Hector Sandoval (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

Out of Obscurity: Tachi Palace Fights 21, ONE FC 22 and RFA 20

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…

Tachi Palace Fights 21: All or Nothing
Tachi Palace Hotel and Casino in Lemoore, Calif.
Event Date: Nov. 6
Website: Facebook/Tachi Palace Fights
Watch Event: live stream on Sherdog
Twitter: @TPFmma


Spotlight Fight:
Hector Sandoval (8-1) vs. Alex Perez (11-2)

Tachi Palace Fights was once the center of the flyweight universe. It’s where Ian McCall transformed from a former WEC bantamweight into an elite 125-pounder. It brought Jussier “Formiga” da Silva to American shores for the first time in the future UFCer’s career. It played a big part in the development of Darrell Montague’s career. Then, the UFC took interest and Tachi lost its claim to the top of the flyweight mountain. Now, with its 21st event, Tachi has the chance to produce another future contender in the division when Hector Sandoval defends his belt against Alex Perez.

Sandoval lost his pro debut to one of Tachi’s mainstays in the smaller divisions, Ulysses Gomez, back in the days of Palace Fighting Championship. “Kid Alex” ran through his next six opponents and made his Tachi debut at the promotion’s 18th show, where he topped Benny Vinson via unanimous decision. That put Sandoval into position to fight for the flyweight title against Ryan Hollis at TPF 20 in August. Sandoval went five rounds with Hollis and claimed the hardware with a unanimous nod. Sandoval, who trains with Team Alpha Male, scored numerous takedowns against Hollis and controlled the fight on the ground. It was typical form for a fighter who has taken five wins on the scorecards and two via submission. The 28-year-old has only one victory via strikes.

Team Ochoa’s Perez started his pro career in 2011 at the age of 19. He reeled off three wins, including one first-round TKO finish, before suffering back-to-back losses to a pair of fighters who currently hold a combined 6-5 mark. “The Decision” rebounded with eight straight wins, including six under the Tachi banner. In that streak, he avenged his first pro loss, which came against Edgar Diaz. He has three wins via strikes and three victories by way of submission, but he’s no stranger to fights that go the distance. He has five wins on the scorecards and also suffered one of his losses at the hands of the judges. Perez, like Sandoval, has a wrestling background that includes a Northern California Regional championship in college and a fifth place finish at state.

Perez may be more aggressive in pursuing the finish, but he still needs the fight on the mat in order to effectively work his grappling game. His usual route to get the fight to his world is to strike with his opponent and then close the distance, initiate a clinch and try to lift his opponent and slam him to the canvas. The results have been mixed. He does score some takedowns via that method, but there have been plenty of times where he lifted his opponent only inches off the ground before returning to a standing clinch and then dragging his foe down. None of that will work against a wrestler of Sandoval’s caliber.

Perez’s tendency to stand and trade might be his best asset in this fight, but he’s going to have a hard time convincing Sandoval to abandon a dominant wrestling game to turn this into a kickboxing match. Sandoval is capable of holding his own on the feet, but he’s going to plant Perez on the canvas at every possible opportunity and work a smothering top game. Perez is a submission threat but primarily from top position. As long as Sandoval avoids getting swept, which shouldn’t be an issue, he’ll control the five-round affair from start to finish. The Alpha Male product should emerge from this fight with another decision win, and it might be enough to put his name on the UFC’s radar as it searches for new potential challengers in one of its most shallow divisions.

Other key bouts: Ricky Legere Jr. (19-5) vs. Max Griffin (9-1) for the welterweight title, Rolando Velasco (9-2-1) vs. Sergio Cortez (9-9), Mario Soto (5-1) vs. Dominic Clark (7-3)

ONE Fighting Championship 22: Battle of Lions
Singapore Indoor Stadium in Kallang, Singapore
Event Date: Nov. 7
Website: onefc.com
Watch Event: pay-per-view stream at onefc.com
Twitter: @ONEFCMMA

Spotlight Fight:
Leandro Ataides (8-0) vs. Igor Svirid (9-1)

What could be more fitting for an event dubbed “Battle of Lions” than having a fighter whose nickname is “Lionheart” headlining the card opposite an undefeated prospect in a battle for the vacant middleweight strap? That’s exactly what ONE Fighting Championship has constructed for the main event of its 22nd show. The “Lionheart” is Kazakh fighter Igor Svirid, and the undefeated up-and-comer is Brazilian Leandro Ataides.

The 28-year-old Svirid launched his pro career in 2011 but got off to a bad start with a submission loss in his debut. He returned two years later and put together a nine-fight winning streak that includes four submission finishes, two wins via strikes and three decision victories. He has faced a mixed bag of competition, with some of his opponents sporting winning records and a fair amount of experience and others having four or fewer fights and a few now sporting losing records. He tends to be a wild striker who keeps his hands low while throwing haymakers. Svirid does have strong takedowns off of catching opponents’ leg kicks. He doesn’t always make the most of his superior position, however, and struggles to maintain the position without getting swept or reversed.

Ataides is an accomplished grappler. His trophy case includes two Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world championships at Copa de Mundo. Despite his background, Ataides has just two submission wins in his eight-fight career. The 28-year-old, who made his pro debut in 2008 and has put together a sporadic MMA resume that often finds him fighting just once a year, has posted first-round knockout victories in his two most recent fights and has four victories by way of strikes in his MMA career. One of those knockouts came againt seasoned veteran Tatsuya Mizuno. Ataides fights out of Evolve MMA, which also houses Shinya Aoki and Ben Askren. The Brazilian has faced some inexperienced, winless fighters, but he has also notched victories over veteran fighters on the positive side of the .500 mark.

Ataides is a very explosive, strong fighter. While he also tends to throw looping punches, he does a better job in terms of striking defense and accuracy rate on the strikes he throws. Where Svirid’s game is often predicated on catching an opponent’s kick or surging forward to shoot for a takedown in order to get things going, Ataides looks at home regardless of where the fight takes place.

The jiu-jitsu ace’s explosiveness will come into play if Svirid puts his head down and barrels forward for the takedown. Ataides is at an entirely different level in his grappling base than anyone Svirid has seen thus far in his career, and he’d be smart to avoid the mat. Ataides is more than capable of nullifying any Svirid takedowns by sweeping and submitting the Kazakh fighter. That leaves this in the stand-up realm, where Svirid could find his mark with a lucky punch or kick. Yet, it’s Ataides who carries more power in his fists. He will use that power to bring an early close to Svirid’s night and capture the ONE FC middleweight title in the process.

Other key bouts: Zorobabel Moreira (7-2) vs. Koji Ando (10-3-2), Luis “Sapo” Santos (60-9-1) vs. Bakhtiyar Abbasov (12-3), Brayan Rafiq (8-3) vs. Tatsuya Mizuno (12-10), Dwayne Hinds (10-0) vs. Christophe Vandijck (6-1), Major Overall (5-1) vs. Cary Bullos (7-1), Martin Nguyen (3-0) vs. Rocky Batolbatol (5-0), Waqar Umar (3-1) vs. Amir Khan (1-1), Jeff Huang (4-1) vs. Zuli Silawanto (6-8)

Resurrection Fighting Alliance 20
1stBank Center in Broomfield, Colo.
Event Date: Nov. 7
Website: rfafighting.com
Watch Event: AXS TV
Twitter: @RFAfighting

Spotlight Fight:
Luke Sanders (8-0) vs. Jarred Mercado (12-1)

In Resurrection Fighting Alliance, a championship belt can almost be viewed as a big, shiny, gold, wearable ticket to the UFC. Pedro Munhoz, Christos Giagos, Kevin Casey, Josh Copeland—all are former RFA champions who found the path to the UFC with ease after claiming the strap. At RFA’s 20th offering, the vacant bantamweight title will be on the line. Luke Sanders and Jarred Mercado clash for the prize, as well as the chance to become the next fighter to emerge from the developmental league and join the big show.

Sanders is an undefeated wrestler. The Nashville MMA product claimed a high school state championship in his native Tennessee and entered the professional ranks of the MMA world in 2011 under the Strikeforce banner. The 28-year-old, who now trains in Arizona at The MMA Lab, posted four straight first-round victories to begin his pro career. In his fifth fight, Sanders finally saw the second and third rounds en route to a split decision win. He has yet to notch another first-round victory. He stopped Zach Underwood in the XFC via strikes in the second stanza, went the distance with Dan Moret in his RFA debut and scored a second-round TKO finish over Darrick Minner in his sophomore outing for the RFA. The fight against Minner also marked the first fight at bantamweight for Sanders, who had previously competed as a featherweight. Sanders has five stoppages by some form of knockout and one finish via submission.

Elevation Fight Team’s Mercado also has a background as a former NCAA wrestler. The 29-year-old debuted in 2011 and tore through his first 10 opponents. He hit a snag in late 2013 when he traveled to Cage Fury Fighting Championships to challenge fellow prospect Jordan Stiner. In a fight that went the distance, Stiner handed Mercado the first loss of his career. “Shutout” responded with what has thus far been a perfect 2014. He topped Josh Huber and Daniel Swain on the scorecards to move his win total to 12. Mercado, who trains alongside the likes of Cat Zingano and Leister Bowling, has become all too familiar with the judges. He has two split decisions wins and eight total decision victories on his record, plus a decision loss. He has stopped two opponents via strikes and two by way of submission.

This is a battle between wrestlers with two very different strategies for securing the win. Sanders has shown a propensity for aggressiveness. He’s not typically seeking to outpoint his opponents. Instead, he wants to score the finish. Sanders has stopped 75 percent of his foes, whereas Mercado has just a 30 percent finishing rate.

Mercado’s approach is to grind away at fighters. His stand-up is little more than a tool to set up his next takedown attempt, and he doesn’t actively seek submissions, even when he takes his opponent’s back or moves into mount. The Colorado-based fighter is all about positional control. Even his ground-and-pound attack tends to tilt away from finishing intent and toward scoring points with the judges. He doesn’t tend to throw barrages, opting instead to pick his punches and add some knees when his opponent tries to return to a standing position. Against Huber, Mercado dominated on his way to the decision. However, Huber was never in any serious danger, whereas he had Mercado’s back early in the fight and threatened with a rear-naked choke. Mercado can get in trouble early in fights, especially if he struggles to find the takedown.

Sanders is a strong, gifted wrestler who should be able to score with strikes when Mercado seeks to close the distance. Furthermore, he won’t be as prone to the takedown as many of Mercado’s other opponents. Sanders is going to find it difficult to finish Mercado unless he stuffs an early takedown, gains dominant top position and overwhelms Mercado. Although that certainly is a possibility, the more realistic scenario has Sanders gaining the upper hand in the striking department and out-wrestling Mercado on the mat. It’ll be a hard-fought decision win for Sanders.

Other key bouts: Benjamin Smith (9-2) vs. Josh Cavan (9-4), Bojan Velickovic (9-2) vs. Gilbert Smith (9-3), Alvin Robinson (13-8) vs. Fabio Serrao (6-4), Boston Salmon (2-0) vs. James DeHerrera (1-0), Kyra Batara (1-1) vs. Stephanie Skinner (3-5)