Chris Curtis (L) (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Out of Obscurity: Z Promotions, Shooto and ZST 67

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…


Z Promotions: Fight Night 12
Enmax Centre in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada
Event Date: Jan. 25
Watch Event: Fite TV pay-per-view stream via Combat Press

Spotlight Fight:
Chris Curtis (21-8) vs. Darren Smith Jr. (20-10)

Sometimes a change of scenery can do wonders. That’s probably what Chris Curtis had in mind after suffering three straight losses, including two in a single night, under the Professional Fighters League banner in 2019. Now, he’s set to make the first defense of a title he won in 2017. That’s no typo. Curtis is a two-division champion with Z Promotions, but his last outing with the company came in a middleweight title shot. Now, at the organization’s 12th edition of its Fight Night series, Curtis returns to defend the 170-pound crown against 30-fight veteran Darren Smith Jr.

Despite his recent bad fortunes, Curtis is a solid veteran fighter. It’s never going to be easy to defeat Magomed Magomedkerimov or Ray Cooper III, both of whom got the better of him in the 2019 PFL season. The 32-year-old Curtis started his PFL campaign with an impressive showing in a victory over Andre Fialho, but he was decisioned by Magomedkerimov in the regular season and again in the playoffs. When Magomedkerimov was unable to continue, Curtis got a second chance. It didn’t go well, as he was knocked out by Cooper in the opening seconds of the second round. The Team Quest product actually entered 2019 on a seven-fight winning streak. His last previous setback had come against Nah-shon Burrell via a split verdict in 2016. Curtis is a strong boxer with eight knockouts to his name.

Smith, who is also 32 years old, doesn’t have quite the same level of competition on his resume. “Hollywood” debuted in 2010 and won five of his first six outings. However, he then settled into a recurring pattern where he’d win a fight or two and then drop one or two. The only exception to this trend came when he went on a four-fight winning streak in 2017. The Point of Impact MMA fighter’s most notable win came against eventual UFC fighter James Moontasri. He has a balanced stat sheet that features six knockouts and five submissions, but also includes two knockout losses and a pair of submission defeats.

Smith is a very inconsistent fighter, but perhaps one of the biggest factors working against him is his current level of success. He’s actually coming off back-to-back wins, which means he’s due for a loss. He’s also stepping up to fight his toughest opponent yet in a weight class 15 pounds above where he commonly competes. Smith couldn’t resist the opportunity to take on a notable opponent, but he’s likely to end up regretting it once the cage door shuts. Curtis is the superior marksman on the feet and should be able to score a knockout in this one.

Other key bouts: D.J. Linderman vs. Bobby Brents in a bare-knuckle boxing bout

Professional Shooto 2020: 1.26
Korakuen Hall in Tokyo
Event Date: Jan. 26
Twitter: @xshooto

Spotlight Fight:
Koha Minowa (10-2) vs. Yohei Komaki (6-3)

The men’s strawweight division is a mostly ignored weight class. That is, unless you’re talking about Asia. This weekend, Shooto has a featured bout that showcases an emerging prospect in the division. Koha Minowa is just 20 years old, but he’s already compiled a 10-2 mark and now has the opportunity to fight for a Shooto title belt. He’ll have to get past a familiar opponent in Yohei Komaki if he wants to leave with the gold.

The young Minowa fights out of the STF gym. He debuted in 2015 at the tender age of 16. A Shooto fixture since the beginning, he reeled off five straight wins, culminating in the Shooto Infinity League 2016 championship, before dropping a decision to Yosuke Saruta in 2017. After tacking on two additional victories, “Hiroba” lost a close decision to Tomoharu Umezawa. He has again recovered with three straight wins, including a submission finish of veteran fighter Sho Nishida as well as his second career victory over his upcoming opponent. Minowa is a finisher, with three knockouts and seven submissions.

Komaki is another Shooto lifer. He debuted in 2015 and lost two of his first three fights. In 2017, he finally righted the ship and scored four straight wins, including a triangle-choke finish of the aforementioned Umezawa and a referee stoppage over Nishida. Then, for the second time in his career, he ran into Minowa and tasted defeat. Komaki has since bounced back with a 40-second knockout of veteran Tadaaki Yamamoto. He, too, tends to finish fights, with two knockouts and three submissions to his credit.

Shooto sure seems to be handing the crown to Minowa. The youngster was just 17 when he tapped Komaki with a kimura. He was 19 when he mounted his rival and threw a barrage of punches that ended the fight. It seems pretty obvious that Minowa is the better fighter.

Of course, anything can happen in MMA. Komaki has had a handful of very quick finishes in his career, so all it could take is for one punch to land. Yet, if we’re realistic, Minowa seems to have this guy figured out. The rising star has quite a few choke submissions on his record, but he’s never stopped Komaki in this way. That could change on Sunday.

Other key bouts: Takumi Tamaru (10-1-1) vs. Nobuki Fujii (20-10-3), Mamoru Uoi (22-7-5) vs. Motonobu Tezuka (33-13-7), Junji Ito (16-8-2) vs. Jerome Wanawan (4-4), Tatsuro Taira (5-0) vs. Jared Almazan (1-3)

ZST 67
Shinjuku Face in Tokyo
Event Date: Jan. 26
Twitter: @zst_info

Spotlight Fight:
Tatsuki Saomoto (13-2) vs. Toshihiro Shimizu (27-18-11)

Tokyo is the hot spot for regional MMA action this weekend. In another event set to take place in the Japanese city on Sunday, ZST returns for its 67th show. The lineup includes an interesting bantamweight contest between prospect Tatsuki Saomoto and grizzled veteran Toshihiro Shimizu.

After stumbling out of the gates with a submission loss in his 2015 pro debut, Saomoto won his next four fights. He suffered an additional setback against Ze Wu in 2016, but the 23-year-old has been perfect ever since. His current streak is now up to nine victories, including recent decision nods over veterans Seiichiro Ito, Ryota Sasaki and Fuhito Hasegawa. The Brave Gym export is a decision machine who has only scored four stoppage wins in his career.

The 33-year-old Shimizu has had several rocky stretches in a career that dates back to 2005. His debut ended in a draw, and his subsequent three fights all resulted in losses. He entered 2009 with a 4-7-3 record, but he finally clawed himself to a respectable .500 mark by mid-2010. For the next few years, he struggled to keep his head above water, but a strong run in 2017 and early 2018 put him at 23-16-11. He’s continued to win more than he’s lost in the two years that followed. “Rider Hiro” has mostly beaten who he should beat and lost to anyone halfway decent, but he does hold an unexpected victory over Shooto Watanabe from very early in Watanabe’s career.

Shimizu is not a huge threat in his division, even in the ZST landscape. His victory over Watanabe further emphasizes that anything is possible in this sport, but Saomoto is far more seasoned than Watanabe was when he faced Shimizu. Saomoto has also gone the distance with a number of very experienced foes who are far more accomplished than Shimizu.

Shimizu loves to grapple. Twenty of his victories have come via submission. However, his tendencies to take the fight to the ground have also cost him to the tune of 11 tapouts. If he’s going to score the upset, it’s likely to come via the submission. However, Saomoto is certainly aware of Shimizu’s style and will have an answer for it. That answer won’t come in the form of a stoppage, but Saomoto will do enough to earn a tip of the hat from the judges.

Other key bouts: Akira Haraguchi (3-0) vs. Naoto Nasi Goreng (8-9-1)

The Best of the Rest

CES MMA 60: Johnny Lopez (12-4) vs. Blaine Shutt (7-4) for the flyweight title Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass

Standout Fighting Tournament 20: Rene Pessoa (21-5) vs. Adriano Balby (16-3) for the welterweight title

Atlas Fights 38: Levi Mowles (12-4) vs. Carlos Vera (8-2) for the bantamweight title

Metamorfoza Fighting Championship: Athletic Spirit: Marif Piraev (28-3-1) vs. Sanzhar Azhibaev (9-5) for the welterweight title

Last Week’s Scorecard
Fight Prediction Outcome
Jordan Wright vs. Gabriel Checco at LFA 80 Checco by knockout Wright by knockout
Mateusz Rębecki vs. Magomed Magomedov at FEN 27 Rębecki by submission Rębecki by knockout
Velimurad Alkhasov vs. Zach Makovsky at Brave CF 34 Alkhasov by decision Makovsky by split decision