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…
Viktor Nemkov (23-5) vs. Rashid Yusupov (6-2)
In 2014, Viktor Nemkov lost the M-1 light heavyweight championship to Stephan Puetz. In 2015, he reclaimed the strap from the German. Now, at M-1 Challenge 66, Nemkov attempts to make his first successful defense of a belt he long pursued. Nemkov has what appears to be a slightly outmatched opponent in front of him, but challenger Rashid Yusupov cannot be counted out completely.
Nemkov’s quest for M-1 gold began almost as soon as his career kicked off in 2008. By his sophomore outing, the Kazakhstan native was competing within the M-1 promotion. He went 11-3 before getting his first crack at the vacant belt in a losing effort against prolific grappler Vinny Magalhães, who submitted Nemkov midway through the fight. Nemkov reeled off seven straight wins in the aftermath of his defeat and then fought once more for the M-1 belt, which was vacant yet again. This time, the Russian-based fighter emerged victorious with a submission finish of Vasily Babich. His first attempted defense did not go quite as well, however, and Nemkov relinquished the belt to the aforementioned Puetz in a razor-thin split decision. Again, Nemkov rebounded with a winning streak, this time through three fights, before rematching Puetz. The pair battled for five rounds and the verdict was no less contentious than in their first affair. However, Nemkov’s hand was raised with the majority decision nod. The 29-year-old has trained with the Red Devil Sport Club, a team made famous by Fedor Emelianenko, and Alexander Nevsky MMA. He is a Master of Sport in sambo and judo and won a sambo world championship in 2011. In the realm of MMA, he has 10 submission wins and four victories via strikes.
A fighter can never underestimate his opponent, but M-1 does appear to be tossing the champ a softball in this one. Yusupov has just eight pro fights, less than a third of the experience held by Nemkov. He debuted in late 2012 in a losing effort under the M-1 Challenge banner in a light heavyweight tournament quarterfinal bout. After two finishes on the regional circuit, Yusupov himself was submitted by Sadam Matiev. The 24-year-old has racked up a four-fight winning string since his last setback, and his victories include decision nods over veteran competitors Charles Andrade and Martin Zawada. The Gorets product combines a powerful kicking attack with an effective wrestling game and a wushu sanda background. He has two finishes via strikes, including a 92-second knockout of veteran Mitry Medvedev, and one submission victory.
Yusupov’s string of wins over veteran competitors elevated him to the status of title challenger, so it’s not unfathomable that the Russian could out-duel his adversary. The key for a Yusupov victory lies in his ability to take Nemkov into rounds four and five while hoping to push the champion’s cardio beyond its limits. Nemkov has an aggressive grappling attack, which could spell trouble for his less experienced foe just as much as it could spell doom for Nemkov. The champ will need to avoid Yusupov’s kicks and the possibility of getting out-wrestled by the challenger.
Nemkov has won the M-1 strap before, but he’s long overdue for a successful title defense. Yusupov has managed to avoid the loss column for a while, but his previous submission at the hands of Matiev is an indicator of what we are likely to see when these two men lock horns. Nemkov will bully Yusupov to the mat and quickly transition to a dominant position before finishing Yusupov with a submission.
Other key bouts: Andrey Seledtsov (5-1) vs. Stephan Puetz (13-2), Josh Rettinghouse (12-4) vs. Vadim Zhlobich (3-2), Mikhail Korobkov (9-0-1) vs. Timur Nagibin (6-1), Movsar Evloev (4-0) vs. Alexander Krupenkin (1-2)
Mamed Khalidov (31-4-2) vs. Aziz Karaoglu (9-6)
Hector Lombard. Jake Shields. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. Nick Diaz. Alexander Shlemenko. Yoel Romero. For a long time, the debate could rage on about the best middleweights not under the UFC banner and how they would fare once they did set foot inside the Octagon. All those names have been ticked off the list, though. Only one name remains: Mamed Khalidov. The Russian-born, Polish-based veteran has long been regarded as another member of this exclusive club of men who could enter the UFC and immediately throw their name into the hat for title consideration. Instead, the Sengoku veteran has taken up permanent residence as KSW’s star fighter. Khalidov recently captured the promotion’s middleweight title, and now he returns at KSW 35 to defend his belt against 15-fight veteran Aziz Karaoglu.
Khalidov got off to a slow 3-3 start after making his pro debut in 2004. It all started to click for the “Cannibal” in 2005. Over the next four years, he went 17-0-1 while defeating the likes of Tor Troéng, Igor Pokrajac and Jorge Santiago. The win over Santiago in Khalidov’s Sengoku debut led to an immediate rematch, with Santiago’s belt on the line, but Khalidov lost the fight via decision. He has rebounded with another strong stretch to compile a 11-0-1 mark over his last 12 fights while capturing the KSW crown in his most recent affair against fellow KSW 35 combatant Michał Materla. Before Khalidov fought Materla in November, the Sengoku veteran had been out of action for nearly a year after undergoing surgery for a spinal injury. The 35-year-old’s martial arts background began with Kyokushin karate in his youth, but he has added a diverse range of disciplines to his arsenal. The former KSW light heavyweight champion is a finisher who has stopped 17 opponents via submission and 12 foes by way of strikes.
If M-1’s choice of Yusupov to fight Nemkov seemed like a softball toss, then KSW’s pick of Karaoglu for Khalidov might seem like the promotion’s way of letting the champ hit a tee-ball. This is meant as no offense to the Turkish-born, German-based fighter, but a 9-6 mark is hardly representative of a fighter that many fans will see as a serious threat to someone as dominant as Khalidov, who suffered the bulk of his losses before 2006 and only dropped a decision to the aforementioned Santiago in the time since then. Not only is Karaoglu only three fights above the .500 mark, but he checks in at age 39. His pro debut came in the year 2000, meaning he’s averaging approximately one fight per year through his career. To be fair, his activity has come in spurts: two bouts in 2000, six bouts from 2004-06, five fights from 2008-09, one fight in 2013 and two outings in 2015. Along the way, Karaoglu has suffered setbacks courtesy of Dion Staring (twice) and an upstart Jan Błachowicz. He has also dipped his toes into the boxing world, where he has won three fights and captured the WBC Mediterranean junior heavyweight belt.
Why is Karaoglu here? Well, his recent resume certainly helps. He was a mediocre 6-6 when he departed the MMA scene in 2009. Upon his 2013 return, Karaoglu stopped prospect Piotr Strus with strikes in the first round. After another hiatus, he returned in 2015 and notched a 94-second finish TKO finish of UFC veteran Jay Silva. His most recent performance, a 30-second TKO of UFC and Bellator vet Maiquel Falcão, was even more impressive. The 39-year-old might not have a shiny record to his credit, but he has destroyed his last three opponents and holds eight career wins by some form of knockout.
Khalidov has to protect his chin. His first career loss came via TKO, but he has not been knocked out since. Karaoglu has been stopped with strikes and by way of submission. The older, less decorated fighter could certainly play spoiler to Khalidov — he’s the same sort of high-risk, low-reward opponent that plagued Lombard’s Bellator title reign. If Khalidov doesn’t take this challenge lightly, then he should run through Karaoglu with hardly any trouble whatsoever. The champ won’t be too eager to stand with someone who thrives on the knockout, so expect to see plenty of takedown attempts and grappling exchanges en route to a submission victory for Khalidov.
Other key bouts: Michał Materla (22-5) vs. Antoni Chmielewski (32-14), Mariusz Pudzianowski (9-4) vs. Marcin Różalski (5-4), Mateusz Gamrot (10-0) vs. Mansour Barnaoui (12-3) for the lightweight title, Łukasz Chlewicki (13-4-1) vs. Azi Thomas (6-1), Rafał Moks (10-8) vs. Robert Radomski (12-3), Filip Wolański (9-1) vs. Marcin Wrzosek (10-3), Michał Fijałka (15-5-1) vs. Marcin Wójcik (8-4), Kamil Szymuszowski (14-4) vs. Mindaugas Veržbickas (12-3-2)
Júnior Albini (10-2) vs. Tiago Cardoso (6-0)
Aspera Fighting Championship has upped its game in the last year or so, and its 38th effort continues the trend. The docket is heavy on up-and-coming prospects who still have a thing or two (or three) to prove. At the top of the bill, the vacant heavyweight title will be up for grabs when Júnior Albini collides with Tiago Cardoso.
The 25-year-old “Baby” Albini is returning to action after more than a year’s absence. His last fight came in November 2014 and resulted in his fourth straight Aspera win and sixth consecutive victory overall. The Astra Fight Team product made his debut in 2009 and reeled off four straight stoppage wins. His next two outings ended in choke submission losses. Albini won his next six, including five via stoppage, to rise through the Aspera ranks and end up in this title scrap. Albini’s inactivity has come through a string of bad luck. He had his previous five scheduled bouts canceled for various reasons, and he is already on his second slated opponent for Aspera FC 38. He has six submission wins, two TKO stoppages and a knockout finish.
The 6-foot-7 Cardoso will enjoy four inches in height over Albini. The 26-year-old, who fights out of Fadda Jiu-Jitsu and Team Drago, has only been competing at the professional level since 2014. He has a spotless record through six fights, but this will be his first step up from the Sao Paulo regionals onto the bigger stage of Aspera. He has tallied four wins via strikes and one submission victor.
Cardoso appears to be the more athletic of this pair, and the height and reach edge he’ll enjoy over Albini could factor into the bout’s outcome. Albini tends to fight flat-footed and tall, with his hands low and his chin up. If Cardoso can find his range and connect, it could be a nightmare of a night on the feet for “Baby.” However, as plodding as Albini can be, he’s powerful and strong. He can close the distance, initiate clinches and get the fight to the mat.
And the mat might be where Albini’s strength gives him the biggest advantage. He can get sloppy when attempting takedowns, but he recovers well and can escape from bad spots to end up in top control. Cardoso is likely to hold an edge on the feet, but Albini appears to make up for it with his abilities on the ground.
This fight ends one of two ways. The first possibility is that Cardoso scores a highlight-reel knockout. The second possibility involves grinding cage control from Albini. The first option would be more exciting, but an Albini win seems more realistic against a fighter who is taking his first big step up.
Other key bouts: Ricardo Ramos (8-1) vs. Roberto de Souza (8-1) for the bantamweight title, Tim Ruberg (12-3) vs. Washington Luiz (0-0), Cleiton Duarte (15-2) vs. Vinicius Barqueta (3-0), Felipe Douglas (11-2) vs. Thiago Duarte (5-0), Janaisa Morandin (8-0) vs. Lavínia Ione (0-0), Markus Perez (5-0) vs. Fabricio Almeida (1-0-1), Wallyson Carvalho (5-1) vs. Eli Reger (8-15), William Salvino (4-1) vs. Thiago Tubarão (1-0), Gabriel Macário (4-1) vs. Juliano Militão (6-1), Leonardo Silva (4-0) vs. Ronald Wesley (0-1)
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