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…
Rafael Viana (5-0) vs. Amilcar Alves (15-6)
The UFC has been expanding its Fight Pass offerings to include live events from regional and international promotions. Shooto Brazil was among the first of these promotions to find a home on the digital network, and the Brazilian company is back this weekend with its 56th numbered event. The card features UFC veteran Amilcar Alves, who challenges undefeated up-and-comer Rafael Viana for Shooto Brazil’s light heavyweight title.
Alves had a short-lived UFC run in 2010-11, but he failed to score a victory through two fights. Instead, the Nova União product succumbed to a submission against Mike Pierce and dropped a unanimous decision to Charlie Brenneman. The Brazilian’s resume contains two obvious trends. First, he has a knack for winning in his homeland, where he is 15-2 (or 14-1-1, depending on which fighter database is sourced), and losing abroad, where he has gone 0-4. Second, he falters against fighters who have stepped on any major stage, be it the UFC, Pride, Dream or Bellator. The 35-year-old has a background in judo and holds a black belt in the discipline, but he has also claimed multiple Copa Rio Muay Thai titles. In MMA competition, he has claimed four wins via strikes and four by way of submission. Alves is looking to recover from a two-fight skid in which he lost fights to Bellator vet Ben Reiter and Dream and Pride vet Dong Sik Yoon.
Viana enters this battle as the champion despite featuring only a quarter of the experience of his challenger. Just five fights into his career, the Ruas Vale Tudo fighter is undefeated and possesses a belt in a major regional promotion. The 30-year-old “Gaúcho” started his pro career under the Shooto Brazil banner in 2011, but he didn’t start competing regularly until 2014, when he took to the cage three times in a single calendar year. He’s faced several veteran opponents, including Alison Vicente, who had 25 fights under his belt when he locked horns with Viana, and Ricardo Scrippe de Oliveira, who was already an 18-fight veteran when he tangled with the prospect. The results have been impressive. Viana has two first-round stoppages, and he scored finishes in all of his professional outings. He has two victories by way of strikes and three wins via choke submissions. Viana claimed the Shooto Brazil light heavyweight title in December with a third-round submission finish of the aforementioned Vicente. Viana has been a sparring partner of UFC light heavyweight contender Glover Teixeira and former UFC heavyweight Pedro Rizzo.
Both of these fighters have competed at lighter weight classes, but Alves has fought as low as welterweight and could be outsized by Viana. Furthermore, Alves has had trouble staying off his back. Yoon was able to put Alves on the mat repeatedly, and Viana appears to have a strong wrestling game that could allow him to be even more effective with takedowns. Alves is a scrambler, though, and Viana doesn’t always slam the door on reversals and escapes. This could turn into a similar fight to the Alves-Yoon encounter, with plenty of scrambles. However, Viana, unlike Yoon, is aggressive in hunting for the finish. Alves isn’t an easy out, but he has suffered two submission losses and could be vulnerable if the fight does hit the canvas.
With Shooto Brazil’s place on UFC Fight Pass, big fights, especially ones pitting a surging prospect against a UFC veteran, become auditions for the big show by default. Viana isn’t guaranteed a UFC contract with a successful title defense, but an impressive showing will go a long way to landing Viana on a Brazilian-based UFC card somewhere down the road. The prospect appears to have the strong wrestling and submission skills to deal with Alves, who has underwhelmed against most legitimate foes he’s met. Both fighters will have their moments, but this is Viana’s fight. He might struggle in the stand-up, where he can be flat-footed and wing punches, but he’ll excel once he closes the distance and drags Alves to the mat. Viana has a chance to score the submission finish, but this could also end in a close decision win for the champ.
Other key bouts: Felipe Olivieri (14-4) vs. Julian Soares (14-16-2), Maycon Silvan (7-2) vs. Julio Cesar Moraes (2-3), Jafel Filho (6-1) vs. Ricardo Dias (4-2)
Ricky Musgrave (14-4) vs. Raoni Barcelos (8-1)
Surprise, surprise: the Resurrection Fighting Alliance has another vacant championship up for grabs. This is a problem that comes with the promotion’s role as a developmental organization that sends its talent on to the big show. Winning a title under the RFA banner is almost a surefire way to enter the UFC’s Octagon. Or, in the case of RFA featherweight champion Justin Lawrence, the Bellator cage. With Lawrence inking a multi-fight deal with Bellator, the door is open for someone else to claim the RFA featherweight crown. At the company’s 29th offering, a themed United States vs. Brazil event that features Robbie Lawler and Lyoto Machida as honorary coaches, America’s Ricky Musgrave and Brazil’s Raoni Barcelos vie for the strap.
Barcelos, who made his pro debut in 2012, was a Shooto Brazil featherweight champion early in his career. The 28-year-old has made three appearances under the RFA banner. He defeated Tyler Toner on the scorecards in his promotional debut, suffered a submission loss to Mark Dickman in his sophomore outings and rebounded with a first-round knockout of Jamal Parks. The Nova União export has compiled five wins via strikes and one victory by way of submission. The breakdown of his finishes can be misleading, however. The 28-year-old has trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu since a very early age under his father, Laerte Barcelos, and holds the rank of black belt.
Musgrave has been fighting professionally since 2010, but he has faced several setbacks. The ex-Army Ranger won his first three fights before running into future UFC fighter Tim Means, who handed him a knockout loss. In response, Musgrave reeled off five straight wins to recapture his momentum. However, back-to-back losses to David Castillo and Lorawnt-T Nelson set him back once more. Musgrave notched another two wins before suffering yet another loss, this time via split decision against Jarred Mercado. Despite the loss, the 31-year-old found his way to some significant bouts with Bellator, NAAFS and the RFA. He topped the likes of Frank Caraballo, Joe Wilk and Alvin Robinson en route to building a four-fight winning streak, just one victory shy of his best career streak. As a youth Musgrave trained in karate and played football. His mixed martial arts background includes time spent training in Thailand and Brazil.
The Colorado-based Musgrave tends to be a grinder. He does have four victories via strikes and three wins by way of submission, but the other half of his victories came on the scorecards. He’s also gone the distance in two of his four losses. He’s also the definition of scrappy. His win over Robinson came in a fight Musgrave was clearly losing. Robinson threatened with submissions and controlled Musgrave on the mat for much of their fight, but Musgrave capitalized on a mistake by Robinson and turned the tide to overwhelm the UFC veteran with ground-and-pound strikes. His split decision loss to Mercado was another instance where Musgrave weathered multiple takedowns and submission attempts to remain competitive.
Musgrave might be biting off more than he can chew in this match-up, though. It’s rare to see a high-level grappler who displays such beautiful violence in his stand-up attack, but Barcelos is exactly that type of fighter. He has a dangerous jiu-jitsu base and strong takedowns, but he can be lethal on his feet as well. He has dismantled opponents with everything from short jabs to flying knees. João Herdy Jr., Erinaldo Rodrigues and Jamal Parks can all testify to the ferocity of the Brazilian’s attack. Musgrave struggles to keep opponents off of him on the mat, but he usually makes up for it by sparking a brawl in the cage. If he goes that route against Barcelos, he’s likely to end up staring at the lights above the cage.
The only time Barcelos lost, he struggled against the wrestling of his opponent. Musgrave isn’t a strong wrestler. In fact, he’s more likely to get taken down than he is to score the takedown. The Brazilian’s well-rounded game gives him a number of routes to victory. He could plant Musgrave on the canvas and dominate him with submission attempts and ground-and-pound, or he could choose to stand and trade with the American. Musgrave will enjoy the height and reach advantage, and his brawling tendency gives him a puncher’s chance, but Barcelos fights long and has the more dynamic attack. Regardless of where this fight goes, the Brazilian should hold the edge.
Other key bouts: Leandro Higo (14-2) vs. Terrion Ware (13-4), Jordon Larson (6-1) vs. Ackson Junior (5-0), Devin Clark (4-0) vs. Dervin Lopez (7-2), Joey Miolla (5-1) vs. Pedro Falcão (6-1), Matthew Lopez (5-0) vs. Kevin Clark (4-1), Joseph Gigliotti (4-0) vs. AJ Dobson (0-0), Clay Wimer (4-0) vs. Eric Ramm (0-1)
Marlon Sandro (25-6-1) vs. Soo Chul Kim (11-5)
One man is a former Sengoku titleholder. The other is a former ONE FC champion. Now, they meet under the Road Fighting Championship banner as they seek to climb back toward the top of the featherweight division. The South Korean promotion’s 25th offering features former Sengoku kingpin Marlon Sandro against the country’s own Soo Chul Kim, who was unseated as the ONE FC champ by Bibiano Fernandes.
Nova União’s Sandro was a top prospect when he entered Sengoku and captured the Japanese league’s featherweight crown. He started his pro career in 2004 and was undefeated through 12 contests when he entered Sengoku in 2009. He went 4-1 in his first five contests in the promotion, only suffering a split decision loss to Michihiro Omigawa. Sandro then challenged for the belt and defeated Masanori Kanehara, but he failed to notch a successful defense. Instead, he was dethroned by Hatsu Hioki. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt moved to Bellator and compiled an 8-3 record with the company. He competed in three tournaments, but never won a bracket. He has also made two recent appearances with Pancrase, fighting to a draw with Yojiro Uchimura and suffering a split decision loss to Isao Kobayashi. The 38-year-old has had an especially difficult stretch over his last seven fights, going a mediocre 3-3-1 with only one stoppage victory. The high-level grappler has six submission finishes overall, but he’s also a skilled striker who has finished seven contests with his fists.
Kim took somewhat of the opposite approach to his career, experience many early setbacks before seemingly putting it all together. The Team Force fighter, who debuted in 2010, posted a 4-4 mark through his first eight outings. Among his early losses, Kim fell on the scorecards against Leandro Issa and succumbed to a submission at the hands of Gustavo Falciroli. The tide turned for the South Korean fighter in mid-2012. He racked up three straight wins, including a decision over top Filipino fighter Kevin Belingon and a TKO victory over the aforementioned Issa that garnered Kim the vacant ONE FC bantamweight title. In his first defense, he lost the strap to Fernandes. However, the 23-year-old rebounded with four straight finishes, including victories over UFC veterans Motonobu Tezuka, Issei Tamura and Wagner Campos. Kim has displayed a well-rounded arsenal that has led to four wins via strikes and four victories by way of submission.
The career trajectories for these two men seem to be headed in different directions, but it makes sense when their age is factored in. Kim suffered most of his losses before he even exited his teenage years. As he’s matured, he’s put together a strong resume and suffered fewer losses. Sandro, meanwhile, is getting up there in years, which could account for his slowdown in both the win column and in stopping opponents.
Both men have extremely well-rounded skill sets that have allowed them to win the fight anywhere it might go. Sandro figures to have the edge on the mat, where Kim has succumbed to submissions at the hands of Andrew Leone and the aforementioned Falciroli. However, Kim did last a full five rounds with Fernandes, a grappling ace, so it’s safe to say that his submission defense has improved. While Sandro has also flashed excellent striking ability, this is the area where the slightly taller Kim should hold an advantage. Sandro’s finishing ability has declined as his career has progressed, whereas the South Korean fighter has continued to end fights in brutal fashion.
Size could also be a factor in this affair. Sandro has been a featherweight throughout his career. Kim, on the other hand, debuted as a featherweight and then dropped to bantamweight beginning with his sophomore outing. This will be Kim’s first fight back at 145 pounds since his pro debut. While this may give Sandro a slight edge, Kim is young and was bound to bulk up as he entered his twenties.
This is a tough first test at featherweight for Kim, but he’s quite capable of handling it. He’s made a habit of taking out UFC veterans recently, and he even holds a win over current UFC fighter Issa. The Team Force product is certainly flashing his abilities, and a win over a Sengoku champ and Bellator veteran would be a nice addition to his highlight reel. Sandro has suffered two knockout losses, so he is vulnerable in the stand-up game. Kim happens to pack plenty of power, so a finish shouldn’t be out of reach. Kim takes this one via TKO.
Other key bouts: Yoon Jun Lee (9-2) vs. Mu Gyeom Choi (6-3), Yuta Nezu (18-7-1) vs. Hyung Geun Park (2-0)
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