Martin Nguyen (ONE Championship)

Out of Obscurity: ONE Championship, LFA 46 and Road FC 48

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: Reign of Kings
Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines
Event Date: July 27
Watch Event: free stream on ONE FC App
Twitter: @ONEChampionship

Spotlight Fight:
Martin Nguyen (11-2) vs. Kevin Belingon (18-5)

ONE Championship’s top star and current bantamweight titleholder Bibiano Fernandes is on the shelf with an injury. In the meantime, the organization has opted to crown an interim titleholder. At the organization’s upcoming “Reign of Kings” event, former title challengers Martin Nguyen and Kevin Belingon battle for the interim belt.

Nguyen is in possession of ONE’s belts in the featherweight and lightweight divisions. The 29-year-old also appeared to be the most formidable challenger yet for the aforementioned Fernandes, and he even managed to get as close as a split decision in their fight. Unfortunately for him, Nguyen was on the wrong end of that verdict. After four stoppage victories, including a submission in his ONE debut, Nguyen was finished in just 41 seconds when he met Marat Gafurov for the ONE interim featherweight title in 2015. “The Situ-Asian” responded by scoring first-round stoppages of Edward Kelly, Kai Wen Li, Christian Lee and Japanese veteran Kazunori Yokota to make his way to a rematch with Gafurov for the crown. This time, Nguyen prevailed to the tune of a second-round knockout. Then, he moved up a division and scored a second-round knockout of Eduard Folayang to claim the lightweight strap. Nguyen had never seen the scorecards prior to his fight with Fernandes, but after the legend edged him in a split decision, he went on to win a split verdict against the aforementioned Lee in a rematch. Nguyen has produced seven knockouts and three submission victories.

Belingon was once among the most promising prospect in the Pacific region, but then he encountered a far more difficult level of competition upon his arrival in the ONE organization. After a 9-0 start to his pro career, the Filipino fighter made his ONE debut at the company’s third event and lost via submission to veteran Masakazu Imanari. Then, he dropped a decision to Soo Chul Kim. Despite notable victories over Yusup Saadulaev and Thanh Vu, Belingon wasn’t able to sustain his momentum. He lost two of his next four, but he was rewarded with a title fight against Fernandes. Of course, Belingon lost early via submission. He finally found his groove after the title loss. The 30-year-old Team Lakay product has won his subsequent five fights against solid competition that has included Muin Gafurov, Toni Tauru, Reece McLaren and Andrew Leone. Overall, Belingon has eight knockout finishes and three submission wins.

Nguyen stacks up as a much better opponent than Fernandes for Belingon. The difference is in their styles. While Fernandes can stand and bang, he has a slick submission game that’s far too much for the Filipino striker. Nguyen, who holds belts in the two weight classes above this division, is still a threat to drag this fight to the mat, though. He’s also bound to hold a size advantage over Belingon. Furthermore, Nguyen has conquered the likes of Marat Gafurov and Folayang to win titles. If he could handle those men, then Belingon should be another difficult, yet winnable match-up.

Belingon has to avoid the ground at all cost, but that’s easier said than done. Plus, even a striking battle could favor the bigger Nguyen. The reigning featherweight and lightweight champ might just add a third belt to his trophy case and make ONE history. Given Belingon’s holes in submission defense, this one should end in the first round via tapout.

Other key bouts: Shannon Wiratchai (9-2) vs. Shinya Aoki (40-8), Renzo Gracie (13-7-1) vs. Yuki Kondo (59-34-9), Eduard Folayang (19-6) vs. Aziz Pakhrudinov (17-0-1), Garry Tonon (1-0) vs. Rahul Raju (5-2), Joshua Pacio (14-2) vs. Pongsiri Mitsatit (9-0), Stefer Rahardian (8-0) vs. Rene Catalan (4-2)

Legacy Fighting Alliance 46
Felker Field Hangar at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Newport News, Va.
Event Date: July 27
Watch Event: AXS TV
Twitter: @LFAfighting

Spotlight Fight:
James Nakashima (8-0) vs. Kyle Stewart (10-0)

What’s a guy have to do to get the UFC’s attention around here? That has to be the question on the minds of Legacy Fighting Alliance 46 headliners James Nakashima and Kyle Stewart. While the UFC has been busy adding new talent through Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series lately, the organization still looks toward the LFA as another source for new prospects. Well, Nakashima, the LFA welterweight champion, and his challenger, Stewart, have to be very high on the list for the UFC.

The 29-year-old Nakashima has been perfect since debuting as a pro in early 2015. He was a Resurrection Fighting Alliance mainstay before the RFA merged with Legacy Fighting Championship to form the LFA. By his fourth pro outing, which came at RFA 30, Nakashima was handing out a loss to the formerly undefeated Chance Rencountre. He took away Brad Darrington’s unblemished mark at RFA 35. He went on to decision established fighters Dez Hill and LaRue Burley before challenging Derrick Krantz for the LFA welterweight strap. The result of that title fight — it ended in a split decision favoring Nakashima — could have cost the upstart his shot at the UFC. Every one of Nakashima’s fights has gone the distance, which isn’t always a big plus in an argument for inclusion inside the famed UFC Octagon. The MMA Lab fighter has a strong wrestling background and was a teammate of one of the best college wrestlers of the last decade, Jordan Burroughs. He now trains alongside the likes of Benson Henderson and Efrain Escudero while working under the watchful eye of John Crouch. Nakashima has wrestled in the NCAA national championship tournament and captured an NJCAA championship. His ability to grind out victories has led him to plenty of scorecards, but he’s been very effective inside the cage.

The 29-year-old Stewart posted a solid 8-1 mark as an amateur, only stumbling when he met future UFC fighter Justin Jones. “Gunz Up” wasted no time upon making his pro debut in 2015. In his first pro fight, he captured the World Fighting Federation welterweight belt with a first-round submission of Raymond Pina. His sophomore outing was a successful title defense that ended in just 12 seconds with a knockout of 14-fight veteran Billy Colon. In his fourth fight, he added the Fierce FC welterweight championship to his collection with a seven-second knockout finish of Mike Jones. He’s gone on to add four more victories, including a decision win over UFC veteran Estevan Payan and an injury TKO stoppage over The Ultimate Fighter alum and former Titan FC welterweight champion Jason Jackson at a Contender Series event. He followed up the victory by taking away Jaleel Willis’s unblemished mark at LFA 33 and then winning a title under the Iron Boy MMA banner with a quick submission finish of Chauncey Foxworth. In his pro career, the Arizona Combat Sports export has six first-round finishes. This holds true to his amateur trend, which included four first-round stoppages and six finishes overall.

Stewart is an intimidating force. “Gunz Up” has already added a pair of solid veterans to his list of victims, and he may well have landed in the UFC had it not been for the nature of his victory over the aforementioned Jackson. Where Nakashima prefers to use his wrestling to grind for three to five rounds, Stewart is a finisher who looks to light up his opponent early in the fight.

Nakashima has to weather the early storm from Stewart and then implement his wrestling-based attack. Nakashima’s route to victory comes through five grueling rounds of top control. Previous Nakashima opponents Rencountre, Burley and Krantz all featured strong finishing rates, but none of them could solve the Nakashima puzzle. Stewart might also find the task to be overwhelming. Nakashima hasn’t shown many weaknesses yet, and he might use Stewart’s aggressive approach as a means to score takedowns. Nakashima will likely ride his wrestling abilities to the decision nod, but the bigger certainty in this fight is that UFC President Dana White comes calling for the winner.

Other key bouts: Sam Toomer (11-2) vs. Alexandre “Popo” Bezerra (20-5), Ahmet Kayretli (7-2) vs. Shaun Spath (4-1), Mitch Aguiar (1-0) vs. Mumia Abu Dey Ali (2-1)

Road Fighting Championship 48
Wonju Gymnasium in Wonju, South Korea
Event Date: July 28
Watch Event: Ameba TV (Japan), free stream on YouTube
Twitter: @ROADFC

Spotlight Fight:
Young Choi (23-11-3) vs. In Jae La (7-0-1)

Road Fighting Championship middleweight kingpin Young Choi is anything but young. He’s also a very unlikely titleholder for the organization. However, here we are, with Road FC 48 upon us and Choi set to defend his belt. “RYO’s” challenger is undefeated up-and-comer In Jae La.

Choi, a Japanese fighter out of the Land’s End Prowrestling camp and ZERO1-MAX, checks in at 40 years old. He made his pro debut in the year 2000, but his full career mark has to be pieced together, because fighter databases can’t decide on how to file his three victories in a single night at a Spirit MC tournament in 2004. Sherdog credits two of those victories as pro bouts and one as an amateur affair, while Tapology dumps all three into the amateur realm. For our purposes, we’re counting these fights as pro outings, since they came far after his debut contest. Choi has never been one to go on an extended winning streak — his best stretch included five wins and a draw over the course of six fights — but he has managed to win more than he loses. His victims include eventual UFC fighter Takenori Sato, former Deep champion Yoshiyuki Nakanishi and Pride veteran Dong Sik Yoon. Most recently, he topped sub-.500 fighter Hoon Kim to capture the Road FC interim title.

La also has discrepancies in his record across the fighter database platforms. While Sherdog credits him with a 5-0-1 mark, Tapology adds in a pair of fights from 2008 and 2009 in which La defeated Han Geun Lee. Regardless of whether he’s 5-0-1 or 7-0-1, the important detail is that the South Korean is an undefeated fighter who poses far more of a threat to Choi than Choi’s previous opponent, who sported a losing mark. The 31-year-old La fights out of the Apgujeong Gym and has put the first blemishes on the records of upstarts Young Jun Jeon and Dong Hwan Lim, as well as ruining the debuts of rookie combatants Lee and Hyun Min Kim. La was initially slated to meet Uh Jin Jeon, a .500 fighter, on this card, but he was promoted to the title headliner when Choi’s original foe, Jung Hwan Cha, was forced to withdraw with an injury.

Choi might be on the receiving end of a huge break here with the change of opponents. He had actually challenged the aforementioned Cha in a failed attempt to claim the Road FC middleweight title before finally snagging interim gold. Cha scored a late TKO finish of Choi in their Road FC 35 bout and would have likely been a favorite to drop the 40-year-old again had the two rematched as planned. Instead, Choi draws a fighter who is still relatively green.

Outside of his victory over the formerly 9-6 Kiyoshi Kuwabara at Road FC 26, La has fought a group of opponents who sported a combined career mark of 10-9 going into their fights with the South Korean. None of those fighters had more than seven total fights on their resumes, and none boasted more than three prior wins. La is jumping up from a cast of inexperienced opponents to fight a guy with nearly two decades of MMA competition under his belt. That’s a giant leap.

While Choi enjoys the experience advantage, he’s never been a consistent force in the ring or cage, and he has even lost to a sub-.500 fighter. This would be a highlight victory for La, and he’s quite capable of outworking Choi, who has let numerous decisions slip through his hands.

Other key bouts: Michel Pereira (19-8) vs. Hae Jun Yang (11-5), Mika Arai (3-0) vs. Ye Ji Lee (3-3), Dong Guk Shin (2-0) vs. Tamotsu Hayashi (6-4), Chang Geun Jeon (1-0) vs. Hyung Soo Kim (3-1-1), Bakhtiyar Uulu Toichubaev (10-4) vs. Sang Jin Jung (1-0)

Last Week’s Scorecard
Fight Prediction Outcome
Andre Harrison vs. Nazareno Malegarie at PFL 4 Harrison by decision Harrison by decision
Erick Silva vs. Nick Barnes at LFA 45 Silva by knockout Silva by submission
Movsar Evloev vs. Rafael Dias at M-1 Challenge 95 Evloev by decision Evloev by knockout