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…

Deep 81 Impact
Differ Ariake in Tokyo
Event Date: Dec. 23
Website: deep2001.com
Twitter: @deep_official

Spotlight Fight:
Taito Kubota (10-0) vs. Toshiaki Kitada (21-10-4)

Deep’s 81st effort in its Impact series is a strong one. The featherweight title will be on the line when Hiroto Uesako meets Takahiro Ashida, and the lineup also features such notables as Koichi Ishizuka, Roman Alvarez, Mina Kurobe, Guy DeLumeau and Kazunori Yokota. However, it’s undefeated bantamweight prospect Taito Kubota who should garner some attention when he takes on the tough task of facing grizzled veteran Toshiaki Kitada.

The 28-year-old Kubota first appeared on the professional scene in 2010 with two wins in a single night under the Pancrase banner. He didn’t return to action, however, until late 2015 when he joined the Deep roster. He claimed the Future Kings bantamweight crown with a first-round knockout finish of rookie Takuya Maeda in December 2015, and he tacked on another first-round finish when he stopped Takuya Kanai in April of the following year. The KIBA Martial Arts Club export has gone on to add four decisions and two more knockouts to his resume.

Kitada, 37, already has 35 fights under his belt. The veteran began his pro career in 2005 under the Pancrase banner. He went just 2-2 with the organization before switching allegiances and becoming a mainstay of the Deep promotion. He won his first six Deep fights and seven of his first eight outings with the company. His only loss in this span came via majority decision against Takeshi Yamazaki. After a disappointing 2008 campaign in which Kitada went 0-1-2, the Japanese fighter turned in a 3-0-1 mark for 2009 while defeating such notables as Joe Taimanglo, Zach Makovsky and Kleber Koike Erbst and fighting to a draw with the aforementioned Yamazaki. The PANCRASEism Yokoyama disciple has had an up-and-down run ever since. He has suffered losses to the likes of Yoshihiro Tomioka, Daiki Hata, Takafumi Otsuka (twice), Koichi Ishizuka and Kenta Takizawa, but he’s also topped Masanori Kanehara and spoiled the rises of a few up-and-comers. As is often the case with Japanese fighters, Kitada has seen an extraordinary amount of decisions — 21, to be exact — but he’s also scored eight submission finishes and three knockouts. He’s also been knocked out on two occasions.

Kitada is not Kubota’s typical adversary. In fact, the undefeated fighter has faced a set of opponents who sported a combined 33-33-20 mark when they met him, and four of those 10 opponents had losing records. Kitada, meanwhile, has tangled with fighters who either had already or would go on to appear in such organizations as the UFC, Bellator MMA, Pride, Sengoku, Dream and the Rizin Fighting Federation. That’s an extreme disparity in competition, and it’s certainly a factor that could come into play in this showdown.

Kubota’s fists have allowed him to put an early end to the night for four of his opponents. Kitada has suffered two knockout defeats, so Kubota does have a potential route to victory. However, Kitada’s knockout defeats came against Dokonjonosuke Mishima, a Pride and UFC veteran whose current record sits at 21-7-2, and Kenta Takizawa, a 23-year-old fighter who had already battled several tough competitors before setting foot into the cage opposite Kitada. Kubota simply doesn’t have the same level of experience and could find himself in deep water against a grappler with a relatively high success rate in the submission category. Kubota could find himself on the losing end of an outcome for the first time in his pro career. Kitada might not get the tapout, but he’ll outwork Kubota on the mat to take home the decision nod.

Other key bouts: Hiroto Uesako (13-6) vs. Takahiro Ashida (20-8-2) for the featherweight title, Koichi Ishizuka (12-3-1) vs. Roman Alvarez (8-1), Mina Kurobe (10-3) vs. Jung Eun Park (3-2-1), Guy DeLumeau (21-13-3) vs. Juri Ohara (21-12-2), Kaito Sakamaki (13-6) vs. Kosuke Terashima (14-13-3), Koji Takeda (3-0) vs. Naoto Kurosaki (0-2), Kazunori Yokota (25-7-3) vs. Da Won Yoon (1-1)

Road Fighting Championship 45
Grand Hilton Convention Center in Seoul, South Korea
Event Date: Dec. 23
Website: roadfc.com
Watch Event: MBC Sports+ (Korea), Panda TV and CCTV5 (China), SportsFix.tv (Southeast Asia), YouTube (International)
Twitter: @ROADFC

Spotlight Fight:
Seo Hee Ham (18-8) vs. Jinh Yu Frey (6-2)

The atomweight women have yet to land on the big stage of the UFC, but they may have just found at least one other stage beyond the confines of Invicta Fighting Championships and Deep Jewels. That’s because Road FC has finally decided to devote more of its attention to the 105-pound women’s division. The South Korean organization crowned Seo Hee Ham as its atomweight champ in June when she defeated Mina Kurobe. Now, Ham gets her first title defense, and it comes against Invicta atomweight contender Jinh Yu Frey.

Ham, who holds a kickboxing background, has been competing in MMA since 2007. She’s made several jumps from weight class to weight class. Along the way, she’s encountered a number of notable names. The 30-year-old’s debut came in a winning effort against Hisae Watanabe. She’s gone on to notch victories over the likes of Saori Ishioka (three times), Mika Nagano, Mei Yamaguchi, Naho Sugiyama, Shino VanHoose, Cortney Casey and the aforementioned Kurobe. She’s also suffered losses to Miku Matsumoto, Yuka Tsuji, Megumi Fujii, Ayaka Hamasaki (twice), Joanne Calderwood, Bec Rawlings and Danielle Taylor. Several of those losses came when Ham was fighting at strawweight or above. Overall, the Korean fighter has three submission finishes and one knockout victory. Meanwhile, she’s suffered two submission losses and one knockout defeat.

Frey has a much shorter resume, but she’s just as well known to American fans, thanks to her time under the Invicta banner. The 32-year-old turned in a 3-2 mark while competing as an amateur, but she has fared far better as a pro. Frey made her professional debut in 2013 and scored first-round finishes — one by submission and the other via knockout — in her first two fights. The Genesis Jiu-Jitsu product made her Invicta debut at the promotion’s eighth event, but she dropped a split decision to fellow up-and-comer Jodie Esquibel. Frey got back on track with a submission victory over Cassie Robb and then added unanimous nods over Liz McCarthy and former Invicta atomweight champ Herica Tiburcio. Frey unsuccessfully challenged the aforementioned Hamasaki for the Invicta belt. Hamasaki defeated Frey in the second round due to a nasty cut above Frey’s left eye. Frey recovered with a convincing performance against Ashley Cummins that garnered another unanimous nod for the native Texan.

Ham and Frey are two of the best atomweights in the world right now, and this certainly stacks up to be the top fight of the holiday weekend. Frey is at a disadvantage in this one, though. She’s already been handed setbacks by the likes of Hamasaki and Esquibel, and Ham has proven to stand with those fighters in the top tier of the atomweight division. Frey’s also traveling overseas for the first time in her pro career, and she’ll fight an opponent who is set to enjoy a significant home-field advantage. Frey’s a tough challenger for Ham, but she’s not unstoppable. Ham’s best performances have come while fighting at 105 pounds, and we can probably expect another one here. The UFC veteran will take a hard-fought decision over Frey.

Other key bouts: Yoshiko Hirano (2-0) vs. Young Ji Kim (0-2), Begimzhan Kasymova (1-0) vs. Destanie Yarbrough (1-1), Rafael Fiziev (4-0) vs. Munguntsooj Nandin-Erdene (7-3), Yincang Bao (11-4) vs. Won Bin Ki (5-5), Chris Barnett (15-6) vs. Gun Oh Shim (3-2), In Soo Hwang (2-0) vs. Jung Kyo Park (7-8)

Absolute Championship Berkut 77
Luzhniki Stadium Complex in Moscow
Event Date: Dec. 23
Website: Facebook/acberkut
Watch Event: Fite TV free stream via Combat Press
Twitter: @acb_league

Spotlight Fight:
Abdul-Aziz Abdulvakhabov (14-1) vs. Eduard Vartanyan (18-3)

While Road FC is set to give fans the biggest single fight of the Christmas weekend, the Absolute Championship Berkut organization is poised to provide the deepest lineup of the weekend. The promotion’s 77th event features three very intriguing title fights, including the lightweight championship tilt between titleholder Abdul-Aziz Abdulvakhabov and challenger Eduard Vartanyan.

Abdulvakhabov — we’ll refer to him by his nickname of “Lion” moving forward — won one of two fights in a single-night debut in 2011. That’s the last time the Lion has tasted defeat, though. The 28-year-old has gone on to score an additional 13 victories while also claiming the ACB lightweight title and making two successful defenses of the belt. Lion delivered the first pro losses to formerly undefeated foes Islam Makoev and Rasul Ediev, and he also defeated such notables as Ali Bagov (twice), Julio Cesar de Almeida and his current challenger, Vartanyan. His first victory over Bagov, which came via a spinning back kick, came in the ACB lightweight tournament finals. His 2015 campaign consisted of three victories in what appeared to be non-title affairs, but he’s since gone on to defend his belt with a first-round demolition of Vartanyan and another drubbing of Bagov. The Lion has had struggles with recurring injuries that twice prevented him from meeting Andrey Koshkin, who was in line for the next shot at the belt before a subsequent loss to Vartanyan.

The 26-year-old Vartanyan has put together a solid resume of his own. He, too, suffered a loss in his first night as a professional, but he responded much like his upcoming opponent by reeling off 13 straight victories. The No. 1 Fight Club export’s next setback came against the aforementioned Bagov in a lightweight tournament final in 2015. Vartanyan rebounded to beat Frodo Khasbulaev, but then suffered defeat at the hands of the Lion. His road back to a rematch has been an impressive one that’s included a third-round knockout finish of Márcio Breno, a split verdict against Alexandr Shabliy, a submission finish of Alexander Sarnavskiy and the unseating, via submission, of the aforementioned Koshkin as the Lion’s next challenger. Vartanyan has six knockouts and four submission victories, but he’s suffered all of his losses by stoppage as well.

Their first fight was fairly even until the Lion staggered Vartanyan and then threw flurries until Vartanyan landed face first on the mat. The champ has more power than his opponent, who only really seemed to catch the Lion’s attention with one straight left that landed clean. Otherwise, it was the Lion’s counters that did the most damage. Vartanyan didn’t have the power or the movement to threaten the Lion in their first encounter, and there’s no reason to think that the rematch will go all that much differently.

Vartanyan might last longer, but only because he might be hesitant to press the action quite as much as he did at ACB 32. However, his chin can’t take much from the very powerful Lion. The champ just has to land another perfectly timed counter to put Vartanyan on his heels once again. The Lion has been very effective with his fists, and we’ll see that once again when he puts away Vartanyan for a second time.

Other key bouts: Vyacheslav Vasilevsky (32-5) vs. Albert Duraev (10-3) for the middleweight title, Yusup Raisov (11-1) vs. Alexander Peduson (12-1) for the featherweight title, Denis Goltsov (19-5) vs. Chase Gormley (14-6), Beslan Isaev (36-9) vs. Nah-shon Burrell (15-7), Arman Ospanov (8-1) vs. Alexey Polpudnikov (23-4-1), Amirkhan Adaev (12-4) vs. Darren Smith Jr. (14-7), Asylzhan Bakhytzhanuly (5-0-1) vs. Muslim Makhmudov (8-5), Alexey Butorin (12-2) vs. Gamzat Khiramagomedov (5-0), Cory Hendricks (4-1) vs. Konstantin Erokhin (9-3), Ali Eskiev (8-2) vs. Rustam Gadzhiev (9-4), Amirkhan Isaghadzhiev (3-0) vs. Sergey Belostenniy (4-1), Mansur Khatuev (6-0) vs. Maycon Silvan (12-2)

Last Week’s Scorecard
Fight Prediction Outcome
Chico Camus vs. Ricky Simon at LFA 29 Camus by decision Simon by decision
Demarte Pena vs. Irshaad Sayed at EFC Worldwide 66 Pena by decision Pena by knockout
Vitaly Minakov vs. Tony Johnson Jr. at FNG 82 Minakov by knockout Minakov by knockout

About The Author

Bryan Henderson

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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