Casey Kenney (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

Out of Obscurity: TPF 30, XFFC 13 and Pancrase 284

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…

Tachi Palace Fights 30
Tachi Palace Hotel and Casino in Lemoore, Calif.
Event Date: Feb. 2
Website: Facebook/Tachi Palace Fights
Watch Event: Sherdog
Twitter: @TPFmma


Spotlight Fight:
Casey Kenney (5-0) vs. Alvin Cacdac (17-12)

Before there was a UFC men’s flyweight division, Tachi Palace Fights could have been considered the center of the MMA’s 125-pound universe. The promotion showcased plenty of fighters who would go on to compete in the Octagon, including Jussier “Formiga” da Silva and Ian McCall. The 30th edition of Tachi Palace Fights could prove to be a springboard for another up-and-coming flyweight fighter, Casey Kenney. The undefeated prospect will clash with veteran Alvin Cacdac in a battle for Tachi’s vacant flyweight championship.

After an undefeated run as an amateur that included a Tuff-N-Uff title win, Kenney made the leap to the pro ranks in late 2014. The 25-year-old Arizona resident made a successful debut with a submission of Elijah Muhammad and then edged Paul Amaro on the scorecards. In late 2015, the Rise Combat Sports export joined the Tachi roster and turned in three consecutive stoppage victories. The promotion has been trying to get Kenney lined up for a marquee fight ever since, but he had one opponent pull out on him and another miss weight by five pounds, forcing the scrapping of the bout. The Indiana native has a background in wrestling and judo.

Cacdac has more fights than all of Kenney’s previous pro opponents combined. He’s seen the inside of the WEC, Strikeforce and Bellator cages, but his success has been rather limited. He turned pro in 2006 and lost his first three outings, including two by submission. His lone WEC appearance came in that early portion of his career and resulted in a TKO loss to Casey Olson. The Nor-Cal Fighting Alliance product won five of his next six, including two fights under the Strikeforce banner. In his third Strikeforce appearance, he was submitted by future UFC fighter Bryan Caraway. While Cacdac did pick up another Strikeforce victory, he never received a heavy push from the promotion. Instead, he departed for the West Coast and Pacific regional circuits, where he went 4-3 and suffered a loss to future UFC fighter Chris Cariaso. A stop in M-1 Challenge added a loss to Bao Quach at featherweight. From there, he mostly appeared with Pacific Xtreme Combat while going 6-2 and suffering one of his losses to yet another future UFCer, Louis Smolka. Then, he was scooped up for two fights under the Bellator banner, leading to a decision loss against Jeremiah Labiano and a 31-second TKO finish of Steve Gruber. Overall, Cacdac has 15 stoppage victories, almost evenly balanced between knockouts and submissions, but he has also suffered eight submission losses.

Cacdac’s experience is a tremendous asset, but he hasn’t exactly been a model of consistency. Kenney’s wrestling and judo skills should set the table for a battle on the mat, where Cacdac seems particularly vulnerable. The veteran might be able to take advantage of some of the youngster’s mistakes, but this seems like a fight tailor-made to propel Kenney to bigger and better things. The undefeated fighter will keep his spotless record and add another name to his list of submission victims.

Other key bouts: Danny Navarro (17-6) vs. Cain Carrizosa (9-3) for the lightweight title, Anthony Castrejon (1-0) vs. Eugene Cancino (0-1)

Xcessive Force Fighting Championship 13: Future Stars
Entrec Centre in Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada
Event Date: Feb. 3
Website: Facebook/Xcessive Force FC

Spotlight Fight:
Austin Ryan (6-0) vs. Brad Katona (4-0)

“Future Stars” is the right name for this 13th effort from the Xcessive Force Fighting Championship promotion. None of the fighters in this lineup are close to a call from the UFC, but there are a few fighters who could potentially make a run at the big show further on down the road. Two of these fighters are undefeated competitors Austin Ryan and Brad Katona, who meet in a bantamweight affair.

Ryan, who started his career in the bantamweight division, returns to 135 pounds after a successful three-fight stint at flyweight. The 25-year-old turned pro in 2013 and posted two wins per year through 2015 before sitting out all of 2016. The Havoc FC mainstay is returning to the XFFC, where he made his sophomore appearance as a pro in 2013. He submitted his first two opponents before going to a decision in his third pro scrap. His three most recent fights have all ended by technical knockout. The Alberta native fights out of Arashi-Do Red Deer and has yet to compete outside of Canada.

Katona is another up-and-coming Canadian fighter. The Manitoba-based athlete debuted in 2014 with a body-punch knockout of Mike Hay in the first round of their affair. He scored a first-round submission in his second career fight, which came in the lightweight division. He’s found more difficulty in his two most recent fights. First, at bantamweight, he went the distance with Josh Rich. Then, in a featherweight match-up, he went to the scorecards with Patrick Ward. Rich and Ward represented a small step up in competition for Katona.

Ryan and Katona are proven finishers, but Katona has struggled more to stop his opponents before the final bell. We should see a great display of fireworks in this bantamweight clash. Katona’s size could figure into the outcome of this bout. He’s fought as heavy as lightweight in the past, whereas Ryan has floated between the bantamweight and flyweight divisions.

Ryan has sneaky power, a strong clinch game and an aggressive ground-and-pound attack. He does tend to get sloppy in scrambles, however, and often ends up fending off submission attacks targeting his legs. However, Katona has a proven track record as a boxer and grappler, as well as a background in karate. He’s slick on the ground, where he finished numerous amateur fights by rear-naked choke. If Ryan makes his usual mistakes on the ground, Katona could seize the opportunity to lock in a submission.

This fight should be competitive, and the result is a near toss-up. The contest pits Katona’s more refined game against Ryan’s pressure-based attack. Ryan could overwhelm Katona, but it’s hard to overlook technique compared with aggression. Katona comes out on top.

Other key bouts: Craig Shintani (6-1) vs. Mike Malott (4-1-1) for the lightweight title, Spencer Jebb (12-5) vs. Adam Smith (9-7), Alex Martinez (1-0) vs. Mike O’Neill (5-5)

Pancrase 284
Differ Ariake in Tokyo
Event Date: Feb. 5
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass
Twitter: @_PANCRASE_

Spotlight Fight:
Syuri Kondo (3-0) vs. Minna Grusander (2-0)

Pancrase has veterans like Masatatsu Ueda, Akitoshi Tamura and Yoshihiro Yamaniha on its upcoming 284th card, but the Japanese company appears set to hand the spotlight to inexperienced female strawweight newcomers Syuri Kondo and Minna Grusander.

The 27-year-old Kondo is the star of this affair. She has a lengthy career in Japanese pro wrestling, but she’s also 13-1 as a kickboxer and shoot boxer. The Vos Gym fighter has trained with Eiji Mitsuoka and Hideki Kadowaki. Her spotless MMA record through three fights includes a win over up-and-comer Kanna Asakura and the formerly undefeated Nicolle Angelica Caliari. Kondo’s first two victories came on the scorecards, but she did score a TKO in her most recent fight against the outgunned Sharma Devaiah. Her kickboxing and shoot boxing careers include just one knockout finish.

Grusander, a Finnish prospect, enters Pancrase after two wins in Europe as a pro and an IMMAF 2015 World Championship win as an amateur. Her run as a pro started in 2015 when she edged Iman Darabi in a close majority decision. In her next outing, the Free Fighters Gym standout scored a third-round technical knockout finish of Anna Kuzmenko.

These two fighters are still in the embryonic stage of their respective careers. Kondo holds the experience advantage from her string of kickboxing and shoot boxing contests, but Grusander has the more extensive MMA resume.

As strong as Kondo has looked, she’s entering just her second year as a trained mixed martial artist. Grusander has been at this for a longer period of time, and she’s a big challenge for Kondo in the pro-wrestler’s foray in MMA. It could be a case of too much, too soon for Kondo, but she will have the home-field advantage. It could be the slight edge Kondo needs to pull off a close decision in a fight that’s likely to go the distance.

Other key bouts: Shohei Masumizu (6-1) vs. Masatatsu Ueda (13-2-3), Alan Yoshihiro Yamaniha (14-5-4) vs. Tadahiro Harada (11-5-2), Akitoshi Tamura (21-17-2) vs. Yuki Nakahara (9-4), Ryo Hatta (9-2) vs. Hironobu Otsu (2-3)