurging Josh Burkman laid him out cold in what was the very first knockout loss of his almost eight-year career.
Orlando, Florida’s Jose Figueroa is stepping up big, but he’s got an excellent chance to cause quite the upset when he steps into the cage with Stinson. Coming off of back-to-back TKO wins this year, Figueroa showed zero signs of cage rust after sitting out for the entirety of 2013.
Neither man will go to the ground unless it becomes necessary, so this one could and should end with a bang—a great way to open up a stellar main card.
8 p.m./5 p.m. ET|PT
Heavyweight (207 lbs.-265 lbs.)
Scott Barrett [15-4]
Kenneth Garner [13-6]
Steve “The Creepy Weasel” Montgomery [7-2]
Brock “The Machine” Jardine [9-4]
Bantamweight (135 lbs.)
Sirwan Kakai [9-2]
Joe Barajas [7-0]
Michael Graves [4-0]
Rafael Souza [6-4]
7 p.m./4 p.m. ET|PT
Mike Bruno [11-7]
Kamrin Naville [7-7]
Matt Wagy [3-2]
William Sizemore [0-0]
Titan FC 31: Ricci vs. Yoshida is being held October 31 at the USF Sundome in Tampa, FL. Prelims begin streaming live on the CBS Sports website (HERE) at 8:30 p.m./5:30 p.m. ET|PT. The main card begins on CBS Sports Network at 10 p.m.7 p.m ET|PT. Click HERE for more information.
A freelance MMA, entertainment and business journo born, raised and residing in Miami, FL, Jesse Scheckner is a musician, cinephile and recovering ne’er-do-well who still believes Mickey Rourke’s finest days in film have yet to come. He isTuffGnarl.com‘s editor-in-chief. Follow him on Twitter: @JesseScheckner.