Arce (top) (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Out of Obscurity: ROC 51, RFA 26 and M-1 Challenge 58

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 51
Tropicana Casino & Resort in Atlantic City, N.J.
Event Date: June 5
Watch Event: GoFightLive pay-per-view stream via Combat Press
Twitter: @ringofcombat


Spotlight Fight:
Julio Arce (7-0) vs. Michael Imperato (7-1)

Most Ring of Combat shows feature no shortage of title contests, and the promotion’s 51st offering doesn’t disappoint in this regard. Several title belts will be on the line at the event, but the primary focus should be on bantamweight kingpin Julio Arce. The undefeated champ is one of the top prospects on the regional scene. He’ll seek to further his case for a shot at the big show when he returns to action this weekend in an attempt to make his third successful title defense. Arce will meet challenger Michael Imperato.

Arce made his professional debut in 2012. The Tiger Schulmann product has marched through all seven of his opponents. His resume includes three wins by decision, two by submission and two by some form of knockout. Arce, who also compiled a stellar record as an amateur, defeated his first four opponents before fighting for the bantamweight crown against Strikeforce veteran Jason McLean. Arce topped McLean on the scorecards to snag the belt. He has defended the crown twice, scoring a submission victory over Jake Grigson and, most recently, a TKO finish of Thomas Vasquez. The 25-year-old southpaw is a New York Golden Gloves champion boxer and a WKA kickboxing champion.

Imperato’s claim to fame was his short-lived UFC stint. The Canadian was signed and then released after a fellow fighter pointed out Imperato’s racist and homophobic comments during his appearance on a reality show. The Tap Star product made his pro debut in 2010 and won his first three fights. He suffered a setback when he was submitted by Mike Malott, but Imperato has rebounded with four more wins. His most recent fight, which took place more than a year ago, resulted in a 68-second submission finish of Jesse Arnett and garnered Imperato the Xcessive Force bantamweight championship. He’s a grappler who lives and dies on the mat, where he has claimed six submission victories and suffered one submission loss.

This is a classic case of striker vs. grappler, just like Arce’s most recent title defense against Vasquez. The result in that contest was a pretty convincing display of Arce’s talent. Vasquez continued a trend of underwhelming opponents for Arce, however, and Imperato could provide a much tougher challenge for the champ. Arce is ready for the step up in competition. He probably won’t get the finish against Imperato, but his striking will carry him to a judges’ nod.

Other key bouts: George Sheppard (15-10) vs. Gregor Gillespie (4-0) for the lightweight title, Oluwale Bamgbose (4-0) vs. Brian Booth (3-1) for the middleweight title, Randy Brown (3-0) vs. Rocky Edwards (7-4-1) for the welterweight title, Max Bohanon (3-0) vs. Lashawn Alcocks (4-4)

Resurrection Fighting Alliance 26
1stBank Center in Broomfield, Colo.
Event Date: June 5
Watch Event: AXS TV
Twitter: @RFAfighting

Spotlight Fight:
Benjamin Smith (14-2) vs. Gilbert Smith (10-4)

It’s been said a thousand times by now, but if a fighter wants a quick route to the UFC, then there’s no better place to fight than in the Resurrection Fighting Alliance cage. The promotion’s welterweight champion, Benjamin Smith, could be the next on the long list of names to graduate from the RFA to the UFC, but he’ll have to get past a UFC veteran in order to keep his UFC dreams alive. Benjamin is set to defend his belt against another fighter with the same surname when he meets Gilbert Smith in the headliner of RFA’s 26th event.

Benjamin is an Xtreme Couture fighter who has also spent time at The Academy in Minnesota. His RFA run began on a bad note when he was knocked out by Mike Rhodes at RFA 8. He returned to top Josh Cavan on the judges’ scorecards at RFA 20 and emerged as the new welterweight champion when he scored a TKO finish of Indalecio Tat Romero at RFA 24. His resume includes wins over some of The Ultimate Fighter’s least successful cast members, Brandon Melendez and Kyacey Uscola. Smith has gone the distance in eight of his fights — all wins — and has just four finishes via strikes and two submission wins. He has been stopped via strikes and lost once via submission.

Benjamin’s success against TUF alumni doesn’t bode well for Gilbert, who appeared on season 17 of the reality show and made a quick exit from the UFC after losing to Bubba McDaniel at the TUF 17 Finale. Smith has seen mixed results throughout his pro career, which started in 2011. He went 5-1 before joining the TUF cast, went just 1-1 on the show and lost the finale fight, won his next three, lost to Brian Foster under the Titan FC banner, won both his Legacy FC and RFA debuts and, most recently, lost to Chidi Njokuani in a five-round decision. The Team Victory fighter is a grinder with a solid grappling base. He has seen the scorecards in seven of his fights, resulting in four wins and three losses. The majority of his victories, however, have come by way of submission.

Both of these men are strong wrestlers and grapplers. Gilbert can sometimes struggle to get his opponent to the mat, whereas Benjamin has flashed some brutal slam takedowns. Benjamin, though not much of a finisher, has demonstrated more consistency and the ability to control and outwork his opponent for the decision nod.

This should be a very competitive fight, which would certainly be a big departure from Benjamin’s dominant showing against Romero. Gilbert carries a ton of muscle, and the gas tanks of these two warriors could decide the fight. Gilbert is likely to slow down as the fight wears on. If Benjamin can keep going strong, he can start to score some big takedowns and work his top game. Expect a lot of work from the clinch and on the mat throughout this affair. Once Gilbert starts to fade, Benjamin will turn up the intensity and sway the judges in his favor for what should be a very close verdict on the scorecards.

Other key bouts: Thiago “Monstrinho” Alves (8-2) vs. Marcus Edwards (9-3), Jarred Mercado (12-2) vs. Bruno Frazatto (6-2), Boston Salmon (3-0) vs. Danny Mainus (3-3), Clinton Williams (5-1) vs. Andrew Sanchez (5-2), Brandon Griffin (4-0) vs. Ashley Gooch (7-4), Matt Cox (4-1) vs. Josh Cavan (9-5)

M-1 Challenge 58: Battle in the Mountains 4
Targim, Ingushetia, Russia
Event Date: June 6
Watch Event: Russia 2 (Russia),
Twitter: @OfficialM1

Spotlight Fight:
Denis Smoldarev (10-1) vs. Alexei Kudin (19-8)

Want to see a modern-day battle of medieval knights? Well, M-1 Challenge’s latest event has you covered. However, the promotion isn’t only the home for sideshow spectacles. It also happens to house some interesting prospects. Heavyweight Denis Smoldarev is one of the most intriguing of the up-and-comers on the roster. Smoldarev returns at M-1 Challenge 58, where he’ll face veteran Alexei Kudin.

Smoldarev is coming off an impressive first-round submission victory over fellow former title challenger Maro Perak. The towering 25-year-old turned pro in 2009 and reeled off nine straight wins, including seven stoppages, before suffering his first loss in a failed title bid against Marcin Tybura. The Estonian has trained in judo since the age of 12 and rose through the M-1 ranks by winning the M-1 Selection Grand Prix and advancing to the semifinals of the 2013 M-1 Heavyweight Grand Prix. Sometimes referred to as “The Brock Lesnar of Estonia,” Smoldarev has three wins by some form of knockout and five by way of submission.

The 6-foot-1 Kudin will give up six inches in height to his much larger opponent. The 30-year-old made his pro debut as a teenager in 2002 and stumbled to a 1-3 mark by the end of 2003. The Belarusian fell inactive until returning in 2010 and going 13-1 over his next 14 fights. He’s 5-4 over his last nine outings, but some of his losses have come against the likes of former Bellator champion Alexander Volkov and Pride veteran Sergei Kharitonov. Kudin made one appearance under the Bellator banner, but he came up short against Mike Wessel. The Red Fury Fight Team product has notched 15 wins by some form of knockout and tends to lose on the scorecards.

Kudin is a seasoned veteran, but he relies heavily on his fists to finish fights quickly. Smoldarev can also end fights in a hurry, but his skill set is more balanced. The prospect can’t get lured into a slugfest with Kudin. That shouldn’t be difficult, however. Kudin was far more hesitant than usual against Volkov, a similarly tall fighter. Volkov kept Kudin at range and outpointed him for the win. Smoldarev might not be as willing to stay on the outside for the duration of this bout. He’ll stick to that strategy initially, but he’ll eventually close the distance, tie up Kudin and use his judo to drag the striker to the canvas.

Once Kudin is out of his comfort zone, Smoldarev will start to dominate. Kudin isn’t an easy out, but neither was Perak, and yet Smoldarev ended Perak’s night in just over three minutes. If the young prospect could dispose of a fellow title challenger with such ease, then he shouldn’t struggle too much with someone further down the contender ladder. Smoldarev should pick up another submission win before the midway point of this contest.

Other key bouts: Murad Abdulaev (14-3) vs. Marcelo Brito (13-6) for the vacant welterweight title, Tural Ragimov (9-2) vs. Antun Racic (17-5), Pavel Vitruk (12-1) vs. Lee Morrison (13-5), Pierre Sauvage (5-0) vs. Kurbanali Abdusalamov (4-2), Adam Yandiev (7-0) vs. Valdas Pocevicius (33-31-4), Aleksandr Panasyuk (5-0-1) vs. Djambulat Kurbanov (6-1-1), Javier Fuentes (3-1) vs. Khamzat Aushev (5-3), Abukar Andiev (4-0) vs. Charles Andrade (27-23)