Chuck O'Neil (center) (Will Paul/CES MMA)

Out of Obscurity: CES XXIX, Imortal FC 1 and BAMMA 21

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…

Classic Entertainment and Sports MMA XXIX
Twin River Casino in Lincoln, R.I.
Event Date: June 12
Watch Event: AXS TV
Twitter: @CESMMA


Spotlight Fight:
Chuck O’Neil (15-6) vs. Dominique Steele (12-5)

This weekend, CES MMA continues its run as a featured promotion on AXS TV when it returns with its 29th offering. The promotion has hosted a number of The Ultimate Fighter alumni and UFC veterans over the years, and this edition continues the trend with the inclusion of Jon Manley and the promotion’s welterweight champion, Chuck O’Neil, who seeks to make another defense of his belt when he meets Dominique Steele in the evening’s headlining contest.

O’Neil made his pro debut in 2006 and amassed an 8-3 mark before entering The Ultimate Fighter 13 house. He made it onto the reality show as an alternate after Myles Jury was forced out of the competition with an injury. After suffering a loss to Zach Davis, O’Neil was given a second chance as one of the wildcard picks. He won his wildcard fight against Javier Torres and avenged the loss to Davis en route to the semifinals, where he was bested by eventual season winner Tony Ferguson. O’Neil, who has also fought under the Bellator banner, competed at the TUF finale event and dropped a unanimous decision to Chris Cope. He returned to the regional circuit and edged UFC veteran Marcus Davis via a split decision before suffering losses in two of his next four fights. The 29-year-old righted the ship over his next four outings, in which he has defeated Chris Woodall, Roger Carroll, Ricardo Funch and Emmanuel Walo under the CES MMA banner while also claiming and successfully defending the promotion’s welterweight championship. His first successful defense, which came against Walo, ended in just 11 seconds via knockout. The Mass BJJ product is a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and has stopped six of his opponents via submission.

O’Neil’s big knockout finish makes him a scary opponent for Steele, who has suffered three first-round stoppages via strikes. The 27-year-old, who fights out of Team Vision, made his pro debut in 2011 with the quickest of those losses, a 45-second knockout at the hands of Jason Butcher. He won his next six fights, but then experienced a rough patch in which he lost three straight, including decision losses to current reigning World Series of Fighting middleweight champion David Branch and Bellator veteran Brian Rogers. Steele rebounded by winning six of his next seven, including decision nods over Strikeforce veteran Nate Moore, UFC and Bellator vet Ryan Thomas and Sengoku and Bellator vet Dan Hornbuckle. “Non-Stop Action Packed” might seem like an odd nickname, however, for a fighter who has grinded his way to the decision in 50 percent of his victories. He does have three stoppages via strikes and three wins by way of submission.

Steele has a tendency to be sloppy in his striking. He stands upright, keeps his hands low and often lunges when he throws strikes. He also has a habit of ducking to avoid punches that actually gets him in more trouble. It’s somewhat surprising he survived three full rounds with the likes of Branch and Rogers and even defeated Thomas and Hornbuckle. Most of that can be attributed to circumstances, though. Branch was only a couple fights removed from his UFC tenure and hadn’t developed into the more confident striker that has dominated the WSOF middleweight division. Rogers was coming off a big knockout loss and appeared more tentative with his striking. Hornbuckle was already well into his decline. Thomas is the only head-scratcher of the bunch.

O’Neil is a dual threat who can finish opponents on the feet or on the ground. He might not need his grappling skills in this one, though. Look no further than his 11-second finish of Walo for the possible outcome of this fight. Walo, like Steele, kept his hands low while throwing low leg kicks. O’Neil responded by countering with a punch that floored Walo. Steele has even more holes in his striking defense than Walo, so O’Neil could have a field day here. He’ll likely keep this fight on the feet and wait for the opportunity to counter Steele. O’Neil utilizes a lot of movement and appears to have the speed advantage in this contest. Everything points to another big finish for the champ.

Other key bouts: Matt Bessette (14-6) vs. Khama Worthy (7-3), Jon Manley (9-2) vs. Matt MacGrath (16-8), Greg Rebello (17-6) vs. Tyler King (9-2), Eric Spicely (6-0) vs. Harley Beekman (7-2), Nate Andrews (6-1) vs. Jay Bakanowski (3-1)

Imortal Fight Championship 1
Ney Braga Gymnasium in Sao Jose dos Pinhais, Paran, Brazil
Event Date: June 13
Website: Facebook/imortalfightingchampionship
Twitter: @imortalfc

Spotlight Fight:
Isabelly Varela (5-0) vs. Priscila Ferreira (3-0-1)

Just when you thought Brazil couldn’t be more saturated with promotions that put together strong cards, another new company pops up. The latest in this list is Imortal Fight Championship. The fledgling company has gathered several UFC veterans, including Joao Zeferino and Vinicius Vina, along with Invicta veteran Jennifer Maia and a slew of prospects, most notably undefeated female flyweight Isabelly Varela, for its first card. Varela may not be included among the spotlighted matches, but her contest with fellow undefeated fighter Priscila Ferreira could signal the emergence of another potential top flyweight lady.

Parana Vale Tudo’s Varela made her pro debut in late 2013 with a second-round TKO finish of Chayen Aline Gaspar. She caught her next two opponents in armbars to pick up a pair of submission wins. In her two most recent outings, Varela has gone the distance en route to one unanimous nod and one split decision victory. Excluding her win over Priscila de Souza, whose record currently sits at 8-5, Varela’s opponents hold a current combined mark of 4-10.

Ferreira may not be the most experienced opponent Varela has ever faced, but she definitely has the best winning percentage. The Immortal Fight Team product also debuted in late 2013, but her first contest ended in a split draw. She won her next three fights by stoppage, including a 10-second knockout of Rafaela Martin. The 22-year-old has two victories via strikes and one win by way of submission. The current combined record of her opponents sits at 6-19-1.

Varela uses her striking to set up a change in levels to shoot for the takedown. She can be aggressive and dominant on the mat, but she also tends to get sloppy and lose position. If she can take Ferreira down, she’ll need to display more patience and maintain top control in order to take the decision or score a submission finish. If she loses position, though, she could pay dearly.

Ferreira’s impressive killer instinct makes her a dangerous foe for anybody, but she needs to prove that she can take a step up from victimizing fighters with sub-.500 records to destroying opponents like Varela. She has a golden opportunity here against a fighter who has a nice shiny record and some glaring holes in her game.

Ferreira is a finisher, whereas Varela has struggled to find consistency in stopping her opponents, even when those opponents are sub-.500 fighters. This should be a competitive and, at times, sloppy battle between two potential future contenders. Ferreira’s finishing rate gives her the edge in this battle. Ferreira will catch Varela in a mistake on the ground or clip her on the feet en route to a stoppage victory.

Other key bouts: Jennifer Maia (9-4-1) vs. Stephanie Bragayrac (5-2), Richardson Moreira (7-3) vs. Leonardo Augusto Guimaraes (10-1), Marcos Vinicius “Vina” Borges Pancini (22-8-1) vs. Eneas Goncalves (6-3), Delson Heleno (25-8) vs. Julio Cesar Araujo Fernandes (7-0), Joao Zeferino (17-6) vs. Juliano Luis dos Santos (9-2), Antonio Marcos (10-2) vs. Geraldo Coelho (7-2), Josenaldo Silva (21-3) vs. Bruno Dias (19-7), Antonio Paulo (4-1) vs. Jackson Miranda (8-3), Killys Mota (4-0) vs. Diego Vargas (5-3), Johnny Walker (4-1) vs. Ricardo Pandora (2-0), David Valente (8-1) vs. Gustavo Wurlitzer (15-12), Sergio de Fatima (11-2) vs. Cleiton Caetano (4-0)

Barclaycard Arena in Birmingham, West Midlands, England
Event Date: June 13
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:
Mark Godbeer (9-2) vs. Paul Taylor (8-3)

BAMMA returns this weekend with its 21st show. Two title fights top the bill, including a showdown for the vacant heavyweight strap. A big finish seems likely in the battle between big men Mark Godbeer and Paul Taylor, neither of whom has ever needed a judge to decide the outcome of a fight. They will vie for the vacant strap in one of the event’s featured bouts.

Godbeer is back in the title hunt after just one win following a year and a half away from action. Godbeer’s extended layoff came after a TKO loss to UFC veteran Cheick Kongo in the Bellator cage. The 31-year-old debuted in 2009 and went 8-1 before dropping his Bellator debut to Kongo. The 6-foot-4 heavyweight suffered one other TKO loss, but he has also handed out seven stoppages via some form of knockout. He has also tacked on two submission wins, both by way of guillotine choke.

Taylor also debuted in 2009, but he stumbled to a 1-2 start. He turned things around after his second loss and has gone 7-1 over his last eight fights. “The Titan” has only seen the second round once in his career, and that was in a losing effort. Taylor, like Godbeer, is a finisher. However, he has exclusively finished his fights with his fists. Jeff Monson is the most notable name on Taylor’s resume, but Taylor suffered a submission loss to the well-traveled veteran. The pair are scheduled to meet in a rematch in July, but Taylor will have to deal with Godbeer first and hope to emerge from the bout in a healthy state.

This could be an extremely fun fight. Both men look for the finish at all times and tend to fight with reckless abandon. The tall, lean and muscular Godbeer will enjoy a reach advantage over Taylor, whose physique puts him in the same category as UFC fighter Roy Nelson. Looks can be deceiving, however, as Nelson has proved time and time again. Taylor may not possess the stereotypical athlete’s frame or a very polished striking attack, but he has an aggressive pressing style and a brutal ground-and-pound attack to make up for it. Once he gets on top of an opponent, he is quite capable of overwhelming them with strikes.

Godbeer is a great candidate to become Taylor’s next victim. Taylor will have to eat Godbeer’s powerful punches on the way in, but if he can close the distance and get Godbeer to the mat, then Taylor could seal up the win. Godbeer’s takedown defense isn’t the best, and Taylor’s willingness to run across the cage to chase down an opponent is exactly the type of aggression needed to counter Godbeer.

Godbeer’s best chance here will be in landing a jaw-rattling blow that stops Taylor in his tracks. If he can’t connect, he’s likely to find his butt planted on the mat. Taylor likes to pin opponents on the ground near the cage and then let his hands fly. It’s a method that’s worked for him in the past and, barring a perfectly placed punch from Godbeer in a stand-up exchange, it’ll serve Taylor well in this contest as well. Taylor should score the TKO finish with his ground-and-pound assault.

Other key bouts: Andy DeVent (12-9) vs. Cheick Kone (11-3) for the middleweight title, Rob Sinclair (12-3) vs. Michael Brightmon (13-6), Gaz Pilot (6-0-1) vs. Shay Walsh (12-3), Tom Aspinall (3-0) vs. Stuart Austin (8-3), Mike Grundy (3-1) vs. Damian Frankiewicz (2-0)