Jake Heffernan (Phil Lambert/Combat Press)

Out of Obscurity: LFA 63, Double G FC 02 and M-1 Challenge 101

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…


Legacy Fighting Alliance 63
Bell County Expo Center in Belton, Texas
Event Date: March 29
Website: lfafighting.com
Watch Event: AXS TV
Twitter: @LFAfighting

Spotlight Fight:
Jake Heffernan (7-0) vs. Gabriel Silva (6-0)

The headliners of LFA 63, Derrick Krantz and Justin Patterson, are far more recognizable names in the MMA world, but we can’t help but love the co-headlining pairing of featherweights Jake Heffernan and Gabriel Silva. Both fighters bring their undefeated record into a fight with a promotion that just sent last week’s big winner, Casey Kenney, to the UFC for a fight with Ray Borg on March 30.

The 29-year-old Heffernan followed a 5-2 amateur run with a 2016 pro debut in which he submitted Adonis Saucedo. His sophomore effort was even more thrilling, with Heffernan scoring a 15-second finish of James Gonzales. After adding three decision nods under the Fury Fighting Championship banner and a submission with Paramount MMA, the Gracie Barra Woodlands product joined the LFA. He debuted in June 2018 in the co-main event, where he topped Peter Stanonik on the scorecards. The Houston-based fighter is a teammate of Alex Morono, but he spent time working with UFC veteran Daniel Pineda and WEC vet Todd Moore in preparation for this contest.

Heffernan’s Brazilian opponent is the brother of former UFC staple and current Bellator fighter Erick Silva. Gabriel, 24, is a member of Team Nogueira who debuted in 2011. He has not been very active in the years that have followed. After winning one fight per year from 2011 through 2015, Gabriel had his lone 2016 contest scrapped. He returned for another win in 2017, but he did not fight in 2018. “Gabito” has mostly faced low-level prospects in his homeland, but he did step up in 2017 to decision 19-fight veteran Kamil Łebkowski under the Fight Exclusive Night banner.

These undefeated upstarts have a prime spot in the LFA 63 lineup. It’s going to be difficult to follow in Kenney’s shoes, but a huge win could put one of these men on the UFC’s radar. It’s also a chance for these guys to prove that they are legitimate up-and-comers. Questions might linger in this area for each fighter. After all, Heffernan has fought a number of subpar opponents, including the aforementioned 1-10 Gonzales and Stanonik, who entered their fight with just a 5-3 pro MMA record. Silva, meanwhile, can only really tout the Łebkowski win as a notable achievement. The Brazilian has a better overall quality of opponent, though, with no losing records among his foes.

This has the potential to be a total barnburner on the feet. Silva flashed quick combos and stiff punches that found their mark against Łebkowski, but he lacked the power to floor his Polish counterpart. Heffernan will dig in his heels and throw heavy leather as well, but his only knockout came against a fighter who had only managed one victory through 11 fights before his short-lived encounter with Heffernan. Heffernan is the more likely of the two to clinch up and look for a takedown, but Silva has good level changes and a solid top game. It’s really a coin-toss of a fight, but Heffernan should be more comfortable on home turf against the Brazilian. This will be a fun fight that ends on the scorecards.

Other key bouts: Derrick Krantz (23-10) vs. Justin Patterson (11-4), Hailey Cowan (2-1) vs. Sarah Click (2-2), Rafael Barbosa (10-1) vs. Cameron Graves (7-2), Devin Miller (5-1) vs. Armando Villarreal (4-1), Kailan Hill (4-0) vs. Jhonoven Pati (4-2), Steven Jones (3-0) vs. Nico Echeverry (5-2)

Double G FC 02: Fight to Prove
Jangchung Gymnasium in Seoul, South Korea
Event Date: March 30
Website: Facebook/DoubleGFC

Spotlight Fight:
Dongi Yang (14-3) vs. Cally Gibrainn de Oliveira (3-1)

If Cally Gibrainn de Oliveira’s name sounds familiar to readers of this series, it’s because he was just featured in February for his early March title tilt with Satoshi Ishii. Now, the Brazilian is back for his upcoming bout in South Korea against UFC veteran Dongi Yang at Double G FC 02.

De Oliveira’s pro debut came in 2014, when he defeated Carlos Andre de Sena Alves in the REC Combat organization. The two men met again the following year, and de Oliveira emerged victorious once more. The 31-year-old Brazilian didn’t return to action again until the second half of 2018, when he challenged Sang Soo Lee for the Heat strap. The “Juggernaut” put away his veteran opponent with ground-and-pound strikes in the third frame to capture the gold. His title defense came at Heat 44, but he failed to retain the strap. Instead, he tapped to an armlock from Ishii in the second round.

The last time most fight fans saw Yang was when he returned to the UFC in 2015 and battered Jake Collier to pick up a win. “The Ox” was a middleweight at the time, and his UFC resume also included a win over Rob Kimmons and losses to Chris Camozzi, Court McGee and Brad Tavares. After his first UFC stint ended, Yang returned to South Korea and added two victories, with a nearly two-year layoff in between fights. After the Collier outing, the Team Macho export had another UFC fight scrapped and instead remained on the sidelines for three years. He returned as a heavyweight in late 2018 and scored a first-round finish of Paul Cheng via strikes.

Yang, who debuted in 2007, has had an interesting career arc. Many of his pre-UFC fights came as a heavyweight, but Yang dropped to 185 pounds for all of his Octagon appearances. This could account for his unraveling against Camozzi, McGee and Tavares, all of whom emerged ahead on the scorecards after three rounds of action. Yang even pushed Camozzi to a split verdict. As a heavyweight, the 34-year-old Yang has never tasted defeat.

His Brazilian opponent was losing the grappling and takedown battles in his title shot against Lee. In fact, de Oliveira was almost finished in the second stanza of the fight. It was only when Lee gassed in the third frame that the “Juggernaut” found an opening for a stoppage of his own. Lee is a veteran of the sport, but one who has never found much consistency. Yang, meanwhile, has only lost while competing in the world’s biggest organization, and only in middleweight affairs. De Oliveira might like this pairing better than the Ishii showdown, because Yang, despite his judo skills and top control, loves to bang. However, it won’t make a huge difference for de Oliveira, who will still find himself on the losing end of this one, most likely via knockout.

Other key bouts: Hyun Gyu Lim (14-7-1) vs. Jae Young Kim (23-12), Shizuka Sugiyama (16-6-1) vs. Chan Mi Jeon (5-2), Jason Radcliffe (13-7) vs. Sang Il Ahn (5-6-1), Hoon Seok Lee (2-0) vs. Kyung Seob Lee (2-0), Hyun Sung Park (1-0) vs. Tsubasa Akiyama (7-5-5)

M-1 Challenge 101
Almaty Arena in Almaty, Kazakhstan
Event Date: March 30
Website: m1global.tv
Watch Event: Russia 2 (Russia), m1global.tv, Fite TV free preliminary-card and pay-per-view main-card stream via Combat Press
Twitter: @M1GlobalNews

Spotlight Fight:
Khadis Ibragimov (7-0) vs. Rafał Kijańczuk (7-0)

The M-1 organization has kicked things up a notch recently, working with other organizations, including the UFC, and renewing its efforts to build quality lineups. In the case of its 101st numbered show, the other organization is the Association of United MMA Federations of Kazakhstan — quite the tongue-twister. The lineup is perhaps the deepest of any regional or international organization outside of the major promotions. Two title fights top a bill littered with 10 fighters who hold significant unblemished career marks. Two of these undefeated fighters, Khadis Ibragimov and Rafał Kijańczuk, collide in the M-1 ring in a battle for the promotion’s light heavyweight crown.

Ibragimov is just 23 years old, but he has already made quite the impression on his way to the championship. The Samo-Piter disciple debuted in 2017 and won four low-level fights before joining M-1. It looked like he was going to be sacrificed to the wolves with a promotional debut affair against former M-1 title challenger Stephan Puetz, who even holds a victory over UFC fighter Marcin Tybura. Instead, Ibragimov stunned fans with a bulldog choke to submit Puetz in the third round. He benefited from a disqualification of his next opponent, Giga Kukhalashvili, to add yet another victory to his resume. In his most recent affair, Ibragimov proved he’s no fluke by submitting Dimitriy Mikutsa in the second round to snag the M-1 gold. The reigning champ has a combat sambo background and three submission victories to his name.

Kijańczuk called out Ibragimov following a very convincing victory in his M-1 debut against the aforementioned Kukhalashvili. The Polish fighter, who is a member of the Berkut WCA Fight Team, didn’t need to argue too much for the fight, as Ibragimov gladly accepted the challenge. The 26-year-old “Kijana” had already piled up plenty of convincing wins prior to his leap to M-1. He didn’t need more than 20 seconds in any of his first three pro outings, demolishing everything from a winless fighter to an undefeated upstart. His fourth fight needed a full five minutes before a leg injury forced his opponent out via TKO. After another prolonged fight that ended in a TKO, Kijańczuk returned to his quick finishing ways with a 17-second destruction of sub-.500 veteran Aleksandr Boyko. Then came the win over Kukhalashvili, which actually required nearly three minutes of action.

There’s no doubt Kijańczuk is a freight train. However, the Polish fighter is credited with a loss via strikes as an amateur. It came against the largely successful Michał Oleksiejczuk — no shame there — but it does prove that Kijańczuk is not completely invincible. He can be beaten. However, Ibragimov is going to have to weather one hell of a storm, especially right out of the gates. It only gets worse if Ibragimov shoots for a takedown and fails, as Kijańczuk loves to turn this situation into a complete ground-and-pound slaughter via huge blasts from his left hand.

Ibragimov’s win over Puetz was a matter of a perfect stylistic match-up for the Russian. Puetz initiated clinches and sought takedowns. Ibragimov used these opportunities to score with huge trip takedowns, and this eventually led to him taking Puetz’s back, where he attempted a rear-naked choke and then switched to the bulldog for the finish. Kijańczuk will not look to tie up in the same way, and this could hurt Ibragimov’s chances.

The champ tends to burst forward with flurries with reckless abandon and hopes for a slip or knockdown in order to pounce on his opponent and work a ground-and-pound attack while hunting for submissions. Unfortunately, he’s not that great at maintaining top position. He often gets wild and subsequently allows his opponent to escape. If anyone is great at capitalizing on these types of mistakes, it’s Kijańczuk. The Polish fighter will take an opportunity to flatten his opponent with ridiculously powerful left hands. He has also demonstrated the ability to separate an opponent from consciousness with one punch, as he did to Charles Andrade in the third round of their encounter. Ibragimov is likely to end up in real trouble. It comes down to whether he can withstand the flurries and counter with a submission. If he can’t, then this one will go to Kijańczuk via ground-and-pound TKO.

Other key bouts: Daniil Prikaza (11-2-1) vs. Shavkat Rakhmonov (10-0) for the welterweight title, Kayck Alencar (9-0) vs. Arman Ashimov (9-3-1), Mickael Lebout (18-9-3) vs. Alik Albogachiev (5-1), Abylaykhan Kadirzhan (5-0) vs. Beno Adamia (6-5-1), Boris Medvedev (4-0) vs. Azamat Bakytov (4-0), Tanner Boser (15-5) vs. Zaur Gadzhibabayev (7-2), Yuriy Chobuka (10-1) vs. George Garcia (8-3), Ivan Bogdanov (6-0) vs. Vadim Shabadash (8-3), Abubakar Mestoev (7-0) vs. Anthony Dizy (11-3), Pierre Ludet (5-0) vs. Asu Almabaev (9-2)

Last Week’s Scorecard
Fight Prediction Outcome
Elves Brenner Oliveira vs. Denis Silva at Future FC 3 Oliveira by submission Silva by decision
Casey Kenney vs. Vincent Cachero at LFA 62 Kenney by decision Kenney by knockout
Phil De Fries vs. Tomasz Narkun at KSW 47 Narkun by decision De Fries by decision