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: Sept. 7
Sai Wang (23-6-1) vs. Adriano Balby (16-3)
The ninth effort from Rebel Fighting Championship was originally set to take place in early August, but it was pushed back to September instead. At the top of the bill, former UFC heavyweight title challenger Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva returns to action for the first time in more than a year. Bigfoot will attempt to end a five-fight skid when he collides with Wenbo Liu, a fighter with a fair share of knockouts on his record. Further down the card, in the co-main event, fans will spot another face that’s graced the inside of the Octagon. The Ultimate Fighter: China alum and UFC veteran Sai Wang is on the hunt for Rebel’s middleweight crown, but he’ll have to go through former welterweight Adriano Balby to get to the strap.
Wang put together a healthy run on TUF, where he knocked out Qize Wu and submitted Anying Wang to land in the finals. However, “The Fire Kylin” was not good enough to get past Lipeng Zhang, who edged him via split decision. Wang, who debuted in 2009, stuck around for one additional UFC bout — a win over Danny Mitchell — but then migrated to Kunlun Fight before falling into a pattern of promotion-hopping. Since his brief stay in the UFC, Wang has gone on to add 15 wins in 16 total fights. Unfortunately, he’s been fed a large dose of rookies, inexperienced fighters and .500-ish vets. The 32-year-old sanda specialist is a finisher who has logged eight knockout victories and 11 submissions.
The 38-year-old Balby is likely nearing the end of his career, but he’s still a handful. The Brazilian has been around since 2005, but early career losses to future UFC fighter Francimar Barroso and journeyman Roberto Bispo were enough to keep him on the regional circuit despite an otherwise stellar beginning that included eight knockout finishes within his first 10 fights. “The Rock” finally landed in Jungle Fight by 2015 and won both fights in the organization, plus another outside of it, before challenging Paulo Costa for the middleweight belt. Costa, now a legitimate UFC middleweight contender, stopped Balby in the first round. Balby has since rebounded with five victories, including decision nods over UFC castoff Edilberto de Oliveira, TUF 5 alum Andy Wang and Japanese MMA legend Akihiro Gono.
Balby should not be overlooked. His recent stretch of victories includes some savvy veterans, albeit not the cream of the UFC castoff crop. Two of his three losses came to fighters who have had a taste of the big show, including one who is within shouting distance of a title shot. Wang, meanwhile, has gone largely untested.
How much can we trust a fighter who hasn’t seen an opponent more than two wins above the .500 mark since his loss to the 19-16 Artem Shokalo. Yes, Wang departed the UFC on the heels of a victory, but that win came against a British opponent who was released by the UFC and has only managed a 6-3 record in his subsequent bouts. Maybe Wang can outwork Balby and rely on favorable judging in his particular part of the globe, but Balby is capable of keeping the judges out of this one and scoring the knockout finish.
Other key bouts: Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva (19-12) vs. Wenbo Liu (11-7-1), Takeya Mizugaki (22-13-2) vs. Guangyou Ning (5-4-1), Hacran Dias (24-6-1) vs. Gadzhi Rabadanov (8-3-2), Gazavat Suleymanov (8-1) vs. Reydon Romero (12-7), Kai Tang (8-2) vs. Vikas Dahiya (3-3), Shuhei Sakano (11-3-4) vs. Yayong Wang (7-5) for the bantamweight title, Maria Silva (3-0) vs. Jie Liu (1-0), Felipe Masoni (9-3) vs. Anvar Alizhanov (7-2)
Event Date: Sept. 8
Watch Event: free stream at onefc.com
Jingnan Xiong (12-1) vs. Samara Santos (11-5-1)
Jingnan Xiong continues to stand as one of the best strawweight/flyweight female fighters outside of the UFC. The Chinese star will get to prove herself worthy of this standing once again in Shanghai when ONE Championship touches down for its “Beyond the Horizon” show. Xiong puts her ONE women’s strawweight title on the line against Samara Santos. Due to ONE’s unique weigh-in rules, this bout is essentially a flyweight affair.
Xiong was a Kunlun Fight regular from her 2014 debut up until the end of 2016. During this stretch, “The Panda,” 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. She returned to action in June and defended the crown with a unanimous nod over challenger Laura Balin. 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.
The 25-year-old Santos was once considered a rising prospect as well. She won five fights out of her first six fights — the remaining contest ended in a draw — before suffering a submission loss at the hands of Simone Duarte. The Brazilian rebounded with another streak of five victories, but then fell upon hard times. Over the span of a year and a half, beginning in December 2016, Santos went winless across four fights. In this stretch, she was dropped by Agnieszka Niedźwiedź, tapped by Rayane Bastos and decisioned by both Marina Rodriguez and Maiara Alves. “Marituba” finally recovered with a first-round finish of Rosiele Almeida in May. The only problem? Almeida was just 0-1 prior to her fight with Santos. Santos has six finishes via strikes and three by way of submission.
Xiong’s boxing skills and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu savvy — she won the China Open BJJ Championship in 2017 — continue to provide her with a well-rounded base against any opponent she may encounter. Santos is also game regardless of where the bout takes place, but she’s hardly on the same level as Xiong. The Chinese fighter may not hold a perfect mark, but her only loss came to the very tough veteran Schneider, and she’s managed wins against the likes of Teo and Balin. Santos, meanwhile, has a padded record and stumbled to the tune of a draw and several losses whenever she stepped up to face high-level competition.
Santos’ losses to Niedźwiedź, Bastos, Rodriguez and Alves are a good indication of the direction this fight will go. Those losses for the Brazilian are sandwiched between victories over a 1-2 foe and the aforementioned 0-1 Almeida. Santos is vulnerable to strikes, but she’s a better target for a submission. Xiong should coax the tapout and retain her title.
Other key bouts: Honorio Banario (13-6) vs. Amir Khan (10-3), Christian Lee (9-2) vs. Edward Kelly (10-5), Daichi Takenaka (11-0-1) vs. Roman Alvarez (8-2), Lei Chen (5-0) vs. Muhammad Aiman (4-2)
Event Date: Sept. 8
Watch Event: YouTube
Abdul-Aziz Abdulvakhabov (15-1) vs. Ali Bagov (26-10)
Absolute Championship Berkut has had its struggles lately. The league’s 89th event was originally slated for July 21, with subsequent ACB 90 and 91 cards scheduled for July and August. All of these events fizzled, bringing us to ACB 89 once more. The event is now set to take place on Saturday in Krasnodar, Russia. It’s a stacked card, too, with three title affairs at the top of the lineup. In one of those championship scraps, lightweight kingpin Abdul-Aziz Abdulvakhabov puts his title on the line against veteran challenger Ali Bagov.
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 14 victories while also claiming the ACB lightweight title and making three 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 his current foe Bagov (twice), Julio Cesar de Almeida and Eduard Vartanyan (twice). 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, a drubbing of Bagov and a split verdict over Vartanyan. 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.
Bagov is a 36-fight veteran despite checking in at just 27 years old. “Hulk” debuted in 2009 and quickly fell into a roller-coaster ride of wins and losses. He won his first two pro fights, including an encounter with rookie opponent Ramazan Emeev, who now resides on the UFC roster. Bagov then dropped three straight, but the losses came to the talented trio of Alexander Butenko, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Kirill Sukhomlinov. Bagov took another six straight wins, but then he dropped four of his next six outings. Another three-fight winning streak was followed by losses in two out of three fights, which in turn was followed by 12 victories over his next 13 fights. The Russian has 22 submission wins and eight knockout losses on his resume. His current four-fight winning streak includes a submission of Bellator veteran Bubba Jenkins, a knockout of Bellator vet Gleristone Santos and a decision over UFC castoff Leandro Silva.
Of course, Bagov also has those two aforementioned encounters with his current opponent. The pair first met in 2014, when the Lion landed a spinning back kick in the ACB lightweight tournament finals. Bagov responded with his longest winning streak, which included the avenging of previous losses to Sukhomlinov and Vartanyan, as well as an impressive first-round submission of veteran Thiago Meller. This run allowed Bagov to claim a title shot, but he only lasted five minutes before succumbing to the Lion’s attack.
The Lion is clearly too much for Bagov. The “Hulk” is a solid mid-tier fighter across a number of Russian promotions, but he’s not quite at the championship level. He may have avenged other big losses from his record, but he won’t follow suit with an upset of the Lion. Instead, the champ is likely to pummel Bagov once more for yet another knockout finish.
Other key bouts: Ciro Rodrigues (22-7) vs. Albert Tumenov (19-4) for the welterweight title, Albert Duraev (11-3) vs. Piotr Strus (13-3-2) for the middleweight title, Taigro Costa (14-3) vs. Adlan Bataev (10-1), Mukhamed Kokov (13-3) vs. Lom-Ali Eskijew (15-3), Murad Machaev (22-2) vs. Marat Balaev (8-1), Amir Aliakbari (8-1) vs. Daniel Omielańczuk (20-8-1), Andrey Koshkin (17-6) vs. Yusup Umarov (11-4), Narek Avagyan (10-3) vs. Rasul Albaskhanov (7-3), Goga Shamatava (13-4) vs. Valeriy Khazhirokov (4-1), Amirkhan Guliev (8-1) vs. Jose Daniel Toledo Canellas (7-5), Akop Stepanyan (25-10) vs. Magomed Sulumov (5-2), Marcelo Alfaya (18-9) vs. Imran Abaev (5-3-1), Azamat Kerefov (9-0) vs. Kurban Gadzhiev (14-2), Makharbek Karginov (9-1) vs. Islam Meshev (7-1)
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