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…

Professional Fighters League 2
Chicago Theater in Chicago
Event Date: June 21
Website: professionalfightersleague.com
Watch Event: NBC Sports
Twitter: @profightleague

Spotlight Fight:
Will Brooks (18-4) vs. Luiz Firmino (20-8)

The Professional Fighters League is settling into its bi-weekly schedule for its inaugural season. The second event shines a spotlight on the organization’s lightweights and light heavyweights, plus crossover judo star Kayla Harrison, who is set to make her pro debut. The top-billed fight features Pride veteran and The Ultimate Fighter 21 alum Luiz “Buscape” Firmino against UFC veteran and former Bellator champion Will Brooks.

Firmino is a true veteran of the sport. The 36-year-old made his professional debut as a teenager in 2000. After amassing an 8-1 mark across several promotions, Buscape joined Pride in 2004 and defeated Hiroyuki Abe and Masakazu Imanari before dropping back-to-back fights. Following the Japanese promotion’s demise, the Brazilian jumped first to Dream and then to several regional organizations before finally landing in the World Series of Fighting. Under the WSOF banner, Buscape defeated UFC veterans Jacob Volkmann, Tyson Griffin and Caros Fodor. He also lost fights to Brian Foster and Justin Gaethje. In the midst of his WSOF run, Firmino also took a detour to the TUF reality show to represent the Blackzilians in a winning effort against Uroš Jurišic. This won’t be the first appearance for the former Championship Fighting Alliance lightweight titleholder. He fought at PFL’s Everett, Wash., card last year and defeated Eddy Ellis.

Brooks debuted in 2011 and went 7-0 across a number of regional promotions to launch his career. He first came to the attention of MMA fans when he stopped Satoru Kitaoka at Dream 18, but he already had a decision victory over Drew Dober by that time. Brooks was scooped up by Bellator MMA, where he came up short in one tournament and then went all the way in his second tourney appearance. His victory over Alexander Sarnavskiy punched his ticket to an interim title bout with Michael Chandler. Brooks squeaked past Chandler in an entertaining fight and then scored a finish in their rematch. He defended the Bellator crown twice before departing for the UFC. Brooks won his Octagon debut against Ross Pearson, but he was stopped in his subsequent three UFC appearances by Alex Oliveira, Charles Oliveira and Nik Lentz. This will mark the first post-UFC fight for Brooks.

PFL 2 is poised to deliver a very stacked lineup of fights, and Brooks and Firmino should combine for a war at the top of the bill. Brooks, an American Top Team and Midwest Training Center fighter, is competing on home turf. While his resume is heavy on decisions, he also has five knockouts and four submissions. Firmino has long been associated with ATT and the Blackzilians. He, too, is apt to go the distance, but Buscape does have two knockouts and seven submissions.

Brooks really had a hard time in the UFC. He was thrown in the deep end of the pool right off the bat, but then this is a guy who outdueled the aforementioned Chandler twice. He’s getting only the slightest step down in competition against Buscape, but the bigger factor is the lifting of the pressure that comes with a fight in the UFC. The former Bellator champ should be able to clear his head and emerge as one of the studs of the PFL’s lightweight class. It’ll be a grueling battle between these two top 155-pounders, but Brooks should emerge with a hard-fought decision nod.

Other key bouts: Brian Foster (27-10) vs. Ramsey Nijem (9-6), Kayla Harrison (0-0) vs. Brittney Elkin (3-4), Efrain Escudero (29-13) vs. Jason High (21-6), Ronny Markes (18-5) vs. Sean O’Connell (17-9), Smealinho Rama (10-3) vs. Brandon Halsey (10-3), Yuki Kawana (14-1-5) vs. Islam Mamedov (14-1), Vinny Magalhães (14-9) vs. Jamie Abdallah (7-2), Rashid Yusupov (9-0) vs. Rakim Cleveland (18-9-1), Maxim Grishin (26-7) vs. Jason Butcher (11-2), Thiago Tavares (21-7-1) vs. Robert Watley (10-1), Chris Wade (12-3) vs. Natan Schulte (11-3), Dan Spohn (16-5) vs. Bazigit Atayev (18-1)

ONE Championship: Pinnacle of Power
Olympic Sports Center in Beijing, China
Event Date: June 23
Website: onefc.com
Watch Event: pay-per-view stream at onefc.com
Twitter: @ONEChampionship

Spotlight Fight:
Jingnan Xiong (11-1) vs. Laura Balin (10-2)

ONE Championship’s unique weigh-in rules can complicate things for fighters. Is Jingnan Xiong really one of the better female strawweights outside the confines of the UFC and Invicta, or is she better categorized as a flyweight? Xiong captured the ONE women’s strawweight belt, but she never had to hit the 115-pound limit to compete. Now, the Chinese star returns for another “strawweight” fight, this time in defense of her title against Argentina’s Laura Balin.

Xiong is one of the bigger prospects on the Chinese women’s MMA scene. “The Panda” was a Kunlun Fight regular from her 2014 debut up until the end of 2016. During this stretch, Xiong, now 30, fed mostly on inexperienced opponents, including Julia Borisova. The one anomaly in this run was her lone loss, which came in a 2015 fight against veteran Colleen Schneider. Schneider edged Xiong on the scorecards in Xiong’s native China to take the victory. In 2017, following scrapped Kunlun bouts against Alesha Zappitella and Simone Duarte, the Fighting Empire and Phuket Top Team export transitioned to the ONE roster and met April Osenio. Xiong needed less than four minutes to steamroll Osenio. Her reward was a title fight for the vacant championship. Xiong scored a fourth-round finish of Tiffany Teo to claim the crown in January. Overall, the Chinese star, who also holds a victory over Lena Ovchynnikova in sanda competition, has eight knockouts and just one submission finish as a pro MMA fighter.

Balin launched her pro career in 2012 and shot out to an undefeated start through her first six fights. Then she ran into Vanessa Guimarães, a fighter who now stands with a sub-.500 record through nine pro fights. Guimarães handed Balin a decision defeat. The Kaeshi Gym Concordia product then met Kalindra Faria in an MMA Super Heroes title bout. Faria submitted Balin in the second round. “La Gladiadora” returned to her homeland following the back-to-back losses and righted the ship with four straight stoppage wins. Balin works well in the clinch and has good top control on the ground. She has won four fights via knockout and five by way of submission.

Xiong’s boxing skills and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu savvy — she won the China Open BJJ Championship in 2017 — provide her with a well-rounded base against any opponent she may encounter. Balin has stoppages in almost all of her fights, but her record is padded with victories against very low-level competition. Overall, Xiong probably holds the edge in both the striking and grappling departments.

Xiong has a lot to prove if she wants to be considered among the best strawweights — or flyweights — in the world. Yet, the Chinese fighter does have many bigger names on her record than Balin features on her own resume. Xiong should be able to follow in the footsteps of Guimarães and Faria. The only difference will be in how this one ends — it could be Balin’s first knockout loss.

Other key bouts: Adriano Moraes (17-2) vs. Geje Eustaquio (10-6) for the flyweight title, Ev Ting (15-4) vs. Koji Ando (12-6-2), Narantungalag Jadambaa (12-5) vs. Edward Kelly (10-4), Rodian Menchavez (5-1) vs. Kai Wen Li (7-4), Haobin Ma (11-2) vs. Danny Kingad (8-1)

Extreme Fighting Championship Worldwide 71
Carnival City in Johannesburg, South Africa
Event Date: June 23
Website: efcworldwide.com
Watch Event: Live main card on kwesesports.com (Sub-Saharan Africa), Kwesé Free Sports 1 (Africa),
SABC 3 (South Africa), TV Player (United Kingdom),
Fight Sports (Europe and Asia) and efcworldwide.tv (worldwide).
Twitter: @EFCworldwide

Spotlight Fight:
Andrew van Zyl (16-3) vs. Dalcha Lungiambula (8-1)

In the global picture, EFC Worldwide’s heavyweights have often underwhelmed when graduating to the UFC. However, current promotional champion Andrew van Zyl and challenger Dalcha Lungiambula could be the men to change this trend. First, however, they’ll tangle in the EFC Worldwide 71 headliner with the belt on the line.

Van Zyl, a three-time EFC heavyweight champ, has had an up-and-down run as an EFC mainstay since 2010. He quickly landed in a title fight in 2011 against Ruan Potts, but he was submitted in the first round. He won two fights to climb back into contention and then dethroned Potts as the champ. Van Zyl posted one successful defense before relinquishing the title to Potts, again via a first-round submission loss. After two more wins, van Zyl made his third run at the belt. He defeated Brendon Groenewald for the strap, but he turned around and lost the belt in his first defense against Cyril Asker. The outcome of that fight was also a first-round submission defeat for van Zyl, who rebounded with a pair of first-round TKO victories to earn yet another title bid. Van Zyl took to the cage against Elvis Moyo and scored a fourth-round TKO to claim his third title reign with the EFC brand. This reign has been his best — he successfully defended the title with wins over Wessel Mostert and Jared Vanderaa.

Dragon Power’s Lungiambula’s nickname — he’s called “Champion” — conveys the lofty expectations for the up-and-comer. The Congo native is a career-long member of the EFC roster. He entered the fold in mid-2014 with a 59-second submission finish of Roelof Scheepers and posted another first-round submission victory in his sophomore outing before moving on to face more experienced competition. His winning ways continued, but he wasn’t able to get the stoppage in his third and fourth fights. His first loss came in a light heavyweight title challenge against Norman Wessels, who submitted Lungiambula. After rebounding with a win, the “Champion” finally followed through on his moniker by claiming light heavyweight gold with a win over Tumelo Maphutha. He has gone on to make two successful defenses of the strap with stoppage wins over Alan Baudot and Stuart Austin. The 32-year-old is a decorated Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and judo practitioner with a well-rounded base, but this will be his heavyweight debut.

Van Zyl’s background is in the grappling arts, but his record reveals the South African’s penchant to look for a knockout. He’s found 10 such finishes, compared to just three submission victories. The 6-foot-3 heavyweight has a solid chin and has trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under South African BJJ pioneer Rodney King. However, the biggest hole in van Zyl’s game is his submission defense. He has never been knocked out, nor has he lost on the scorecards, but he has been submitted in each of his losses — and those submissions came early in the fight, too.

Unfortunately for van Zyl, Lungiambula can be an absolute beast with his takedowns, using his strength to scoop up opponents and slam them to the mat. He can also utilize his judo skills to take opponents off balance and throw them to the ground. Whatever method he chooses, Lungiambula can be very effective in scoring the takedown. With four knockouts and just one submission victory, the Congo native might seem like a knockout artist who will trade with van Zyl, but those powerful takedowns and a strong grappling game should be his focus if he wants to win.

Van Zyl is willing to pull guard if necessary, and he’s great at pulling off a reversal to land in mount or take his opponent’s back. However, van Zyl’s propensity to get tapped is turning into a huge problem. If Lungiambula doesn’t struggle with a bigger opponent in his move up in weight, then he has the tools to hand van Zyl a loss. If Potts and Asker could submit van Zyl, it’s not out of the question to believe Lungiambula can do the same.

Other key bouts: Nkazimulo Zulu (9-2) vs. Magno Alves (4-7-1) for the flyweight title, Steven Goncalves (5-0) vs. Luthando Biko (3-1)

Last Week’s Scorecard
Fight Prediction Outcome
Damir Ismagulov vs. Artiom Damkovsky at M-1 Challenge 94 Ismagulov by submission Ismagulov by injury TKO
Svetlana Gotsyk vs. Magdaléna Šormová at WWFC 11 Gotsyk by submission Šormová by submission
Brian Bouland vs. Ilia Topuria at Cage Warriors 94 Bouland by knockout Topuria by submission

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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