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: Jan. 13
Watch Event: AXS TV
Steven Peterson (14-4) vs. Leandro Higo (16-2)
Two oft-covered promotions in this series are no more. The Resurrection Fighting Alliance and Legacy Fighting Championship have merged to form a new organization called Legacy Fighting Alliance. The best part of this new organization? Title unification bouts. The first such contest takes place at the debut LFA event this weekend in Dallas. Reigning Legacy bantamweight champion Steven Peterson meets RFA 135-pound kingpin Leandro Higo for the newly minted LFA bantamweight championship.
Peterson, who turned pro in 2010, had an up-and-down start to his career. He went 8-4 through his first 12 outings before finally catching fire and reeling off six straight wins en route to the Legacy bantamweight crown. The 26-year-old “Ocho” first made a successful defense of his XKO bantamweight belt and then stepped into the Legacy cage for victories over Ray Rodriguez (twice), Caio Machado and Irwin Rivera before challenging and defeating Manny Vazquez for the Legacy strap. The Octagon MMA product, recognizable by the large Superman logo tattoo on his chest, has been out of action since the June victory. He has six submission wins and four technical knockouts in his 18-fight career.
Higo, whose first pro fight came in 2006, has been a far more consistent fighter. The 27-year-old spent nearly two years on the sidelines for a variety of reasons while watching numerous scheduled fights get scrapped. Following an unsuccessful run on The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil where he defeated Maycon Silvan before running into Bruno Mesquita, he returned to official action in 2015 and made his promotional debut with the RFA with a win over Terrion Ware. Less than three months later, he handed Melvin Blumer a loss to move his mark to 2-0 under the RFA banner. In April 2016, Higo clashed with Joey Miolla for the vacant RFA bantamweight crown and walked away with the gold after a first-round submission finish. The Pitbull Brothers fighter, who has also worked with Team Nogueira, has won 10 fights via submission and three by way of strikes.
Peterson has looked good in his recent run, but there still have to be lingering questions about how long he can keep this up. One thing working in his favor in a match-up with Higo is Peterson’s ability to avoid submissions. He’s suffered a knockout loss, but he has never tapped. Higo is far better on the mat, however, than anyone Peterson has faced up to this point in his career. The Brazilian is also a strong wrestler, which is not something that’s seen too often in Brazilian grapplers. Higo can utilize various techniques to get the fight to the mat, including pure power in picking his opponent up and slamming him to the ground. Higo’s improving stand-up has also allowed him to set up his takedown attempts with strikes.
Peterson’s inconsistencies will make an appearance here. Higo should be well equipped to stand with Peterson for as long as necessary before moving this fight to the canvas. The Brazilian’s grappling is likely to be far too much for Peterson. Higo should hand “Ocho” the first submission loss of his career to claim the LFA crown.
Other key bouts: Damon Jackson (10-1-1) vs. Charles Cheeks III (11-5), Eli Tamez (9-0) vs. Ulyses Aguila (6-1), Orlando Coulter (7-1) vs. Joel Moore (3-0), Cynthia Calvillo (2-0) vs. Montana Stewart (7-3), Oscar Ramirez (3-0) vs. Isaiah Gutierrez (3-0), Robert Butler (1-0) vs. Jessie Vasquez (2-1)
Event Date: Jan. 13
Luis Palomino (24-13) vs. Musa Khamanaev (17-4)
One of the fastest-growing promotions in the world and the Combat Press selection for 2016 Promotion of the Year is headed to U.S. shores. Absolute Championship Berkut is scheduled to land in Irvine, Calif., for its 51st event. The lineup is topped by a light heavyweight showdown between UFC castoff Thiago Silva and middling journeyman Jared Torgeson. The card also features standouts Pat Healy, Leandro “Buscape” Silva, Alexandre Pimentel, Christos Giagos, Shamil Gamzatov, Rodney Wallace, Mike Kyle, Tim Hague and Danny Martinez. Not bad, right? Well, there’s more. Longtime World Series of Fighting contender Luis Palomino is slated for a co-headlining scrap against homegrown Fight Club Berkut featherweight Musa Khamanaev.
The 36-year-old Palomino has had a rough stretch recently. He is just 1-4 over his last five fights. However, this stretch included back-to-back title challenges against Justin Gaethje, including a top “Fight of the Year” contender in 2015. Despite recent losses to Brian Foster and Sheymon Moraes, Palomino remains a significant name on the regional and international circuit. The MMA Masters fighter holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but he prefers to stand and bang, to the tune of 14 wins by some form of knockout. The “Baboon” debuted in 2006 and has faced the likes of Jonathan Brookins, Jorge Masvidal, Yves Edwards, Daron Cruickshank, Pat Curran, Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante, Efrain Escudero and Jorge Patino.
Khamanaev has some resume-building to do before he gains the same renown as his opponent. The 29-year-old Dagestani fighter has been competing since 2008, but the most notable names on his resume are David Bielkheden, Daniel Weichel, Eric Reynolds and Leandro Rodrigues. He did defeat the latter three, including Weichel in an M-1 Challenge title fight. Khamanaev has a background in freestyle wrestling and boxing, and he is a world champion in sambo. He has finished seven opponents with strikes and submitted an additional five foes.
Palomino’s biggest edge might come by way of the fight’s location. Khamanaev has only made one previous trip to the United States, and it came in a losing effort under the Titan Fighting Championship banner in a bout against Jason Knight. This is, however, a man that managed to snag the aforementioned Weichel in a slick heel hook and destroy Reynolds and Rodrigues with punches. He’s no slouch, and he’s a fighter in his prime matched up against a man who is likely entering the twilight of his career.
Palomino’s recent losses to Foster at lightweight and Moraes at featherweight cast some doubt on the Peruvian fighter’s ability to get the train rolling again. Palomino looked very competitive in his first showdown with Gaethje for the WSOF belt, but Gaethje also plays into the brawling style Palomino prefers. Khamanaev might opt to use a different strategy that stifles Palomino’s best offensive weapons. If the Russian-based fighter’s wrestling and sambo are enough to put Palomino on the mat, this could turn into a grueling contest that is controlled almost entirely by Khamanaev.
Khamanaev is relentless from the top position. He’ll rain down a volley of ground-and-pound that will make Palomino miserable. Khamanaev is also quite skilled at jumping into submission from the top. Palomino can lure some men into firefights, but Khamanaev isn’t likely to be one of those men. Expect a smart game plan from the Fight Club Berkut export en route to either a late TKO stoppage or a unanimous nod.
Other key bouts: Thiago Silva (18-5) vs. Jared Torgeson (17-14) for the light heavyweight title, Pat Healy (30-22) vs. Leandro “Buscape” Silva (19-5-1), Alexandre Pimentel (15-1) vs. Christos Giagos (13-5), Shamil Gamzatov (10-0) vs. Rodney Wallace (26-12-1), Mike Kyle (21-14-1) vs. Tim Hague (21-13), Isaac Pimentel (15-6) vs. Cory Alexander (9-9), Danny Martinez (20-7) vs. Darren Mima (9-4), Dave Courchaine (20-6) vs. Arthur Estrázulas (8-3), Ivan Castillo (11-3) vs. Guillermo Martinez Ayme (9-4), Mario Israel (10-2) vs. Kyle Reyes (11-5), Terrion Ware (15-4) vs. Nick Mamalis (27-10)
Event Date: Jan. 14
Watch Event: pay-per-view stream at onefc.com
Vitaly Bigdash (8-0) vs. Aung La N Sang (19-9)
ONE Championship is back with its latest offering, dubbed “Quest for Power.” The card is short on high-profile international stars like ONE champs Bibiano Fernandes and Ben Askren, but it does give the spotlight to an up-and-comer who hasn’t quite reached the same level as his fellow ONE champions. That man is middleweight titleholder Vitaly Bigdash, who is set to put his belt on the line against veteran fighter Aung La N Sang.
Bigdash claimed the throne in the middleweight division when he toppled Igor Svirid in an October 2015 title bout. The Russian fighter has been MIA ever since. His only scheduled contest of 2016 was scrapped when he suffered an injury. He’s already on his second opponent for this current match-up, after original foe Marcin Prachnio withdrew with an injury. The Peresvet Fight Team export only started competing in 2012, but he has already defeated veterans Pavel Pokatilov, Charles Andrade, Magomed Magomedkerimov and the aforementioned Svirid. The 32-year-old kickboxer has stopped four opponents via strikes and another four by way of submission.
N Sang appears to be the prototypical opponent for Bigdash: a veteran fighter with a good but not great record. “The Burmese Python” is a native of Myanmar, but he trains out of Maryland with the Crazy 88 Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu camp. N Sang has bounced from Ring of Combat to Bellator to Cage Fury FC and on to ONE. Along the way, he’s clashed with Costas Philippou, Uriah Hall and Jonavin Webb in losing efforts. His fortunes improved upon his arrival in ONE Championship, where he has defeated the formerly undefeated Alexey Butorin and the formerly once defeated Michał Pasternak. The 31-year-old has 11 submission victories and seven wins by some form of knockout.
With all of the unfortunate cancellations of Bigdash’s fights, it may be victory enough if he even gets to compete in this ONE Championship headliner. If the fight does go on, it’s hard to argue against Bigdash, especially when he’s facing a man who is looking at the strong possibility of exiting the ONE cage with a double-digit number in the loss column.
These guys are finishers, which makes this a fight worth watching. It’s likely that someone is getting stopped before the final bell. Bigdash should be able to use his striking to keep N Sang at distance before seeking to land kicks and knees to drop N Sang. N Sang has suffered a few knockout losses in his career, and Bigdash seems primed to hand the veteran another knockout this weekend.
Other key bouts: Martin Nguyen (7-1) vs. Kazunori Yokota (25-6-3), Stefer Rahardian (3-0) vs. Jerome Paye (2-2), Adrian Matheis (2-0) vs. Rene Catalan (1-2), Saygid Guseyn Arslanaliev (4-0) vs. Georgi Stoyanov (19-11), Sherif Mohamed (8-2) vs. Igor Subora (5-3)