Sean Santella (B) (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Out of Obscurity: VTJ, Abu Dhabi Warriors 3 and Pancrase 270

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…

Vale Tudo Japan: Okinawa
Okinawa Prefectural Bodukan in Naha, Okinawa, Japan
Event Date: Oct. 3
Website: Facebook/VTJ/a>
Watch Event: SKY PerfecTV!


Spotlight Fight:
Ryota Matsune (15-2-1) vs. Sean Santella (13-5-1)

Vale Tudo Japan’s visit to Okinawa might not come with quite as deep a lineup as some its past ventures, but it could be considered as something of an all-around comeback-themed card. There’s Justin Morton, better known to Japanese MMA fans as simply “That Guy,” who looks to bounce back from only his second career loss. There’s Shinichi “BJ” Kojima, who was once considered among the best flyweight competitors in the world but now holds a 5-5 record over his last 10 outings. And then there are two flyweights who appear to have prospect’s records, but have a long way to go to get their careers back on track. Those fighters are Sean Santella and Ryota Matsune.

The 30-year-old Santella was once considered a top bantamweight and flyweight prospect. He captured flyweight crowns under the Ring of Combat and Cage Fury Fighting Championships banners and defended the latter of those titles four times before dropping it to Nick Honstein. After three different scheduled bouts fizzled, Santella returned in 2015 and suffer another loss, this time to Jimmy Grant on the scorecards. He had another bout fizzle and then fought to a no-contest with Matthew Rizzo in a Global Proving Grounds flyweight title fight. He has gone three fights without a win. The Ricardo Almeida and AMA Fight Club product, who serves as the jiu-jitsu instructor at Miller Brothers MMA, wrestled in high school and later took up jiu-jitsu. He 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.

Matsune is known as “The Shooto Junkie.” The 33-year-old made his pro debut in 2000 and put together a 14-1 mark by the end of 2004. Then, Matsune started competing only sporadically. He was inactive in 2005 and returned in 2006, fighting to a draw with Takeya Mizugaki and earning a win over David Lejenas. He didn’t return again until 2010, when he lost to Rumina Sato. Now, he returns after five years of inactivity. The Paraestra Matsudo product tends to go the distance in his fights, with just two submission wins and a single victory via strikes. His loss to Sato came via TKO.

There was a time when Matsune would have been a steep challenge for Santella. That time has most likely passed. While “The Shooto Junkie” has an impressive 15-2-1 mark, he has gone just 1-1-1 over the last decade. Santella is getting a change in scenery, though, after a lengthy run on the East Coast. This is his first trip to Japan, so there are a lot of unknowns here. How will Santella perform overseas? Can Matsune return to form and shake years of ring rust?

If everything goes right for Santella, his grappling should be the difference in this fight. Matsune has not been submitted, so a finish may be a bit much to ask of the New Jersey-based fighter. However, Santella should be able to secure the decision victory.

Other key bouts: Ikuhisa Minowa (62-38-8) vs. Justin Morton (7-2), Ryohei Kurosawa (8-1) vs. Tomohiro Adaniya (13-8-2), Shinichi “BJ” Kojima (13-6-5) vs. Tatsuya So (13-13-4)

Abu Dhabi Warriors 3
IPIC Arena in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Event Date: Oct. 3
Watch Event:
Twitter: @ADWarriors

Spotlight Fight:
Alexander Sarnavskiy (30-3) vs. Jesse Ronson (15-5)

The Abu Dhabi Warriors promotion has gathered a number of familiar names for the organization’s third effort. The card is headlined by UFC veterans Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou and Paul Buentello and also features Karl Amoussou, Waylon Lowe and prospect Max Nunes. In addition, there’s a lightweight showdown between Alexander Sarnavskiy and Jesse Ronson, a pair of prospects who found plenty of success until they made their debuts on MMA’s biggest stages in Bellator and the UFC, respectively.

Sarnavskiy posted 20 wins and zero defeats before signing with Bellator. Now 26 years old, the Russian made his Bellator debut in a lightweight tournament and lost to veteran Rich Clementi. “Tiger” bounced back with four Bellator wins, including two in tournament action, and a regional victory before fighting current champion Will Brooks in a tournament final. Sarnavskiy suffered a decision loss to Brooks and rebounded with four more regional wins and a Bellator victory over Dakota Cochrane. He stumbled once again in April when he fought Marcin Held in the Bellator cage and lost via a third-round leg-lock submission. Sarnavskiy trains with Alexander Shlemenko and likes to strike with his opponents, but he has scored 18 submission wins and only seven victories via strikes.

Ronson, who debuted in 2009, wasn’t quite as perfect as Sarnavskiy in his early career. He went 4-2 through his first six fights, but then everything started clicking and he reeled off eight straight wins. The UFC came calling, but Ronson lost three straight fights in the Octagon before he was shown the door. Back on the regional scene, he has rebounded with two stoppage victories, including a second-round submission finish of Gadji Zaipulaev at the last Abu Dhabi Warriors show in March. Ronson, who trains out of Adrenaline MMA, has seven victories by way of strikes and five wins by submission. The 29-year-old wrestled in high school. He has competed as a kickboxer and boxer, earning several regional and amateur titles.

Sarnavskiy has had his stumbles, but the first came against a savvy veteran in the Russian’s first Bellator fight and the more recent losses came to two of Bellator’s top lightweights. Ronson has been a competitive fighter even at the highest levels, where all of his losses came in the form of split decisions. This sets the table for what should be a very competitive fight. Both men have knockout ability and strong ground games. Ronson’s wrestling background gives him an edge in the takedown department.

These guys have more than 50 combined fights, but they’ve only combined for three stoppage losses. Ronson has suffered a submission loss via choke before. That happens to be one of Sarnavskiy’s go-to attacks, so there’s an outside chance that this one ends with the Russian claiming another submission victory. However, it’s more likely that this fight goes the distance and ends in a close decision. Either way, “Tiger” should emerge as the victor.

Other key bouts: Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou (16-13) vs. Paul Buentello (33-16), Karl Amoussou (19-7-2) vs. Abdulmazhid Magomedov (6-2), Vaso Bakočević (21-8-1) vs. Waylon Lowe (15-7), Max Nunes (15-3) vs. Fabricio Monteiro (18-9), Yoshiyuki Katahira (9-2-2) vs. Lewis Long (11-3), Maxime Ceban (8-1) vs. Sung Chan Hong (4-1), Ion Pascu (12-5) vs. Josip Perica (5-2)

Pancrase 270
Differ Ariake in Tokyo
Event Date: Oct. 4
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass
Twitter: @_PANCRASE_

Spotlight Fight:
Victor Henry (10-1) vs. Hidekazu Fukushima (10-2-1)

Pancrase recently joined the lineup of live events offered up on UFC Fight Pass, and its 270th show is definitely worth watching. The card features two King of Pancrase title showdowns, including a featherweight championship tilt between UFC veterans Nam Phan and Andy Main. Gota Yamashita seeks to defend his welterweight crown against Shingo Suzuki in the other title affair. The card is rounded out with plenty of strong pairings, including a bantamweight fight between prospects Victor Henry and Hidekazu Fukushima.

After a rocky amateur career in which he dropped two fights, Henry turned pro in 2010 and started training with Erik Paulson, Josh Barnett and the CSW crew. He won his first six pro contests before running into Joe Murphy. Murphy, a World Series of Fighting veteran and future Resurrection Fighting Alliance fighter, handed Henry his first pro loss by way of a closely contested split decision. Henry rebounded from the defeat in a big way. He scored a TKO victory over Dream veteran Hideo Tokoro, scored a first-round submission finish of Cory Vom Baur and stunned Masakatsu Ueda with a third-round kneebar submission finish before scoring a split decision in his most recent affair against Taichi Nakajima. The 28-year-old is a taekwondo black belt, but his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills have accounted for five submission victories to go along with his two stoppages via strikes. Henry has only been stopped once, via submission, and that was during his amateur run.

The 30-year-old Fukushima has made stops in Shooto, Deep and Pancrase since his 2010 pro debut. He won his first two fights before suffering a submission loss to Minoru Takeuchi. Fukushima responded by going 4-0-1 before hitting another snag when he emerged on the wrong end of a decision in a 2013 contest against Kota Onojima. The loss marked Fukushima’s last appearance with Shooto. He moved on to Pancrase and Deep, winning two contests with each promotion to compile a four-fight winning streak. Fukushima has two submission wins and one victory by way of strikes.

Henry is an overlooked prospect who hasn’t received enough attention from the top promotions. Perhaps that’s due to his loss to Murphy, who has struggled to find success under the RFA banner. He’s skilled in all areas of the game — his striking victory over Tokoro and submission finish of Ueda are fine illustrations of well-round skill set — but his work with CSW has made him a very strong presence on the mat. Fukushima is no slouch either, but he’s likely to enter this as the smaller fighter and might run into trouble if the fight goes to the ground. Henry had trouble finishing Nakajima, which was a bit surprising, but he’ll threaten to bring an early end to Fukushima’s night. If he can’t find the finish, he’ll still be effective en route to a judges’ nod.

Other key bouts: Nam Phan (21-14) vs. Andy Main (10-2-1) for the featherweight King of Pancrase title, Gota Yamashita (10-3) vs. Shingo Suzuki (12-8-3) for the welterweight King of Pancrase title, Guy DeLumeau (20-10-3) vs. Juntaro Ushiku (9-3-1), Shunichi Shimizu (30-11-10) vs. Yusuke Ogikubo (7-3), Yasutaka Koga (11-3-1) vs. Ryuichi Miki (16-9-4), Bryanna Fissori (2-0) vs. Colleen Schneider (8-6), Akihiro Murayama (17-6-9) vs. Kosei Kubota (27-39-17)