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…
Event Date: May 21
Watch Event: UFC Fight Pass
Josh Fremd (7-1) vs. Gregory Rodrigues (8-3)
The Legacy Fighting Alliance’s 108th offering includes a number of promising up-and-comers, but the spotlight shines brightest on two middleweight title hopefuls who have advanced to the company’s middleweight tournament final. The vacant belt will be on the line in the evening’s headliner when Josh Fremd clashes with Gregory Rodrigues.
The 27-year-old Fremd followed up a lengthy — and mostly successful — amateur run by turning pro in 2017 and scoring victories in his first two appearances. After a Bellator win over Ryan Parker in his sophomore outing, Fremd stumbled under the Pinnacle FC banner in a decision loss to Robert Gidron. The American has been perfect ever since, though. He added a submission victory over Andre Hall and a split nod against Travis Davis to close out his 2018 campaign. After more than a year and a half away from action, the Factory X Muay Thai disciple returned in 2020 with the LFA. In his promotional debut, he disposed of Lamar Gosey via strikes in just 86 seconds. His encore performance was another first-round TKO, this time of Antonio Jones at LFA 93. Fremd then tacked on a first-round stoppage of Bruno Oliveira in the tourney semifinals to open his 2021 campaign. He is a proven finisher with both his fists and his grappling skills. His current tally of victories includes four knockouts and two submissions.
Brazil’s Rodrigues has already made a stop in Dana White’s Contenders Series in addition to two LFA appearances. The 29-year-old got off to a rough start to his pro career in 2014 with losses in two of his first three contests. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace has since recovered to go 6-1, with his only loss coming in that Contender Series outing against Jordan Williams. Now based out of Florida, the former training partner of Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza literally punched his way into this tournament final berth with a second-round knockout of Al Matavao in March.
The 6-foot-4 Fremd is a strong fighter in the clinch. He can bully his opponent and land vicious knees, such as the ones that floored Gosey. Fremd also carries plenty of power in his hands, as evidenced in his finishes of Jones and Oliveira. He was a slow starter earlier in his pro career, but the swiftness of his LFA finishes suggest that he’s overcome this issue.
Fremd won’t be overwhelmed by an aggressive grappler, and he scrambles well. However, the key to securing a win over the Pennsylvania native seems to be a combination of a strong top game and solid submission defense. The aforementioned Gidron was able to take the decision over Fremd by fending off the Factory X rep’s active bottom game and maintaining control for a majority of the time that the pair fought on the ground.
Rodrigues is not just any grappler. “Robocop” is a world-champion BJJ practitioner with a trophy case full of medals. He grew up around Jacare and has since honed his skills at camps like Black House and XGym. Now, he’s based out of Sanford MMA. He’s always a threat to go for the submission, but he’s also managed to put away several opponents with strikes. He throws crisp punches and mixes in leg kicks, and he looks far more polished as a striker than most BJJ crossovers.
As good as Rodrigues is on the mat, he has still managed to lose three fights thus far in his seven years in the sport. Most notably, he’s been overwhelmed by strikes on two occasions. The first time came earlier in his career when he was stopped by Bruno Lopes in his pro debut. However, the aforementioned loss at the hands of Williams took place in September. Williams was an undersized opponent and yet still managed to drop Rodrigues with a flurry. Even Matavao, who is much shorter than the Brazilian, found ways to close the distance and connect, albeit with far less overall success.
Fremd is coming off an extremely impressive finish of another similarly tall Brazilian in Oliveira. As long as he avoids clinching up with Rodrigues, which could provide opportunities for the grappler to drag the fight into his realm, Fremd should be able to eventually floor his opponent once again and walk away with the gold.
Other key bouts: Rodney Kealohi (5-1) vs. Mark Climaco (5-0), Clayton Carpenter (3-0) vs. Nick Clem (3-1), Kathryn Paprocki (2-1) vs. Tiani Valle (3-2), Thomas Petersen (4-0) vs. Richard Foster (5-4), Ernesto Ancona (3-0) vs. Tyler Ray (7-2), Archie Colgan (1-0) vs. Keith Phathaem (2-2-1), Kenan Jackson (1-0) vs. Blayne Richards (3-1)
Event Date: May 22
Michel Silva (22-8-1) vs. Eduard Vartanyan (21-4)
While the LFA brings this weekend’s serving of up-and-coming talent, Russia’s Open Fighting Championship delivers an abundance of veterans who are still seeking a foothold in the top level of the sport. This includes Open FC 4’s headlining lightweights, Michel Silva and Eduard Vartanyan.
Brazil’s Silva checks in with more than 30 fights under his belt. “Sassarito” debuted in 2009 and won his first two fights before enduring a setback from future UFCer Alan Patrick. By the end of 2015, he had compiled a 16-3-1 mark that earned him a shot at the Jungle Fight interim lightweight strap. Silva dropped a decision to Rander Junio for the belt, but he then recorded back-to-back first-round finishes. The year 2017 brought some serious struggles for him, though, with three losses over the course of those 12 months. The 31-year-old righted the ship the following year and has now won four of his last five. His only loss in this stretch came to rising prospect Roman Bogatov.
Vartanyan lost his 2011 pro debut, but the Russian quickly established himself as a prospect with victories in his next 13 appearances. This run included a stoppage of the formerly undefeated Sergey Khandozhko and a decision nod over Benjamin Brinsa. After a rough three-fight stretch in which he won just one fight, “Lionheart” found his groove once more with a set of wins that included finishes of Márcio Breno and Alexander Sarnavskiy as well as decisions over Alexander Shabliy and Andrey Koshkin. Since a hard-fought loss to Abdul-Aziz Abdulvakhabov in 2017, Vartanyan has been perfect. Unfortunately, he’s also only had three outings since then while seeing four booked fights scrapped.
While Silva has beaten a number of respectable opponents throughout the years, his ceiling seems clear after losses to Patrick, Bogatov, Alexander Makhno and Pavel Gordeev. He showed heart against Gordeev, who almost stopped him in the first round. The Brazilian is a very lanky lightweight who will enjoy a four-inch height advantage over Vartanyan, but Gordeev proved that a shorter fighter can land regularly against him.
Silva is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, but he rarely initiates takedowns. His ground skills are criminally underutilized. This is a shame, as he demonstrated his biggest strengths on the ground in victories over Bolin Li and Khamzat Dalgiev. If he made it a priority to drag opponents to the mat, then perhaps he’d have a better winning percentage at this point in his career. Instead, Silva likes to stand and trade. However, he doesn’t always use his range effectively. He also tends to move straight back and keep his chin up, which will provide an easy target for a superior striker. Furthermore, Silva throws single punches, kicks or knees when he moves forward, rather than attacking with combinations. The punches, especially, are thrown with a looping sluggishness that leaves him open for counters.
Vartanyan does have six knockouts to his credit, but the last of these finishes came nearly five years ago. He’s relied on the judges for the majority of his more recent wins. He’s a far more polished fighter than Silva, with crisp striking, strong wrestling, and a solid clinch game. He can be taken down, but that shouldn’t be a concern against Silva. Vartanyan has also conquered a much higher level of competition than his upcoming adversary.
Gordeev provided an excellent blueprint that Vartanyan can follow here: surge in, land combinations, and get out. Silva will have a hard time countering this approach. In addition, Vartanyan can catch Silva’s kicks and dump the Brazilian to the mat. The Russian just has to avoid following Silva to the canvas and getting lured into a grappling battle, which is one area where Silva can shine. If Vartanyan plays it smart, he should outwork Silva and maybe even clip the taller man a few times en route to a decision victory.
Other key bouts: Marif Piraev (28-4-1) vs. Salimkhan Sadulloev (8-4), Bruno Roverso (16-5) vs. Aleksandr Grozin (15-3-1) for the featherweight title, Alexander Stolyarov (25-8) vs. Ramis Teregulov (18-7-1), Evgeny Erokhin (21-7) vs. Vladimir Seliverstov (12-2), Artur Malkhasyan (6-1) vs. Fazliddin Obidov (5-1), Atsamaz Gogichaev (5-0) vs. Artur Soloviev (5-4), Valodya Ayvazyan (8-2) vs. Radzhabmurod Ibodov (2-1)
Event Date: May 23
Watch Event: YouTube
Alexander Vertko (10-1) vs. Aboubakar Tounkara (6-1)
The third event from Germany’s National Fighting Championship initially featured a compelling fight for undefeated female flyweight Mandy Böhm. However, with that fight now scrapped, we’ll turn our attention to a lightweight showdown between Alexander Vertko and Aboubakar Tounkara.
The 25-year-old Vertko has suffered just one loss through 11 fights. He made his pro turn in late 2014 and won his first two bouts. He suffered his lone setback when he collided with veteran Andrey Mitrofanov and succumbed to a kneebar. Vertko quickly returned to his winning ways and now enjoys an active eight-fight winning streak. His strength of schedule could use some work, though, as he has padded his record with wins over two opponents with losing records, including one who was winless through four fights at the time of their encounter. Vertko has a balanced resume that includes three knockouts and two submissions.
Tounkara hails from France. The 31-year-old has been competing professionally since 2016, but he only has seven pro bouts to his credit. He won his first five fights, including four by stoppage, before a knee injury led to a TKO loss for him in his clash with David Tonatiuh Crol. Tounkara has since rebounded with yet another finish, this one coming under the Brave Combat Federation banner against rookie competitor Marvin Belecciu.
Vertko is an explosive striker who will launch flying knees without telegraphing his intent. On the ground, he’s content to work in his opponent’s guard and land ground-and-pound strikes. He has a strong top game and scrambles well when on bottom, but he can be taken down and put in trouble on his back. Mikail Bayram was on his way to a decision victory over Vertko in Vertko’s most recent fight before an illegal strike gave Vertko the disqualification win. Vertko’s previous performance against 10-fight veteran Anatoli Baar provided some support for Vertko’s classification as a legitimate prospect, though. He rocked Baar early in the fight and opened a cut on his foe. His inability to finish the fight is a testament to Baar’s own toughness.
Tounkara is a very physical and strong fighter. On the feet, he’ll throw powerful kicks aimed at his opponent’s head. However, his ultimate goal is to destroy his foe on the mat. The French fighter will initiate the clinch and seek the body lock for the takedown, but he’s also capable of shooting a single- or double-leg takedown. He has a relentless ground-and-pound attack and often transitions to the mount or a crucifix position in order to do the most damage. He was even winning against the aforementioned Crol before a knee injury limited his mobility, therefore preventing him from scrambling out from underneath Crol and causing a stoppage between rounds.
Vertko is at his best when he can walk down his opponent and explode forward with flurries and knees. However, he whiffs on many of his punches while overcommitting. This could leave openings for Tounkara to either grab the body lock or change levels under those haymakers to convert the takedown. Meanwhile, Vertko is sloppy enough on the mat to get reversed and utterly dominated by Tounkara.
If Bayram could make life miserable for Vertko, Tounkara should have a field day here. He’s capable of tagging the Russian’s chin or bouncing a few kicks off Vertko’s head, but he’ll really excel once this fight hits the ground. It likely won’t take more than two rounds before Vertko eats a bunch of ground-and-pound strikes from Tounkara and suffers a TKO at the hands of the Frenchman.
Other key bouts: Niko Samsonidse (9-1) vs. Mohammed Trabelsi (10-5) for the featherweight title, Khurshed Kakhorov (6-0) vs. Sylvain Sommereisen (8-5), Alexander Poppeck (11-3) vs. Felix Polianidis (6-3), Alexander Luster (4-0) vs. Markus Bock (3-0), Marc Doussis (6-0) vs. Georg Bilogrevic (1-1), Chakir Haj Haddou (7-0) vs. Sylwester Hasny (7-8-1), Saba Bolaghi (12-2-1) vs. Taras Grytskiv (19-8), Katharina Dalisda (4-1) vs. Giulia Chinello (3-3)
Babilon MMA 22: Marcin Jabłoński (9-2) vs. Alan Langer (11-7) Watch Event: Polsat Sport (Poland)
German MMA Championship 25: Kerim Engizek (15-4) vs. Milanko Puranovic (4-6) Watch Event: german-mma.de
Sombra Fight Champions 20: Leandro da Silva (7-1) vs. Yann Lucas Ribeiro (4-0) for the bantamweight title
CDL Fight 2: Paulo Pizzo (9-2) vs. Patrizio de Souza (6-0)
|Dilano Taylor vs. Carlos Matos at Titan FC 69||Taylor by submission||Taylor by decision|
|Mihail Kotruţă vs. Giorgi Tabatadze at WWFC 19||Kotruţă by decision||Kotruţă by knockout|
|Hayato Ishii vs. Yasuyuki Nojiri at Shooto 2021 Vol. 3||Nojiri by knockout||Fight ended in a draw|
Taylor, who has secured all his wins either in the first round or on the scorecards, failed to break this trend against Matos and find the predicted late submission. Instead, he utilized grinding clinch work to once again lock up a decision victory while capturing Titan’s welterweight crown…Kotruţă didn’t need the judges after all. He was able to stop Tabatadze with strikes…Nojiri’s power wasn’t enough against Ishii, as the two men fought to a draw…”Best of the Rest” selection Kamuela Kirk claimed a stoppage victory over Daniel Swain at LFA 107. Meanwhile, Alexandre Cirne notched a decision win, Chris Curtis scored a third-round stoppage, and Fernando Padilla claimed the Fury FC featherweight crown with a finish.