Paddy Pimblett (Tapology)

Out of Obscurity: PFL 7, Cage Warriors 96 and Fightspirit Championship 8

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…


Professional Fighters League 7
Ocean Resort Casino in Atlantic City, N.J.
Event Date: Aug. 30
Watch Event: NBC Sports
Twitter: @profightleague

Spotlight Fight:
Smealinho Rama (10-4) vs. Jamie Abdallah (7-3)

The seventh event from the Professional Fighters League serves to close out the regular season for the promotion’s inaugural campaign. That doesn’t mean this is just a throwaway event, though. On the contrary, this particular show features a lineup spanning a number of divisions and includes a number of pivotal battles that can send their winners to the postseason. Alexandre “Popo” Bezerra and Magomed Idrisov vie for the final spot in the featherweight playoffs, Paul Bradley and Handesson Ferreira are still in the welterweight hunt, Caio Magalhães and Sadibou Sy are intent on landing the final berth at middleweight, Caio Alencar and Mike Kyle have an outside chance at a spot in the heavyweight bracket, and the light heavyweights will be very busy when Jason Butcher, Emiliano Sordi, Bazigit Atayev, Sean O’Connell, Smealinho Rama and Jamie Abdallah take to the cage on Thursday night. The final two of these men — Rama and Abdallah — capture our attention here.

Rama, a once promising prospect, has a long climb back to the top in front of him. “The Prince” debuted in 2012 and was soon entrenched in Canada’s Maximum Fighting Championship organization as one of the company’s star heavyweights. After regularly tipping the scales at around 260 pounds and eventually losing a title fight to future UFCer Anthony Hamilton, Rama began to shed some of that mass while moving on to the World Series of Fighting’s Canadian branch and then the core WSOF league, where he captured the heavyweight title with a 51-second knockout finish of Derrick Mehmen. He turned around and dropped the belt to Blagoy Ivanov in his first attempted defense. The 26-year-old’s next appearance came at a much trimmer 204 pounds in his light heavyweight debut against Jake Heun. After scoring a ground-and-pound stoppage, Rama went on to lose to veteran Rony Markes in one of the PFL’s earliest events before a bad cut cost him the fight in his season-one outing against Brandon Halsey.

Abdallah doesn’t have the same name recognition as his counterpart, but the 27-year-old also enjoyed a strong run early in his career. Abdallah, who debuted in 2011, won his first seven fights. The sixth bout in this stretch was a title affair in which “The Real Deal” needed just 35 seconds to knock out veteran Daniel Almeida and claim the Australian FC light heavyweight strap. After a successful defense against Randall Rayment — Abdallah won with a third-round finish — the champ succumbed to Rob Wilkinson, who would join the UFC after one more regional win. Abdallah has fallen on hard times since the loss to Wilkinson. He’s been paired with UFC castoffs Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou and Vinny Magalhães, but he was knocked out by the former and submitted by the latter.

Rama was involved in a back-and-forth fight against Halsey in his first season-one appearance. He had Halsey hurt on at least two occasions in the first round, but he ended up getting punished on the ground in round two. Halsey opened a huge cut on Rama’s brow that led to the third-round doctor’s stoppage. While Rama is far from a star for the promotion, he’s a homegrown talent who came up through the WSOF, and now the PFL has lined him up with a beatable opponent that could give Rama a chance at securing a spot in the playoffs. Of course, he’s got a number of other fighters on the card that also have their eyes on that prize. Rama will need a stoppage, in other words.

A decisive finish isn’t out of the question, either. Rama has a history of big knockout wins over the likes of Dee Seguin (13 seconds), Mike Hackert (two and half minutes), Tim Hague (less than two minutes) and the aforementioned Mehmen (51 seconds). He’s also flashed his submission prowess, though that was mostly against low-level opponents early in his career. Abdallah, meanwhile, has been bulldozed ever since he stepped up to face high-level talent. Wilkinson and Sokoudjou tested the Aussie’s chin, and Magalhães found the holes in Abdallah’s submission defense. Rama is arguably a step below these other fighters, but he still has the tools to get the job done. Unlike Halsey, Abdallah won’t recover from Rama’s early shots. Instead, this one ends in a knockout that sends the Greek-born Canadian to the postseason regardless of what the other 205-pounders on the card do.

Other key bouts: Bazigit Atayev (18-2) vs. Sean O’Connell (18-9), Alexandre “Popo” Bezerra (21-5) vs. Magomed Idrisov (8-2), Paul Bradley (23-9) vs. Handesson Ferreira (12-1), Caio Alencar (11-3) vs. Mike Kyle (23-15-1), Caio Magalhães (10-5) vs. Sadibou Sy (6-3), Jason Butcher (11-3) vs. Emiliano Sordi (16-7), Saidyokub Kakharamonov (5-0) vs. Omar Nurmagomedov (7-0), Mo De’Reese (5-0) vs. Leroy Johnson (8-2)

Cage Warriors Fighting Championship 96
Echo Arena in Liverpool, England
Event Date: Sept. 1
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass
Twitter: @CageWarriors

Spotlight Fight:
Paddy Pimblett (14-2) vs. Soren Bak (11-1)

The PFL’s Rama isn’t the only fighter seeking redemption this weekend. Add Cage Warriors 96 headliner Paddy Pimblett to the list. This time, the promotion’s former featherweight champion has his sights set on the lightweight title vacated recently by UFC acquisition Chris Fishgold. The only thing standing between the youngster and the gold belt is Danish up-and-comer Soren Bak.

Pimblett is one of England’s brightest young prospects. He may be only 23 years old, but “The Baddy” has been at the pro level since 2012 and already has 16 fights under his belt. Along the way, he has claimed victories over the formerly undefeated Kevin Petshi, Ashleigh Grimshaw, Teddy Violet, UFC veteran Julian Erosa and Alexis Savvidis. Pimblett won his first four fights before stumbling against Cameron Else in a 35-second submission loss. The Next Generation MMA Liverpool product responded to the defeat by capturing nine straight wins while stepping up to face more experienced competition. He captured the featherweight title in the Full Contact Contender promotion and made one successful defense. He most recently snagged the vacant Cage Warriors featherweight crown with a first-round TKO of Johnny Frachey and defended it against The Ultimate Fighter 22 alum Erosa before losing the crown to Nad Narimani, who has gone on to find success inside the UFC’s Octagon. Pimblett recovered with a move to the 155-pound ranks and a victory over the aforementioned Savvidis. This title fight will be just his second fight in the division.

Bak hasn’t been in the spotlight to anywhere near the same degree, but he has co-headlined two Cage Warriors card and has three victories inside the promotion. The Dane debuted on the European circuit in 2012 and amassed eight victories before finally stumbling against fellow Cage Warriors 96 participant Aleksi Mäntykivi under the EuroFC banner. The 26-year-old then signed with Cage Warriors and debuted with a decision nod over Scott Clist. His next fight was by far his most notable, as Bak scored a first-round submission finish of The Ultimate Fighter 9 alum and Bellator veteran Martin Stapleton. “The True Viking” most recently submitted Alexander Jacobsen to bring his tally of tapouts to seven. He also has two knockout finishes.

Pimblett and Bak have been exchanging words in the build to this fight. Pimblett is a young stud who can thrill the crowd with flying submission techniques, but he can also get the job done with strikes. Bak, however, has decimated his two recent foes and certainly has to view this as a statement fight that could turn the eyes of the big promotions to him. While Pimblett did lose to a mediocre fighter earlier in his career, he’s demonstrated that it now takes a UFC-caliber opponent to top him. Bak has performed solidly thus far, but his loss to Mäntykivi is a concern. The loss came later in Bak’s pro run, and Mäntykivi isn’t exactly among the best lightweights out there.

This should be an extremely competitive and fun fight that tests both men. However, Pimblett should have the edge even in Bak’s comfort zone on the mat. This makes for a tough route to victory for the Dane. Pimblett might coax a tapout, but at the very least he’ll earn the decision.

Other key bouts: Lee Chadwick (24-13-1) vs. Jonas Billstein (19-5-1) for the middleweight title, Jack Grant (14-4) vs. Aleksi Mäntykivi (11-4), Nicolas Dalby (14-3-1) vs. Roberto Allegretti (6-0), Sam Creasey (9-2) vs. Connor Hignett (6-3), Liam Gittins (2-0) vs. Kevin Cordero (5-1), Tim Barnett (5-1) vs. Matthew Bonner (4-3), Mehdi Ben Lakdar (2-0) vs. Anthony O’Connor (3-2), Liam Molloy (4-0) vs. Scott Harvey (2-3) for the amateur featherweight title

Fightspirit Championship 8: Military Glory Grand Prix 2018
Izhorets Stadium in Kolpino, Russia
Event Date: Sept. 2

Spotlight Fight:
Manjit Kolekar (11-1) vs. Kseniya Lachkova (7-2)

Whereas the PFL and Cage Warriors are big names in the MMA world, Fightspirit Championship is still a fledgling organization. The Russian brand is set for its eighth show, which includes the finals of the Military Glory Grand Prix. Our focus, though, lands on the women’s flyweight scrap between Manjit Kolekar and Kseniya Lachkova.

Kolekar, 27, developed into one of the biggest prospects in her native India after debuting in 2012. The Superfit Combat disciple tallied numerous wins under the Super Fight League banner, including five first-round stoppages, en route to a 9-0 mark. This streak earned Kolekar an invite to compete for Invicta FC. After visa issues prevented her from making her Invicta debut at the promotion’s 18th show, she finally appeared at Invicta FC 19 against Kaline Medeiros. Medeiros handed Kolekar a decision loss, but the bout took place outside of Kolekar’s normal home in the flyweight division, instead forcing the prospect to cut to 115 pounds. The Indian prospect, who even spent time preparing for the Invicta bout at Jackson-Winkeljohn, returned home to the SFL, where she proceeded to crank out two more first-round finishes, albeit against a pair of winless opponents.

The 22-year-old Lachkova is yet another largely successful up-and-comer based in Russia. “The Tigress” debuted in 2014 and, like her counterpart, reeled off a set of impressive victories. After defeating five outclassed opponents, Lachkova received an upgrade in competition when she met first Karla Benitez and then Bo Meng. Both ladies proved to be too much for Lachkova, who fell on the scorecards in both outings. Matchmakers finally found a happy medium in her next two affairs, in which Lachkova was paired with a 3-2 foe and an undefeated three-fight veteran. Lachkova scored first-round submissions in both of those contests. The Russian fighter’s bout takes place under the banner of her home camp, the Fightspirit Gym.

Could Kolekar prove to be the perfect “step up” in competition for Lachkova? It’s quite possible. The Indian prospect has prospered as a result of her homeland’s lack of high-level female fighters. Instead, the Super Fight League has fed Kolekar a steady diet of rookies, sub-.500 fighters and inexperienced opponents. Even her two most recent wins came against a pair of fighters who combined for an 0-4 mark before meeting Kolekar. When she finally challenged herself against Medeiros, the SFL vet was able to hang on for three rounds and not do much else of note. Lachkova might not be quite as skilled as Medeiros, but she’s no 0-1 or 1-2 fighter. She’s without question at least the second-best fighter with whom Kolekar will tangle.

The Fightspirit camp might not be as famous as some other gyms in Russia, but it’s not completely anonymous either. It houses the likes of Alexander Butenko, Ali Bagov and Islam Makhachev. Kolekar, while she has made at least one stop at a world-class camp, is largely by her lonesome in India, where she lacks the training partners and team to put her on the international map. Kolekar will keep tacking on wins to her record in her homeland, but this fight seems like a recipe for disaster. Her younger adversary should be able to follow Medeiros’ example and plant Kolekar on the mat. The only difference is that Lachkova will find the finish, whereas Medeiros opted to grind out the decision.

Last Week’s Scorecard
Fight Prediction Outcome
Aleksey Ilyenko vs. Michel Silva at M-1 Challenge 96 Ilyenko by knockout Silva by knockout
Richard LeRoy vs. Gabriel Green at CXF 14 LeRoy by knockout Green by knockout
Takafumi Otsuka vs. Victor Henry at Deep 85 Impact Otsuka by decision Henry by knockout