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…
Event Date: Feb. 15
Watch Event: AXS TV
Julius Anglickas (5-1) vs. Clayton York (5-0)
It’s no secret that the Legacy Fighting Alliance is a direct pipeline of talent for the UFC. This often leads to vacant titles for the LFA. Such is the case currently in the company’s light heavyweight division. Ryan Spann vacated his belt in the summer of 2018 to sign with the UFC, and now the promotion is ready to crown a new 205-pound kingpin. The championship bout is the headliner for LFA’s 60th show. The two title hopefuls in the contest are Julius Anglickas and the undefeated Clayton York.
Anglickas hails from Lithuania, but he’s affiliated with Missouri-based St. Charles MMA. The 27-year-old decimated his competition at the amateur level, where he scored finishes in all five of his fights. His 2016 professional debut with Shamrock FC lasted a mere 37 seconds before he flattened 12-fight veteran Eric Crittendon with punches. Anglickas stumbled in his sophomore effort against Cameron Olson, but he has gone on to rebound with four straight wins. He kicked off his streak with a victory in late 2016, but he was absent from MMA action — he did take a boxing match in the interim — for a year and a half before returning in June 2018 at LFA 42. He was paired with previously undefeated fighter Erick Murray Jr. at the show, and Anglickas was able to find a rear-naked choke for the third-round finish. He spent the remainder of the year on smaller regional shows while adding two more first-round stoppages to his resume. Unfortunately, his most recent opponent came into their bout with an underwhelming 5-12 record.
York also spent much of his amateur run tearing through opponents. His first four ammy fights all ended in the first round, and the longest of those contests went just 12 ticks past the two-minute mark. York faced a setback in his final amateur outing, but it came to future Bellator fighter Tyree Fortune. “C-4” made his pro debut in 2017 and continued to finish fights in the first frame. His first two victories came via finish, but he was forced to go the distance in his third contest when he clashed with Justus Faaiu. He added another first-round stoppage against Matt Howell in his next affair. His most recent outing was a rematch with Faaiu that ended in a much more decisive manner when York secured a rear-naked choke to submit his opponent in just under four minutes.
Both of these men are outstanding finishers and make for solid prospects, but they might also give the LFA a champion who can come back and defend the belt once or twice, at the very least, before moving on to bigger things. This is because both of these fighters need the type of test the LFA can provide for upstart. This is important for Anglickas, who has notched two of his pro wins against sub-.500 opponents, and York, who has topped one winless foe and another fighter who entered their bout with an ugly 2-8 mark. The winner of this title tilt will gain additional credibility, but it’s nothing compared to the legitimacy they’ll gain by fighting an additional one or two light heavyweights in the LFA cage. The promotion has an opportunity to build a star from almost the ground up in this case.
Anglickas has a strong chin and a good eye that allows him to see punches coming his way and quickly dart his head out of their path. When he throws hands, he tends to surge forward and put his full power behind his punches. He can get wild during these flurries, however, and leave himself open to counters. He prefers to keep fights on the feet, but he has a solid level change and takedown shot. His ground-and-pound can be vicious, but he’s also prone to mistakes on the mat. Mike Doss came close to scoring a guillotine choke on the Lithuanian, and his defeat at the hands of Olson came by way of an arm-triangle choke.
York’s attack features far more wrestling. The 28-year-old will press forward with a combination in an attempt to get to the clinch or change levels for a double-leg takedown. He struggled at times with his shots against Faaiu in the pair’s first clash. York can get too focused on hunting for the takedown and shoot from too far out. If he does this against Anglickas, who is the taller fighter in this affair, then he’ll pay dearly. Anglickas should be able to stuff any desperate attempts and then unleash a ground-and-pound barrage that can put York away. If, however, York can time his shots and not “reach” for them, then he could drag Anglickas into a wrestling battle on the mat that he’s far more likely to win.
First and foremost, both of these men like to knock their opponents silly. It makes for a potential war, albeit a brief one that could end early in the first stanza if even one punch hits its mark. York is quicker on the feet and possesses the better wrestling game. If Anglickas sticks to his habit of wildly pressing forward, it will play to York’s advantage. As long as he can avoid enduring any of the Lithuanian’s powerful strikes, York should be able to control the flow of this bout, as well as where it’s contested. This fight really could go either way, but York’s wrestling should make all the difference. He’ll ground Anglickas and eventually end the fight via TKO.
Other key bouts: Trey Ogden (11-3) vs. Anthony Baccam (12-6), Dakota Bush (5-1) vs. Jordin Hinman (7-4), Luis Saldaña (12-6) vs. Carl Wittstock (10-4), Byron Stevens (2-0) vs. Patrick Martin (6-4)
Event Date: Feb. 16
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass
Sean Brady (9-0) vs. Taj Abdul-Hakim (8-1)
It took some time before we came around on Sean Brady. He has made believers out of us, though. Now, the 26-year-old is back to defend his Cage Fury welterweight title at the promotion’s 72nd show. Brady puts his title on the line against Taj Abdul Hakim, a nine-fight veteran who has only lost once in his pro career.
Following a perfect six-fight amateur run, 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 LFA and World Series of Fighting veteran Chauncey Foxworth. Brady captured the vacant Cage Fury title when he scored a first-round submission finish of Tanner Saraceno. He made a successful defense of the belt with a submission finish of Mike Jones. In his first venture outside of the CFFC yard, Brady scored a unanimous decision over The Ultimate Fighter 16 winner Colton Smith. Most recently, Brady jumped to the LFA organization for a headlining affair at LFA 49. The 26-year-old handed out Gilbert Urbina’s first pro loss at the event when he outworked the formerly undefeated fighter for the unanimous decision.
Abdul-Hakim has had a far rockier career. He only managed a 7-3 mark at the amateur level, where he suffered two decision losses and a TKO. His pro debut came with the Ring of Combat promotion in late 2015. He was able to defeat his first four opponents, but Bellator veteran and future Titan FC fighter Sidney Outlaw proved to be too much for him in a tussle for the vacant ROC welterweight strap. Outlaw earned the decision win over Abdul-Hakim for what remains the 30-year-old’s only pro loss to date. Abdul-Hakim continued to grind away under the ROC banner to earn three more wins, including two first-round stoppages. He finally traveled outside of the ROC in his most recent outing, a split nod over Marco Smallman at CFFC 71 in December.
The rising star Brady 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. He furthered this narrative with his decision victory over Urbina, a fighter who has an on-again, off-again relationship with the sport. The LFA fight brought concerns of whether Brady could succeed outside of the Cage Fury organization, but he quickly shunned that idea. Now, he’s back in his comfort zone against an opponent who didn’t fare well as an amateur and already holds one loss as a pro.
Abdul-Hakim has only managed one loss, but his resume gives us hints at his potential. The loss came to Outlaw, a longtime mid-level fighter who has had troubles of his own in breaking through to the top tiers of the sport. Then there was the split decision against Smallman, a fighter who moved to 5-2 with the loss. That was a squeaker for Abdul-Hakim, and it provides more evidence that he isn’t quite at the level of someone like Brady.
Brady can win fights in a hurry, but he’s just as likely to take part in a drawn-out affair that goes to the scorecards. However, we have to consider the fighters that have pushed Brady this far. He’s had five decisions in his pro tenure, and they’ve included his first big step up in competition against the veteran Edwards, his fight with TUF winner Smith, and the recent nod over Urbina. Granted, Abdul-Hakim hasn’t been stopped but once across his amateur and pro campaign, but Brady could change this fact. This one ends in a knockout finish for the undefeated prospect.
Other key bouts: Kyle Daukaus (5-0) vs. Jonavin Webb (12-2) for the middleweight title, Naoki Inoue (11-1) vs. Sean Santella (20-7-1), Tommy Espinosa (6-1) vs. Andre Barquero Morera (5-1), Jacob Olave (1-0) vs. Paul Capaldo (1-0), Joey Pierotti (10-1) vs. David Mundell (10-4)
Event Date: Feb. 17
Liliya Shakirova (6-1) vs. Mariya Agapova (6-0)
If you didn’t read Combat Press writer Riley Kontek’s series on fighters the UFC should sign in 2019, then you might not be familiar with Mariya Agapova. The talented lady flyweight brings her undefeated record into a match-up with fellow prospect Liliya Shakirova as part of Battle on Volga 9, a production of the Federation of MMA of Samara.
Agapova is a member of the Akhmat Fight Club Kazakhstan camp. She debuted in 2015 with a decision nod over fellow rookie Yuliya Ivanova. It was a year before she returned with a first-round submission finish of rookie Dariya Kutuzova. She finally picked up the pace in 2017 by scoring three wins in the calendar year, including two contests in the Fight Nights Global promotion. The first two victories came against inexperienced foes, but the third fight, which ended in a decision, came against 12-fight veteran Liliya Kazak. Agapova had two bouts, including a key match-up with Julia Borisova, scrapped in 2018. This left her with just one fight on the year, a knockout of Na Liang in a Chinese promotion.
Agapova and Shakirova, who hails from Uzbekistan, have a common opponent. Shakirova decisioned the aforementioned Liang. They should have had another shared foe, but only Shakirova actually had the opportunity to fight Borisova. The Russian fighter became the only woman to defeat Shakirova when the pair went the distance at FNG 85. Shakirova also impressed with a win over Bo Meng at FNG 74. Her pro debut came in 2017, a year in which she won four fights, including her bouts with Meng and Liang. The loss to Borisova came in early 2018, but Shakirova recovered with wins over the previously unbeaten Aygul Khabirova and the 2-1 Mariya Artyukhina. The latter of these victories was a close split decision.
Any fighter looking for answers against Agapova would be wise to watch her fight with Kazak. The judges gave the unanimous nod to Agapova, but the fight was far closer than the outcome would suggest. Kazak put relentless pressure on Agapova. The majority of the fight was contested in the clinch, and Kazak even scored a takedown in the opening frame. Only when Kazak started to fade in the third stanza did Agapova flash significant offense. If Kazak had done just a little more in each round, she could have swept the scorecards. Other opponents have fallen victim to Agapova’s striking and takedowns, or they’ve virtually pulled guard off of weak takedown attempts of their own.
The only thing more questionable than Agapova’s victory over Kazak is Shakirova’s win over Meng. The Chinese fighter chopped away at Shakirova’s legs in the first round and even scored a knockdown in the second frame. Only the third round appeared to go Shakirova’s way, but she emerged with the unanimous verdict. While she did flash the ability to get in her opponent’s face, she tends to back off and maintain distance rather than continuing to press her adversary against the cage and work in the clinch.
Shakirova’s win over Meng would seem to be a huge feather in her cap, but the actual performance by Shakirova wasn’t as riveting. She doesn’t have the strength to constantly push Agapova around. Furthermore, she’s up against someone with a long and awkward game. Then there’s Shakirova’s habit of throwing single strikes. None of this adds up to a winning formula against Agapova. The southpaw should be able to tag Shakirova with counters while the Uzbek fighter throws single overhands. If Shakirova does tie up Agapova in a clinch, Agapova should be able to use her size to win the takedown battle. Everything points to a solid, winning effort from Agapova, assuming the judges get it right.
Other key bouts: Ramis Teregulov (14-5) vs. Ivan Vitasović (6-3), Rinat Fakhretdinov (16-2) vs. Vladimir Migovich (2-3), Mark Volkov (4-1) vs. Oleg Peterimov (10-6)
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