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…
Event Date: April 6
Watch Event: AXS TV
Nate Andrews (12-1) vs. Chris Padilla (9-3)
Sometimes even the best prospects are required to win an extra fight or two before the executives think they’re ready for the big leagues. This must be the case with CES MMA lightweight Nate Andrews. He seems like a lock for a UFC contract, but instead he’s headlining CES MMA’s 49th show in an effort to capture the vacant lightweight championship. He’ll have to get past Chris Padilla if he wants the belt.
The 34-year-old Andrews has spent much of his career in the CES organization. After a 5-2 run as an amateur, he turned pro in 2012 and debuted at CES 11. He went on a six-fight tear that included five victories under the CES banner. Four of his victories during this stretch came in the first round, including two knockouts that came within the first minute of their respective contests. Andrews finally stumbled in 2014 when he suffered a decision loss to Gemiyale Adkins. The New England Combat Club fighter responded with two knockouts and four submissions to bring his win tally to 12. Along the way, Andrews has defeated the likes of Jeff Anderson, The Ultimate Fighter seasons 16 and 25 alum Julian Lane, veteran journeyman George Sheppard and World Series of Fighting vet Bruce Boyington. His most recent submission finish came in the first round against Tyler Combs, a sub-.500 fighter.
Padilla, an Xplode Fight Series mainstay for much of his early career, seemed like a solid prospect out of the gates. He notched an undefeated mark through six amateur fights and then streaked to seven straight wins after making his pro debut in 2014. Padilla, who won the XFS lightweight title, finally faltered once he left the safe confines of XFS’s questionable matchmaking. He moved on to the Resurrection Fighting Alliance, where he impressed in his debut and lost his sophomore promotional outing. His next stop was King of the Cage, where he faced another setback when he lost a decision to Christian Aguilera. The 22-year-old recovered in 2017 to pick up two victories on the regional circuit, but he lost again when he moved to Bellator MMA to kick off 2018. “Taco” suffered a first-round submission loss to Gabriel Green in a postlim contest at Bellator 192.
This figures to be a UFC audition for Andrews. The talented East Coast fighter has tallied seven career submission victories, but he also has a knack for knockouts that has added an additional five finishes to his resume. “The Snake” has eaten up varying levels of opposition, and his one setback against a .500 fighter in a catchweight contest now seems like a fluke.
Padilla definitely benefited from friendly matchmaking early in his career. That’s not to say this youngster can’t develop into a legitimate prospect, but he has probably evolved more during his recent 3-3 stretch than he did in gimme bouts earlier in his career. Padilla coasted through five first-round finishes and only went the distance once during his XFS tenure against foes with a combined 25-17 mark. His .500 record over his last six bouts has come against fighters with a combined 51-35 record, which bumps up to an improved 39-13 mark if we exclude the 12-22 Quinton McCottrell.
Padilla has had a lot of recent struggles, but his time in the RFA and Bellator provides him with a resume suitable to step up against Andrews. Unfortunately for “Taco,” it also makes him an assumed stepping stone as Andrews climbs closer to the UFC roster. Padilla has several quick knockout victories, so Andrews needs to be careful early and avoid standing with Padilla. If Andrews remains cautious of Padilla’s stand-up and works to get the fight to the mat, then he’ll be able to take control. Andrews is very skilled at taking out his competition with chokes, so look for him to take that same route to victory against Padilla. If he wins in truly impressive fashion, his next move might just be to sign on the dotted line with the UFC.
Other key bouts: Chris Curtis (17-5) vs. Jason Norwood (18-4) for the welterweight title, Kaline Medeiros (8-6) vs. Jenna Serio (3-2), Marquis Brewster (4-0) vs. Shawn Mack (6-4), Sean Soriano (10-5) vs. Jonathan Gary (13-9-2), John Douma (2-0) vs. Zachary Burhans (3-1), Gary Balletto Jr. (5-1) vs. Jeremiah Wells (3-1-1), Richard Santiago (6-0) vs. Matt Almy (3-2)
Event Date: April 6
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass
Luis Gomez (6-1) vs. Jason Soares (10-0)
Titan Fighting Championship doesn’t get enough credit for developing what might be the next waves of UFC stars at the lighter weight classes. The real pearl of the group is Jose “Shorty” Torres, who holds the league’s flyweight and bantamweight titles. Torres isn’t the only top prospect on Titan’s roster, though. The promotion will trot out its two top featherweights to headline its 49th event. Featherweight champ Luis Gomez puts his belt on the line against the undefeated Jason Soares.
Gomez has had a strong run in his brief career. The Cuban fighter debuted in 2015 with a 20-second armbar submission of Frank Boise. “El Tigre” went on to knock out his next two opponents and then eked out a split verdict over Pedro Gomes. The four-fight winning streak was enough to punch Gomez’s ticket to a July appearance on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, where the 23-year-old stumbled against Dan Ige to the tune of a third-round submission loss. Gomez made two appearances with Titan FC late in 2017. He found his groove again with a decision nod over Guilherme Costa in November. His next fight resulted in a first-round knockout of Sodiq Yusuff for the featherweight strap. This will be his first defense of the title.
Soares has been plying his trade professionally since 2012, when he made his debut in Mexico with a knockout finish of Daniel Hernandez. He’s been a mainstay of the Fight Time promotion ever since, and he’s reeled off 10 victories and a featherweight championship reign during his stay with the organization. “The Specimen” accumulated six finishes before fighting for the vacant Fight Time featherweight strap. He locked in an armbar in the first round to submit Randy Barosso and claim the gold. After a non-title fight under the Fight Time banner and a failed bid on The Ultimate Fighter 22, Soares returned to defend his title with a fifth-round submission of Danny Chavez and a decision nod over Guilherme Faria. His TUF campaign ended with a majority-decision loss to Julian Erosa. Overall, the Freestyle Fighting Academy product has seven submissions and one knockout victory.
Soares has made an inspirational comeback from a motorcycle accident that left the aspiring fighter battling to even walk again, let alone fight. That accident only slowed Soares down for a matter of months, though. He’s looked every bit of the three-sport athlete he was in high school. Soares, who has a wrestling background, performed admirably even in a losing effort against Erosa. Erosa dished out just enough damage to Soares while Soares pursued takedowns, and this was likely the difference in the fight’s outcome.
Gomez has destroyed the majority of his opponents, but Yusuff is the only seasoned and successful fighter he was able to stop. He barely edged past Gomes, needed a full three rounds to top Costa, and lost to Ige. Gomez is no slouch, and at age 23, he’s certainly a potential future candidate for the UFC, but he doesn’t quite seem on par with Soares. Soares should be able to use his wrestling to drag Gomez to the canvas, where he can follow Ige’s lead and wrap up a submission victory for the title win.
Other key bouts: Rami Hamed (6-1) vs. Jose Caceres (13-7), Michel Batista (4-0) vs. Hugo Cunha (1-0), Beibit Nazarov (15-2) vs. Rafael Alves (15-9), Steve Mowry (3-0) vs. Said Sowma (0-0), Punahele Soriano (2-0) vs. George Frangie (2-0), Jaime Alvarez (7-1) vs. Jorge Calvo Martin (10-3), Caio Uruguai (6-1) vs. Alberto Montes (4-0), Denzel Freeman (1-0) vs. Gustavo Trujillo (1-0)
Event Date: April 7
Jéssica Delboni (6-0) vs. Liana Pirosin (6-1)
If Invicta needs to replenish its strawweight ranks — the UFC sure has a habit of gobbling up every champ the promotion produces — then it may not need to look any further than Imortal FC 8, where two 115-pound ladies are set to clash. One of those fighters is the undefeated up-and-comer Jéssica Delboni. Delboni will seek to remain perfect when she squares off with fellow prospect Liana Pirosin.
The 24-year-old Delboni has quietly compiled an impressive six-fight winning streak on the Brazilian circuit. She’s largely gone unnoticed because she’s primarily appeared for smaller organizations and has only stepped up to a more significant league — Shooto Brazil — on one occasion. The young fighter, who trains out of Parana Vale Tudo, debuted way back in 2013 with a decision nod over Juliana Costa. As a result of two scrapped affairs, including a scheduled meeting with recently crowned Invicta strawweight champion Virna Jandiroba, Delboni didn’t return to action until August 2015. She decisioned Cristiane Lima before taking another lengthy layoff. Delboni finally became more active upon her 2017 return. She scored decision wins over veterans Bianca Sattelmayer and Joice Mara, but then regressed to fighting inexperienced and outgunned opponents. She scored a first-round knockout against a sub-.500 fighter and then stopped a 1-1 opponent with strikes in her most recent outing.
Pirosin has also been around since 2013, but she’s made several stops with major Brazilian organizations. “Li” won her first three fights, including a tournament quarterfinal bout under the XFC International banner. This led to an encounter with Viviane Pereira, who was undefeated at the time, in the tourney’s semifinal round. The future UFC fighter handed Pirosin a decision loss. The Yamauchi Team product had a lengthy layoff of her own before bouncing back with a decision win over Vanessa Guimarães at Imortal FC 6 in late 2016. She, too, has taken on some inexperienced foes in her two most recent fights. Pirosin scored a knockout finish of Edna Oliveira in July 2017 and then decisioned rookie fighter Larissa Mayara Carvalho in October.
Delboni’s undefeated mark makes her the focus of attention in this contest, but she cannot be considered an overwhelming favorite here. She’s performed well in limited action over the last five years, but the victories over Sattelmayer and Mara are her biggest achievements. The youngster still has a lot to prove, but she is a strong fighter who can be suffocating in the clinch and from top position on the mat. She’s relentless with takedown attempts, but she also leaves her hands down and her chin exposed too often.
Pirosin is a very tough test for Delboni. She’s gone three rounds with a UFC-caliber fighter in the past, and her Muay Thai attack could spell trouble for Delboni if Pirosin perfectly times a knee to counter a level change from Delboni. The outcome of this fight really comes down to whether Pirosin’s knees do damage to Delboni or if they just provide Delboni with an easier route to the takedown. Pirosin has pretty solid takedown defense, though, so Delboni might end up eating plenty of those knees while seeking to dump Pirosin to the mat.
Pirosin could be the first person to hand Delboni a loss. It comes down to the 5-foot-1 Delboni’s wrestling against the 5-foot-5 Pirosin’s Muay Thai. However, Pirosin’s experience against higher levels of competition might be the true edge here. She should be able to fend off Delboni’s attacks and punish the undefeated prospect for those attempts. Given Delboni’s propensity to let her hands drop a little too low, there could be plenty of opportunities for Pirosin to land the knockout. This could play out very similarly to Pirosin’s victory over Oliveira last year.
Other key bouts: John Allan (11-4) vs. Rodrigo de Lima (8-3-1), Eduardo Ramon (13-4) vs. João Carvalho (8-4), Rogerio Bontorin (12-1) vs. Paulo César Cardoso (6-3), Irwing Machado (14-5-2) vs. Gabriel Miranda (11-4), Ricardo Guimarães (3-0) vs. Davi Cuman (4-1)
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