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…
Leonardo Leite (6-0) vs. Ryan Spann (8-1)
Legacy Fighting Championship’s venture into kickboxing is taking an interesting turn. The promotion, which once focused solely on MMA, has hosted a trio of separate kickboxing events. Now, however, the organization is mixing its efforts. Legacy FC 48 will feature a light heavyweight kickboxing tournament, with the tourney final serving as the evening’s main event. On the MMA side of the docket, the promotion has just four fights scheduled for the main card. The biggest of these fights, the evening’s co-headliner, features Leonardo Leite defending his middleweight title against challenger Ryan Spann.
Leite has found much success in just two fights under the Legacy banner. He captured Legacy’s light heavyweight crown in September 2014 with a fourth-round TKO finish of Myron Dennis. The 37-year-old then shifted to the 185-pound division and fought for the middleweight title in his very next outing against Larry Crowe. The Brazilian, who turned pro in June 2013, disposed of Crowe via a second-round TKO. Leite has trained in judo since a very early age and he started jiu-jitsu when he was a teen. Now a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, Leite is a highly decorated competitor in both judo and jiu-jitsu, representing his native country twice in the Olympics in the former sport and even claiming two world championships in the latter discipline. He posted two first-round rear-naked choke submission wins and two decision victories while competing in his native Brazil. The Brazilian Top Team product’s campaigns for the Legacy titles marked his first two MMA bouts outside of his homeland, and they also marked his first two victories by way of strikes.
Leite may have needed more than a round to finish the aforementioned Crowe. His opponent, Spann, needed only eight seconds. The 6-foot-5 “Superman” debuted as a pro in 2013 and racked up five wins before stepping up to fight a veteran competitor who handed him a 21-second TKO loss. The 24-year-old has bounced back nicely. He switched camps from American Top Team’s affiliate in Beaumont, Texas, to the 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu affiliate in the same city. He returned in 2015 with three wins, including submissions over middling veterans Artenas Young and Dwight Gipson and the quick finish of Crowe. Spann has been a lifelong martial artist who started out in taekwondo at just 18 months old and progressed through aikido, karate and judo as a youth before boxing in high school and then training in jiu-jitsu and MMA as he entered adulthood.
Leite’s second title win was not without controversy. He threw a knee that appeared to connect to Crowe’s groin. Crowe went to the ground, where Leite finished him with strikes. Before the questionable end to the fight, Leite was able to effectively stand with Crowe and also scored a takedown and worked from Crowe’s back. The Brazilian’s stand-up isn’t spectacular, but he has demonstrated an ability to hold his own in all areas. His judo background makes him a big threat to score takedowns, and his ground game is his best asset.
The champ will give up four inches in height and as much as five and a half inches in reach to the challenger. Despite being such a long fighter, Spann can get tagged. It happened numerous times in the short eight seconds he spent in the cage with Crowe, but Spann was fortunate enough to land a blow of his own that separated Crowe from his senses. Brandon Farran, the lone man to defeat Spann, also connected with regularity in their brief affair.
Leite doesn’t have the intense combinations and forward movement of Crowe or Farran, so Spann might be fortunate enough to avoid taking quite as many shots to the head. Spann has one-punch knockout power, but he won’t get the same opportunity he was afforded against Crowe. Still, Leite can be a sloppy and wild striker, so Spann be a threat to score a knockout on a counter as Leite closes the distance. Add Spann’s length to the equation and Leite could get frustrated at his own lack of ability to connect with punches. The Brazilian might start shooting for takedowns from a mile away, which would only benefit Spann.
Spann’s inability to keep distance is a concern. Leite is content to lock up opponents in the clinch and then use his judo to score the takedown. Spann has a well-rounded game, but he’s facing a world-class judoka and grappler. If Leite ties him up and takes him down, Spann is in a world of trouble. Leite can struggle to get the finish at times, but he’s effective enough from top position to score points with the judges.
If Spann were more polished in his stand-up and takedown defense, he’d be a good bet to take the championship belt. As it stands, though, he’ll have his hands full keeping Leite at bay. The Brazilian should continue his two-division dominance in the Legacy cage with a decision win over Spann.
Other key bouts: Sean Soriano (8-3) vs. Josh Quayhagen (8-3), Daniel Hoffpauir (1-0) vs. Richard Knepp (3-3)
BAMMA 23: Night of Champions
Barclaycard Arena in Birmingham, West Midlands, England Event Date: Nov. 14 Website:bamma.com 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
Marcin Łazarz (8-1) vs. Paul Craig (7-0)
BAMMA has dubbed its 23rd offering as a “Night of Champions.” With five title fights rounding out a 17-fight lineup, the title is certainly a fitting one. The bill features plenty of prospects, including undefeated bantamweight champion Ed Arthur in a title defense against Shay Walsh and flyweight prospects Rany Saadeh and Shajidul Haque vying for Saadeh’s 125-pound title. It may not be the headliner or even the co-headliner, but Marcin Łazarz’s light heavyweight title defense against undefeated challenger Paul Craig is another contest that merits plenty of attention.
Łazarz captured the vacant BAMMA light heavyweight crown in his last outing against Brett McDermott. The Polish fighter took the unanimous nod in the bout to extend his winning streak to three fights. The 32-year-old’s only loss came against very accomplished BAMMA veteran Max Nunes. The Team Titan fighter entered the Nunes fight with five wins on his resume since turning pro in 2010. The champ is a well-rounded fighter with a background in submission wrestling. His most notable win came in his first fight after the Nunes loss. Łazarz was able to defeat former UFC champion Ricco Rodriguez via unanimous decision. “Rudex” does have a pair of wins via strikes and a pair of victories by way of submission, but sports just a 50 percent finishing rate overall in his victories.
The challenger is much more effective at bringing an early end to his opponent’s night. Craig, whose record remains spotless, has never seen the judges since making his debut in 2013. “Bearjew” has six submission wins and one victory by way of strikes. Until his BAMMA debut, which ended with Craig scoring a second-round submission finish of Karl Moore, the Scottish Hit Squad product had never gone beyond the first stanza. In fact, he has rarely even seen the three-minute mark of round one. The Scottish fighter is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu purple belt.
Łazarz appears to sport the better striking arsenal, but his stand-up game is usually just a means to an end. He’s usually looking for a way to take his opponent to the mat. Craig, meanwhile, is a bit more stiff and tentative on the feet. He has been taken down quite easily in the past, but it almost seems as if Craig does this to lure his opponent into a trap. Craig is a very active fighter off his back. It might actually be his most dangerous position. He’s knows how to use his length and will immediately start working to ensnare an arm or neck for the submission finish. He supplements the submission attack with vicious hammerfists while still on his back. He’s even scored a TKO finish with those hammerfists.
This fight could turn into a grappling fan’s dream if Łazarz opts to go for takedowns and manages to evade Craig’s aggressive bottom game. The Polish fighter might opt to stand with his opponent, however, and that approach would actually provide the champ with the biggest edge. Craig could use his length to throw kicks and keep his opponent at range, but Łazarz appears to have the superior striking skills and could chip away at the challenger.
It’ll be too tempting for Łazarz to take this fight to the mat, making it a chess match between a fighter with a smothering top game and one who is just as dangerous off his back. Craig is sneaky good at baiting his opponents, so Łazarz might be in trouble here. He’ll try to implement his grinding approach, but Craig will tie him in knots. Craig should continue his streak of finishes, and he’ll pick up something for his trophy case with this victory.
Other key bouts: Martin Stapleton (16-4) vs. Gavin Sterritt (6-1) for the lightweight title, Ed Arthur (6-0) vs. Shay Walsh (13-3) for the bantamweight title, Rany Saadeh (7-1) vs. Shajidul Haque (7-1) for the flyweight title, Stuart Austin (9-3) vs. Paul Taylor (9-4), Nathaniel Wood (7-2) vs. Bryan Creighton (5-2), Harry Marple (4-0) vs. Shane Gunfield (3-1), Nad Narimani (7-2) vs. Jeremy Petley (10-6-1), Mike Grundy (4-1) vs. Mick Brennan (4-6), Mahmood Besharate (5-1) vs. Andy Young (8-7), Bill Beaumont (7-0) vs. Marcin Prostko (4-0), Jai Herbert (2-0) vs. Ben Bennett (0-0), Jack McGann (9-1) vs. Dagir Imavov (9-1-1), Daniel Crawford (6-0) vs. Francisco Albano Barrio (5-1)
Anita Rodriguez (7-5) vs. Brenda Gonzales (6-2)
We’ve been here before. Anita Rodriguez was slated to defend her Sugar Creek Showdown belt against Brenda Gonzales at Sugar Creek Showdown 25 in March, but the fight was scrapped. Now, the pair try it again at the promotion’s 28th event.
Rodriguez will set out to make her first defense of the belt she claimed at Sugar Creek Showdown 23 in November 2014. Rodriguez scored a fourth-round TKO over Jade DeHaas in the title bout to move her record above the .500 mark and put gold around her waist. After her SCS 25 bout was canceled, Rodriguez faced Erin McDougall at an Xtreme Fighting League event the following month and emerged with a second-round TKO win. She may have five losses on her 12-fight record, but Rodriguez has faced an extremely high level of competition throughout her career. She clashed with Leslie Smith while the two were still amateurs in 2008, and she split her first two pro bouts against Jeri Sitzes. “El Tigre” was just 1-4 in her five fights before capturing the SCS title, but the losses included a submission defeat against Tonya Evinger, a TKO loss to Latoya Walker and decision losses to Jessica Eye and Audrey Alvarez. The 30-year-old trains out of Phalanx MMA and has posted three wins by way of submission and two via TKO.
Gonzales, who possesses a 6-2 mark, has not fought in the time since her title fight with Rodriguez was scrapped. She has been ranked as a flyweight, but continues to bounce between the 125- and 135-pound divisions. “Boom Boom” debuted in 2011 and streaked out to four straight wins under the King of the Cage banner. Her first loss came when she traveled to Japan and fought Rin Nakai at Pancrase 247. The FIT NHB product bounced back by returning stateside to defeat Heather Bassett at RFA 18. She faced another setback when she dropped a five-round verdict to Colleen Schneider. Shifting back to flyweight for her most recent fight, Gonzales decisioned Lacey Schuckman. She has a boxing background and has notched three wins by some form of knockout.
If her record is any indication, Gonzales might want to consider a permanent move to flyweight. The New Mexico-based fighter enjoyed a title reign within the division during her stay in King of the Cage. The results of her previous run at 135 pounds only help to cement this argument. She went 1-2 at bantamweight before sliding back down in weight to pick up the win over Schuckman. Gonzales might be a prospect, but she will struggle to hold onto that tag and convert it into bigger things if she’s fighting in the heavier of the two divisions.
Rodriguez isn’t exactly the most consistent fighter, though, which makes this an appealing match-up for Gonzales. The Dallas-based champion keeps fights close, but she usually comes out on the wrong end in fights against noteworthy foes. The one strength in Rodriguez’s arsenal is her ability on the ground, where Gonzales is most vulnerable. The 33-year-old challenger suffered her only losses to a pair of strong grapplers in Nakai and Schneider. The question is whether Rodriguez falls into the same realm of strong ground specialists. If she can’t get Gonzales to the mat and keep her there, then Rodriguez is going to fall.
Gonzales suffered her only stoppage loss to Nakai, a far better grappler than Rodriguez. Even Schneider had to settle for a decision. Rodriguez isn’t going to be able to find the finish, and she’ll struggle to consistently land her takedowns. Gonzales will use her superior stand-up skills to outpoint her adversary and take home the judges’ nod, plus the SCS women’s bantamweight belt.
Other key bouts: Jeremy Horn (91-21-5) vs. Egidijus Valavicius (27-11) for the light heavyweight title, Evan Thompson (5-2) vs. Matt Foster (6-8) for the middleweight title, John Lair (2-0) vs. Mike Cook (0-1)
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