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…
Event Date: July 24
Watch Event: primefight.tv
Yaroslav Amosov (12-0) vs. Diego Gonzalez (17-10)
When it comes to MMA prospects, the last year has featured what has often been called the “Russian invasion.” Well, Yaroslav Amosov might hail from the neighboring Ukraine, but he’s made several trips across the border to compete in Russia en route to an undefeated record through 12 fights. The welterweight will seek to extend that mark when he makes his third appearance under the Tech-Krep Fighting Championship banner. Amosov meets well-traveled journeyman Diego Gonzalez in one of the featured bouts of the event, dubbed “Prime Selection: Grandmasters.”
The 21-year-old Amosov has established himself as a finisher since making his pro debut in 2012. He demolished his first opponent with strikes within the first round and went on to stop his next eight foes before finally seeing the scorecards. Overall, he has six finishes via strikes and five by way of submission, and eight of his fights have ended in the opening stanza. The young up-and-comer started out in combat sambo as a teenager and claimed gold in 2013 as part of the Ukrainian team at the European Men’s Combat Sambo Championship and the World Championship. In the World Championship competition, Amosov defeated four opponents on points, including UFC lightweight contender Khabib Nurmagomedov’s brother, Abubakar.
The 30-year-old Gonzalez knows plenty about fighting as a professional at a young age. He’s been doing it since 2002, when he was just 18 years old. “The Silencer” got off to a slow start, winning just one of his first three outings, but then turned things around and won 12 of his next 14. The only two setbacks in that stretch came in the form of a no-contest (originally a Gonzalez win that was later overturned) and a loss, both against future UFC fighter Dan Hardy. Gonzalez fell upon more hard times beginning in 2010. He has gone just 4-7 in his last 11 fights, but his rough patch corresponded to a huge step up in competition. Among the seven losses, Gonzalez has dropped fights to Akihiro Gono, Daniel Acacio, Andre Winner, Ivan Buchinger, Danny Roberts, David Bielkheden and Anton Kuivanen. He has also claimed notable wins over Jarkko Latomaki and Ivica Truscek. Gonzalez is a grappler who has notched 10 submission victories and added another six on the scorecards. Six of his losses have come by way of strikes, and Gonzalez has never been submitted.
Amosov will tower three to four inches over Gonzalez, and the Ukrainian fights long too. Yet, it’s the aggressive fight styles of both men that could turn this into an exciting contest. Gonzalez isn’t afraid to surge forward, throw wild punches and change levels for a takedown, but Amosov is willing to walk through strikes while implementing his own offense. The potential is there for an all-out war.
However, these two men appear to be heading in opposite directions. Gonzalez has stumbled repeatedly against tough competition, to the tune of one knockout and two TKO finishes within his last four defeats. The Latin American fighter, who is based out of Sweden, was obliterated in 50 seconds by Kuivanen in his most recent loss. He did bounce back with a pair of submission wins, but his two victims have combined for just a 16-19-1 record and neither resides above the .500 mark. Gonzalez is struggling to beat relevant competition, and Amosov certainly qualifies as a significant opponent.
The young prospect still has a developing game and areas that need work, but he has a well-balanced arsenal of striking and wrestling. That combination, along with his length, will serve him well against Gonzalez. The veteran’s chin is his biggest weakness, and Amosov is sure to target it early and often. Eventually, the sambo champ will find the mark and finish Gonzalez via TKO.
Other key bouts: James McSweeney (14-12) vs. Denis Goltsov (14-4), Bakhtiyar Abbasov (13-4) vs. Artem Shokalo (13-9), Stanislav Klybik (2-0) vs. Spartak Abdulaev (0-0)
Event Date: July 25
Watch Event: GoFightLive pay-per-view stream via Combat Press
Sean Santella (13-5-1) vs. Matt Rizzo (9-2)
First, it was dog fighting. Now, it’s autism awareness. The Global Proving Ground promotion has organized its events around worthy causes, but the fight inside the cage is all about superiority. And in this case, it features a bit of gold too. Flyweights Sean Santella and Matt Rizzo are set to square off for the flyweight title in the headlining affair of the company’s 21st event.
Santella is the more well-known name of these two flyweight title hopefuls. The Ricardo Almeida and AMA Fight Club product, who serves as the jiu-jitsu instructor at Miller Brothers MMA, has had stints with Ring of Combat and Cage Fury Fighting Championships. He captured flyweight gold in both promotions and challenged for the bantamweight title with Cage Fury. “Shorty Rock” wrestled in high school and later took up jiu-jitsu. The results show in his record, which features nine submission wins. When he doesn’t submit a fighter, the contest has always gone the distance, win or lose. The 30-year-old has suffered losses to UFC veteran Nick Pace and current UFC fighter Aljamain Sterling, but he has notched wins over Bellator veteran Tuan Pham and Strikeforce vet Anthony Figueroa.
Santella has experienced a frustratingly frequent number of canceled fights in the second half of 2014 on through 2015. After losing his Cage Fury flyweight strap to Nick Honstein, the New Jersey native was to return with the promotion two months later, but the bout was scrapped. Six months later, he was to make his GPG debut, but that fight was also nixed. A month later he was supposed to meet his current opponent, Rizzo, under the Ring of Combat banner. That, too, was canceled. After suffering another loss at a small regional event, Santella has another GPG debut date scratched, which brings him to his current scheduled fight.
Revolution Academy’s Rizzo has a shorter and less tumultuous career path, but it isn’t without its own ups and downs. “Razor Sharp” made his pro debut in 2012 and won his first two fights before he was knocked out by Matthew Lozano in his third outing. After another four wins, including one over the aforementioned Pham, Rizzo suffered another first-round knockout loss, this time to Jimmy Grant. Rizzo turned around and avenged the loss with a first-round submission finish of Grant and tacked on two more wins. The 29-year-old Pennsylvanian does his best work on the mat, where he has tallied seven submission finishes. However, his suspect chin has resulted in two losses.
The promotion is touting these two men as the top flyweights outside the UFC. While that might be a bit of an exaggeration — Tim Elliott’s performance in Titan FC last weekend makes a solid case for the UFC veteran as the top non-UFC flyweight — Santella and Rizzo are among the top prospects in the division. Santella holds the experience edge and has trained alongside some of the best with Almeida and AMA Fight Club. His current two-fight skid is troubling though.
Santella doesn’t have the power necessary to stop Rizzo cold, and that’s the only proven way to get past the 29-year-old prospect. Santella’s too good to get finished on the ground and his chin will hold up in a striking battle. That leaves the scorecards.
The Miller brothers have been struggling to find consistency lately, and their gym’s jiu-jitsu instructor seems to be following suit. This could provide Rizzo with an opportunity to pick up a signature win. He won’t submit Santella, though, so he’ll have to settle for the judges’ nod.
Other key bouts: Jeremiah Wells (3-0) vs. Marques Worrell (6-3), Washington Nunes da Silva (5-1) vs. Aaron Jeffery (2-0), Sidney Outlaw (3-1) vs. Christian Leonard (6-7)
Yoshitaka Naito (8-0) vs. Ryuto Sawada (5-1-1)
It’s not often that the MMA spotlight shines on elite male strawweight fighters, but Shooto has two such men set to meet for gold this weekend in its 115-pound flyweight division. Reigning champion Yoshitaka Naito will put his belt on the line against Ryuto Sawada at the Japanese promotion’s “Professional Shooto” event.
Naito has been a Shooto mainstay since his pro debut in 2012. The 31-year-old finished his first three opponents and scored decisions in his next four fights to earn a title berth against Shinya Murofushi for Shooto’s 115-pound flyweight title. “Nobita” battled Murofushi for nearly five full rounds before finishing the champ with a rear-naked choke with just three seconds left in the bout. With the dramatic late finish, Naito captured the title, but he has yet to defend the belt. In addition to his win over Murofushi, the Paraestra Matsudo product has scored victories over veterans Tadaaki Yamamoto and, in a title eliminator, Yuki Shojo.
Naito’s challenger isn’t even out of his teens yet. The 19-year-old Sawada has been fighting professionally since June 2013, when he was just 17. He’s already gained some international attention as a star pupil of Megumi Fujii at the Abe Ani Combat Club. As is to be expected from someone who has learned the ropes from Fujii, Sawada is a strong wrestler and grappler who has already picked up three submission wins in his brief career. The young fighter debuted with Vale Tudo Japan and won two fights in the promotion before transitioning to Shooto, where he has gone 3-1-1. Sawada is riding a two-fight winning streak, and his most recent victory came via third-round knockout against the aforementioned Shojo. The AACC product also holds a notable win over veteran Masayoshi Kato. He suffered his lone loss against undefeated prospect Ryohei Kurosawa, and he fought to a draw with sub-.500 fighter Atsushi Takeuchi.
Sawada’s stumbles in the Infiniti Tournament aside, he’s a strong challenger to Naito’s crown. He presses for takedowns and finishes fights on the ground via his submission game and ground-and-pound attack. Even for a 115-pounder, Sawada checks in on the small side. He’s just 5-foot-1 and gives up roughly six inches in height to the champion. Naito could use his height and reach advantage to stay on the outside and avoid Sawada’s takedowns. That’s not really the type of fighter the champ tends to be, however. He works out of the clinch and hunts for his own takedowns.
It’s difficult to bet against an undefeated record, but this should be an intensely close fight. Each fighter has flashed their power, but they tend to rely on wrestling and grappling to get the job done. Naito’s size could be a factor in this contest, but Sawada was able to post an impressive performance against Shojo, who is only two inches shorter than Naito. Sawada also did something that Naito couldn’t do to Shojo: he finished the veteran fighter.
Sawada is an intense fighter who can be a lot of fun to watch. He’ll march forward and let punches fly, or he’ll send his opponent airborne with a suplex-style takedown. Naito has demonstrated some aggressiveness in his own fights, but he’s much more apt to clinch up or shoot for a single- or double-leg takedown. If Sawada brings that same hold-nothing-back approach to this title fight, Naito will be overwhelmed. Sawada might not score the stoppage, but he should take home the win.
Other key bouts: Koshi Matsumoto (14-6-1) vs. Yuki Kawana (9-0-4) for the Pacific Rim welterweight title, Caol Uno (32-17-5) vs. Shigeki Osawa (13-6-3), Taison Naito (4-1-1) vs. Hitoshi Ogasawara (8-4-2)