Dricus du Plessis (Ruby Wolff/EFC Worldwide)

Out of Obscurity: Legend MMA 1, EFN 58 and Shooto

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…

Legend MMA 1
Jupiters Gold Coast in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
Event Date: Jan. 28
Website: Facebook/sledgehammerpromotionlegend
Twitter: @LEGENDMMA_


Spotlight Fight:
Dricus Du Plessis (9-1) vs. Steven Kennedy (23-8)

The latest promotion to join the fray in Australia is kicking things off with a card that features two UFC castoffs, a Bellator veteran and a former EFC Worldwide titleholder. The latter of those fighters, Dricus Du Plessis, will drop down to the welterweight division and share the main-event spotlight with Steven Kennedy, one of the aforementioned UFC veterans.

Du Plessis, a former WAKO world champion kickboxer, failed in his bid to become the youngest champion in EFC Africa history when, at age 20, he was submitted by Garreth McLellan in a middleweight title bout. Du Plessis rebounded from the loss with a first-round submission win over Darren Daniel in a 185-pound bout and then started flirting with a move to welterweight. Over the course of his next three fights, Du Plessis dropped to 170 pounds, fought in a catchweight bout at 176 pounds and captured the vacant EFC Worldwide welterweight crown with a submission victory over Martin van Staden. He then returned to middleweight and notched another submission win when he defeated Rafał Haratyk in the main event of December’s EFC Worldwide 56 show. The native South African was a mainstay of the EFC Africa promotion all the way through its transition to EFC Worldwide, and he has never fought in another promotion until now. Du Plessis, who has only been competing professionally in MMA since 2013, fights out of Team CIT. “Stilknocks” has two wins by some form of knockout and seven victories via submission.

The 33-year-old Kennedy has been a staple of the Australian MMA scene since his pro debut in 2008. “The Steamrolla” has captured titles in the light heavyweight, middleweight and welterweight divisions. After an early career trend of winning no more than five fights in a row before suffering a loss, Kennedy hit a groove in 2013 and reeled off seven straight wins by 2015. The streak was enough to get Kennedy noticed by the UFC, which brought him in for a main-card slot on UFC Fight Night 69, where he was submitted by Peter Sobotta in Germany. His sophomore Octagon outing came in his homeland of Australia at UFC 193. Again, Kennedy came up short, this time suffering a decision loss to Richard Walsh. Kennedy returned to the regional circuit and captured the Hex Fight Series welterweight title in his first post-UFC affair. The Fitness N Fight Centre export has tallied eight wins via strikes and nine submission victories. Meanwhile, he’s been stopped by strikes on two occasions and suffered five submission losses.

Du Plessis is a dangerous striker and a potential future star, but he’s still hunting for a signature win. Kennedy might be the perfect target. The Aussie has a well-rounded game, but he has often stumbled when asked to step up and face tougher competition. His recent win over Brian Ebersole, a fellow UFC castoff, is the biggest of his career. Ebersole is a serious threat on the mat, but Kennedy was able to survive 25 minutes against the enigmatic veteran.

While Kennedy’s performance against Ebersole is noteworthy, Du Plessis is an imposing striker who can also finish fights on the mat. It’s not reassuring that Kennedy has a habit of losing fights by submission. Du Plessis has made the choke his go-to move, and Kennedy has been victimized by chokes on at least four occasions. The South African is going to target Kennedy’s neck after dropping him with strikes. It should be enough to give Du Plessis his first win outside of the EFC organization.

Other key bouts: Arlene Blencowe (7-6) vs. Janay Harding (2-2), Vik Grujic (7-5) vs. Luke Jumeau (10-3), Anthony Johns (3-0) vs. Julius Poananga (2-0)

Eurasia Fight Nights 58
Ali Aliev Sports Palace in Kaspiysk, Russia
Event Date: Jan. 28
Website: fightnights.ru
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass
Twitter: @Fnsofficial

Spotlight Fight:
Murad Machaev (20-1) vs. Diego Brandão (20-11)

Just a few weeks after Murad Machaev made it onto our list of fighters to watch in 2017, the 30-year-old Russian can be seen on the latest Fight Nights Global offering, Eurasia Fight Nights 58, on UFC Fight Pass. The lightweight won’t get an easy fight either, as he’s set to battle disgraced UFC veteran Diego Brandão in the evening’s headlining affair.

Machaev, a Master of Sport in combat sambo and judo, trains with some of the best at the Krepost Fight Club in Moscow. He spends his days working alongside the likes of UFC fighter Zubaira Tukhugov, top Russian prospect Oleg Borisov and ONE Championship veteran Yusup Saadulaev. The “Strangler” has won 11 fights in a row since tasting defeat for the only time in his 21-fight career against Marcin Held at Bellator 77 in 2012. The 29-year-old has put together an impressive resume despite not piling on big-name victories. Machaev owns wins over the aforementioned Tukhugov, WFC champion Ivica Trušček, KSW tournament champ Niko Puhakka, Bellator veteran Alexander Sarnavskiy and BAMMA vet Jack McGann. He was also the only man to defeat ONE Championship veteran Alexey Polpudnikov in his last 12 bouts. Machaev recently picked up his biggest career win against Bellator tournament finalist Sarnavskiy at Eurasia Fight Nights 44 in February 2016. He went on to submit McGann in a September bout at EFN 51.

Brandão wasn’t the most consistent fighter to ever set foot inside the Octagon, but he appeared to have a fair amount of job security before he exercised poor judgement outside an Albuquerque, N.M., strip club and landed in jail for pistol-whipping someone. The incident led to the Brazilian’s release from the UFC in early 2016. Prior to his departure from the UFC, The Ultimate Fighter 14 featherweight winner had gone 6-4 through 10 Octagon appearances. He submitted Dennis Bermudez to win TUF and added victories over such notables as Daniel Pineda, Jimy Hettes and Katsunori Kikuno during his tenure with the world’s top promotion. The Jackson-Winkeljohn product suffered losses against Darren Elkins, Dustin Poirier, Brian Ortega and, most notably, Conor McGregor. The 29-year-old is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt who has finished only five opponents via submission. He often relies on his fists, to the tune of 11 knockout victories.

This could be Machaev’s audition for the big show. His only career loss came to a fighter who has been in a co-headlining slot in his own two UFC appearances. If Machaev can post a strong showing against Brandão, then he could land on the same roster as Held and perhaps even avenge his prior loss. The Russian’s resume suggests that he’s up to the task, too. It takes a talented fighter to hand losses to the likes of Sarnavskiy, Tukhugov and Puhakka. Brandão marks another step up for Machaev, and perhaps a more difficult task than Held, who often relies solely on his grappling arsenal to defeat opponents. Brandão has a strong jiu-jitsu game, but he’s also lethal on the feet. Machaev will have to avoid getting caught.

Brandão’s biggest weakness has always been his lack of consistency. When he shows up, he’s difficult to beat. When he doesn’t, well, that’s what accounts for losses to .500 fighters like Gert Kocani and Ururahy Rodrigues and a sub-.500 fighter like Ran Weathers early in the Brazilian’s career. Brandão has performed much better since joining the UFC, but he still loses 40 percent of the time. Machaev appears to be another prospect who could be too much for Brandão to handle. The UFC veteran will be fighting in Russia for the first time in his career, against a local favorite, while also making his first appearance following his felony arrest and subsequent UFC release. If ever there was a time when Brandão might not be completely focused, this is it. Machaev, the owner of nine submission wins and five knockout victories, should find a way to stop Brandão before the final bell.

Other key bouts: Pavel Doroftei (18-3) vs. Abusupyan Alikhanov (7-2), Shamil Magomedov (6-1) vs. Bakhachali Bakhachaliev (4-2), Marat Magomedov (7-1-1) vs. Maksim Maryanchuk (6-1), Kamal Magomedov (2-0) vs. Rasul Abdulaev (3-1), Tagir Ulanbekov (4-0) vs. Asu Almabaev (4-0), Ilya Kosnyrev (2-0) vs. Artur Bagautinov (4-0-1), Vladimir Palchenkov (2-0) vs. Shamil Amirov (1-0)

Professional Shooto
Korakuen Hall in Tokyo
Event Date: Jan. 29
Website: x-shooto.jp
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass
Twitter: @xshooto

Spotlight Fight:
Hayato Ishii (8-0) vs. Yoshiro Maeda (34-15-5)

If the Eurasia Fight Nights 58 card on UFC Fight Pass, plus Bellator and UFC events on national television, don’t provide you with your fill of MMA this weekend, then you’re in luck. UFC Fight Pass will also broadcast this weekend’s latest offering from the Japanese Shooto organization. The lineup features a compelling headliner between Yutaka Saito and Mike Grundy, but the hidden gem could turn out to be the flyweight scrap between grizzled veteran Yoshiro Maeda and up-and-comer Hayato Ishii.

The 35-year-old Maeda has 54 pro fights under his belt. He kicked things off in 2002 and fought to a draw in his first two pro outings. He went 13-0-1 over his next 14 fights, spanning across the Pancrase and Deep organizations, before landing in the first of what would be many major organizations for the Japanese fighter. Maeda’s first big stop was Pride, where he suffered two losses in a stretch that also included a number of appearances in Pancrase and Deep. He then landed in the WEC, where he put up a stiff challenge for the bantamweight strap held by Miguel Torres. Since his departure from the WEC, Maeda has made stops in such noted organizations as Dream, Sengoku and Vale Tudo Japan. He has held and defended the Deep bantamweight title as well. He has made a late career resurgence following a rough 0-4-1 stretch and has now won his last four fights, including one by submission stoppage. Overall, Maeda has 14 victories via strikes and seven submission finishes, but he has also been stopped on 12 occasions.

Burst fighter Ishii is relatively new to the game. He made his pro debut under the Gladiator banner in July 2014 and walked away with the submission win. He’s jumped from Deep to Shooto to Deep and now back to Shooto, with a stop at a Chinese promotion thrown in for good measure. Along the way, he’s collected eight wins, including three submissions and a knockout. He also claimed the Deep Future King Tournament championship as a bantamweight in 2014. While Ishii has had a perfect run as a pro, he has suffered one loss as an amateur, though that was a contentious split decision defeat at the hands of Soshi Hashimoto.

The biggest knock on Ishii is his level of opposition. The undefeated prospect’s best opponent was Zhifa Shang, an 11-6 Chinese fighter who has only appeared in bouts in his native China and nearby Kazakhstan. Musashi Nakasone is the only other fighter whose record stood above .500 when he fought Ishii. Maeda might be getting up there in age, but he’s still a far superior opponent than anyone Ishii has previously encountered.

Maeda has endured plenty of losses, but these losses came against experienced and skilled opponents like Ryuichi Miki, Daiki Hata and Bibiano Fernandes. Ishii has yet to prove he stands shoulder to shoulder with any of those men. Maeda’s still a tough fight for anyone — his four recent victories came over opponents who entered the fights with a combined record of 39-16-4 — and Ishii’s probably biting off more than he can chew.

Other key bouts: Yutaka Saito (12-2-2) vs. Mike Grundy (8-1), Jin Aoi (4-0-1) vs. Yoshihiro Koyama (22-10-2)