World Series of Fighting (WSOF.com) today announced the addition of three star-studded matchups to complete the main card for its WSOF31: Ivanov vs. Copeland world heavyweight championship Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) event, live on NBCSN at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. from Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Conn. on Friday, June 17.
In a second heavyweight matchup, dynamic, rising star Chris “Huggy Bear” Barnett (14-2) will make his World Series of Fighting debut against Team AKA prodigy Justin Willis (4-1).
Also stepping in the decagon cage for the first time, battle-tested warrior John “Doomsday” Howard (23-12) will collide with submission expert Thiago “Minu” Meller (20-7) in a welterweight (170 pounds) affair.
In a featherweight (145 pounds) scrap between two prolific strikers, Luis “Baboon” Palomino (24-12) will face off with former world championship challenger Sheymon Moraes (8-1).
In the main event, reigning world heavyweight champion Blagoy Ivanov (13-1) will risk his title against Josh “Cuddly Bear” Copeland (13-1) while, in the lightweight (155 pounds) co-main event, superstars Jason “The Kansas City Bandit” High (19-5) and Mike “The Martian” Ricci (11-4) will square off with their division’s number one contender ranking at stake.
Chris Barnett vs. Justin Willis
After spending the last year and a half making waves in Japan, the 5-foot-9, 29-year-old Barnett of Tampa, Fla. will suit up as “Huggy Bear,” and make his way onto a major stage in the U.S. for the first time in his career.
With heavy hands and tremendous agility for a fighter of his massive stature, Barnett has notched 12 of his 14 career victories by way of (T)KO, and has celebrated his wins in flamboyant fashion, with everything from cartwheels to breakdancing to hand stands.
Like Barnett, the stocky, 6-foot-3, 28-year-old Willis, a training partner of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) greats Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier, has been enjoying success in Japan under the promotion of Inoki Genome Federation (IFG).
Willis will make his first start of 2016, and look to extend his win streak to four consecutive bouts. In his last effort on August 29, he earned a unanimous decision over Rizvan Kuniev in Tokyo.
Luis Palomino vs. Sheymon Moraes
The 5-foot-8, 35-year-old Palomino of Miami, Fla. via Lima, Peru is coming off an epic year in which he engaged in two, all-out wars with reigning, undefeated World Series of Fighting lightweight champion Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje, both of which earned “Fight of the Month” honors.
After closing out 2015 with a gutsy appearance in World Series of Fighting’s first-ever, one-night, eight-man tournament in which he scored a devastating, first round (4:55) TKO (punches) on Rich Patishnock in the event’s quarterfinal stage, before being stopped in the semifinal stage of battle via second round (4:19) TKO (punches) at the hands of eventual tournament winner Brian Foster, Palomino will return to the featherweight division where he has held two world titles.
The 5-foot-8, 25-year-old Moraes of Rio De Janeiro, Brazil returned to form in his last bout, decimating fellow knockout artist Robbie “Problems” Peralta by way of TKO (punches) in the second round (3:21) of their matchup at WSOF26.
A seasoned Muay Thai stylist, Moraes ran to seven straight victories in his first seven starts as a professional MMA competitor before being handed his first career defeat by way of third round (3:46) submission (rear-naked choke) in a title bid against reigning bantamweight (135 pounds) champion Marlon Moraes.
John Howard vs. Thiago Meller
Following his second stint with the UFC that spanned seven bouts and included victories over Uriah Hall, Siyar Bahadurzada and Cathal Pendred, the 5-foot-7, 33-year-old Howard of Boston, Mass. will aim to rebound from a second round (:21) KO (punches) loss to Tim Means on December 10.
To date, Howard has notched 15 of his 23 career victories by way of (T)KO or submission. During his initial run with the UFC between January 2009 and June 2011, Howard scored a memorable, third round (4:55) KO (punches) on submission ace Dennis “Superman” Hallman on December 5, 2009, marking his third consecutive conquest in the league.
Meller of Porto Alegre, Rio Grande Do Sul, Brazil will look to collect his second win in a row, following his first round submission (rear-naked choke) ofLeonardo Rodriguez on June 26, 2015.
The 5-foot-10, 33-year-old Meller, a near 13-year veteran of the sport, has emerged victorious in 14 of his 20 career wins, by way of submission.
The preliminary bout card lineup for WSOF31: Ivanov vs. Copeland will be announced soon.
Priced from $39.99, tickets for the event are on sale at WSOF.com and Foxwoods.com.
Doors at The Grand Theatre at Foxwoods Resort Casino will open for WSOF31: Ivanov vs. Copeland, at 5 p.m. ET, and the first preliminary card bout will begin at 6 p.m.