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…

Fight Nights Global 67
Sport Palace in Ekaterinburg, Russia
Event Date: May 25
Website: fightnights.ru
Watch Event: YouTube
Twitter: @Fnsofficial

Spotlight Fight:
Josh Hill (15-2) vs. Aliyar Sarkerov (31-5)

Fight Nights Global continues to put together solid offerings. The promotion’s 67th event is no exception. There is one important note here: this card kicks off at 5 p.m. ET on Thursday, a bit earlier than most events normally covered in this column. The lineup features Diego Brandão and Vener Galiev, as well as Murad Machaev, who had just one loss in his first 21 fights before ending up on the wrong side of the highlight reel in a submission loss to the aforementioned Brandão. However, there is also a fight further down the card that deserves attention. Bantamweight fighter Josh Hill is back in action, this time in a showdown with streaking Russian prospect Aliyar Sarkerov.

Hill came up short in a recent bid to snatch the World Series of Fighting crown from Marlon Moraes. The “Gentleman” went five rounds with Moraes in their first meeting, but Moraes walked away with the unanimous nod and the belt. In the rematch, Moraes scored a second-round knockout. Moraes snapped a four-fight winning streak for Hill that started immediately after his first loss to the WSOF champ. During the streak, Hill submitted Josh Rettinghouse, handed out the first loss to the previously undefeated Bekbulat Magomedov and decisioned Bendy Casimir. The 28-year-old Hill’s other career highlight was his appearance on The Ultimate Fighter 18 as a member of Miesha Tate’s team. Hill used his smothering wrestling to grind out a two-round majority decision over Paddy Holohan in the preliminary fights, but he couldn’t conquer Michael Wootten in the elimination round. Hill was able to rock Moraes in their title fight and he has scored three finishes via strikes, but he’s not typically a finisher. Instead, he relies on his wrestling to grind out opponents. The 29-year-old has scored 10 of his victories by way of decision. His most recent outing, back in his native Canada, resulted in a split decision nod for Hill over the formerly undefeated Xavier Alaoui. This fight will mark Hill’s Fight Nights debut and his first trip to Russia.

The 26-year-old Sarkerov has already competed in an astounding 37 fights, but even his 32 victories haven’t been enough to bring him to the forefront of the Russian MMA scene. The “Tiger” debuted in 2009 and turned in a rather mediocre 7-4 start to his career, with losses to Marat Pekov, Fernando Paulon, Absolute Championship Berkut veteran Tural Ragimov and recent UFC addition Guan Wang. He then went on a rampage in which he topped seven inexperienced foes and notched five stoppages. His streak came to an end when he collided with European stalwart Ivan Buchinger. Sarkerov responded with 17 straight wins in a span of two years. His impressive run consists of 16 finishes and just one decision. He’s only faced a couple of seasoned vets along the way, however. He needed 32 seconds to submit 12-fight veteran Aleksandr Panasyuk, just under three minutes to finish 29-fight vet Paata Robakidze, and just over two minutes to tap 26-fight veteran Mauricio Machado.

Hill is a smothering wrestler who has twice challenged for gold in a prominent promotion. He will always try to use his clinch work and wrestling to neutralize opponents. Hill isn’t exactly the most exciting fighter to watch, but he tends to get the job done.

Sarkerov is quite the opposite of Hill in terms of entertainment value. He’s a dangerous grappler who also has heavy hands. He was stopped several times by strikes in the early part of his career, but he’s avoided the knockout in his more recent outings while also turning up the dial on his submission attack. Overall, the Russian has tapped 18 foes and knocked out an additional eight opponents.

It might seem simple to look at Sarkerov’s long history of finishes and Hill’s grinding approach and predict that the Russian will swarm his opponent en route to victory. While this wouldn’t be a complete shock — Sarkerov does have a history of first-round finishes — the level of competition should be factored into this contest. Hill has been a difficult out for his entire career, and he’s faced some top notch competition. Sarkerov has occasionally stepped it up to face a veteran, but his experienced opponents don’t quite share the level of accolades that Moraes, Holohan and Rettinghouse brought to the cage against Hill. The safe bet? Hill’s wrestling will be the difference against an opponent who hasn’t seen a North American wrestler before. Hill grinds out another win this weekend.

Other key bouts: Diego Brandão (21-11) vs. Vener Galiev (28-9), Murad Machaev (20-2) vs. Ary Santos (13-5), Baisangur Vakhitov (4-0) vs. Igor Litoshik (11-5), Evgeniy Ignatiev (9-1-1) vs. Artur Soloviev (2-5), Omar Nurmagomedov (2-0) vs. Valisher Rahmonov (1-3), Azamat Pshukov (2-0) vs. Timur Haziyev (0-0), Kurban Omarov (6-0) vs. Artur Astakhov (15-4)

KSW 39: Colosseum
Stadion PGE Narodowy in Warsaw, Poland
Event Date: May 27
Website: konfrontacja.com
Watch Event: live pay-per-view stream at kswtv.com
Twitter: @KSW_MMA

Spotlight Fight:
Mateusz Gamrot (12-0) vs. Norman Parke (23-5-1)

The 39th show from the Polish KSW organization is by far the most stacked card of this weekend’s regional offerings. It might even rival the UFC’s event in that respect. The lineup features KSW middleweight champ Mamed Khalidov in a headlining superfight showdown with the league’s welterweight kingpin, Borys Mańkowski. There are also title tilts featuring heavyweight champ Fernando Rodrigues, Jr., light heavyweight titleholder Tomasz Narkun and featherweight kingpin Marcin Wrzosek. Yet, the most eye-catching pairing comes at lightweight, where undefeated champion Mateusz Gamrot fights well-known UFC veteran and The Ultimate Fighter winner Norman Parke.

The 24-year-old Gamrot has been fighting professionally since 2012. He has yet to taste defeat through 12 outings. He hasn’t had an easy road either. He debuted against Arbi Shamaev, who has gone on to compile an 8-2 record. By his fourth fight, he was competing under the KSW banner, and his fifth fight came against UFC veteran Andre Winner. The Polish fighter has also topped veterans Tim Newman, Łukasz Chlewicki, Rodrigo Cavalheiro, Marif Piraev, Mansour Barnaoui and Renato Gomes. He has four victories by some form of knockout and three finishes via submission. Gamrot is a three-time Polish wrestling champion and a decorated Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner.

Parke, 29, is the more familiar name to American fight fans. The Irish fighter appeared on The Ultimate Fighter: Smashes and emerged as the season’s lightweight winner. “Stormin’” Norman made his professional debut in 2006 in a losing effort, but he compiled a 16-2 mark by the time he entered the TUF house. In his official UFC debut, Parke defeated Colin Fletcher to claim the TUF trophy. He went undefeated through his first five Octagon appearances while claiming four wins and a draw. However, he couldn’t keep it up. Parke lost back-to-back split decisions to Gleison Tibau and Francisco Trinaldo before beating Reza Madadi and then losing to Rustam Khabilov. After going 1-3 over those four fights, Parke was let go by the UFC brass. The grinding fighter has gone on to score wins under the Absolute Championship Berkut and BAMMA banners, claiming the vacant lightweight title in the latter promotion with a win over fellow UFC castoff Paul Redmond.

Much like this week’s previewed fight from Fight Nights Global, this KSW title affair pits a finisher against a grinder. Gamrot is the finisher. He brings a heavy striking attack and a capable submission game into this fight against Parke, who prefers to use the clinch and wrestling to out-point his rivals. Parke’s strategy worked well in the UFC against the likes of the more easily bullied Fletcher, Kazuki Tokudome, Jon Tuck and Madadi. Parke even landed a TKO finish against Naoyuki Kotani. However, the Irishman’s approach doesn’t work so well against stronger foes like the aforementioned Tibau, Trinaldo and Khabilov. The same holds true outside of the UFC, where Parke barely edged Redmond and lost to Joe Duffy.

Gamrot appears to be the real deal. He’s also the heavy-pressing type of opponent who won’t be easily neutralized by Parke’s clinch work and takedowns. The Polish star is going to give Parke headaches in the KSW cage. Parke has upped his submission defense and brings a strong wrestling game to this fight, but Gamrot has all of Parke’s skills in spades. The champ is an accomplished wrestler in his own right, and he’s also quite capable of wrapping up Parke for a submission finish. The KSW lightweight belt will stay in Poland after Parke taps to a Gamrot submission attempt.

Other key bouts: Borys Mańkowski (19-5-1) vs. Mamed Khalidov (33-4-2), Tyberiusz Kowalczyk (3-0) vs. Mariusz Pudzianowski (10-5), Fernando Rodrigues, Jr. (11-2) vs. Marcin Różalski (6-4) for the heavyweight title, Robert Burneika (2-0) vs. Paweł Rak (2-2), Tomasz Narkun (13-2) vs. Marcin Wójcik (10-4) for the light heavyweight title, Michał Kita (17-8) vs. Michał Andryszak (18-6), Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou (18-16) vs. Łukasz Jurkowski (15-10), Marcin Wrzosek (12-3) vs. Kleber Koike Erbst (21-4-1) for the featherweight title, Ariane Lipski (8-3) vs. Diana Belbiţă (8-2) for the women’s flyweight title

Pancrase 287
Differ Ariake in Tokyo
Event Date: May 28
Website: pancrase.co.jp
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass
Twitter: @_PANCRASE_

Spotlight Fight:
Shintaro Ishiwatari (21-6-4) vs. Rafael Silva (28-5)

The 287th edition of Pancrase is full of fledgling prospects, but it has some intriguing veteran match-ups as well. UFC veteran Hatsu Hioki is slated to compete at the event, and the vacant women’s strawweight Queen of Pancrase crown will be on the line when Syuri Kondo meets Kinberly Novaes. However, the headlining contest between long-reigning bantamweight King of Pancrase Shintaro Ishiwatari and Brazilian challenger Rafael Silva is definitely the most notable scrap of Sunday’s event.

After defeating Manabu Inoue for the crown in 2011, Ishiwatari only scattered a handful of title defenses into his next 10-plus matches. Instead of title bouts, Ishiwatari was 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. More recently, though, Ishiwatari has shown a renewed focus for defending his crown. He’s done so impressively, too. First, he took a unanimous nod over rising Pancrase star Victor Henry. Then, he avenged a previous decision loss by earning a unanimous verdict over UFC veteran Jonathan Brookins. 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 31-fight career. Ishiwatari was on the verge of a contract with the UFC before his loss to Horiguchi. His weakest point is his chin. He’s been knocked out and suffered two TKO losses, though one came via a cut stoppage. The 32-year-old has only been submitted once, back in 2009.

Silva’s name might sound familiar to North American fans who’ve stuck with the Bellator organization. The Brazilian challenged Joe Warren for the promotion’s bantamweight title in 2014 after defeating Rodrigo Lima and Anthony Leone to win a Bellator tourney bracket. “Morcego” came up short in a five-round battle with Warren and then went on to score just one win in his subsequent two Bellator outings. The Astra Fight Team product kicked off a new winning streak when he opted to test the international waters across three continents and four different promotions. Along the way, the 32-year-old claimed Aspera featherweight gold and defeated Masakatsu Ueda under the Pancrase banner. Most recently, he eked out a split decision over the aforementioned Henry. Silva has eight wins by some form of knockout and 13 victories via submission, but he has also seen the scorecards on 10 occasions.

This fight includes a little more stopping power than the featured match-ups from Fight Nights Global and KSW. Ishiwatari is a grinder, but even he has nearly a double-digit total of finishes to his credit. Meanwhile, Silva has stopped more than 20 of his rivals. If Ishiwatari gets a finish, it’s likely to come on the feet. His counterpart has a much more balanced ratio of striking finishes and submissions.

It’s easy to count out Silva based on his inability to get past Warren or Darrion Caldwell, but both of these fighters are high-level wrestlers who outshined Silva en route to the scorecards. Outside of Caldwell and Warren, Silva has been untouchable. Henry, a solid grappler, and Ueda, an accomplished mat technician, both came up short. Perhaps Silva suffered most when thrust into the American spotlight.

Ishiwatari did score a more convincing victory over Henry, but he’s not a sure thing to defeat Silva. However, he does have a better track record against tough competition and a knack for outworking opponents. This one’s headed to the scorecards, where the champ will take a narrow decision.

Other key bouts: Yuya Wakamatsu (7-1) vs. Takahiro Furumaki (5-2), Kenta Sakuma (11-3-2) vs. Hidekazu Fukushima (12-4-1), Hatsu Hioki (29-9-2) vs. Hiroshige Tanaka (11-4), Syuri Kondo (4-0) vs. Kinberly Novaes (9-2) for the women’s strawweight title, Ayaka Miura (4-1) vs. Thaiane Souza (4-3), Makoto Fukuya (1-0) vs. Yuki Yamamoto (0-2), Chihiro Suzuki (2-0) vs. Kota Kawahata (1-1), Hanbyo Oniyama (2-0) vs. Takuya Saito (2-1-1), Katsushi Kojima (5-1) vs. Kota Fujisaki (2-3-1), Yoshinori Horie (2-0) vs. Yuta Tezuka (3-1), Ryosuke Noda (1-0) vs. Satoshi Miyokawa (0-1-1), Kazuki Hagiwara (3-0) vs. Tetsuya Yamamoto (5-3), Mitsuhiro Taki (1-0) vs. Shuhei Sakano (8-2-4)

About The Author

Bryan Henderson
Editor-in-Chief

Bryan Henderson became a fan of MMA in the late ’90s when he happened upon the early UFC events on VHS at a local video rental store. He started writing about the sport on his Sporting News member blog in 2007 before becoming an official staff writer for Sporting News’ “The Rumble” MMA/boxing blog. He went on to become a staff writer and the Features Manager for MMA DieHards before moving on to The MMA Corner, where he assumed the role of Editor-in-Chief. Bryan left The MMA Corner in 2014 and founded Combat Press along with two of his colleagues. In addition to covering mixed martial arts, Bryan also operated the Modified Mind body modification e-zine website for more than a decade.

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