Rob Wilkinson (R) (Teemu Siikarla/European Fighting Challenge)

Out of Obscurity: Naiza FC 30, Hex Fight Series 21 and AMC Fight Nights 100

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…


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Naiza Fighting Championship 30
Almaty, Kazakhstan
Event Date: April 9
Website: VK/NFC

Spotlight Fight:
Azamat Bakytov (6-0) vs. Ramazan Mustafaev (5-0)

Kazakhstan isn’t exactly known as an epicenter of MMA action, but it serves as the host for one of the bigger regional shows of the coming weekend. Naiza Fighting Championship is set for its 30th event, with a headlining affair for the interim featherweight crown. However, it’s a lightweight fight further down the lineup that really catches the eye thanks to the presence of two undefeated upstarts. Those men are Azamat Bakytov and Ramazan Mustafaev.

Bakytov is the native son in this fight. The Almaty resident made his pro debut in 2015 and won three fights before taking a two-year hiatus from competition. Upon his 2018 return, he resumed his winning ways. However, he’s still averaging just one fight per year. His best opponent thus far has been Boris Medvedev, whom Bakytov outpointed for a decision under the M-1 Challenge banner. It was by far his most high-profile appearance. “Massaget” has stopped all of his remaining foes.

Mastafaev is a 23-year-old Dagestani fighter based out of Moscow. He debuted in late 2018 with a 79-second stoppage of fellow rookie combatant Danierbek Abdukadirov. The Universal Fighters product has since added an additional four wins to his resume, all via stoppage. His best opponent thus far had a .500 mark. He has otherwise beaten three rookies and one winless foe.

Bakytov is a strong grappler who will take chances on the mat. He did well off his back against Stanislav Reutskiy in his pro debut before finishing the 2-1 fighter with a head kick. In his second fight, Bakytov also gave up position while seeking a kimura that he eventually converted for the submission finish. Despite his grappling chops, opponents should not overlook his striking abilities. Bakytov has sneaky one-punch knockout power.

Mustafaev relies more heavily on his striking. He chopped the legs out from under Lochinbek Geniev in his sophomore appearance and has two additional finishes via strikes. In an exhibition outing, he was submitted via rear-naked choke. His ground game could be a weakness here.

These fighters are both in need of tougher tests, and that makes this the perfect launching point for a more significant run for the winner. Bakytov’s ability to dominate opponents on the ground should play a major factor in the outcome of this contest. The Kazakh fighter won’t be as apt to absorb Mustafaev’s leg kicks before catching one of them and converting it into a takedown. On the canvas, Bakytov should have his way with Mustafaev en route to a submission victory.

Other key bouts: Kanybek Janybek Uulu (10-7) vs. Nikolay Samusev (6-0) for the interim featherweight title, Abdulla Isaev (5-1) vs. Sukhrob Rakhimbekov (7-5), Magomed Ibragimov (11-2) vs. Olzhas Eskaraev (8-4), Rufani Valiev (4-0) vs. Denis Mutsnek (12-8), Aset Anarbaev (4-0) vs. Islam Agiev (2-0), Bahromjon Mashrapov (2-0) vs. Vasiliy Pissarskas (2-0), Arsen Balyants (12-3) vs. Raimbek Orinbay (5-2)

Hex Fight Series 21
Melbourne Pavillion in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Event Date: April 9
Website: hexfightseries.com
Watch Event: Fite TV pay-per-view stream via Combat Press
Twitter: @hexfs

Spotlight Fight:
Rob Wilkinson (12-2) vs. Daniel Almeida (9-6)

Australia’s Hex Fight Series returns on Friday with its 21st edition. The show includes two title fights and showcases UFC veteran Rob Wilkinson. Wilkinson will compete for the light-heavyweight title in a clash with Daniel Almeida.

Wilkinson has spent much of his career, including his UFC tenure, at middleweight. He had the misfortune of meeting the formidable duo of Siyar Bahadurzada and eventual UFC champ Israel Adesanya in his two Octagon appearances. Needless to say, Wilkinson did not fare well in either affair. Prior to his time with the UFC, though, the Aussie had compiled a perfect 11-0 mark since his 2011 debut. Once he departed the UFC, he took a detour into the realm of kickboxing and won two fights. He returned to MMA in late 2019 and added his 12th career win with a first-round submission of fellow UFC castoff Dylan Andrews. Wilkinson has seven submission victories and four knockouts on his resume. He suffered both of his losses via stoppage due to strikes.

Brazil’s Almeida might share the “Jacare” moniker with Ronaldo Souza, but he has found far less success than his counterpart in combat. The 15-fight veteran is just three fights above the .500 mark. He debuted in 2006, but his second outing didn’t come until nearly three years later. He has had several other multi-year gaps in his record, and this will be his first MMA appearance in nearly two years. Almeida did at one point suffer through a three-fight skid that included a loss to UFC fixture Sam Alvey. He has also spent plenty of time in the middleweight division, but he’s fought more frequently than Wilkinson at light heavyweight.

Almeida’s one similarity to the other “Jacare” is his love for submissions. The Australian-based Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt has tapped six of his opponents. Meanwhile, he, too, has struggled to hold up against the striking attacks of his foes. Almeida has suffered four of his defeats by some form of knockout, while the remaining two losses came on the scorecards.

Wilkinson is a borderline UFC talent who caught a bad break in having to fight Bahadurzada and Adesanya on the big stage. He does his best work when he can back up his opponent to the cage and search for the takedown. He found success in this area against both of his UFC adversaries. However, that success was limited. He had to work extra hard for each takedown, and the time on the ground was brief. His energy expenditure cost him, too. He faded in both UFC appearances and suffered second-round losses where he was overwhelmed by his opponent’s stand-up attack.

Almeida may have more time spent above the 185-pound weight class, but he’s going to give up a tremendous amount of height — and, presumably, reach — to Wilkinson. The Aussie stands 6-foot-3 to Almeida’s 5-foot-8. Wilkinson’s foray into kickboxing also suggests that he’s worked on the parts of his game that cost him his UFC roster spot. Almeida is a flat-footed striker who can be picked apart on the feet, and perhaps Wilkinson now has the tools to properly use his reach in this scenario.

Wilkinson simply has to avoid engaging in a grappling match with Almeida. While Wilkinson is good on the ground and has never been submitted, he’d be taking a risk if he goes to the mat with the Brazilian. If Wilkinson can stick to kickboxing here, he should be able to dismantle his opponent and notch a TKO by the middle rounds of the contest.

Other key bouts: Ricky Biechun (4-1) vs. Sam Kei (7-5) for the heavyweight title, Abdullah Eltigani (1-0) vs. Chris Wase (6-4-1)

AMC Fight Nights 100
DS Luzhniki in Moscow
Event Date: April 10
Website: YouTube/AMC Fight Nights

Spotlight Fight:
Nariman Abbasov (25-3) vs. Shamil Amirov (4-1-1)

The 100th effort from AMC Fight Nights, formerly known as Fight Nights Global, is the biggest regional show of the weekend. It features a deep lineup and two title bouts, including Nariman Abbasov’s defense of his lightweight crown against Shamil Amirov.

Abbasov has a head-turning 25-3 mark. The Azerbaijani fighter debuted in 2013 and scored wins in his first three contests. He then suffered back-to-back losses. He rebounded with 12 straight victories, including a decision nod over seasoned veteran Alexander Butenko. Abbasov suffered another setback in late 2016 when he dropped a decision to the undefeated Magomedsaygid Alibekov, but a lengthy winning streak followed. Abbasov is now up to 10 consecutive victories. In 2019, he claimed the FNG crown with a decision nod over Kuat Khamitov. He has since defended the belt with a second-round submission of Mikhail Gogitidze, whom he had already beaten once before.

The length of Amirov’s resume pales in comparison. The title challenger has only six contests under his belt. The Russian debuted with FNG in 2016 and won his first three pro outings. His victims included veteran Konstantin Veselkin and the previously unbeaten Vladimir Palchenkov. These wins earned Amirov a step up in competition. He fought to a split draw with UFC castoff Rousimar Palhares and lost to Yasubey Enomoto via strikes. Amirov returned to the win column with a 2019 win over Arsen Batyrov, but his next appearance, a bid for the FNG welterweight belt, ended in a no-contest.

Amirov has now been the victim of two controversial outcomes. His fight with Palhares was originally ruled a victory for the prospect, but upon review was changed to a draw. Meanwhile, his welterweight title fight against Dmitry Bikrev went from a stoppage to a no-contest after review. Bikrev appeared to be down when Amirov landed the fight-ending knee. Despite these unfortunate rulings, the Russian has quickly demonstrated his ability to hang with tough competition. Palhares, while no longer the force he once was, can still be lethal on the mat. Bikrev and Palchenkov also stand as legitimate competition for the Krepost Fight Club talent.

The fight between Amirov and Palhares turned sloppy by the third frame, with both fighters completely exhausted. However, the southpaw survived numerous submission attempts from the UFC vet and initially claimed the split decision. His freestyle wrestling background allowed him to take the Brazilian down repeatedly, but he also showed the smarts to avoid grappling with Palhares until near the end of the fight. Against less-dangerous grapplers like Bikrev and Batyrov, Amirov stuck to his wrestling base and smothered his competition. He prefers to get a body lock and ride his opponent from this wrestling-based position.

Abbasov makes for yet another tough fight for Amirov. This is no padded 25-3 mark. Abbasov has seen a number of established veteran foes and almost always comes out on top. However, the aforementioned Khamitov proved that Abbasov can be taken down and controlled on the mat. Abbasov made adjustments between rounds, though, and did better as the fight progressed.

Abbasov swings for the fences. He has a solid wrestling skill set of his own, but he’s far more likely than Amirov to want this fight on the feet. Amirov probably doesn’t want to test Abbasov’s power. Instead, he’ll seek to use Abbasov’s lunging flurries as an opportunity to change levels and bring the fight to the mat. Abbasov can scramble well, but Amirov is more than capable of controlling him on the ground. The real question will be how well Amirov handles his first cut to lightweight. Assuming all goes well in the weight department, Amirov should be the bigger, stronger fighter and use this to his advantage in out-wrestling Abbasov for a decision win.

Other key bouts: Dmitry Bikrev (12-3) vs. Goity Dazaev (10-2-1) for the welterweight title, Kirill Kryukov (9-2-1) vs. Nurullo Aliev (5-0), Akop Stepanyan (27-11) vs. Roman Silagadze (4-1-1), Nabi Ashurlaev (4-0) vs. Gleb Khabibulin (4-1-1), Gadzhimurad Amirzhanov (1-0) vs. Aleksandr Grebnev (5-3), Vladimir Alekseev (8-1) vs. Magomedgadzhi Sirazhudinov (8-1), Pavel Ardyshev (5-1) vs. Wahid Najand (5-1), Anzor Chakaev (3-0) vs. Ruslan Khairulin (10-3), Dordzhi Daraev (2-0) vs. Lenar Suleymanov (7-4), Shamil Yakhyaev (6-0) vs. Omar Gadzhiev (5-1), Vadem Suleymanov (4-0) vs. Tagir Magomedov (2-1), Vagab Vagabov (27-1-1) vs. Eder de Souza (17-6)

The Best of the Rest

European Fight Masters Challenge Show: Michał Pasternak (14-5) vs. Maciej Różański (12-3) Watch Event: pay-per-view stream at efmshow.com

Arena Global 11: Angelo Lomboni (5-0-1) vs. Rodrigo Freitas (9-5)

Fight Nation Championship: Armagedon 4 Finals: Adriana Vukovic (3-0) vs. Gulnazik Omorova (3-0)

Kingdom Professional Fight: Selection V: Rizvan Abuev (10-3) vs. Ilya Cherkashin (6-0) for the bantamweight title

In Hindsight
Last Week’s Scorecard
Fight Prediction Outcome
Ali Bagautinov vs. Dustin Ortiz at Brave CF 50 Bagautinov by decision Bagautinov by decision
Zulkarnaiyn Kamchybekov vs. Jesse Smith at CFFC 95 Kamchybekov by knockout Kamchybekov by knockout
Brok Weaver vs. Alexander Barahona at iKON 6 Weaver by decision Weaver by decision

This was one of those rare instances where last week’s predictions were spot on, right down to the method of victory for all three fights…Ortiz continued his career-long trend as a tough opponent, but Bagautinov did just enough in the wrestling and grappling realms to edge his fellow UFC veteran and advance in Brave’s flyweight tournament…Kamchybekov bided his time in searching for the finish while getting the better of Smith on the feet. He connected on a head kick in the second frame that floored Smith and spelled the beginning of the end for the formerly undefeated prospect, who eventually succumbed to the subsequent ground-and-pound barrage from Kamchybekov…Weaver, who now trains with American Top Team, dominated Barahona with takedowns and ground-and-pound from top position en route to a unanimous verdict…”Best of the Rest” selection Solomon Renfro scored a stoppage, while Motonobu Tezuka and Seiji Akao earned decision nods.