For those whose MMA bubble extends beyond the UFC, Friday will see the beginning of one of the more interesting stories to follow in 2017. It was announced last year that two of the leading regional MMA promotions in the United States would be merging in 2017. Resurrection Fighting Alliance (RFA) and Legacy Fighting Championships (LFC) would become Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA). It is a promotion which still holds to the concept of developing fighters to progress to the next level — whether that be the UFC, Bellator, or somewhere else — but now with a much better infrastructure to support that development and transition. The newly minted LFA is scheduled to hold 30 events in 2017, with Friday being the first. The early events will see respective champions from RFA and LFC squaring off to determine the inaugural LFA champions as contenders are built to fill the inevitable wake left when they move on. The first event sees just such a main event, as bantamweight champions Leandro Higo (RFA) and Steven Peterson (LFC) look to become the first event LFA champion. Higo was one of the favorites to win TUF Brazil 4, but fell in the second round and wasn’t brought into the UFC. Instead, he moved to RFA scoring a pair of finishes to earn a title shot. He made good on that opportunity in April by stopping Joey Miolla in just over two minutes. Peterson was not without his struggles on the way up either. Back-to-back losses in LFC in 2013 sent him back to the drawing board, but he has reeled off six consecutive victories since, finally capturing the LFC bantamweight crown in June. He was supposed to defend his belt in October at LFC 61, but in one of the stranger incidents of the year his intended opponent, Mark de la Rosa, took issue with the weigh-in process, and didn’t show up to fight. LFA 1 also features a former LFC champion, as UFC veteran Damon Jackson attempts to work his way back to some gold and perhaps another opportunity in the UFC. After an 0-1-1, 1 NC record in the Octagon, Jackson was released and made a successful return to LFC on the aforementioned October card. He will be taking on a fellow LFC vet, Charles Cheeks III, who finally picked up his first victory under that banner in his fourth try last May. Other notable fights on LFA 1 include: Undefeated Eli Tamez (9-0) taking on Ulyses Aguila (6-1), and a pair of unbeaten flyweight prospects as Isaiah Gutierrez (3-0) faces Oscar Ramirez (3-0). Montana Stewart (6-3) — who is best remembered for being on the receiving end of Mackenzie Dern’s 2016 ‘Submission of the Year’ effort — hopes to bounce back from that defeat against 2-0 Cynthia Calvillo. MMA oddsmaker Nick Kalikas opened the betting odds for the top two fights on LFA 1 today at Several Bookmakers. Take a look: ——————– LFA 1: Peterson vs. Higo JANUARY 13, 2017 The Bomb Factory | Dallas, Texas Main Card AXS TV, 9 p.m. ET Inaugural Bantamweight Title: Steven Peterson +155 Leandro Higo -195 Charles Cheeks III +365 Damon Jackson -555 ——————– Brad’s Analysis: Leandro Higo has gone from flyweight prospect, to underwhelming TUF participant, to an even more intriguing bantamweight prospect over the past couple of years. The most interesting part of that development has been the recent improvement in his striking. Always a talented submission artist, Higo has begun regularly controlling and changing fights recently with his striking. He has an absurd 72″ reach as a 5’6″ fighter, and that allows him to strike with bantamweights (like Steven Peterson) who have bigger frames. Peterson is no slouch in any area, and may be the more physically imposing fighter in this matchup. However, I think Higo’s skill and speed will allow him to land on the feet, and even though Peterson is a very capable grappler I’m not sure he can do much more than occasionally score top position but struggle to maintain it. After scoring wins against lower regional-level competition, but falling against any competition up the regional ladder, Charles Cheeks III finally scored a solid win over Justin Reiswerg in his last outing. I would be surprised if he can follow it up against Damon Jackson however. Jackson is extremely steady in the cage, knows what he’s good at, and goes out there to do it. Yes, he lost in some spectacular fashions in the UFC, but Cheeks is a long way from UFC competition. I expect Jackson to grapple, grind, perhaps score a submission, but certainly come out with the win.