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…
Kevin Szaflarski (9-1) vs. Filip Stawowy (7-1)
Poland’s Babilon MMA might not be quite as widely known as KSW, the country’s other big MMA organization, but the league does house plenty of solid prospects of its own. The heavyweight division can always use fresh up-and-comers, and two such men will be on display at Babilon’s 19th show when Kevin Szaflarski clashes with Filip Stawowy.
The 26-year-old Szaflarski has suffered just one loss through 10 professional outings, and that setback came in his debut fight. The 6-foot-6 big man has been perfect ever since, with a streak of nine victories that includes eight first-round finishes. He has found success both with his fists and his grappling skills. His strength of schedule could be better, though, as he’s beaten two rookies, a pair of .500 fighters, and two men who have severe losing marks. Szaflarski’s most notable victories came against Yuriy Protzenko, who was 17-10-1 at the time, and Luiz Fernando de Lima, a 6-1 fighter that took Szaflarski the distance.
Stawowy, 24, won his first two pro bouts by stoppage before tasting defeat in a 2018 split-decision loss to Filip Toe, who was 3-2 heading into that affair. The 6-foot-2 heavyweight has since rebounded with another five wins. He gets the job done with his fists and has yet to record a submission victory. “Czolg” also has had a weak schedule that tops out with a 3-1 fighter in Konrad Dziczek. Stawowy will give up four inches in height and more than six inches in reach to Szaflarski.
Szaflarski leverages his size well in the clinch and in fending off takedowns. The Renzo Gracie Academy representative’s striking game is adequate, but he’s often far too content to stand with opponents. He was never in any real trouble against de Lima on the feet, but he would likely have found more success and perhaps even a stoppage if he had tried to bring the fight to the mat more often. However, he was able to chip away at the Brazilian with punches and leg kicks while getting in a few moments on the ground as well. If the young heavyweight can bring the fight down, then it opens up opportunities for him to showcase his submission grappling or simply destroy his opponent with ground-and-pound flurries.
Stawowy wants no part of the ground game. Even if he lands in top position, his first instinct is often to back out and let his opponent return to their feet. He will attack with ground-and-pound, however, if he doesn’t think his opponent is a submission threat. Stawowy is a brawler who wants to swing haymakers at his opponent, but he doesn’t appear to possess one-punch knockout power. He has surprisingly solid takedown defense that allows him to keep the fight in his preferred realm. He sometimes charges his opponent wildly, though, and he tends to keep his hands low. This style has been effective thus far against low-level competition, but it leaves him with plenty of holes as he progresses to tougher opponents.
Stawowy is likely to present a similar, albeit more difficult, match-up to what de Lima offered against Szaflarski. Given the height and reach he’s giving up, Stawowy will be intent on closing the distance while throwing looping punches. Szaflarski handled this threat perfectly against de Lima by covering up and waiting out the flurries. Meanwhile, Szaflarski can control the range, chop away at Stawowy with leg kicks, and land his jab. These guys might be finishers, but both men are tough to stop. This means fans are likely in store for a fight that goes to the scorecards, where Szaflarski will edge Stawowy for the win.
Other key bouts: Róża Gumienna (3-0) vs. Ekaterina Shakalova (3-1), Kamil Kraska (5-1) vs. Mateusz Głuch (8-6)
Danny Sabatello (9-1) vs. Da’Mon Blackshear (8-3)
UFC Fight Pass has a full docket of fight cards for this weekend to complement the UFC 258 pay-per-view. It starts on Friday with a doubleheader from two of the UFC’s top feeder organizations. Titan Fighting Championship is up first with its 67th show. The headliner is a bantamweight title clash between Danny Sabatello and Da’Mon Blackshear.
American Top Team’s Sabatello is one of the more recognizable names in this week’s preview. “The Italian Gangster” debuted in 2018 and landed in Titan FC just over a year later after picking up five victories on the smaller regional scene. Sabatello claimed a first-round finish in his Titan debut, which set up his first title bid with the company. Unfortunately, he fell short in a TKO loss to Irwin Rivera, who catapulted to the UFC with the win. Meanwhile, Sabatello rebounded with another victory under the Titan banner to set up a second crack at the promotion’s bantamweight championship. He was far more successful this time around, as he won the belt with a first-round submission of Raymond Ramos. In November, the 27-year-old appeared on Dana White’s Contender Series, where he picked up a decision win over Taylor Moore but was not given a UFC contract.
The 26-year-old Blackshear trains with Team ROC in North Carolina. After a mostly successful amateur run in which he most notably went 1-1 in a pair of fights with Tony Gravely, Blackshear made the transition to the pro ranks in early 2016. He won his first four fights, including three by way of submission. His first loss came in a split verdict against 25-fight veteran Keith Richardson in a 2017 affair. After adding another win, Blackshear made his CES MMA debut in a losing effort against Kris Moutinho. He continued his roller-coaster ride with a win that was followed by a loss to Pat Sabatini in his first Cage Fury Fighting Championships appearance. Blackshear has since tacked on submission victories in two subsequent bouts, the first of which came with CES and the latter with Bellator MMA.
Sabatello, a two-time state wrestling champion and two-time Big Ten champ for Purdue, is an aggressive wrestler. Even in his loss to Rivera, he found plenty of success with his takedown attempts in rounds one and two. The only chink in his armor came in his lack of confidence in his own striking game. He started shooting desperation takedowns as the fight went on and was easily stuffed by Rivera, who eventually threw a body kick that spelled the beginning of the end for the Chicago native. Against lesser opponents than Rivera, Sabatello has been able to absolutely dominate. He did so against Chris Johnson in his next fight after the Rivera bout, and he even turned in a 30-24 scorecard during his appearance on the Contender Series. He’s been able to convert three knockouts and four submissions as a result of his smothering style.
First and foremost, Blackshear has to keep this fight vertical. It’s where Sabatello is most vulnerable. However, Blackshear struggled in this area in the later rounds against Sabatini, who is nowhere near as aggressive with his takedowns as Sabatello will be here. If Blackshear is grounded, he’ll suffer a similar fate to Sabatello’s Contender Series foe, who was unable to get any offense going. On the feet, Blackshear utilizes a lot of movement and mixes in kicks with his punches. Unfortunately, those kicks, his best weapon, could also open him up to additional takedowns from Sabatello.
UFC President Dana White wasn’t too high on Sabatello following an absolutely dominant wrestling clinic on the Contender Series. White puts an emphasis on fighters going for the finish on the show. Sabatello couldn’t find one against Moore, but he has seven stoppage victories in his career. He’s a polished fighter who should already be in the UFC. He’ll demonstrate that once again in this clash with Blackshear. He could be motivated to prove White wrong and score a big finish, but Blackshear’s a tough out whose only setbacks have come on the scorecards. This fight will be more evidence of Sabatello’s UFC potential, but it will end in a decision rather than a highlight-reel finish for the wrestler.
Other key bouts: Muhammadjon Naimov (5-1) vs. Olivier Murad (4-0) for the featherweight title, Lewis Gonzalez (11-3) vs. Dilano Taylor (4-1), Evelyn Martins (1-0) vs. Melissa Croden (2-0), Alberto Montes (4-0) vs. Richie Santiago (8-2)
Myron Dennis (18-7) vs. Fabio Cherant (6-1)
The second half of Friday’s Fight Pass doubleheader shines a spotlight on the UFC’s premier feeder league, the Legacy Fighting Alliance. The organization is set for its 99th show. The headlining affair is a showdown for the vacant light-heavyweight crown that pits Myron Dennis against Fabio Cherant.
To say that Dennis has been around the block would be an understatement. The 31-year-old has 25 pro MMA bouts under his belt, and he’s also split his time between MMA and kickboxing over the years. The Ultimate Fighter 23 alum is a GLORY veteran who has shared the kickboxing ring with Chris Camozzi and Pavel Zhuravlev, while trading blows with Corey Anderson, Ryan Spann, Danilo Marques and Andrew Sanchez in the MMA cage. He even came out on top in a split verdict against Marques, who is now perfect through two UFC appearances. Dennis also holds a victory over UFC veteran Paul Buentello. He has fluctuated between the light-heavyweight and heavyweight divisions throughout his 11-year career.
Cherant’s resume is far more brief. He only has seven pro outings since his debut in early 2018. The 26-year-old went 4-1 as an amateur while mostly appearing under the Cage Titans banner. His pro run started in CES, where he won four straight before receiving an invite to the Contender Series. The “Water Buffalo” absorbed a flying knee from Aleksa Camur that sparked a TKO finish to dash Cherant’s chances at a UFC contract. He made his LFA debut in 2020 with a 57-second submission of Erick Murray Jr. and then returned to CES, where he topped Yu Ji on the scorecards.
Despite his forays into kickboxing, Dennis is not simply a striker. He will shoot for takedowns and work the top game, as he did against Dylan Potter at LFA 95. This has resulted in a balanced resume of six knockouts and six submission wins. Of course, his striking is a strength as well. He has punishing leg kicks and a sneaky ability to go high without warning. The Bellator veteran has struggled with consistency, though. He may hold victories over Buentello and Marques, but he’s also lost to Raphael Davis, Leo Leite and Tony Lopez, as well as .500 fighter Evan Nedd. He’s suffered through similar hardships in GLORY, where his promotional mark sits at 1-4.
Cherant is a muscular and explosive fighter who has struggled to make the light-heavyweight limit in the past. He has five submission finishes as a pro, and he found several as an amateur as well. If Dennis does go for takedowns, he’ll have to be careful not to leave his neck exposed to Cherant, who loves to look for chokes. Cherant was holding his own against Camur before eating a flying knee, so he’s never been out of his league at the pro level.
Dennis may have a vast experience edge in this contest, but his inability to win regularly is a major concern. He is 5-1 over his last six MMA bouts, though, with his only loss coming against Spann, who has gone on to find success in the UFC. Dennis doesn’t have many submission losses, but he did suffer a setback via rear-naked choke to the aforementioned Nedd. Unless Dennis chops away at the legs of his southpaw foe and stays at range, he could struggle to produce much offense here. Cherant has strong takedown defense and uses the clinch as his path to chokes, which should dissuade Dennis from taking many chances at closing the distance. Yet, it’s hard to envision Dennis, who has barely eked out two of his last three wins by split decision, coming out on top. Cherant will be patient and wait for his opportunity to sink in yet another choke. Dennis will either give him that chance or provide a grueling test that still ends with Cherant’s hand raised in a decision win.
Other key bouts: Brant Moore (8-1) vs. Ago Huskić (8-2), Fernando Padilla (12-4) vs. Nate Richardson (8-2), Cody Brundage (5-1) vs. Joseph Kropschot (4-1), Flore Hani (2-1) vs. Valerie Ann Marie Soto (3-2), Trevor Wallace (3-0) vs. Cesar Gutierrez (2-2), Darian Weeks (4-0) vs. Craig Fairley (3-4)
The Best of the Rest
Truly Grand Fighting Championship 11: Ahmed Wali Hotak (7-1) vs. Leonardo Barbosa (18-7)
Arena Global 10: Jesus Pinedo (18-5-1) vs. Elicardo Silva (7-3)
Azteca Fight League 4: Gabriel Alvarado (2-0) vs. Juan Ramon Grano Medina (6-5-1)
Eternal MMA 56: Luke Jones (6-3) vs. Jack Becker (7-2) Watch Event:UFC Fight Pass
Last Week’s Scorecard
Billy Pasulatan vs. Brando Mamana at One Pride MMA Fight Night 41
Mamana by submission
Pasulatan by knockout
Greg Shestakov vs. Walter Cogliandro at The Golden Cage 3
Cogliandro by knockout
Cogliandro by split decision
Sharapudin Magomedov vs. Alexey Shurkevich at MMA Series-25
Magomedov by knockout
Pasulatan was much more prepared for Mamana’s wrestling in the pair’s rematch, thus avoiding the predicted submission from his rival. Mamana attempted to get the champ to the mat in round one, but Pasulatan won the ensuing scramble and took Mamana’s back, where he remained for much of the round. This discouraged Mamana from going for takedowns in the second frame, which allowed Pasulatan to land a number of leg kicks before going high with a head kick that separated Mamana from consciousness…Cogliandro and Shestakov engaged in a grueling affair. The Russian ended up initiating the takedowns, but Cogliandro attacked with chokes and ground-and-pound. He couldn’t find the predicted TKO finish, but he did mount enough offense to eke out the split verdict…Magomedov’s fight with Shurkevich was scrapped from the MMA Series-25 card. Instead, Shurkevich claimed a unanimous-decision victory over Ulugbek Oskanov…”Best of the Rest” selection and UFC veteran Thiago Tavares needed less than 90 seconds to score a submission victory over Jean Carlos Liebl at Gladiator CF 54, while Terry Lemaire needed even less time to tap Isaiah Ferguson at HR MMA 117. In addition, Takeya Takemoto made a successful defense of his Gladiator bantamweight crown with a decision win over Shunichi Shimizu.
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