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: May 4
Watch Event: AXS TV
Ian Heinisch (9-1) vs. Gabriel Checco (10-2)
The Legacy Fighting Alliance crowned Anthony Hernandez as its middleweight champion earlier this year, but now the league is creating an interim strap that will be handed to the winner of LFA 39’s main event. The bout pits Ian Heinisch against Gabriel Checco in a battle between two men who have previously fought for gold either under the LFA banner or its predecessor, the Resurrection Fighting Alliance.
The 29-year-old Heinisch had a perfect run through the amateur and pro ranks until his previous LFA title shot, which came in September at LFA 22. In that contest, Heinisch was quickly submitted by Markus Perez. 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 won his first eight 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 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. After his loss to Perez, he rebounded with a knockout victory over Daniel Madrid at LFA 31. The Factory X Muay Thai product has a background in college wrestling, but he’s also well equipped to stand with opponents. Overall as pro, he has two knockouts and two submission wins.
Checco, 32, made his professional debut in 2012 and stormed through his first seven opponents with ease. Most of those adversaries were low-level fighters, and four of his opponents were making their pro debuts. He ran into trouble when he upgraded to fights in the RFA. Jake Collier handed Checco a submission loss at RFA 19 in a middleweight title fight. “Zangief” bounced back with a 74-second TKO finish of The Ultimate Fighter 11 alum Joseph Henle, but stumbled once more in another crack at the RFA title against Francisco France. Checco righted the ship with a pair of submission victories, including a third-round stoppage of Adam Stroup. However, the Brazilian has been inactive since late 2016. He was slated to appear on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series on two occasions, but he withdrew both times. Checco has five finishes by some form of knockout and five submission victories on his resume. The highly decorated Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt has trained out of Chute Boxe, Gracie Humaita, the B9 Team and Xtreme Couture.
The biggest question for Checco might be whether he makes it to the cage this time. If he does, then we have an interesting fight in front of us. Heinisch was quickly dispatched in his one title bid, and Checco is more than capable of handing out a similar fate to the Factory X combatant in this affair. However, the Brazilian has also demonstrated a ton of inconsistency in his fights. He destroyed Henle, but he fell short against Collier and France. There’s no telling which version of Checco enters the cage on Friday night.
One of these men finally has to break out of their title-fight slump — well, there’s always the chance of a draw, right? — but it’s a tough call as to which fighter emerges with the belt. Heinisch is tough, but his only fight against a similar level of opposition ended in disappointment. Checco could have some ring rust that he’ll have to shake off, but the Brazilian is a highly skilled grappler with a lot of power in his punches. Heinisch will put up a good effort, but Checco should find the submission.
Other key bouts: Hayward Charles (15-10) vs. Christiano Frohlich (9-3), Jerome Rivera (7-1) vs. Brandon Royal (6-3), Maycee Barber (3-0) vs. Audrey Perkins (1-0), Youssef Zalal (4-0) vs. Daniel Soto (3-2), Harvey Park (9-1) vs. Austin Hubbard (8-2)
Event Date: May 5
Ivan Shtyrkov (14-0) vs. Gerônimo Dos Santos (40-20)
The Russian-based RCC Boxing organization tends to mix a few MMA bouts into a boxing card. This time, however, the company seems focused on MMA. The promotion has brought in Aleksander Emelianenko and Gabriel Gonzaga for its main event, but the biggest prospect in the lineup is RCC golden boy Ivan Shtyrkov. The undefeated Russian will meet another seasoned veteran when he takes on Gerônimo Dos Santos in a heavyweight contest.
Shtyrkov’s career has been spent competing under the German Titov Boxing Promotions and RCC Boxing Promotions banners in Russia. He’s faced several notable names along the way. After stopping his first five low-level foes since turning pro in mid-2015, “Ural Hulk” encountered UFC veteran Jeff Monson in May 2016. The Russian fighter landed a blow that sent Monson to the mat, where Shtyrkov finished the experienced grappler with an armbar in 31 seconds of the very first round. However, Monson has gone on record stating that he expected an exhibition fight and entered the contest with an injured arm that Shtyrkov eventually targeted for the finish. Shtyrkov topped his next two opponents, including former UFC champ Ricco Rodriguez, via first-round TKO. This led to a meeting with UFC and Strikeforce vet Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva. The 29-year-old couldn’t stop Bigfoot, but he did earn the victory on the scorecards. Shtyrkov added UFC veterans Rodney Wallace and Phil De Fries to his list of victims. Then, he used his fists to pummel veteran Japanese fighter Satoshi Ishii for another stoppage victory. Late in 2017, he turned his focus toward the light heavyweight division and decisioned former Bellator champ Christian M’Pumbu and European veteran Marcin Łazarz.
Dos Santos might share the same last name as an unrelated former UFC heavyweight champion, but the 37-year-old “Mondragon” is far less decorated in his lengthy MMA career. The Brazilian, who sometimes fights at super heavyweight, debuted in 2006 and won just one of his first four bouts. After a streak of six finishes, he again hit a rocky patch where he went 2-4. However, he rebounded once more to the tune of seven stoppages. The pattern continued with another 2-5 stretch, including a loss to top heavyweight Josh Barnett, followed by a remarkable 15-2 run that put him in line for a UFC appearance in 2012. Injury got in the way of his shot at the UFC, and he has posted only a 7-6 mark in his subsequent 13 fights, most of which took place in either Brazil or Russia. During this span, he fell short against the likes of Vitaly Minakov, Amir Aliakbari, Sergei Kharitonov and the aforementioned Aleksander Emelianenko. Overall, “Mondragon” has 26 knockout wins and 10 submission finishes, but he has also succumbed to 10 knockouts and eight submissions.
The RCC has been finding ways to get Shtyrkov high-profile wins. While Dos Santos is hardly at the same level as Bigfoot or even M’Pumbu, he is a game fighter. Mondragon packs a lot of power, but his biggest advantage might be his size. The Brazilian has tipped the scales at the super heavyweight level, whereas Shtyrkov is capable of making the light heavyweight limit of 205 pounds.
Dos Santos has had a run of misfortune starting with his scrapped UFC contract and extending to his six recent losses. While he might be able to bully the smaller Russian, it seems a lot less likely now than it did five or six years ago. The Brazilian projects as another notable name to add to Shtyrkov’s list of wins. Dos Santos has been finished early in many of his recent defeats, and there’s a good chance Shtyrkov will add to that trend with a knockout finish of his own.
Other key bouts: Aleksander Emelianenko (26-7) vs. Gabriel Gonzaga (17-11), Mikhail Ragozin (10-3) vs. Wallyson Carvalho (8-4), Reginaldo Vieira (13-5) vs. Denis Lavrentyev (4-0), Vitaliy Slipenko (10-2) vs. Oleg Olenichev (10-5), Aleksandr Grozin (8-2-1) vs. Ruslan Khisamutdinov (6-5), Abdul Dalgatov (2-0) vs. Dmitry Malikhin (3-1), Mikhail Shtin (6-1) vs. Maksim Usoyan (1-0)
Event Date: May 5
Watch Event: YouTube
Marat Balaev (8-0) vs. Yusup Raisov (12-1)
Without a doubt, the Absolute Championship Berkut organization has compiled the most stacked lineup of any regional or developmental promotion hosting a card this weekend. The ACB 86 offering includes three title fights and plenty of additional notable fighters, including Bellator veteran Georgi Karakhanyan and prospect Murad Machaev. One of those title fights is a rematch between featherweight champion Marat Balaev and challenger Yusup Raisov, the man Balaev defeated to claim the crown.
It’s not that often that a 42-year-old fighter can be called a prospect, but Balaev is one. The “Motivator” might seem like he should be gearing up for retirement, but he didn’t make his pro MMA debut until the age of 37. He’s fought just eight times and has yet to taste defeat. This all came after a 10-year prison stint. While he debuted with M-1, Balaev has spent much of his career under the ACB banner. After competing at lightweight for four of his first five fights, the Alexander Nevsky protege dropped to the featherweight division and scored a 90-second submission finish of Suleiman Bouhata. Balaev’s next fight was for the vacant featherweight crown. The freestyle wrestler battled Raisov for five rounds and emerged with the unanimous verdict to win the title. He went on to make a successful defense of the strap with a razor-thin decision over Adlan Bataev. Injury prevented him from making a December date against Raisov, but now the two men are finally set to meet.
At age 22, Raisov brings youth to the table against a man who literally is old enough to be his father. The “Wolf” debuted under the ACB banner in 2014 and made stops in several prominent Russian promotions over the next two-plus years while compiling nine victories. During this stretch, Raisov decisioned veteran Vladimir Egoyan and submitted prospect Carlos Alexandre. He still sported a perfect mark when he collided with Balaev at ACB 50 for the vacant middleweight title, but Balaev outworked him over five rounds to hand him his first career loss. Raisov was undaunted, though. He returned three months later to submit veteran Valdines Silva at ACB 55 and then earned a decision nod over Luis Palomino. In his most recent appearance, Raisov submitted Alexander Peduson, who entered the bout with a 13-1 record.
It’s been a year and a half since these two men fought. Balaev is now 42, but he’s still going strong. Raisov has a bright future and plenty of years ahead of him, but he might have hit a roadblock in the form of his upcoming opponent. Balaev has been able to outwork everybody he’s fought, including Raisov. While he doesn’t have quite as many high-level opponents on his resume, Balaev is no joke.
The best sign of growth from Raisov came in how he reacted to his previous loss. He wasted little time returning to action, and his next three fights came against some extremely skilled opponents. Raisov spent 15 minutes in action against Palomino, a World Series of Fighting vet who went toe-to-toe with Justin Gaethje on two occasions. While Balaev eked his way past Bataev, Raisov was able to log convincing victories. It might be time for the 22-year-old to overtake the 42-year-old. It’ll be a hard-fought battle that ends in a close decision, but this time the nod will go to Raisov.
Other key bouts: Askar Askarov (9-0) vs. Rasul Albaskhanov (7-2) for the flyweight title, Batraz Agnaev (4-0) vs. Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov (15-5-1) for the light heavyweight title, Ciro Rodrigues (21-7) vs. Beslan Isaev (37-9), Gleristone Santos (34-8) vs. Ali Bagov (25-10), Murad Machaev (21-2) vs. Mukhamed Kokov (13-2), Akop Stepanyan (25-10) vs. Arman Ospanov (8-2), Rasul Shovhalov (16-5) vs. Andrey Koshkin (16-6), Georgi Karakhanyan (27-8-1) vs. Alexey Polpudnikov (24-4-1), Sharaf Davlatmurodov (12-3-1) vs. Gadzhimurad Khiramagomedov (6-2), Asylzhan Bakhytzhanuly (7-0-1) vs. Muslim Magomedov (2-1), Denis Silva (12-2) vs. Abdul-Rakhman Temirov (10-3), Denis Kanakov (8-1) vs. Abdul Azim Badakhshi (8-1)
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