Blagoy Ivanov has yet another chance to further cement himself as the top heavyweight in the World Series of Fighting.
Ivanov will defend his heavyweight title against former Resurrection Fighting Alliance champion Josh Copeland in the WSOF 31 headliner on Friday at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut. Their five-round battle will shoulder the marquee for a five-fight main card that includes a Jason High-Mike Ricci co-main event, a featherweight clash pairing Luis Palomino with Sheymon da Silva Moraes, a middleweight scrap pitting Phil Hawes against Joshua Key and a welterweight tilt matching John Howard with Michael Arrant.
A 5-foot-11, 250-pound brute who survived a near-fatal stabbing in 2012, Ivanov has rattled off back-to-back victories since submitting to an Alexander Volkov rear-naked choke under the Bellator MMA banner more than two years ago. The 29-year-old last fought at WSOF 24 on Oct. 17, when he stopped Derrick Mehmen with second-round punches to retain his heavyweight championship. Wins over Smealinho Rama, Lavar Johnson, Rich Hale, Kazuyuki Fujita and former Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder Ricco Rodriguez bolster Ivanov’s resume.
Copeland, 33, operates out of the Grudge Training Center in Colorado, where he trains alongside undefeated WSOF lightweight champion Justin Gaethje. The “Cuddly Bear” has gone 3-1 since being released by the UFC following consecutive losses to Ruslan Magomedov and Jared Rosholt. Copeland sports eight finishes among his 12 professional victories.
With the Ivanov-Copeland title clash as the featured attraction, here are 10 facts surrounding World Series of Fighting 31:
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FACT 1: After capturing bronze in 2006, Ivanov was a gold medalist in combat sambo at the 2008 World Sambo Championships in St. Petersburg, Russia. He defeated Janosch Stefan and onetime Pride Fighting Championships heavyweight titleholder Fedor Emelianenko in the tournament.
FACT 2: Copeland studied Youth Ministry at Dallas Baptist College, now Dallas Baptist University, in Fort Worth, Texas -- the same school out of which two-time all-star Ben Zobrist was drafted in the 2004 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
FACT 3: The five men who have defeated High -- Jay Hieron, Marius Zaromskis, Charlie Brenneman, Erick Silva and reigning UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos -- own a cumulative record of 105-38.
FACT 4: Tristar Gym’s Ricci was a finalist on Season 16 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series, as he advanced to the finale with wins over Dominic Waters, Michael Hill and Neil Magny.
FACT 5: Palomino has 25-, 38-, 57-, 70- and 83-second finishes on his ledger.
FACT 6: A Team Nogueira prospect with an extensive background in muay Thai, Moraes has less than 90 minutes of professional MMA fight time under his belt.
FACT 7: Hawes won a national championship as a member of the wrestling team at Iowa Central Community College, the same school that was once home to Jon Jones and Cain Velasquez.
FACT 8: Six of Key’s 11 career defeats have resulted in submission: two via triangle choke, one via armbar, one via rear-naked choke, one via kneebar and one via punches.
FACT 9: “Doomsday” Howard has held titles in the Ring of Combat and CES MMA organizations.
FACT 10: Six of Arrant’s 25 pro bouts -- four of his 15 wins and two of his 10 losses -- have concluded in less than a minute.