Tim Elliott vs. Iliarde Santos

Out of Obscurity: ROC 54, Titan FC 37 and RFA 36

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…

Ring of Combat 54
Tropicana Casino & Resort in Atlantic City, N.J.
Event Date: March 4
Website: ringofcombat.com
Watch Event: GoFightLive pay-per-view stream via Combat Press
Twitter: @ringofcombat


Spotlight Fight:
Brian Kelleher (15-7) vs. Julio Arce (8-1)

The last time Julio Arce stepped into the cage with Brian Kelleher, the Ring of Combat bantamweight championship rested around Arce’s waist. Now, the roles are reversed. The result of their first fight was a majority decision in Kelleher’s favor, marking Arce’s first pro loss. Now, Arce will attempt to reclaim the gold from Kelleher at Ring of Combat’s 54th show.

Kelleher entered his mixed martial arts career without a real combat-sports background. The Long Island native trained at a nearby gym before eventually joining Team Bombsquad. He went pro in 2011, lost his debut, won four straight, dropped two in a row, bounced back with four more wins and then lost four of his next five. He recovered from those setbacks and posted wins in three straight outings before challenging and defeating Arce for the title. He tacked on a fifth victory to his current streak when he returned to action in November and finished Josh Robinson via strikes in the third stanza. “Boom” is a Bellator veteran, but his run with the promotion left a lot to be desired. He dropped both of his fights in the Bellator cage, first to Claudio Ledesma via unanimous decision in October 2011 and then to Jimmie Rivera in April 2013. The 5-foot-6 Ithaca resident has finished six opponents via strikes and six by way of submission. He has been submitted four times.

Arce made his professional debut in 2012. The Tiger Schulmann product has claimed two wins by submission and two victories via strikes. Arce, who also compiled a stellar record as an amateur, defeated his first four opponents before fighting for the bantamweight crown against Strikeforce veteran Jason McLean. Arce topped McLean on the scorecards to snag the belt. He defended the crown three times, scoring a submission victory over Jake Grigson, a TKO finish of Thomas Vasquez and a decision win over the Michael Imperato, before relinquishing the crown to Kelleher. The 26-year-old southpaw is a New York Golden Gloves champion boxer and a WKA kickboxing champion.

Despite seven losses within his 20 fights prior to meeting Arce, Kelleher turned out to be quite a challenge for the formerly undefeated fighter. It was a close fight throughout, but Kelleher gained momentum as the minutes ticked off the clock. It was a strong showing for the veteran and a disappointing end to Arce’s unbeaten streak. Now, the question revolves around whether Arce has made the proper adjustments to allow him to avenge the loss in this second go-around.

In the first meeting, Arce’s boxing gave him the early edge, but Kelleher scored takedowns in rounds two and three while also swaying the judges with well-timed moments of control. The second fight is likely to be just as close. Kelleher was Arce’s toughest fight. He pushed Arce on the feet and on the mat. Arce could edge Kelleher this time around, but there’s a chance he has reached his ceiling. This one goes the distance, and it’ll be Kelleher who once again emerges victorious.

Other key bouts: Gregor Gillespie (5-0) vs. Jose Mariscal (3-0) for the regional lightweight title, Bradley Desir (7-4) vs. Eddie Lenoci (4-1) for the national lightweight title, Zach Fears (3-1) vs. Max Bohanan (5-1), Jay Silva (9-10-1) vs. Guram Mestvirishvili (2-0), Tony Gravely (4-1) vs. Paul Grant (3-1)

Titan Fighting Championship 37
Clark County Civic Center in Ridgefield, Wash.
Event Date: March 4
Website: titanfighting.com
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass
Twitter: @titanfighting

Spotlight Fight:
Tim Elliott (12-6-1) vs. Pedro Nobre (17-1-2)

Anyone looking for the top flyweights outside of the UFC needs look no further than this weekend’s Titan FC 37 card. UFC veteran Tim Elliott is now employed by the promotion and holds its flyweight crown. Another UFC vet, Pedro Nobre, is Elliott’s next challenger. The pair make up one-third of a trio of title contests atop Titan’s latest offering.

The 29-year-old Elliott turned in a disappointing 2-4 run under the UFC banner, but a closer look at his Octagon tenure reveals a top-level gatekeeper. Elliott turned Jared Papazian and Louis Gaudinot away from those gates, but he suffered his losses to John Dodson, Ali Bagautinov, Joseph Benavidez and Zach Makovsky, three of whom have challenged for the UFC’s flyweight title. Outside of those four losses, Elliott has only tasted defeat on the Oklahoma regional scene in his second and third pro fights in 2009 after a draw in his pro debut. The Glory MMA and Fitness product has a wrestling background, but he employs an unorthodox style that often frustrates his opponents. He has used that style effectively in the Titan cage to claim the vacant flyweight crown with a decision nod over Iliarde Santos and defended it with a second-round submission finish of Felipe Efrain. Overall, Elliott has secured five wins by way of submission and three victories via strikes.

Nobre’s UFC stint was far less inspiring. The Brazilian made one Octagon appearance, against Iuri Alcantara, and the bout ended after just over two minutes of action. Alcantara had landed a series of strikes to the back of Nobre’s head and Nobre was unable to continue. The fight was deemed a no-contest and the UFC parted ways with Nobre. The 30-year-old has been perfect through his three post-UFC bouts. His two most recent affairs took place under the Titan banner. Nobre picked up a unanimous nod over Daniel O’Connor and eked out a split verdict against Nick Honstein. The Brazilian Top Team fighter has not competed since 2014, but it isn’t for lack of trying. He was slated to meet three different opponents in the span of time since his last outing, but the first withdrew, Nobre missed weight for the second fight and then his original Titan FC 36 meeting with Elliott was scrapped along with the entire event. Nobre still has just one loss through 21 fights, though, and he is dangerous, both with his fists, which have accounted for 10 knockouts, and on the ground, where he has recorded four submission victories.

Nobre has a nice, shiny record, but he’s struggled against notable names. His lone loss came to Sheymon Moraes, who is now a World Series of Fighting standout, and he sparked controversy when he could not continue against Alcantara, who accused Nobre of “quitting” (and the UFC’s decision not to bring Nobre back would suggest that the promotion shared Alcantara’s opinion). Elliott, meanwhile, has taken Dodson, Bagautinov and Makovsky the distance. Yes, Elliott was submitted by Benavidez, but Nobre is not the type of fighter who is likely to look to the grappling game as his first line of offense. Elliott’s only TKO defeat came early in his career, and he has proven to have a strong chin in his more recent encounters.

Elliott’s style is going to give Nobre fits. And Elliott has only gotten better since signing with Titan. Nobre, meanwhile, struggled to edge Honstein in his most recent fight. This doesn’t bode well for the Brazilian. If he couldn’t convincingly defeat someone further down the contender’s ladder, it’s difficult to see him ripping the belt from Elliott’s grasp. Instead, look for Elliott to put on an entertaining show and edge Nobre in every round en route to a decision victory.

Other key bouts: Ricky Simon (7-0) vs. Anderson dos Santos (13-4) for the bantamweight title, Andre Harrison (11-0) vs. Steven Siler (28-14) for the featherweight title, Pat Healy (29-21) vs. Muhsin Corbbrey (14-8), Anthony Gutierrez (7-2) vs. Benny Vinson (7-3-1), Jason Novelli (10-1) vs. Zak Bucia (15-6), Grant Dawson (8-0) vs. Robert Washington (19-10), Ben Egli (6-0) vs. EJ Brooks (8-5), Austin Arnett (12-2) vs. Dave Burrow (14-6)

Resurrection Fighting Alliance 36
Mystic Lake Casino & Hotel in Prior Lake, Minn.
Event Date: March 4
Website: rfafighting.com
Watch Event: AXS TV
Twitter: @RFAfighting

Spotlight Fight:
Raoni Barcelos (9-1) vs. Landon Vannata (7-0)

A little over six months ago, Raoni Barcelos stepped into the RFA cage for his fourth promotional appearance. When he exited the arena that night, he was carrying a few extra pounds of gold. The Brazilian had defeated Ricky Musgrave for the RFA featherweight strap. The RFA belt is often a ticket straight to the UFC, but Barcelos wasn’t quite that fortunate. The champ hasn’t seen action since his championship victory, but he’s finally set to return when he makes his first title defence against Landon Vannata, an undefeated American prospect.

Barcelos, who made his pro debut in 2012, was a Shooto Brazil featherweight champion early in his career. The 30-year-old has made four 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 outing, rebounded with a first-round knockout of Jamal Parks and then claimed the title with a unanimous nod over the aforementioned Musgrave. 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, though. He has trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu since a very early age under his father, Laerte Barcelos, and holds the rank of black belt.

Vannata is the bigger fighter, standing three inches taller and sporting a three-inch reach advantage over the titleholder. The undefeated Jackson-Winkeljohn fighter made his pro debut in 2012. Over the course of his seven fights, he has posted two wins by some form of strikes and four via choke submission. The prospect has fought in such varied settings as Pancrase, XFC and the Jackson’s MMA Series, but he hadn’t fought a legitimate fellow prospect until his seventh fight, which was also his first venture into the RFA cage. The 23-year-old handed a stoppage loss to the previously undefeated Chad Curry in his promotional debut. Vannata has been a sought-after prospect — he was reported as signed by the World Series of Fighting, though he never did appear in a fight with the organization.

Barcelos 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 the aforementioned Parks can all testify to the ferocity of the Brazilian’s attack. The only time Barcelos lost, he struggled against the wrestling of his opponent. The Brazilian’s well-rounded game gives him a number of routes to victory in any fight.

Everything Vannata can do, Barcelos can seemingly do better. This isn’t meant as an insult to Vannata’s abilities as a fighter — nobody gets to 7-0 without skills — but it is a testament to the arsenal of his opponent. Barcelos is a BJJ black belt who can take opponents to the mat. The latter characteristic is not always present for grapplers competing in MMA. Furthermore, Barcelos can bang on his feet. Vannata is going to want to stand with the Brazilian and stuff takedowns to turn this match into a striking affair. He might find some success in the early going, but Barcelos will remain persistent and Vannata will eventually succumb to the takedown. Vannata is less likely to stop Barcelos from implementing his ground game. The champ will be too much for Vannata to handle once the fight hits the canvas. Barcelos will retain his belt with either a submission finish or a unanimous decision victory.

Other key bouts: Melvin Blumer (12-3) vs. Matt Murphy (5-5), Chico Camus (14-7) vs. Matt Brown (10-5), Reese Hernandez (14-3-2) vs. Kassius Holdorf (8-1), Dan Moret (9-2) vs. Josh Wick (5-1), Logan Storley (2-0) vs. Lemetra Griffin (1-4), Bobby Lee (2-0) vs. Alex Wiggs Jr. (3-0)