DeAnna Bennett (Jeff Vulgamore/Combat Press)

Out of Obscurity: Tuff-N-Uff, LFA 49 and Deep Jewels 21

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…


Tuff-N-Uff: Fight Night
The Orleans Casino in Las Vegas
Event Date: Sept. 14
Twitter: @tuffnuff

Spotlight Fight:
DeAnna Bennett (9-3-1) vs. Kelly Kobold (19-3-2)

The Las Vegas-based Tuff-N-Uff organization typically sticks to amateur MMA fights, but the promotion’s latest effort ventures into the pro realm and includes Tuff-N-Uff’s first-ever pro women’s fight. Who better to lead this expedition than the well-liked DeAnna Bennett. The UFC and Invicta FC veteran has not fought outside of those two promotions since her fourth pro fight, but now she steps up to lead Tuff-N-Uff’s charge. “Vitamin D” meets fellow flyweight Kelly Kobold in one of the event’s feature bouts.

Bennett should be well known to most MMA fans. After debuting in 2012 and blazing her way through four bouts under the Showdown Fights banner and beating the likes of Julianna Peña, Sharon Jacobson and Colleen Schneider, Bennett joined the Invicta organization. Inside the Invicta cage, she raced out to a four-fight winning streak that included a finish of Michelle Ould and decisions over Jennifer Maia, Norma Rueda Center and Katja Kankaanpää. Bennett, a strawweight at the time, finally faltered when she challenged Livia Renata Souza for the Invicta title. “Vitamin D” shifted her focus back to the flyweight division following her failed title bid. She stumbled yet again when she met Roxanne Modafferi, and suffered yet another defeat when she returned to strawweight to take on Jodie Esquibel. Despite the three-fight skid, Bennett landed a spot in The Ultimate Fighter 26 bracket to crown the UFC’s first female flyweight champion. She won her first fight, but then suffered a knockout loss to Sijara Eubanks. The Killer B Combat Sports Academy product made her official Octagon debut at the reality show’s finale event, but her fight with Melinda Fabian ended in a majority draw. Bennett then returned to Invicta and snagged a split-decision nod over Karina Rodriguez. The former Invicta title challenger has backgrounds in wrestling and boxing.

Kobold certainly isn’t a fresh face to the scene either, but the 35-year-old hasn’t spent much time in the spotlight. She made one appearance in EliteXC — Kobold was obliterated by Gina Carano during the soon-to-be film star’s pioneering MMA run — and more recently fought in two bouts in the Legacy Fighting Alliance. The 24-fight veteran was one of the early trailblazers of women’s MMA. She debuted in 2002, and she went undefeated through her first 18 fights, with 17 victories and a draw. This staggering run included wins over Shayna Baszler and Adrienna Jenkins. Kobold finally ran into trouble when she met Tara LaRosa, Julie Kedzie and the aforementioned Carano in consecutive outings. LaRosa submitted her, while Kedzie and Carano settled for decisions against the tough fighter. The skid was followed by a two and a half year layoff, but Kobold returned in 2011 and submitted Pipi Taylor. Another six-year hiatus followed, though it wasn’t for lack of trying — Kobold was signed to Invicta, but suffered injuries that forced her out of a 2012 bout with Vanessa Porto and a 2013 affair with Tonya Evinger. Fully mended, Kobold returned in 2017 under the LFA banner and fought to a draw with Christine Stanley. Most recently, decisioned Katy Collins, also inside the LFA cage.

Kobold is a scrappy fighter. The Spartan MMA representative isn’t an easy out, either — just ask Ms. Carano about that. “Machine Gun” has only been finished once, but she’s quite capable of handing out stoppages, as evidenced by her seven knockouts and nine submissions. If Bennett underestimates Kobold, it would be a huge mistake. Kobold has been in the cage with some of the best, and she’s even captured wins over a couple of them. She could do the same to Bennett.

Kobold won’t win, though. Bennett hit a really rough patch in 2016 and 2017, but none of her defeats came to undeserving talent. Souza was a champ who scored a strong first-round finish of “Vitamin D.” Modafferi consistently resides among the flyweight division’s elite. Esquibel, a former top-10 atomweight, squeaked by Bennett in a tightly contested strawweight bout. Then there was Eubanks, a rising prospect in the flyweight division who knocked out Bennett in a TUF outing. These are all upper echelon fighters. Kobold, as good as she is, has not demonstrated the same level of ability. Bennett fights a lot of close fights, and this should be another grinding affair, potentially playing out heavily in the clinch. Bennett will do just enough to edge Kobold on the scorecards.

Other key bouts: Cody McKenzie (16-11) vs. JD Domengeaux (12-4), Lucas Neufeld (3-0) vs. Jordan Leavitt (1-0)

Legacy Fighting Alliance 49
Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, N.J.
Event Date: Sept. 14
Watch Event: AXS TV
Twitter: @LFAfighting

Spotlight Fight:
Sean Brady (8-0) vs. Gilbert Urbina (5-0)

Get ready for the Legacy Fighting Alliance debut of Sean Brady. It’s not the first time he’s landed in the Out of Obscurity series. It’s not the second time, either. Brady surpassed expectations in both of those contests to keep his record intact and draw interest from an even bigger promotion. Now, Brady has a more direct audition for the big leagues when he takes on fellow undefeated welterweight Gilbert Urbina in the LFA 49 headliner.

Brady debuted in 2014 with a 33-second technical knockout of Paul Almquist. He added decision victories in his next three outings, including a fight against veteran Rocky Edwards. His next victory, a 57-second spinning-backfist knockout, came against Legacy Fighting Alliance and World Series of Fighting veteran Chauncey Foxworth. Brady captured the vacant Cage Fury Fighting Championship title when he scored a first-round submission finish of Tanner Saraceno. He made a successful defense of the belt when he submitted Mike Jones. In his first venture outside of the CFFC yard, he scored a unanimous decision over The Ultimate Fighter 16 winner Colton Smith. The 25-year-old was perfect through five fights as an amateur as well, with two submissions and one knockout.

The Ohio-born, Texas-based Urbina is also perfect as a pro, but he trails behind Brady in total fights despite debuting in the same year as his counterpart. This is due to a nearly two-year layoff from 2015 to 2017. Prior to his hiatus, Urbina had topped two rookies and a pair of fighters with a combined 3-1 mark when they faced Urbina. Oddly, it was the more experienced duo that suffered stoppages at the hands of Urbina, whereas the rookies took him the distance. In his return to the sport in 2017, Urbina debuted for the LFA with a first-round rear-naked choke of the formerly undefeated Noel Ligon. The 22-year-old has been absent yet again since that win.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. This saying certainly applies to Brady. The rising star appeared vulnerable, on paper, against both Jones and Smith, but he submitted the former and decisioned the latter to prove that his early career successes were legitimate. Now, he gets a fellow undefeated fighter who has an on-again, off-again relationship with the sport. Urbina is no joke, but consistency is a concern. Brady, meanwhile, has delivered plenty of consistency and carried it over from his comfort zone in Cage Fury to two other high-level organizations. If Brady could get past a tough workhorse like Smith, he’s up for the challenge of a greener player like Urbina.

Urbina was strong in his LFA debut. He took care of business early against another undefeated opponent. He has a shot at playing spoiler to Brady, but Brady has continued to prove his worth in the welterweight division with each fight. Urbina tends to aggressively close distance, throw strikes from the Muay Thai plum position, hunt for takedowns and seek to take his opponent’s back. He’s likely to score points against Brady in these manners, but Brady has the ability to work to advantageous positions on the ground and keep Urbina honest on the feet. It should be an entertaining main event where both men have their moments, but Brady shall keep his perfect mark with a decision nod.

Other key bouts: Jonavin Webb (10-2) vs. Tanner Saraceno (7-2), Andy Main (11-3-1) vs. Saul Almeida (19-9), Andrew Salas (5-1) vs. Ahmet Kayretli (8-2), Kenneth Richmond (2-0-1) vs. Benjamin Allen (1-2)

Deep Jewels 21
Shinjuku Face in Tokyo
Event Date: Sept. 16
Watch Event: Abema TV (Japan), online pay-per-view on Ustream

Spotlight Fight:
Mika Arai (4-0) vs. Hikaru Aono (2-1)

The fringes of the atomweight top-15 are a mess. There are a number of veterans in this group who hold a victory or two over the fighters surrounding them in the rankings, but they also hold losses to other similarly ranked peers. Such is the case for featured Deep Jewels 21 atomweights Tomo Maesawa and Jung Eun Park. A few far less experienced fighters with unblemished marks might have a chance to pass these veterans by and slide into the rankings soon. While Maesawa and Park duel near the top of this card, one such undefeated atomweight hopeful scraps earlier in the night. That lady is Mika Araii, a four-fight veteran who is set to meet Hikaru Aono.

Arai has an odd record. Fighter databases list her pro debut as a June 2017 bout with Yoon Ha Hong under the Road FC banner, but she appeared in September of the same year in an amateur contest, coincidentally losing to her upcoming opponent. There’s no going backward once you turn pro, but according to the fight databases Arai has somehow managed the feat. Overall, she is 1-2 as an ammy, and 4-0 as a pro. “ARAMI” decisioned the aforementioned Hong. She has two other pro fighters that went the distance, leaving her with victories over Pan Hui and Ye Ji Lee. She has scored just one finish, and it came against sub-.500 fighter Mizuki Furuse.

The timeline for Aono holds more clarity. She lost her first amateur fight, but recovered and ended with a 2-1-1 ammy mark and an Amateur Shooto Championships strawweight title. She made her pro debut in December 2017, but succumbed to a submission courtesy of Emi Sato. As with her amateur run, Aono rebounded. She took victories over Anna Kiriyama and the aforementioned Furuse in her next two fights. Aono has never scored a finish, but she has been submitted twice.

Despite Arai’s confusing amateur/pro status and her losses to Aono and Yuko Saito, she was able to turn heads with the victory over South Korea’s Lee. While Lee had suffered losses to Satoko Shinashi, Hisae Watanabe and the aforementioned Maesawa, she had landed on the atomweight map by avenging the loss to Shinashi. This provided some heft to Arai’s win in their fight. However, it is the only win that supports Arai’s case for a high ranking in the division.

Aono has the confidence of a prior win over Arai and a wrestling background that could carry her to a grinding win. Arai isn’t a dominant fighter, and Aono is capable of driving this point home. Unfortunately, Aono isn’t a finisher, so she’ll have to outwork Arai over the duration of the bout to convince the judges of her superiority.

Other key bouts: Tomo Maesawa (10-8) vs. Jung Eun Park (4-3-1), Yuko Kiryu (6-6) vs. Nanaka Kawamura (1-1), Mika Nagano (15-10) vs. Izumi Noguchi (5-7-1)

Last Week’s Scorecard
Fight Prediction Outcome
Sai Wang vs. Adriano Balby at Rebel FC 9 Balby by knockout Event postponed indefinitely
Jingnan Xiong vs. Samara Santos at ONE Championship Xiong by submission Xiong by knockout
Abdul-Aziz Abdulvakhabov vs. Ali Bagov at ACB 89 Abdulvakhabov by knockout Bagov by majority decision