Kairat Akhmetov (ONE Championship)

Out of Obscurity: ONE Championship, LFA 32 and Cage Titans XXXVII

Every week, Combat Press takes a look at three regional, developmental and 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…

ONE Championship: Global Superheroes
Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines
Event Date: Jan. 26
Website: onefc.com
Watch Event: pay-per-view stream at onefc.com
Twitter: @ONEChampionship


Spotlight Fight:
Kairat Akhmetov (24-1) vs. Geje Eustaquio (9-6)

If this feels like a case of déjà vu, you’re not alone. ONE Championship’s latest effort, dubbed “Global Superheroes,” features a rematch of a fight that just happened in September. This time, though, the stakes are much higher. When Kairat Akhmetov and Geje Eustaquio faced off at “Total Victory” last year, it was a simple flyweight feature bout. This time, however, the two men will battle for the ONE interim flyweight title.

The 30-year-old Akhmetov had hoped that his previous win over Eustaquio would have thrust him into a trilogy bout with Adriano Moraes for the ONE flyweight crown. However, Moraes was unable to fight on short notice and ONE opted to create an interim belt. Now, the former champ Akhmetov has to once again fight Eustaquio, who only lost by split decision in their first encounter. Akhmetov debuted in 2010 and fought primarily in his native land until debuting with ONE. Along the way, he won 22 straight fights and captured the Alash Pride FC flyweight strap. After taking a split verdict over Moraes in November 2011, Akhmetov faced the Brazilian in a rematch at ONE Championship: Kings and Conquerors. In the rematch, Moraes took a unanimous decision to reclaim his championship belt from the Kazakh fighter. The Tiger Muay Thai and Alash Pride export has stopped five opponents by way of knockout and 10 via submission.

Eustaquio was actually the man against whom Moraes originally snagged the ONE title. The Filipino fighter has been a mainstay of the promotion since its second event. He debuted on the regional circuit in 2011 and won four of his first five outings, including the aforementioned ONE debut. From there, Eustaquio’s career has been a roller-coaster ride. He lost to Andrew Leone in 2013, but won his next two fights against Eugene Toquero and Kentaro Watanabe. The wins put “Gravity” opposite Moraes in the title bout, where Eustaquio fell via a second-round submission. In his next outing, the Lakay Central Gym product suffered a split-decision loss to the unheralded Anatpong Bunrad. Eustaquio responded with wins over Saiful Merican and Gianni Subba. He stumbled yet again when he was submitted by Toni Tauru, but he rebounded with a split decision over the aforementioned Bunrad to avenge his previous loss. Then came the narrow verdict against Akhmetov. The Filipino tends to go the distance in victory, but he has earned two knockout stoppages and two submission finishes. Meanwhile, the 28-year-old has been submitted twice.

Akhmetov has a background in Greco-Roman wrestling that will come in handy to put Eustaquio on the mat, where the Filipino fighter seems most vulnerable. The former champ did this throughout their first fight en route to the split-decision win. The Kazakh fighter has also spent some time during his career cross-training with famed coach Greg Jackson, and he’s also worked out of Tiger Muay Thai. These experiences have exposed him to some elite-level camps.

Eustaquio has a background in kickboxing and wushu. He proved to be more than a minor threat to Akhmetov in the striking department when he landed legal up-kicks while on his back and dazed Akhmetov. Unfortunately, the referee paused the action and allowed Akhmetov to recover as if the blows were not legal. If Eustaquio can land again in this fight, even from off his back, he’ll certainly pounce in order to leave no doubt about the victory.

As expected, Eustaquio had trouble with the Kazakh’s strength and wrestling to keep their first fight standing. Even his near-finish came while he was on his back. Eustaquio needs to strike early and avoid Akhmetov’s takedowns, but that’s a huge ask.

Once on the canvas, the Filipino fighter will be outclassed by his flyweight counterpart. Akhmetov might not remain active enough on the ground to pick up the submission, but he should control Eustaquio on the way to another judges’ nod. Maybe next time, he’ll actually get his trilogy fight with Moraes.

Other key bouts: Joshua Pacio (13-2) vs. Ming Qiang Lan (1-1), Eric Kelly (12-4) vs. Rafael Nunes (10-1), Haobin Ma (8-1) vs. Sotir Kichukov (13-6), Hayato Suzuki (17-1-2) vs. Yago Bryan (3-3), Meas Meu (6-0) vs. Edward Kelly (9-4), Ze Hao Zhang (2-0) vs. Rajinder Singh Meena (8-7)

Legacy Fighting Alliance 32
Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Lake Charles, La.
Event Date: Jan. 26
Website: lfafighting.com
Watch Event: AXS TV
Twitter: @LFAfighting

Spotlight Fight:
Brendan Allen (8-2) vs. Anthony Hernandez (5-0)

It should be no surprise that the Legacy Fighting Alliance has a vacant belt. It happens all the time. The promotion’s champions tend to get signed by the UFC shortly after winning an LFA title. That brings us to Brendan Allen and Anthony Hernandez. These two middleweights will vie for the title that was vacated by Markus Perez when Perez signed with the UFC. Perez’s predecessor as champion was Eryk Anders, who also vacated the belt to sign with the UFC. Allen and Hernandez are certainly hoping to continue this not-so-subtle trend.

The 22-year-old Allen already has two losses on his record, but they’ve come against some very talented opposition. After opening his pro career in 2015 and scoring two victories, Allen suffered a loss to Trevin Giles, who is now undefeated through two UFC appearances. “All In” rebounded with five straight stoppage wins, including a submission of The Ultimate Fighter 13 alum Charlie Rader and a knockout of grizzled veteran Jon Kirk. Allen’s convincing stoppage of Kirk put him in line to fight Anders for the vacant LFA middleweight title, but Anders was able to outwork Allen over five rounds to take home the belt. Allen has since returned to the cage to pick up another submission win, this time with a first-round stoppage of prospect Chris Harris. Overall, Allen has knocked out three opponents and submitted five more.

Allen’s opponent is no slouch, though. The 24-year-old Hernandez remains undefeated through five pro fights. Following an amateur run that included a loss to future UFC fighter Justin Jones peppered in among nine wins, “Fluffy” went pro in 2014. Hernandez needed less than a minute to dispose of his first pro opponent via strikes. His subsequent four fights have all ended via first-round submission. The MMA Gold Fight Team product doesn’t have any notable names on his resume, but he hasn’t stuck to fighting inexperienced cans. Instead, he’s defeated fighters who had 28, 12 and nine total fights on their respective records when they clashed with Hernandez.

The LFA has found a very intriguing pair of fighters. Allen and Hernandez each have five first-round stoppages as pros. They each have finished all of their pro wins. They also tore through a vast majority of their amateur foes. These guys are capable of stopping an opponent at any moment, especially if the fight goes to the ground.

This is about as close to a coin-toss affair as it gets, but some weight has to be given to Allen’s time in the cage with future UFC fighters Giles and Anders. Giles was able to finish him, but Anders failed to follow suit. That’s pretty remarkable, given Anders’ own track record that included a knockout of Rafael Natal. Allen also demonstrated that he’s capable of holding off a submission specialist when he defeated the aforementioned Rader. Hernandez could be in for a rude awakening here. While he’s fought some seasoned pros, he’s never encountered someone as skilled as Allen while competing at the professional levels. Allen should find the submission.

Other key bouts: Ryan Spann (12-5) vs. Alex Nicholson (10-4) for the light heavyweight title, Eric Scallan (13-4) vs. Carlo Prater (32-19-1), Lanny Dardar (16-7) vs. Zach Fears (7-2), Juan Adams (2-0) vs. Dwight Gipson (8-7), Brandon Shavers (4-1) vs. Aaron Reeves (5-1), Daniel Hoffpauir (2-0) vs. Carlos Martinez (3-1)

Cage Titans Fighting Championship XXXVII
Memorial Hall in Plymouth, Mass.
Event Date: June 17
Website: cagetitansfc.com
Watch Event: FloCombat
Twitter: @cagetitans

Spotlight Fight:
Manny Bermudez (10-0) vs. Mike Hernandez (11-4)

Manny Bermudez certainly stands out as the star of the Cage Titans promotion. While he has also competed in CES MMA, the bantamweight fighter has made six amateur and seven pro appearances under the Cage Titans banner. Now, Bermudez returns for the 37th event from the organization. Bermudez intends to keep his unblemished record intact, but he’ll have to get past Mike Hernandez in order to do so.

Bermudez went 7-1 as an amateur, suffering a submission loss to Grant Mosley in only his second fight. His amateur career launched in 2012, and Bermudez has only been fighting professionally since 2015. As a pro, he has finished eight of his 10 opponents within the first round. He went the distance to defeat formerly undefeated fighter Dan Dubuque and recently went to the scorecards in a notable split decision nod over Bellator and World Series of Fighting veteran Saul Almeida. In his most recent fight, Bermudez needed just 72 seconds to submit WEC veteran Bendy Casimir. The South Shore Sportfighting export also holds a first-round submission win over Jeff Anderson, the same Anderson that went three rounds with the aforementioned Almeida. Bermudez, who submitted his opponent in all seven of his amateur wins, is a certified finisher. His eight first-round finishes as a pro are joined by four first-round finishes as an ammy.

The 32-year-old “Hurricane” Hernandez has been plying his trade since 2010. Through his first six fights, he won four and lost two. However, all of those early victories came via knockout. The Michigan Top Team export finally hit his stride in his seventh fight and reeled off six straight wins, including four knockouts. Along the way, “Hurricane” bounced back and forth between the bantamweight and featherweight divisions. He captured the Triple X Cagefighting bantamweight title with a victory over veteran Josh Robinson, and he also notched a win over Thomas Vasquez inside the Bellator cage. The TXC title win led to more championship fights for Hernandez, but his luck ran out. He lost a Hard Knocks title fight to Jesse Arnett and then dropped a WXC championship bout to UFC veteran Johnny Bedford. Hernandez recovered with a victory over Taylor Moore in early 2017, but he’s been out of action ever since.

Eventually, Bermudez has to land in a major promotion, right? So far, he’s getting fed UFC, Bellator and WEC castoffs and middling prospects. That doesn’t change here against Hernandez. The former Triple X champ isn’t a complete pushover, but he’s already struggled against the likes of Marvin Blumer and the aforementioned Arnett and Bedford. Bermudez has been busy vanquishing everyone thrown his way, and Hernandez seems like another likely victim.

Hernandez’s losses to Arnett and Bedford came by way of first-round submissions. The “Hurricane” also suffered a submission loss early in his career against Brent Fryia. Bermudez has demonstrated extreme efficiency in his grappling finishes, tallying a double-digit total of first-round stoppages. Add Hernandez to that list after this weekend.

Other key bouts: Sean Lally (7-2) vs. Avery McPhatter (9-9) for the middleweight title, Danielle Hindley (1-0) vs. Sheena Brandenburg (0-1)

Last Week’s Scorecard
Fight Prediction Outcome
Bobby Moffett vs. Thanh Le at LFA 31 Moffett by submission Le by knockout
Tiffany Teo vs. Jingnan Xiong at ONE Championship: Kings of Courage Xiong by knockout Xiong by knockout
Ken Hamamura vs. Yasuaki Kishimoto at Gladiator 005 Kishimoto by decision Kishimoto by decision