Max Nunes (R) (Jade Kimmel/Combat Press)

Out of Obscurity: Superior Challenge 11, AFL 2 and Grachan 15

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…

Superior Challenge 11
AXA Sports Center in Sodertalje, Sweden
Event Date: Nov. 29
Twitter: @SuperiorC


Spotlight Fight:
Max Nunes (13-2) vs. Patrick Vallee (10-7-1)

Superior Challenge 11 marks a historic event for MMA in Sweden. The show will be the first event in Sweden from a Swedish or European promotion to hold its entire main card under international professional MMA rules. The rule set, which is the same one utilized by the UFC when it visited Sweden, is different from Swedish professional MMA rules in that it allows elbow attacks while standing or on the ground, allows upkicks and provides a 60-second break between rounds. Enjoying the benefits of these rules will be headliners Joachim Hansen and Diego Nunes, who compete for the promotion’s featherweight crown, and up-and-comers Martin Akhtar and Ed Arthur, who vie for the bantamweight belt. Middleweight prospect Max Nunes, perhaps the most promising fighter in the evening’s lineup, will also compete under the international rules when he takes on veteran Patrick Vallee.

Nunes, who debuted in 2010, reeled off 11 wins to begin his pro career. In 2013, he suffered his first defeat courtesy of an arm-triangle choke submission from Jason Jones. Nunes, who is affiliated with the Allstars Training Center but also trains alongside UFC veteran Nick Osipczak at New Wave Academy MMA, rebounded with two victories, but he endured another setback in June when he fell via third-round TKO against Scott Askham. The 25-year-old has put up a balanced record featuring seven wins by some form of knockout and five by way of submission. When he was undefeated, the former light heavyweight was drawing comparisons to reigning UFC champion Jon Jones for athletic ability that allowed him to win fights even though he lacked a refined skill set.

Vallee would seem to be the perfect candidate to serve as a bounce-back opponent for Nunes following the Swede’s most recent loss. The Frenchman started his career in 2003 and put together a 7-1-1 mark, with two no-contests, by 2011. Then his success rate plummeted. He became the sixth victim on Brandon Thatch’s march toward the UFC, suffering a 15-second loss to the phenom. Vallee bounced back with a win, but then went on to lose five of his next seven. Among his losses in that stretch, the 34-year-old was submitted in 39 seconds by prospect Khusein Khaliev and suffered a flying-knee knockout courtesy of UFC and Strikeforce vet Paul Daley. The Ecole D Arts Martiaux product has picked up six submission wins and scored three victories by some form of knockout.

One significant factor in this fight could be size. Nunes is listed between 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-4, depending on the source, and fought at 205 pounds until he suffered the loss to Jason Jones. The older Vallee checks in somewhere between 5-foot-10 and 6-foot-1, again depending on the source, and he tends to come up to middleweight only out of necessity. His fights usually take place at either 170 or 175 pounds.

In terms of experience, Vallee might look like a solid test for Nunes. His debut fight ended in a draw against Siyar Bahadurzada, and he has fought UFC veteran and fellow Superior Challenge 11 combatant David Bielkheden and Pride veteran Daniel Acacio, in addition to the aforementioned Daley and Thatch. Nunes, meanwhile, had never encountered a fighter with the renown of any of those men. Yet, the size and abilities of Nunes should outweigh (no pun intended) any experience edge Vallee brings to the fight. Vallee has demonstrated weaknesses in his stand-up and ground games, and he has failed to beat any of the more famous foes he’s met.

Nunes suffers the most when his opponent is able to out-muscle him in the clinch or score takedowns. Vallee has the ability to do both of those things, but he fails to elicit any confidence based on his poor performances over the course of his last seven fights. Nunes can use his size advantage to keep the upper hand in the clinch and perhaps land some vicious knees against his shorter opponent. Nunes will also enjoy the ability to strike from a distance against Vallee, who tends to overreach when fighting a superior striker.

Nunes has plenty of room for growth in his skill set, but he has the tools to extinguish his French opponent on the feet and perhaps even on the ground. The prospect’s athleticism will shine through as he brushes off Vallee’s takedown attempts, uses his size to get the better of the older fighter in the clinch and picks away at the Frenchman with leg kicks and punches from range. He’ll eventually rock Vallee before finishing him off by way of either a submission or a ground-and-pound TKO.

Other key bouts: Joachim Hansen (23-12-1) vs. Diego Nunes (18-6) for the featherweight title, Martin Akhtar (4-2) vs. Ed Arthur (4-0) for the bantamweight title, David Bielkheden (19-12) vs. Florent Betorangal (16-10), Fernando Gonzalez (5-1) vs. Roberto Pastuch (5-1), Frantz Slioa (4-0) vs. Nicolas Joannes (11-9)

Ansgar Fighting League 2
Fernando Martin Pavilion in Fuenlabrada, Madrid, Spain
Event Date: Nov. 29
Twitter: @ansgarfightingl

Spotlight Fight:
Luciano Palhano (11-0) vs. Oriol Gaset (15-8)

Spain isn’t normally a hotbed for MMA action, but the Ansgar Fighting League has managed to construct a compelling card in just its second effort and bring a number of notable fighters to Madrid for a night of MMA action. Daniel Tabera and Abner Lloveras might be the most recognizable names in the lineup, but Luciano Palhano is arguably the one fighter with the most potential for future success. The undefeated Brazilian lightweight gets to prove his merit against a solid gatekeeper in Oriol Gaset.

Palhano is on his first excursion outside of Brazil for this fight. In Brazil, the 28-year-old has dominated the competition since his 2011 debut. The M Guerra Team fighter has finished six opponents via strikes and one by way of submission. He has faced a lot of middling competition, but he does hold wins over Jairo Soares, a fighter who now holds a 16-10 mark, and 8-2 prospect Roniele Gomes.

Gaset doesn’t have the most impressive record, but a look at his loss column reveals the level of competition the Spaniard has seen throughout his career. After a 4-1 start to his career, the “Cookie Monster” has only tasted defeat against Che Mills, Reza Madadi, Jarkko Latomaki, Cristiano Marcello, Mick Sinclair, Joseph Duffy and Anton Kuivanen. Most of those men have seen the inside of the UFC’s Octagon, and the ones who haven’t are still strong prospects with the potential to make it to the big show in the future. The Team Kaobon fighter has nine victories by some form of knockout and three wins by submission.

Palhano has put together a highlight reel filled with ground-and-pound dominance of his opponents. The Brazilian has excellent top control and a tendency to overwhelm opponents with strikes. Gaset is more likely to stand and clinch with his foes, and he can be a tough fight for anyone. However, Gaset is not an explosive striker and he can be overwhelmed by opponents who get top position against him.

The biggest concern for Palhano in this contest is the travel. He’s fighting outside his native Brazil, and crossing several time zones to fight in Europe. Gaset, meanwhile, is on home turf. That could play to the Spaniard’s favor. He’ll try to make this a striking battle, but his performances against the likes of Marcello and Duffy are not encouraging signs. In those contests, his opponent was able to put him on the mat repeatedly and earn the victory. Palhano should be able to follow that blueprint, and his ground-and-pound barrages will force Gaset to turtle up. This one should go to the Brazilian via TKO.

Other key bouts: Daniel Tabera (18-6-3) vs. Gilberto Galvao (25-5-1), Abner Lloveras (17-7-1) vs. Jonas Boeno (28-9), Ramon Boixader (13-2) vs. Jessin Ayari (10-3), Derinaldo Guerra (17-3) vs. Marc Gomez (12-6), Roman Stakhuv (3-0) vs. Bruno Leandro Soares Lobato (26-17-1), Enrique Marin (7-2) vs. Falco Neto Lopes (6-5), Samir Eljure (2-0) vs. David Pesudo (2-0)

Grachan 15
Differ Ariake in Tokyo
Event Date: Nov. 30
Twitter: @GRACHANcagefigh

Spotlight Fight:
Hayato Suzuki (9-0-2) vs. Kirihito Kodama (8-2-1)

As the UFC continues to build its flyweight talent pool and seek out new talent within the division, it might want to turn its eyes to one of the feature bouts from Grachan’s 15th show. The Japanese promotion is bringing back undefeated 125-pounder Hayato Suzuki for his second appearance with the company. Suzuki will collide with another flyweight prospect in the form of Shooto and Pancrase veteran Kirihito Kodama.

Suzuki bounced around between the Deep, Brave and Grachan promotions for the first 10 fights of his pro career, which launched in 2012. In his most recent performance, he appeared on Vale Tudo Japan’s sixth offering, where he edged Ryuya Fukuda on the scorecards. Most of his opponents have hovered around the .500 mark in their careers. The 28-year-old has four submission victories and two TKO wins. On the mat, Suzuki is fond of hunting for rear-naked chokes, a hold he has used successfully in all four of his submission victories.

Paraestra Tokyo’s Kodama has been fighting professionally since 2011. He came out of the gates with four straight victories before fighting to a draw with Shinichi Hanawa and dropping a unanimous decision to Senzo Ikeda. The 28-year-old righted the ship with a streak of three wins, but then he suffered a majority decision loss against Yusuke Ogikubo under the Pancrase banner. Kodama rebounded again with a victory in his most recent outing. He has one knockout and three submission victories on his resume. Like Suzuki, Kodama has faced some extremely subpar competition.

This fight gives Suzuki the step up in competition that he needs if he wants to prove he can be successful at the higher levels of the game. Fighting out of the Brave gym, Suzuki can be a dominant force in top position, where he’ll work a ground-and-pound attack while looking for openings to sink in his favored rear-naked choke. Kodama is not an easy out, however, and he has demonstrated a high level of grappling skills of his own. This fight could turn into a back-and-forth exchange of scrambles on the mat.

Suzuki isn’t necessarily a big finisher, but his ability to find the submission has led to more than a 50 percent finishing rate. Kodama might evade the choke, but he’ll still spend more of this fight on defense than on offense. This fight will see the final bell, and it’ll be Suzuki who emerges with the victory on the scorecards.

Other key bouts: Osami Machida (11-1-3) vs. Koichiro Takekawa (5-7)