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…
Alexey Kunchenko (14-0) vs. Murad Abdulaev (15-4)
Alexey Kunchenko and Murad Abdulaev. Just over seven months ago, their positions were reversed. In April, at M-1 Challenge 65, it was Abdulaev who held the promotion’s welterweight title. Kunchenko was the eager challenger. Now, at M-1 Challenge 72, the pair rematch. This time, Kunchenko is the titleholder and Abdulaev is the fighter hungry for a piece of gold. Kunchenko dispatched of Abdulaev in the fourth round via TKO in the original fight. Does Abdulaev have the answer this time around, or will Kunchenko once more send his counterpart home in total disappointment?
Kunchenko, 32, only debuted as a pro in 2013, but he checks in as the older fighter in this pairing. He remains undefeated through 14 outings. He has faced some tough veteran competition, but his most notable victories, in addition to his title-clinching win over Abdulaev, came against Bellator veterans Ron Keslar and Carlos Pereira. The Boets product has a foundation in Muay Thai and registered 11 of his 14 wins by way of strikes. After capturing the welterweight crown from Abdulaev, Kunchenko returned to action in early September in a non-title catchweight bout and worked his way to a unanimous decision nod over Eduardo Ramon.
Abdulaev made his pro debut under the M-1 banner in 2009 and floated around the Russian circuit until returning to the M-1 Challenge series in 2013. He lost his return bout to Alexander Yakovlev via split decision, but rebounded with a stoppage win over Daniel Tabera in his next outing. The victory was enough to boost Abdulaev into a title affair against Marcelo Brito. Abdulaev defeated Brito by way of unanimous decision to claim the league’s welterweight crown. His fight against Kunchenko was his first defense of the belt, but he couldn’t emerge with the victory. He hasn’t fought since the April bout. The “Hunter” tends to win via either strikes or decision, but he does have a pair of choke submissions on his record as well. He trains out of the Fighting Eagle team and holds a victory over UFC fighter Albert Tumenov.
Kunchenko remains the prospect with the shiny, unblemished record, but it would still be a mistake to dismiss Abdulaev. The champ has a traditional Russian sambo and wrestling style that could allow him to neutralize Kunchenko by grounding the striker. Furthermore, Abdulaev demonstrated his ability to threaten Kunchenko on the feet. He had Kunchenko rocked in their first meeting and pummeled him with follow-up strikes, but he simply couldn’t finish the fight when the opportunity presented itself.
Abdulaev could catch the champ in a shootout. Kunchenko, a Russian military hand-to-hand combat champion, delivers devastating flurries of punches on the feet and barrages of ground-and-pound strikes when he gets to mount, but Abdulaev was able to dole out his own brand of punishment in return when he first encountered Kunchenko.
The rematch should be a back-and-forth contest, just like the first fight. Abdulaev’s primary route to victory is to grind it out for five rounds in hopes of taking home the decision. Abdulaev is a tough fighter who has proven that he can handle guys like Tumenov and Kunchenko and push someone like Yakovlev to a split verdict. Unless Kunchenko once again lands a well-placed blow that forces Abdulaev to bow out early, we’re looking at a very close fight. Abdulaev will push Kunchenko, but this one will still go to the undefeated fighter, although it’ll make it all the way to the scorecards this time.
Other key bouts: Alexey Makhno (13-4) vs. Artiom Damkovsky (21-10), Artem Frolov (7-0) vs. Luigi Fioravanti (26-14), Rubenilton Pereira (16-3) vs. Damir Ismagulov (8-2), Kristijan Perak (9-3-1) vs. Talekh Nadzhafadze (3-1), Timur Nagibin (7-2) vs. Kurbanali Abdusalamov (6-2)
German Titov Boxing Fight Night
Uralochka Sports Palace in Yekaterinburg, Russia Event Date: Nov. 18
Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva (19-10) vs. Ivan Shtyrkov (4-0)
Not too long ago, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva was a top-10 heavyweight competing in the UFC. A string of brutal knockout losses pushed him off the UFC roster and outside of the division’s elite. Now, not even two months removed from the most recent of his losses, Bigfoot is set to return on the regional circuit and cash in big with a payday of half a million dollars. He’ll compete under the German Titov Boxing Promotions banner in an MMA contest against undefeated upstart Ivan Shtyrkov.
The 37-year-old Bigfoot hardly needs much introduction. He’s a former EliteXC champion, Strikeforce veteran and UFC title challenger. Silva, who trains with American Top Team, has been in the cage with some of the best heavyweights in the world, including Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum, Frank Mir, Roy Nelson, Fedor Emelianenko, Andrei Arlovski, Cain Velasquez, Mark Hunt and Daniel Cormier. A well-rounded fighter who has tallied 14 stoppages via strikes and holds black belts in judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Silva has fallen off the heavyweight elite map over recent years thanks to a weak chin. He’s been tagged for nine losses by some form of knockout. He has suffered six losses by way of strikes over his last eight outings, including five first-round finishes and four clean knockouts.
Shtyrkov, 28, serves as Silva’s opponent. While the fighter may only have four previous outings under his belt, he demonstrated his power against UFC veteran Jeff Monson in May. The Russian fighter landed a blow that sent Monson to the mat, where Shtyrkov finished the experienced grappler with an armbar in the very first round. “Ural Hulk’s” win over Monson came just 31 seconds into the fight, making it the quickest stoppage of Shtyrkov’s brief career. He’s never gone beyond the 100-second mark in any of his fights. His other opponents include a man who is now 1-12 and suffered two losses to Shtyrkov and a fighter whose only pro bout came against the 28-year-old. He has finished two fights with strikes and two contests via armbar submission.
The casual fight fan may look at Bigfoot, a recent castoff from the UFC, and see someone who will squash the younger and less experienced Shtyrkov, but this fight can’t be summed up in such simple terms. The Brazilian is no longer a title-contending beast. Instead, he’s an aging fighter with what appears to be a glass chin. Silva has only had his hand raised once in his past eight fights, and that win came against Soa Palelei, the least renowned of his opponents in the span. He took straight knockouts at the fists of the aforementioned Arlovski, Mir, Stefan Struve and Nelson.
Sure, Shtyrkov doesn’t carry a notable name, but this smallish heavyweight has a way of turning out the lights on opponents. Silva’s playing a dangerous game by entering a bout so soon after such a big knockout loss, but the accompanying paycheck makes it worth it for him. The days of Bigfoot as a successful fighter are more than likely behind us. Shtyrkov could be the weekend’s big winner if he can find a home for one or more of his heavy strikes.
Andre Harrison (14-0) vs. Julian Lane (11-7-1)
Ring of Combat returns this weekend with two of its biggest prospects in tow for its 57th event. Former ROC bantamweight champion Julio Arce will challenge for Frank Buenafuente’s featherweight crown in one of the featured bouts, but it’s the return of undefeated fighter Andre Harrison that grabs our attention. Harrison returns to the promotion for a superfight against The Ultimate Fighter alum Julian Lane.
Harrison made his pro debut in the ROC cage as a lightweight in late 2011. He transitioned to the featherweight division in his sophomore bout and picked up three victories at 145 pounds and a win at a 140-pound catchweight before competing for the vacant Ring of Combat belt against Matias Vasquez. Harrison put Vasquez away with strikes in the first round to claim the crown. After more than a year of inactivity, he returned and took a split decision win in a title fight against Jeff Lentz. The former NCAA Division II All-American wrestler then signed with Titan FC and claimed decision wins in his first three Titan appearances, including a title win over Kurt Holobaugh. Harrison has remained consistent since claiming the Titan crown. He has made four successful defenses of the belt while defeating the likes of Des Green, Steven Siler, Deivison Ribeiro and Alexandre Bezerra. Many of Harrison’s recent opponents, including the aforementioned Lentz, Holobaugh, Green, Siler and Bezerra, as well as Cody Bollinger, have some form of Bellator or UFC experience. It’s no fluke that Harrison, who trains out of Bellmore Kickboxing Academy and Joe Scarola’s Gracie Barra Long Island and teaches at Empire MMA in Queens, has gotten to where he is today. His training partners include UFC fighters Dennis Bermudez and Chris Wade.
Lane had a disappointing stint on TUF 16, where he defeated Diego Bautista before losing to Bristol Marunde. However, “Nitrane” is probably best remembered for his outburst on the show and the famous quote — “Let me bang, bro!” — that accompanied it. The high school wrestler and football player made his pro debut in 2011 and won his first four fights, including a Bellator appearance, before entering the TUF competition. Since his failed campaign for a TUF trophy, Lane has remained a very inconsistent fighter. He went 1-3-1, including losses to George Sullivan and Paul Felder, in his next five fights after the reality series. He then won four straight before falling into a three-fight skid. He’s now 2-1 over his last three fights, but he is coming off a loss in his Ring of Combat debut. The 29-year-old Elite Sports Academy export and Wreckroom Athletics fighter has seven submission wins to his credit, but he’s also suffered three defeats via some form of knockout.
The Ring of Combat veteran Harrison has quick combinations that could send Lane reeling, and his grinding approach to the ground game is superior to anything Lane has to offer. While there’s bound to be a lot of wrestling in this contest, this could be Harrison’s best chance to put away an opponent with his fists. The undefeated fighter has only managed three stoppages via strikes through his 14-fight career, but this is a chance for him to add to the total.
Lane isn’t a huge threat to the goose egg in Harrison’s loss column. The TUF alum could always score a surprise knockdown or knockout, but Harrison should be able to neutralize Lane’s offense and keep grinding until an opening presents itself. If Harrison can’t find the knockout blow, he’ll have no problem settling for a decision.
Other key bouts: Frank Buenafuente (7-2) vs. Julio Arce (9-2) for the featherweight title, Tevin Cooke (3-0) vs. James Gonzalez (2-1), Tony Gravely (8-2) vs. Merab Dvalishvili (4-2), Tajuddin Abdul Hakim (3-0) vs. Guram Mestvirishvili (1-1), Ruslan Melikov (5-1) vs. Willie Hosch (4-3)
Xiaonan Yan (8-1) vs. Emi Fujino (18-10)
New female atomweight prospects can be few and far between. That’s what makes Road FC 34’s showdown between Chinese fighter Xiaonan Yan and Japanese fixture Emi Fujino so special. Fujino is a battle-tested warrior who will provide a good litmus test of where Yan ranks among the world’s finest.
Fujino is a well-traveled veteran of the sport. Her stops include Smackgirl, Valkyrie, Sengoku, Jewels, Pancrase, the World Series of Fighting, Road FC and Kunlun Fight. The 35-year-old made her pro debut in 2004 and compiled an undefeated mark, including a win over Mei Yamaguchi, through her first eight outings. She fell on hard times in her next four bouts, all decision losses, including a defeat in a rematch with Yamaguchi. Fujino rallied back in late 2010 and has posted a 10-6 mark through her last 16 fights. The six losses in that span came against the legendary Megumi Fujii, Ayaka Hamasaki, then-reigning WSOF champion Jessica Aguilar, Mizuki Inoue (twice) and Weili Zhang. “The Kamikaze Angel” has competed in kickboxing and appeared in professional wrestling bouts, but she tends to favor the ground when finishing opponents. Fujino has claimed seven submission victories, with the rest of her wins coming on the scorecards. Despite 10 defeats, Fujino has only been stopped once in MMA action, and that was due to a cut.
The 27-year-old Yan is hoping to follow in the footsteps of the aforementioned Zhang, who became the first ever fighter to bring an early end to Fujino’s night. “Fury” is a Chinese fighter with a sanda background. Her professional record is a little sketchy, with a victory over an unnamed opponent in 2008 marking the beginning of her pro run. She competed a total of five times between 2008 and 2010, including three appearances under the Xian Sports Academy’s Ultimate Wrestle banner. Yan, who already held victories over Jin Tang and Gina Iniong, went dormant after 2010 and didn’t return to action until 2015. Once back, the diminutive fighter streaked her way through four opponents, including one foe in the URCC and two under the Road FC banner. Yan has six victories via strikes and one submission loss.
Fujino is in new territory for this fight. She has never fought at 105 pounds before in her 28-fight career. Some fighters excel at a lower weight, but others find the cut to be too grueling. It’s anyone’s guess as to how Fujino responds. Her experience, grappling skills and heart are all assets. If Fujino loses, it’s likely to happen on the scorecards.
Yan has plenty working against her. She’s competed primarily in China, which doesn’t feature the level of talent Fujino has seen in Japan. Yan suffered her only loss to Karina Hallinan. The defeat came way back in 2010, but it’s difficult to dismiss a loss to a sub-.500 fighter, especially when that loss came by way of submission. If Fujino can get Yan to the ground, this could be a difficult fight for the Chinese prospect.
Take away Fujino’s recent stunning loss — it came as the result of a cut and not a legitimate finish — and she still owns a resume where she only succumbs to the best of the best. If Fujino’s weight cut goes smoothly, she’ll be in line for another submission win that sends Yan back to square one.
Other key bouts: Mu Gyeom Choi (7-4) vs. Murat Kazgan (2-1-1) for the featherweight title, Yusuke Kawaguchi (19-11) vs. Aorigele (3-3), Kenan Song (12-2) vs. Elnur Agaev (10-6), In Jae La (5-0) vs. Xin Dong (3-3), Rodrigo Caporal (13-5) vs. Khuukhenkhuu Amartuvshin (3-3)
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