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. 26
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass
Alexander Sarnavskiy (32-3) vs. Murad Machaev (18-1)
Take a “Tiger” and match him up against a “Strangler.” What do you get? The main event of the 44th effort from Russia’s Fight Nights promotion. The “Tiger” in question is Alexander Sarnavskiy. The “Strangler” is up-and-coming prospect Murad Machaev. This could be an audition for the UFC, since this headlining lightweight bout will top a card that airs on the UFC Fight Pass digital subscription network.
Sarnavskiy is the more well-known fighter in this contest. The 27-year-old debuted in 2008 and reeled off 20 consecutive victories before entering Bellator and quickly experiencing his first taste of defeat. The Alexander Shlemenko protege did rebound to win his next four Bellator outings and five contests overall while picking up wins over Marcus Davis and Ricardo Tirloni. Sarnavskiy’s wins over Davis and Tirloni placed him in the season-nine Bellator lightweight tournament finals, where he went the distance in a losing effort against Will Brooks. “Tiger” has gone 7-1 in his subsequent fights, including a win over Dakota Cochrane and a loss to Marcin Held, both in the Bellator cage. The RusFighters product has 18 submission wins and only eight victories by way of strikes, but he tends to prefer to strike with opponents. His biggest weaknesses have been exposed against ground fighters like Rich Clementi and Held. Sarnavskiy is a Master of Sport in hand-to-hand combat.
Machaev doesn’t have quite the lengthy history of big fights as Sarnavskiy, but he, too, has appeared inside the Bellator cage. Machaev, like Sarnavskiy, was undefeated when he made his Bellator debut, but suffered his first loss with the promotion. The aforementioned Held was able to outwork Machaev and take a unanimous decision nod. The Krepost Fight Club product did rebound with a win over Lorawnt-T Nelson in his next Bellator outing, but he has competed primarily in Russia since his Bellator stint came to an end in 2012. “The Strangler” added eight more wins to his resume, including victories over notable veterans Ivica Trušček, Niko Puhakka and Sergej Grecicho. The 29-year-old has eight submission victories and five wins via strikes. He has a combat sambo background and holds Master of Sport rank in sambo and judo.
This is an excellent battle between two Russian fighters who don’t lose in their native land. That will change for one of these fighters once the dust settles on their encounter. Sarnavskiy is two inches taller, fights slightly longer and has better movement on his feet than his opponent. His quick knockout of Leandro Rodrigues in November is a demonstration of his powerful striking. If this stays upright, the advantage goes to Sarnavskiy.
Sarnavskiy has a long list of submission wins, and he’s hardly a slouch on the ground, but this is the one area where Machaev could find success. The combat sambo fighter doesn’t immediately go for takedowns, but he should. His ability to dominate from top position was on full display against the aforementioned Puhakka, and Sarnavskiy’s struggles in Bellator have been in fights against opponents who can neutralize his striking attack and turn the fight into a close-quarters battle in the clinch or on the mat.
These men stumbled inside the Bellator cage, but they remain intriguing prospects. Their spot on a UFC Fight Pass card furthers their potential to catapult to the big show with a win, and especially with an impressive performance. Machaev would be better served to immediately make it his mission to get Sarnavskiy to the mat and work him over with ground-and-pound. That’s asking a lot out of a fighter who is willing to stand with his adversaries. Sarnavskiy’s superior stand-up technique will be the deciding factor in this contest. The “Tiger” might not be able to finish off his prey, but he’ll edge Machaev on the scorecards.
Other key bouts: Vladimir Mineev (5-0) vs. Boris Miroshnichenko (13-8), Yusup Saadulaev (14-4-1) vs. Tomáš Deák (14-8-1), Nariman Abbasov (9-2) vs. Igor Egorov (10-5), Movlid Khaibulaev (6-0) vs. Ruslan Yamanbaev (2-0-1), Kurban Omarov (3-0) vs. Alexandr Derevyanko (2-1)
Yushin Okami (30-10) vs. Ryuta Sakurai (24-21-6)
UFC veteran Yushin Okami has 40 fights under his belt, but he has never fought under the Deep banner. That all changes this weekend when Okami takes part in Deep’s 15th anniversary show, Deep 75 Impact. Okami will clash with Ryuta Sakurai in a rematch of their Pride Bushido 2 bout, which took place approximately 12 years ago. The welterweight pair join Yuya Shirai and Ikuhisa Minowa as marquee names in Deep’s anniversary lineup.
After a 16-3 run across various promotions, including Pancrase, Pride, Valkyrie, M-1 Global, K-1 HERO’s and Rumble on the Rock, Okami became a fixture in the UFC’s middleweight division. He went 10-2 en route to a title shot against Anderson Silva in 2011. The Japanese fighter was dropped via TKO by Silva and went 5-2 in his subsequent UFC outings before the promotion parted ways with the longtime contender. Okami landed in the World Series of Fighting organization, where he won his debut before unsuccessfully challenging Dave Branch for the WSOF middleweight strap. Okami dropped to 170 pounds for his most recent WSOF appearance, but he stumbled in a decision loss to fellow UFC vet Jon Fitch. Despite his reputation as a grinder — decision nods account for 14 of his victories — Okami has also displayed enough power to notch 10 victories via strikes. The 34-year-old employs a wrestling-based style and holds a black belt in judo.
With 51 fights, Sakurai has an even longer resume than his adversary, but he’s also 10 years older than Okami. The 44-year-old has been fighting professionally since 1996 and held the Deep middleweight strap in the mid-2000s. He also challenged for the same belt in 2010, a year in which he also traveled to Poland and clashed with Mamed Khalidov in an unsuccessful attempt to claim KSW middleweight gold. Despite a title reign and several title challenges, Sakurai has never really established himself as a consistent winner. He’s had two three-fight winning streaks — one in 2002-03 and another in 2008 — but he tends to lose before he can even get that much momentum under his wings. The aging veteran is on a four-fight skid at the moment, but he’s fought some seriously stiff competition in that window, suffering the loss to Khalidov, followed by defeats at the hands of Yoshiyuki Nakanishi, Ken Hasegawa and Svetoslav Savov.
In their 2004 showdown, Okami and Sakurai went the distance, but this was when Okami was in his early 20s and Sakurai was in his early 30s. These two aren’t exactly spring chickens anymore. Okami, at age 34, is still capable of putting up another campaign toward title contention in a prominent organization. Sakurai, meanwhile, is all but finished. Three of the losses in his current skid came via first-round submission, but he was able to take Nakanishi the distance.
Sakurai, an R-Blood fighter, does have plenty of decisions on his record, but he’s a capable finisher who has claimed nine wins via strikes and 10 victories by way of submission. The problem is that he’s also suffered six losses via some form of strikes and seven submission defeats to go along with eight decision losses. He’s a very beatable fighter, in other words, and especially so against a fighter with Okami’s combination of skills. Okami is still a grinder first and foremost, and after his recent stumbles, he’s likely to fall back on his most reliable skills. There’s a chance he’s just too big and too much for Sakurai to handle. If that’s the case, Okami should be able to score the TKO or, possibly, a rare submission finish. However, if Okami takes the conservative approach, he’ll be content to emerge with the judges’ nod on the scorecards to take a one-sided decision victory.
Other key bouts: Yuya Shirai (25-14-2) vs. Ikuhisa Minowa (63-40-8)
Event Date: Feb. 27
Watch Event: Spike TV UK (United Kingdom), Setanta (Africa), KIX (Asia), ESPN Player (Europe), AXN SciFi Russia (Ukraine, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Belarus, Lithuania, Moldova, Latvia, Armenia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Estonia, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan). Live preliminary card stream available online at Facebook/Lonsdale and main-card stream at Facebook/BAMMAUK.
Tom Duquesnoy (11-1) vs. Damien Rooney (10-4-1)
The 24th effort from BAMMA might not be quite as stuffed with prospects as some of the promotion’s previous efforts, but the spotlight is on a few of the most promising stars the promotion has under contract. The headliner features Cheick Kone and John Phillips in a middleweight title affair, and there’s also an interesting clash between Alan Philpott and Nathaniel Wood for the Lonsdale bantamweight title, but the top prospect on the card is undoubtedly Tom Duquesnoy. The bantamweight fighter will lock horns with Damien Rooney in the evening’s co-headliner.
Duquesnoy still reigns as BAMMA’s featherweight champion, but he’s dropping to bantamweight for this contest after successfully defending his title in his previous two fights. The “Fire Kid” is still just 22 years old, but he has compiled an impressive 11-1 mark that includes victories over Teddy Violet, Krzysztof Klaczek and Brendan Loughnane. Duquesnoy’s only loss came in his fifth career outing, where he suffered a submission loss to Makwan Amirkhani, who is now undefeated through two UFC fights. The young fighter has been training in combat sambo since age 12, has worked his wrestling with the French national team and has traveled to gyms in Europe and the United States to further hone his skills. His latest landing spot is in Albuquerque, N.M., at the Jackson-Winkeljohn camp. He’s something of a super prospect with a very well-rounded game and few flaws.
Rooney is a popular Irish fighter who wanted this fight as soon as Duquesnoy dropped to 135 pounds. The Team Torres fighter debuted in 2008, but he has been out of action since late 2014. He has competed at flyweight, but a majority of his fights came in the bantamweight division, where he’ll meet Duquesnoy. Rooney, who has six submission wins and two finishes via strikes, has had trouble when stepping up against high-level competition. He suffered a decision loss to Neil Seery in 2010 and lost by way of knockout to Paddy Holohan in 2012. His flyweight debut in 2014 also ended in frustration when Rooney dropped a decision to prospect Shajidul Haque.
Rooney has pointed out that the UFC has had its eyes on Duquesnoy for quite some time and that the youngster’s intent is to enter the Octagon as a 135-pounder. The Irishman is a solid first test in the weight class for Duquesnoy. Rooney tends to lose to fighters who go on to fight under the UFC banner, but he’s been pretty effective in defeating everyone else. Duquesnoy’s only loss came via submission, and Rooney is likely to look to expose any holes in the prospect’s ground game.
It’s difficult to bet against Duquesnoy at this point in time. He lost to Amirkhani, but Amirkhani has put on a pretty impressive display since making his own Octagon debut. If that’s what it takes to beat Duquesnoy, then Rooney is in for a tough night.
Holohan separated Rooney from consciousness, and Duquesnoy arguably has more power behind his strikes than the wiry Holohan. The Frenchman will need to be careful if the fight goes to the ground. Rooney’s one chance is to submit Duquesnoy and ruin the prospect’s UFC aspirations, at least temporarily. If Duquesnoy can keep the fight on the feet and control the Irishman effectively on the mat, this fight ends in a TKO finish for the young star.
Other key bouts: Cheick Kone (15-3) vs. John Phillips (18-6) for the middleweight title, Alan Philpott (14-7) vs. Nathaniel Wood (8-2) for the Lonsdale bantamweight title, Kams Ekpo (3-0) vs. Lloyd Manning (0-0), Declan Dalton (5-0) vs. Mike Cutting (6-4)