Titan FC 54 took place last night at Xtreme Action Park in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The thirteen-fight card was loaded with talent, as top prospects and former champions built up to two title fights in the co-main and main events. Taking in all of the action was UFC president Dana White, who was at the show taping his viral series, ‘Lookin’ for a Fight’.
Also in attendance were a bevy of notable MMA figures, including many top fighters from the local American Top Team (ATT) gym, such as UFC lightweight champion Dustin Poirier, ONE Championship two-weight champion Aung La N Sang, UFC two-weight champion Amanda Nunes, and ONE Championship flyweight champion Adriano Moraes.
The Body Lock was credentialed for the event and has compiled the _ top takeaways from a stellar overall card.
Sometimes being a PSU wrestling standout isn’t enough
In the sixth fight of the night – the third on the UFC Fight Pass-aired main card – one of the higher-profile MMA debuts in Titan FC history took place, as former high school and Pennsylvania State University wrestling standout, James Lawson (0-1), made his professional debut against American Top Team heavyweight Said Sowma (2-1).
Lawson tore up the field as a high school wrestler, emerging from his native New Jersey as one of the state’s best-ever heavyweight wrestlers. He was the first three-time state champion in New Jersey’s history since World War II and capped off his pre-college career with a senior national championship in freestyling.
Despite the lofty accolades and expectations in wrestling, Lawson opted to first play football at Monmouth University at the NCAA Division I FCS level. Lawson spent two seasons on Monmouth’s defensive line before transferring to NCAA D-I wrestling powerhouse, Penn State.
In his junior and senior years (2014-2015), Lawson made a name for himself in the collegiate wrestling world. He amassed a 38-10 career record – a 79% career winning percentage – and even became an NCAA semi-finalist in his senior year at 285 pounds.
Lawson, who trained for his MMA debut at the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) under current and former UFC champions in Daniel Cormier, Luke Rockhold, and Cain Velasquez, fell short to Sowma on the scorecards in a lackluster showing.
Sowma, a heavyweight staple at ATT, trains with the likes of former UFC champions Junior dos Santos, Andrei Arlovski, and others. He’s a three-fight Titan FC veteran, and this isn’t the first time he’s drawn a top prospect as a difficult opponent.
In Sowma’s professional debut, he faced 6’8″ Hardknocks 365 standout, Steve Mowry, in what was envisioned by many as Mowry’s final showcase before being called up to the next level. Instead, Mowry faced a stiff test, as Sowma had his moments in a much tougher-than-expected fight.
Mowry would go on to be signed by Bellator following the win over Sowma, who then rebounded with a first-round knockout over Quentin Henry before facing Lawson.
While there’s absolutely no shame in losing one’s MMA debut, Lawson’s loss illustrates a difficult reality: sometimes, ‘checking all of the boxes’ doesn’t translate to instant success. Lawson is a beast of a man, a three-time high school wrestling champion, a Penn State wrestling alumnus, a fighter out of the prestigious AKA gym, and a fighter cornered by Luke Rockhold. Yet still, despite all of those components, he was unable to get past Sowma.
Most notably, Sowma defended each of Lawson’s increasingly frequent takedown attempts for the duration of the fight. However, it’s important to note that Lawson is still extremely young in his MMA career. With his background, it’s entirely likely that he bounces back in a big way.
Wait, aren’t you the kickboxer?
Though it wasn’t Lawson’s, there was a successful MMA debut on the Titan FC 54 card.
France’s Dylan Salvador (1-0) exceeded lofty expectations in his three-round domination of a tough, legitimate prospect in Hardknocks 365’s Kenny Porter (3-1).
Salvador, 25, is a highly-touted kickboxer and Muay Thai practitioner. He holds a win over Sitthichai Sitsongpeenong, who many consider one of the best strikers in the world. Naturally, Salvador’s striking prowess was never in doubt. But, man, who could’ve seen that coming?
Salvador came out loose and crisp, bouncing around and establishing his range. Porter, entirely cognisant of Salvador’s world-class striking credentials, looked to take the fight to the ground repeatedly. Surprisingly, Salavador’s takedown defense was really solid.
Porter was able to score takedowns at times, but even then, Salvador got the better of the exchanges on the ground. Salvador threatened with a kimura, landed an impressive sweep to top position, and landed some effective punches whenever a scramble saw the fighters begin to rise to their feet.
As the second round wore on, Salvador started to noticeably pull away from Porter. He was landing bigger, heavier shots, peppering Porter from range, and slicing with unorthodox elbows. A cut on Porter’s forehead began to turn both fighters into crimson canvases. With a bit more polish, Salvador likely would’ve stopped the fight with ground and pound.
Eventually, Salvador’s pressure became too much for Porter. After a start to the third round that consisted of decimating leg kicks, followup punches, and more from Salvador, Porter shot in on a fatal takedown attempt. Salvador sprawled, and instead of return to his feet, locked up a tight Anaconda choke.
Just like that, in the third round, the striker – the pure kickboxer – scored his MMA debut win… with a textbook Anaconda choke submission. Salvador looked incredible in this fight. It’s arguably one of the best MMA debuts in recent memory, especially from a pure striker.
Salvador’s ground game looked stunningly on point, from his reliable takedown defense to his fluid, quick submission and transition skills. After the fight, Salvador earned an audience with White, who had just entered the arena prior to his fight. The details of their conversation are yet unknown, but it’s safe to say there was a lot to discuss between the burgeoning prospect and the UFC boss.
With that debut, the future is blindingly bright for Salvador in MMA.
“I want to join my brother!”
On this episode of ‘Lookin’ for a Fight’, Dana White had a lot of potential fighters to choose from entering Titan FC 54. There was Lawson, whose wrestling credentials made him a prospect to watch; Jason Soares, the undefeated featherweight champion; an interim lightweight title bout between two Brazilian warriors on winning streaks, Rafael Alves and Felipe Douglas, respectively; and the feature featherweight bout of the evening, Luis Gomez vs. Herbert Burns.
Gomez, 24, is the former Titan FC featherweight champion. The Cuban won that title with a slam knockout victory over current UFC rising star, Sodiq Yusuff.
Prior to capturing Titan FC gold, Gomez’s only loss came to UFC featherweight, Dan Ige. Gomez lost his title to the aforementioned Soares, but rebounded in style with a first-round TKO of Ramon Martinez to lead up to his fight with Herbert Burns.
With a win over a UFC veteran, a Titan FC title, and losses only to UFC (and expected UFC) talent, Gomez (7-3) was certainly on the radar of Dana White.
But, so was Herbert Burns (8-2).
A world-class black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, Herbert Burns was thrown to the wolves early in his MMA career: he was signed to ONE Championship (then ONE FC) in just his second pro fight.
Burns started his career off 6-0, winning five of those six under the ONE banner. Most notably, Burns submitted Honorio Banario and Timofey Nastyukhin, both of whom competed in the ONE Lightweight Grand Prix. Banario fell to Lowen Tynanes, while Nastyukhin knocked out ex-UFC champion Eddie Alvarez, respectively.
Burns had four submission wins to his credit, three of which came by rear-naked choke, and he successfully debuted in Titan FC with a triangle-choke win in Kazakhstan.
What looked to be a close fight on paper was anything but, as Burns immediately got to Gomez’s back and proceeded to make the round a living hell for the Cuban. After nearly half of a round of smothering, dominant back control, Burns finally secured his trademarked RNC and tapped out the former champion.
Following the win, Burns passionately addressed Dana White in the audience, pleading with the UFC boss for a chance to “join [his] brother” in the promotion. It looks like he’ll have a chance to get his wish.
Backstage, Titan FC COO Lex McMahon announced that Herbert Burns would receive a spot on the Contender Series, and would be signed to the UFC with a win on the show.
“The Turn” gets his turn
In the co-main event, two Brazilians clashed for Titan FC’s interim lightweight title as Rafael Alves (18-9) took on Felipe Douglas (17-5).
Prior to the fight, McMahon told The Body Lock the fight between Alves and Douglas would look like “two Tasmanian Devils locked inside a cage”. And it did.
Alves walked out that night dancing and smiling, while Douglas was stone-cold en route to the cage. In the first round, Alves’ relaxed state looked to be paying off, as he led the dance with crisp striking and sprinkled in some high-flying spinning attacks, to boot, even dropping Douglas momentarily.
But Douglas would strike back, dropping Alves, and proceeded to work from top position. The second round kicked off wildly, with both fighters swarming until a clinch ensued.
After the separation, Douglas again found success backing up Alves, but, unfortunately for him, that seemed to have been what Alves wanted.
As Douglas entered into the fray, Alves loaded up on and delivered perhaps the most powerful punch of the event, dropping Douglas emphatically in the second.
With the arena erupting in cheers, Alves lept from the cage and grabbed his newly-won title, then ran to Dana White and co. to plead for that coveted UFC contract.
Speaking with commentator and UFC welterweight champion, Kamaru Usman, on the microphone post-fight, Alves asked White to “give [him] the opportunity to show [his] worth to the UFC”. It looks like Alves will get his wish, as McMahon revealed that Alves, too, would be getting a slot on the Contender Series.
Keep an eye on Alves, who has established himself as a must-watch on this summer’s edition of the Contender Series.
A real-life Rocky snubbed
Jason Soares (13-0) was the reason for Dana White’s presence at Titan FC 54. At the ceremonial weigh-ins Thursday, McMahon told The Body Lock he called White ahead of scheduling the event to tell him, “[Soares] is a guy you need to have in the UFC”.
Soares was set to defend his featherweight title against short-notice replacement Ariston França (10-5), after originally being slated to face Island Fights veteran Anderson Hutchinson (7-2).
The undefeated champion was a massive favorite over França, who entered the bout on a two-fight winning streak. A UFC contract was all but guaranteed for Soares; he just had to take out França.
Over the course of the first three rounds, Soares dominated the fight. He repeatedly took down and controlled França, a jiu jitsu black belt, on the ground. Soares largely stayed in full guard, content to land ground strikes while avoiding any submission danger.
The crowd was massively pro-Soares, with many of his fans, family, friends, teammates, and pupils (Soares’ coaches at the local Freestyle Fighting Academy) looking on intently. Yet, even such a friendly crowd turned to boos at times as it seemed to grow dissatisfied with a perceived lack of action.
Going into the fourth round, Soares looked like a lock to win comfortably, but such a grinding, gritty style of fight did not seem like the best way to impress a cage-side Dana White.
That all changed in the fourth.
França connected on a beautifully placed, impeccably timed knee that dropped a suddenly limp Soares to the canvas. The Brazilian swarmed Soares, landing dozens of strikes to the now-grounded champion. The referee looked on closely as the fight grew further and further out of reach for Soares.
Chants of “Ja-son, Ja-son” began to swell in the crowd as Soares – somehow – survived França’s relentless onslaught. In a ridiculous display of heart, grit, and determination, Soares swept França and made it to top position after stunningly recovering from the multitude of strikes landed against him.
With França pressed up against the cage, Soares began to land shots of his own, his face twisted into an exhausted grimace. Soares’ shots continued to add in strength, pummeling França.
At some point during the brutal ground and pound, França noticeably went limp. The shots of Soares bounced his semi-conscious head off of the canvas, but the referee did not step in until far too late.
Fans threw water bottles into the cage as a protest of the late stoppage, but stoppage it was. Jason Soares survived certain defeat in what can only be described as a real-life Rocky movie scene.
The crowd exploded with cheers as Soares saw his belt wrapped around his waist once again.
Yet, for whatever reason, the thrilling madness of the fourth round and Soares’ 13th pro victory were not enough for a UFC contract nor a Contender Series bid.
Soares, the must-sign champion and catalyst for the show, would not be moving on to the UFC.
Theories abound as to why White and the ‘Lookin’ for a Fight’ team opted not to sign Soares. Perhaps White disliked the way Soares ‘played it safe’ by grounding and controlling França – despite the effectiveness of the strategy. Perhaps he thought Soares should never have been in danger with França in the first place. Maybe White saw something in Soares game that he wanted to be ironed out prior to his Octagon debut.
Whatever the case may be, Soares delivered a classic, an all-time thriller of a round. Odds are, fans will see him in the Octagon sooner, rather than later.
Michael Fiedel is The Body Lock's deputy editor, a staff writer for FloCombat, and a Russell-Rice scholarship recipient at Vanderbilt University.