Every week, Combat Press takes a look at three regional, developmental or international cards from the upcoming weekend, previewing from each a single fight to which people should pay close attention. We will also list other significant bouts from the card, as well as information on how to follow each promotion and watch the events.
Let’s discover those prospects that fight in the obscurity of the regional, developmental and international circuits, waiting for their shot at the bright lights and big stage of the UFC, and those veterans looking for one more chance at stardom. It all begins here, in the small convention centers and high school gymnasiums. It all begins with promotions such as these…
Event Date: Feb. 27
Watch Event: AXS TV
Leonardo Leite (5-0) vs. Larry Crowe (9-3)
After a quiet couple of months, Legacy Fighting Championship is picking up the pace again in February. The Texas-based promotion, which typically runs an event per month, has already hosted one February card, and now it’s back with its second effort for the month. Legacy FC 39 features a middleweight championship affair at the top of the lineup. Leonardo Leite will attempt to claim his second Legacy belt when he meets promotional mainstay Larry Crowe.
Leite captured Legacy’s light heavyweight crown in September 2014 with a fourth-round TKO finish of Myron Dennis. The victory was the fifth of the Brazilian’s fledgling MMA career, which started in June 2013. However, his brief and perfect run in the world of MMA isn’t the full extent of his experience. The 36-year-old has trained in judo since a very early age and started jiu-jitsu when he was a teen. Now a BJJ black belt, Leite is a highly decorated competitor in both judo and jiu-jitsu, even claiming two world championships in the latter discipline. He posted two first-round rear-naked choke submission wins and two decision victories while competing in his native Brazil. The Brazilian Top Team product’s campaign for the Legacy title was his first MMA bout outside of his homeland, and it also marked his first victory by way of strikes. After competing as a 205-pounder in his previous Legacy appearance, Leite is now headed to 185 pounds in search of more gold.
“Tae Kwon” Crowe calls Texas home. The 30-year-old striker’s most recent loss came against former Legacy middleweight titleholder Bubba Bush. He has been perfect in his subsequent three fights, including two quick first-round finishes. The Silverback Fight Club product has been fighting professionally since 2010. He has five wins via strikes and one submission victory, which came via a 52-second rear-naked choke finish of Jon Kirk.
Crowe, who stands 5-foot-11, gives up two inches in height to Leite, but the reach is nearly identical between the two fighters. Crowe must excel in keeping the distance and using his speed on the feet to batter Leite with strikes. If Crowe can’t stay out of reach, he’s in for a long night. Leite is a grappler who has excellent takedown capabilities. He took advantage of confusion off an eye poke he sustained and changed levels on Dennis when Dennis hesitated to attack. The result there was a takedown, and when Dennis tried to get back up while against the cage, the Brazilian maintained a clinch and effortlessly tripped Dennis back to the mat. Crowe can’t afford to be controlled like that.
Crowe does have a submission win on his resume, but the Texan fighter is going to struggle mightily when confronted with a world-class jiu-jitsu ace like Leite, especially when that ace can also rain down a barrage of punishing ground-and-pound. Leite looked like a monster in his fight with Dennis. As long as his cut to middleweight doesn’t hit any bumps, he should look just as impressive in this encounter. Crowe’s striking is always dangerous, but he might not get a chance to be effective before he lands on the canvas courtesy of a Leite takedown. Once Leite drags Crowe into his world, the end won’t be far behind. Leite might soften Crowe up with some ground-and-pound, but this time he’ll also show the Legacy crowd why he has a number of jiu-jitsu medals in his trophy case. Leite takes the win — and a second Legacy belt — via submission.
Other key bouts: Thomas Webb (8-2) vs. Daniel Pineda (19-11), Valentina Shevchenko (3-1) vs. Jan Finney (8-10), Mike Bronzoulis (16-8-1) vs. Jonathan Harris (9-4), Kevin Aguilar (8-1) vs. Alex Black (8-3)
Event Date: Feb. 28
Watch Event: ISTV
Mikael Nyyssönen (7-0) vs. Thibault Gouti (9-0)
The Finland-based Cage promotion has a knack for bringing together lineups that feature equal helpings of established European veterans and rising prospects. The company’s 29th venture is no different. It features such European MMA stalwarts as Anton Kuivanen, Sergej Grecicho and Marcus Vänttinen, plus up-and-comers like Jarjis Danho and Suvi Salmimies, an undefeated fighter who meets veteran Karla Benitez on short notice. However, the card’s two most promising prospects might be Mikael Nyyssönen and Thibault Gouti. The lightweights have 16 combined pro fights, but neither has suffered a loss. That will most likely change, barring a draw or no-contest, when the pair meet on Feb. 28.
Gouti, who is perfect through nine outings, is the more experienced fighter at the pro level. The French fighter will be competing on foreign soil for the first time in his career. The 27-year-old is at his best on the ground, where he has finished six opponents by way of submission. Gouti’s string of success has largely featured subpar opposition, though. In fact, he has only one victory over an opponent with a winning record, and that win accounts for the only TKO finish on his resume.
Gouti’s 28-year-old opponent, Nyyssönen, has a similar set of trends on his own record. The Finn has two less fights, but he also relies heavily on his ground game and very rarely stops opponents with his fists. He has four submission finishes, all by way of rear-naked choke, and just one TKO victory. Although he does have a couple of sub-.500 fighters on his resume, most of the MMA Team 300 product’s foes currently possess winning marks.
Nyyssönen appears to be a pretty good prospect who will probably run into some serious trouble when he takes a substantial step up in competition. He has a solid chin, but gets hit too often. He also has a really bad habit of giving up his back in his fights. He remains composed in those bad positions and often shakes off his attacker, but it remains a huge hole that better grapplers can exploit.
Neither man is a technical marvel on the feet, but Nyyssönen mixes it up to a much higher degree. The Finn might not want to throw as many kicks as he usually does, because Gouti changes levels well and has strong double-leg and trip takedowns. The Frenchman does keep his hands low, however, and could end up absorbing Nyyssönen’s punches or the occasional head kick. Nyyssönen has been effective in stuffing takedowns and making his adversaries pay for their efforts, and he’s also skilled enough on the ground to create scrambles if Gouti is successful in his takedown attempts. Gouti transitions well, but he can get too focused on his offensive attack and fall victim to sweeps.
This has the potential to be an entertaining back-and-forth contest. Nyyssönen fights are reminiscent of IFL-era Chris Horodecki bouts. The Finn typically presses the action, runs into trouble, survives and shifts the momentum to score the win. Gouti will give him his toughest test yet, but Nyyssönen has faced tougher competition on the bigger stage and will rely on that experience to carry him through. Gouti will likely take the Finn’s back at some point during the contest. If he does, it wouldn’t be a shocker to see the Frenchman take the submission win. However, Nyyssönen has been in that situation before and has demonstrated a ridiculous ability to persevere and turn the tide in his favor. He’ll do so once more in this encounter, shrugging Gouti off his back and stuffing takedown attempts before finding a submission finish of his own.
Other key bouts: Anton Kuivanen (20-8) vs. Sergej Grecicho (20-5-1), Marcus Vänttinen (24-5) vs. Jarjis Danho (4-0), Julien Piednoir (4-1) vs. Mikko Ahmala (4-2), Suvi Salmimies (2-0-1) vs. Karla Benitez (10-7), Matej Surin (4-1) vs. Saku Heikkola (3-5)
Event Date: Feb. 28
Watch Event: GoFightLive pay-per-view stream via Combat Press
Tim Williams (10-1) vs. Anthony Smith (20-11)
One fighter came up short in two trips to The Ultimate Fighter and the other fighter was one and done in the UFC. Now, both men will try to climb back toward the big show while vying for gold in one of the East Coast’s more prominent regional promotions. The fighters are Tim Williams and Anthony Smith, and they clash over Williams’s middleweight title in the headlining contest of Cage Fury Fighting Championships 46.
Williams was a cast member on The Ultimate Fighter 17, but he came up short in his bid to make the house when he lost to Dylan Andrews. The Team Balance product returned for season 19 of the reality series, made the house with a TKO victory over Bojan Velickovic and then suffered a loss to Dhiego Lima. Those TUF fights don’t count on his official record, however, leaving him with just one official defeat to go with 10 victories. “The South Jersey Strangler,” who made his pro debut in 2009, won his first seven fights before suffering his lone career loss. In that early streak, he claimed TKO wins over the likes of Duane Bastress and Andre Gusmao. He lost to Dustin Jacoby, already a UFC veteran at the time, via TKO in a CFFC middleweight title bout. He wasn’t definitively finished, but rather lost when he sustained a deep cut that caused officials to halt the contest. Williams bounced back with a three-fight winning streak and redeemed himself by claiming the CFFC middleweight strap with a decision victory over Ron Stallings, who would go on to compete in the UFC in his very next fight. The 28-year-old has two wins by way of TKO, but, as his name would suggest, he’s more accomplished on the mat, where he has tallied seven submissions.
Smith has fought on several big stages with mixed levels of success. He made his pro debut in 2008 and won his first three fights. He went on to lose six of his next eight outings, leaving him with a disappointing 5-6 mark by early 2010. That’s when things turns around for “Lionheart.” He won nine of his next 10, including his Strikeforce debut against Ben Lagman. After stumbling in his sophomore Strikeforce appearance against Adlan Amagov, Smith reeled off three more wins, including a first-round submission finish of Lumumba Sayers in the Strikeforce cage. Then, the busy veteran endured a horrible 2013. He lost all three of his fights that year, including his final Strikeforce bout against Roger Gracie and his UFC debut against Antonio Braga Neto. The third loss in his skid came on the regional circuit against Josh Neer, but Smith bounced back with a three-fight winning streak that included two wins under the Bellator banner. The Disorderly Conduct fighter has over 30 career fights, but he has only gone the distance once and has only seen the third round three times.
Win or lose, Smith is accustomed to fights that end in the first or second frame. He has eight wins and six losses via some form of knockout, plus 10 victories and five defeats by way of submission. The 26-year-old impressed early in his Strikeforce run before eye pokes threw him off his game against Gracie. Yet, he’s extremely inconsistent. His record is a roller coaster ride that features the aforementioned 5-6 start, a 12-2 middle and a 3-3 mark in his most recent six fights. His three-fight skid consisted of submission losses, and he could be extremely vulnerable on the mat against a grappler the caliber of Williams.
Williams has struggled against the better competition he’s met. It’s been his good fortune that those were mostly exhibition bouts, but now he’ll face another tough opponent in a fight that does count. Smith could be the perfect foe for Williams, who needs to post a significant win if he wants to climb into the UFC’s Octagon. In Smith, Williams is fighting a fellow scrappy fighter, but one he should be able to plant on the mat and tie up for the submission. Williams will have to weather Smith’s early storm, but he usually isn’t an easy out anyway. It will be a back-and-forth battle, but Williams will push the fight into the deeper waters of the championship rounds, where Smith might start to fade. Williams will find more success with his takedowns as the fight wears on, and he will eventually sink in a choke to end Smith’s night.
Other key bouts: Joseph Lowry (1-0) vs. Allen Otto (1-1)