With the UFC avoiding running their UFC 207 event on New Year’s Eve and instead switching things to the Friday before, World Series of Fighting will go a slightly more traditional route and actually run on December 31st. While the card won’t run over midnight and help us welcome in the new year as they do over in Japan, it will be a nice primer for the evening’s festivities. WSOF 34 features four title fights, and is so packed that one of those title fights (for some reason, two-division champion Dave Branch was chosen) will be taking place on the NBC Sports Network preliminary card at 3pm ET. The rest of the card is featured on NBC starting at 4pm. Wisely, the main event of the card sees the promotion’s biggest star, lightweight champion Justin Gaethje, defend his title against Luis Firmino. Gaethje will be defending his title for the fifth time, and was originally scheduled to face Joao Zeferino in this spot. However, Zeferino pulled out of the fight with an injury and Firmino stepped in on short notice to replace him. The co-main event of WSOF 34 is probably the most notable bout on the card for the casual NBC audience. Former UFC title challengers Jon Fitch and Jake Shields square off in a battle of grinding welterweight veterans, as they vie for the WSOF welterweight belt. Both men have won two of their past three in WSOF, with the loss coming to Rousimar Palhares. Since Palhares was banished from the promotion, they have ascended to the top at 170, and with each being in their late 30’s, will be desperate to stay there. The only non-title fight on the main card features another fighter familiar to UFC fans, as Yushin Okami continues his late career run at welterweight against wrestler Paul Bradley. Okami was defeated by Fitch in his welterweight debut, but has come back to pick up a pair of wins at the weight in Japan. Bradley will be making his WSOF debut on the heels of his KO win over Chris Honeycutt in Bellator. The opening bout on the main card features Marlon Moraes — the only bantamweight champion WSOF has ever known — also trying to make his fifth successful title defense against Josenaldo Silva. This fight pits Moraes’ 12-fight winning streak against Silva’s 18-fight win streak in what should get the card off to an entertaining start. The preliminary card features the aforementioned Branch defending his middleweight belt (he’s also light heavyweight champion) against Louis Taylor. Finally, Jared Rosholt makes his WSOF debut against Brazilian veteran and Shooto Brazil champ Caio Alencar. MMA oddsmaker Nick Kalikas opened the betting lines for these six WSOF 34 bouts at 5Dimes Sportsbook. Check them out: ——————– WSOF 34: Gaethje vs. Firmino DECEMBER 31, 2016 The Theater at Madison Square Garden | New York, New York MAIN CARD (NBC, 4pm ET) Lightweight Title: Luiz Firmino +265 Justin Gaethje -385 Over 1.5 -215 Under 1.5 +165 – Welterweight Title: Jon Fitch +150 Jake Shields -190 Over 3.5 -210 Under 3.5 +160 – Paul Bradley +120 Yushin Okami -160 Over 2.5 -210 Under 2.5 +160 – Bantamweight Title: Josenaldo Silva +335 Marlon Moraes -505 Over 1.5 -215 Under 1.5 +165 – PRELIMINARY CARD (NBCSN, 3pm ET) Middleweight Title: Louis Taylor +260 David Branch -380 Over 1.5 -210 Under 1.5 +160 – Caio Alencar +225 Jared Rosholt -305 Over 1.5 -180 Under 1.5 +140 – ——————– Brad’s Analysis: Luis Firmino is an excellent submission grappler. Unfortunately, he’s not a great wrestler, and far better (and more dangerous) strikers haven’t caused him to get away from his gameplan of just staying in your face all fight. In his 15+ year career, Firmino has yet to be finished by strikes, but I think Gaethje becomes the first and continues to build his mystique as an undefeated fighter. I can’t imagine a universe in which Jon Fitch outgrapples Demian Maia. Jake Shields was able to do that. Fitch might be a slightly better wrestler, but Shields is good enough to create and win scrambles, and in recent fights he’s more proven across five rounds than Fitch. The worry here is if this fight stays on the feet. Neither fighter is in danger of being stopped by the other with strikes, and I believe Shields’ kicks are the most effective striking tool either guy possesses, but Fitch will be moving forward and throwing punches that provide a better aesthetic to the judges and could be the swing in close rounds. Given their styles and histories, I find that striking battle unlikely, so I’ll end up siding with Shields. Paul Bradley is coming off of two good performances against a very good, young wrestler, and now he’s facing a much more faded, older wrestler, who has some durability issues, and didn’t look good against the one decent fighter he’s seen at welterweight (who also happened to be a wrestler). I think Bradley is in a good spot to pick up an upset and really jump the line at welterweight, and if Okami is a decent favorite, I’ll probably take the shot on Bradley. While both Moraes and Silva bring big winning streaks into this fight, they are by no means equal. Moraes has been fighting a much higher level of competition, and been much more dominant in his fights against those opponents. Silva has never fought outside of South America, has had some close fights against regional level competition, and is now facing by far the most skilled fighter of his career. In that situation, everything points to Moraes and I’ll have to side with him once again, although the line will be too high to bet. Dave Branch is probably the most underappreciated fighter in MMA. His only losses are to Rumble Johnson (by decision), Rousimar Palhares (by leglock), and Gerald Harris (by slam). He feasts on any competition that doesn’t belong at the top level, and Louis Taylor does not belong at the top level. Taylor generally relies on fighters shooting into chokes, but I don’t think his striking can force Branch into anything he doesn’t want to do. Branch might finish this on the feet, or get top position and wear Taylor down for a round or two before scoring a stoppage on the ground. Either way, Branch continues being MMA’s only true two-division champ. Jared Rosholt against a 38-year-old Brazilian heavyweight grappler? Somebody is about to get wrestled. Maybe after a round and a half or so, Rosholt can even throw a keylock on this guy to reach peak heavyweight MMA.