Demarte Pena (L) and Irshaad Sayed stare-down prior to their first fight (EFC Worldwide)

Out of Obscurity: LFA 29, EFC Worldwide 66 and FNG 82

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 29
Mystic Lake Casino Hotel in Prior Lake, Minn.
Event Date: Dec. 15
Watch Event: AXS TV
Twitter: @LFAfighting


Spotlight Fight:
Chico Camus (18-7) vs. Ricky Simon (10-1)

The Legacy Fighting Alliance might be a top developmental league, but it’s not always just the youngsters who benefit from this setting. Sometimes, the LFA can serve as a place for a veteran to turn things around. Case in point, Chico Camus. The UFC veteran found mixed results inside the Octagon and dropped his final two UFC fights, but now he’s set to compete for the LFA bantamweight title after winning his four most recent fights. At LFA 29, Camus will have to get through up-and-comer Ricky Simon if he wants to capture the crown and possibly the renewed interest of the UFC.

Camus, a member of the Roufusport camp, entered the UFC in 2012 after accumulating an 11-3 mark on the regional scene and picking up a decision victory over the formerly undefeated Alp Ozkilic. In his Octagon debut, Camus, competing as a bantamweight, decisioned Dustin Pague. He dropped his next outing to Dustin Kimura, but rebounded with a decision nod over Kyung Ho Kang. After a no-contest ruling in his bout with Yaotzin Meza, Camus lost to Chris Holdsworth. The Wisconsin native then shifted gears and dropped to flyweight, where he narrowly edged Brad Pickett before dropping back-to-back fights to top contenders Henry Cejudo and Kyoji Horiguchi. He parted ways with the UFC and made two successful appearances as a flyweight with the Resurrection Fighting Alliance and then moved back to bantamweight for his initial outing under the LFA banner. Camus decisioned Darrick Minner in that LFA bout and then made a recent appearance on the regional scene, where he added a decision win over Andrew Whitney. The 32-year-old has four knockouts and three submission victories, but he’s also seen the scorecards in 15 of his fights, including five losses.

The 25-year-old Simon is taking a significant step up in competition for this fight. The Rose City FC and Gracie Barra Portland product has defeated the likes of Jeremiah Labiano and Alex Soto, and he recently picked up a split-decision win over Donavon Frelow on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, but he also suffered a big loss to Anderson dos Santos in his bid for the Titan Fighting Championship bantamweight title. Simon’s pro run, which began in 2014, includes four knockout victories and one submission finish. His loss to dos Santos came via submission.

Camus has never looked the part of a top bantamweight while competing in the major promotions. He scored unanimous nods over Pague and Kang, eked out a split verdict against Pickett, and went the distance in three of his four UFC losses. He also suffered a submission defeat at the hands of Kimura. His post-UFC run, though, suggests that he’s at least a gatekeeper to the big leagues. He’s handed setbacks to some decent opposition, including the aforementioned Minner and Czar Sklavos.

Simon is most successful at garnering the finish when he attacks early, but a stoppage won’t come easy against a man who lasted a full three rounds with Holdsworth, Cejudo and Horiguchi. Camus has a lot of experience to draw upon for this fight, and that veteran savvy could give him all he needs to find victory in a hard-fought battle. However, Simon is a strong wrestler and could put Camus on the ground and grind out the decision.

Simon might be tempted to stand with Camus, but that’s a bad option. As a member of the Roufusport camp, Camus has trained with the likes of talented strikers like Anthony Pettis. Simon, meanwhile, is teammate of Chael Sonnen. If Simon decides to stand and bang, then Camus takes the victory. If Simon opts to take Camus to the mat, things get much more interesting.

Simon’s close decision victory on DWTNCS doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence in the up-and-comer. He should have enjoyed a size and strength advantage over Frelow, but he only managed to earn the victory on two of the judges’ scorecards. Camus has probably taken note of the holes in Simon’s game and should take advantage of Simon’s weaknesses en route to the decision victory.

Other key bouts: Mike Richman (18-7) vs. Jeff Peterson (8-4), Carl Wittstock (9-2) vs. Brandon Jenkins (10-5), Alton Cunningham (3-0) vs. Dominic Garcia (4-1), Sam Toomer (11-1) vs. Nate Jennerman (9-3), Jason Witt (11-4) vs. Ty Freeman (10-6)

Extreme Fighting Championship Worldwide 66: The Fighter 1 Finale
Time Square in Pretoria, South Africa
Event Date: Dec. 16
Watch Event: Live main card on (Sub-Saharan Africa), Kwesé Free Sports 1 (Africa), SABC 3 (South Africa), TV Player (United Kingdom), Fight Sports (Europe and Asia) and (worldwide).
Twitter: @EFCworldwide

Spotlight Fight:
Demarte Pena (11-0) vs. Irshaad Sayed (13-2)

Extreme Fighting Championship Worldwide’s 66th event is easily its biggest and most anticipated card yet. The South African promotion has followed in the footsteps of the UFC by producing The Fighter 1 reality-show competition. While it is meant to crown a new star for the company in the middleweight division, the show also served as a platform to promote the rematch between Demarte Pena and Irshaad Sayed, the two best fighters in the organization. The pair square off for the bantamweight title this weekend.

Pena, a former EFC Africa featherweight champion, vacated the 145-pound crown to challenge Nkazimulo Zulu for the bantamweight title. After five hard-fought rounds, Pena emerged with the belt. He successfully defended the title against Francis Groenewald in 2014 and Cedric Doyle in 2015. He appeared to have scored another successful defense when he decisioned Sayed in November 2016, but the outcome was later changed to a no-contest after Pena tested positive for a banned substance. The 28-year-old fights out of Fight Fit Militia and made his pro debut in 2011. He captured the EFC Africa featherweight title in just his third fight and went on to make five successful title defenses before making the move to 135 pounds. Pena has seen the scorecards seven times (eight, if we count the decision over Sayed that was later overturned), while only picking up two TKO victories and two submission wins. He’s seen the championship rounds in an astounding nine of his 12 pro fights. “The Wolf” is a SASCA grappling champion and an undefeated amateur Muay Thai competitor through six contests, but he also has a background in Shaolin Kung Fu, karate and judo.

Sayed is a 15-fight veteran who started his pro career in 2010. The “White Tiger” spent much of his early career in Asia, including six fights in Chinese promotions. In that span, he suffered two losses to Tuerxun Jumabieke and won the remainder of his fights against mediocre competition. He even made an appearance under the ONE FC banner, where he defeated Jessie Rafols. After a year of inactivity from early 2013 to early 2014, Sayed migrated to EFC Worldwide. He scored five straight victories with the organization, including a win over the aforementioned Doyle for the interim bantamweight title, and then met Pena in the ill-fated no-contest bout. The 28-year-old Evolve MMA export has gone on to add another TKO stoppage to his resume in his lone bout since facing Pena. That victory gives him six striking stoppages to go along with two submission victories. He has a background in kickboxing and Muay Thai, and he has held the WPMF World Muay Thai title and the RUFF bantamweight championship in the sport of MMA.

Pena has established himself as the elite man atop the EFC roster, but his positive test for a performance-enhancing drug, which he attributes to a contaminated substance he ingested, is a huge blemish on his record. The PED use aside, Pena can finish opponents via strikes or submissions, but he tends to be more of a grinder who is content to let the judges determine the outcome of his fights. It’s worked to Pena’s favor thus far.

Sayed has a better finishing rate than Pena, but he stumbled twice against Jumabieke, another grinder. Sayed failed to show that he can beat Pena in their first contest, albeit the verdict was close and was later overturned. He has a chance for redemption here, though. These guys make for a ridiculously even pairing, from their near identical height and reach measurements to their stand-up exchanges.

Pena was willing to stand with Sayed in their first contest, and Sayed looked good in the first round, where he maintained separation against Pena. Sayed caught one of Pena’s kicks and used it to dump the champ to the mat, scored on forward-charging flurries and chopped away at Pena’s legs. Pena did score with a head kick, but he otherwise sat back and waited for Sayed to come to him. Pena’s strategy of counter-striking worked better in round two, while Sayed kept to his approach of chopping the legs and tended to throw single punches more often. While Sayed continued to press forward in the third stanza, his accuracy and effectiveness dwindled. He caught a couple of Pena’s kicks and even dumped the champ to the canvas again, but Pena’s counters were the most significant offense of the round. It was more of the same early in the fourth frame, but then Pena scored his first takedown of the fight. They didn’t stay down for long, but Pena also went for a trip takedown and guillotine choke in the closing seconds of the round. In the final stanza, Pena scored a takedown and landed with ground-and-pound to give him the round and the fight.

Sayed’s going to have another long night and grueling fight on his hands, but he has the tools to win this fight if he sticks to the game plan that gave him early success in their first meeting. He just needs to turn it up a notch to score more against Pena. Meanwhile, Pena might want to mix in more takedown attempts. The takedowns in the fourth and fifth rounds of their initial faceoff were certainly the biggest difference in scoring between the two men.

Overall, expect the same type of kickboxing chess match as in the first fight. Sayed’s best chance at victory remains the knockout, but he’ll have a hard time finding Pena’s chin. Pena might utilize more wrestling this time around, and he’ll certainly use takedowns in the championship rounds when Sayed is more tired. In a fight that should stick closely to the script of their first meeting, Pena will again emerge with the championship intact via yet another judges’ decision.

Other key bouts: Andrew van Zyl (15-3) vs. Jared Vanderaa (6-1) for the heavyweight title, Ibrahim Mané (6-0) vs. Brendan Lesar (1-0) in The Fighter 1 tournament final, Rizlen Zouak (2-0) vs. Jaqauline Trosee Feddersen (2-2), Gunter Kalunda Ngunza (2-0) vs. Conrad Seabi (4-3), Steven Goncalves (3-0) vs. Nerick Simoes (2-0), Will Fleury (2-0) vs. Gordon Roodman (3-5-1)

Fight Nights Global 82
SCC Russia in Moscow
Event Date: Dec. 16
Watch Event: YouTube
Twitter: @fngmma

Spotlight Fight:
Vitaly Minakov (20-0) vs. Tony Johnson Jr. (11-3)

He’s perhaps one of the best heavyweights in the world, but he’s not fighting in the spotlight of the UFC or even his former home of Bellator. Instead, Vitaly Minakov is competing in relative obscurity as a member of the Fight Nights Global roster. FNG has at least provided Minakov with some well-known opponents, and he’ll get one of his tougher tests at the promotion’s 82nd event when he meets Tony Johnson Jr.

Minakov’s spotless record through 20 fights includes a reign as the Bellator heavyweight champion. During his time with the American-based promotion, the 32-year-old scored victories over Ron Sparks and Ryan Martinez to take home a tournament championship. Then, he defeated fellow Russian and future UFC fighter Alexander Volkov to claim the gold. He only defended his belt once, against UFC veteran Cheick Kongo, before defecting to the FNG promotion and eventually forcing Bellator to strip him of his title. Under the FNG banner, Minakov has gone on to defeat the likes of Adam Maciejewski, Gerônimo Dos Santos, Josh Copeland, Peter Graham, D.J. Linderman and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva. Minakov is a high-level practitioner of sambo, judo and freestyle wrestling, but his fists have carried him to knockout victories in 11 of his outings. He’s earned seven additional stoppages by way of submission. Minakov has only seen the scorecards on two occasions.

The 31-year-old Johnson is a grinding wrestler who has gone the distance in half of his 14 contests. He does have the ability to use his wrestling and clinch work to set up the knockout, though. He’s stopped six of his opponents via strikes. The native Texan trains out of the Ghost Wolf camp and started his pro career in 2008. In his debut outing, he topped Kenny Garner. In his fourth fight, he beat Tony Lopez. His first loss came to future Strikeforce and UFC champ Daniel Cormier. The “Hulk” has defeated Derrick Lewis, the aforementioned Volkov and former UFC champion Tim Sylvia, but he’s also suffered losses to Chris Lokteff and the aforementioned Kongo. Johnson has fought for Bellator, where he’s gone 3-1 over two stints.

If Minakov is going to keep fighting in Russia, at least he’s getting some decent opponents thrown his way. Johnson has been able to surprise a number of talented fighters, most notably former Bellator champ Volkov. While his style is heavy on wrestling, he can unload with powerful strikes to finish his opponent. Yet, as good as Volkov is, he doesn’t compare to what Johnson will see against Minakov.

Minakov is an aggressive finisher who is strong in the clinch and has overcome plenty of tough competition. Johnson’s an excellent challenge, but he’s not going to stop Minakov on the Russian’s home soil. Minakov will eventually find the knockout in a fight that allows him to stay relevant in the worldwide rankings, but he needs to move to the UFC or return to Bellator if he really wants to solidify his legacy.

Other key bouts: Nikolay Gaponov (5-1) vs. Vener Galiev (28-10), Shamil Akhmedov (5-0) vs. Artur Astakhov (15-5), Alexandr Shabliy (16-3) vs. Miroslav Štrbák (15-7-1), Grzegorz Siwy (10-1) vs. Khalid Murtazaliev (9-2), Mariya Agapova (4-0) vs. Liliya Kazak (6-4-2), Aigun Akhmedov (19-3) vs. Hernani Perpétuo (18-5)

Last Week’s Scorecard
Fight Prediction Outcome
Alonzo Menifield vs. Otavio Lacerda at LFA 28 Menifield by knockout Menifield by knockout
Jason Soares vs. Herbert Burns at Primus FC Soares by decision Fight canceled
Takasuke Kume vs. Kazuki Tokudome at Pancrase 292 Kume by knockout Kume by knockout