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: Nov. 2
Watch Event: Russia 2 (Russia), m1global.tv, Fite TV free preliminary-card and pay-per-view main-card stream via Combat Press
Artem Frolov (11-0) vs. Bruno Silva (18-6)
The UFC 230 headliner may feature heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier and challenger Derrick Lewis, but the core of the pay-per-view event consists of middleweights. The theme does not stop with the world’s biggest promotion, though. M-1 Global’s 98th show in its M-1 Challenge series provides fans with glimpse at a rising 185-pound star. M-1 middleweight champion Artem Frolov returns to the ring to defend his crown against veteran Bruno Silva in the evening’s headlining contest.
The 27-year-old Frolov remains undefeated through 11 professional outings. He made his debut in 2014 and picked up two submission wins prior to entering the M-1 ranks. He’s been a regular in M-1 ever since, with only one of his last nine fights taking place outside of the promotion. After scoring stoppages in his first six contests, Frolov finally went the distance against Rafael Xavier in a 2016 outing. His next fight came against UFC veteran Luigi Fioravanti, whom Frolov finished via strikes in just over two minutes. After adding another quick stoppage win at M-1 Challenge 77, Frolov was rewarded with a title berth against UFC veteran Caio Magalhães. The Legion Fight Team export took a decision against Magalhães to claim the throne. He made his first defense of the strap in June when he defeated UFC veteran Joe Riggs when Riggs suffered a knee injury in the second round. Overall, Frolov has five knockouts and four submission victories.
Silva, 29, is a member of the Evolução Thai MMA camp. He debuted in 2010 and alternated wins and losses through his first six bouts before finally nailing down back-to-back wins. He followed his first winning streak with a two-fight losing skid, but he then righted the ship and reeled off 10 straight wins while avenging three of his earlier losses. His streak came to an end in 2016 when he was submitted by Sengoku veteran Moise Rimbon. Silva recovered and added three more victories to his resume, including a first-round knockout of former Bellator middleweight kingpin Alexander Shlemenko. Silva also appeared on the third season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil, but he was knocked out by Vitor Miranda in his first bout on the show.
Frolov has demonstrated consistency throughout his career. The Russian champ brings a combat-sambo background to the ring and holds a proficiency in finishing fights regardless of where they take place. While his early career features wins over mediocre competition, he’s stepped up to face the likes of the formerly undefeated Ayub Gimbatov, prospects Kristijan Perak, the aforementioned Xavier and Talekh Nadzhafadze, as well as UFC vets Fioravanti, Magalhães and Riggs. By comparison, Silva’s list of notables is much shorter and peaks with his recent victory over a rapidly declining Shlemenko.
Frolov was busy defending his title on the very same card where Silva earned his title bid. Silva didn’t run away with the victory against Shlemenko. Instead, the Russian was the early aggressor. Silva surged back with a series of knees and right hands that knocked the former Bellator champ silly. Meanwhile, Frolov was coasting along after a first round in which he took down Riggs and controlled the UFC veteran while raining down ground-and-pound strikes. Riggs sustained a knee injury in round two to bring a premature close to the contest, but it was gearing up to be another one-sided drubbing for Frolov.
Silva has the explosiveness and power — 15 career victories by knockout — to bring a quick end to any contest. The Brazilian is weak on the ground, though. He suffered five of his defeats via submission. Frolov is quite capable of smothering opponents on the ground and scoring submission finishes. The champ hasn’t coaxed a tapout, however, since his 2016 encounter with Kristijan Perak. Given that Frolov probably won’t want to test Silva’s knockout skills, we can expect him to hunt for takedowns and work the ground game for as long as this contest lasts. The aforementioned Rimbon was able to lock up a kimura for a win over Silva, so Frolov should be able to find a submission as well.
Other key bouts: Sergey Romanov (14-3) vs. Pablo Ortmann (8-0), Boris Medvedev (3-0) vs. David Zakaryan (1-0), Magomed Magomedov (11-1) vs. Arnaud Kherfallah (5-1), Iliskhan Merzhoev (2-0-1) vs. Denis Sulimov (3-1), Sergey Morozov (12-3) vs. Bair Shtepin (7-2), Aleksey Shanin (3-0) vs. Rizvan Simbagaev (3-3), Nikita Barkhatov (1-0) vs. Agoney Romero (7-5-1)
Event Date: Nov. 3
Watch Event: Facebook Live Stream
Mehdi Bagheri (4-0) vs. Glenn Sparv (19-5)
The week’s middleweight trend continues with another title fight, this time for the vacant Full Metal Dojo championship. The company’s 16th event, dubbed “Big Trouble in Little Bangkok,” delivers an intriguing 185-pound title tilt between undefeated Middle Eastern upstart Mehdi Bagheri and Finnish veteran Glenn Sparv.
The 30-year-old Bagheri is gearing up for his first appearance in exactly one year. He made his pro debut in mid-2016 when he submitted Jarek Kochanowicz on an Ultimate Beatdown card. His next two fights came with the Golden Warriors Fighting Championship organization. First, he submitted rookie fighter Saber Athari in just 44 seconds. Then, he decisioned sub-.500 fighter Nosherwan Khanzada. Bagheri submitted Javier Trujillo in his Full Metal Dojo debut in late 2017. He was set to return to GWFC in January, but his fight was scrapped. Bagheri, who was a member of the Iranian national wrestling team, serves as the wrestling coach at Monarchy MMA.
Sparv’s career includes an amateur win over UFC fighter Teemu Packalén. Six months later, the Finnish fighter made his pro debut. Sparv won his first four fights before running into Nicolas Dalby, a future UFC fighter, and suffering a decision loss. The “Teddy Bear” went on to win three of his next five fights, with his losses coming against future Professional Fighters League participant Jonatan Westin and future UFC fighter Alberto Mina. While he struggled with scrapped fights in 2014 and 2015, he still managed to find more consistency and won five straight bouts in that span. It all came to an end in 2016, however, when he lasted just 11 seconds against Zebaztian Kadestam at PXC 53. The Tiger Muay Thai disciple recovered once more for arguably the best stretch of his career. He won six straight, and seven of eight, in a run that included victories over The Ultimate Fighter 16 alum James Chaney and UFC veteran Yuki Sasaki. Sparv’s one loss in this recent stretch came on the scorecards against Jun Yong Park.
Bagheri is still a work in progress as a mixed martial artist. He has a strong wrestling background, but he couldn’t score a finish over a fighter with a losing record who had suffered most of his defeats by way of stoppage. The Iranian also struggled as an amateur and fell via knockout against Guilherme Araujo, who has gone on to post a respectable 4-1 mark as a pro. However, Bagheri’s wrestling chops have paved the way for three submission victories on the professional circuit.
Sparv has never been submitted. He has been decimated by strikes, and he has dropped several decisions. The Finnish fighter has also handed out 12 knockouts and two submission finishes. Sparv’s tendency to finish fights with his fists should be enough to convince Bagheri to look for the takedown early and often. Sparv had a rough time against Park, who is a mediocre 8-3 and managed to rock the Finn several times. Bagheri probably won’t find the finish here, but he can use his wrestling to plant Sparv on the mat repeatedly. It should be enough to earn the Iranian a decision nod.
Other key bouts: Loma Lookboonmee (2-0) vs. Suwanan Boonsorn (1-0)
Event Date: Nov. 3
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).
Nkazimulo Zulu (10-2) vs. Gary Joshua (4-0)
It can’t all be about the middleweights. South Africa’s longstanding top promotion, EFC Worldwide, opts to set the focus of the evening on the flyweights and bantamweights. EFC Worldwide has opted to create an interim title at the bantamweight level after reigning champ JP Buys opted to explore other opportunities, former champ Irshaad Sayed retired and fellow former champion Demarte Pena was hit with a four-year suspension for a doping violation. The title picture is far less convoluted at the flyweight ranks, where current titleholder Nkazimulo Zulu puts his strap on the line against undefeated up-and-comer Gary Joshua.
Zulu started training in Kyokushin karate at the age of six and was the 2008 tri-nation champion. Soon after, he left karate behind for the world of Muay Thai and K-1 kickboxing. He rose to a high level in K-1 before moving on to MMA in 2010. “Zulu Boy” made his professional MMA debut in 2013 and went 1-1 through his first two outings, including a loss in his EFC Africa debut. The 5-foot-5 fighter rebounded from the loss to pick up three wins and a split draw over his next four fights, including three EFC Africa bouts. It was enough to earn him a spot in a fight for the vacant EFC Africa 135-pound crown, which he won in February 2014 with a first-round TKO finish of Charlie Weyer. Zulu dropped the belt in his very next bout against the aforementioned Pena. This prompted a move to the flyweight division, where Zulu decisioned Francois Groenewald before snagging the EFC Worldwide flyweight crown with a first-round finish of Craig Ninow. He made a failed attempt to land a UFC title shot via The Ultimate Fighter 24, where he was submitted by Hiromasa Ogikubo. The 29-year-old champion hasn’t exactly had it easy in recent years. He was hospitalized in 2017 after he was struck by a car while completing his morning run. The Tapout Academy product has since returned to register two successful title defenses, but the most recent of those fights came against a sub-.500 challenger.
Joshua, of course, has a far shorter resume. “Relentless” is a member of the SBG Cape Town gym, and he made his pro debut in 2016 after picking up a couple of amateur wins. His first appearance came at EFC Worldwide 55, where he scored a first-round knockout of a sub-.500 fighter. His run continued with two more wins — a submission and a split decision — against subpar competition. Joshua finally upped his game when he met the 6-3 Martin DeBeer in early 2018 and locked in a heel hook for the first-round submission finish.
Zulu’s grappling game is still a work in progress, but he has claimed two victories by way of submission. He is extremely dangerous on his feet, where he has scored six wins by some form of knockout. The champ seemingly hasn’t seen diminished returns since the accident.
Well, at the very least, Joshua is a huge improvement over the 4-7-1 Magno Alves as a title challenger. He is a finisher with an undefeated mark, after all. Yet, the majority of his victories have come against very low-level talent. Even his win over DeBeer isn’t a huge victory, given DeBeer’s own winning record is a result of five wins over sub-.500 opponents. Zulu is building back from the TUF 24 exhibition loss and the car accident, but he’s still leaps and bounds above Joshua in the flyweight pecking order. As has often been the case, Zulu should be able to school his challenger in the striking arts and walk away with a knockout victory.
Other key bouts: Luthando Biko (4-1) vs. Cal Ellenor (7-1) for the interim bantamweight title, Torbjorn Madsen (5-0) vs. Mzwandile Hlongwa (3-0), Themba Mkhize (2-0) vs. Fafa Dwama (2-1)
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