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…
Event Date: April 13
Carson Gregory (5-0) vs. Clay Collard (15-7)
SteelFist Fight Night’s 57th offering, dubbed “Friday the 13th,” is primarily an amateur MMA affair, but the organization did line up an interesting welterweight title fight to top the brief list of professional bouts. The 170-pound champ is Carson Gregory, an undefeated up-and-comer. Gregory will defend his strap against the league’s lightweight titleholder, UFC veteran Clay Collard.
The 23-year-old Gregory is a Utah local. He went 5-1 with five stoppage victories and a majority decision loss as an amateur. His final ammy win netted him the SteelFist amateur welterweight crown. Gregory turned pro in early 2017 and rumbled out of the gates with a knockout finish in just a tick over two minutes when he faced .500 fighter Josh Bateman. Three months later, he returned as a middleweight and scored a submission finish of Kade Lindstrom. He returned to welterweight and scored two more knockouts, including a 25-second finish of Cisco Alcantara, before challenging for the SteelFist belt. In his championship-winning outing in January, Gregory submitted Mike Jones. The Xcite MMA product has been training in mixed martial arts since the age of 14.
Collard, of course, is the better-known athlete in this pairing. After amassing a 13-4 mark on the regional circuit and claiming the Showdown Fights lightweight title, Collard signed with the UFC. In his Octagon debut, he was unfortunate enough to share the cage with Max Holloway, who finished him in the third round via strikes. However, Collard had stepped up as a late replacement for Mirsad Bektic in the UFC Fight Night 49 contest, so the UFC showed its gratitude by keeping him on the roster following the defeat. Collard rebounded in his next fight and earned a unanimous decision over Alex White. His next two Octagon appearances were not so kind to “Cassius,” who dropped a unanimous verdict to Gabriel Benitez and a split decision to Tiago Trator. The Pit Elevated export was released by the UFC, but he found a new home in the SteelFist organization. His first fight for the promotion was a lightweight title bout in which Collard ran through his opponent, Troy Dennison, in just 46 seconds.
Collard uses a moniker associated with Muhammad Ali’s birth name, and Gregory strives to be a combination of Ali and Mike Tyson, but in an MMA cage rather than the squared circle. Four of Gregory’s ammy wins and three of his professional victories came via strikes, and Collard has nine knockout victories as a pro and one 12-second knockout finish as an amateur competitor. Combine these two men, and we’re probably looking at fireworks inside the cage.
This is a fight that would be right at home in a larger organization like the Legacy Fighting Alliance, but SteelFist managed to snag this one all for itself. There’s little doubt that this fight will have the crowd on its feet for however long it lasts. Both men have ridiculous knockout power, but Gregory is the bigger man. However, he isn’t as proven or battle-tested as Collard. Given Collard’s experience, the UFC veteran takes the slight edge to add another knockout to his resume.
Event Date: April 14
Watch Event: Fite TV pay-per-view stream via Combat Press
Roberto Soldić (13-2) vs. Dricus Du Plessis (11-1)
Poland’s Konfrontacja Sztuk Walki — or KSW, for short — is back with its 43rd effort. The card plays host to two title fights, including a welterweight showdown between champ Roberto Soldić and challenger Dricus Du Plessis, a two-division titleholder from South Africa’s EFC Worldwide organization.
Soldić is a Croatian-born fighter who trains out of UFD Gym Dusseldorf. The 23-year-old’s “RoboCop” moniker might make many think of the movie of the same name, but it’s also a nice little wink, intentional or not, at fellow countryman Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic. Soldić has been fighting professionally since 2014. He won his first four fights by stoppage before facing a setback of his own in a decision loss to Marko Radaković. After rebounding with two additional wins, including one finish, Soldić tasted defeat again, this time by way of a split verdict against Yaroslav Amosov under the Tech-Krep banner. The Croatian fighter rebounded in spectacular fashion to win title belts in three different organizations over the span of his next three fights. Those three title wins, which included a victory over veteran Ivica Trušček, make up the first portion of Soldić’s current streak of seven straight knockouts. Most recently, he defeated Borys Mańkowski to claim the KSW welterweight strap.
Du Plessis, a former WAKO world champion kickboxer, failed in his bid to become the youngest champion in EFC Africa history when, at age 20, he was submitted by Garreth McLellan in a middleweight title bout. He rebounded from the loss with a first-round submission win over Darren Daniel in a 185-pound bout and then started flirting with a move to welterweight. Over the course of his next three fights, Du Plessis dropped to 170 pounds, fought in a catchweight bout at 176 pounds and captured the vacant EFC Worldwide welterweight crown with a submission victory over Martin van Staden. He then returned to middleweight and notched another submission win when he defeated Rafał Haratyk in the main event of EFC Worldwide 56. He returned to welterweight and made a title defense against Mauricio de Rocha Jr. at EFC Worldwide 59 and then returned to middleweight once more at EFC Worldwide 62, where he topped Yannick Bahati to become a two-division titleholder. Du Plessis, who has only been competing professionally in MMA since 2013 and has never competed outside of the EFC organization, fights out of Team CIT. The 24-year-old “Stilknocks” has three wins by some form of knockout and eight victories via submission.
EFC Worldwide has some very intriguing prospects in its stable, including Du Plessis, but these men often stumble once they venture outside of the promotion. This will be the first such trip for Du Plessis, who was once slated for an appearance with Legend MMA that was eventually canceled. Inside the EFC cage, Du Plessis scored his biggest wins against Dino Bagattin, the aforementioned van Staden and Bahati. Soldić, meanwhile, has been tasked with handling the likes of Trušček, Mańkowski, Vaso Bakočević and Lewis Long.
Du Plessis is certainly one of EFC’s best fighters, but he’s headed to foreign shores to meet an opponent who has plenty of experience in the European MMA scene. Despite his kickboxing background, his best bet might be to use his strength to score takedowns against Soldić. If Du Plessis can make this into a grappling match, he’s more likely to find success. However, Soldić doesn’t exactly spend a lot of time on his back in fights, and Du Plessis can be reversed in scrambles.
Soldić could find more trouble against a kickboxer like Du Plessis than he saw against Trušček and Mańkowski. However, it’s difficult to overlook his recent streak of dominance. He’s a counter striker who could potentially sit back and wait for Du Plessis to surge forward. The Croatian fighter has excellent combinations that slowly build up to overwhelm opponents, killer leg kicks and a strong top game. He can be taken down, but he stays active on the mat and looks to escape to his feet at any opportunity. Soldić could prove to be too much for Du Plessis. The two-division EFC Worldwide champ hasn’t suffered a knockout loss yet in his MMA career, but that might change in his first KSW appearance.
Other key bouts: Damian Janikowski (2-0) vs. Yannick Bahati (8-3), Michał Andryszak (20-6) vs. Phil De Fries (14-6) for the heavyweight title, David Zawada (15-3) vs. Michał Michalski (6-2), Salahdine Parnasse (10-0-1) vs. Artur Sowiński (18-9), Norman Parke (23-6-1) vs. Łukasz Chlewicki (14-7-1), Antun Račić (20-8-1) vs. Kamil Selwa (10-6), Maciej Kaliciński (3-0) vs. Maciej Kazieczko (3-1)
Event Date: April 15
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass
Isao Kobayashi (22-5-4) vs. Koyomi Matsushima (9-2)
Pancrase’s featherweight title situation isn’t pretty. Andy Main won the crown in 2015 when he submitted Nam Phan, but he has never defended the strap. In 2016, Issei Tamura captured the interim gold with a victory over Juntaro Ushiku, but he turned around and lost it to Nazareno Malegarie in 2017. Malegarie was set to face Isao Kobayashi in August, but the champ sustained a knee injury and has yet to defend the belt. Thar brings us to Pancrase 295, where the aforementioned Kobayashi tangles with Koyomi Matsushima for yet another interim featherweight King of Pancrase championship.
Kobayashi launched his pro career in 2008 as a 19-year-old. He won the 2009 Pancrase Neo-Blood lightweight tourney and the 2011 Pancrase Lightweight Grand Prix. The Sakaguchi Dojo product compiled a 15-1-4 record as a lightweight, capturing the lightweight King of Pancrase crown along the way, before a tumultuous run in the featherweight division. The southpaw’s first stint as a 145-pounder started off strong enough with a win over Takeshi Inoue, but Kobayashi stumbled against three of his next five opponents to bring his featherweight mark to a mediocre 3-3. The judoka returned to lightweight with Vale Tudo Japan for a split-decision victory over Yutaka Saito, but he then dropped back to featherweight. His second stint at the lighter weight has produced more mixed results. He claimed victories over Hiroyuki Takaya and two mediocre talents, but he also dropped a split decision to Kyle Aguon, whose record now sits at 11-7.
The 25-year-old Matsushima isn’t quite as well known as his opponent. The AACC export made his pro debut in 2015 under the Shooto banner and scored a 10-second finish of sub-.500 fighter Yoshinori Takahashi. His second fight lasted 19 seconds. His third, just over three minutes. His fourth contest made it to the second round, but his fifth fight was over in just 16 seconds. Each of these affairs ended in a knockout finish, and the results included a Shooto Infinity League tournament win. In 2016, Matsushima took a significant step up in competition, but he didn’t fare all that well. He was knocked out in 23 seconds by Rolando Dy at PXC 53 and then lasted less than three minutes two fights later when he encountered Marlon Sandro. In between his defeats, though, Matsushima did score a submission victory over the aforementioned Ushiku. Since the loss to Sandro, Matsushima has notched three decision victories, including a nod over the aforementioned Aguon.
Kobayashi tends to victimize his opponents with his fists en route to knockout and TKO victories. His career highlights include a victory over former ONE FC featherweight champion Koji Oishi, a draw against UFC veteran Jorge Patino and decision wins over the aforementioned Sandro and Will Chope. He did suffer losses to Kazunori Yokota under the Deep banner and Goiti Yamauchi and Justin Lawrence in the Bellator cage.
Kobayashi is a stud at lightweight, but he seems intent on competing at featherweight. It hasn’t exactly gone well for him, though. Overall, he’s now 6-4 as a 145-pounder. If this bout was planned for the lightweight division, Kobayashi would be an easy pick. At featherweight, the outcome is far less certain. Matsushima could follow in the footsteps of Lawrence and get the knockout, or he could add another decision loss to Kobayashi’s record.
Given Matsushima’s recent propensity to go the distance, this one is probably destined to make it to the scorecards. It’ll be another close fight, but Kobayashi has been too disappointing as a featherweight to trust him here. Matsushima will eke past him.
Other key bouts: Mitsuhisa Sunabe (28-7-4) vs. Shinya Murofushi (13-5-1) for the men’s strawweight title, Satoru Kitaoka (40-16-9) vs. Taras Sapa (13-3), Juntaro Ushiku (11-6-1) vs. Yojiro Uchimura (15-11-3), Masayuki Kikuiri (3-0) vs. Shigeaki Kusayanagi (10-8-6), Yuma Kitamura (4-0) vs. Yosuke Nomura (0-0)
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