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 obscurity, 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, from the small convention centers and high school gymnasiums to the developmental leagues that serve as a launching pad to the big show. It all begins with promotions such as these…
Nick Browne (10-1) vs. Arthur Estrázulas (12-4)
The Legacy Fighting Alliance lightweight title is once again vacant. That’s what happens when a promotion serves as a reliable developmental organization for the UFC. The next set of 155-pounders to essentially audition for the big show via an LFA championship affair are Nick Browne and Arthur Estrázulas, who meet in the headliner of the organization’s 95th show.
Browne made his pro debut in 2014. “Nyquil” finished his first three foes, including future Bellator fighter Sidney Outlaw, and eventually ran his record up to a perfect 7-0 before suffering his first taste of defeat. His setback came to fellow undefeated prospect John Gunther, who used the victory as a springboard to The Ultimate Fighter 27 and, eventually, the UFC proper. Browne, meanwhile, has rebounded with three additional victories. His last two wins have come under the LFA banner against a pair of 15-fight veterans with identical 12-3 marks entering their respective contests with Browne. The 30-year-old has a solid finishing rate while nabbing five submissions and two knockouts.
Estrázulas, who debuted in 2010, enters this affair with a slight edge in experience over his fellow title hopeful. The 31-year-old Kings MMA product went 6-2 on the regional circuit in Brazil, but both of his losses — and a win — came in a trilogy of fights against Leandro Rodrigues. Eventually, Estrázulas moved on to bigger stages, including King of the Cage, the Resurrection Fighting Alliance, Bellator and the Professional Fighters League. He registered mixed results along the way, scoring wins in KOTC and Bellator while suffering decision losses in the RFA and PFL. His PFL appearance came against UFC veteran Thiago Tavares and ended in a split decision that didn’t go his way. Estrázulas, who has a career tally of eight submissions and two knockouts, joined the LFA in 2019 and has thus far recorded two first-round submission victories, both by way of rear-naked choke.
Browne does an excellent job of chaining together punches and kicks, but it’s primarily a means to set up takedowns for the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt. The All-American MMA Academy instructor is a strong grappler who also has a collegiate wrestling background. His moniker of “Nyquil” hints at his affinity for the rear-naked choke, which he has used to secure four of his submission wins at the pro level. He scrambles well, too, and is not content to be kept on his back. However, he can sometimes get sloppy against a fellow grappler and end up spending time on the bottom.
Estrázulas can lull his opponent into a false sense of confidence that leads to their downfall. His LFA foes, Steve Kozola and Dominic Clark, both started strong against the Brazilian before they ended up getting caught in chokes in the first round. The aforementioned Tavares also had to fend off an armbar from Estrázulas after taking the Kings MMA fighter to the ground. Given Browne’s tendency to surrender position, Estrázulas should have at least a few chances to lock in a submission even if he is otherwise losing the fight.
Browne’s success lies in his ability to remain disciplined, stay in safe positions, and escape any submission holds that Estrázulas locks in. If he ends up overcommitting and losing the upper hand against Estrázulas like he sometimes did against Ben Egli at LFA 87, then this could get ugly. Estrázulas, who is also a BJJ black belt, is quick to jump on any mistake from an opponent and turn it into a fight-ending moment. Estrázulas is also far better with his submissions than Egli, which will make this a tough fight for Browne. It’ll be a seesaw battle, but eventually Estrázulas will coax a tapout from his opponent.
Other key bouts: Myron Dennis (17-7) vs. Dylan Potter (9-4), Victor Altamirano (7-1) vs. Lloyd McKinney (14-6), Tabatha Ricci (3-0) vs. Flore Hani (2-1), Bruno Souza (7-1) vs. Guilherme Costa (8-2), Jordan Helderman (2-0) vs. Mauricio Blanco (4-0)
Pavel Gordeev (15-2) vs. Maxim Pugachev (11-6-1)
The Russian Cagefighting Championship promotion returns this weekend with the 10th edition of its Intro series. The event marks the return of lightweight stud Pavel Gordeev, who has been quiet since his December 2019 win over Alisson Barbosa. The Russian is set to headline the show opposite Belarusian fighter Maxim Pugachev.
The 27-year-old Gordeev shot out of the gates in 2013 with seven straight victories, six of which were finishes. This streak culminated in a late 2016 appearance with M-1 Challenge in which Gordeev submitted fellow undefeated upstart Erlan Ulukbekov. After dropping a decision to Elnur Agaev for his first pro loss, Gordeev returned to the win column with a six-fight winning streak. However, this time all of his victories came on the scorecards, including split verdicts against Alik Albogachiev and UFC veteran Mickael Lebout. After a no-contest against UFC vet Godofredo Pepey at RCC Intro 3 in early 2019, Gordeev rebounded with a decision nod over another UFC castoff when he met Shane Campbell. The lightweight then stumbled again when he encountered Milson Castro. He returned less than a month later with the aforementioned win over Barbosa to close out a rather disappointing 2019 campaign. It’s now been nearly four years since Gordeev last stopped an opponent, but he does have five career submission victories and one knockout on his resume.
Pugachev has had plenty of ups and downs since his own 2012 pro debut. His career-best winning streak lasted five fights. After making his way through a “Road to M-1” competition, the Belarusian fighter fought to a draw with rookie Nikolay Goncharov at M-1 Challenge 79 and then lost three straight across the regional circuit. The last of those setbacks came to Brad Riddell, who has since gone on to post a perfect record through three UFC outings. Meanwhile, Pugachev righted the ship and has gone 3-1 since the Riddell loss. Unfortunately, his three victories came against low-level competition, whereas his one loss in this stretch was handed to him by 22-fight veteran Ylies Djiroun. Pugachev has six submission finishes and one knockout victory.
In the third frame of his recent win over Barbosa, Gordeev demonstrated just how good he can be when he’s not hesitant in his attack. After two rounds of tentative takedowns and a fairly even stand-up battle, the Russian scored a couple of emphatic takedowns in the final stanza and committed to a ground-and-pound barrage late in the round to secure the round and the decision victory. Likewise, Gordeev was at his best in his loss to Castro when he committed to the takedown. Unfortunately, the Russian doesn’t always play to his strengths. He often abandons his wrestling in favor of exchanges on the feet. This was on display against both Barbosa and Castro, and those two men are more rangy strikers than Gordeev and therefore connected against the Russian far too frequently. Gordeev often squeaks by with this approach, but he could enjoy better results if he mixed in more takedowns.
After his last few fights, Gordeev is likely grateful for an opponent like Pugachev. The Belarusian isn’t much of a counter puncher. Instead, he’ll put his hands up to defend as he backs up to avoid his opponent’s flurries. This should leave Gordeev with plenty of chances to land his punches without eating shots in return as he moves forward. Pugachev favors his kicks, but he might want to dial back this part of his arsenal against Gordeev, who could use those moments when Pugachev is off balance to shoot for a takedown and get the fight to the mat.
This seems like a confidence-booster of a fight for Gordeev, who is only one bout removed from his loss to the aforementioned Castro. Pugachev is just 3-4-1 over his last eight contests, and he even lost to a rookie competitor in this stretch. Djiroun and Timur Khizriev have shown that a patient striking approach with some takedowns mixed in works as a game plan to best Pugachev on the scorecards. Gordeev should follow this blueprint and notch yet another decision victory.
Other key bouts: Evgeniy Ignatiev (13-2-2) vs. Aleksandr Osetrov (5-2-1), Oleg Manzhuev (8-2) vs. Ivan Sopivskoy (4-1), Dmitriy Babkin (4-0) vs. Artem Belakh (7-1), Dmitry Mikhailidy (3-0) vs. Denis Salomatkin (5-1), Vadim Malygin (14-6-1) vs. Aleksey Vartanov (6-1), Aleksandr Dontsov (4-0) vs. Evgeniy Sleptsov (3-1), Aytibay Tairov (3-0) vs. Igor Glazkov (2-1), Egor Khodakov (3-0) vs. Nikolay Kiosse (1-0)
Mike Graves (9-1-2) vs. Oton Jasse (20-6)
Titan Fighting Championship has a busy weekend ahead. The company’s CEO, Lex McMahon, is set to make his pro MMA debut in a heavyweight affair at the Force 4 show in the Dominican Republic on Saturday. Then, on Sunday, Titan FC hosts its 65th event from the island nation. In the headliner, welterweight champion Mike Graves puts his belt on the line against Oton Jasse.
Graves should be a familiar name to fight fans. The 29-year-old American Top Team combatant appeared on the 21st season of The Ultimate Fighter. He suffered his lone loss on the show to current UFC champ Kamaru Usman, while also topping current Bellator fighter Jason Jackson. He made his official UFC debut at the TUF 21 Finale with a win over Vicente Luque, who has since posted a 12-2 UFC mark. Graves added a stoppage of Randy Brown and fought to a draw with Bojan Velickovic before departing the UFC under less-than-ideal circumstances. After an unsuccessful two-fight stint in Fight Nights Global, where Graves suffered a loss and fought to another draw, he made the move to Titan FC. In his second appearance for the promotion, Graves captured the interim welterweight strap with a decision nod over Jared Gooden, who is now set to make his Octagon debut this weekend at UFC 255. The ATT rep has since become the undisputed Titan champ and made a successful first defense of the belt with a fourth-round TKO of UFC and PFL veteran Yuri Villefort.
Jasse, a 26-year-old Brazilian veteran, debuted in late 2011. He has spent much of the past decade toiling around the Brazilian regional scene, with a 2019 diversion into Russia for a few fights. He holds a notable victory over Gian Siqueira, but he has suffered losses to Raush Manfio, Alisson Barbosa, Khusein Khaliev, Georgiy Kichigin and Gadzhi Rabadanov. The Tata Fight Team export will be fighting for the second time in just over a month after needing only 90 seconds to secure an anaconda choke and tap Roger Berger in October. Jasse has an astounding 18 submissions among his 20 career wins.
The two draws and one official loss on the record of Graves came at a time in his career that was mired in personal issues for the ATT athlete. He was booted from the UFC roster after an arrest stemming from a misdemeanor battery charge for hitting his fiancée. Outside of that rough stretch, though, Graves has appeared focused while performing at a high level inside the cage. He only dropped his exhibition contest to Usman via majority decision, and he never lost in the Octagon. He’s also perfect through his three Titan appearances while dominating the competition. Graves, who has a high school wrestling background, controlled Gregg Ellis on the mat for three rounds en route to a decision nod. He then demonstrated his all-around game against Gooden by holding his own on the feet, mounting Gooden multiple times, and threatening with chokes. Finally, against Villefort, Graves even proved that he can still finish a contest with his fists, something he had not done since his third pro fight.
For as many submissions as Jasse has on his resume, you’d think the Brazilian would be a more aggressive grappler. Yet, this doesn’t seem to be the case, at least when the competition is fierce. His victories have come primarily against fighters with .500ish records or worse. He didn’t look very impressive against the mediocre Imran Abaev before finally finding a mounted triangle for the finish in the third frame of their clash. Jasse simply doesn’t do much off his back, which accounts for his lack of success. If he’s taken down by a wrestler with smothering top control — someone such as the aforementioned Khaliev, for example — he flounders. Rather than committing to submissions, he often gets stuck absorbing ground-and-pound strikes or giving up his back while generating very little offense of his own. This style won’t get him very far against Graves, whose high-crotch and single-leg takedowns should succeed in putting Jasse right where he wants the challenger. Graves has smothering top control as well, so he should be able to implement his typical approach of pounding on his foe once the fight hits the canvas.
When he has his head screwed on right, Graves is a really good fighter. Had it not been for his arrest, he could still be in the UFC and possibly even reside among the top contenders to Usman’s crown. As it stands, he’s a uniquely big fish in a small pond. He’s been able to dispose of Ellis, Gooden and Villefort, and Jasse seems poised to be his next victim. The Brazilian will be a submission threat to Graves, but he has lost far too often against fighters further down the totem pole. Graves might get a ground-and-pound finish here, but his tendency to go the distance means that this one could grind its way through five rounds before Graves has his hand raised. Either way, he should add another successful title defense to his record.
Other key bouts: Lucas Marte (5-1) vs. Ty Kalista (3-3), Juan Puerta (19-6) vs. Franklin Mireles (2-5), Danny Collazo (1-0) vs. Ramon Lopez (1-0), Devon Dixon (1-0) vs. Mike Olaya (0-3)
The Best of the Rest
iKON Fighting Federation 3: Daniel Vega (12-3) vs. Alejandro Martinez (11-4) Watch Event:UFC Fight Pass
Oktagon 18: Jozef Wittner (12-2) vs. Robert Pukač (14-6-1) Watch Event: pay-per-view stream via Oktagon TV
Productora One: Live Fight Night: Eduardo Matias Torres (10-0) vs. Gaston Gomez Manzur (10-6) for the bantamweight title
Gadzhi Omargadzhiev vs. Vladimir Vasilyev at MMA Series-20
Omargadzhiev by knockout
Omargadzhiev by decision
Tomasz Narkun vs. Ivan Erslan at KSW 56
Narkun by submission
Narkun by submission
In Hindsight: The fight between Taylor and Aguilar was as close as predicted, but Taylor did emerge with the split decision as expected. She was able to do just enough on the feet while avoiding the clinch of Aguilar and even landing a takedown of her own…Omargadzhiev was not able to get the predicted TKO finish against Vasilyev, but he did take the fight on the scorecards. As usual, Omargadzhiev was relentless in his pursuit of the takedown, which helped to put him ahead in the eyes of the judges…After a surprisingly slow start, the KSW light-heavyweight champ Narkun finally woke up early in round two and delivered the predicted submission with a rear-naked choke finish of Erslan…“Best of the Rest” selection Leonardo “Cabeção” Silva scored a first-round stoppage, while Silvania Monteiro notched a decision win.
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