Satoru Kitaoka (Taro Irei/Sherdog)

Out of Obscurity: ONE Championship, Deep 86 Impact and RCC 4

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: Pursuit of Greatness
Thuwunna Indoor Stadium in Yangon, Myanmar
Event Date: Oct. 26
Watch Event: free stream at
Twitter: @ONEChampionship

Spotlight Fight:
Aung La N Sang (23-10) vs. Mohammad Karaki (9-0)

The biggest venture of the weekend on the international scene comes courtesy of ONE Championship, the same promotion that recently snagged former UFC and Bellator champion Eddie Alvarez off the free-agent market. We’ll have to wait for Alvarez’s ONE debut, but in the meantime, the organization offers us two-division champion Aung La N Sang. The Myanmar native of Kachin descent puts his middleweight crown on the line against undefeated up-and-comer Mohammad Karaki.

N Sang is a veteran fighter with a good record, but his star turn has really come over his last four fights. “The Burmese Python” claimed gold first as a light heavyweight under the ONE banner and then as a middleweight. In his run to two division crowns, N Sang decisioned Vitaly Bigdash at middleweight to avenge a prior loss and then destroyed Alexandre Machado at light heavyweight. Despite his Asian roots, N Sang trains out of Maryland with the Crazy 88 Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu camp. He has bounced from Ring of Combat to Bellator to Cage Fury FC and on to ONE, where he now holds an 8-1 promotional record. Along the way, he has clashed with Costas Philippou, Uriah Hall and Jonavin Webb in losing efforts, as well as Ken Hasegawa in a successful title defense. His fortunes improved upon his arrival in ONE Championship, where he has defeated formerly undefeated fighters Bigdash and Alexey Butorin, as well as the formerly once defeated Michał Pasternak. The 33-year-old has 12 submission victories and nine wins by some form of knockout.

Karaki’s resume pales in comparison. While he, too, is a two-division champion, those titles came in the far more shallow waters of the Desert Force promotion. The Lebanese fighter debuted in 2012 and quickly established himself as a finisher. He claimed three submissions and two knockouts over his first five fights, but his foes included two rookies, two opponents with just one prior professional outing and a single fighter with a 3-0 mark. From there, Karaki, already decorated as a light heavyweight, stepped up to fight a 6-2 opponent in a successful bid for the Desert Force middleweight crown. The bout ended in a decision, which remains the only time in his career that he did not stop his adversary. The 27-year-old’s three most recent fights have come against opponents with as varied marks as 2-3, 6-0 and 5-2. He finished all three of these men in the first round.

Karaki is making his ONE Championship debut and ventures outside of the Middle East for the first time in his career. Instead of a warm-up fight, ONE is throwing him straight to one of its biggest sharks, N Sang. The champ has made a habit of finishing established talent like Hasegawa and Bigdash, and he’s also tangled with some UFC-caliber opposition, albeit in losing efforts. N Sang could be described as ONE’s version of a Matt Brown or Ray Cooper — in other words, a late bloomer. While N Sang’s early career was marred by a number of losses, he’s been fairly consistent since signing on with his current employer.

Karaki is always a threat to finish a fight with his fists or a submission, but he’s taking on another proven finisher here. It’s also on a huge stage in a title bout. That’s a lot to ask of “O Lutador.” With a little more time on this stage, Karaki could turn into a perennial ONE contender. Right now, however, the company might be rushing him into the spotlight. He’ll be outmatched against N Sang, who should capitalize on Karaki’s aggressiveness to find a submission finish.

Other key bouts: Rafael Nunes (11-2) vs. Movlid Khaibulaev (13-0), Phoe Thaw (6-0) vs. Keanu Subba (6-3), Masakazu Imanari (36-18-2) vs. Radeem Rahman (3-1), Mite Yine (1-0) vs. Ye Thway Ne (3-1), Luis “Sapo” Santos (64-11-1) vs. Daichi Abe (6-2)

Deep 86 Impact
Ota Ward Gymnasium in Tokyo
Event Date: Oct. 27
Twitter: @deep_official

Spotlight Fight:
Satoru Kitaoka (41-17-9) vs. Koji Takeda (7-0)

The 86th effort in the Deep Impact series is heavy on the gold. The lineup features three title bouts, spanning the lightweight, featherweight and bantamweight divisions. Satoru Kitaoka is perhaps the most familiar name out of the defending champions. The longtime veteran is set to defend his crown against undefeated upstart Koji Takeda.

Despite his recent rough patch, Kitaoka remains the long-reigning lightweight king of the Deep organization. He won the belt in 2013 with a decision win over Daisuke Nakamura, and he has notched three subsequent title defenses, including one victory by submission. However, his last defense came in 2016. Since then, he’s made two appearances with Pancrase and four under the Rizin Fighting Federation banner while accumulating a disappointing 3-3 record. The grinding fighter is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and judo. In addition to 20 submission victories, the 38-year-old has scored 21 decision wins. He has also fought to nine draws and lost nine decisions. Meanwhile, he has never scored a finish via strikes, but he has been knocked out eight times. The Lotus product was thwarted by Kazuki Tokudome in a recent bid for the lightweight King of Pancrase crown, and he only managed one win with Rizin.

Takeda continues this week’s trend of fighters with rather brief records taking on veteran champs. The 23-year-old has only been competing on the professional level for a little over a year now, but he’s quickly piled up victories. His debut came in August 2017, when he finished Do Hyung Kwon with strikes. He alternated between submissions and knockouts en route to three more victories by the end of February. Takeda then took a significant step up in competition and landed on the scorecards in each of his next three fights. First, he topped the formerly undefeated Tsogookhuu Amarsanaa. Two months later, his victim was Naoto Miyazaki, who entered the affair with a 14-4-3 mark. Most recently, the Brave Gym export emerged victorious against Juri Ohara, who was 22-14-2 at the time of their fight.

Unlike the other title hopeful in this week’s preview, Takeda has demonstrated his ability to dismantle established veterans in a more skilled circuit. He made a habit of finishing fights against his earlier opponents, but the veterans have pushed Takeda harder. If his highlights are any indication, though, then Takeda has the makings of a future star. He has powerful takedowns, the strength to ragdoll opponents and sweet transitions to put him into position for a submission after he hits a suplex.

Kitaoka has really struggled lately. The former Sengoku champion, who once defeated Takanori Gomi, is now riding a rocky road in which he beat Daron Cruickshank, lost back-to-back fights to Yusuke Yachi and Kiichi Kunimoto, topped Taras Sapa, and got steamrolled by Diego Brandão. Kitaoka is slipping, and he was never extremely consistent in the first place — he’s never won more than six fights in a row since his 2000 debut.

Takeda is on the rise. He’s not going to submit Kitaoka — nobody ever has — but he should bully the older fighter and threaten him throughout with his wild style of wrestling. In the end, Takeda will convince the judges of his superiority and finally pry the Deep title from around Kitaoka’s waist.

Other key bouts: Yuki Motoya (21-5) vs. Makoto Kamaya (31-16-4) for the bantamweight title, Takahiro Ashida (21-9-2) vs. Satoshi Yamasu (9-4) for the featherweight title

Russian Cagefighting Championship 4
Academy of Martial Arts RMK in Yekaterinburg, Russia
Event Date: Oct. 27
Website: Facebook/rccboxing

Spotlight Fight:
Fabio Maldonado (24-12) vs. Ivan Shtyrkov (14-0-1)

The Russian-based RCC Boxing organization started off as a boxing promotion that peppered in a few MMA bouts for its shows. As it has evolved, the focus has swayed more in the direction of the MMA portion of combat sports. Perhaps this has something to do with RCC golden boy Ivan Shtyrkov. The undefeated Russian has been on a roll against seasoned veterans, and now he draws UFC castoff Fabio Maldonado in a light heavyweight tilt.

Shtyrkov’s career has been spent competing under the German Titov Boxing Promotions and RCC Boxing Promotions banners in Russia. He’s faced several notable names along the way. After stopping his first five low-level foes since turning pro in mid-2015, “Ural Hulk” encountered UFC veteran Jeff Monson in May 2016. The Russian fighter landed a blow that sent Monson to the mat, where Shtyrkov finished the experienced grappler with an armbar in 31 seconds of the very first round. However, Monson has gone on record stating that he expected an exhibition fight and entered the contest with an injured arm that Shtyrkov eventually targeted for the finish. Shtyrkov topped his next two opponents, including former UFC champ Ricco Rodriguez, via first-round TKO. This led to a meeting with UFC and Strikeforce vet Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva. The 30-year-old couldn’t stop Bigfoot, but he did earn the victory on the scorecards. Shtyrkov added UFC veterans Rodney Wallace and Phil De Fries to his list of victims. Then, he used his fists to pummel veteran Japanese fighter Satoshi Ishii for another stoppage victory. Late in 2017, he turned his focus toward the light heavyweight division and decisioned former Bellator champ Christian M’Pumbu and European veteran Marcin Łazarz. In a shift back to heavyweight, Shtyrkov fought to a draw with 60-fight journeyman Gerônimo dos Santos.

The 38-year-old Maldonado is a perfect addition to Shtyrkov’s cast of credible opponents. The Brazilian is a skilled boxer who holds a perfect 25-0 mark in the sweet science. In MMA, Maldonado shook off a slow start after his 2000 pro debut and eventually amassed a respectable 17-3 mark to garner attention from the UFC. He joined the big show and won his Octagon debut over James McSweeney. His next three fights were a disaster — he was decisioned by Kyle Kingsbury and Igor Pokrajac and then lost via doctor’s stoppage in a war against Glover Teixeira. Maldonado recovered to win four of his next five UFC appearances, with the lone loss coming in a step up to heavyweight to meet future champ Stipe Miocic. He came crashing back to Earth, however, when he suffered decision losses to Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Corey Anderson inside the Octagon. His skid continued outside of the UFC with defeats at the hands of Fedor Emelianenko and Mikhail Mokhnatkin. The Brazilian recovered with a pair of stoppage victories, but he again fell short when he locked horns with fellow UFC vet Nikita Krylov.

The RCC has been finding ways to get Shtyrkov high-profile wins. The company has lined up UFC and Bellator veterans, and Shtyrkov has passed each test. His only setback came in the recent draw to dos Santos. Perhaps his lack of a win against the journeyman is a sign of some holes in his game, or perhaps he’s just too small for the heavyweight division, where he gave up nearly 30 pounds to dos Santos.

Maldonado’s tendency is to box with his opponent, but he’s not able to run away with fights via his striking acumen. On the ground, the Brazilian can be a sitting duck. Shtyrkov has flashed stand-up and grappling skills. The Russian can finish the fight anywhere, and it’s not a stretch to predict he’s capable of winning a duel with Maldonado. Given the Brazilian’s tough nature, though, this one is more than likely to go the distance.

Other key bouts: Sergei Martynov (10-2) vs. Oleg Olenichev (11-5), Kevin Petshi (15-4) vs. Nikita Chistyakov (9-4-1), Evgeniy Bondar (7-0) vs. Steve Carl (22-6), Artur Pronin (13-3) vs. Artur Karavaev (7-5), Danil Erlich (4-0) vs. Rashad Galaychiev (2-0), Yaroslava Kichigina (3-0) vs. Viktoria Sklyarova (1-1), Evgeny Popov (2-0-1) vs. Denis Izmodenov (3-6-2), Ilyas Khamzin (1-0) vs. Artur Sviridov (3-1-1)

Last Week’s Scorecard
Fight Prediction Outcome
Vladimir Mineev vs. Magomed Ismailov at FNG 90 Mineev by submission Fight ended in a split draw
Stefano Paternò vs. Ross Houston at Cage Warriors 98 Paternò by decision Houston by split decision
Takashi Sato vs. Matt Vaile at Pancrase 300 Sato by submission Sato by knockout