Paulo Filho (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Out of Obscurity: ROC 49, Talent MMA Circuit 12 and Fatality Arena 7

Every week, Combat Press takes a look at three regional, developmental or 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…

Ring of Combat 49
Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City, N.J.
Event Date: Sept. 19
Watch Event: GoFightLive
Twitter: @ringofcombat


Spotlight Fight:
Andre Harrison (6-0) vs. Jeff Lentz (9-3-1)

The last time Andre Harrison stepped in the Ring of Combat cage, well over a year ago, he captured gold. Now, back from a long layoff in which he recovered from a torn biceps and saw two potential title defenses scrapped, Harrison is ready to make his first defense of his championship belt. At the 49th edition of Ring of Combat, he’ll get his opportunity against challenger Jeff Lentz.

Harrison, a former NCAA Division II All-American wrestler, made his pro debut as a lightweight in 2011. He transitioned to the featherweight division in his sophomore bout and picked up three victories at 145 pounds and a win at a 140-pound catchweight before competing for the vacant Ring of Combat belt against Matias Vasquez. Harrison put Vasquez away with strikes in the first round. Despite a wrestling background, Harrison has shown impressive striking skills en route to two TKO victories. The 26-year-old fighter trains out of Bellmore Kickboxing Academy and Joe Scarola’s Gracie Barra Long Island, but he also teaches at Empire MMA in Queens. His training partners include UFC fighters Dennis Bermudez and Chris Wade.

In Lentz, Harrison is facing a former Ring of Combat featherweight champion. The 25-year-old, who made his pro debut in 2009, twice challenged for the promotion’s vacant featherweight strap. The first championship tilt, which took place at ROC 27 in 2009, saw Lentz come up short in a decision loss. He returned in 2012 at ROC 39 to take on Giovanni Moljo for the crown and won via unanimous decision. Lentz never defended the title, instead going on to eventually fight Scott Heckman for the Cage Fury FC featherweight strap after a two-year layoff in which numerous bouts, including an ROC title defense against Deividas Taurosevicius, were scrapped. Lentz competed on season 12 of The Ultimate Fighter, winning his fight over Daniel Head to make it into the house but succumbing to Alex Caceres in his next TUF bout. Lentz never made an official Octagon appearance, but he did appear—and win—inside the Bellator cage. The Pellegrino MMA fighter has never been finished. He has picked up four of his victories by some form of knockout and two via submission.

Harrison and Lentz have very different approaches. Harrison tends to keep his hands high and engage in a boxing match on the feet, while always being a threat to score a takedown and work ground-and-pound from the top position. Lentz, meanwhile, throws a lot of leg kicks and looks for high-reward techniques like spinning kicks and flying knees. He’ll keep his hands lower than Harrison, but it has yet to hurt him in the cage. Lentz doesn’t appear as muscular as Harrison, but he’s strong in the clinch and skilled at using leverage in those situations.

Lentz loves those kicks, but he doesn’t always set them up. Against Moljo, he’d often set up and throw single kicks. That’s not something he’s going to want to do against a wrestler like Harrison unless his game plan is to work his defensive guard. Lentz needs to throw more combinations to cloak the fact that a kick is on its way. When he doesn’t do that, his opponents tend to catch his leg and dump him to the mat. Harrison has the much more technical striking game, and he keeps his hands high enough to block most of those kicks. He might not need to, however, as Lentz telegraphs them to the point where Harrison should be able to promptly move out of range or counter by catching the kick and taking Lentz to the ground. Lentz’s most effective strategy is either to test Harrison’s submission skills, though he’ll probably have to do so from his back, or to clinch up with Harrison and work to score points with knees and strikes from the inside.

Lentz’s kick-heavy attack doesn’t make for an advantageous pairing against the champ. The Pellegrino MMA product doesn’t have the pace nor the power to give Harrison a ton of trouble on the feet, so he’d have to hope for perfect timing if he wants to score the knockout. Harrison is going to have a hard time finishing Lentz, but he should be able to stay back and let Lentz come to him, then score with counters. Harrison will also find takedowns off the kicks, furthering his scores with the judges. This one is headed the distance, and it’ll be Harrison landing the more meaningful offense via strikes and takedowns to take the judges’ nod.

Other key bouts: Jimmy Grant (5-2) vs. Matt Rizzo (6-2) for the flyweight title, Julio Arce (5-0) vs. Jake Grigson (5-3) for the bantamweight title, Gregor Gillespie (2-0) vs. Justin Harrington (6-1)

Talent MMA Circuit 12: Campinas 2014
Guarani Football Club Gymnasium in Campinas, SaoPaulo, Brazil
Event Date: Sept. 20
Website: Facebook/CircuitoTalentMMA
Watch Event: El, El Plus (Brazil)
Twitter: @CircuitoTalent

Spotlight Fight:
Camila Lima (8-4) vs. Livia Renata Souza (6-0)

Despite the fact that many of the world’s best strawweights are in limbo right now while their season of The Ultimate Fighter airs, the regional scene has still managed to unearth some exceptional up-and-coming talent. Case in point, Talent MMA Circuit 12’s strawweight title tilt between Camila Lima and Livia Renata Souza. Along with the flyweight championship bout between UFC veteran Jose Maria Tome and undefeated prospect Roberto Souza, it forms one of Talent MMA Circuit’s strongest offerings yet.

Lima, yet another fighter whose nickname includes the “Pitbull” moniker, is a 24-year-old fighter competing out of CTI Indaiatuba and Cromado Team. She made her pro debut in 2010 and lost her first three fights, including a first-round submission defeat at the hands of Herica Tiburcio. She bounced back with seven straight wins, including a split verdict over Tiburcio to avenge the prior loss. Lima fell victim to a 19-second knockout finish delivered by Mylla Souza Torres in 2013, but she again rebounded with a win. Lima has two TKO victories and three wins by submission.

Souza is another young fighter with a lot of star potential. The 23-year-old holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and trains out of Team Vinicius Maximo and Atos Jiu-Jitsu. Her spotless record includes two victories over opponents who have also faced Lima. Souza has twice faced Aline Sattelmayer, scoring a 24-second submission finish in their first meeting and then settling for a unanimous decision in the rematch (Lima scored a decision win against Sattelmayer). Souza has also faced Bianca Reis. She scored a 42-second submission victory over Reis, who was coming off a second-round submission loss to Lima. Five of Souza’s six wins have ended in a submission finish.

Lima has been a solid fighter, though not spectacular. Her win over Tiburcio was a shining moment in a career spent mostly feasting on inexperienced or middling talent. Her submission losses also raise a red flag against a dominant fighter like Souza, who is already under contract with Invicta FC. Souza isn’t afraid to give up position to get fights to the mat, but she also has strong takedowns. She’s willing to keep fights standing longer than she probably should, but Lima isn’t likely to pose much of a threat to Souza in the stand-up game, where Souza has displayed better head movement and footwork, as well as an aggressive approach that mixes in kicks to the body and head. There’s not a single area where Lima will hold the upper hand in this affair, and her past issues in fending off submissions is an indication of where this fight is headed.

Souza will seek to get this fight to the mat as early as possible. Whether she’s on top or fighting from the bottom, Souza is a threat to snag an arm or a leg for the finish. The Invicta signee will take home another victory—and a gold belt—by coaxing a tapout from Lima before the conclusion of the opening round.

Other key bouts: Jose Maria Tome (33-5) vs. Roberto Souza (6-0) for the flyweight title, Arthur Oliveira (8-3-1) vs. Adilson Junior (5-1), Luis Alexandre Funari (4-0) vs. Wesley Bequi (1-0)

Fatality Arena 7
Clube Maua in Sao Goncalo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Event Date: Sept. 21

Spotlight Fight:
Paulo Filho (23-6-3) vs. Amilcar Alves (14-5)

It seems like ancient history, but there was once a time when Paulo Filho was viewed as one of the best middleweights in the world. Now, the Pride and WEC veteran can be found roaming the regional circuit, primarily in Brazil, though his fortunes have taken a turn for the worse. No longer considered to be a top-20 fighter, Filho now struggles to find the win column in each outing. At the seventh show from the Brazilian-based Fatality Arena promotion, Filho will seek his first victory since 2012 when he takes on UFC vet Amilcar Alves.

Filho’s steep decline didn’t happen immediately following his pair of bizarre WEC fights against Chael Sonnen. The Brazilian actually moved to DREAM after losing the second of those contests. He notched a victory over Melvin Manhoef in the Japanese promotion, then added three more wins. At Impact FC 2, Filho fought to a draw with Denis Kang. Since that fight, the former middleweight standout has gone an abysmal 3-5-2. Although he has scored wins over Yuki Sasaki and Murilo “Ninja” Rua, Filho has struggled against the likes of Ronny Markes, Norman Paraisy and David Branch. He has also fought to draws against Satoshi Ishii and Rodney Wallace. In that span, and extending on to his entire career, the 36-year-old Filho has never been finished. He is 0-2-1 in his three most recent outings, with a loss to Branch under the World Series of Fighting banner and his most recent loss coming to Andre Muniz at Bitetti Combat 19 in February.

Nova Uniao’s Alves will seek to deliver that first stoppage loss to Filho. The 34-year-old was 10-1 when he signed with the UFC in 2010. It turned out to be a turning point in his career, as Alves went on to suffer back-to-back losses to Mike Pierce and Charlie Brenneman inside the Octagon. The losses were enough to earn Alves a pink slip from the UFC. He returned to the regional circuit, but has managed a mediocre 4-2 mark since departing from the UFC. The black belt judoka is coming off a decision loss to Ben Reiter.

Filho has been an enigma since MMA fans watched him seemingly talking to himself during his loss to Sonnen. The Brazilian Top Team product, who holds black belts in judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, has come up short in a number of his fights, albeit always going the distance in his losing efforts. He has appeared out of shape at times, and both his dedication to the sport and his gas tank have to be in question.

Alves has a balanced skill set consisting of a background in judo and Muay Thai. He has scored four wins via some form of knockout and four by way of submission. He has the benefit of training alongside the likes of Hacran Dias, former UFC champ Renan Barao and current UFC champ Jose Aldo. The 6-foot-tall Alves stands four inches taller than his opponent, but he has competed as a welterweight in the past, whereas Filho has spent almost his entire career at middleweight.

Filho’s inconsistencies make this fight anything but a sure thing in either man’s favor. If the Filho of old shows up, which happens very rarely these days, then he could provide a dominant victory. If not, then Alves has the striking and grappling game to score points with the judges. It’s unlikely that he has the power or the submission chops to become the first man to finish Filho, but Alves is certainly capable of outpointing the troubled fighter en route to a judges’ nod.

Other key bouts: Leo Jacare (7-2) vs. Jamilson Silva (7-7)