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: July 22
Watch Event: AXS TV
Ryan Spann (9-2) vs. Robert Drysdale (6-0)
Robert Drysdale’s MMA career has been a story of success inside the cage and failure outside of it. The accomplished Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt rode his elite BJJ status and a six-fight undefeated streak all the way to the UFC’s Octagon, but he has little to show for it. Now, Drysdale intends to get his career back on track in his return to Legacy Fighting Championship. At the promotion’s 58th event, Drysdale clashes with Ryan Spann for the Legacy light heavyweight championship.
Drysdale, a multiple-time world champion in BJJ, has coached a number of successful UFC fighters, but his own journey in the sport began when he turned pro in 2010. The Utah native tore through three opponents in Canada’s Armageddon FC before signing with Legacy and continuing his rampage with an additional three victories. All of the wins came by way of submission, and all were first-round finishes. Drysdale signed with the UFC in 2013, but his UFC 163 bout was scrapped when he contracted a staph infection. He was then scheduled to compete at UFC 167, but he failed a drug test prior to the fight and that bout, too, was scrapped. Drysdale finally made his way into the Octagon in 2014 at The Ultimate Fighter 19 Finale. He continued his streak of first-round submission finishes when he stopped Keith Berish with a rear-naked choke. The only problem was that Drysdale once again could not pass a drug test. An elevated testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio of 12:1 was enough to cause the Nevada State Athletic Commission to overturn his win over Berish to a no-contest, and it also served as the final straw for the UFC, which released the BJJ black belt from its roster. His fight with Spann will mark Drysdale’s return to active competition after a two-year layoff.
After a 4-1 mark as an amateur, Spann turned pro in 2013 and posted four straight first-round submission victories. After winning his fifth fight via a five-round decision to capture the Best of the Best 1 middleweight crown, Spann dropped his sixth pro fight — for the Best of the Best 3 middleweight championship — when he suffered a 21-second TKO loss to Brandon Farran. “Superman” rebounded from the loss by defeating Artenas Young, another veteran competitor, via third-round submission and adding another victory via first-round submission in his next outing. The 24-year-old 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu product then scored an eight-second knockout finish of Larry Crowe to earn a shot at Legacy middleweight gold. Spann came up short in his effort, however, in a five-round affair with defending champ Leo Leite. Spann’s unsuccessful title bid led to a change in divisions for the young star. He made his light heavyweight debut at Legacy FC 52, where he scored a first-round submission finish of opponent Aaron Davis.
Spann, who stands 6-foot-5, won’t enjoy quite as much of a size edge as he sometimes found while competing at middleweight, but he does stand two inches taller than Drysdale. The younger fighter could use that length to his advantage in the stand-up, but he’ll have to stay on his feet first. Leite proved that the most effective route to victory over Spann is a takedown-heavy approach and a stifling top game. Spann found himself on his back often in that contest, and he had trouble dealing with Leite on the ground.
Drysdale isn’t exactly an elite wrestler, but he’s a great grappler who should be able to find ways to get Spann to the mat. Leite’s approach was to control Spann on the ground, not to finish him. Don’t expect the same from Drysdale. The 34-year-old BJJ legend is all about the finish. Spann is going to struggle, just like he did against Leite, before winding up in a submission hold. Another first-round finish appears to be on the horizon for Drysdale.
Other key bouts: Mackenzie Dern (0-0) vs. Kenia Rosas (0-0), Clovis Hancock (2-0) vs. Brandon Allen (0-0), Gage Duhon (7-2) vs. Matt Mooney (4-2), Robert Aguirre (3-0) vs. Trent Meaux (4-1)
Event Date: July 23
Watch Event: GoFightLive
Killys Mota (8-0) vs. João Carvalho (5-0)
Brazil’s regional circuit has a habit of producing fighters with eye-opening records. Imortal FC 5 features two fighters well on their way to creating impressive marks of their own. Killys Mota and João Carvalho are undefeated through a combined 13 fights, but only one of these fighters can emerge unscathed after their 161-pound catchweight fight.
Mota is the more experienced of the pair, but he’s also the smaller man. The 25-year-old has spent the majority of his career competing as a lightweight, but he has also dipped down to the featherweight division for at least one fight. The King Shark MMA export turned pro in 2013 and won four of his first five fights via strikes. The other fight in that stretch ended in a submission win for Mota. His three most recent fights have ended in submissions. Mota, who appeared on Imortal FC’s inaugural card and has also competed under the Aspera FC banner, has faced varying levels of competition. His most notable opponent is probably Alejandro Ezequiel “Uchimata” Coslovsky, an Argentine fighter with a current record of 7-3. Mota defeated Uchimata by submission in back-to-back fights separated by just 10 days.
Carvalho, who shares the same name as the Portuguese fighter who tragically died after a bout in Ireland, is a Brazilian upstart who also debuted in 2013. Whereas Mota is coming up from the lightweight division, Carvalho is dropping down from a career spent at welterweight. He won his first two fights by way of strikes. His next two contests went the distance, but Carvalho continued to emerge victorious. His most recent fight came against his toughest opponent yet, Victor Sckoteski. Carvalho disposed of the 7-2 fighter via strikes in the third stanza.
Carvalho, despite a shorter record, might already be on the UFC’s radar. He was set to fight Luan Chagas at Imortal FC 4, but Chagas got called up to the UFC. His original opponent for this card was Leonardo Mafra, a UFC castoff. If Carvalho has a good showing against a fellow undefeated prospect, it might be his turn to head to the Octagon. It won’t be easy, though, and Mota could turn this into his own audition for a shot at the big show.
Carvalho’s five-fight resume includes two fights that went the distance. Those contests came against Rômulo Oliveira and Caio Borralho. Oliveira is an inexperienced fighter with an 0-2 record. Borralho was undefeated through one fight before he tangled with Carvalho. This casts some doubt on Carvalho’s finishing abilities. If he can’t get the job done against someone like Oliveira, how can he be expected to finish the likes of Mota?
Mota tends to work fast and get the decisive finish. Furthermore, he’s capable of ending fights on the feet or on the ground. He’ll have to overcome Carvalho’s size, but that shouldn’t be a huge problem for the young prospect. Mota has switched gears to utilize his grappling in recent outings. That trend will continue against Carvalho. Mota gets the submission finish.
Other key bouts: Wendell Oliveira (25-10) vs. Gilmar Dutra Lima (26-15-1), Rafael Correa (9-3) vs. Wagner Campos (12-9), Rogério Bontorin (8-0) vs. Ivonei Pridonik (8-5), João Elias (9-2) vs. Diego Santos (11-6), Thiago Silva (16-4-1) vs. Luan Santiago (8-2), Cristiano Souza (5-0) vs. Paulo César Cardoso (6-2), Wellington Turman (10-1) vs. Dyego Roberto (13-11-1), Luiz Gustavo (4-0) vs. Diego Silverio (1-0)
Event Date: July 24
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass
Shintaro Ishiwatari (20-6-4) vs. Jonathan Brookins (15-7)
Different cultures, different expectations. In U.S.-based promotions, a fighter with a title belt is expected to put that strap on the line in all but the most unusual of circumstances — a superfight in a different division, for instance, or due to a late-notice opponent change. In Japan, not so much. Take the case of bantamweight King of Pancrase Shintaro Ishiwatari. Ishiwatari won his crown in 2011. He has fought 11 times since then, but he has only made four defenses of the belt. His fifth defense comes on Sunday at Pancrase 279, where he meets UFC veteran Jonathan Brookins.
The 31-year-old Ishiwatari has only defended his bantamweight title four times, but he has tallied an overall record of 9-2 since defeating Manabu Inoue for the crown in 2011. Instead of title bouts, Ishiwatari has been busy winning non-title fights in Pancrase, Shooto and Deep. He also ventured to the Vale Tudo Japan promotion for a fight against Shooto kingpin Kyoji Horiguchi, who scored a fifth-round TKO win over Ishiwatari to punch his ticket to the UFC. Overall, the judo black belt has picked up eight wins by some form of knockout against just one submission victory. However, the southpaw is more of a grinder. He has only finished three fights since 2010 and has seen four fights end in a majority decision, two end in split verdicts and four end in a draw in the span of his 30-fight career. Ishiwatari was on the verge of a contract with the UFC before his loss to Horiguchi.
Brookins is probably best known to most MMA fans for his stint on The Ultimate Fighter 12. He defeated four fighters on the show en route to a finals showdown with Michael Johnson. Brookins edged Johnson on the scorecards to capture the TUF trophy, but it was the highpoint of his UFC tenure. Brookins lost three of his subsequent four Octagon outings before he opted to retire, move to India and focus on yoga. He came out of retirement in 2014 and joined the Legacy FC promotion, where he went 1-1 while fighting as a bantamweight and flyweight. His most recent appearance also came in 2014, when he met and defeated his upcoming opponent Ishiwatari at Pancrase 262 in what was unfortunately a non-title affair. The Gracie Barra Orlando fighter has nine submission victories and three wins via strikes.
Ishiwatari’s weakest point is his chin. He’s been knocked out and suffered two TKO losses, though one came via a cut stoppage. He has only been submitted once, back in 2009. Ishiwatari doesn’t have to face a fearsome striker here like he did when he fought Horiguchi, and that will help the Cave product. Brookins can score the knockout, but he’s more adept at grappling. In their first affair, these fighters went the three-round distance and Brookins outworked Ishiwatari to earn the judges’ nod.
Brookins is hardly the most consistent fighter in MMA, and he’s coming off another long layoff. However, Ishiwatari has faced his own struggles, especially against high-level competition. This should be another fight that goes the distance, barring either a lucky punch from Brookins or a scramble in which the UFC vet takes Ishiwatari’s back. Brookins might have defeated Ishiwatari the first time, but the King of Pancrase will fare better in the rematch and take the decision win.
Other key bouts: Yushin Okami (31-10) vs. Shingo Suzuki (13-9-3), Syuri Kondo (1-0) vs. Nicolle Angelica Caliari (1-0), Guy DeLumeau (20-11-3) vs. Satoshi Inaba (15-11-3), Rafael Silva (26-5) vs. Masakatsu Ueda (22-4-2), Yuki Kondo (59-30-9) vs. Akihiro Takanabe (1-1), Shohei Masumizu (4-1) vs. Hiroki Yamashita (5-3), Rin Nakai (16-2-1) vs. Raika Emiko (2-3), Ryuichi Miki (18-9-4) vs. Yuki Yasunaga (14-8-1) for the flyweight title, Rei Kawahara (4-1-1) vs. Chikara Shimabukuro (12-10-4)