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…
Jay Cucciniello (8-1) vs. Jamall Emmers (15-4)
It’s become a rarity that a Thursday night card makes our cut, but Final Fight Championship’s 38th event is certainly worth a look. The lineup features only six fights, including a kickboxing outing between Jermaine Soto and Maykol York. Our focus lands on the evening’s featured MMA bout between featherweights Jay Cucciniello and Jamall Emmers.
The 32-year-old Cucciniello hails from Britain and renewed his passion for MMA after a move to Spain. He marched through five fighters on the British regional scene, stopping four via submission and one by way of strikes, before running into Declan Williams in a Contenders Norwich bantamweight title fight. In a hard-fought battle, Williams edged Cucciniello to snag the title, but the outcome was later changed to a no-contest and Cucciniello was once again an undefeated pro fighter. This is when he made his move to the Spanish regional scene, where he destroyed veterans Victor Marinho and Daniel Requeijo with strikes en route to the Ansgar Fighting League featherweight throne. His next stop came in South Africa’s EFC Worldwide, where he submitted Wesley Hawkey in the first round of their encounter. The Brit’s most recent stop came with the UFC, where he took part in season 27 of The Ultimate Fighter. Cucciniello was eliminated from the competition in the quarterfinal round with a loss to Bryce Mitchell, but he re-entered the fray when Ricky Steele was forced out of the semis with a concussion. “The Mellow Fellow” defeated Tyler Diamond to advance to the finals, where he was outworked by Brad Katona at the live finale event.
Emmers made his pro debut in 2012 and went 1-1 through his first two fights before finding his groove and piling up six straight wins. During his streak, Emmers topped Ernest De La Cruz at Legacy FC 17 and took victories at three Best of the Best events to maintain a grasp on the promotion’s featherweight crown. His second career loss came against veteran Rey Trujillo at the fourth Best of the Best show. Trujillo, a Legacy and Strikeforce vet, submitted Emmers in the second round. The 29-year-old then moved to Tachi Palace Fights, where he picked up two victories before joining the Resurrection Fighting Alliance. The Pinnacle MMA product, a natural featherweight, stumbled in his RFA debut, a lightweight title fight against Thiago Moisés. He bounced back upon returning to 145 pounds and fighting Rivaldo Junior at RFA 41. He tacked on a decision nod over current UFC fighter Cory Sandhagen at his first Legacy Fighting Alliance event. After an additional two wins, Emmers stumbled on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, where he was finished by Julian Erosa. “Pretty Boy” has rebounded with two additional wins, but he continues to bounce around among a number of organizations.
Emmers, despite seven stoppage victories, tends to be a grinder. His win over Sandhagen, now the No. 9-ranked bantamweight in the UFC, is certainly significant, but it also came against a fighter who does his best work a division below where Emmers resides. A bigger takeaway from Emmers’ resume is his lack of consistency. Every time he gets some momentum going, he runs into a formidable opponent and suffers a setback. His earliest loss came to an 0-1 fighter, but his subsequent defeats have all been registered against solid, veteran competition.
This doesn’t mean Cucciniello is in for a walk in the park, though. The Brit victimized low-level opponents until his arrival in the TUF house. Once tasked with aspiring UFC talent, he recorded just one victory across two exhibition contests and one official fight. Furthermore, he’s going to surrender four inches in height and six inches in reach to Emmers.
This fight card is getting a lot of attention. The Facebook stream will be picked up by MMA Junkie, among others, and provides these two featherweight prospects with a chance to audition for the big leagues. Emmers has been prone to the knockout in his losing efforts, and Cucciniello is capable of rocking his opponent. However, the size disparity and levels of competition these two have faced are huge factors in this fight. Emmers just might grind out another victory here on the scorecards.
Other key bouts: Jackie Gosh (7-2) vs. Randall Walace (15-8-1), Max Rohskopf (2-0) vs. Jonathon Morris (3-1)
Ricky Palacios (11-1) vs. Cooper Gibson (9-2)
Combate Americas has lured a lot of prospects to its roster. The company’s 40th effort includes a set of up-and-coming strawweight ladies in Paulina Vargas and Desiree Yanez, plus a featherweight showdown between Ricky Palacios and Cooper Gibson. Both of these fights are enticing picks, but we’ll dive into the headlining affair here.
Palacios, who debuted in 2012 after posting a perfect amateur run through six fights, has only suffered one loss as a pro. “El Gallero” dropped his first three foes, including his first Combate Americas opponent, with strikes. He was upset by sub-.500 fighter Joel Scott at Best of the Best 2, where he was submitted by way of a kimura in the first round. The Texas resident bounced back in a big way. He scored six wins, including five under the Combate banner, before receiving two significant bookings. First came an appearance on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, where Palacios decisioned Toby Misech and did not receive a contract offer. Next — and most recent — was a spot on the lone Golden Boy card, where he was part of the supporting cast for the legends match between Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz. The 31-year-old demolished UFC veteran Walel Watson at the event to boost his knockout count to six.
The 29-year-old Gibson has had a far more quiet climb up the ladder. The A4 Fitness product lost his 2010 pro debut to fellow rookie Chris Mercado, but he reeled off wins in his next seven fights. Gibson faced a mixed bag of competition during this stretch, including an 8-23 fighter and a 5-1 foe. He ran into trouble again in a King of the Cage fight against future Bellator mainstay Henry Corrales, who was undefeated at the time. Corrales decisioned Gibson, sending the California resident into a lengthy hiatus. After roughly four and a half years away from action, Gibson returned in early 2018 with Bellator and scored a submission victory over Andrew Lazo. Later in the year, he added a decision nod over Samuel Alvarez. This will be Gibson’s first fight of 2019.
This should be all Palacios. Gibson sports a solid record, but he’s only made two appearances since 2013. Gibson has always been skilled enough to take out mid- and low-level competition, but he tends to come up short against actual prospects. The aforementioned Mercado might not be one to write home about, but his modest 5-2 mark only includes losses to eventual UFC star Brian Ortega and Bellator regular Derek Anderson. Corrales, meanwhile, has suffered his only setbacks to entrenched Bellator fighters Daniel Straus, Emmanuel Sanchez and Patricio “Pitbull” Freire. Gibson’s failure to get past either of these men is a clear sign of where he stands in the sport.
Palacios can get caught, as the aforementioned Scott proved, but he’s far more likely to disappoint on the scorecards. He has yet to lose a decision, but he came close against such unheralded adversaries as Anthony Paredes and Roman Salazar. Salazar at least stands as a UFC vet, but Paredes now holds a mediocre 4-4 mark. Yet, his overall resume suggests a fighter who is capable of getting past challenges like the one presented by Gibson. Palacios should come away with a well-earned decision victory.
Other key bouts: Paulina Vargas (4-0) vs. Desiree Yanez (4-1), Cee Jay Hamilton (14-7) vs. DJ Fuentes (13-11), Elias Rodriguez (6-1) vs. Juan Gonzalez (6-1), Jose Flores (7-1) vs. Eduardo Bustillos (5-4)
Drako Rodriguez (5-1) vs. Johnny Munoz Jr. (8-0)
Not all flyweight titles are really flyweight titles. Don’t get us started on ONE Championship’s unique weigh-in system that makes the company’s flyweights actual bantamweights. It isn’t just limited to Asia, though. King of the Cage goes one step further than ONE and actually calls its 135-pound crown the “flyweight” championship. This brings us to the upcoming Golden Era event, where that confusingly named belt is on the line in a scrap between Drako Rodriguez and the undefeated Johnny Munoz Jr.
Rodriguez, a native Texan who now fights out of Iowa, has been a KOTC mainstay since before he turned pro. “The Great Drakolini” reeled off a perfect amateur record through 12 fights, including numerous KOTC appearances and a stop with the Legacy Fighting Alliance. The 23-year-old made his professional debut in late 2017 for KOTC. He scored four stoppages, including three first-round finishes, before finally tasting defeat at the hands of seasoned veteran Tony Gravely in the fifth round of a previous 135-pound KOTC title fight. The One Combat Academy export has since bounced back with a first-round submission of .500 fighter Shaine Moffitt.
Munoz earned his shot at the crown after eight straight victories, all in KOTC. The 26-year-old only amassed three wins at the ammy level before shifting to the pros in 2015. “Kid Kvenbo” has made quick work of many of his overmatched foes, tallying six first-round finishes, seven stoppages overall and just one outing that went the distance. The CQuence Jiu-Jitsu Norco disciple has the usual resume of a KOTC breakout, in that a number of his opponents hold .500ish marks and serve to pad his record.
This isn’t to say that Munoz is all smoke and mirrors. He has blasted through opponents effortlessly, which takes skill, and he has fought the likes of Bellator veteran Musa Toliver, a man who has shared the cage with such notables as Goiti Yamauchi and Rob Emerson. There’s a decent chance that Munoz can extend his perfect record with another quick finish in this fight.
That said, it’s impossible to overlook what Rodriguez has accomplished thus far in his career. He opted to stay at the amateur level for far longer while developing his game, and the results speak for themselves. He walked through previously undefeated ammy foes and delivered victory upon victory before moving to the next level. He continued this trend as a pro, needing just 36 seconds to submit a formerly 5-1 Emeka Ifekandu. He even lasted until the fight frame with Gravely, a fighter with a strong wrestling background and MMA experience against eventual UFCers Merab Dvalishvili and Manny Bermudez.
Rodriguez has the far stronger credentials in this battle of up-and-comers. The KOTC is probably attempting to shine a spotlight on Munoz, but Rodriguez could spoil the party with an early submission finish. One thing’s for certain in this one, both men will be on the hunt for a quick finish. This has the makings to be the most entertaining, although possibly brief, regional fights of the week.
Other key bouts: David Gomez (17-10) vs. Matt Lagler (12-16-1) for the middleweight title, Edson Gomez (4-1) vs. Travis Williams (2-2) for the welterweight title, Anthony Jimenez (3-0-1) vs. Albert Veloz (2-1), Gibran Alvarez (1-0) vs. Jonathan Noriega (4-1)
The Best of the Rest
Street Fight Party 2: John Michael Sheil (8-1) vs. Cristian Brinzan (8-3)
Nemesis Fighting Alliance: This is War: Eric Ellington (6-1) vs. Will Shutt (23-28-1)
New England Fights 39: All America: Josh Harvey (6-0-1) vs. Jordan Downey (5-4) for the featherweight title
Pyramid Fights 12: Justin Frazier (11-3) vs. Benjamin Rowland (4-1)
Last Week’s Scorecard
Sean Santella vs. Andre Barquero Morera at CFFC 76
Santella by submission
Santella by decision
In Jae La vs. Hae Jun Yang at Road FC 54
La by decision
Yang by knockout
Maciej Jewtuszko vs. Vaso Bakočević at FEN 25
Jewtuszko by knockout
Bakočević by TKO (leg injury)
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