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…
Damon Jackson (15-2-1) vs. Nate Jennerman (12-3)
The 47th venture from the Legacy Fighting Alliance seems to have more UFC veterans than usual for the promotion, even if that number is just three. In the cases of supporting cast members William Macário and Sean Spencer, these fights count as a significant step on their way back from long periods of little to no activity. In the case of headliner Damon Jackson, it’s the next step in a long run with the LFA since he was jettisoned from the UFC in 2016. Jackson gets a crack at interim gold after compiling a 6-1 mark inside the confines of the LFA. He’ll clash with Nate Jennerman for the LFA featherweight strap.
Jackson’s one recent LFA loss came to Kevin Aguilar, who factors into this bout. How so? Well, Aguilar made his first successful defense of Legacy’s featherweight crown against Jackson, whom he stopped via strikes in the third round at LFA 4 after the merger of the Resurrection Fighting Alliance and the Legacy Fighting Championship promotion, where Aguilar initially won his title. After two more defenses, Aguilar made an appearance on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. He didn’t earn a contract, but LFA head Ed Soares still opted to move forward by crowning an interim champion just in case Aguilar never returns to defend his belt.
This brings us to Jackson. The 29-year-old debuted in 2012 and ran up an undefeated mark through eight fights, including two under the Bellator banner and two with Legacy FC, before challenging Leonard Garcia for the Legacy belt. Jackson claimed the prize and then signed on the dotted line with the UFC. His run inside the Octagon proved far less fruitful. He was submitted by Yancy Medeiros, initially fell via submission to Rony Jason before the fight was overturned to a no-contest following a positive drug test result from Jason, and then fought to a majority draw against Levan Makashvili. With no victories through three UFC outings, Jackson was handed his pink slip. He returned to the familiar stomping grounds of Legacy and was set to fight the aforementioned Aguilar in his return, but Aguilar withdrew and was replaced by Levi Mowles. Jackson defeated Mowles and went on to notch a victory over Charles Cheeks III, but he then lost to Aguilar. “The Leech” has bounced back with a vengeance. Jackson has scored submission wins in all four of his subsequent bouts, including an LFA 40 encounter with Jeremy Spoon.
Jennerman’s career highlights pale in comparison to those of his upcoming foe. The 25-year-old put together a disappointing 6-6 mark as an amateur before turning pro in 2013. He stumbled immediately out of the gates and dropped a decision to Dwight Anderson, a sub-.500 fighter. He recovered to the tune of five straight victories before once again coming up short on the scorecards against Alex Gilpin. Another four wins, including a submission finish of Damion Hill in his LFA debut, landed the Roufusport product in a co-headlining spot opposite Bobby Moffett, who handed Jennerman his third decision loss. “Nasty” Nate made an impressive comeback, however, when he notched submission victories over established veterans Sam Toomer, John DeVall and Kevin Croom.
Prior to Jennerman’s recent streak, it would have been easy to dismiss him as little more than enhancement talent for Jackson, a fighter who remains a borderline UFC talent. Through his 18 fights, Jackson has a head-turning 12 submission victories. However, Jennerman has suddenly turned into a spoiler for veterans. Toomer wasn’t exactly prolific on the mat, but DeVall had 11 previous submission wins and Croom entered with nine submissions on his resume. Neither man could finish Jennerman, and instead ended up tapping to him instead. Moffett, Gilpin and Anderson all preferred submissions as well, and the best they could do was to outpoint Jennerman on the scorecards.
The big difference between Jackson and all of those other fighters on Jennerman’s record is that Jackson has been the only one to reach the UFC. He’s a tough opponent, but he can be submitted, which does leave a true opening for Jennerman. However, this might be another one of those fights where Jennerman’s opponent can’t score the finish but still hands Jennerman a loss when the scorecards are read.
Other key bouts: Levi Mowles (9-3) vs. Charles Cheeks III (13-6), Sean Spencer (12-6) vs. Bilal Williams (8-7), Evan Cutts (9-3) vs. William Macário (9-3), Ramiz Brahimaj (6-1) vs. Justin Patterson (10-4), Elijah Johns (2-0) vs. Eddie Brown (4-1), Devin Miller (3-0) vs. Evers Anderson (1-0)
Rebel Fighting Championship 9: Battle for the Kingdom
Sai Wang (23-6-1) vs. Adriano Balby (16-3)
The theme of UFC veterans continues halfway around the world in Beijing with the ninth effort from Rebel Fighting Championship. At the top of the bill, former UFC heavyweight title challenger Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva returns to action for the first time in more than a year. Bigfoot will attempt to end a five-fight skid when he collides with Wenbo Liu, a fighter with a fair share of knockouts on his record. Further down the card, in the co-main event, fans will spot another face that’s graced the inside of the Octagon. The Ultimate Fighter: China alum and UFC veteran Sai Wang is on the hunt for Rebel’s middleweight crown, but he’ll have to go through former welterweight Adriano Balby to get to the strap.
Wang put together a healthy run on TUF, where he knocked out Qize Wu and submitted Anying Wang to land in the finals. However, “The Fire Kylin” was not good enough to get past Lipeng Zhang, who edged him via split decision. Wang, who debuted in 2009, stuck around for one additional UFC bout — a win over Danny Mitchell — but then migrated to Kunlun Fight before falling into a pattern of promotion-hopping. Since his brief stay in the UFC, Wang has gone on to add 15 wins in 16 total fights. Unfortunately, he’s been fed a large dose of rookies, inexperienced fighters and .500-ish vets. The 32-year-old sanda specialist is a finisher who has logged eight knockout victories and 11 submissions.
The 38-year-old Balby is likely nearing the end of his career, but he’s still a handful. The Brazilian has been around since 2005, but early career losses to future UFC fighter Francimar Barroso and journeyman Roberto Bispo were enough to keep him on the regional circuit despite an otherwise stellar beginning that included eight knockout finishes within his first 10 fights. “The Rock” finally landed in Jungle Fight by 2015 and won both fights in the organization, plus another outside of it, before challenging Paulo Costa for the middleweight belt. Costa, now a legitimate UFC middleweight contender, stopped Balby in the first round. Balby has since rebounded with five victories, including a decision nods over UFC castoff Edilberto de Oliveira, TUF 5 alum Andy Wang and Japanese MMA legend Akihiro Gono.
Balby should not be overlooked. His recent stretch of victories includes some savvy veterans, albeit not the cream of the UFC castoff crop. Two of his three losses came to fighters who have had a taste of the big show, including one who is within shouting distance of a title shot. Wang, meanwhile, has gone largely untested. How much can we trust a fighter who hasn’t seen a fighter more than two wins above the .500 mark since his loss to the 19-16 Artem Shokalo. Yes, Wang departed the UFC on the heels of a victory, but that win came against a British opponent who was released by the UFC and has only managed a 6-3 record in his subsequent bouts. Maybe Wang can outwork Balby and rely on favorable judging in his particular part of the globe, but Balby is capable of keeping the judges out of this one and scoring the knockout finish.
Other key bouts: Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva (19-12) vs. Wenbo Liu (11-7-1), Takeya Mizugaki (22-13-2) vs. Guangyou Ning (5-4-1), Hacran Dias (24-6-1) vs. Gadzhi Rabadanov (8-3-2), Gazavat Suleymanov (8-1) vs. Reydon Romero (12-7), Kai Tang (8-2) vs. Vikas Dahiya (4-2), Shuhei Sakano (11-3-4) vs. Yayong Wang (7-5) for the bantamweight title, Maria Silva (2-0) vs. Jie Liu (1-0), Felipe Masoni (9-3) vs. Anvar Alizhanov (7-2)
Tony Gravely (13-5) vs. Saidyokub Kakhramonov (5-0)
The U.S. subsidiary for M-1 Global is on its second show. The lineup isn’t overwhelming — even most hardcore fans won’t recognize many names beyond Yoislandy Izquierdo and Tony Gravely — but it does have one up-and-comer who will be tested. Saidyokub Kakhramonov is undefeated through five pro fights, but now he’s tasked with a bantamweight affair against the aforementioned 18-fight veteran Gravely.
Kakhramonov is just 22 years old. While his name suggests foreign origins, the young fighter was born in the United States. The Team Top Notch disciple registered three amateur wins, including a submission and a knockout, before making his pro debut in 2017. He knocked out a fellow rookie in the first round and went on to score submissions in his second and third outings. The upstart had to settle for decisions in his two most recent affairs, including one against a sub-.500 fighter. Kakhramonov was a decorated high school wrestler.
The 26-year-old Gravely hasn’t enjoyed quite the same spectacular run. The Virginia-based fighter did go 6-1 as an amateur between late 2014 and late 2015 before turning pro in October 2015. The Tech MMA and Fitness Academy export won his debut bout, but he lost his sophomore outing. He compiled a six-fight winning streak before suffering another loss, but that loss signalled the beginning of a rough 1-3 stretch. Gravely finally recovered and has now won five of his last six fights. He has three finishes via strikes and two submission victories, but he has also been submitted on four occasions.
This isn’t just a step up in competition for Kakhramonov. It’s a springboard leap. Gravely hasn’t been a world-beater by any means, but he’s had extensive experience in a very short time in the sport, and he’s even fought some opponents who have entered the Bellator or UFC cage. Gravely is a grinder who can outpoint opponents en route to the scorecards, but he’s also vulnerable to submissions.
Kakhramonov has a lot to prove here. If he gets past Gravely, he should draw attention from the M-1 parent company or promotions like ONE Championship and the LFA. If he loses, then there’s no shame either — Kakhramonov is a very young fighter who might be biting off more than he can chew this early in his career. That would be the reasoning if he loses, anyhow. However, Gravely’s weak submission defense and Kakhramonov’s strong wrestling could combine to give the up-and-coming undefeated prospect a chance to put a very big win on his record. The youngster might just surprise with a submission finish.
Other key bouts: David Mundell (9-3) vs. Doug Usher (9-3), Yoislandy Izquierdo (11-4) vs. Vadim Ogar (6-3), Cee Jay Hamilton (12-6) vs. Abdiel Velazquez (9-5), Jacob McClintock (9-2) vs. Brandon Bell (8-6), James Conway (3-0) vs. P.J. Cajigas (6-7)
Last Week’s Scorecard
Will Brooks vs. Robert Watley at PFL 5
Watley by decision
Brooks by decision
Nate Andrews vs. D’Juan Owens at CES 51
Andrews by submission
Andrews by submission
Marcus Paulo Amaral vs. Ryo Hatta at Pancrase 298
Amaral by knockout
Hatta by submission
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