Ben Askren (ONE FC)

Out of Obscurity: ONE Championship 26, BAMMA 20 and Pancrase 266

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…

ONE Championship 26: Valor of Champions
Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay, Philippines
Event Date: April 24
Watch Event: pay-per-view stream at
Twitter: @ONEFCMMA


Spotlight Fight:
Ben Askren (14-0) vs. Luis “Sapo” Santos (61-9-1)

Ben Askren continues to ply his trade as arguably the best fighter competing outside of the UFC. He has conquered ONE Championship’s welterweight division, and now he returns to defend his ONE Championship belt against veteran challenger Luis “Sapo” Santos at the promotion’s 26th event.

Askren is a highly decorated wrestler who has spent much of his MMA career in the Bellator cage. The 30-year-old dominated the competition en route to claiming the Bellator season-two welterweight tournament and, eventually, the promotion’s 170-pound belt. He made four successful defenses and won one non-title bout during his reign as the champion, but Bellator opted not to re-sign him. Askren left the promotion having never lost his crown, and he landed in ONE FC, where he won one fight before successfully challenging for the title against Nobutatsu Suzuki. The big criticism for the Roufusport and Evolve MMA fighter has been his lack of finishing ability — six of his Bellator outings ended in a decision — but his two wins with ONE Championship have ended within the first round.

Santos has also appeared in the Bellator cage. After winning his first fight with the organization, he entered the season-five welterweight tourney in an effort to claim a title shot against Askren. Sapo made it past his first opponent, Dan Hornbuckle, but lost to Ben Saunders in the tournament semifinals. He suffered another Bellator loss when he met Ryan Ford in his next outing. The 35-year-old, who has more than 70 pro fights on his resume, has gone undefeated through his last seven contests, including one victory under the ONE Championship banner. He is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, but his record features only 13 submission victories and an impressive 35 wins by some form of knockout.

Sapo, a 15-year veteran of the sport, has seen a lot in his career, but one noticeable trend is his habit of dropping fights against notable names. While he has defeated Jorge Patino, Ivan Jorge and Ildemar Alcantara, he has also lost to Alcantara, Yoshiyuki Yoshida, Adriano Martins and the aforementioned Saunders and Ford. He’s a solid journeyman, but he struggles to get over the hump and notch wins when he steps up to fight better competition.

Askren stands head and shoulders above even the highest level of competition the Brazilian has seen in his lengthy career. The former Bellator champ has used his wrestling to dominate fights, sometimes not bothering with any additional offense to get the job done. His list of victims includes current Bellator champion Douglas Lima and UFC veteran Jay Hieron. The addition of a sense of urgency has only made Askren that much better. He can take opponents down at will, but now he can destroy them too.

The only true tests for Askren will come inside a UFC Octagon, and the chances of that happening look slimmer with each passing day. ONE Championship is throwing a legitimate challenger at Askren for the wrestler’s first title defense, but Sapo will still be completely outclassed. Askren is determined to show the world that he’s the best welterweight around, so fans can probably expect him to go for another first-round finish. Santos is a veteran who has only suffered two first-round defeats, though, and both are listed as corner stoppages at the five-minute mark of the round. The Brazilian’s skills and experience should be enough to allow him to fend off Askren’s finishing attempts in the first round, so the finish might not come until the second or third stanza.

Other key bouts: Mark Striegl (13-1) vs. Casey Suire (5-0), Geje Eustaquio (6-3) vs. Anatpong Bunrad (4-1), Eugene Toquero (6-1) vs. Brianata Rosadhi (1-1), Paul Cheng (5-1) vs. Igor Subora (5-2), Edward Kelly (5-2) vs. Jimmy Yabo (4-0)

Barclaycard Arena in Birmingham, West Midlands, England
Event Date: April 25
Watch Event: Spike TV UK (United Kingdom), Setanta (Africa), KIX (Asia), ESPN Player (Europe), AXN SciFi Russia (Ukraine, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Belarus, Lithuania, Moldova, Latvia, Armenia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Estonia, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan). Live preliminary card stream available online at Facebook/Lonsdale and main-card stream at Facebook/BAMMAUK.
Twitter: @bammauk

Spotlight Fight:
Brett McDermott (4-1) vs. Marcin Łazarz (7-1)

With its 20th offering, BAMMA is shining the spotlight on a pair of light heavyweight contenders. The promotion has a vacant title up for grabs, and the men vying for the belt are prospects Brett McDermott and Marcin Łazarz. Their fight headlines a card that also features UFC vets Colin Fletcher and Andre Winner, as well as an additional pair of title fights.

McDermott, who made his pro debut in 2013, earned his spot in this title affair when he defeated Oli Thompson in his BAMMA debut. “The Spartan” suffered his only loss in that 2013 debut when he succumbed to a rear-naked choke. He’s riding a four-fight winning streak that includes three first-round stoppages. McDermott is a striker and tends to finish his fights quickly.

Łazarz will enjoy a significant height advantage over McDermott. The Team Titan fighter also holds the experience edge with eight total fights since his pro debut in 2010. The 32-year-old won his first five pro fights, including his BAMMA debut, before suffering his lone loss against Max Nunes. Łazarz responded to the loss by recording wins in his next two bouts, including a decision victory over UFC veteran Ricco Rodriguez. The Polish fighter has two TKOs and two submissions to his credit.

Łazarz features a well-rounded game and a background in submission wrestling. He’s a threat regardless of where the fight goes. McDermott, on the other hand, prefers to throw bombs and hunt for the knockout. Łazarz would be foolish to stand with McDermott for long, but the Polish fighter does have a tendency to test his opponent’s stand-up before changing levels and going for the takedown. Łazarz typically doesn’t just shoot for the takedown either, instead preferring to wait for his opponent to throw kicks or a haymaker and then using the opportunity to make his move while his opponent is in an awkward position.

McDermott had a back-and-forth battle with Shaun Lomas early in his pro career, and he failed to stop several of his opponent’s takedowns in that fight. On the mat, he remained active from his back and slipped out of positions, sometimes reversing his way into top position. However, he often lost those positions and was reversed right back to the bottom. Łazarz is a better wrestler than Lomas and should be able to score takedowns even more effectively against McDermott, and Łazarz won’t give up position quite as easily either.

This fight pits the power of McDermott against the wrestling of Łazarz. If McDermott can stay on his feet, then all he needs is one cleanly landed punch to end the fight. If Łazarz can avoid McDermott’s power and plant the striker on the mat, then it becomes an entirely different ballgame. McDermott is going to experience a level of wrestling he’s never seen before, and he’ll struggle to avoid Łazarz’s takedowns and won’t have an easy time getting out from under the grappler.

Łazarz isn’t a very effective finisher, so he may have to settle for a grinding decision in this headlining bout. However, the more likely outcome is a submission finish for the Polish fighter.

Other key bouts: Colin Fletcher (11-4) vs. Andre Winner (19-8-2), Ed Arthur (5-0) vs. Alan Philpott (13-6) for the bantamweight title, Rany Saadeh (6-1) vs. Chris Miah (6-0) for the flyweight title, Rick Selvarajah (6-0) vs. Jefferson George (5-4), Jack Grant (8-2) vs. Warren Kee (7-3-1)

Pancrase 266
Differ Ariake in Tokyo
Event Date: April 26
Twitter: @_PANCRASE_

Spotlight Fight:
Marlon Sandro (25-5-1) vs. Isao Kobayashi (16-2-4)

It’s been quite a while since Pancrase has booked a fight as intriguing as its Pancrase 266 headlining bout. In this case, it’s a superfight of sorts, where old meets new. The “old” in that equation is 38-year-old former featherweight King of Pancrase Marlon Sandro. And the “new” part of the equation? That would be 26-year-old former lightweight King of Pancrase Isao Kobayashi.

Sandro, who also enjoyed a reign as Sengoku champion, has been fighting professionally for more than 10 years. Before heading to Sengoku, Sandro made three appearances with Pancrase. In the final fight of that stint, he captured the vacant featherweight crown with a win over Masaya Takita. He was eventually stripped of the title for not defending it. He made his return to the promotion in 2013 at its 20th anniversary show, where he fought to a draw with Yojiro Uchimura. The Nova Uniao fighter has also fought under the Bellator banner, where he was a two-time tournament runner-up. His most recent appearance, which came in the Bellator cage, resulted in a decision win over Chris Horodecki. Sandro, who has finished 13 of his opponents, has not fought in nearly a year.

Kobayashi is one of Japan’s top prospects. The southpaw has a background in judo, but he tends to victimize his opponents with his fists en route to knockout and TKO victories. The Sakaguchi Dojo product launched his pro career in 2008 as a 19-year-old. He won the 2009 Pancrase Neo-Blood lightweight tourney and the 2011 Pancrase Lightweight Grand Prix. After reigning as the lightweight King of Pancrase, Kobayashi recently dropped to featherweight and defeated Takeshi Inoue, a former Shooto champion. Prior to a New Year’s Eve loss to Kazunori Yokota, Kobayashi had only a single loss on his record, but he had gone on to avenge that loss.

Sandro is capable of violently knocking out opponents, but we haven’t seen him flash those skills since his 38-second knockout of Masanori Kanehara in 2010, which came on the heels of a four-fight stretch in which he scored three wins — a nine-second knockout of Tomonari Kanomata, a first-round knockout of Yuji Hoshino and a 19-second knockout of Nick Denis — by means of his fists. The second-degree Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt has six submissions to accompany the seven (T)KO victories on his resume, but he has managed just three finishes in his last 13 fights. Kobayashi, meanwhile, has been efficient in finishing opponents. The Japanese fighter has seen the scorecards 11 times, but he has also posted 10 stoppages, including eight by some form of knockout.

Kobayashi has a tendency to engage in reckless free-for-alls against his opponents. Sandro may not find the same concussive endings to his fights, but he’s quite capable of combining with his Japanese counterpart to produce fireworks in this headliner. Sandro has slowed over the years, and he’s been content to take his opponents the distance more often than not. Kobayashi might not let it go that far, though. The young fighter will bring the fight to Sandro, and Sandro will answer back.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if either man knocked out the other. However, Kobayashi has yet to be stopped by strikes, whereas Sandro has suffered two losses via some form of knockout. With his declining ability to finish fights on the feet and an iffy chin, Sandro could find it difficult to overcome the challenges presented in this fight. Kobayashi’s barrages will do damage, leading to an eventual TKO win for the former lightweight champ.

Other key bouts: Guy Delumeau (20-9-3) vs. Hiroyuki Takaya (19-11-2), Takasuke Kume (16-4-4) vs. Taisuke Okuno (12-9-2), Gota Yamashita (10-2) vs. Martin Sano (4-1), Daniel Roberts (15-6) vs. Akihiro Murayama (16-6-9)