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: Sept. 30
Watch Event: AXS TV
Thiago Moisés (8-1) vs. Zach Freeman (8-1)
Yes, there’s still a Resurrection Fighting Alliance. For now, anyway. The high-level developmental promotion is set to merge with top regional organization Legacy Fighting Championship next year. Right now, however, the RFA continues on as a separate entity and hosts its 44th show. The lineup is topped by a lightweight title defense for Thiago Moisés against fellow 8-1 prospect Zach Freeman.
The young Moisés, despite one setback on his resume, has impressed in his MMA career. The 21-year-old kicked off his career in 2012 and won his first four fights. He eventually stumbled against Jason Knight, who has since gone on to claim one win in two Octagon appearances. Moisés recovered by moving to the RFA and claiming a submission win as a featherweight. He then challenged for the vacant lightweight strap and defeated veteran Dave Castillo by submission to claim the championship. He has since defended the belt against up-and-comer Jamall Emmers, who fell via TKO to the American Top Team and 011 MMA Team export.
Freeman holds an identical 8-1 mark, but he hasn’t seen quite as much of the spotlight since starting his professional career in 2011. “The Altar Boy” won his first seven fights, including his first five outings by way of submission. He was given a co-headlining slot in June 2013 at Titan FC 25 for his first fight on a big stage, but he was stopped via strikes by Jake Lindsey in the first round of their lightweight clash. Freeman returned to the regional circuit in March 2015 and added another submission win to his highlight reel. He has not been in action since then, however.
Freeman’s lengthy bout of inactivity outside of his 2015 submission victory is concerning. He holds the record of a worthy challenger, but a lack of recent fights makes him a bit of a stretch to vie for the RFA title, especially in his promotional debut. Moisés, meanwhile, has marched through some solid opposition while remaining active.
If these two men hit the ground, we could be in for some fun scrambles and grappling exchanges. Even on the feet, there’s plenty of potential for some perilous moments for either man at the hands of the other. Moisés would appear to hold a slight edge in every aspect of the fight except perhaps for the height and reach advantage. Freeman was steamrolled by strikes against Lindsey, and Moisés stands a strong chance of following suit. There’s a good possibility that this will be the final audition for Moisés before he makes the leap to the UFC.
Other key bouts: Nick Urso (8-2) vs. Kenny Porter (9-2), Drakkar Klose (5-0-1) vs. Hugh Pulley (6-2), Adam Osmoe (4-0) vs. Zach Fears (5-2), Josh Sampo (11-5) vs. Matt Brown (10-6), Joey Miolla (8-2) vs. TJ Brown (8-2), Enrique Gonzalez (2-0) vs. Luke Nelson (2-1), Emily Whitmire (1-0) vs. Kelly D’Angelo (0-0)
Event Date: Oct. 1
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass
Mikhail Mokhnatkin (8-1-2) vs. Fabio Maldonado (22-10)
Fabio Maldonado, heavyweight gatekeeper. It’s doubtful many people, including Maldonado himself, had this in mind when the Brazilian was absorbing ridiculous amounts of punishment as a UFC light heavyweight. Yet, here he is. Maldonado made his Fight Nights debut in a controversial split decision loss to the returning Fedor Emelianenko in June. Now, he’s back to provide a tough challenge to a more obscure name. Maldonado will face 8-1-2 prospect Mikhail Mokhnatkin in one of the featured bouts of Fight Nights Global 52.
Maldonado, a professional boxer turned mixed martial artist, is best known for his role on the wrong side of many light heavyweight beatings and brawls in the UFC. He has shared the Octagon with Glover Teixeira, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Corey Anderson in losing efforts, and he even stepped up to face future UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic in a bout that lasted all of 35 seconds. Maldonado wasn’t always on the losing end of the outcome while in the UFC. He did defeat James McSweeney, Roger Hollett, Joey Beltran, Gian Villante and Hans Stringer. It’s somewhat obvious where Maldonado’s ceiling lies. The 36-year-old is a powerful striker who has 13 knockout victories and only three submission finishes. He doesn’t get stopped often, either, but has suffered six decision losses.
The 26-year-old Mokhnatkin could garner significant attention if he can beat Maldonado. The Master of Sport in combat sambo started his professional MMA campaign with a loss in 2010, but he has gone undefeated ever since. He won his next six bouts before fighting to a draw against Jiří Procházka. Mokhnatkin then picked up two wins, including a submission finish of UFC veteran Ednaldo Oliveira, before again fighting to a draw, this time against Alexei Kudin.The highly decorated combat sambo practitioner has competed at light heavyweight in addition to heavyweight.
The Russian fighter has struggled against solid competition, as evidenced in his draws against Procházka and Kudin. He does hold a notable victory over Valentijn Overeem, but Maldonado is arguably the toughest test yet for Mokhnatkin, a fighter who tends to do his best work in the submission game.
Maldonado is a scrappy fighter. He’s getting up there in age, but his experience and boxing background make him a serious threat to Mokhnatkin. The younger fighter probably should be competing at light heavyweight, and the added mass won’t do him any favors against a grizzled vet who is accustomed to fighting in the heavyweight division against heavier fighters with far more firepower.
Mokhnatkin is a mixed bag. He’s been rated as a top light heavyweight prospect, but it’s difficult to see why exactly. His footwork and head movement leave a lot to be desired. He keeps his head stationary and moves straight back, a combination that could leave him open to Maldonado’s winging shots. His approach to the takedown often utilizes his 6-foot-3 frame to simply muscle guys to the mat without any real technique. He takes unnecessary risks once on the mat and can get easily reversed. Once on bottom, he’s just as helpless as Maldonado tends to be in the same position.
Mokhnatkin’s weaknesses will be his undoing against Maldonado. The Brazilian may be years beyond any dreams of returning to contender status, but his experience puts him in a perfect position to outwork Mokhnatkin throughout this affair en route to a decision win.
Other key bouts: Georgi Lobjanidze (3-0) vs. Stanislav Molodtsov (8-7-1)
Event Date: Oct. 1
Watch Event: live pay-per-view stream at kswtv.com
Michał Materla (23-5) vs. Rousimar Palhares (18-7)
He courted tons of controversy wherever he went. Then he lost. Now, UFC veteran Rousimar Palhares is simply out to get his career back on the winning track. The Brazilian submission specialist has had a rocky road — all of his own doing, by the way — and has landed in Poland, where he’ll serve as one half of the KSW 36 headliner. Palhares will hunt the legs of opponent Michał Materla.
Palhares, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt out of Team Nogueira and Brazilian Top Team, entered the UFC as a 7-2 prospect coming off wins over Pride veteran Daniel Acácio and established Brazilian competitor Fabio Nascimento. “Toquinho” came to be known more for his controversial submission finishes than for a march toward a UFC title. Overall, his UFC stint resulted in an 8-4 mark and late releases of leglock submissions against Tomasz Drwal and Mike Pierce, among others. Once the UFC had enough of Palhares, he was released and landed in the World Series of Fighting. Supposedly on his best behavior, the Brazilian defeated Steve Carl for the promotion’s welterweight title. He made successful defenses against Jon Fitch and Jake Shields, but another delayed release of a submission against Shields led to the Brazilian’s removal from the organization. The Italian-based Venator FC seized the opportunity and brought Palhares in to fight Emil Weber Meek. Meek finished Palhares off with strikes in just 45 seconds.
Materla is a 28-fight veteran who has been a mainstay under the KSW banner for much of his career. The Polish fighter turned pro in 2003 and went undefeated with seven stoppages through eight fights. He lost back-to-back affairs against Evangelista Santos and Moise Rimbon before making his KSW debut in 2006. He went 11-1 over his next 12 fights, suffering his only loss to Antonio Mendes and picking up wins over UFC veterans Matt Horwich, Jay Silva, Rodney Wallace and Kendall Grove en route to winning and defending KSW’s middleweight gold. He lost a non-title rematch to the aforementioned Silva, but returned to defeat Silva in their trilogy fight. He added wins over Jorge Bezerra and the aforementioned Drwal before dropping the crown to Mamed Khalidov. The 32-year-old Berserker’s Team fighter got his 2016 campaign off on the right foot with a striking victory over fellow middleweight Antoni Chmielewski.
Palhares has seen international success while fighting as a welterweight, but he initially joined the UFC as a middleweight. Now, he returns to those roots. Materla is no pushover. This man was a successful KSW champion who only dropped the title when faced with arguably the best middleweight fighter not under contract with the UFC, Bellator or WSOF. However, Materla has suffered alarming knockout losses to Santos, Silva and Khalidov.
Against any other opponent, the real test would involve Materla’s chin. It seems to be the clear hole in Materla’s armor. However, Palhares isn’t just any opponent. The Brazilian is a deadly, career-threatening submission grappler. He locks onto a leg and practically rips it from its socket. Materla can try to knock out Palhares. Hell, he may even succeed. If he doesn’t, then the typical sub-par European wrestling skill set will be put to the test against a tree stump of a fighter who will wrest Materla to the mat before bending his joints in unnatural directions. The Brazilian should be able to redeem himself in this one.
Other key bouts: Tomasz Narkun (12-2) vs. Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou (17-14) for the light heavyweight title, Mateusz Gamrot (11-0) vs. Renato Gomes (18-8) for the lightweight title, Sheila Gaff (11-6-1) vs. Ariane Lipski (7-3), Michał Włodarek (7-1) vs. Michał Kita (16-8), Leszek Krakowski (11-0) vs. Kleber Koike Erbst (20-4-1), Katarzyna Lubońska (4-1) vs. Diana Belbiţă (7-2), Grzegorz Szulakowski (6-1) vs. Bartłomiej Kurczewski (9-6), Mariusz Mazur (3-0) vs. Maciej Kazieczko (1-0)
Event Date: Oct. 1
Saul Rogers (11-1) vs. Michell Adelina (8-7-1)
This weekend’s lineup is so good that we couldn’t stop at just three events. Instead, we go five rounds for this special expanded preview. Absolute Championship Berkut’s 47th offering is one reason for this move. The promotion heads to Scotland for a strong card that features UFC veterans Robert Whiteford and Norman Parke in separate encounters. Our focus, however, lands on lightweight Saul Rogers, who is slated to meet middling opponent Michel Adelina.
Rogers draws interest based on his UFC track record. This man has never lost inside the Octagon, be it in exhibition bouts or official affairs. His only loss came in a 2012 Cage Contenders match-up with Shay Walsh. Rogers, a 6-0 fighter with roughly a year and a half of pro experience at the time, was submitted by Walsh in the third round. The SBG Mainline fighter regrouped for a four-fight winning streak that included decision nods over John Maguire and Mick Sinclair. Rogers then entered The Ultimate Fighter 22 competition. He defeated Paulo Boer and then marched through Billy Quarantillo, Ryan Hall and Marcin Wrzosek to advance to the finals of the lightweight competition. The 26-year-old was slated to fight Artem Lobov at the finale event to determine the season’s winner, but visa issues prevented him from doing so and the aforementioned Hall was inserted in his place. Rogers never got another opportunity inside the Octagon. Instead, he defeated fellow TUF alum Andre Winner under the Tankō Fighting Championships banner and then signed with ACB to meet Adelina.
Adelina fights out of the Saigon Sports Club and Kops Gym. The Dutch fighter hasn’t had much of a standout career. He kicked things off in 2011 and went 1-4-1 through his first six fights. He found his groove in late 2012 and launched into a five-fight winning streak that extended into 2014. He could only maintain this level of success for so long, and it all came tumbling down in 2015 when he fought Dan Hope. Hope, a Cage Warriors veteran, handed Adelina a decision loss, and the Dutch fighter went on to lose two of his next four appearances.
Rogers is getting a softball in his ACB debut. Adelina has struggled to find any level of consistency, and he’s not going to start against Rogers. The TUF alum had a strong run on the reality series and truly deserves a shot at the big show. He’s not an overwhelming killer — his TUF stint included two decisions, including a majority verdict against Hall — but he does have seven official submission wins and another two submissions from the show. Adelina has been submitted twice, and by far lesser competitors than Rogers. It would be a shocker if this one did not go in favor of Rogers.
Other key bouts: Robert Whiteford (12-4) vs. Kevin Petshi (9-2), Norman Parke (21-5-1) vs. Andrew Fisher (14-7-1), Mike Wilkinson (9-3) vs. Daniel Teymur (5-0), Gavin Hughes (5-0) vs. Chris Bungard (7-2), Ryan Scope (9-0) vs. Yusup Umarov (8-1), James Brum (18-3) vs. Said-Khamzat Avkhadov (8-4), Ed Arthur (7-2) vs. Brent Crawley (6-3), John Maguire (23-8) vs. Kieran Malone (9-10), Magomed Raisov (4-0) vs. Michael Bobner (7-3), Daniel Crawford (7-1) vs. Alikhan Suleimanov (5-1), Beckhan Ezerkhanov (2-0) vs. Andy Spiers (3-2)
Event Date: Oct. 4
Salman Zhamaldaev (12-1) vs. Frodo Khasbulaev (24-6)
Usually, this preview feature covers fights from Thursday evening through Sunday evening. Once in a while, however, an event pops up outside of these limits that demands coverage. That’s the case for Tuesday’s Akhmat Fight Show “Grand Prix Akhmat 2016 Finals” event. The card marks the conclusion of tournaments at numerous weight classes, including featherweight. The featherweight pairing matches once-defeated Salman Zhamaldaev against 30-fight veteran Frodo Khasbulaev.
The 27-year-old Zhamaldaev lost his 2012 pro debut to Antun Račić, but he’s been perfect ever since. His first nine victories came via stoppage, but he’s struggled in more recent outings. He closed out 2015 with a split decision nod over Joni Salovaara and opened 2016 with a unanimous verdict against Kevin Petshi. The victory over Petshi came in the quarterfinals of Akhmat Fight Show’s tournament, allowing Zhamaldaev to advance to a semifinal match-up with Fabiano Silva. Zhamaldaev eked out a split decision against Silva to land in the tourney finals.The Fight Club Berkut product has a background in Greco-Roman wrestling. He has picked up five victories by some form of knockout and four via submission.
Khasbulaev, despite six career losses, is the more accomplished fighter in this affair. The 29-year-old made his pro debut in 2009 and often appeared under the M-1 Global banner en route to a 16-5 mark before he was signed to the Bellator roster in 2012. The Russian fighter went on to win five Bellator fights. His last three Bellator wins came in a campaign to take the season-eight featherweight tournament championship. He topped Fabricio Guerreiro, Marlon Sandro and Mike Richman on his way to the tourney win, but Bellator became frustrated with Khasbulaev’s ongoing visa issues and sent him packing. He landed first in Absolute Championship Berkut and then moved to Akhmat Fight Show. His two appearances with ACB netted him one win and one loss. He joined Akhmat Fight Show as part of the current tournament and took out Kurt Holobaugh and Khunkar Osmaev by way of unanimous decisions to secure his berth in the finals.
One might be tempted to point to Khasbulaev’s far longer list of losses and suggest that he’s the definite underdog against Zhamaldaev, an up-and-comer with just one loss. However, Khasbulaev’s set of defeats includes setbacks against current UFC fighter Rashid Magomedov, the 22-3 David Khachatryan, 29-4-1 Shamil Zavurov, 31-4 Ivan Buchinger, Bellator featherweight tournament winner Daniel Weichel and the 14-3 Eduard Vartanyan. Those are some significant names for a fighter outside of the UFC. Khasbulaev would still be a star and a staple amongst Bellator contenders had it not been for his visa troubles.
Khasbulaev’s experience against high-level competition is a valuable weapon in any fight. He should be considered at least a slight favorite over the raw Zhamaldaev, whose biggest wins came over journeyman fighters Francisco Cylderlan, Alonzo Martinez and the aforementioned Silva. Khasbulaev is going to have to be careful on the mat, where he has succumbed to four submission losses. If he can avoid danger in the ground game, the Bellator tournament winner should add another tournament trophy to his mantel.
Other key bouts: Abubakar Vagaev (12-1) vs. Beslan Ushukov (12-2) in the welterweight tournament final, Kazbek Saidaliev (7-1) vs. Gerônimo Dos Santos (38-16) in the heavyweight tournament final, Salamu Abdurakhmanov (7-1) vs. Alexey Efremov (17-5) in the middleweight tournament final, Magomed Ankalaev (7-0) vs. Maxim Grishin (23-6) in the light heavyweight tournament final