Jack Grant (Jannik Pietzsch/Save the Journey Photography)

Out of Obscurity: Cage Warriors ‘The Trilogy Strikes Back’ and iKON 4

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…


Cage Warriors Fighting Championship 117: The Trilogy Strikes Back 1
York Hall in London
Event Date: Dec. 10
Website: cagewarriors.com
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass
Twitter: @CageWarriors

Spotlight Fight:
Luke Shanks (7-1) vs. Jake Hadley (6-0)

Britain’s Cage Warriors organization has an ambitious weekend planned. The company is hosting a trio of events under the title The Trilogy Strikes Back. It begins with Cage Warriors 117 on Thursday, continues with the 118th show on Friday, and wraps with the league’s 119th effort on Saturday. All three events feature title bouts. The flyweight strap is on the line at Cage Warriors 117 when champion Luke Shanks meets undefeated challenger Jake Hadley.

Shanks is off to a 7-1 start since his 2016 debut. The 25-year-old’s journey culminated in a flyweight championship victory over Samir Faiddine in his most recent fight, which took place in September. “The Apocalypse” is perfect through three appearances with Cage Warriors. His lone loss came in the BAMMA cage, where he was finished via strikes by Elliott Hoye. Shanks, who found far less success at the amateur level, now has three submission finishes and one knockout win as a pro. He trains out of Higher Level Martial Arts.

The 24-year-old Hadley is perfect through six pro outings, including one apiece with EFC Worldwide, Bellator MMA and Cage Warriors. He took the EFC flyweight strap from promotional star Nkazimulo Zulu in 2019 and submitted Blaine O’Driscoll in the Bellator cage. Hadley earned his crack at the Cage Warriors belt with a first-round finish of Shajidul Haque on the same September night when Shanks captured the crown.

Despite not always working to set up his shots, Shanks has the ability to successfully complete takedowns. The southpaw has smothering top control, which was on display in his championship affair against Faiddine where Shanks delivered a ground-and-pound drubbing. The James Doolan disciple will use those barrages to open up opportunities to take his opponent’s back, but he doesn’t aggressively seek the submission. He’s usually far more content to punish his foe and score points with the judges. This is a shift from earlier in his career, as he scored his first three pro wins by some form of choke.

Shanks is far less disciplined on the feet. He’ll rush forward while wildly swinging for the fences. This is often as close as the Scottish fighter gets to setting up his takedown attempts, but the approach could also leave him open to counter strikes or a level-change takedown from Hadley. If Shanks does connect, though, he has enough power to bring an end to the fight.

Hadley, who is also a southpaw, is far more comfortable on the feet. He mixes in kicks well, including body shots like the one that sparked the finishing sequence against Haque. He’s aggressive in his pursuit, which could play right into the hands of Shanks’ level changes. Hadley also gets tagged far too often on the feet.

Hadley is the more well-rounded fighter of the two, but Shanks has such great ability at regularly scoring takedowns and maintaining control. O’Driscoll, who was eventually submitted by Hadley, was able to find success in putting Hadley on the mat and working from top control. If Shanks can do the same, then he should grind out another victory on the scorecards to successfully defend his belt.

Other key bouts: Sam Creasey (12-3) vs. Adam Amarasinghe (6-2), Michele Martignoni (5-0) vs. Weslley Maia (6-3), Steve McIntosh (6-1) vs. Mehdi Ben Lakhdar (4-0-1), Emrah Sonmez (11-2) vs. Aidan Stephen (7-3), Michal Figlak (3-0) vs. Anthony O’Connor (4-3)

iKON Fighting Federation 4
Marinaterra Hotel, Spa & Event Center in San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico
Event Date: Dec. 11
Website: ikonff.com
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass
Twitter: @ikonfights

Spotlight Fight:
Daniel Zellhuber (9-0) vs. Alexander Barahona (11-3)

While the spotlight at iKON Fighting Federation’s fourth show is on Bella Mir, the 17-year-old daughter of former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir, another more experienced prospect is set to take to the cage at the event. Daniel Zellhuber, 21, is only a few years older than Bella, but he has been competing professionally since 2016 and already has nine victories under his belt. Zellhuber will try to keep his perfect record intact when he clashes with 14-fight veteran Alexander Barahona in the evening’s co-headliner.

Zellhuber won his first five fights, including four via finish, before joining the Combate Americas organization. His success continued there with victories over José Luis Medrano, Salvador Izar and the formerly undefeated Gian Franco Cortez. In 2020, Zellhuber made an appearance with Lux Fight League, where he submitted Miguel Arizmendi with a calf slicer. The young fighter has drawn comparisons to Yair Rodriguez due to his Muay Thai techniques, length, and aggression.

Barahona represents Zellhuber’s most experienced foe to date. The “Raptor” debuted in 2014 and stopped his first four opponents. He ran into trouble over his next two contests, in which he dropped a decision to a fighter with a severe losing record and got submitted by a rookie combatant. After recording another two stoppage victories, Barahona once again fell short on the scorecards against a fighter with a losing mark. He has been perfect since 2018, however, with five straight wins, including a number of stoppages.

Zellhuber, at 6-foot-1 and sporting a 77-inch reach, is a lanky lightweight who is eventually expected to move up to welterweight or even middleweight as he continues to grow. The “Golden Boy” knows how to use his length, too. He throws kicks from range and will punish opponents, especially shorter ones, with knees from the Muay Thai clinch. He has been vulnerable to landing on the bottom when the fight goes to the ground, but his length has often helped to minimize the damage he takes and also has contributed to his ability to gain leverage for sweeps against his opponent.

Of course, Zellhuber is most effective on his feet and in top position. The Team Romero representative can get a little overzealous on the ground and lose position or put himself in danger of a submission. Thus far, however, he’s been able to survive such mistakes and continue to emerge victorious. He’ll need to correct these mental lapses, though, as he begins to encounter more experienced and skilled competition.

While Barahona is more experienced than Zellhuber’s past opponents, his losses to subpar fighters are enough to suggest that this should be an easily winnable fight for Zellhuber. The “Raptor” has flashed power in his hands, but he’s more of a brawler on the feet. He’ll give up five inches in height to Zellhuber, who should find a home for his punches and kicks from the outside and land plenty of knees if Barahona attempts to get in close. Zellhuber should also be able to get the better of Barahona on the ground, too. The youngster should dominate his opponent en route to a submission finish.

Other key bouts: Bella Mir (1-0) vs. Amanda Quesia (0-0), Alex Martinez (6-0) vs. Christopher Ramirez (7-2), Carlos Rivera (12-3) vs. Carlos Marquez (6-5)

Cage Warriors Fighting Championship 119: The Trilogy Strikes Back 3
York Hall in London
Event Date: Dec. 12
Website: cagewarriors.com
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass
Twitter: @CageWarriors

Spotlight Fight:
Jack Grant (16-5) vs. Agy Sardari (12-2)

The Cage Warriors organization closes out its trilogy with another compelling fight in the league’s 119th effort on Saturday. The battle for the vacant lightweight belt on the final show of the week’s trilogy is perhaps the most intriguing affair of all for the company’s marathon week of action. The contest pits Jack Grant against Agy Sardari.

The 28-year-old Grant has been a fixture on the British circuit since 2012. He spent time in BAMMA and already holds a 4-1 mark under the Cage Warriors banner, where his only loss came in a previous lightweight title bid opposite Jai Herbert. Herbert vacated the belt when he departed this year for the UFC, opening up an opportunity for Grant to once again vie for the crown. The Asylum Vale Tudo representative is 7-1 over his last eight outings. He seems particularly susceptible to strikes, as seen in his losses to Herbert, Dez Parker and Jack McGann. However, he’s also a very efficient finisher in his own right, with seven knockouts and eight submission finishes on his resume.

Sardari is set for his Cage Warriors debut after primarily competing in smaller shows. The Dutch fighter did make one appearance for Shooto in Japan, where he barely topped current Rizin featherweight kingpin Yutaka Saito. “The Wolverine” has otherwise encountered low-level competition. He has never been stopped as a pro, but he did drop decisions to Hubert Geven and Islam Khapilaev. Sardari has tallied four knockout wins and six submissions.

Sardari has a solid striking arsenal that’s heavy on kicks. He’s a persistent wrestler, too. However, he can sometimes struggle to score offense on the mat. He’ll far too often back out of top position and let his opponent stand up. When the Dutch fighter is more determined, though, he can transition well and dominate his foe. His victory over Saito is a sign that he’s a serious challenge for Grant.

Grant turned in a valiant effort in his fight with Herbert, but Herbert was able to expose the biggest flaws in Grant’s otherwise well-rounded game. Grant’s lack of head movement allowed for plenty of Herbert’s strikes to land. Grant displayed a solid chin, but the damage mounted by the third round and led to a gassed Grant who could no longer effectively score takedowns or maintain top control the few times he did drag Herbert to the mat. Obviously, Herbert was good enough to go on to the UFC. Against most opponents, Grant has looked far better and more confident on the feet and often racks up points with kicks and knees. This also allows him to use his wrestling and grappling to far better results. He combined all aspects of his game to score first-round finishes of Aleksi Mäntykivi and Yassine Belhadj.

Cage Warriors is throwing Sardari into the deep end of the pool with this fight. It’s a huge opportunity for the Dutch up-and-comer to prove that he’s a legitimate prospect. However, the benefit of the doubt has to go to Grant in this one. He’s logged far more time at the highest levels of the regional circuit and found plenty of success. Sardari will have to test Grant on the feet, but it’s quite likely that Grant will be able to close distance, get the fight to the canvas, and use his grappling skills to stifle Sardari’s offense. Grant will come away with the title after tapping Sardari in a competitive affair.

Other key bouts: Morgan Charriere (15-7-1) vs. Perry Andre Goodwin (10-6) for the featherweight title, Kieran Lister (7-0-1) vs. Joe McColgan (6-3-1), Paul Hughes (6-0) vs. Jordan Vucenic (6-1), Ian Garry (4-0) vs. Lawrence Tracey (5-4), Kevin Mullen (4-0) vs. Kent Kauppinen (12-6)

The Best of the Rest

Ertaimash Fighting Championship Global 8: Aziretaly Jumabek Uulu (6-1) vs. Almanbet Nusratillaev (6-3) for the flyweight title

Cage Warriors Fighting Championship 118: The Trilogy Strikes Back 2: Nathias Frederick (8-2-1) vs. Jamie Richardson (9-5) for the middleweight title Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass

Fighting Alliance Championship 5: Jason High (22-8) vs. Jake Lindsey (14-9) for the welterweight title Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass

Fighting Championship Pankration: MMA Series-22: Yulia Ostroverkhova (3-0) vs. Anastasia Feofanova (5-1) Watch Event: live stream on mma-series.com

Last Week’s Scorecard
Fight Prediction Outcome
Gadzhi Rabadanov vs. Mehdi Dakaev at GFC 30 Rabadanov by decision Dakaev by decision
Maycon Mendonça vs. Batsumberel Dagvadorj at LFA 96 Dagvadorj by knockout Mendonça by decision
Javid Basharat vs. Aleksandr Bezkorovainiy at Oktagon 19 Basharat by submission Basharat by submission

In Hindsight: Dakaev, as expected, turned out to be a surprisingly tough challenge for Rabadanov. So much so, in fact, that Rabadanov was unable to record the predicted decision. Instead, it was Dakaev who prevailed on the scorecards after five close rounds, largely thanks to his more aggressive style…Mendonça and Dagvadorj engaged in a five-round war. Dagvadorj struggled to get inside against Mendonça and ate a ton of knees from the Brazilian. The Mongolian fighter couldn’t score the predicted knockout and instead dropped the fight on the scorecards…Basharat was able to find the predicted submission against Bezkorovainiy with a D’arce choke late in round two. The flashy striker’s success on the feet prompted Bezkorovainiy to look for a takedown, which ultimately led to his downfall…“Best of the Rest” selection Cleber Sousa scored a stoppage.