Viktor Nemkov (Greg Samborski/Sherdog)

Out of Obscurity: M-1 Challenge 77, Titan FC 44 and ACB 61

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…

M-1 Challenge 77
Sochi Sport Palace in Sochi, Russia
Event Date: May 19
Watch Event: Russia 2 (Russia),
Twitter: @OfficialM1


Spotlight Fight:
Viktor Nemkov (24-6) vs. Ronny Markes (16-4)

It’s been a few years since the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, but M-1 Global is putting the Sochi Sport Palace to use. The organization will hold the 77th edition of its M-1 Challenge series at the venue that was constructed for the Olympic games. Light heavyweight veterans Viktor Nemkov and Ronny Markes take top billing at the show.

In 2014, the same year that Sochi was hosting the Olympics, Nemkov lost the M-1 light heavyweight championship to Stephan Puetz. In 2015, he reclaimed the strap from the German. At M-1 Challenge 66, Nemkov dropped the title in a stunning loss to unheralded prospect Rashid Yusupov. The veteran rebounded with a victory over Bellator veteran Attila Vegh and is now resuming his quest for M-1 gold. Nemkov’s career kicked off in 2008. By his sophomore outing, the Kazakhstan native was competing within the M-1 promotion. He went 11-3 before getting his first crack at the vacant belt in a losing effort against prolific grappler Vinny Magalhães, who submitted Nemkov midway through the fight. Nemkov reeled off seven straight wins in the aftermath of his defeat and then fought once more for the M-1 belt, which was vacant yet again. This time, the Russian-based fighter emerged victorious with a submission finish of Vasily Babich. His first attempted defense did not go quite as well, however, and Nemkov relinquished the belt to the aforementioned Puetz in a razor-thin split decision. Again, Nemkov rebounded with a winning streak, this time through three fights, before rematching Puetz. The pair battled for five rounds and the verdict was no less contentious than in their first affair. However, Nemkov’s hand was raised with the majority decision nod. The 30-year-old has trained with the Red Devil Sport Club, a team made famous by Fedor Emelianenko, and Alexander Nevsky MMA. He is a Master of Sport in sambo and judo and won a sambo world championship in 2011. In the realm of MMA, he has 10 submission wins and four victories via strikes.

The 29-year-old Markes is one of Nova União’s most successful fighters in the heavier weight classes. He debuted in 2007 and went 10-1 before facing star fighter Paulo Filho in 2011. Markes notched a decision win over Filho and earned a call from the UFC. He made his Octagon debut with a decision win over Karlos Vemola and then moved down to middleweight, where he topped Aaron Simpson and Andrew Craig via decision. Markes couldn’t keep his momentum going, however. He was paired with rising contender Yoel Romero in his next fight and suffered a third-round TKO loss. His next outing, against Thiago Santos, lasted just 53 seconds before Santos put Markes away via strikes. The Brazilian returned to light heavyweight after parting ways with the UFC and defeated Cully Butterfield under the World Series of Fighting banner. His 2015 campaign was marred by disaster. He was replaced by Matt Hamill in a scheduled WSOF 19 bout against Thiago Silva and was hospitalized before weigh-ins for his WSOF 20 bout with Dave Branch. He made a comeback attempt in 2016, but didn’t even last two minutes before he was submitted by Cássio de Oliveira. In his only bout thus far in 2017, Markes finally returned to the win column with a title defeat of Tony Lopez under the King of the Cage banner for the league’s super heavyweight crown.

The big variable in this fight relates to Markes, his health and his ability to return to prime form. The Brazilian ended up in the hospital after a botched weight cut and then lost his comeback fight in 2016 against a veteran competitor who has never landed in the big leagues. His only win since 2014 came against the aforementioned Lopez, a fighter who was dominant inside the King of the Cage organization across three different weight classes for much of his career while failing to accomplish much outside of the organization. Markes did submit Lopez in quick fashion, but Nemkov appears to be a more formidable foe.

Markes, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, would have been a favorite over Nemkov if this fight had taken place in 2014 or prior. Now, however, the tables are turned. Markes is still young enough to right the ship and get back to his winning ways, but it’ll be difficult to trust the Brazilian until he racks up a few wins and proves that he’s returned to form. Nemkov, meanwhile, has experienced plenty of stumbles, but he’s also secured victories over the now surging UFC light heavyweight Gadzhimurad Antigulov, former Bellator title challenger Vegh, prospect Puetz and Russian MMA fixture Maro Perak. One notable loss for Nemkov did come at the hands of Lopez, though.

Once again, we have to look at this fight through the perspective of the present and not the past. Markes has struggled since his hospitalization. If he gets back to where he was prior to his disastrous 2014-15, then he easily submits Nemkov. However, in his current form, Markes is likely to fall short on the scorecards against against the Kazakh fighter.

Other key bouts: Artem Frolov (8-0) vs. Talekh Nadzhafadze (4-1-1), Moses Murrietta (4-0) vs. Andrey Seledtsov (6-3), Artur Lemos (8-2) vs. Raul Tutarauli (9-4), Felipe Rego (10-3) vs. Viktor Kolesnik (9-2-1), Pavel Gordeev (6-1) vs. Till Kinne (4-1), Sergey Faley (20-9) vs. Lom-Ali Nalgiev (12-5), Sergey Voloshin (3-0) vs. Sergey Klyuev (0-0)

Titan Fighting Championship 44
Pembroke Pines City Center in Pembroke Pines, Fla.
Event Date: May 19
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass
Twitter: @titanfighting

Spotlight Fight:
Farkhad Sharipov (17-7) vs. Jose Torres (4-0)

What is a fighter to do if he wins a major regional title and the UFC still doesn’t come calling? Well, he can always try for two championships. That’s the answer that burgeoning prospect Jose Torres came up with after his Titan FC flyweight title win didn’t land him a spot in the big show. Now, Torres is moving to the bantamweight division for a showdown with Titan FC titleholder Farkhad Sharipov.

The 24-year-old Torres seemed to be on the fast track to the UFC. “Shorty” scorched 12 amateur opponents before moving to the pro circuit. He was set to debut in late 2015, but things didn’t work out as planned and Torres only arrived in early 2016. He’s been a Titan FC fighter since his pro debut, where he submitted Travis Taylor on the main card of Titan FC 37 while competing as a 135-pounder. His sophomore outing also came at the bantamweight level, and Torres took out veteran Reynaldo Duarte in another main-card affair. His third fight was a co-headliner for the flyweight belt against Abdiel Velazquez that Torres won via strikes. Finally, in his fourth appearance, the decorated kickboxer defended his Titan crown against UFC castoff Pedro Nobre. In addition to multiple titles in the sports of kickboxing and MMA, Torres has a background in karate and wrestling.

The 33-year-old Sharipov has been around since 2007. He won more than he lost en route to a 10-3 mark before he made his first Bellator appearance in 2010. He won his first Bellator fight and another under the Tachi Palace Fights banner before winning just two of his next six. The Gracie Barra Orlando export’s rocky patch included decision losses to Jessie Riggleman, Fabio Mello, Deivison Ribeiro and Cody Stamann. The Kyrgyzstan native finally righted the ship upon competing with Titan FC in 2016. First, he edged Bruce Lutchmedial via split decision. Then, in a battle for the vacant bantamweight crown, Sharipov outworked longtime Titan fighter Andrew Whitney to take a unanimous nod. The Florida-based fighter has a decision-heavy resume and has never been stopped.

Torres has his work cut out for him against the very tough Sharipov. Sharipov is the taller fighter by three inches. The bantamweight champ also has the reach edge by a margin of four and a half inches. Finally, Sharipov has far more experience at the pro level. That’s where his advantages might end, though.

Torres is capable of winning this contest. He may not be a seasoned pro yet, but he’s competed and won extensively as both an amateur mixed martial artist and a kickboxer. Furthermore, he’s part of the new generation of young fighters who have a well-rounded background. Torres can submit opponents, wrestle them or finish them with strikes. His biggest struggles in this fight is the size he’s giving up to Sharipov. “Shorty” is definitely better suited to compete as a flyweight once he sets foot inside the Octagon, but his size hasn’t stopped him from topping plenty of 135-pound rivals at the amateur levels and in his earliest Titan FC outings as a pro.

Sharipov is a grinder, but Torres will provide enough offense to sway the judges in his favor. Then, the youngster will sit next to the phone and wait for the call.

Other key bouts: Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante (21-9-1) vs. Kurt Holobaugh (16-4) for the lightweight title, Edir Terry (5-1) vs. Gleidson DeJesus (5-2), Marc Stevens (21-10) vs. Robert Turnquest (7-3), Jorge Calvo Martin (9-1) vs. Bruno Mesquita (7-1), Michael Lombardo (2-0) vs. Lorenzo Hunt (2-3), William Starks (1-0) vs. Michael Cora (3-1), Gustavo Balart (2-0) vs. Juan Puerta (11-6), Demarques Jackson (5-1) vs. Paulo Silva (5-4), Ronildo Augusto (10-2) vs. Dan Ige (6-1)

Absolute Championship Berkut 61
Sibur Arena in St. Petersburg, Russia
Event Date: May 20
Website: Facebook/acberkut
Watch Event: free Fite TV stream via Combat Press
Twitter: @acb_league

Spotlight Fight:
Marat Balaev (7-0) vs. Adlan Bataev (7-0)

This weekend is shaping up to be an excellent one for MMA outside of the UFC. After fans take in Bellator 179 on Spike TV, Titan FC 44 on UFC Fight Pass and/or the AXS TV broadcast of Legacy Fighting Alliance 12 on Friday night and before they crank up the UFC Fight Pass stream of Invicta FC 23 for a solid eight-fight event on Saturday evening, they can come right here to the Combat Press website for a free viewing of the 61st event from the Russian-based Absolute Championship Berkut promotion. It’s no small card either. In addition to a number of prospects and the long-anticipated rescheduled bout between Andrey Koshkin and Abdul-Aziz Abdulvakhabov, the lineup features a headlining featherweight title clash between champion Marat Balaev and challenger Adlan Bataev.

It’s not that often that a 41-year-old fighter can be called a prospect, but Marat Balaev is one. The “Motivator” might seem like he should be gearing up for retirement, but he didn’t make his pro MMA debut until the age of 37. He’s fought just seven times and has yet to taste defeat. This all came after a 10-year prison stint. While he debuted with M-1, Balaev has spent much of his career under the ACB banner. After spending four of his first five fights at lightweight, the Alexander Nevsky protege dropped to the featherweight division and scored a 90-second submission finish of Suleiman Bouhata. Balaev’s next fight was for the vacant featherweight crown. Balaev battled Yusup Raisov for five rounds and emerged with the unanimous verdict to win the title. All but one of the champ’s victories came on the scorecards.

Bataev is a solid challenger. He’s been a member of the ACB roster for his entire pro career, which kicked off in 2013. The Fight Club Berkut talent sharpened his teeth on increasingly better opponents until he stepped up to meet some notable veterans. In early 2016, he stopped UFC veteran Marcos Vinicius with strikes in the second stanza of their ACB 31 outing. Next, he decisioned accomplished Peruvian journeyman David Cubas. Finally, he scored a unanimous decision over former King of the Cage champion and Bellator veteran Donald Sanchez. Bataev has three stoppages, including two submissions, on his resume.

Balaev, a freestyle wrestler, and Bataev, a grappler, make for an intriguing main event on a card that also features the likes of Alexey Butorin, Albert Tumenov, Denis Smoldarev, Beslan Isaev, Elvis Mutapcic, Luis Palomino and the aforementioned Koshkin and Abdulvakhabov. Balaev’s rise makes for a great and inspiring story, but the 41-year-old is due for a stumble sooner or later. Bataev has proven himself against far superior competition in his last three fights. He’ll hand Balaev a submission loss to claim the ACB featherweight gold.

Other key bouts: Alexey Butorin (11-1) vs. Nikola Dipchikov (15-4), Mikhail Kolobegov (11-3) vs. Piotr Strus (10-3-2), Andrey Koshkin (16-5) vs. Abdul-Aziz Abdulvakhabov (14-1), Albert Tumenov (17-4) vs. Ismael de Jesus (15-5-1), Denis Smoldarev (12-3) vs. Salimgerey Rasulov (15-7), Oleg Borisov (18-2-1) vs. Dukvaha Astamirov (3-0), Beslan Isaev (35-9) vs. Elvis Mutapcic (15-5-1), Ilya Sheglov (6-1) vs. Wallyson Carvalho (8-2), Luis Palomino (25-13) vs. Marcos Schmitz (14-3), Tural Ragimov (16-3) vs. Rustam Kerimov (5-0), Alexei Martynov (12-6-1) vs. Vasiliy Palyok (8-5), Arman Ospanov (7-0) vs. Taichi Nakajima (12-7-1)