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. 8
Watch Event: AXS TV
Ian Heinisch (8-0) vs. Markus Perez (8-0)
If it’s an interesting backstory you want, look no further than Legacy Fighting Alliance 22 headliner Ian Heinisch, who did very well as a drug smuggler before incarceration led him to change his ways. Now undefeated through eight fights, Heinisch clashes with fellow undefeated prospect Markus Perez for the league’s middleweight title. Of course, the actual prize in any LFA title fight isn’t the belt itself, but the potential of a UFC contract that often comes with it. Will one of these two men punch his ticket to the Octagon on Friday night?
The 29-year-old Heinisch has had a perfect run through the amateur and pro ranks thus far. His ammy career ended with an unblemished mark through four fights, including three first-round submission finishes and one TKO. He debuted as a pro in early 2015 and scored a first-round technical knockout against Dante Florez. He went the distance in winning efforts over his next four fights, which included a Sparta Combat League middleweight title fight and a World Series of Fighting preliminary bout against fellow undefeated fighter Tyler Vogel. Heinisch added a first-round submission win in another SCL title fight and then turned around to win a decision in yet another SCL championship outing. He signed on with the LFA in 2017 and eventually made his promotional debut against 18-fight veteran Lucas Rota. Heinisch dispatched Rota with a first-round submission.
Perez might not have made it far in his stint on The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 3, but he now boasts some impressive wins over UFC veterans. In his only fight on TUF, “Maluko” suffered a first-round submission loss to Guilherme Vasconcelos. It’s the only blemish on his record, but it came in an exhibition bout, so he remains officially undefeated. Perez debuted in 2013 and has amassed an impressive set of stoppage wins that includes a knockout, two TKOs and two submissions. The 29-year-old’s last two fights went the distance, but they resulted in a split verdict against former UFC welterweight contender Paulo Thiago and a unanimous nod over UFC multi-division fighter Ildemar Alcântara.
Perez certainly holds the edge in level of opposition, but he notched his victories over Thiago and Alcântara well after either of those UFC veterans were at the top of their game. Furthermore, he did so in his native Brazil. “Maluko” is venturing outside of his homeland for the first time in his professional MMA career. Heinisch, meanwhile, has the benefit of fighting in front of a hometown crowd not far from his camp at Colorado’s Factory X gym.
Vasconcelos was able to submit Perez in an exhibition fight, which points to some holes in the Brazilian’s submission defense. If Vasconcelos was able to expose these holes, Heinisch should be well equipped to do so. Heinisch will hand the Brazilian his first official defeat.
Other key bouts: Gilbert Smith (12-6) vs. Ben Smith (15-4), Maycee Barber (1-0) vs. Mallory Martin (1-1), Derek Brenon (5-0) vs. Boimah Karmo (4-2), Demetrius Wilson (5-1) vs. Brandon Royval (5-3), Adam Vigil (3-0) vs. Mike Jones (6-3), Mario Israel (10-3) vs. Chris Gutierrez (10-3-1), Juan Gonzalez (3-0) vs. Jonathan Wyderko (2-1)
Event Date: Sept. 9
Watch Event: Free tape-delayed Fite TV stream via Combat Press
Julio Cesar Neves (33-1) vs. Roger Sampaio (5-0)
A record of 33-1 can certainly turn heads. It’s enough to bring our attention to the 57th effort from Aspera Fighting Championship. The impressive mark belongs to Julio Cesar Neves, a featherweight fighter whose only big-league exposure came during a three-fight stint with Bellator MMA. Neves returns to action this weekend in an effort to hand out the first loss in the young career of his opponent, Roger Sampaio.
Neves has done all of his extensive damage since turning pro in 2011. He often fought more than once in a single month between 2011 and 2013 before finally slowing his pace in 2014. He hasn’t fought more than twice in any given year since then. Even more surprising, “Morceguinho” is still just 23 years old. The young fighter made it to 30-0 before suffering his first and only pro loss. His amazing streak included technical knockouts of Josh Arocho and Poppies Martinez under the Bellator banner. The Astra Fight Team product’s streak was finally brought to a halt by the late Jordan Parsons, who submitted his Brazilian counterpart in round three of their Bellator 137 battle. Neves returned to Brazil after the defeat and has since rebounded with three wins, including one submission finish. Overall, the up-and-comer has tallied 19 wins by some form of knockout, nine submission finishes and five decision nods. His three most recent opponents held a combined 30-10-1 mark, so Neves is not padding his record with scrubs.
Sampaio, 24, is older than Neves, but far less experienced on the professional stage. The Boxer MMA export debuted in 2014 and quickly finished his first five foes. Sampaio has a strong submission game that has led to three finishes, but his striking arsenal has also accounted for two stoppage victories. While he is inexperienced and lacks appearances outside of the smaller Brazilian regionals, Sampaio does look like he has the well-rounded game to advance far in the sport with the proper training.
Neves fights longer and flashes a more technical approach in the stand-up than Sampaio, who features a bulkier and more compact frame. Sampaio also tends to rely on haymakers on the feet while leaving his chin wide open to counters. Sampaio’s approach has worked well so far, but he’s never faced anyone near the caliber of Neves. Morceguinho is quite capable of landing devastating blows that sneak their way past Sampaio’s defenses. Neves also has a far superior technical takedown and ground game. If Sampaio opts to clinch with Neves, the Bellator vet will use trips and tosses to get Sampaio to the mat. If Sampaio is content to stand and bang, Neves will land more shots.
This is a great learning experience for Sampaio, but the young fighter is likely to be outgunned and outclassed in every area of this fight. It will be a competitive fight nonetheless, but it will end with yet another win on the lengthy resumes of Morceguinho. Sampaio will slip up once the fight hits the ground and Neves will pounce for a submission finish.
Other key bouts: Edimilson “Kevin” Souza (16-5) vs. Ricardo Sassemann (7-2), Alex da Silva (18-1) vs. Fernando Colman (7-1-1), Alexandre Cidade (13-2) vs. Joel dos Santos (4-2), Everton Monteiro (13-4) vs. Marcelo Dias (7-3), Silvania Monteiro (7-2) vs. Mayara Thays (0-0), Giacomo Lemos (2-0) vs. Bruno Chaves (1-0), Willian Lima (11-1) vs. Felipe Flores (0-1)
Event Date: Sept. 9
Watch Event: Fight Network
Peter Grajcar (5-0) vs. Chris Curtis (16-5)
The latest offering from the Z Promotions-led Fight Night Medicine Hat series is top-heavy with title fights. There are some familiar faces in the mix, too, including those of Canadian mainstay Jesse Arnett and UFC veterans Johnny Bedford and Joe Riggs. However, it’s the third title contest that might feature the most future potential in its athletes. The league’s welterweight champion, 26-year-old Peter Grajcar, puts his title on the line against journeyman fighter Chris Curtis.
Grajcar is a Firas Zahabi disciple at Tristar Gym. “Hollywood” has impressed through his first five pro fights following a 6-0-1 run as an amateur. While most of his amateur outings went the distance, he did post two submission finishes. Grajcar’s pro career, which kicked off in 2014, has featured more finishes. He has only gone the distance once as a professional. Meanwhile, he scored two submission wins and snagged two victories via some form of knockout. The Canadian secured the Fight Night Medicine Hat welterweight crown at the promotion’s last event in June, where he toppled 27-fight veteran Matt MacGrath with strikes in the fifth round.
The challenger, Curtis, hasn’t quite found his way out of his own roller coaster of wins and losses. The 30-year-old debuted in 2009 with a loss and then won five straight, including a decision nod over future Strikeforce, UFC and Bellator fighter Nah-shon Burrell. Curtis then lost to future The Ultimate Fighter 22 cast member Tom Gallicchio, won two more fights, lost to UFC veteran Forrest Petz, won three more fights, lost to Bellator vet Belal Muhammad and then won three straight, including a first-round submission, due to strikes, of Gil de Freitas to win the CES MMA welterweight title. He lost his next fight to the aforementioned Burrell in a non-title affair and then added another three-fight winning streak that included a successful defense of his CES belt. Along the way, he also made an unsuccessful bid on Bellator’s Fight Master reality series, where he lost via unanimous decision to Eric Scallan. The Team Vision MMA product has six wins via strikes and two victories by way of submission.
Curtis tends to be a tough out. He’s been submitted once, but the remainder of his losses ended on the scorecards. His victory over de Freitas was a slight upset, but Curtis disappointed in his follow-up loss to Burrell that once again demonstrated his inconsistency in finding the win column. Curtis stands as a perfect gatekeeper to test whether Grajcar is worthy of the big leagues.
As a member of the Tristar Gym, Grajcar should have the tools at his disposal to put on an impressive performance. However, he’s not likely to find a finish against Curtis. Instead, he’ll outwork the challenger en route to a hard-fought decision nod.
Other key bouts: Jesse Arnett (12-4) vs. Johnny Bedford (23-13-1) for the bantamweight title, Joe Riggs (45-17) vs. Mike Hill (9-4-1) for the middleweight title, Chris Kelades (10-3) vs. Keegan Oliver (6-5), Sarah Kaufman (18-4) vs. Monserrat Alvarez (3-3)
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