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: March 2
Cally Gibrainn de Oliveira (3-0) vs. Satoshi Ishii (19-8-1)
Despite its lengthy history, Japan’s Heat organization hasn’t received much attention in this series. Rarely has the promotion had a match-up quite like the heavyweight title tilt slated for its upcoming 44th show, though. Fight fans are likely more familiar with the challenger, Satoshi Ishii, than they are with the man who holds the belt, Cally Gibrainn de Oliveira. This is easily one of the most significant fights in recent memory under the Heat banner.
It figures that the champion is more obscure, given he’s only had three professional outings. Furthermore, he’s been anything but an active mixed martial artist. His pro debut came in 2014, when he defeated Carlos Andre de Sena Alves in the REC Combat organization. The two men met again the following year, and de Oliveira emerged victorious once more. The 31-year-old Brazilian didn’t return to action again until the second half of 2018, when he challenged Sang Soo Lee for the Heat strap. The “Juggernaut” put away his veteran opponent with ground-and-pound strikes in the third frame to capture the gold.
Ishii is a well-known fighter who entered the MMA arena as an Olympic gold medalist judoka. The Japanese star made his first couple of high-profile appearances in his homeland under the Fields, Dream and K-1 banners. While he did lose his debut to fellow judoka Hidehiko Yoshida, Ishii mostly found success in those early contests, including a decision nod over famed kickboxer Jerome LeBanner. Ishii suffered his second career loss to Fedor Emelianenko, but then went on an eight-fight winning streak that includes victories over former UFC champion Tim Sylvia, Pride mainstay Kazuyuki Fujita and UFC veterans Sean McCorkle, Pedro Rizzo, Jeff Monson and Phil De Fries. His streak was snapped with back-to-back losses to Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic that marked the start of a rough stretch in which Ishii also suffered defeats at the hands of Jiří Procházka in Rizin action, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal in his only two Bellator appearances, and Russian upstart Ivan Shtyrkov. The judoka finally righted the ship and claimed the Serbian Battle Championship heavyweight crown with a victory over grizzled vet Tony Lopez. He recently defended the belt with a victory over Rodrigo Carlos.
Over the last several months, Ishii has announced his signing with the Professional Fighters League, defended a championship in an obscure European organization and joined Poland’s KSW roster. This bout in Japan’s Heat organization has been lost in the shuffle, and it seems like more of a high-risk, low-reward situation than Ishii should undertake. If he wins, it’s another trophy for his mantel. If he loses, however, then it’s a defeat against someone who doesn’t hold a candle to the rest of the men who have humbled the Olympian in MMA action.
Ishii can look on the bright side, though. His Brazilian opponent was losing the grappling and takedown battles in his title shot against Lee. In fact, de Oliveira was almost finished in the second stanza of the fight. It was only when Lee gassed in the third frame that the “Juggernaut” found an opening for a stoppage of his own.
This doesn’t mean Ishii should overlook de Oliveira, but we’re talking about a fighter who defeated a gassed opponent and scored his other two wins against one fighter, a guy who has no other opponents on his own pro resume. Ishii’s judoka game gives him a huge edge in the areas where Lee found early success against de Oliveira. The Olympian should handle de Oliveira effortlessly en route to a submission finish.
Other key bouts: Rae Yoon Ok (11-2) vs. Tom Santos (10-6) for the lightweight title, Jerome LeBanner vs. Jairo Kusunoki in a kickboxing bout, Takeshi Kasugai (22-6-1) vs. Shunichi Shimizu (32-21-11), Da Un Jung (10-2) vs. Saša Milinković (6-1)
Event Date: March 2
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass
James Webb (5-1) vs. Thomas Robertsen (7-1)
The 102nd edition of Cage Warriors might not be quite as stacked as some past offerings from the organization, but it does feature a solid scrap at the top of the lineup. The fight is for the vacant middleweight title. The two title hopefuls are up-and-comers James Webb and Thomas Robertsen.
The 29-year-old Webb has only six professional fights on his resume, but he also had a 5-1 run as an amateur. The Englishman trains out of SBG Swords under the tutelage of Chris Fields. He made his pro debut in early 2017 with a submission win over fellow rookie Wallid Jabri. Webb stumbled in his sophomore effort against Miro Jurković, who took a unanimous nod in their bout. After a win with the British Challenge MMA promotion, Webb returned to Cage Warriors, where he has gone on to compile three more victories, including a first-round TKO of Jason Radcliffe in his most recent affair.
Norway’s Robertsen followed up a 4-1 amateur run with a successful 2015 pro debut against fellow rookie Nathias Frederick. Four more wins, including three first-round finishes, followed before “The Saint” made his Cage Warriors debut with a submission loss to Craig White in early 2017. Robertsen bounced back later in the year with his first promotional win, which came against Phill Wells. He only fought once in 2018, but it was another successful contest in which the Norwegian found the rear-naked choke in the first frame to tap Saeed Younsi.
Webb’s style leaves him open to take some big shots — he was nearly knocked out by .500 fighter Marcin Prostko before rallying back to find the submission — and he often opts to throw one big punch rather than mixing it up with combinations. Webb’s takedown attempts are plodding, but he often succeeds as a result of his relentlessness. He’s far more dangerous on the ground, where he’s found the choke submission in four of his pro victories.
Robertsen’s biggest struggle could be in dealing with Webb’s size. The 5-foot-10 Norwegian has spent most of his career at either welterweight or catchweight affairs under 180 pounds. However, his most recent outings, the submission of Younsi, was an impressive display. The 29-year-old charged forward with a flurry when Younsi slipped and then landed a nice takedown. From there, it was all Robertsen, who fended off attempts at a reversal from Younsi and flashed his speed when he took his opponent’s back.
Webb needs to make this a clinch fight and overwhelm Robertsen with his size. This will be easier said than done, however. Robertsen is light on his feet and should be able to avoid Webb’s attempts to close distance, tie up or shoot for a takedown. The Norwegian should also manage to pepper Webb with strikes in the instances. Even if Webb does manage to initiate the clinch or score a takedown, Robertsen has the skills to get the better of the Brit in the grappling department. This will be a very competitive fight, but Robertsen should emerge with the submission and the title.
Other key bouts: Jai Herbert (7-1) vs. Steve O’Keefe (9-3), Rhys McKee (8-2-1) vs. Perry Andre Goodwin (8-5), Joilton Santos (28-7) vs. Craig White (14-9), Sam Creasey (10-2) vs. Andy Young (11-12), Kingsley Crawford (3-0) vs. Aidan Stephen (5-1), Brian Bouland (8-2) vs. Cory Tait (9-4), John Maguire (26-11) vs. Brad Wheeler (17-13), Steve Aimable (12-5) vs. Declan McAleenan (5-1), Carlos Graca (2-0) vs. Michael Younis (2-0)
Event Date: March 2
Ediane Gomes (11-4) vs. Roberta Samad (4-1)
Louisiana. It’s probably the least likely place we’d expect to find Ediane Gomes. The Brazilian featherweight has been an Invicta mainstay for much of her recent career, and Atlas Fights is hardly an organization that draws the big names — the rest of the lineup is composed of amateur bouts. Yet, here we are. Gomes is set to fight Roberta Samad (formerly Paim Rovel) in the event’s only pro affair.
Gomes shouldn’t need much of an introduction. At one time, the Brazilian was seen as perhaps the biggest threat to the dominance displayed by Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino. Prior to joining Invicta, “India,” who made her pro debut in 2007, has only suffered losses to future UFC greats Amanda Nunes and Ronda Rousey. She made her first Invicta appearance at the organization’s third show. After two Invicta victories and then a lengthy series of scrapped bouts, including a scheduled showdown with Cyborg, Gomes returned to action as a bantamweight in 2014 with a submission loss to the resurgent Tonya Evinger. A subsequent loss to .500 fighter Raquel Canuto (then Pa’aluhi) was enough to signal that Gomes wasn’t meant for the division. She returned to featherweight, where she barely edged Pam Sorenson at Invicta FC 23. Gomes has not fought since the May 2017 contest.
Samad also seemed to be on the rise in the women’s featherweight division once upon a time. The 30-year-old debuted in 2013 and won two fights in a little over a month’s time. The “Crusher” added another two victories in 2014. Bellator brought her onboard in 2015 and paired her with Julia Budd. Samad went the distance with the future champion, but Budd took the unanimous verdict. The Brazilian has not fought since then, but with good reason. Samad became a mother and a wife during her time away from action, and she also relocated to the United States.
Atlas Fights is a smaller promotion, which eases the pressure on two top featherweights who are returning from extended breaks. Samad had momentum going her way prior to the Budd fight, but she also preyed on rookie competitors during that stretch. Gomes has had her inconsistencies, but it is worth noting that her featherweight tenure was only marred by losses to two of the best ladies to ever compete in the sport. Her other two losses came at a weight class that was clearly wrong for Gomes.
Long layoffs and motherhood can all have a profound impact on a fighter’s return performance. However, Samad is the one more likely to suffer the consequences. She hung in there with Budd, but she also failed to ever add a notable name to her win column. Gomes might have reached her ceiling as a fighter a notch below the elite, but the 38-year-old is still more than capable of winning performances in the cage. Samad won’t go down easy, so this could turn into a close affair that goes the distance. In the end, it’ll be Gomes who has her hand raised.
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