Nick Browne (L) (Nick "Nyquil" Browne/Facebook)

Out of Obscurity: LFA 97, Brave CF 46 and UAE Warriors 15

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…


UAE Warriors 15/Eagle Fighting Championship 32
Jiu-Jitsu Arena in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Event Date: Jan. 15
Watch Event: YouTube
Twitter: @uae_warriors

Spotlight Fight:
Rinat Fakhretdinov (19-2) vs. Eric Spicely (12-5)

The second of this week’s collaborative efforts comes courtesy of UAE Warriors and Eagle Fighting Championship. UFC legend Khabib Nurmagomedov is heavily involved with the latter of these promotions, and this upcoming show will be a tribute to his late father. The lineup is, without a doubt, the deepest of the weekend’s regional and international offerings. There are a lot of bouts that demand attention, but Rinat Fakhretdinov’s impressive 19-2 mark will be put to a true test against grizzled veteran and ex-UFCer Eric Spicely.

Fakhretdinov, 29, has been competing as a pro since 2013, when he suffered a debut loss. He won his next six outings before suffering another setback, this time against Igor Svirid. The “Gladiator” has been perfect ever since, accumulating 13 more victories while encountering varying levels of competition. While he’s primarily seen very green fighters, Fakhretdinov has also managed to get the better of experienced pros like M-1 veteran Denis Gunich, UFC castoff Alberto Uda, and Brazil’s Jhonny Carlos. The Russian is a finisher who has registered 10 knockouts and seven submission victories in his career.

Spicely is perhaps the most familiar face here to American fight fans. He was a CES regular until his tenure on The Ultimate Fighter 23. He won two of his three bouts on the reality series, where his only defeat came in a 47-second knockout delivered by Andrew Sanchez. “Zebrinha” was still granted a spot on the UFC roster, but he struggled throughout his six-fight stint with the company. He was able to beat future light-heavyweight title challenger Thiago Santos in a middleweight affair and also topped Alessio Di Chirico, but those triumphs were sandwiched between a loss to Sam Alvey and a trio of setbacks handed to him by Antonio Carlos Junior, Gerald Meerschaert and Darren Stewart. Spicely, who has spent time with the Tristar camp and Syndicate MMA, returned to CES for two victories and then was brought back on short notice by the UFC, but his tough luck continued with a decision loss to Deron Winn in 2019. Spicely had a rough 2020 in which a failed weight cut led to another parting of ways with the UFC on the tail end of four scrapped fight bookings. The 34-year-old has seven submissions and four knockouts on his resume.

Spicely is an ideal gatekeeper for Fakhretdinov. The Massachusetts native is not a world-beater by any means, but he’s a strong grappler who has managed to come out on top occasionally against UFC talent. However, all but one of his official UFC losses ended in a stoppage. He was submitted by Alvey and Junior, and he was finished via strikes by Meerschaert and Stewart. Fakretdinov’s own high finishing rate will be put to the test against someone who can be finished in numerous ways.

It’s easy to dismiss Spicely based on his losses, but they all came inside the Octagon. Furthermore, he was extremely competitive in the outings against Meerschaert and Junior. Outside of the UFC, he remains perfect while scoring numerous first-round stoppages and only going the distance twice. If Fakhretdinov does beat him, it would be a solid indicator that the Russian is ready for the big show.

Spicely is extremely awkward on the feet. His striking has improved slightly since he first joined the UFC, but his primary goal is still to get his opponent to the mat and implement his ground game. Spicely is comfortable fighting off his back and transitions well. The key to defeating him is to keep the fight standing and pick him apart, as Alvey, Stewart and Winn all managed to do.

Fakhretdinov has strong wrestling and outstanding top control, but he prefers to smother opponents rather than chaining together submission attempts. His stand-up arsenal is superior to that of Spicely. However, he does throw looping punches and lacks the polished technique that typically gives Spicely the most issues.

The outcome of this contest will depend heavily on Fakhretdinov’s ability to overwhelm Spicely on the feet and not get tangled up in a grappling affair. If the fight does go to the canvas, we’ll finally have an opportunity to see Fakhretdinov’s submission defense. Spicely is certain to try to tie up his foe and could even pull guard to bring the action into his realm. Given Fakhretdinov’s resume thus far and lack of action against this caliber of competition, it’s likely that he becomes the latest non-UFCer to fall victim to Spicely and tap out.

Other key bouts: Bruno Azeredo (14-9) vs. Mickael Lebout (20-10-3) for the lightweight title, Shamil Zavurov (38-6-1) vs. Renato Gomes (26-12), Elias Boudegzdame (16-6) vs. Jesse Arnett (17-6), Saygid Izagakhmaev (17-1) vs. Carlston Harris (14-4), Muin Gafarov (15-3) vs. Walter Zamora (11-3), Sultan Zholdoshbekov (14-1) vs. Vinicius de Oliveira (14-2), Abdurakhman Gitinovasov (5-1) vs. William Starks (4-1), Martun Mezhlumyan (10-2) vs. Daniel Vega (12-3-1), Avliyohon Hamidov (9-3-1) vs. Louis Jourdain (5-2), Shamil Magomedov (10-2-1) vs. Jayson Margallo (6-7), Mohamad Osseili (1-0) vs. Elijas Paknys (2-1), Shakhban Alkhasov (3-0) vs. Vasile Suprovici (3-3), Imamshafi Aliev (4-0) vs. Pim Kusters (2-1)

Legacy Fighting Alliance 97
Hartman Arena in Park City, Kan.
Event Date: Jan. 15
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass
Twitter: @LFAfighting

Spotlight Fight:
Nick Browne (10-1) vs. Arthur Estrázulas (12-4)

[Ed. Note — This fight preview originally appeared on Combat Press prior to the scheduled fight between Browne and Estrázulas at LFA 95 in November. After its publication, the fight was rescheduled for LFA 97. The preview has been lightly edited here to account for the change in events.]

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 97th 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: Jose Martinez (11-4) vs. Jacob Rosales (12-6), Kelly D’Angelo (4-3) vs. Loveth Young (2-1-1), Michael Stack (4-1) vs. Jordan Mapa (3-2), Thomas Petersen (2-0) vs. Richard Luis (2-2), Josh Quinlan (3-0) vs. Joe Boerschig (6-3), Claire Guthrie (1-1) vs. Nadine Mandiau (1-1)

Brave Combat Federation 46/Krepost Selection 10
WOW Arena in Sochi, Russia
Event Date: Jan. 16
Watch Event: Fite TV pay-per-view stream via Combat Press
Twitter: @bravemmaf

Spotlight Fight:
Roman Bogatov (10-1) vs. Nurzhan Akishev (11-1)

This week’s theme appears to be collaboration. Brave Combat Federation’s 46th effort will be conducted in combination with the 10th edition of Krepost Selection. The lineup is a solid one that features such notables as Ali Bagautinov, Leonardo Mafra and Eldar Eldarov. The event also shines a spotlight on Roman Bogatov, who is set to meet Nurzhan Akishev in a 148-pound contest.

Bogatov returns to his homeland following a brief UFC stint in which he lost his lone appearance to Leonardo Santos via unanimous decision at UFC 251. He had previously been an undefeated mainstay under the M-1 Challenge banner, where he reigned as the league’s lightweight champion. Bogatov has collected victories over Rubenilton Pereira, Michel Silva and Mickael Lebout since turning pro in 2016. The 30-year-old has tallied five of his wins by way of submission.

The 27-year-old Akishev has only been competing at the professional level since late 2017, but he has seen action in one more fight than his upcoming opponent. The Kazakh native’s first bout took place with the Fight Nights Global organization, but he has bounced around numerous regional companies en route to a perfect mark through seven appearances. “Bizon” suffered his first and only loss due to a doctor’s stoppage when he clashed with Nabi Ashurlaev in late 2019. His three most recent victories came in a single night of action for Bushido FC.

Bogatov’s UFC release after just one fight might seem surprising at first glance, but his inability to avoid illegal strikes was his undoing. In his fight with Santos, Bogatov was warned after landing two low blows in the third stanza. He then delivered a knee to his downed opponent, which prompted the referee to deduct two points. The point deduction didn’t significantly impact the outcome of the contest, which would have been awarded to Santos regardless. However, Bogatov’s reputation took a hit as a result. The Brave Combat Federation decided to scoop him up, though, and give him a shot at redemption.

Akishev has already quipped that he wants “to have a big family” while urging Bogatov to keep the fight clean. The Kazakh fighter, who has eight submission victories and two knockouts, has a lot to prove and a marquee name to do it against. The question is whether this immense leap up in competition will prove to be too much. While he has dispatched a few veterans, Akishev’s victims tend to be fighters with five to 10 fights each and modest winning percentages. Bogatov may have come out flat in his UFC bout — and only made things worse with his infractions — but he was already accustomed to a higher level of competition in his time with M-1. He finished Silva and essentially stopped Lebout. He also tapped out Tahir Abdullaev and Raul Tutarauli, a pair of fighters who held a combined 29-4 mark when they collided with Bogatov.

Bogatov was fortunate to have survived round two in his fight with Santos. The Brazilian had Bogatov reeling, but he just couldn’t seal the deal. All of the fouls came in the third round, a frame that began with the Russian bent over in exhaustion. The groin strikes seemed accidental, but the knee to the head was a complete mental lapse by the former M-1 champ. Santos exposed some holes in Bogatov’s striking game, but the Russian is a skilled grappler who can cause trouble for anyone on the ground.

Akishev plays right into Bogatov’s wheelhouse. The Kazakh upstart will swing wildly on the feet, but he’s also a ground technician. Akishev’s takedown defense is lacking, and he can be held down and controlled. He likes to scramble and roll for submissions, which has worked well against low-level foes. He’ll likely find far less success with this approach against someone like Bogatov. As long as the Russian avoids Akishev’s submission attempts from the bottom, he should get the better of the action and perhaps even find a way to submit his less-renowned opponent.

Other key bouts: Eldar Eldarov (12-1) vs. Leonardo Mafra (15-5) for the 165-pound title, Ali Bagautinov (18-7) vs. Oleg Lichkovakha (15-4), Abdysalam Uulu Kubanychiev (16-3) vs. Jahongir Saidjamolov (14-4), Murtaza Talha Ali (1-0) vs. Dmitriy Krivulets (4-1), Zhyrgalbek Chomonov (9-0) vs. Konstantin Erokhin (9-4), Gamzat Khiramagomedov (9-1) vs. Rustam Chsiev (3-2), Alexander Keshtov (9-1) vs. Bair Shtepin (9-3)

The Best of the Rest

Angel’s Fighting Championship 15: Jae Young Kim (25-13) vs. Jong Hwan Lee (1-1) for the middleweight title

Natal Fight Championship 18: Anderson Queiroz (20-8) vs. Arthur Lima (7-1)

Federal Fight 3: Laura Fontoura (4-0) vs. Tayná Lamounier (3-2) for the women’s flyweight title

In Hindsight
Last Week’s Scorecard
Fight Prediction Outcome
Priya Saini vs. Monika Kiran Ghag at Soul of Warriors 2 Ghag by knockout Ghag by decision
Nathen Arriaga vs. Logan Neal at Valor Fighting Challenge 77 Arriaga by decision Neal by split decision

Ghag couldn’t get the predicted TKO finish over Saini, but she did as expected by consistently scoring takedowns and pounding away on her young opponent. Ghag was particularly fond of headlock takedowns that she converted into crucifix-style top positions. Saini was fortunate to survive to the final bell while frequently prone to undefended ground-and-pound flurries…Arriaga and Neal engaged in a close affair, but Arriaga just missed out on the predicted decision win. The nod ultimately went Neal’s way, but the judges were split on the outcome…There were no“Best of the Rest” selections in last week’s preview.