Klayton Mai (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Out of Obscurity: Shooto, ACB 55, LFA 7 and ProFC 62

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…

Shooto: Professional Shooto
Korakuen Hall in Tokyo
Event Date: March 24
Website: x-shooto.jp
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass
Twitter: @xshooto


Spotlight Fight:
Takumi Tamaru (7-0) vs. Hayato Ishii (9-0)

The UFC Fight Pass broadcast of Invicta Fighting Championships 22 isn’t the digital network’s only offering worthy of attention this weekend. UFC Fight Pass will also serve up the latest edition of Shooto’s Professional Shooto series. The card isn’t exactly as stacked as some of Shooto’s better events, but it does feature undefeated flyweights Takumi Tamaru and Hayato Ishii.

The 21-year-old Tamaru has left his mark on the Shooto, Vale Tudo Japan and Deep promotions since debuting in 2015. His first fight came as a bantamweight under the Deep banner and garnered the Nascer Do Sol product first-round submission victory over prospect Ippei Takase. Tamaru then moved down to flyweight and became a Shooto mainstay, reeling off four straight wins with the organization. In 2016, he made a quick stop with VTJ, where he grabbed a submission victory over veteran Hiroyuki Tanaka. He returned to Shooto for his most recent fight, a career moment for the youngster. At the Shooto Pacific Rim Double Championship event, Tamaru locked in an armbar on UFC flyweight championship tournament participant Yasuhiro Urushitani with just 12 seconds remaining in the first round. The victory moved Tamaru’s streak of stoppages to four fights and his streak of victories over veteran competitors to three fights. Overall, he has gone to just one decision while finishing four fights via submission and two contests by way of strikes.

Burst fighter Ishii has been competing for a slightly longer time than his rival. He made his pro debut under the Gladiator banner in July 2014 and walked away with the submission win. He’s jumped back and forth between Deep and Shooto, with a stop at a Chinese promotion thrown in for good measure. Along the way, he’s collected nine 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 suffered one loss as an amateur, though that was a contentious split decision defeat at the hands of Soshi Hashimoto. Much like his current opponent, Ishii added a signature win in his most recent performance. At a January Shooto card, Ishii outworked Pride and WEC veteran Yoshiro Maeda to take a unanimous nod from the judges.

The biggest knock on Ishii has been his level of opposition, but he dispelled the criticism with his decision win over Maeda. Prior to the fight with Maeda, 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 was the only other fighter whose record stood above .500 when he fought Ishii. Maeda might be getting up there in age, but he was still a far superior opponent than anyone Ishii had previously encountered.

Meanwhile, Tamaru has turned heads with victories over Hiroshi Osato and the aforementioned Tanaka and Urushitani. Unlike Ishii, who was forced to outpoint his toughest opponents, Tamaru stopped all three of his veteran foes. Tamaru’s tendency is to finish fights, whereas Ishii is a grinder. Ishii has been impressive thus far, but he might find it more difficult to hang with Tamaru all the way to the final bell. It’s more likely that the youngster will find a submission and add the first blemish to Ishii’s record.

Other key bouts: Kiyotaka Shimizu (17-13-3) vs. Hiroshi Osato (9-5-1), Manabu Inoue (17-9-3) vs. Taku Kajikawa (6-9-1), Keita Ishibashi (8-5-1) vs. Shoko Sato (27-15-2), Mamoru Uoi (16-5-4) vs. Takuya Ogura (10-9), Taison Naito (7-2-1) vs. Joji Mikami (5-3)

Absolute Championship Berkut 55
Tax Committee Sports Center in Dushanbe, Tajikistan
Event Date: March 24
Website: Facebook/acberkut
Watch Event: Fite TV free stream via Combat Press
Twitter: @acb_league

Spotlight Fight:
Sharaf Davlatmurodov (11-0-1) vs. Mukhamed Berkhamov (10-0)

It’s not often that every fight to be previewed in this column will feature an undefeated fighter, but this week’s selection of events provides us with multiple contests featuring a pair of undefeated fighters. Absolute Championship Berkut’s 55th show, which takes place in the obscure country of Tajikistan, serves up the second of these contests with its pairing of welterweights Sharaf Davlatmurodov and Mukhamed Berkhamov.

The 24-year-old Davlatmurodov hadn’t strayed from his native Russia until now. He’s already made four appearances for ACB, and much of his remaining action came in the Altay League organization. In fact, he has won three one-night tournaments with the latter promotion, accounting for six of his 11 career victories. The “Wolfhound” made his pro debut in 2015 and landed in the ACB cage by his third fight. He won his first six bouts before fighting to a majority draw against Imran Abaev in his second ACB fight. Davlatmurodov rebounded with four straight stoppage victories and added a decision nod in his most recent outing. He only recently started encountering veteran competition, but he has fared well. He landed a body kick for the knockout victory over The Ultimate Fighter: Smashes alum and UFC veteran Benny Alloway and then edged veteran Brazilian journeyman Joilton Santos on the scorecards. Overall, the Russian has five wins by some form of knockout and four victories via submission.

Berkhamov is a 23-year-old competitor fighting out of the Alligator fight team in Russia. He debuted in 2013 with a decision victory and then proceeded to choke his next five opponents into submission before tacking on another decision victory. He returned to his finishing ways by scoring a knockout and two submissions over his three most recent fights. The young welterweight spent most of 2015 competing in the Tech-Krep FC PRIME Selection tournament, a bracket in which he claimed top honors. Then, he migrated to the ACB. He, too, added a big win recently when he submitted TUF alum and UFC vet Jesse Taylor.

Berkhamov is skilled at using strikes to set up takedowns. His takedown and top game look impressive. He has a strong level change and takedown shot, and he doesn’t give his opponents much room to maneuver from the bottom. The Russian loves to attack his opponent’s neck, and he’s got a slick submission game and good timing when going for holds. He needed less than 90 seconds to wrap up a submission against Taylor. He isn’t known for his power, but he needed just 25 seconds to score the knockout against prospect Stanislav Vlasenko. Davlatmurodov is no slouch in the stand-up or on the mat, either. He’s made quick work of three opponents by way of strikes and two by submission, but he maintains his stopping ability deep in fights.

This should be an extremely competitive fight between two men who are quite capable of finishing a fight anywhere. Davlatmurodov made a steep move up in competition, whereas Berkhamov has steadily moved up the ladder while competing on a bigger stage. This might be the difference when the two men collide. Neither outcome would be shocking, but Berkhamov would appear to have the edge in this one.

Other key bouts: Yusup Raisov (9-1) vs. Donald Sanchez (31-16), Sergey Khandozhko (23-4-1) vs. Stanislav Vlasenko (8-2), Abdul-Rakhman Temirov (9-2) vs. Valdines Silva (14-6), Gamzat Khiramagomedov (4-0) vs. Will Noland (17-6)

Legacy Fighting Alliance 7
Arena Theatre in Houston
Event Date: March 24
Website: lfafighting.com
Watch Event: AXS TV
Twitter: @LFAfighting

Spotlight Fight:
Roberto Sanchez (5-0) vs. Klayton Mai (8-2)

The Legacy Fighting Alliance continues to act as a developmental league for the UFC, and if there’s one division — well, other than heavyweight — that could use an injection of new talent, it’s flyweight. The seventh offering from the LFA provides two up-and-comers with a chance to make a big impression. Roberto Sanchez brings his unblemished record into the cage against Klayton Mai, a fighter with twice the experience of his counterpart.

The 31-year-old Sanchez competed for Legacy FC all the way back into his amateur days, resulting in a 3-1 ammy mark and a Legacy amateur title win. At the pro level, the Texas-based fighter has been even more consistent. He debuted in early 2015 and scored a win over Jacob Silva. He moved on to fight slightly better opposition in his next four Legacy bouts and came away with four more wins. His amateur career was divided between split decisions and submission victories, but he’s primarily flashed his grappling acumen as a pro. After his pro debut went the distance, Sanchez reeled off four straight finishes. He can be quick too — just ask Mike DeLeon, who only lasted 54 seconds before Sanchez caught him in a choke.

Mai is probably best known for a pair of fights against TUF alum and current UFC fighter Matt Schnell. “The Python” lived up to his moniker by cinching up a choke to force Schnell into submission in their first meeting, but he was caught in an armbar for the submission loss in their rematch. The submission victory over Schnell is just one of a highlight reel of chokes Mai has applied in his 10-fight career. Overall, the 30-year-old, who debuted in 2011, has seven victories via choke submission. Oddly, his only other loss — to Bellator veteran Matt Lozano — also came by way of a choke. The Octagon MMA product has a background in wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Let’s just say this might be a race to see who can sink in the fight-ending choke. Both men certainly love to go for their opponent’s neck. Mai does stand as the most experienced opponent Sanchez has ever seen, and Mai’s aggressive submission game could be more than Sanchez can handle. Mai should be able to find the finish and hand Sanchez his first career loss.

Other key bouts: Adrian Yanez (5-1) vs. Domingo Pilarte (6-1), Jason Langellier (4-1) vs. Josh Davila (6-9), Itzel Esquivel (1-0) vs. Brandi Narvaez (0-0), Leomana Martinez (1-0) vs. Dulani Perry (2-0), Noel Ligon (5-0) vs. Gilbert Urbina (4-0), Manny Lozoya (1-0) vs. Carlos Melara (1-1), Omar Hillail (1-0) vs. Yan Digilov (0-0)

ProFC 62: Lightweight Grand Prix Finals
KSK Ekspress in Rostov-on-Don, Russia
Event Date: March 26
Website: Facebook/ProfcLeague
Twitter: @profc_MMA

Spotlight Fight:
Kamil Magomedov (8-1) vs. Vladimir Kanunnikov (7-0)

The Russian and Dagestani regions continue to produce prospects at a ridiculous rate. Two young up-and-comers from this group will be featured at ProFC 62. Lightweights Kamil Magomedov and Vladimir Kanunnikov take top billing at an event that also features a welterweight title showdown between prospect Maxim Shvets and veteran competitor Dimitry Zebroski.

The 24-year-old Magomedov turned pro in 2012 and reeled off six straight stoppage victories before suffering his first and only setback. He did finish two of these six opponents via strikes, but his more common go-to was the choke submission, which accounted for the other four victories. He lost his seventh pro fight when he fell on the scorecards to the unheralded Artur Zainukov. The Krepost Fight Club export rebounded with two wins in his 2016 campaign. The Dagestani fighter made his ProFC debut early in the year with a choke submission of .500 fighter Adam Tsurov and closed out the year with a choke finish of Aziz Hajdarov, another rather inexperienced .500 fighter.

Kanunnikov checks in at a year younger than his opponent. The Russian kicked things off in 2013 and has been perfect through seven pro outings. The ProFC mainstay captured unanimous verdicts in his first three bouts before finding first-round submissions in back-to-back contests. He resumed his penchant for going the distance in his two most recent affairs. First, he edged 1-1 fighter Ruslan Gasankhanov in a split verdict. Then, he took the unanimous nod over 14-14 veteran Claudiere Freitas.

While these two prospects have head-turning marks, neither has an eye-opener among their victories. Magomedov’s loss to a debuting pro is not very encouraging, but neither is Kanunnikov’s inability to finish inexperienced, mediocre competition. The biggest difference comes in how these men capture their victories. Kanunnikov relies heavily on outworking his opponents and taking the win on the scorecards. Magomedov is a much more decisive finisher.

Magomedov has a habit of taking foes to the mat and finishing them by submission. Kanunnikov is a grinder, but he might not be able to survive an entire fight against Magomedov. This one is likely to end with a tapout.

Other key bouts: Maxim Shvets (11-3) vs. Dimitry Zebroski (14-9-1) for the welterweight title, Shamil Bashirov (1-0) vs. Boris Miroshnichenko (15-9), Ali Abdulkhalikov (2-0) vs. Yves Landu (8-6), Gamzat Saidbegov (3-0) vs. Andrey Goncharov (5-2), Amirkhan Guliev (6-1) vs. Georgy Sakaev (0-2), Magomedrasul Gasanov (6-2) vs. Ruslan Khaskhanov (16-9), Sadrudin Vakhidov (3-0) vs. Arslan Eslemesov (4-2), Gusey Gadzhiev (2-0) vs. Roman Ogulchanskiy (1-1)