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: May 31
Watch Event: DAZN (main card), Facebook (prelims), Univision, UDN
Daniel Zellhuber (7-0) vs. Gian Franco Cortez (4-0)
It’s not often that we stumble across a teenager worth covering in this series, but Combate Americas has found itself one such prospect. Daniel Zellhuber is just 19 years old, but he’s already seven wins into his pro career and has yet to taste defeat. The lightweight Mexican prospect is featured in Combate’s trip to Peru for its 38th event, where he’ll meet fellow undefeated fighter Gian Franco Cortez.
Zellhuber, appropriately called the “Golden Boy,” trains under Raul Romero in his native Mexico. He made his debut when he was just 17 years old, but he found immediate success. Zellhuber made four of his first five appearances with the obscure Jasaji Fighting League. He scored finishes in three straight fights before signing with Combate in 2018. He made his promotional debut against José Luis Medrano and emerged with a decision win. His most recent outing took place in November, when he pummeled Salvador Izar for a TKO victory. The youngster also holds a 3-0 mark in Muay Thai competition.
Cortez will hold the home-field advantage in his native Peru. The Maximo’s Combat Club product hasn’t put up quite the stellar numbers of his counterpart. His amateur run included a decision loss to go along with four victories. He is perfect at the professional level, however, thanks to a striking attack that has led to two quick knockouts and a pair of decision nods. Cortez needed just 15 seconds in his pro debut to destroy Benji Ayala. After posting decision wins over his next two opponents, Cortez again scored a big finish when he steamrolled Steven Muñoz in just 95 seconds.
Zellhuber is a tall, lanky fighter whose Muay Thai background is evident in his fighting style. He throws a lot of kicks and will unleash knees from the clinch. While he does have one submission win, he’s not likely to shoot for takedowns or dominate on the ground. Both Medrano and Jonathan Fuentes were able to take the youngster down repeatedly and put him in some very bad spots. To Zellhuber’s credit, he maintained his composure and did well in scrambles to survive against Medrano and score a finish on Fuentes.
Cortez is a bag full of question marks. His decision loss at the amateur level is enough to raise some doubts about his ability to top Zellhuber, but it’s not the only cause for concern. At the pro level, he’s met four opponents who had combined for just a 3-2 record heading into their fights with the Peruvian talent. Those same fighters are now a combined 3-7. Yermi Laos is perhaps the best fighter Cortez has faced, and Laos is just 4-0 as an amateur who never went pro. This is all a real concern against a tough scrapper like Zellhuber.
Zellhuber is likely to get victimized down the road by strong wrestlers and grapplers, but Cortez does not appear to be either of these things. Instead, Cortez will have to hope to rattle Zellhuber with a punch or kick and then swarm in for the TKO finish. It’s not out of the question, but it’s still a longshot for Cortez. Zellhuber can be expected to gain the upper hand in a striking war that goes the distance and ends with the judges awarding the youngster his eighth pro victory.
Other key bouts: Marlon Gonzales (14-4-2) vs. Pablo Villaseca (14-5), Alitzel Mariscal (2-0) vs. Maria Paula Buzaglo (1-1), Eduardo Matias Torres (9-0) vs. Rodrigo Vera (8-0-1), Renzo Mendez (12-6) vs. Andres Ayala (12-7), Vicente Vargas (11-4) vs. Yury Valenzuela (12-6-1), Dana Grau (2-0) vs. Jennifer Gonzalez Araneda (11-5), David Martinez (2-0) vs. William Sanchez (0-0), Omar Torres (2-0) vs. Jose Alberto Ochoa Oblitas (2-0)
Event Date: May 31
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass
Nick Newell (14-2) vs. Antonio Castillo Jr. (10-11)
Nick Newell was once on the rise as something of a sideshow attraction in the sport due to a birth defect that left him with a congenitally amputated left arm. He overcame what many would consider a huge obstacle to a fighting career and won an XFC title, four of five World Series of Fighting bouts, and his lone Legacy Fighting Alliance appearance. He went from sideshow to legitimate star, His success was enough to land him a bid on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, where he ultimately lost to Alex Munoz. Now, the lightweight star is trying to rebuild his momentum. He’ll fight on the 56th event for CES MMA, where he’s tasked with .500ish fighter Antonio Castillo Jr.
The 33-year-old Newell really started to make a name for himself around his seventh fight, when his level of competition increased and he continued to win fights. Newell tallied wins over the likes of Chris Coggins and Eric Reynolds before departing the XFC and joining the WSOF. Under the brighter lights of the predecessor to the Professional Fighters League, Newell, a wrestler and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, added first-round stoppages over Keon Caldwell and Sabah Fadai before engaging in a grueling battle with current UFC contender Justin Gaethje. Newell dropped a decision to Gaethje, but he rebounded with victories over Joe Condon, Tommy Marcellino and Sonny Luque. He put up a valiant effort in his DWTNCS contest against the aforementioned Munoz, but he was outworked for the loss. Newell took some time off after the fight to improve his game and be present for the birth of his first child, but now he’s set to return after 10 months on the bench.
Newell’s opponent is somewhat of a disappointment. CES will stroll out Castillo, who has lost more fights than he has won. It’s a significant step down in competition for Newell after a lengthy run against solid veteran opponents. The 32-year-old has had quite a rocky career path. He went 4-4 through his first eight fights before suddenly launching into a five-fight winning streak. Castillo came tumbling back to Earth in late 2015 and has now won just one of his last eight fights.
Perhaps this fight is meant as a confidence-booster for Newell, but the former XFC champ and WSOF veteran should be in there with much tougher competition at this point in his career. He stood toe-to-toe with Gaethje for more than a round before getting overwhelmed by a man who would go on to become one of the top lightweights in the world. He also engaged in a competitive fight with Munoz, a Team Alpha Male protege who has yet to taste defeat in his own career. Newell is deadly with his patented heel-hook submission hold, and he’s also a threat on the feet and with chokes on the mat.
Castillo has made prior appearances at lightweight, but he’s normally a featherweight — he’s even slated to return at the next CES event as a 145-pounder — and he’s not even a very good featherweight. Newell should run through him with ease. Given his tendency to tap out, Castillo should be the perfect prey for a Newell rebound outing. Don’t be surprised to see Newell get back to the basics with his wrestling game and use it to set up a heel hook for the finish.
Other key bouts: Bruce Boyington (16-11) vs. Dan Dubuque (8-2) for the featherweight title, Jesse James Kosakowski (3-0) vs. Ryan Jett (4-5), Jessy Miele (7-3) vs. Elizabeth Phillips (7-6), Marisa Messer-Belenchia (2-0) vs. Stephanie Hernandez (0-0), John Gotti III (3-0) vs. David Espino (3-2), Will Smith (1-0) vs. Ashiek Ajim (0-0)
Event Date: May 31
Watch Event: AXS TV
Nate Jennerman (13-4) vs. Rafael Barbosa (11-1)
Maybe the Legacy Fighting Alliance has finally come to terms with the fact that it doesn’t need title belts. After all, almost every champion crowned by the organization quickly ends up in the UFC. The organization has only hosted one title fight through its last five shows, and its 68th event won’t feature any gold on the line either. This doesn’t mean there aren’t UFC-bound talents here. Quite the opposite, in fact. This card has several fights that could produce future UFCers. One of these affairs is the headlining showdown between featherweights Nate Jennerman and Rafael Barbosa.
The 26-year-old Jennerman put together a disappointing 6-6 mark as an amateur before turning pro in 2013. He stumbled immediately out of the gates and dropped a decision to Dwight Anderson, a sub-.500 fighter. He recovered to the tune of five straight victories before once again coming up short on the scorecards against Alex Gilpin. Another four wins, including a submission finish of Damion Hill in his LFA debut, landed the Roufusport product in a co-headlining spot opposite Bobby Moffett, who handed Jennerman his third decision loss. “Nasty” Nate made an impressive comeback, however, when he notched submission victories over established veterans Sam Toomer, John DeVall and Kevin Croom. He was paired with Damon Jackson in a battle for the interim LFA featherweight title, but Jackson finished Jennerman in the second round to take the crown. The Wisconsin native has since rebounded with a majority decision over Ken Beverly.
Barbosa is just 21 years old, but he has already won 11 pro fights in 12 total appearances. The Brazilian’s one loss came in just his sixth fight, when he met the far more experienced Max Coga and suffered a submission loss. “Coxinha” bounced back with another six wins, including notable victories over veterans Melquizael Costa, Maycon Bezerra, Carlos Alexandre and Cameron Graves. He has a balanced resume that includes four finishes via strikes and three by way of submission. The young fighter is a karate specialist and now trains under the Machida brothers.
Jennerman has turned into something of a spoiler for veterans. Moffett and Jackson were able to defeat him, but many others have failed. Toomer wasn’t exactly prolific on the mat, but DeVall had 11 previous submission wins and Croom entered with nine submissions on his resume. Neither man could finish Jennerman and ended up tapping to him instead. Moffett, Gilpin and Anderson all preferred submissions as well, and the best they could do was to outpoint Jennerman on the scorecards.
Barbosa, despite his youth, already holds the record of a veteran. He has fought some tough opponents and emerged unscathed. However, Coga and Alexandre are arguably his only opponents who are in the same league as Jennerman, and Barbosa split those fights. The karate stylist might hold a slight advantage on the feet, and the knockout is his best chance for a win. Jennerman, though, could prove to be the spoiler once more, though, and outwork Barbosa on the ground en route to a submission victory.
Other key bouts: Raufeon Stots (11-1) vs. Ralph Acosta (18-13), Bobby Lee (10-3) vs. Maycon Mendonça (7-4), Mike Rhodes (11-6) vs. Cristhian Torres (14-9), Joel Bauman (2-0) vs. Bobby Downs (4-1), Nelly Thompson (2-0) vs. Craig Eckelberg (9-5)
Babilon MMA 8: Daniel Skibiński (13-5) vs. Adriano Rodrigues (12-3)
Cage Warriors Fighting Championship 105: Aidan Stephen (6-1) vs. Steve Aimable (13-5) Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass
Gold Fight 11: Premium: Marcos dos Santos (30-13-1) vs. Jameson Oliveira (9-2) for the featherweight title
Reality Fighting: John Lopez (11-4) vs. Jose Lugo (4-0) Watch Event: Fite TV pay-per-view stream via Combat Press
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