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: May 6
Albert Duraev (8-3) vs. Michail Tsarev (30-5)
Guram Gugenishvili was one of Russia’s top heavyweight prospects before he met a tragic end in a car accident in late 2014. Absolute Championship Berkut is honoring the late Gugenishvili with its 35th effort. The lineup features a number of veteran competitors, including light heavyweight title hopeful Gadzhimurad Antigulov, Beslan Isaev, Jesse Juarez and Eddy Ellis. The headliner features Michail Tsarev, another veteran combatant. Tsarev will challenge for the promotion’s welterweight title, which currently sits around the waist of Albert Duraev.
The 27-year-old Duraev claimed the ACB welterweight crown by battling his way through a tournament bracket in 2015. He used a choke to submit Patrick Kincl in the quarterfinals and then decisioned the formerly 20-1-1 Sergey Khandozhko in the semis. Duraev continued his strong grand prix showing in the finals with a fifth-round choke submission finish of Ustarmagomedov Gadzhidaudov to capture the belt. The tournament run brings “Machete” to a current four-fight winning streak. The Fight Club Berkut product started competing professionally in 2011 and has suffered losses to Evgeni Fomenko, Ramazan Emeev and Anatoly Tokov. All of these losses came by way of strikes. In addition to his grand prix efforts, Duraev also holds a notable victory over UFC veteran Xavier Foupa-Pokam. He has picked up six of his victories by way of submission.
Tsarev, who debuted in 2005, is still just 29 years old, but he already has 35 fights under his belt. “The Lonely Wolf” has won 30 of those contests, including 20 by way of submission and eight via some form of knockout. His name should be somewhat familiar to American fight fans for his time in Bellator, where he competed in two welterweight tournaments but couldn’t overcome Lyman Good or Douglas Lima, both of whom stopped Tsarev with strikes. The RusFighters product did score one win in the Bellator cage when he submitted Tim Welch. Outside of Bellator, Tsarev has put together a resume that features a number of notable wins. He defeated The Ultimate Fighter alum Kyacey Uscola in a 2012 regional bout, his final fight before entering Bellator, and then following his stint in the American-based promotion, he returned to Russia and put together a winning streak that included victories over Jaime Jara, Charles Andrade, Xavier Foupa-Pokam and Dennis Hallman. The streak was brought to an end when he ran into another TUF alum, Jesse Taylor. Taylor submitted Tsarev in the first round of their 2015 bout, and Tsarev has fought just once since the loss. He is a Master of Sport in hand-to-hand combat.
The chances of a finish in this fight should be high. These men have combined for just three decisions in 46 fights. Neither man has ever lost a fight that has gone the distance. On the ground, Duraev and Tsarev could combine for a grappling clinic. Tsarev has the experience edge, but Duraev has found great success when attacking his opponent’s neck. Duraev, however, has not been submitted, whereas Tsarev has lost three fights by way of submission, including a choke submission defeat at the hands of the aforementioned Taylor. Tsarev likely holds the edge on the feet. Duraev has only one knockout victory and has lost exclusively via strikes. If Tsarev can connect, he has a chance to put Duraev away. Meanwhile, Duraev has a strong submission game and the ability to fend off anything his opponent might throw at him on the mat.
Despite Tsarev’s vulnerability on the ground, he can still be considered the favorite in this affair. His experience is too great to discount. This is a man who was able to put Hallman away with strikes while avoiding the UFC veteran’s dangerous submission arsenal. Tsarev should find similar success against Duraev. The end will come by way of TKO before the midway point of the fight.
Other key bouts: Gadzhimurad Antigulov (17-4) vs. Muslim Makhmudov (7-3) for the light heavyweight title, Beslan Isaev (33-7) vs. Jesse Juarez (23-10), Nodar Kudukhashvili (10-2) vs. Arymarcel Santos (36-30), Amirkhan Adaev (9-3) vs. Eddy Ellis (20-15-1), Vladimir Katyhin (32-7-1) vs. Giorgi Lobzhanidze (0-0), Adrian Zieliński (15-4) vs. Rasul Ediev (6-2), Denis Mutsnek (11-2) vs. Maharbek Karginov (6-0)
in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil
Event Date: May 6
Juliana Velasquez (3-0) vs. Elaine Albuquerque (10-5)
In just its second numbered event, the uniquely named 1° Round Combat promotion has gathered a UFC veteran — Edilberto de Oliveira — plus a long list of prospects. Among those prospects, there’s one undefeated women’s bantamweight competitor who seeks to leave the Ginásio Nélio Dias with gold wrapped around her waist. That woman is Juliana Velasquez. Velasquez will clash with veteran warrior Elaine Albuquerque.
Velasquez made headlines early in her career when Shooto Brazil announced that she would participate in a coed fight. It turned out that the fight was nothing more than a publicity stunt to promote awareness for new legislation in Brazil designed to combat violence against women in the country. Velasquez, 29, made her professional debut in 2014 with a decision nod over Priscila de Souza. She took another decision win in a Brazilian regional promotion before fighting against Rosy Duarte for the 1° Round Combat women’s bantamweight title in December. The Team Nogueira fighter claimed the victory when Duarte was injured in the fifth round and could not continue. Velasquez has a background in judo.
Albuquerque is a seasoned veteran who tends to beat all but the best opponents she has encountered. The Nova União fighter debuted with a victory in 2012, but she lost her sophomore outing to future UFC title challenger Bethe Correia. Albuquerque responded with six victories over her next seven fights. Then she hit hard times as she stepped up to face tougher competition. In early 2014, she dropped a decision to Aline Sério. Albuquerque won her next two outings, including a fight against Carina Damm, but then suffered back-to-back losses to current Invicta interim flyweight champion Jennifer Maia and the aforementioned Duarte. Albuquerque finally returned to the win column in July 2015 when she decisioned Juh Moura.
Albuquerque, 30, is a good test for a rising contender like Velasquez. If the judoka can make it past her veteran opponent, then she’s ready to advance to the next level — maybe a bout under the Invicta banner? — and take on stiffer competition. Albuquerque’s tendency to lose to fighters like Correia, Maia and Duarte is enough to suggest that she has reached her maximum potential as a gatekeeper of the regional circuit.
In a battle between two of Brazil’s top camps, it looks like Team Nogueira has a chance to emerge with a victory in this fight. Velasquez and Albuquerque will likely engage in a lot of clinch battles. Velasquez appears to be very strong in this area, whereas Albuquerque tends to take risks that put her in bad spots. Albuquerque has been effective in creating scrambles, however, and using the scrambles to transition to her opponent’s back, get the hooks in and search for a submission. Albuquerque could find some opportunities against Velasquez, but the judoka should be able to counter Albuquerque’s awkward takedowns and turn the fight in her favor. Neither lady has been a consistent finisher, so this fight will probably hit the scorecards, where Velasquez will capture a razor-thin decision.
Other key bouts: Felipe Dantas (9-0) vs. Caio Alencar (8-1), Edilberto de Oliveira (30-12-2) vs. Ciro Rodrigues (19-7), Tarciano Pereira (3-0) vs. Felipe Silva (6-2) for the flyweight title, Tarcisio Pierre (2-0) vs. Yuri Mariano (3-1), Sandro Bezerra (7-1) vs. Silmar Rodrigo (15-5), Mateus Vasco (13-1) vs. Daniel Virginio (4-1), Alan Gomes (8-0-1) vs. Maycon Silvan (8-2)
Event Date: May 9
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass, NBC Universo
Stephanie Alba (3-0) vs. Paulina Granados (2-2)
The atomweight division is not one of the women’s weight classes featured in the UFC, and therefore the division has taken a hit while its top fighters migrate up 10 pounds in order to qualify for a spot on the big show. That leaves a talent gap in the 105-pound weight class. That’s a gap that could be filled by someone like Stephanie Alba, an undefeated fighter set to compete against Paulina Granados on the fifth installment of Combates Americas.
Alba, 33, stands just 4-foot-11. “The Cyclone” had a mediocre 6-4 mark as an amateur that included split decision losses to her current opponent, Granados, and Jennifer Darr. Alba also dropped a unanimous decisions to Granados and Jamie Moyle. However, some of those fights were contested in the strawweight division, where Alba would have been greatly outsized. Things have gone better for Alba as a pro. She has won all of her fights since making her pro debut in 2014. The only drawback to Alba’s record is that her opponents were a combined 1-4 when she fought them. She fights out of the 4oz Fight Club and Gracie Barra Champions in Houston. Alba has trained alongside reigning Invicta women’s bantamweight champion Tonya Evinger. She has one submission finish and two decision victories as a pro. Her most notable win came against Andy Nguyen, who is now 2-2 as a pro. Alba’s last two fights have come under the Legacy banner.
Granados is a Texas-based fighter who has hit upon hard times. She debuted in 2013 and won her first two pro bouts. Then she ran into Tessa Simpson and suffered a decision loss. The American Revolution MMA fighter sat on the sidelines for two years before returning in September, only to fall to Julia Jones on the scorecards. Granados holds two decision victories over her current opponent, Alba, when the two women were competing at the amateur level. The 28-year-old has a Muay Thai kickboxing base. Granados is also a Legacy veteran.
Alba is an undefeated prospect, but her level of competition leaves a lot to be desired. Enter Granados. This is a fighter who was an absolute nightmare for Alba when the two ladies were amateurs. They welcomed each other to the amateur ranks, but it was Granados who emerged with the decision nod. Nearly two years later, they met again. This time the fight went five rounds instead of three, and it turned out to be even closer, ending in a split verdict for Granados. Alba could go a long way to erasing those past defeats by winning the only fight of the trilogy to be contested in the pro ranks.
Granados seems to have Alba’s number, but that doesn’t mean this will be a complete blowout. Alba did score several takedowns in their second meeting and coaxed Granados into some wild striking exchanges. The decision barely went to Granados, but Alba was in the fight the whole time. It was the strength of Granados in the clinch that made the difference in the outcome of the bout.
Granados has a strong clinch game and loves to throw knees from the position. She victimized Alba in this way during their second meeting, and she even gave Julia Jones, a top-15 atomweight, a difficult fight when she returned to action after a two-year layoff. Alba has certainly improved since her amateur days, but Granado is the better striker and the stronger fighter. Alba is in for another tough night, and most likely another decision loss to Granados.
Other key bouts: Joseph Morales (5-0) vs. Anthony Perales (5-2), Gustavo Lopez (5-1) vs. Saul Elizondo (6-6), Ricky Palacios (6-1) vs. Brandon Royval (3-1)