Zoila Frausto (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Out of Obscurity: Combate 31, LFA 61 and Road FC 52

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…


Combate 31: Mexico vs. USA
Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif.
Event Date: Feb. 22
Website: combateamericas.com
Watch Event: DAZN (main card), Facebook (prelims)
Twitter: @CombateAmericas

Spotlight Fight:
Zoila Frausto (13-5) vs. Jaimee Nievera (7-4)

There was a time when Zoila Frausto was among the best female fighters in the world. She was 12-1 at one point, with her only loss against future UFC star Miesha Tate and victories over the likes of Jessica Penne, Jessica Aguilar and Megumi Fujii. That was more than six years ago, though. Now, the Bellator and Invicta veteran is just 1-4 over her last five fights and has not seen MMA action since early 2016. After a three-year layoff, Frausto is back. She’ll share the Combate 31 cage with Jaimee Nievera in the night’s co-headlining women’s flyweight fight.

Frausto, who has a Muay Thai and kickboxing background, made her MMA debut in 2009. The “Warrior Princess” was fighting high-level opposition in Strikeforce and on the California regional scene before even logging a year as a pro. Her first loss came to the aforementioned Tate in a Strikeforce Challengers bout. After one more regional win, Frausto entered Bellator and eventually worked her way through a tournament bracket with wins over Penne, Aguilar and Fujii. The victories over Aguilar and Fujii were close and controversial split decisions, but the streak put Frausto on the map as a top strawweight. It all came crashing down, however, when Frausto tore her ACL and sat on the shelf for more than a year and a half. When she finally did return, she shifted her focus to the flyweight division, where she defeated Casey Noland before hitting a four-fight skid in which she suffered losses to Jessica Eye, Jennifer Maia, Vanessa Porto and Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger. Frausto righted the ship with a win over Corina Herrera under the Tachi Palace Fights banner in February 2016, but the 35-year-old has been out of the cage ever since.

Nievera has a resume that’s equally littered with big names. The 34-year-old failed as an amateur, going winless through two bouts, but one of her losses came to future UFC fighter Aspen Ladd. “Quee Nie” made her pro debut in late 2014 and snagged a win over Jillian Lybarger. After a loss in her sophomore outing, Nievera reeled off three straight victories, culminating with a ground-and-pound stoppage of Zoila’s sister, Stephanie Frausto, in Nievera’s Bellator debut. Her success came to an end when she lost back-to-back fights against Sarah D’Alelio and Jamie Thorton. Nievera, like Zoila, rebounded with a win over the aforementioned Herrera and kept rolling with an additional two victories, including a decision nod over Katy Collins in her Legacy Fighting Alliance debut. Nievera had a shot at making the UFC roster when she appeared on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series in 2018, but she ended up as the sacrificial lamb for Antonina Shevchenko instead.

Despite her middling 7-4 mark, Nievera is a perfect test for the returning Frausto. “Quee Nie” might not hold many notable wins, but she’s shared the cage with several big names. Furthermore, she has been active on the MMA circuit recently, which is more than can be said for Frausto.

This isn’t to say Frausto left the combat-sports world altogether. She has been very active as a kickboxer and went undefeated with a WBC national title in Muay Thai. She also made an appearance with the GLORY organization in 2017. Needless to say, the California native is a skilled striker.

In terms of weight cuts, Frausto is probably a healthier fighter at 125 pounds. She has admitted that making the strawweight limit was very difficult on her. However, when it comes to in-ring success, she has found much more of it at the lower weight. Her flyweight campaign does include wins over Michelle Ould and Casey Noland, but it also features losses to Eye, Maia and Porto. Yet, some of this might have to do with Frausto’s personal life — her cited reason for taking a break from MMA has to do with her split from former husband Jorge Gurgel. Now in a better place psychologically, Frausto might be poised for a comeback.

Nievera will give Frausto a tough fight, but she’s suffered knockout losses to the aforementioned Shevchenko and a sub-.500 Maria Andaverde early in her career. Frausto might opt to outpoint Nievera on the feet for three rounds, but this could actually turn into an opportunity for the former Bellator champion to shed her reputation for decisions and deliver a knockout finish instead.

Other key bouts: Anthony Avila (17-5) vs. Pablo Sabori (9-5), Charisa Sigala (4-0) vs. Sheila Padilla (3-2), Hector Fajardo (1-0) vs. Jose Avalos (3-1), Daniel Rodriguez (7-1) vs. Ivan Castillo (17-11), Adrian Guzman (3-0) vs. Ryan Reneau (4-5-1), Mark Climaco (2-0) vs. Ricardo Vasquez (1-0)

Legacy Fighting Alliance 61
Mystic Lake Casino Hotel in Prior Lake, Minn.
Event Date: Feb. 22
Website: lfafighting.com
Watch Event: AXS TV
Twitter: @LFAfighting

Spotlight Fight:
Brendan Allen (10-3) vs. Moses Murrietta (8-1)

Entering his last fight, Brendan Allen was certainly in contention for the record for most LFA appearances in bouts for a vacant title. The third time was the charm, though. Allen, who had previously come up short against future UFC fighters Eryk Anders and Anthony Hernandez for the title, submitted Tim Hiley at LFA 50 to finally claim the gold. Now, Allen is set to defend the crown at the promotion’s 61st event when he meets Moses Murrietta.

The 23-year-old Allen only has three losses on his record, but they’ve come against some very talented opposition. After opening his pro career in 2015 and scoring two victories, Allen suffered a loss to Trevin Giles, who is now undefeated through two UFC appearances. “All In” rebounded with five straight stoppage wins, including a submission of The Ultimate Fighter 13 alum Charlie Rader and a knockout of grizzled veteran Jon Kirk. Allen’s convincing stoppage of Kirk put him in line to fight Anders for the vacant LFA middleweight title, but Anders was able to outwork Allen over five rounds to take home the belt. Allen returned to the cage to pick up another submission win, this time with a first-round stoppage of prospect Chris Harris. He was rewarded with the title fight against Hernandez, but again fell short of his goal. The Roufusport product bounced back with an impressive knockout of Larry Crowe to once again climb into a contest for the vacant championship and then tapped Hiley in the third round to capture the strap.

Murrietta is yet another fast-rising prospect thrust into a bout with the young Allen. The 30-year-old followed a 1-1 amateur run with a 5-0 start to his professional career. Beginning with a 2013 pro debut against Howard LaCroix, Murrietta climbed the ranks while scoring three stoppages and two decision wins. He landed in M-1 Challenge by that fifth bout, and the Russian promotion was also host to his lone pro loss, which came via first-round knockout against Ruslan Shamilov. “Motown” returned to U.S. shores and picked up a win over Chris Herrera under the Bellator banner and victories over Casey Ryan and Sidiah Parker with the LFA.

Murrietta’s strong suit is his striking game, but he’ll give up approximately three inches in reach to the champion in this contest. Allen has picked up a majority of his wins on the ground, but he’s also responsible for four first-round knockouts of some form, including one to the aforementioned Crowe. Allen trains with a kickboxing legend as his coach, and he’s surrounded by very talented strikers at the Roufusport camp. Allen has more routes to victory in this fight, which gives him the edge.

Murrietta has compiled a solid record, but his prey has not included a true head-turning name. Allen has defeated several tough and respected regional foes, and he’s also shared the cage with three UFCers and went the distance with two of those men. Allen has been a perennial contender for the LFA, and now he has his chance to shine. Murrietta is a capable fighter, but he’s not quite on Allen’s level. This one should end in a knockout and a successful defense for the champ.

Other key bouts: Brandon Jenkins (12-6) vs. Mike Plazola (16-9), Nate Jennerman (12-4) vs. Ken Beverly (8-3), Lloyd McKinney (13-5) vs. Sid Bice (8-2), Jake Childers (5-0) vs. Josh Marsh (5-1), Nick Ammerman (4-1) vs. Dionisio Ramirez (7-4), Brock Smith (3-0) vs. Joel Bauman (1-0), Sean Strube (1-0) vs. Jason Huntley (5-7)

Road Fighting Championship 52
Jangchung Gymnasium in Seoul, South Korea
Event Date: Feb. 23
Website: roadfc.com
Watch Event: Ameba TV (Japan), free stream on YouTube
Twitter: @ROADFC

Spotlight Fight:
Shamil Zavurov (35-5-1) vs. Mansour Barnaoui (17-4)

It’s certainly not the strongest lineup ever for Road Fighting Championship, but the Korean company’s 52nd show does include one lightweight bout that’s especially worth the attention of fight fans in search of intriguing match-ups. Road FC is set to conclude its $1 million lightweight tournament with a finals pairing of Russia’s Shamil Zavurov and France’s Mansour Barnaoui.

Zavurov, the cousin and training partner of current UFC champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, is an International Master of Sports in sambo and a Master of Sports in freestyle wrestling, and he’s a three-time world champion in combat sambo. He holds five wins by submission and 11 by way of some form of knockout, but Zavurov’s resume shows a move away from grappling and toward the striking aspect of his game. His last submission win came in October 2010, and he’s relied more heavily on the TKO finish in the time since. His last eight victories have come on the scorecards. The Russian both won and lost his M-1 welterweight strap against Yasubey Enomoto, and he has been unable to beat Enomoto in their two subsequent meetings. More recently, he also claimed two wins en route to the World Fighting Championship Akhmat’s lightweight grand prix finals, where he fell to Khusein Khaliev. While he has bounced around from league to league over the years, Zavurov has spent a majority of his time recently with the Road FC organization as part of the $1 million grand prix. His path to the finals includes wins over Won Gi Kim (in the international trials to qualify for the bracket), Leo Kuntz, Khuukhenkhuu Amartuvshin and Ronys Torres.

The 26-year-old Barnaoui won the M-1 lightweight championship in 2015 when he stopped Maxim Divnich via strikes in the first round. The Frenchman only enjoyed his reign for a brief time before vacating the crown to move down and unsuccessfully challenge for the featherweight title against Ivan Buchinger. Barnaoui, who debuted on the European regional circuit in 2011, then moved to Poland’s KSW and came up short against Mateusz Gamrot in a bid for the league’s vacant lightweight title. The Team Magnum fighter has seen action against current or former UFC fighters Kevin Lee, Islam Makhachev, Curt Warburton and Colin Fletcher. He has trained under boxing coach Aziz Mahi, but he visited the TriStar Gym and worked with UFC legend Georges St-Pierre in preparation for this outing. He does not have a combat-sports background outside of MMA, and he claimed earlier in his career that he may actually spend more time skateboarding than he does training. The Frenchman has stormed through four Road FC opponents, submitting each one of them via rear-naked choke, on his way to the tourney finals. He scored first-round submissions of Won Bin Ki, Chang Hyun Kim and Nandin-Erdene Munguntsooj. He needed until the third frame before doing the same to Kota Shimoishi.

Barnaoui has seemingly matured beyond treating training as a secondary concern, an evolution highlighted by his work with GSP. The French fighter has demonstrated the ability to defeat solid competition. Both men have struggled against UFC-caliber foes, but they have steamrolled nearly everyone else. Barnaoui has a four-inch height advantage, but it could be negated if Zavurov opts to score takedowns and work his sambo skills on the mat.

This is an amazingly competitive fight on paper, and it has huge ramifications for the bank account of the winner. Barnaoui has made quick work of most of his Road FC foes, whereas Zavurov has been content to outwork his adversaries from bell to bell. Both men have world-class training partners at their disposal, and they’ve delivered thus far in tournament action.

Despite his victory over Shimoishi in the semifinals, Barnaoui revealed some holes in his game. Most notably, he was taken down by his Japanese counterpart on more than one occasion. Zavurov is likely to find even more success in this area. However, Barnaoui also demonstrated some sneaky moves to gain reversals and even take Shimoishi’s back for the fight-finishing choke. Even if Zavurov gets the fight to the ground, he can’t let his guard down for fear of the Frenchman finding an opening.

Zavurov has flashed improved striking in his recent outings, but he’ll be fighting a much longer opponent in this contest. Barnaoui does tend to charge in and leave his chin open, but he’s also pretty good at taking a punch. The young prospect has never been stopped, either. Zavurov, meanwhile, has been finished on several occasions. This could be another letdown for the Russian vet. He can’t quite get over the hump, and it’s likely the Barnaoui sends him packing once more with a knockout finish.

Other key bouts: Min Woo Kim (8-2) vs. Je Hoon Moon (11-12) for the bantamweight title, Michel Pereira (21-9) vs. Dae Sung Kim (4-5), Bruno Miranda (11-3) vs. Young Gi Hong (5-4), Tae Sung Kim (1-0) vs. Jung Gi Hong (4-2)

Last Week’s Scorecard
Fight Prediction Outcome
Julius Anglickas vs. Clayton York at LFA 60 York by knockout Anglickas by submission
Sean Brady vs. Taj Abdul-Hakim at CFFC 72 Brady by knockout Brady by knockout
Liliya Shakirova vs. Mariya Agapova at Battle on Volga 9 Agapova by decision Result unknown