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…
Vyacheslav Vasilevskiy (33-8) vs. Bogdan Guskov (10-1)
Fight Nights Global celebrates Christmas weekend with a doubleheader that starts on Thursday with the league’s Winter Cup entry. The lineup is heavy on prospects, but it also features some established names, including that of 41-fight veteran Vyacheslav Vasilevskiy. The former M-1 Challenge champion will serve as the next test for Bogdan Guskov, who enters the cage for this affair with a strong 10-1 mark.
Despite a career that extends back to 2008, Vasilevskiy is still just 32 years old. “Slava” got off to an excellent start in which he went 17-1 through his first 18 fights. This run included a light-heavyweight title reign with M-1 Challenge and a successful Bellator debut against Victor O’Donnell. He also notched stoppages over Xavier Foupa-Pokam and Tomasz Narkun along the way. After a decision loss to Maiquel Falcão in his second Bellator appearance, Vasilevskiy returned to his homeland and started another winning streak, this time spanning nine fights. He avenged the prior loss to Falcão during this stretch and also stopped Trevor Prangley and Ramazan Emeev en route to capturing the M-1 middleweight crown. He dropped the belt to Emeev in a rematch that marked the beginning of a rougher patch for Vasilevskiy. Since the submission loss to Emeev, he has gone just 7-5 while never winning more than four in a row. He has added victories over Matt Horwich and Will Noland, but he has also suffered setbacks courtesy of Alexander Shlemenko (twice), Murad Abdulaev, Magomed Ismailov and Albert Duraev. Vasilevskiy has won just one of his last four fights.
Uzbekistan’s Guskov has been fighting as a professional since 2015. He won his first two fights before suffering defeat at the hands of Arkadiy Lisin. The 28-year-old has recovered nicely, however, to the tune of eight straight wins. He has one previous appearance with FNG, but he’s also made stops with Russian Cagefighting Championship and the Brave Combat Federation. Guskov’s most impressive victory came in his most recent outing, a Brave CF fight in which he knocked out fellow prospect Nurlan Toktobakiev.
“Slava” has had a solid career, but he’s run into tons of trouble lately. All three of his recent losses have come via some form of knockout. He was tagged with ease on the feet by Ismailov, and Abdulaev destroyed him on the mat. At age 32, Vasilevskiy is hardly in the twilight of his career. However, he’s been tasked with several beasts lately and might be transitioning into a gatekeeper role within the Russian circuit. The combat-sambo specialist has a balanced game that has led to career totals of 14 knockouts and nine submissions, and his four most recent wins have all come via stoppage. He’s still dangerous, in other words, but his recent opponents have proven that he has weaknesses in his game that can be exploited.
Guskov is a promising up-and-comer. He possesses a ton of power that accounts for eight knockout victories on his resume. His other two wins have been submissions. His only fight to go the distance was his loss to Lisin. The 28-year-old holds his hands low and initially looks awkward in the stand-up game, but he manages to avoid getting hit often and throws his own punches from odd angles. He prefers to counter his opponent, and he often does so with great effectiveness. In addition, he has suffocating top control if the fight hits the mat.
Vasilevskiy just can’t catch a break these days, and the future looks bleak for him in this affair. The veteran certainly has the edge in experience over Guskov, but his chin might not be able to absorb the type of punishment Guskov can dish out. Vasilevskiy’s habit of lunging forward puts him in serious danger of eating one of Guskov’s big counters, and the former M-1 kingpin is too easily swept and controlled on the mat. Guskov is likely to add to the recent pattern of TKO finishes that Vasilevskiy has suffered.
Other key bouts: Vagab Vagabov (26-1-1) vs. Dmitriy Andryushko (1-0), Azizkhan Chorshanbiev (5-0) vs. Amirkhan Oev (1-1), Nurullo Aliev (4-0) vs. Aleksandr Grebnev (5-2), Vyacheslav Ryabov (5-0) vs. Alireza Safara (0-0), Denilson Matos (13-4) vs. Bakhodir Bakiev (7-2-1), Sarvadzhon Khamidov (10-0) vs. Aslan Tovsultanov (6-0), Vladimir Alekseev (7-1) vs. Ramzan Dzaurov (7-2), Dordzhi Daraev (1-0) vs. Yan Sleptsov (2-1), Magerram Gasanzade (2-0) vs. Murad Malamagomedov (5-0)
Mukhamed Eminov (15-1) vs. Akhmed Balkizov (9-2-1)
The second day of the FNG doubleheader enjoys more veteran support in the lineup. It also features a championship affair in which the league’s featherweight kingpin, Mukhamed Eminov, puts his belt on the line against challenger Akhmed Balkizov.
Eminov has tasted defeat just once in his 16-fight career. The Russian debuted in 2015 and reeled off 12 straight stoppages, many of which came in the first round, before taking a step up in competition. He finally hit the scorecards and barely emerged with the victory when he met veteran Vladimir Egoyan at FNG 90 in 2018. His next outing, an FNG 92 contest against Nikita Mikhailov, was another close fight, but this time Eminov was on the losing end of the decision. He has since rebounded with a pair of wins, including a decision nod over Muratbek Kasymbay in September to secure the league’s featherweight crown.
Balkizov has put together a respectable record since his 2010 debut, but his lack of regular MMA action is a concern. He tends to average just one fight per calendar year. The 28-year-old has faced quite a few low-level opponents in his decade-long campaign, but he has also encountered a couple of established veterans. The bad news is that he found mixed results in those outings. He was submitted by Ilya Kurzanov at FNG 55, fought to a draw with Abdulmutalip Gairbekov at FNG 71, and came out on top against Bekhruz Zukhurov at FNG 85. Unlike Eminov, Balkizov often sees the final bell in his fights, win or lose.
Eminov’s aggression is obvious even before the opening bell. His staredowns often involve him pressing his forehead into his opponent’s head while the referee provides final instructions. This aggression has led to a long list of first-round finishes, but it can also be to his detriment against more skilled opponents. After an extremely strong start against Aleksandr Grozin, Eminov appeared gassed in the third round and beyond. The southpaw’s intent is to get the fight to the canvas as quickly as possible, and he’ll sometimes give up position to do so. His scrambling abilities and wrestling skill set make it possible for him to take these risks. Even once he’s tired, he can drive through and finish takedowns on instinct alone. He sets a grueling pace that often forces his opponent to come from behind.
Balkizov is far more willing to stand and bang. He’ll throw leg kicks and flurries on the feet. Yet, like Eminov, he also loves to grapple. He’ll attack with submissions from the bottom and scrambles well. He’s arguably the more well-rounded fighter, but he does give up takedowns and spends too much time fighting off his back. This nearly cost him in a close fight with Magomed-Ali Bakhmudov. He’s also been submitted before.
If Eminov wants to take the next step in his career, he needs to work on pacing himself and improving his striking to better set up his takedowns. He too often slows by the third frame, and his opponent starts to find more success in timing the sprawl to stuff his takedown attempts. Fortunately for the champ, he gets an opponent who should play right into his strategy. If Balkizov employs his usual game plan, his kicks will lead to successful takedowns for Eminov. Balkizov is likely to throw up more submission attempts than his foe, but Eminov could end up being the one to successfully score the tapout if he finds something early in the contest. Balkizov’s best chance comes in taking Eminov into the latter rounds and then outworking him. Unfortunately, even that might not be enough. This could be another close one on the scorecards, but Eminov should squeak by with the decision win.
Other key bouts: Alexey Makhno (23-8) vs. David Khachatryan (25-4), Maxim Butorin (17-3-1) vs. Artur Pronin (17-5), Akop Stepanyan (26-11) vs. Mikhail Gogitidze (14-9), Denis Dzhibraev (2-0) vs. Aleksandr Vasiliev (2-0), Mohammad Heybati (2-0) vs. Muratbek Kasymbay (9-3), Timur Khizriev (9-0) vs. Alexander Belikh (9-3), Maksim Tsapenko (1-0) vs. Vladimir Osipov (11-11)
Open Fighting Championship 1
MTL Arena in Samara, Russia Event Date: Dec. 26
Sharaf Davlatmurodov (16-3-1) vs. Quemuel Ottoni (7-3)
Russia has a busy MMA docket for the Christmas weekend, even beyond the activities of the FNG organization. In fact, it also has a debut show from another company: Open Fighting Championship. The highlight of this card is the contest that pits Sharaf “Wolfhound” Davlatmurodov against fellow middleweight Quemual Ottoni.
Davlatmurodov debuted in 2015 and steamrolled his competition en route to a perfect 6-0 mark before he collided with Imran Abaev in a fight that ended in a draw. Still technically undefeated at the time, the “Wolfhound” resumed his winning ways with another five triumphant performances. This run included a decision nod over The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 3 alum Jolton Santos and a finish of UFC vet Benny Alloway. Davlatmurodov had a tough 2017 and early 2018 that resulted in a 1-3 stretch that included setbacks to Mukhamed Berkhamov, Brett Cooper and Gadzhimurad Khiramagomedov. He has since rebounded with a four-fight winning streak in which he avenged the Cooper loss and added a TKO finish of UFC castoff Amilcar Alves.
Ottoni has a relatively short resume by comparison. The 28-year-old has been competing since 2014, but he’s managed just 10 fights. He got off to a promising start with five wins, including stoppages of veterans Jackson Mora Rodriguez and Sidnei Souza under the Jungle Fight banner. He stumbled, however, when he encountered Acácio dos Santos in a 2016 contest for Thunder Fights. The Brazilian has been on a roller-coaster ride ever since, with wins over Arsen Tengizov and André Ricardo and losses to Cleber Sousa and Wilker Lemos. The trend would suggest a win is in the cards for Ottoni this weekend, but that could prove to be a tall task for this middling fighter.
Ottoni is the one fighter in the MMA realm to beat elite kickboxer Alex Pereira, but that’s been the highlight of his career. It’s unlikely that he’d find the same success now against a more seasoned Pereira, and he’s facing a steep challenge here against Davlatmurodov. The “Wolfhound” isn’t invincible by any means, but he’s been competing at a high level while regularly scoring wins. He can get the job done with his fists or on the mat, as showcased by a balanced sheet that includes eight knockouts and five submissions.
Ottoni has been able to find finishes in every one of his victories, but he’s also fallen victim to two submissions and dropped a fight on the scorecards. He’s likely out of his depth in this contest. Davlatmurodov should hand the Brazilian yet another submission defeat.
Other key bouts: Boris Medvedev (8-1) vs. Maksim Grabovich (10-5), Vladimir Seliverstov (11-2) vs. Mohamed John Djemadoka (5-1), Wildemar Santos (8-1) vs. Vladimir Vasilyev (7-1)
The Best of the Rest
Naiza Fighting Championship 27: Asu Almabaev (11-2) vs. Almanbet Abdyvasy Uulu (9-3) for the flyweight title
Two Headed Eagle Cup III: Nikita Pronin (1-0) vs. Valeriy Gagaev (2-0)
Batyr Bashy: Syymyk Zhanybek Uulu (6-0) vs. Shergazy Kenjebaev (6-2)
Last Week’s Scorecard
Last Week's Fights
Kayla Harrison vs. Jozette Cotton at Titan FC 66
Harrison by knockout
Pat Sabatini vs. Jesse Stirn at CFFC 91
Sabatini by submission
Sabatini by submission
Phil De Fries vs. Michał Kita at KSW 57
De Fries by submission
De Fries by knockout
In Hindsight: The lightweight fight between Harrison and Cotton did not come to fruition. Cotton was hospitalized after a failed weight cut, forcing the bout’s cancellation just one day prior to the show…Sabatini was able to easily take down Stirn, control position, fend off submission attempts, and find the predicted submission in the second frame…De Fries employed his usual approach against Kita by scoring takedowns and battering the challenger with ground-and-pound. The UFC veteran did not have to resort to the predicted submission finish, as the damage he inflicted to Kita via strikes was sufficient in getting the job done for a TKO stoppage in the second round…“Best of the Rest” selections Collin Huckbody and Magomed Umalatov scored stoppages, while Evgeny Goncharov notched a decision.
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