Vitaly Minakov (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Out of Obscurity: Fight Nights, RFA 33 and Venator FC 2

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…

Fight Nights: Battle 20
Luzhniki Arena in Moscow
Event Date: Dec. 11
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass
Twitter: @Fnsofficial


Spotlight Fight:
Vitaly Minakov (16-0) vs. Josh Copeland (11-2)

It’s a busy week for the UFC Fight Pass online streaming service. In addition to broadcasting portions of live UFC events on three consecutive days, the network will offer up events from Japan’s Pancrase and the Russia’s Fight Nights promotion over the hectic weekend of action. The Pancrase event is slated to receive the full preview treatment on Combat Press later in the week, so we’ll use this space to focus on the Fight Nights show, dubbed “Battle 20,” which features a heavyweight clash between Vitaly Minakov and Josh Copeland. That’s right, Bellator MMA’s reigning heavyweight champion is scheduled to appear on a UFC-affiliated broadcast.

Minakov claimed the Bellator heavyweight crown in late 2013 when he topped fellow Russian Alexander Volkov. Since his title win, he has only made one defense, which came in April 2014 against Cheick Kongo. The 30-year-old has fought exclusively for Fight Nights in 2015. He has scored two first-round finishes in the Russian promotion. Minakov has rarely seen the scorecards through his undefeated run. Instead, he’s finished nine opponents via strikes and five foes by way of submission. He is a sambo world champion and judo black belt.

Copeland is best known for winning the Resurrection Fighting Alliance title in his first RFA fight and then transitioning to the UFC, where he dropped two fights before being released by the promotion. The “Cuddly Bear” rebounded from his disappointing UFC tenure by winning and defending the Prize FC heavyweight strap. This will be the first professional fight outside of the United States for the Grudge Training Center product, who made his pro debut in June 2012 after a 4-1 run as an amateur. The 33-year-old started competing in tough-man contests before getting an invite to train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at Travis Lutter’s gym. He has claimed three wins via strikes and four victories by way of submission.

Copeland is a step up from everyone Minakov has faced beyond Kongo and Volkov, and the “Cuddly Bear’s” style of hunting for the knockout could turn this into a true slugfest on the feet. However, Copeland’s probably a bit out of his depth against the Bellator champion, who will enjoy a three-inch reach advantage and the more diverse skill set.

Copeland went three rounds with Ruslan Magomedov and lasted until the third stanza with Jared Rosholt, but Minakov is a far more effective finisher than either of Copeland’s UFC opponents. The Russian will be fighting on home turf as well, whereas Copeland is traveling halfway around the globe for the first time in his pro career. This alone could put the American at a disadvantage in general, let alone against a borderline top-15 heavyweight such as Minakov. Minakov will score a finish via TKO.

Other key bouts: Rasul Mirzaev (13-0) vs. Ilya Kurzanov (9-4), Sergey Pavlovich (5-0) vs. Oleg Popov (1-0), David Khachatryan (21-2) vs. Akhmet Aliev (10-4), Timur Nagibin (4-1) vs. Roman Silagadze (2-0-1), Artur Pronin (2-0) vs. Rashid Abdurakhmanov (1-1)

Resurrection Fighting Alliance 33
The Hangar at the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa, Calif.
Event Date: Dec. 11
Watch Event: AXS TV
Twitter: @RFAfighting

Spotlight Fight:
Adam Townsend (14-3) vs. Ernest Chavez (9-2)

The Resurrection Fighting Alliance provides a perfect place for prospects to showcase themselves to the UFC, but it also makes a nice landing spot for UFC castoffs seeking a bit of redemption and a route back to the big show. At the promotion’s 33rd event, the headliner features one fighter from each group. The prospect is the fast-rising lightweight Adam Townsend. The UFC castoff is Ernest Chavez.

The 27-year-old Townsend found plenty of success as an amateur before turning pro in 2012. He won his first four pro contests before running into Frankie Perez under the Ring of Combat banner and suffering a unanimous decision loss. Townsend alternated wins and losses for his next four fights before finding his groove and rattling off eight wins. His two most recent victories, both coming in the RFA cage, were decision nods over UFC veterans Yuri Villefort and Ryan Roberts. “Prime Time,” who has nine wins via submission, has had trouble picking a weight class. He has fought several times at 145 or 150 pounds, but he’s also gone as high as welterweight. He has checked in heavy at his last two weigh-ins for fights in the lightweight and featherweight divisions.

Chavez came out of the California regional scene, where he debuted in 2009 and racked up seven wins over the next four years. The Total MMA Studios fighter entered the Octagon in 2014 at UFC 170 and scored an upset victory over Yosdenis Cedeno. In his next fight, he was dismantled by Elias Silvério, who handed Chavez a submission loss. The 32-year-old’s next UFC appearance came in October 2014 when he was finished via strikes by Zubaira Tukhugov. The two losses were enough to lead to Chavez’s dismissal. He returned to action in October with a stoppage victory over UFC veteran Justin Buchholz. Chavez has five wins via strikes.

Townsend has put together a strong showing in the RFA and his personality will certainly appeal to fans, but his biggest wins came against Villefort and Roberts. He still needs to prove himself, but he’s fighting another potential career journeyman whose biggest accomplishment was a surprise win over a UFC fighter who is now 1-3 inside the Octagon.

Chavez has finished plenty of opponents with strikes, but he relies heavily on his grappling game as well. The problem is that Townsend excels on the ground and has strong takedowns. Townsend is going to be the bigger and stronger fighter in this contest, and his grappling abilities give him the edge he’ll need against Chavez. These two will trade takedowns and spend plenty of time in the clinch, but Townsend should settle in to either score a late submission or earn the unanimous verdict.

Other key bouts: Joe Merritt (6-1) vs. Felipe Fogolin (7-2), Jose Diaz (5-1) vs. Anthony Hernandez (5-0), Khalil Rountree (3-0) vs. Justin Polendey (7-2), Boston Salmon (4-0) vs. Keith Carson (6-2), Justin Jones (6-2) vs. Luc Bondole (5-1-2), Chris Padilla (6-0) vs. Mike Segura (4-1)

Venator Fighting Championship 2
105 Stadium in Rimini, Italy
Event Date: Dec. 12
Watch Event: Fox Sports 2 (Italy)
Twitter: @VenatorFC

Spotlight Fight:
Mattia Schiavolin (12-1-2) vs. Luke Barnatt (8-3)

What is a fighter to do after his undefeated record is decimated by three straight losses and he’s released by the UFC? Luke Barnatt’s answer was to head to Italy and a fresh slate that puts him on Fox Sports 2 (in Italy, at least) and gives him the opportunity to earn gold in his first post-UFC fight. Barnatt will headline the second effort from Venator Fighting Championship and challenge for the middleweight title that currently resides around the waist of Mattia Schiavolin.

Schiavolin’s 12-1-2 record should qualify him as one of the more highly touted prospects in the European regional circuit, but he’s fought primarily in Italy and Austria, which are hardly hotbeds for new MMA stars, and he lost his lone fight in Poland, which has produced some of the strongest prospects in Europe. The 21-year-old could be a well-kept secret, however. He turned pro in 2012 and scored finishes in his first five outings before fighting to draws in back-to-back contests. He returned to the win column with another four stoppages before suffering a TKO loss to Oskar Piechota. Since suffering the loss, “Aittam” has notched three more victories via strikes. Overall, he has nine wins by some form of knockout and three victories via submission.

Barnatt was a member of The Ultimate Fighter 17 cast and advanced as far as the competition’s quarterfinal round before he was eliminated by Dylan Andrews. He recovered with a win over Collin Hart at the TUF 17 Finale and tacked on stoppage victories over Andrew Craig and Mats Nilsson in his next two fights. Barnatt went on a three-fight skid when he stepped up to meet Sean Strickland, Roger Narvaez and Mark Muñoz in his final three UFC bouts. The 27-year-old fights out of the Tsunami Gym and has three wins each by strikes and submission.

At 6-foot-6, Barnatt towers over many of his middleweight opponents. He’ll enjoy a six-inch edge in height against Schiavolin, and he should have a lengthy reach advantage as well. While the UFC veteran has been inconsistent at the highest levels, he’s not exactly continuing his quest against top-tier competition while in Italy. Schiavolin is among the country’s best, but he has a sloppy stand-up game, weak takedown defense and subpar positional control on the mat. Schiavolin can finish opponents wherever a fight may go, but it’s doubtful that he can overcome Barnatt’s reach advantage and floor the Brit.

Barnatt’s size gives him a clear edge on the feet, and he should find little resistance from his opponent on the mat. Barnatt’s three-fight skid included two very close decisions, but this fight should provide a more clear-cut winner. Barnatt will be too much for Schiavolin to handle. The UFC veteran will land against his opponent on the feet before overwhelming the champ for a ground-and-pound TKO finish.

Other key bouts: Marvin Vettori (8-2) vs. Jack Mason (29-14-1) for the welterweight title, Daniele Scatizzi (6-1) vs. Alessandro Botti (11-5), Karl Amoussou (20-7-2) vs. Simeon Thoresen (17-6-1), Jack Hermansson (10-2) vs. Maciej Różański (8-0), Karl Moore (5-1) vs. Prince Aounallah (10-5), Roberto Rigamonti (4-1-1) vs. Peter Queally (6-2), Federico Mini (3-0-1) vs. Matteo Obermaier (2-0), Stefan Croitoru (5-1-1) vs. Mauro Cerilli (5-1)