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…
Event Date: Sept. 2
Watch Event: Live main card on television networks SuperSport World of Champions (Africa), Fight Now! TV (U.S., Canada and Caribbean), Abu Dhabi TV (Middle East and North Africa), Fight Sports (Europe and Asia) and ESPN Player (Europe).
Andrew van Zyl (12-3) vs. Tony Mustard (6-0)
Extreme Fighting Championship Worldwide’s 53rd event is arguably its best offering in quite some time. In addition to a middleweight title tilt between Yannick Bahati and Michiel Opperman, the lineup also features several prospects, including Boyd Allen and Danny Henry. The best set of prospects on the card, however, reside in the heavyweight division. Andrew van Zyl, a two-time EFC heavyweight champ, is climbing the ladder once again. This time, he’ll have to top Tony Mustar, an undefeated British fighter making his promotional debut.
Van Zyl has had an up-and-down run as an EFC mainstay since 2010. He quickly landed in a title fight in 2011 against Ruan Potts, but he was submitted in the first round. He won two fights to climb back into title contention and then dethroned Potts as the champ. Van Zyl posted one successful defense before relinquishing the title to Potts, again via a first-round submission loss. After two more wins, van Zyl made his third run at the belt. He defeated Brendon Groenewald for the strap, but he turned around and lost the belt in his first defense against Cyril Asker. The outcome of that fight was also a first-round submission defeat for van Zyl. He has rebounded with one more victory, and the trend would suggest that a win over Mustard would put van Zyl back in line for a title shot.
Mustard is a Team Fish Tank export who has not previously competed outside of the United Kingdom. He turned pro in 2014 and didn’t need more than a minute to finish any of his first four fights. His fifth outing, against veteran Paul Taylor, did last a few minutes, but it, too, ended before the conclusion of the first round. He continued to roll in his most recent fight against sub-.500 veteran Tomasz Czerwiński. The fight was also a first-round stoppage. Mustard finished all six of his opponents via strikes.
Van Zyl’s background is in the grappling arts, but his record reveals the South African’s penchant to look for a knockout. He’s found seven such finishes, compared to just three submission victories. The 6-foot-3 heavyweight has a solid chin and has trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under South African BJJ pioneer Rodney King. However, the biggest hole in van Zyl’s game is his submission defense. He has never been knocked out, nor has he lost on the scorecards, but he has been submitted in each of his losses — and those submissions come early in the fight, too.
Van Zyl won’t have to worry about a submission in this fight. That’s simply not Mustard’s style. The Brit is a banger with decent takedown defense and no urge to take the fight to the mat himself, unless it’s to follow his opponent down and unleash with a ground-and-pound assault to end the fight. Instead, Mustard is most dangerous when he gets separation on the feet. He’ll chop opponents down with punishing kicks to the lead leg and overwhelm them with a flurry of strikes. This usually leads to a knockdown, followed by the aforementioned ground-and-pound finish.
Mustard has a few things working against him in this fight. He’ll venture out of his homeland for the first time. He’ll be fighting a successful 15-fight veteran who has held numerous titles, as opposed to rookie fighters or mediocre (to be kind) veterans. Finally, this brawler has to contend with van Zyl’s chin, which has yet to fail him. Van Zyl is no pushover either. He’s willing to pull guard if necessary, and he’s great at pulling off reversal to land in mount or take his opponent’s back.
Van Zyl’s tendency to stand with his opponent might give Mustard an opening to rattle the South African, but the former EFC champ is not going to fall easily. Mustard, meanwhile, has never dealt with an opponent who can eat his punches and also provide a serious threat on the mat. It’s highly probable that van Zyl’s strategy will involve pulling guard if he can’t score traditional takedowns from the clinch. Mustard hasn’t been tested on the mat, but that will change once he locks horns with van Zyl. Mustard could be staring at his first loss, likely by submission.
Other key bouts: Yannick Bahati (6-1) vs. Michiel Opperman (11-10) for the middleweight title, Boyd Allen (13-3-1) vs. Azi Thomas (6-2), Danny Henry (8-2) vs. Wade Groth (5-3), Mamoudou Toure (2-0) vs. Tumisang Madiba (5-3), Martin DeBeer (4-1) vs. Jasen Van Der Merwe (1-2), Kaleka Mpemba Kabanda (4-1) vs. Pupanga Tresor (2-3)
Event Date: Sept. 3
Watch Event: Combat and SporTV (Brazil), ESPN Deportes (Latin America), ESPN3
Deiveson Alcantra (9-0) vs. Denis Araujo (11-0)
The 90th offering from the Brazilian Jungle Fight promotion could be a UFC scout’s dream. The middleweight title affair features an undefeated up-and-comer, as does the heavyweight championship bout. There are several other significant prospects on the card with no losses, and an additional few with only one loss. Then, there are the undefeated flyweights — two additional prospects the UFC could add to a division that’s on the verge of receiving an influx of talented regional champions via The Ultimate Fighter’s latest iteration. The undefeated flyweights in question are Deiveson Alcantra and Denis Araujo.
Alcantra trains out of the Marajó Brothers camp. He has only gone the distance in one of his nine winning affairs. He has four stoppages via strikes and four submission victories. “Daico” started competing professionally in 2012, but his record features heavy activity in even numbered years and complete inactivity in odd numbered years. He has seven first-round finishes.
Araujo has also fought as a pro since 2012, but he hasn’t taken entire years off in that span. Instead, he’s competed steadily while dispatching of 11 foes. “Três Dedos” trains out of BH Rhinos and has seven stoppage wins. He has four knockouts and three submissions. Araujo’s most notable victory came in an XFC International tournament when he defeated José Vagno Soares, who was 11-1 coming into the fight.
Araujo, despite a fairly even amount of knockout and submission wins, looks more comfortable on his feet. He uses feints and a busy in-and-out style of movement while working his stand-up. Alcantra, by contrast, is more flat-footed as he stalks opponents. Alcantra is much more confident on the mat, too. He’ll work ground-and-pound from the top position and wait for openings for a submission attempt.
Alcantra may look like the stronger fighter and the better grappler, but Araujo has proven himself against superior talent. If he can lure Alcantra into a stand-up battle, he can outpoint the Marajó Brothers product. If, on the other hand, this fight hits the canvas, Araujo will be at a disadvantage.
Araujo is going to run circles around Alcantra on the feet. Alcantra is simply too stiff and tentative to throw. Araujo won’t willingly stay on the ground for long, either. This leaves Alcantra with few roads to victory. Araujo might not score a finish, but he’ll get the judges’ nod.
Other key bouts: Paulo Henrique Costa (7-0) vs. Adriano Balby (11-3) for the middleweight title, João Almeida (3-1) vs. Henrique Silva (5-0) for the heavyweight title, Alex Sandro (7-2) vs. Carlos Irigoitia (2-2), Leonardo Silva (6-0) vs. Klidson Farias (8-2), Gabriel Silva (5-0) vs. Israel Ottoni (4-1), Charles Michael (13-2) vs. Bruno Assis (4-1), Viviane Araujo (2-0) vs. Tabatha Ricci (2-0), Alisson Barbosa (7-2) vs. Toninho Gavinho (5-3), João Carlos Souza (3-0) vs. Nivanilson Gonzaga (5-2-1), Maira Mazar (4-1) vs. Bianca Sattelmayer (7-7), João Paulo Silva (7-1) vs. João Paulo Melo (8-3), Paulistenio Rocha (10-3-1) vs. Alberto Silva (0-1)
Event Date: Sept. 4
Yana Kunitskaya (8-2) vs. Yanan Wu (6-0)
China is a largely untapped but growing market of MMA talent. So far, the focus has been on the nation’s male athletes, but the ladies can’t be ignored. Take Yanan Wu, a 134-pound female competitor who is set to appear this weekend in Russia as part of Fightspirit Championship 6. We, an undefeated prospect, gets a true test when she fights veteran Yuna Kunitskaya on the undercard of a bill topped by Vyacheslav Vasilevsky and Matt Horwich.
The 20-year-old Wu has six fights under her belt. The majority of her wins have come via strikes, but she has finished one opponent by way of submission. She has spent much of her brief career under the Chinese King Fu Championships banner. Wu has only fought rookies and one- or two-fight veterans up until this stage in her career, which began in 2013.
Kunitskaya is a 26-year-old fighter based out of the Action Force Fight Team. The Lithuanian-based athlete started her pro career in 2009 and won her first two fights before suffering a decision loss to Maria Hougaard Djursaa. “Foxy” bounced back with six straight wins, including an impressive 34-second TKO of Cindy Dandois under the M-1 Challenge banner. The streak ended when Kunitskaya announced her pregnancy in the second half of 2012 and remained inactive until 2016. Upon her return, Kunitskaya suffered a first-round submission loss to Zaira Dyshekova at an Absolute Championship Berkut show in March.
Kunitskaya is an experienced and successful fighter, but she’s still trying to get her legs under her following a lengthy layoff while she was enjoying motherhood. Her comeback got off to a rough start with the loss to Dyshekova, and Wu isn’t exactly a gimme fight either. However, this contest should play more into Kunitskaya’s striking style. Both women do go for the odd submission, but they certainly prefer to throw punches and look for the TKO or knockout finish.
Despite the long layoff, Kunitskaya is a tremendous leap up in competition for Wu. We’ve seen this before, where a Chinese fighter posts eye-opening numbers right up until they encounter international competition. Kunitskaya will welcome Wu to the international scene in rude fashion with a knockout finish of the Chinese upstart.
Other key bouts: Vyacheslav Vasilevsky (28-5) vs. Matt Horwich (29-23-1)