Thiago Moises (center) (RFA/Facebook)

Out of Obscurity: LFA 17, TFC 15, ACB 65 and M-1 Challenge 81

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…

Legacy Fighting Alliance 17
Grady Cole Center in Charlotte, N.C.
Event Date: July 21
Watch Event: AXS TV
Twitter: @LFAfighting


Spotlight Fight:
Thiago Moisés (9-1) vs. Robert Watley (7-1)

Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series seems to be poaching much of the talent that once resided at the top of Legacy Fighting Alliance bills, but the LFA’s 17th offering demonstrates the promotion’s skill at putting together a lineup that still includes a few established prospects while also digging deeper to find what might prove to be some hidden gems (see: Dylan Cala, Talita de Oliveira and Hugo Hernando Prada). The card’s two most notable up-and-comers reside in the main event, where Thiago Moisés clashes with Robert Watley for the inaugural lightweight crown.

The young Moisés, despite one setback on his resume, has impressed in his MMA career. The 22-year-old kicked off his career in 2012 and won his first four fights. He eventually stumbled against Jason Knight, who has since gone on to claim four wins in five Octagon appearances. Moisés recovered by moving to the Resurrection Fighting Alliance and claiming a submission win as a featherweight. He then challenged for the vacant lightweight strap and defeated veteran Dave Castillo by submission to claim the championship. He defended the belt against Jamall Emmers, who fell via TKO to the American Top Team and 011 MMA Team export, and Zach Freeman, who dropped a decision to the Brazilian. With the RFA’s merger with the former Legacy Fighting Championship organization, Moisés, who as three career submissions and two knockouts, now has a new belt to chase.

The 27-year-old Watley has found plenty of success of his own. After a mediocre 3-2 run as an amateur, “Contact” turned pro in 2014 and lost his debut bout via submission to Francisco Isata. It would be the last time the Maryland-based fighter tasted defeat. He’s gone on to pick up seven straight wins. Along the way, he also collected three knockouts, one submission, the Shogun Fights lightweight title and the Xtreme Caged Combat lightweight crown. He also defended the Shogun strap. Watley’s most notable victories came against Dan Root, who sported a 10-2 mark going into their contest, and the previously unbeaten Josh Visel.

Watley is a good regional prospect, but is he on the same level as ATT’s Moisés? That’s doubtful. Moisés did stumble against Knight, but Knight has gone on to become a very successful UFC fighter. Meanwhile, Moisés has snagged victories over established talent like the aforementioned Castillo, Emmers and Freeman. Watley hasn’t demonstrated his ability to consistently defeat that same level of opposition. His victories over Root and Visel are a good start, but both of those fighters had an underwhelming set of opponents on their resumes. Watley is always capable of pulling off a technical knockout, but he might be stymied by the more well-rounded attack of his Brazilian opponent.

Knight, the man who handed Moisés his only loss, has one knockout at the UFC level, three knockouts overall and 16 career stoppage victories. Knight couldn’t put Moisés away, though. Watley’s best chance for a victory is likely to come through a knockout, but it might be a near-impossible task for the Maryland prospect. Watley’s not the easiest out either, but Moisés can certainly outwork him en route to a judges’ nod.

Other key bouts: Dylan Cala (5-1) vs. Tony Gravely (9-4), Alexa Conners (4-1) vs. Talita de Oliveira (4-1), Hugo Hernando Prada (8-1) vs. Mike Stevens (6-4), Chandler Cole (2-0) vs. Tebaris Gordon (1-0)

Top Fighting Championship 15
KBS Sports World Arena in Seoul, South Korea
Event Date: July 22
Watch Event: Naver Sports (South Korea)

Spotlight Fight:
Weili Zhang (13-1) vs. Ye Dam Seo (2-0)

Road FC is not the only game around in South Korea. While Top FC doesn’t have quite the notoriety, the promotion has managed to assemble a strong lineup for its 15th venture. The card features such notables as Bulgarian middleweight title hopeful Deyan Topalski, UFC veteran Takenori Sato and undefeated featherweight upstart Sung Bin Jo. It’s the evening’s headliner, a battle for the vacant women’s strawweight title, that really grabs our attention. The contest features the rather green Ye Dam Seo, but all eyes will be on her opponent, Chinese star and Kunlun Fight champ Weili Zhang.

The 27-year-old Zhang debuted in 2013 with a loss to Bo Meng, another Chinese fighter who has developed into one of the country’s top talents. Since the loss, however, the Black Tiger Fight Club product has been perfect through 13 bouts. After winning six fights, all by finish, across China, Thailand and South Korea, Zhang finally got a chance to prove herself against an established star when Kunlun Fight teamed up with the Rebels promotion for an August 2016 show in Japan. Zhang faced Emi Fujino at the event and walked away with a second-round TKO finish due to a cut. Zhang returned to her homeland and the Kunlun Fight organization to claim the strawweight belt in her next outing against Maira Mazar. Zhang then reeled off another five wins, including a first-round knockout of Karla Benitez and a decision nod over Aline Sattelmayer. Overall, the Chinese star has seven knockouts and five submissions.

Seo doesn’t have anywhere near the experience or resume of her counterpart. The South Korean fighter took two knockout wins in Top FC’s Mall League last year before turning pro in November. She claimed a decision win over sub-.500 fighter Yoo Jin Jung in her debut and then knocked out Ji Yeon Seo in the third-round of their contest.

This seems like nothing more than a showcase fight for Zhang. Seo has knockout ability, obviously, but she’s getting thrown to the wolves against a fighter who has proven capable of hanging with the likes of Fujino, Benitez and Sattelmayer. Zhang should steamroll Seo in this contest and take the finish. How will it end? Well, given Seo’s propensity to score knockouts, Zhang might opt to take the fight to the mat and test her opponent’s submission defense. The result will be another submission win for the Chinese fighter.

Other key bouts: Jae Young Kim (21-10) vs. Deyan Topalski (16-3) for the middleweight title, Sung Chan Hong (6-1) vs. Takenori Sato (19-11-7) for the lightweight title, Seung Woo Choi (5-1) vs. Young Bok Kil (8-2-1), Sung Bin Jo (7-0) vs. Yoshifumi Nakamura (20-9-1), Min Joo Lee (2-0) vs. Kyu Sung Kim (7-2)

Absolute Championship Berkut 65
Sheffield Arena in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England
Event Date: July 22
Website: Facebook/acberkut
Watch Event: free Fite TV stream via Combat Press , free stream on YouTube
Twitter: @acb_league

Spotlight Fight:
Thiago Silva (19-5) vs. Batraz Agnaev (3-0)

No matter how troubled a fighter may be, he or she will still land somewhere. In the case of UFC veteran Thiago Silva, somewhere has turned out to be the Absolute Championship Berkut light heavyweight throne. The Brazilian’s championship will be on the line in the main event of ACB’s 65th edition when he meets undefeated Russian Batraz Agnaev.

Silva’s story is full of odd twists and turns. He’s dealt with back injuries, failed drug tests, attempts to cheat at those drug tests, and, of course, arrests and SWAT situations. These transgressions all added up to a UFC release and a vow from UFC President Dana White that Silva would never again appear in the UFC. While the UFC has made good on this promise, Silva has gone on to fight under the World Series of Fighting, Akhmat Fight Show and ACB banners. Once a rising UFC light heavyweight contender, the 34-year-old lost his first two post-UFC bouts. However, he has righted the ship to pick up three recent wins, including decisions over veterans Stav Economou and Jared Torgeson (for the ACB crown) and a knockout finish of fellow UFC alum Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou. Silva lives and dies by the knockout — he has finished 13 foes via strikes, but also suffered three knockout losses.

Agnaev, who only has three pro fights under his belt, is at a severe disadvantage in the experience category. However, the Russian is coming off a very impressive knockout finish of longtime Swedish standout Max Nunes. The victory signaled Agnaev’s arrival in the ACB after he spent the early portion of his career in the M-1 Challenge organization. The Alexander Nevsky protege has a boxing base and has claimed victory in the first round of all three of his pro fights.

The Silva of old would have torn through an inexperienced rival like Agnaev with ease. However, the modern-day Silva is no longer the same fierce world-beater. The Brazilian’s recent losses came via knockout to Teddy Holder and Marcus Sursa, and he went the distance in a victory over Matt Hamill, who was already in the midst of a steep decline, and recent opponents Economou and Torgeson. Silva might be the current champ in ACB, but he’s far from untouchable.

Agnaev displayed extreme composure against Nunes. The Russian was strong on the feet, fending off the Swede’s kicks, but he lacked the wrestling ability to avoid takedowns. On a positive note, Agnaev quickly bounced back to his feet after the first takedown and managed a sweep from his back that marked the beginning of the end for Nunes, who eventually suffered a separation from his senses via Agnaev’s huge ground-and-pound strikes.

Silva looked sluggish in his win over Torgeson, whereas Agnaev appeared to be fast and light on his feet versus Nunes. Despite Silva’s black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the UFC vet doesn’t seem eager to engage in any grappling unless his opponent forces the issue. He’d be well served to change this approach against Agnaev, who can easily be taken to the canvas. If Silva opts to stand, which is a safe assumption, Agnaev brings a more technical and swift attack that can carry him to victory on the scorecards.

Other key bouts: Brendan Loughnane (14-2) vs. Pat Healy (30-23), Leandro Silva (20-5-1) vs. Joshua Aveles (25-11-2), Alexey Polpudnikov (22-4-1) vs. Donald Sanchez (31-16), Evgeny Erokhin (17-5) vs. Mike Kyle (22-14-1), Vyacheslav Vasilevsky (30-5) vs. Will Noland (17-6), Alex Reyes (12-2) vs. Vardan Sholinian (7-3), Danny Navarro (17-7) vs. Arthur Estrázulas (9-3), Andrew Fisher (15-8-1) vs. Niklas Bäckström (11-2), Sam Boult (7-1) vs. Adam Boussif (9-6)

M-1 Challenge 81: Battle in the Mountains 6
Nazran in Nazran, Ingushetia, Russia
Event Date: July 22
Watch Event: Russia 2 (Russia),
Twitter: @OfficialM1

Spotlight Fight:
Sergei Kharitonov (25-6) vs. Gerônimo Dos Santos (39-18)

While this column usually opts to highlight only three top fights from the weekend’s lineup of regional and international action, it’s difficult to ignore an overseas match-up featuring one of Bellator MMA’s big signings. Sergei Kharitonov, who has made two appearances in the Bellator cage, is back for his second straight outing with M-1 Challenge. The star heavyweight draws a seasoned veteran opponent in Gerônimo Dos Santos.

Kharitonov, a Pride, Dream and Strikeforce veteran, made news when he inked a deal with Scott Coker’s Bellator MMA. The Russian kickboxer made his promotional debut in November at Bellator 163, but he suffered a stunning 16-second knockout loss to the unheralded Javy Ayala. The 36-year-old gained some redemption when he returned at Bellator 175 and scored a first-round knockout of his own against Chase Gormley. The Golden Glory export shifted his sights back to the motherland for his most recent outing, a 39-second destruction of Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou. The International Master of Sport in boxing has 15 career knockouts, but he’s also tallied nine submission victories.

Dos Santos might share the same last name as an unrelated former UFC heavyweight champion, but the 36-year-old “Mondragon” is far less decorated in his lengthy MMA career. The Brazilian, who sometimes fights at super heavyweight, debuted in 2006 and won just one of his first four bouts. After a streak of six finishes, he against hit a rocky patch where he went 2-4. However, he rebounded once more to the tune of seven stoppages. The pattern continued with another 2-5 stretch, including a loss to top heavyweight Josh Barnett, followed by a remarkable 15-2 run that put him in line for a UFC appearance in 2012. Injury got in the way of his shot at the UFC, and he has posted only a 6-4 mark in his subsequent 10 fights, most of which have taken place in either Brazil or Russia. Overall, “Mondragon” has 25 knockout wins and 10 submission finishes, but he has also succumbed to nine knockouts and seven submissions.

The last time Kharitonov saw the scorecards, the year was 2005 and Pride was still around. Dos Santos has only gone the distance in four of his 57 career outings. If this isn’t a recipe for a finish, then what is?

There have to be some lingering questions about Kharitonov’s chin following his shocking Bellator debut setback against Ayala. It wasn’t his first knockout loss, or even the first to come in the opening stanza of an MMA or kickboxing fight, but it was the quickest knockout defeat of his combat-sports career and came against easily the least accomplished of the fighters against whom he has lost. “Mondragon” is a hard hitter who carries a huge frame behind his punches, so he could potentially test that chin as well.

Kharitonov has bounced back from big losses before. He also has a far superior record compared to his opponent, whose most notable victories came against infamous nut-cracking Bellator veteran Thiago Santos, the outsized Francimar Barroso and Ildemar Alcantara, and recent foes Dion Staring, Marcus Sursa and Evgeny Erokhin. Kharitonov should be able to handle “Mondragon” and add another knockout victim to his long list.

Other key bouts: Pavel Vitruk (14-2) vs. Movsar Evloev (7-0) for the bantamweight title, Joe Riggs (44-17) vs. Dmitry Samoilov (19-10-1), Spencer Jebb (12-5) vs. Ingiskhan Ozdoev (3-3), Konstantin Gluhov (31-16) vs. Kleber Silva (13-7), Gadzhimurad Aliev (6-0) vs. Arman Ashimov (5-2-1), Alik Albogachiev (2-0) vs. Filip Narizhnyi (6-3), Akhmadian Ozdoev (3-0) vs. Alberto Vargas (1-2), Nurbek Ismailov (3-0) vs. Giga Kukhalashvili (7-3)

Last Week’s Scorecard
Fight Prediction Outcome
Takeshi Kasugai vs. Nam Jin Jo at Heat 40 Kasugai by decision Kasugai by submission
Shamil Zavurov vs. Leo Kuntz at Road FC 40 Zavurov by submission Zavurov by decision
Leandro Soares vs. Denis Araujo at Jungle Fight 91 Soares by submission Araujo by decision