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: Oct. 7
Watch Event: pay-per-view
Yoshitaka Naito (11-0) vs. Joshua Pacio (8-0)
Remember when UFC President Dana White suggested that the UFC would add a men’s strawweight division to its list of weight classes? Well, if there was ever a motivating factor to do so, Shooto and ONE Championship 115-pound kingpin Yoshitaka Naito is it. The undefeated strawweight competitor has torn through the competition en route to a nice collection of gold belts. At ONE Championship’s latest event, dubbed “State of Warriors,” the 32-year-old will put his ONE strap on the line against fellow undefeated 115-pounder Joshua Pacio.
Naito has been a Shooto mainstay since his pro debut in 2012. The 32-year-old finished his first three opponents and scored decisions in his next four fights to earn a title berth against Shinya Murofushi for Shooto’s flyweight — that’s 115 pounds in Shooto-speak — title. “Nobita” battled Murofushi for nearly five full rounds before finishing the champ with a rear-naked choke with just three seconds left in the bout. With the dramatic late finish, Naito captured the title. The Paraestra Matsudo product returned to action 10 months later to make his first title defense against teenage prospect Ryuto Sawada. Naito emerged with an arm-triangle choke submission victory in the fourth round to retain the belt. His next successful defense came in a five-round battle with Junji Ito. ONE Championship then brought the star strawweight in to fight for its 115-pound title against the promotion’s formerly undefeated champion, Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke. Naito claimed the gold with a fourth-round rear-naked choke of the defending champ. The undefeated fighter has won five fights by way of submission and scored one knockout finish.
Team Lakay has many well-known Filipino fighters among its ranks, including Eduard Folayang and Kevin Belingon. Pacio is well on his way to joining the aforementioned pair as one of the camp’s most successful fighters. All he needs is a title win over Naito. The diminutive fighter started his pro campaign in 2013 and has not tasted defeat yet. He has bounced between 115 and 125 pounds while winning fight after fight. The 20-year-old has yet to see the scorecards. He stopped three opponents via strikes and the remaining five by way of submission. Pacio, who already holds ONE Championship wins over Rabin Catalan and Kritsada Kongsrichai, has not faced quite the high-level serving of strawweights that his opponent has encounted.
Pacio is a dangerous fighter who can finish fights on the feet or on the mat. However, we’ve seen plenty of fighters emerge out of Team Lakay and stumble when they run into strong international competition. It doesn’t get much stronger than Naito among the strawweight ranks. The Shooto and ONE champ is arguably the top dog on the planet within the division, and he presents a clear threat to Pacio when the fight hits the canvas.
Naito, who stands 5-foot-7 and will enjoy a height advantage, prefers to look for the clinch and takedown. He’s a skilled grappler who opts for patience over a quick finish. He’ll wait for his opponent to make a mistake and then seize upon the opportunity.
Pacio was fortunate in his big victory over Kongsrichai. He looked weak in the clinch, getting muscled to the ground repeatedly by his Cambodian opponent. If Kongsrichai, who easily transitioned to mount in several of his takedowns, had better positional control, he would have dominated Pacio. However, Pacio was able to scramble out of those bad spots. He can’t expect to do the same against Naito’s much more meticulous approach to grappling. Once Naito puts Pacio on the ground and gains mount, the end will come quickly.
Other key bouts: Aung La Nsang (18-9) vs. Michał Pasternak (11-1), Kevin Belingon (13-5) vs. Muin Gafurov (10-1), Jordan Lucas (8-1) vs. Yusup Saadulaev (15-4-1)
Event Date: Oct. 7
Watch Event: AXS TV
Tyler East (15-5) vs. Brian Heden (29-15)
Good heavyweight up-and-comers are hard to find. Legacy hopes it has found one in Tyler East. The Albuquerque-based fighter gets to show a national audience what he’s all about on Friday night when Legacy FC returns to AXS TV for its 60th event. East is the headliner, opposite Brian Heden in a rematch of a 2010 fight that East won on the scorecards.
Unlike most Albuquerque fighters, East does not train out of the Jackson-Winkeljohn camp. Instead, he calls Fit NHB home. “The Beast” burst onto the scene in 2009 to finish four of his first five opponents via strikes. The other fight in this stretch ended in a decision loss for East. He then suffered back-to-back losses to King of the Cage star Tony Lopez before rebounding to win his next nine fights, including contests against UFC veteran Fabiano Scherner, formerly undefeated KOTC up-and-comer Nick Gaston and his upcoming opponent, Heden. The strong run led to a featured bout in Russia’s Tech-Krep FC against star striker Sergei Kharitonov. The Strikeforce veteran put East away in the second round by way of TKO. East bounced back to defeated Kevin Asplund, but he was finished yet again by Brandon Griffin, this time in just 24 seconds. The Fit NHB export claimed a win in his most recent fight when he submitted Dale Sopi. Overall, East, who made his pro debut in the Bellator cage, has 11 stoppages via strikes and two submission victories.
Heden is, of course, a familiar foe for East. The pair’s clash under the C3 Fights banner ended in a decision loss for Heden, who had been on a roller-coaster ride of wins and losses since entering the pro ranks in 2005. His early career highlights include losses to UFC legend Dan Severn and future Strikeforce star Brett Rogers. He managed to go 17-3 over his next 20 fights after the loss to Rogers, and he even avenged one of those three losses within that run. However, he started to stumble again when faced with the challenges of Carmelo Marrero and East. The back-to-back losses were followed by a stretch where Heden went 10-5 with wins over Sean McCorkle, Mike Whitehead and Travis Wiuff and losses to Brett Murphy, Timothy Johnson and the aforementioned Wiuff, among others. The 31-year-old is a scrappy veteran with 17 knockout wins and seven submission finishes.
Heden and East are the epitome of the heavyweight division’s problems. These guys have put together solid streaks in their careers, but they’ve also hit some rough patches and suffered losses to some mediocre opponents. East won their first meeting, but this rematch comes after East went through a long layoff and only recently returned to defeat Sopi. Part of East’s struggles in the cage could be attributed to his problems outside of the cage, where he was ordered to serve jail time for a probation violation when he tested positive for cocaine following one of his fights. Tyler, a state wrestling champion in high school, and his brother Cody, also an MMA fighter, have met with plenty of distractions and court dates while also trying to earn a living in the cage.
Heden might not be a top heavyweight, but he certainly was capable of pushing East to his limits at the height of East’s career. Those heights are part of the past for the troubled New Mexican. Perhaps East can mount a comeback to his career, but Heden’s scrappy style might be too much for East at the moment. East is likely to enter this contest as a favorite, but an upset win for Heden in a back-and-forth fight would not be much of a stunner.
Other key bouts: Jos Eichelberger (16-9) vs. Dakota Cochrane (25-10), Indalecio Tat Romero (26-6) vs. Isaiah Pitts (6-1), Nate Togbah (4-1) vs. Nick Compton (12-5), Ramiro Hernandez (18-9) vs. Kevin Clark (4-2), Marcus Edwards (11-4) vs. Billy Christianson (12-5), Nick Roehrick (4-0) vs. Garrett Olson (6-7)
Event Date: Oct. 8
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass
Vladimir Mineev (7-0) vs. Yasubey Enomoto (15-7)
The Fight Nights Global promotion is staying busy. In fact, this will be the company’s third show in as many weeks. Just one week after Mikhail Mokhnatkin decisioned UFC veteran Fabio Maldonado and just two weeks after Rasul Mirzaev and Murad Machaev added to their already ridiculous win totals, Vladimir Mineev comes into Fight Nights Global 53 in an effort to maintain his spotless record against veteran competitor Yasubey Enomoto in a 176-pound catchweight encounter.
Mineev may enter this bout with only seven MMA contests under his belt, but that’s because he was busy filling his trophy case with kickboxing championships at both the amateur and pro levels. While on the kickboxing circuit, the Russian secured 24 victories, including 11 by knockout, and suffered just two defeats, both via decision. His success has carried over to the MMA arena, where he tallied striking stoppages in his first five bouts after debuting in 2014. In a bit of a twist, he has taken the submission route to victory in his two most recent outings. Along the way, Mineev has fought as heavy as 205 pounds and as light as 176, with stops in between. The 26-year-old’s list of victims includes UFC veteran Xavier Foupa-Pokam and veteran combatants Mikhail Shein and Boris Miroshnichenko. He’s a dangerous striker who appears to be developing a grappling skill set to accompany his greatest weapon.
Enomoto marks another savvy veteran opponent for Mineev, and likely the most accomplished of these veteran foes. The Japanese-born resident of Switzerland has made stops in Sengoku, M-1 Global, Akhmat Fight Show and Fights Nights Global. Along the way, he has reigned as M-1’s welterweight champion and advanced to a Sengoku tournament final. His notable victories include stoppages of Sanae Kikuta and Shamil Zavurov (twice). He’s also decision Zavurov, Rafal Moks, Khusein Khaliev and Abubakar Vagaev. Meanwhile, Enomoto has suffered losses to Tyler Stinson, Keita Nakamura, the aforementioned Zavurov, Rashid Magomedov, Albert Tumenov, Alexander Shlemenko and Aslambek Saidov. Enomoto is a well-rounded fighter who holds a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and also has a background in Muay Thai. He is decorated in both sports, with an IKBO Thaiboxing championship and a slew of European grappling medals among the highlights of his resume. The Swiss fighter has been toiling around the European, Japanese and Russian MMA scenes since 2006, but he has struggled to put together an extensive winning streak. He has never won more than three fights in a row.
Don’t look for Enomoto to put together his most substantial career winning streak anytime soon. Even if he beats Mineev, which is a tall order, he already has another tough contest slated for December in Poland’s KSW organization, where he’ll clash with Maciej Jewtuszko. The 32-year-old might be in for more ups and downs as he continues his career.
Mineev’s biggest edge in this encounter is his size. He’s only dipped down to 176-pound catchweight on one documented occasion. He’s fought at middleweight before as well, but he tends to reside in the realm of the light heavyweights. He’s only two inches taller and easily makes the cut to 176, but his history of fighting bigger men could still factor into how he handles Enomoto’s wrestling, grappling, clinch work and even how well he absorbs strikes from the career welterweight. Mineev’s biggest weakness in this contest will come in the ground game. Enomoto has submitted five opponents, so he can finish fights on the ground more so than he can on the feet.
Enomoto would be foolish to stand with a world-class striker like Mineev, but stranger things have happened in MMA. If Enomoto believes his Muay Thai skills can test Mineev’s kickboxing acumen, then this fight ends with Enomoto staring up at the lights. If, however, Enomoto targets Mineev’s takedown and submission defense by using his wrestling and grappling, this fight gets interesting. Enomoto could push it into deeper waters, something Mineev has yet to experience in an MMA contest. The added elements of wrestling and grappling could fatigue Mineev in an extended bout in a way that pure kickboxing did not. These are some of the keys to victory for Enomoto.
While Enomoto can’t be completely discounted in this fight, Mineev’s striking skills are a step above anything his current rival has to offer. This should turn into another showcase for Mineev, who is edging toward some real tests with every veteran opponent he puts away.