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: April 11
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass, Fight Network
Malcolm Gordon (11-3) vs. Yoni Sherbatov (8-1-1)
The UFC may be souring on the flyweight division, but there are still plenty of talented 125-pounders out there and a lot of organizations willing to book these exciting fighters. Canada’s TKO MMA is one such company. For its 47th event, the promotion has matched reigning flyweight champion Malcolm “X” Gordon with Yoni Sherbatov for a title bout that’s sure to deliver.
The 28-year-old Gordon has been scrapping away on the regional circuit since 2012. After four straight stoppage wins right out of the gate, the Adrenaline MMA team member made a one-off appearance with Bellator MMA at the organization’s 119th show. “X” claimed a unanimous decision over future UFC fighter Chris Kelades to hand Kelades his first pro loss. Somehow, Bellator and the other big shows ignored the win and allowed Gordon to return to regional shows. This led to a pair of setbacks in which he was knocked out by Canadian circuit mainstays Randy Turner and Austin Ryan. Gordon righted the ship with another three wins, including two victories over formerly undefeated upstarts, but then suffered his third knockout loss, this time at the hands of veteran Dimitri Waardenburg. “X” responded with a 17-second knockout of his own against Michael Jordan (no, not that Michael Jordan). He added a submission of Jordan Graham to claim the TKO flyweight belt and then defended it with a finish of James Mancini.
Sherbatov’s biggest claim to fame is his stint on the UFC’s The Ultimate Fighter reality show, where he proved to be a bust. He entered as the No. 2 seed, but exited the tournament quickly courtesy of No. 15 seed Eric Shelton, who submitted Sherbatov in the second round of their fight. The Russian-born, Canadian-based fighter had stuck to the Canadian circuit for most of his young career, but he ventured to Russia shortly after his TUF appearance. After two false starts where his opponent was yanked, Sherbatov finally made his pro debut in 2014 with a 22-second finish of fellow rookie Gabe Sagman. He continued his winning ways with three more quick stoppages and one decision nod. Sherbatov fought to a draw when he faced veteran Tyson Nam in April 2016, but he rebounded with another lightning-quick finish when he demolished veteran journeyman Martin Sandoval in his first post-TUF outing. Sherbatov managed just one win in two fights in Russia, but it came against former Bellator champion Zach Makovsky. In his most recent fight, the 30-year-old returned to Quebec and added a win over a fighter who entered the bout just one win above the .500 mark.
Sherbatov’s loss to Shelton was a red flag for the up-and-comer. He met a group of opponents with a combined 45-28 mark and blew them all away. However, the best records among those opponents were Nam’s 14-8 and Adrian Wooley’s 9-4. Sherbatov fared much worse when faced with the 10-2 Shelton. However, he then turned around and topped Sandoval and Makovsky, who is no slouch.
Sherbatov has a spotty track record, but he certainly knows how to knock out guys in a hurry. That spells trouble for Gordon. The champ was put away by Turner, a fighter who has a few knockouts on his resume but is now in the midst of a four-fight skid. He was also dropped by Ryan and Waardenburg, both of whom have their fair share of knockouts. These opponents were more vulnerable on the ground, but Gordon couldn’t turn the fights in his favor. Sherbatov is arguably a better striker than any of the aforementioned trio. The Russian-born fighter has a well-rounded background, but his boxing, Muay Thai and taekwondo experience should give him a significant edge here en route to a knockout win to claim the TKO crown.
Other key bouts: Jesse Ronson (20-8) vs. Charles Jourdain (8-1) for the lightweight title, Damien Lapilus (17-11-1) vs. Michael Dufort (6-3), Maguy Berchel (10-3-1) vs. Corinne Laframboise (3-2), Alan Baudot (7-1) vs. Todd Stoute (9-4), Yohan Lainesse (2-0) vs. Bertin Descloux (1-0), Julius Trimmeliti (1-0) vs. Simon Lagarde (1-0)
Event Date: April 12
Watch Event: DAZN (main card), Facebook (prelims)
Levy Saúl Marroquín (12-2) vs. Alejandro Flores (15-2)
If it feels like you’ve seen this before, it’s probably because you have. No, Levy Saúl Marroquín and Alejandro Flores have never locked horns before, but they were scheduled to do so. That bout, scheduled for Combate Estrellas 2 never came to fruition, thanks to a withdrawal by Marroquín. Now, the two men meet almost exactly one year later in a featherweight headliner at Combate Estrellas 3.
Marroquín has still only ventured outside of his native Mexico once in his pro career, and that was in a losing appearance in Costa Rica. “El Negro,” who debuted in 2013, stopped his first seven foes. Following a loss to Allan Zuñiga in his trip to Costa Rica, Marroquín made his Combate Americas debut. He won the fight by split decision, but returned three months later to suffer defeat against The Ultimate Fighter 22 alum Andrés Quintana. The Combate Libre Academia disciple has been perfect through four subsequent bouts, including three contests that took place on a single night in a bantamweight tournament at Combate 18: Copa Combate. In his most recent outing, Marroquín met fellow prospect Jose Estrada in the co-headliner of Combate 28 and walked away with the judges’ nod.
Oddly enough, Flores also has just one appearance outside of Mexico, and it also came in Costa Rica. It marked his first defeat, as “Gallito” succumbed to a submission at the hands of grizzled veteran Alandro Solano Rodriguez. The 27-year-old, who debuted in 2013, won his prior eight fights. Along the way, he scored six stoppages. After his loss, Flores bounced back for an additional seven victories, including featherweight and lightweight championship wins under the Combate Extremo banner. His two most recent victories came in a one-night tournament at Combate 29, where his opponents included Bellator veteran Pablo Villaseca. Flores is coming off a loss, though — he was finished with a spinning elbow by the aforementioned TUF 22 alum Quintana in the finals of that one-night bracket.
Without a first fight to analyze, not much can be added to the previous prediction for this affair. These two men still seem capable of ruling over the Mexican bantamweight division, but they’ve had limited success outside of their homeland. They’re less separated by the level of their success in Mexico than they were at the time of their initial planned meeting. Marroquín’s Copa Combate tournament win marked a significant jump in the level of his competition. He topped Carlos Rivera and Marcelo Rojo on his way to the finals, where he was able to edge Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series alum John Castañeda. Overall, those three adversaries held a combined 36-8 record heading into their fights with Marroquín. Meanwhile, Flores stepped it up in his own one-night tournament appearance, where he faced a set of opponents that had combined for a 34-6 mark before meeting the 27-year-old. The one difference is that Flores lost one of those fights, whereas Marroquín marched through all of his tourney foes.
Marroquín made a statement with his one-night tourney win. The first bout of the night was only a one-rounder and the remaining fights featured three-minute rounds, but he went the distance in that first bout, needed until the third round to finish his second opponent, and went the full three rounds in the finals. That’s no easy feat. Flores, meanwhile, won the quarterfinal with a first-round submission and went the distance against Villaseca before falling to Quintana in the first frame of the finals. Flores should push Marroquín to the final bell in a very competitive fight, but Marroquín’s grappling abilities should provide him with the means to victory, albeit on the scorecards.
Other key bouts: Marcelo Rojo (15-5) vs. John Castañeda (16-4), Ivan Hernandez-Flores (10-2-1) vs. Daniel Barez (10-4), Rodrigo Vargas (11-2) vs. Ricardo Arreola (7-5), Juan Ramos (1-0) vs. Fernando Gonzalez Trevino (3-2), Dulce Garcia (0-0 MMA, 5-0 boxing) vs. Mariana Ruiz Avila (0-0)
Event Date: April 14
Omar Nurmagomedov (8-0) vs. Wagner Lima (12-3)
There’s more than one Nurmagomedov in the MMA universe, and this one isn’t even suspended. We’re talking about Omar Nurmagomedov, cousin to the UFC’s disgraced lightweight champion. Khabib’s relative is not quite as well known, but he has already made one stop with the Professional Fighters League and is poised to capture the Federation of MMA of Samara bantamweight title if he can get past Wagner Lima.
Nurmagomedov has long been a mainstay of the Fight Nights Global organization, where he cinched up victories over plenty of low-level opponents before stepping up to take on 24-fight veteran Shyudi Yamauchi. After taking the decision over Yamauchi, Nurmagomedov departed FNG and made one stop with the Battle on Volga series before jumping to the PFL for a single fight. Those last two outings marked another jump in the level of his competition. First, Nurmagomedov decisioned Fatkhidin Sobirov at Battle on Volga 4. Then, he added a judges’ nod over Saidyokub Kakharamonov at the seventh event in PFL’s 2018 season. This member of the Dagestani clan has found success in Muay Thai competition — his cousin calls him a “Russian Muay Thai champion” — and he flashes excellent kicks to accompany a solid boxing game and a growing familiarity with grappling.
Lima hails from Brazil, where he sharpens his skills as a member of the Astra Fight Team. The 27-year-old began his professional career in 2012, but he stumbled his way to losses in his first two fights. Lima turned things around beginning with his third outing, in which he beat sub-.500 fighter Genilson Lacerda. It was the catalyst for a 10-fight winning streak that included only one win against a fighter who was more than two fights above even. In late 2017, the Brazilian suffered his third pro loss when he was submitted by Erick Viscondi, who only had one previous pro appearance. Lima has since gone on to add two victories to his record, but both of those fights took place in a single night at Sicario MMA 1.
Lima, a longtime mainstay of his homeland’s MMA scene, is set to travel to Nurmagomedov’s backyard for what seems like a fight tailored to give Nurmagomedov a victory and a belt. Lima had a solid run through 10 fights, but those victories are bookended by some disappointments. Meanwhile, most of his victims have been either rookies or low-level opponents.
Nurmagomedov has numerous advantages here. He’s a well-rounded fighter who has the benefit of a legitimate world champion within his family. He’s undefeated while actually stepping up to meet and beat greater challenges as he’s developed. Lima is going to have a hard time providing an answer to what Nurmagomedov brings to the cage. This should be yet another submission finish for Khabib’s cousin.
Other key bouts: Nurullo Aliev (3-0) vs. Maksim Trunov (5-2), Shamil Abasov (5-0) vs. Rizvan Kuniev (5-2-1), Zaira Dyshekova (6-2) vs. Marta Waliczek (3-1)
MFP 227: Mayor’s Cup: Marif Piraev (26-2-1) vs. Nandin-Erdene Munguntsooj (8-5)
EFC Worldwide 78: Jake Hadley (3-0) vs. Nkazimulo Zulu (11-2) for the flyweight title
Pancrase 304: Takayo Hashi (16-6-1) vs. Sidy Rocha (10-5-2) for the women’s flyweight title (Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass)
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