Every week, Combat Press takes a look at three regional, developmental and 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…

Legacy Fighting Alliance 36
Morongo Casino, Resort and Spa in Cabazon, Calif.
Event Date: March 23
Website: lfafighting.com
Watch Event: AXS TV
Twitter: @LFAfighting

Spotlight Fight:
Ricky Simon (11-1) vs. Vinicius Zani (11-4)

At Legacy Fighting Alliance’s 29th event, Ricky Simon topped UFC veteran Chico Camus in what could be considered a minor upset to become the league’s bantamweight champion. Now, at the promotion’s 36th show, Simon is back to make his first defense of the title. He’ll have to get past Brazilian opponent Vinicius Zani in order to retain his belt and potentially catch the eye of the UFC.

The 25-year-old Simon took a significant step up in competition when he fought Camus, but he was able to outwork the former UFC fighter over the course of five rounds. The Gracie Barra Portland product has defeated the likes of Jeremiah Labiano and Alex Soto, and he also picked up a split-decision win over Donavon Frelow on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, but he also suffered a big loss to Anderson dos Santos in his bid for the Titan Fighting Championship bantamweight title. Simon’s pro run, which began in 2014, includes four knockout victories and one submission finish. His loss to dos Santos came via submission.

Zani is a member of the Black House and Gibi Thai camps. “The Little Devil” made his pro debut in 2009 in a losing effort against current Bellator featherweight titleholder Patricio “Pitbull” Freire, but bounced back to win his next three fights. Following a two-fight skid, the 30-year-old once more recovered and picked up four straight. His most recent loss came in a 2014 title fight against future UFC fighter Thomas Almeida. He’s gone on to win another four straight, including one fight under the Resurrection Fighting Alliance banner and two contests with the LFA.

Zani makes another great litmus test for the up-and-coming Simon. The Brazilian has lost via strikes and by way of submission, but two of his four losses came to fighters who rank among the world’s best. Zani tends to attack with strikes, but he does have one submission finish to his name.

Simon is most successful at garnering the finish when he attacks early. His game is developing well under the tutelage of Ian Loveland and Fabiano Scherner, and he gets to work at the same camp as Bellator lightweight champ Brent Primus, UFC and Bellator vet Chael Sonnen and UFC star Paige VanZant. Simon has a wrestling base, but Scherner has helped to add a grappling attack to complement Simon’s takedown abilities.

Simon’s wrestling and improving submission game could be the keys to victory against Zani. The Brazilian will most likely want to keep the fight standing and look for a knockout, but Simon should be able to find the takedown and drag the fight into his world. Simon really impressed against Camus, and Zani, while a solid gatekeeper, seems like an easier task than a former UFC fighter. Simon might not be able to find a finish, but he should control position throughout this fight and add on another decision victory to his resume.

Other key bouts: Jamall Emmers (12-3) vs. Guilherme Faria (15-6), Andre Ewell (11-4) vs. Trent Meaux (6-4-1), Jonathan Noriega (3-0) vs. Herdem Alacabek (3-0), Troy Guerrero (5-1) vs. Tommy Aaron (5-3), Charles Johnson (2-0) vs. Corey Turner (1-1), Ricardo Seixas (4-0) vs. Christian Aguilera (10-4), Jeffrey Glossner (1-0) vs. Anthony Jimenez (1-0-1), Steve Swanson (14-3) vs. Benji Gomez (6-10)

ONE Championship: Iron Will
Impact Arena in Bangkok, Thailand
Event Date: March 24
Website: onefc.com
Watch Event: pay-per-view stream at onefc.com
Twitter: @ONEChampionship

Spotlight Fight:
Martin Nguyen (10-1) vs. Bibiano Fernandes (21-3)

What can a promotion do when it has a champion as dominant as Bibiano Fernandes. Well, there’s always the superfight option. Throw the title into the mix, and it’s even better. In ONE Championship’s case, this is the answer for Fernandes. The league’s lightweight and featherweight kingpin, Martin Nguyen, has been cleaning house, so now ONE will pit him against Fernandes with the latter’s title on the line.

Fernandes has long been a member of the bantamweight elite. However, due to ONE’s unique weight-class system, his recent fights have actually been contested at the 145-pound featherweight limit. “The Flash” has defended his crown against Masakatsu Ueda, Dae Hwan Kim, Toni Tauru, Kevin Belingon, Reece McLaren and Andrew Leone. McLaren pushed Fernandes to a split verdict and Ueda went the distance with the 37-year-old, but Fernandes finished the remainder of those title defenses. The AMC Pankration disciple, a teammate of UFC flyweight champion Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson, has scored eight submission victories and two knockout finishes.

Nguyen could be the most formidable challenger yet for Fernandes. With belts in the featherweight and lightweight divisions, the 29-year-old reigns as a two-division champion for ONE. Now, he’s seeking to become a three-division champ. After four stoppage victories, including a submission in his ONE debut, Nguyen was finished in just 41 seconds when he met Marat Gafurov for the ONE interim featherweight title in 2015. “The Situ-Asian” responded by scoring first-round stoppages of Edward Kelly, Kai Wen Li, Christian Lee and Japanese veteran Kazunori Yokota to make his way to a rematch with Gafurov for the crown. This time, Nguyen prevailed to the tune of a second-round knockout. Then, he moved up a division and scored a second-round knockout of Eduard Folayang to claim the lightweight strap. Nguyen has never seen the scorecards. Instead, he’s produced seven knockouts, three submissions and suffered his lone loss by submission.

This is quite possibly the most compelling fight in ONE Championship’s history. In one corner, there’s an established member of the elite. In the other, there’s a two-division champ with plenty of finishing ability. Age could also factor in, with Nguyen checking in at eight years the junior of his challenger.

Still, it’s difficult to pick against someone with the history and success of Fernandes. The Brazilian is ridiculously quick on the mat and can lock in a submission before his opponent even knows what’s happening. Nguyen met a similar fate when he first encountered Gafurov, who is nowhere near the same level as Fernandes. The Aussie fighter could land in some bad spots against Fernandes, too.

The most troubling spot on Fernandes’ record is his recent split decision against McLaren. McLaren was knocked out just one fight later against the aforementioned Belingon, and the Australian fighter already carried losses to unknowns Jarrett Owen and Jacob Mahoney, as well as a defeat courtesy of future UFCer Ben Nguyen. Fernandes should have cruised to a lopsided victory there, but he didn’t.

If McLaren could get that close, then Martin Nguyen might be the man to finally knock Fernandes from his throne. However, Nguyen is going to have to drop down to a lighter division here. Size matters, but so does a draining weight cut. If Nguyen is too exhausted by the time he hits the scales, it could factor into his performance. If this fight were to be contested in one of Nguyen’s usual weight classes, he might even get the call. At the bantamweight level — even ONE’s version of it — Fernandes still seems untouchable. Nguyen might be able to rule over two divisions, but he’ll tap to a submission from Fernandes and fail to claim a third title.

Other key bouts: Garry Tonon (0-0) vs. Richard Corminal (4-3), Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke (8-3) vs. Jeremy Miado (6-2), Ariunbold Tur-Ochir (1-0) vs. Alain Ngalani (3-4), Rahul Raju (5-1) vs. Shannon Wiratchai (8-2), Gilberto Galvão (30-6-1) vs. Jake Butler (7-2), Rika Ishige (3-1) vs. Angelie Sabanal (0-0), Tetsuya Yamada (24-5-2) vs. Saygid Guseyn Arslanaliev (4-1), Kaji Ebin (2-0) vs. Sunoto Peringkat (7-3), Zhikang Zhao (10-2) vs. Waqar Umar (4-4)

Absolute Championship Berkut 83
Baku, Azerbaijan
Event Date: March 24
Website: Facebook/acberkut
Watch Event: YouTube
Twitter: @acb_league

Spotlight Fight:
Oleg Borisov (20-2-1) vs. Rustam Kerimov (10-0)

Absolute Championship Berkut continues its onslaught of stacked cards with this weekend’s 83rd event. The lineup features some recognizable names, including prospects Amir Aliakbari, Denis Smoldarev, Tural Ragimov and Magomed Magomedov, as well as UFC veterans Dileno Lopes, Daniel Omielańczuk and Efrain Escudero. However, it’s the bantamweight title showdown between Rustam Kerimov and Oleg Borisov that takes center stage.

Borisov has a head-turning 20-2-1 mark to his name. The 33-year-old notched his pro debut win in 2007, but he didn’t start fighting regularly until late 2011. Overall, the Krepost Fight Club product won his first three fights before dropping a unanimous verdict to Timur Valiev. Borisov has gone a staggering 15-0-1 over his next 16 fights. He finally stumbled again when he met the aforementioned Magomedov and lost via submission. He rebounded to pick up two more victories in his 2017 campaign. Borisov’s lengthy undefeated stretch includes notable wins against João Paulo Rodrigues, Paata Robakidze, Filip Macek and fellow ACB 83 competitor Ragimov. He has won 10 fights via strikes, including a second-round knockout of Ragimov, and one contest by way of submission. He’s a powerful and aggressive wrestler with obvious knockout ability.

The 26-year-old Kerimov has quickly shot up the ranks during his time with ACB. The DagFighter export was already undefeated through eight fights when he stepped up at ACB 61 and destroyed the aforementioned Ragimov with punches in just 20 seconds. HIs next fight was an impressive first-round technical knockout of former UFC fighter Takeya Mizugaki. Kerimov is a well-rounded fighter who has power — five knockout wins — but can also hold his own in the wrestling and grappling arenas.

Borisov can be a relentless takedown artist who has a stifling top game, or he can be a somewhat flat-footed, haymaker-throwing striker. When he’s standing, he does have a tendency to look like Kamal Shalorus, another strong wrestler who would wing in single punches in the hopes of scoring a brutal knockout. However, Borisov, unlike Shalorus, is more willing to transition between those haymakers and takedown attempts. When he connects with a well-placed punch, as he did in his most recent outing against Murad Kalamov, it’s lights out. His power can end fights in a hurry. When it doesn’t, he’s prone to going the distance.

Kerimov is more dynamic on the feet. He’ll use spinning attacks and throw combinations. However, he can be wild, lunge forward to throw punches while his hands are down, or turn his back when exiting an exchange. All of these flaws in his approach could open him up to one of Borisov’s murder bombs. Yet, we’ve already seen Kerimov use his mix of skills to quickly deliver a ground-and-pound end to Ragimov’s night and get the better of Mizugaki. It might not be the most technical approach, but Kerimov has made his style work.

Borisov is too hesitant in his striking. He gets in the habit of sitting back and looking for single strikes. His level-change takedowns are excellent, and he’ll probably catch Kerimov at least a few times to put the fight on the mat. The problem here, though, is that Kerimov feeds off of scrambles. Kerimov has excellent balance and good takedown defense, and he often uses these transitional periods to throw unexpected strikes. Sure, they might be wild and leave him open for counters, but they also work to punish an opponent, as they did with Mizugaki.

Borisov will have difficulty keeping pace with the busier Kerimov. There’s always the chance that Borisov lands one of those thunderous single punches and scores a sudden knockdown. Outside of that puncher’s chance, though, it looks like Kerimov has the skills to gain the upper hand on his opponent. He’ll wear down Borisov with his penchant for return fire off of takedowns and scrambles. Then, he’ll finish him in a similar manner to how he finished Mizugaki.

Other key bouts: Amir Aliakbari (7-1) vs. Denis Smoldarev (13-3), Tural Ragimov (16-4) vs. Attila Korkmaz (8-3), Magomed Magomedov (14-2) vs. Edgars Skrīvers (15-5), Sergey Grechka (10-4) vs. Alikhan Suleimanov (7-2), Dileno Lopes (19-4) vs. Islam Yunusov (5-2), Erick Barbosa (19-7) vs. Daud Shaikhaev (5-3), Mate Sanikidze (1-0) vs. Firuz Mammadov (4-2), Daniel Omielańczuk (19-8-1) vs. Bobby Brents (17-6), Adrian Diaz (11-5-1) vs. Lambert Akhiadov (8-4), Khamzat Aushev (11-3) vs. Efrain Escudero (29-13), Ibrahim Magomedov (3-0) vs. Rafael Xavier (6-3), Askhab Zulaev (4-0) vs. Robson Silva (7-6)

Cage Warriors Fighting Championship 92: Super Saturday
O2 Indigo in London
Event Date: March 24
Website: cagewarriors.com
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass
Twitter: @CageWarriors

Spotlight Fight:
Jack Shore (7-0) vs. Vaughan Lee (14-13-1)

What’s better than one main card? If you ask the Cage Warriors brass, they’re response would be two main cards. That’s exactly what’s in store for British fans and those around the world watching on UFC Fight Pass this weekend during the league’s 92nd event. Cage Warriors is delivering one main card that includes flyweight and heavyweight title fights, plus another main card topped by a bantamweight championship bout. Somewhere in between lies an interesting little bantamweight scrap between middling UFC veteran Vaughan Lee and undefeated prospect Jack Shore.

The 35-year-old Lee was nothing special during his Octagon stint. In eight UFC appearances, Lee only managed three victories. Meanwhile, he suffered five defeats. Those UFC wins came at the expense of Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto, Motonobu Tezuka and Nam Phan. His losses at least came against respectable opponents Chris Cariaso, T.J. Dillashaw, Raphael Assunção, Iuri Alcantara and Paddy Holohan. The British fighter has a long history of setbacks. He lost the first three bouts of his professional career, plus an additional three bouts before he signed with the UFC. After departing the big show, he dropped fights to Rakhman Dudaev and Cage Warriors headliner Wood. Lee does have seven submission victories and four knockouts, but he’s also suffered four knockouts and lost via submission on six occasions.

Shore is the latest prospect to come out of Wales. The “Tank” put up a ridiculous 12-0 mark as an amateur before finally opting to go pro in 2016. His ammy run included eight submission victories and a 2015 IMMAF European Open Championships lightweight tournament win. He needed less than two minutes to submit his opponent in his pro debut. Then, he joined the Cage Warriors organization and reeled off six stoppage wins. Shore has five first-round submission finishes in his pro career.

This is a smart piece of matchmaking by the Cage Warriors promotion. Lee isn’t exactly the best bantamweight out there, but his long stay in the UFC gives him a ton of name value. He’s the perfect opponent to aid in elevating Shore to the next level. Meanwhile, Shore gets to move down to 135 pounds after a career spent at featherweight and potentially earn a title shot with just one victory.

Lee has a kill-or-be-killed mentality that has led to a minimal amount of his fights going the distance. Shore hasn’t seen the scorecards much as a pro, either. The difference is in the loss column, where Shore sports nothing but zeroes and Lee has a long list of disappointments. The up-and-comer should make easy work of the UFC vet and get the tap within the first stanza.

Other key bouts: Nathaniel Wood (12-3) vs. Luca Iovine (12-1) for the bantamweight title, Alex Montagnani (10-2-1) vs. Craig White (13-7), Corrin Eaton (9-2) vs. Dean Trueman (7-4), Mauro Cerilli (11-2) vs. Karl Moore (8-1) for the heavyweight title, Sam Creasey (9-1) vs. Nathan Greyson (5-2) for the flyweight title, Sam Boult (9-2) vs. Jamie Richardson (6-3), Mehrdad Janzemini (8-2) vs. Brad Wheeler (16-11), Tom Mearns (5-0) vs. Aiden Lee (5-2)

Last Week’s Scorecard
Fight Prediction Outcome
Jake Heffernan vs. Derek Brenon at Paramount MMA Brenon by knockout Heffernan by submission
T.J. Laramie vs. João Luis Nogueira at TKO 42 Nogueira by knockout Laramie by knockout
Sean Brady vs. Colton Smith at Shogun Fights Smith by decision Brady by decision

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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