Steve Carl (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Out of Obscurity: ACB 28, Akhmat Fight Show and Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye 2015

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…

Absolute Championship Berkut 28: Young Eagles 4
Nalchik, Russia
Event Date: Dec. 26
Website: Facebook/acberkut


Spotlight Fight:
Mukhamed Berkhamov (7-0) vs. Ronny Alexander Landaeta Utrera (10-6)

Russia has been a goldmine of new talent in the MMA world over the last year or two, and Absolute Championship Berkut has plenty of potential future additions to the list on its 28th card. The most accomplished of these prospects is welterweight Mukhamed Berkhamov, who will headline the event opposite veteran journeyman Ronny Alexander Landaeta Utrera.

Berkhamov is a 21-year-old competitor fighting out of the Aliigator fight team in Russia. He debuted in 2013 with a decision victory and then proceeded to choke his next five opponents into submission before tacking on another decision victory in his most recent outing. The young welterweight spent most of 2015 competing in the Tech-Krep FC PRIME Selection tournament, a bracket in which he claimed top honors.

Utrera is a Venezuelan-born fighter based out of Spain. He trains with MMA Barcelona Team and made his MMA debut in 2010. His 16-fight career has spanned much of Europe, including previous visits to Russia. He’s had a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs from the very start. Utrera won his debut, but lost his next two fights. He’s never won more than three fights in a row, and he’s currently coming off a rebound win in a fight where he barely edged opponent Omar Jesus Santana via a split verdict on the scorecards.

When Utrera does win, he does so via his striking arsenal. He has five stoppage wins via strikes and only a single submission victory. However, he’s also only been stopped once in six losses, and that defeat came via strikes. Utrera marks one of the more seasoned veterans that Berkhamov has ever seen, but his game doesn’t seem quite up to snuff against the rising prospect.

Berkhamov has never finished a fight with his fists, but he is skilled at using strikes to set up takedowns. His takedown and top game look impressive. He has a strong level change and takedown shot, and he doesn’t give his opponents much room to maneuver from the bottom. The Russian loves to attack his opponent’s neck, and he’s got a slick submission game and good timing when going for holds.

Utrera has the perfect resume to be cast in the role of the sacrifical lamb. Berkhamov is probably too quick for the veteran, and the Russian is certainly too skilled on the ground to encounter much trouble from Utrera. In Utrera’s favor, he has never been submitted before. However, this could change after Berkhamov lays hands on him. If all else fails, the Russian will at the very least walk away with a decision nod after three dominant rounds of wrestling and grappling.

Other key bouts: Temruk Berkhamov (4-0) vs. Aleksandr Podlesniy (4-2), Maharbek Karginov (5-0) vs. Lambert Akhiadov (5-3), Adlan Bataev (3-0) vs. Oleg Peterimov (6-1), Alen Gaibov (3-0) vs. Eldar Khashpakov (3-2)

Akhmat Fight Show 13: Battle in Grozny
Arena Coliseum in Grozny, Russia
Event Date: Dec. 26

Spotlight Fight:
Beslan Ushukov (10-1) vs. Steve Carl (21-4)

If fans get bored with the upstarts at the ACB show, they can take a stroll down the road and find another Russian event taking place at the exact same time on Christmas weekend that features more seasoned prospects, some veterans of American shows and a handful of kickboxing bouts. Among the MMA set, Steve Carl represents the United States against Russian prospect Beslan Ushukov in a clash of welterweights.

Carl has a long list of MMA credentials. He’s a Bellator tournament veteran, a former World Series of Fighting titleholder and a contestant on The Ultimate Fighter 21, where he lost against Valdir Araujo and Kamaru Usman in exhibition bouts. Carl’s official losses aren’t too shabby. He was dethroned in the WSOF by Rousimar Palhares, suffered Bellator losses to Douglas Lima and Dan Hornbuckle, and tasted defeat for the first time when future UFC and WSOF fighter Brian Foster finished him with strikes in the first round of an Oklahoma regional show. The 31-year-old American Top Team product is excellent on the mat, where he has recorded 16 submission finishes, but he can also occasionally get the job done on his feet, as evidenced by two TKO stoppages. Carl has notched a split decision victory over Brett Cooper and finished Tyler Stinson and Josh Burkman with chokes. He has a background in wrestling and Army Combatives.

Ushukov has been fighting professionally since 2012. “Tiger” won his first five bouts before running into Ramzan Algeriev at an ACB show and suffering a 25-second injury TKO loss. He has rebounded under the Akhmat banner and on a regional event in Kazakhstan to accumulate a five-fight winning streak. Ushukov’s recent victories have come against veteran opposition, but Carl will be his most accomplished foe. The Russian has stopped six opponents via choke submissions, but he also has three finishes by way of strikes.

This could be a very risky fight for Carl, who is technically on a three-fight skid if his two TUF losses are counted alongside his title defeat at the hands of Palhares. He’s heading overseas for the first time in his pro MMA career, and he’s fighting a skilled prospect who can finish fights anywhere. This is a recipe for disaster.

The good news for Carl is that he doesn’t lose to anyone but the best competition he encounters. Is Ushukov at the same level as Palhares, Lima, Foster or even Hornbuckle in his prime? That’s still to be determined. “Tiger” has fought some veterans with strong winning records, but those records were built against regional-level opponents. Some of those fighters have a pretty steady stream of losses in their most recent outings, too, and none of them stack up favorably against the level of competition Carl has seen in some of the world’s top promotions.

The potential for an upset is here. Ushukov is certainly a dangerous adversary for Carl, but he’s also a largely untested one. There’s a good chance someone is getting choked into submission in this contest. The outcome is a bit easier to predict than the victor, but Carl’s experience against top-level competition gives him the slight edge over the up-and-comer.

Other key bouts: Zabit Samedov vs. Paweł Słowiński in a kickboxing bout, Maxim Grishin vs. Stjepan Bekavac in a kickboxing bout, Konstantin Gluhov vs. Roman Kryklya in a kickboxing bout, Rakhman Dudaev (15-3) vs. Vaughan Lee (14-11-1), Faycal Hucin (11-3) vs. Aslambek Musaev (6-2), Salamu Abdurakhmanov (5-0) vs. Xavier Foupa-Pokam (30-21), Zurab Betergaraev (10-1-1) vs. David Cubas (17-3-1), Salman Zhamaldaev (9-1) vs. Joni Salovaara (14-7), Abubakar Vagaev (9-1) vs. Tiago Varejão (24-3-1)

Inoki Genome Federation: Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye 2015
Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo
Event Date: Dec. 31

Spotlight Fight:
Fernando Rodrigues Jr. (9-1) vs. Oli Thompson (16-8)

The winter holidays mark the slowest time of the year for the international and regional scene. Sure, there are big promotions like the UFC and the Rizin Fighting Federation holding events within the next two weekends, but the docket is rather barren beyond these organizations. This means we’ll cover two weekends’ worth of MMA in this edition of Out of Obscurity. The New Year’s coverage includes the now overshadowed Inoki Genome Federation’s Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye annual year-end event. The lineup doesn’t seem quite as deep as it has in past years, but there is the heavyweight clash between Fernando Rodrigues Jr. and Oli Thompson.

Thompson is the familiar name for most fans. The English fighter had an unsuccessful two-fight stint with the UFC in 2012 and has made stops in KSW and BAMMA. Unfortunately, he tends to lose in these high pressure situations. Shawn Jordan and Phil De Fries handed Thompson his Octagon defeats, and the big man has also fallen short against the likes of Karol Bedorf and Mariusz Pudzianowski. “The Spartan” is a former strongman who made his MMA debut in 2009. The ZT Fight School product has a nice little four-fight winning streak going that includes victories over Ikuhisa Minowa, Chris Barnett and the formerly undefeated Michał Włodarek. The 35-year-old has stopped six opponents with his fists and another six foes by submission.

Rodrigues made his debut in 2012 and won six fights before stepping up to meet middling veteran Alison Vicente, who submitted Rodrigues in the second round of their encounter. “Santo Forte” has bounced back with three straight wins, including two under the IGF banner. The 28-year-old is a Team Nogueira fighter who has scored seven wins via strikes and submitted one opponent.

Thompson should be polishing up on his ground skills if he wants to win this fight. Rodrigues suffered his only loss in a fight that went to the canvas, and it was Rodrigues that took it there. If Thompson can’t get the quick takedown and work his grappling attack, he’s likely to get picked apart by Rodrigues on the feet.

The Brit hasn’t had much luck in big match-ups, but his journeys to Japan have given his career new life. Rodrigues could put Thompson in trouble early, but the UFC veteran will show a lot of heart and turn the tide as the fight progresses. This one is headed the distance, and Thomspon will emerge with his hand raised.

Other key bouts: Chris Barnett (13-2) vs. Shinichi Suzukawa (2-3)