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: Jan. 29
Watch Event: pay-per-view stream at onefc.com
Eric Kelly (12-1) vs. Ev Ting (10-3)
Only six days removed from its most recent event, ONE Championship is back at it with a foray to Kuala Lumpur for an event dubbed “Clash of Heroes.” This show may not have the championship headliner of last week’s effort, but it does play host to several intriguing match-ups featuring established Southeast Asian stars like Eduard Folayang and Eric Kelly, as well as prospects Ev Ting, Tetsuya Yamada and Jake Butler. Featherweights Kelly and Ting top the bill in what ONE’s fight poster calls a “Malaysian Warrior Bout.” Whatever that might mean, this pairing certainly should put one of these men a step closer to challenging current ONE featherweight kingpin Marat Gafurov.
Kelly has been around the promotion since its very first event, where he defeated Mitch Chilson via first-round submission. He’s made six appearances in the ONE cage and has only suffered one loss. Unfortunately for the Filipino fighter, that defeat came to Honorio Banario in Kelly’s lone shot at featherweight gold. “The Natural” is the rare Filipino fighter to not hail from the Team Lakay camp. Instead, his allegiance is to Yaw-Yan Ardigma. Kelly is a Wushu practitioner who relies heavily on his grappling, which has accounted for nine submission victories. His lone win via strikes came against former UFC champ Jens Pulver. While a ONE title has eluded Kelly’s grasp, the 33-year-old has held gold under the URCC banner.
The Malaysian-born Ting is based out of Auckland MMA in New Zealand. He started training in 2009 and made his pro debut in 2011. “E.T.” has had his ups and downs. He won his first three fights, including a finish of future UFC fighter Will Chope. Since then, three has been his magic number. He suffered a setback in his fourth pro fight, rebounded with a three-fight winning streak, lost again, won three more, lost again and now enters this fight after a win over the aforementioned former ONE champ Banario. Ting has a balanced split of striking and submission wins, but he tends to be vulnerable in the grappling department. Of his three losses, two came via submission. One of those losses came against the aforementioned reigning ONE champ Gafurov.
This looks like a brilliant piece of matchmaking on ONE Championship’s part. Kelly and Ting are game fighters who should combine for a very competitive, back-and-forth battle. Kelly’s last fight against Hiroshige Tanaka is a good reference point for what can be expected in this encounter. Kelly defeated Tanaka on the scorecards, but Tanaka had his moments and threatened from Kelly’s back. Ting has the skills to provide the same dangers to Kelly, but the New Zealand-base fighter also has the finishing ability to succeed where Tanaka failed.
The most troubling aspect of Kelly’s game is his propensity to put himself in bad spots. He might initiate a takedown, but there’s a good chance he ends up on his back or fending off an opponent who takes his back in the subsequent scramble. Tanaka had plenty of chances in their scrap, but Kelly hung in there and somehow pulled off the decision nod. Ting won’t be as forgiving. The 26-year-old loves to attack the neck of his opponent. A guillotine can come at any time, even in the stand-up clinch, so Kelly has to be careful when he shoots in for a takedown or loses a scramble on the mat.
Kelly’s weaknesses lie within the area of his game that is supposed to be his biggest strength. This leaves him open against a well-rounded foe like Ting, who should be able to outstrike Kelly on the feet and force this fight to the mat. Kelly might seem to have the advantage in this area, but it might be Ting who demonstrates the superior grappling chops. Ting will find the choke submission against Kelly.
Other key bouts: Eduard Folayang (14-5) vs. Tetsuya Yamada (15-3-2), Jake Butler (6-1) vs. Tatsuya Mizuno (14-10-1), Samir Mrabet (3-0) vs. Sami Amin (6-2-1), Agilan Thangalapani (2-0) vs. James Kouame (3-6), Jenny Huang (2-0) vs. Amira Badr (0-0)
Event Date: Jan. 29
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass
Anthony Smith (23-11) vs. Josh Neer (36-15-1)
UFC Fight Pass has become home to broadcasts for several major international promotions, but the digital network isn’t ignoring the leagues based in the United States. This weekend, it offers a little bit of both. Pancrase 275 serves as the international offering. Meanwhile, Victory Fighting Championship returns with its 47th event to provide UFC Fight Pass with its regional U.S.-based content. It also provides middleweight veteran Anthony Smith with a chance to redeem a previous loss and prove to UFC matchmaker Joe Silva that he deserves another run inside the Octagon. Smith will fight fellow UFC vet Josh Neer with VFC’s middleweight title hanging in the balance.
Smith is an exciting fighter, but he has a career packed with inconsistency. “Lionheart” debuted in 2008 and went 5-6 through his first 11 fights. Things finally started to click for him in 2010 and he put together an 8-1 run that led to his Strikeforce debut. Under the Strikeforce banner, Smith went 2-2 while also picking up two additional wins on the regional circuit. He was a member of the Strikeforce roster absorbed by the UFC, but he fell in his Octagon debut against Antônio Braga Neto. Smith was sent packing from the promotion, and his frustration led to a disappointing showing in his bout with Neer at VFC 41. Following the loss, Smith was able to hit the reset button and string together six straight wins. His current run includes two wins inside the Bellator cage, a Cage Fury Fighting Championships title win and subsequent defense against Tim Williams and a first-round finish of Brock Jardine in a Resurrection Fighting Alliance headlining bout. The 27-year-old has a finish-or-be-finished mentality that has led to just one fight that has gone the distance. He has won via strikes on 10 occasions and picked up 11 submission wins. Unfortunately, he has also suffered six losses by some form of knockout and five defeats via submission.
Neer is the definition of a grizzled veteran. “The Dentist” is more than 50 fights into a career that started in 2003, yet he is only 32 years old. He’s had four separate stints with the UFC, plus two tenures with Bellator and stops in the IFL and Shark Fights. He’s fought primarily at welterweight and lightweight, but he’ll compete as a middleweight against Smith. Neer, like Smith, has struggled to win on a consistent basis. He did kick off his career with a 13-1-1 stretch, with the only loss coming against Spencer Fisher, but he’s managed just a few extended winning streaks since then. Neer has faced a ton of notable names. His victims include Melvin Guillard, Joe Stevenson, Din Thomas, Mac Danzig, Duane Ludwig and his current opponent, Smith. Meanwhile, he has been handed defeats by the likes of Drew Fickett, Nick Thompson, Josh Burkman, both Diaz brothers, Kurt Pellegrino, Gleison Tibau, Eddie Alvarez, Mike Pyle, Justin Edwards, Court McGee, Paul Bradley and André Santos. Neer has a background in wrestling.
With his previous win over Smith, Neer might enter this fight with a psychological edge. Still, Neer is an inconsistent veteran who will be fighting at a weight heavier than his typical welterweight limit or even the 175-pound catchweight at which he last met Smith. A heavier Neer might not be a better Neer, especially against a determined fighter out to avenge a prior loss and prove himself to the UFC brass. Neer, despite some personal demons, is a go-to guy for the UFC. If Smith can wipe the previous loss from his record by dispatching of Neer within the distance, he might just redeem himself. Whether he can actually do it is another question completely.
There are plenty of holes in Neer’s game, but Smith wasn’t in the right frame of mind when the pair met in 2013. Now, however, he’s refocused and determined to make it back to the Octagon. Neer scored a late submission in their first encounter, but Smith won’t let himself get put in a similar spot this time around. Instead, he’ll seek to use his size and reach to keep this fight standing and work over Neer. Neer is a solid striker, however, and could turn out to have the advantage wherever this fight goes.
Smith has youth and size on his side, but this won’t be an easy win for him. The one near certainty here is that this fight ends before the final bell. What’s less certain is the outcome. Both fighters are capable of finishing the fight on the feet or on the mat, but Neer’s previous win over Smith tops the scales in his favor. Neer tacks on another submission victory.
Other key bouts: Alonzo Martinez (39-18-1) vs Jarred Mercado (13-3) for the featherweight title, Jake Lindsey (10-3) vs. Dakota Cochrane (22-9), Yuri Villefort (7-5) vs. Kenneth Glenn (6-2), Grant Dawson (7-0) vs. Bryce Logan (3-1), Raufeon Stots (3-0) vs. Demetrius Wilson (1-0), Seth Bass (1-0) vs. Nate Flanders (0-0)
Event Date: Jan. 31
Watch Event: Epicentre.tv
Riki Fukuda (23-7) vs. Jung Hwan Cha (11-6-3)
Five fights and a 2-3 mark. You could say Riki Fukuda’s UFC tenure was a disappointment. Five fights, no losses and a middleweight title. Yeah, Fukuda’s Road FC run has been quite a different sight. The reigning Road FC 185-pound champ will defend his crown against Jung Hwan Cha at the South Korean promotion’s 28th event.
The 35-year-old Japanese fighter has to be enjoying his stay in Road FC, where he debuted against a then 6-1 prospect named Hee Seung Him and has seen no other opponents, until now, who are more than one win above the .500 mark. Along the way, he has scored four victories, all via strikes, and had one fight end in a no-contest. This is far removed from the Fukuda who delivered nothing but decisions while in the UFC. The Grabaka product tends to either go the distance or finish fights with his fists. His UFC victories came against Steve Cantwell and Tom DeBlass.
Cha, with an 11-6-3 record, does represent marked improvement over Fukuda’s last four Road FC opponents, including Uh Jin Jeon, the 3-2 fighter whom Fukuda battled for the vacant title. “Stone Cutter” is a South Korean fighter based out of the MMA Story camp. The 31-year-old debuted in 2005 and went 6-5-1 through his first 12 fights while never winning more than two in a row. He’s now 5-1-2 over his last eight contests with a couple of two-fight winning streaks. He has typically fought at either 176 pounds or at the welterweight limit of 170, but he’ll step up to middleweight for his scrap with Fukuda. Cha has six submission wins, but he has also suffered four defeats on the mat.
Credit has to be given to Road FC for finding a slightly more deserving challenger for Fukuda’s middleweight title, but this is still a middling veteran and a fighter competing above his natural weight class. Road FC signed Fukuda to be one of its stars, and it appears the company wouldn’t mind keeping it this way. The grinding champion gets a favorable match-up against an opponent he should be able to wear out en route to a late TKO finish or a decision victory.
Other key bouts: Yuta Nezu (19-7-1) vs. Je Hoon Moon (8-7), Chan Sol Park (2-0) vs. Kai Lu (0-0), Min Seok Kwon (1-0) vs. Heili Alateng (5-6), Yong Geun Kim (1-0) vs. Yoon Jin Lee (0-1)