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…
Sam Creasey (13-3) vs. Aaron Aby (11-3-1)
Britain’s Cage Warriors organization is set for another big weekend, which leads to this special edition of Out of Obscurity. The company has turned to trilogy shows since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s back with its fourth such event this week, spanning from Thursday through Saturday. We’ll take a look at one bout from each night of action.
The first of these shows, the 123rd chapter in the Cage Warriors series, takes place on Thursday and features a pair of intriguing bouts near the top of the docket. In the headliner, Nathias Frederick seeks to defend his middleweight crown against Matthew Bonner. Meanwhile, the organization works toward crowning a new flyweight champion with a four-man tournament. The semifinals extend across the first two shows of the trilogy, with the finals to follow at a later date. The first night’s tourney bout is a gem between Sam Creasey and Aaron Aby.
England’s Creasey debuted in 2014 and won his first five fights before becoming a Cage Warriors fixture. The 33-year-old has now appeared in 11 bouts, including two flyweight championship affairs, with the organization. He’s had some tough luck when fighting for the gold. He earned his first shot at the belt following a 4-1 run with the company, but he succumbed to a ground-and-pound onslaught in the third round against Nathan Greyson. After rebounding with back-to-back wins, he fought for the vacant strap and again fell to strikes in the third frame, this time against Samir Faiddine. Creasey has added another pair of victories to his record and gained entry into the flyweight tourney to fill the throne vacated by Jake Hadley, who departed in an effort to make it into the UFC. Creasey has five wins each by knockout and submission, but he appears vulnerable to strikes, which have accounted for two of his three professional setbacks.
Aby debuted one year earlier in 2013. The Welshman has been a journeyman throughout his career, and this will mark his first appearance under the Cage Warriors banner. He went just 3-2 across his first five contests, but he has since put together a commendable 8-1-1 run in which his lone loss came to Andy Young on the scorecards. In late 2019, Aby fought to a draw with Daryl Grant, who entered the fight with just a 4-3 career mark. Aby’s most notable win came in his most recent appearance when he decisioned Mohamed Gamal, a 7-1 prospect, in a fight in Dubai. Aby tends to either submit his opponent or go the distance. He, too, has fallen due to strikes.
Aby has an amazingly inspirational backstory. He was born with Cystic Fibrosis, a condition that can shorten a person’s lifespan while also impacting their respiratory and digestive systems. In addition, he has battled and overcome cancer. Despite all of his health problems, Aby has still managed to become a legitimate prospect in MMA, which is quite the achievement.
Creasey is a well-rounded fighter. He moves well on the feet, bouncing in and out to land combinations and circling away when his opponent attacks. The Brit has fast hands and a healthy dose of power for a 125-pounder. He mixes in kicks and throws knees when in the clinch. While he’s perfectly happy to stand with his foes, Creasey has strong takedowns, especially from the body lock, and excellent grappling. He can be taken down, but opponents struggle to keep him on the canvas for very long.
Creasey was a victim of tough luck in both of his previous title bids. The Brit was not dominated by any means in these fights. Actually, he was arguably up two rounds to none in each bout when the tide turned swiftly against him. He had scored numerous takedowns against Greyson, but Greyson was able to reverse a takedown attempt from Creasey in the third frame and land with a series of ground-and-pound elbows to end the contest. Faiddine kept the first two rounds much closer against Creasey. In the third stanza, Faiddine connected during an exchange and staggered Creasey, who went down and was quickly finished.
Aby and Creasey have several common opponents. They both fought Young, but only Creasey defeated the .500ish fighter. Creasey stopped Connor Hignett, whereas Aby barely squeaked by with the split nod. Both men submitted Sam Halliday in the first round. While it’s a small sample size, the results certainly lean in Creasey’s favor. Their performances against Young, in particular, are indicative of the talent gap between Creasey and Aby. Creasey had far more success in implementing his game against the scrappy veteran, whereas Aby was outstruck and had numerous takedown attempts stuffed.
Aby looked far better against Gamal in his most recent outing. Gamal had no answer for Aby’s takedowns early in the contest. The Welsh fighter was able to use level changes and trips to get Gamal to the mat in the first round. He cannot count on the same success rate with these techniques against Creasey, though. The Brit is far stronger and has solid takedown defense. In addition, Gamal had his own moments in their fight, forcing Aby to work hard to get the decision win.
Despite his two title losses, Creasey looks to be nearly UFC ready. Aby is not quite at this same level. Aby’s strengths lie in his grappling game, but Creasey is too well versed in this area to get caught in a submission. Instead, the two-time title challenger should advance to another championship affair after utilizing a combination of superior striking and wrestling to get the better of Aby.
Other key bouts: Nathias Frederick (9-2-1) vs. Matthew Bonner (9-6-1) for the middleweight title, Christian Leroy Duncan (3-0) vs. Will Currie (5-1), Emrah Sonmez (11-3) vs. Liam Gittins (6-2), Adam Cullen (1-0) vs. Josh Plant (2-4), Manny Akpan (3-0) vs. Keir Harvie (3-1)
Agy Sardari (14-2) vs. Joe McColgan (7-3-1)
The second night of Cage Warriors festivities logs in as the 124th show for the company. As with the first evening of action, this show includes a flyweight tournament semifinal — former champ Luke Shanks clashes with Nicolas Leblond — as well as a title fight. In this case, it’s the title affair that demands the most attention. It pits reigning lightweight kingpin Agy Sardari against Joe McColgan.
Sardari entered Cage Warriors in late 2020 and immediately fought for the belt. He squeaked by Jack Grant to claim the crown and then defended it against Donovan Desmae. Both of the Dutch fighter’s title contests ended in split verdicts, however, so he is far from a dominant champion. Prior to his time in the British promotion, Sardari’s biggest fight took place for Shooto in Japan, where he barely topped current Rizin featherweight kingpin Yutaka Saito. “The Wolverine” has otherwise encountered low-level competition. He has never been stopped as a pro, but he did drop decisions to Hubert Geven and Islam Khapilaev. Sardari has tallied four knockout wins and six submissions.
McColgan is known as “The SBG Hunter” thanks to amateur victories over members of the famed gym and a stunning early pro win over Peter Queally. As well as he has performed against SBG representatives, the Irish fighter has had an up-and-down pro career overall since his late 2015 debut. His big win over Queally was followed by a split-decision loss to Arnold Quero in McColgan’s Cage Warriors debut. He added a pair of victories over quality opposition, only to be knocked back down a peg by future UFCer Jai Herbert. After going undefeated through his next three appearances, the Irishman was once again put away by a future UFC fighter in Mason Jones. McColgan has since added a win to put himself back in contention following the departure of the aforementioned Jones.
Sardari has a solid striking arsenal that’s heavy on kicks. He’s a persistent wrestler, too. However, he can sometimes struggle to score offense on the mat. He’ll far too often back out of top position and let his opponent stand up. When the Dutch fighter is more determined, though, he can transition well and dominate his foe. He’s made a habit of just barely edging strong competition, a trend illustrated by his close wins over Saito, Grant and Desmae. His slow starts and grinding approach contribute to the close nature of these affairs.
In terms of skills, McColgan didn’t look out of his league against Herbert or Jones, both of whom have gone on to fight inside the UFC Octagon. His chin just couldn’t stand up to their power. The Irishman is a tall, lanky fighter. He’s savvy in both striking and grappling. He’ll be most vulnerable in striking exchanges, where the aforementioned future UFC fighters were both able to tag him.
Sardari won’t run away with fights against the level of talent he sees nowadays. However, he was able to walk down Grant, neutralizing the promotional star’s offense while gradually scoring more frequently with his own strikes. It remained a close fight to the very end, but it demonstrated just how frustrating Sardari can be for an opponent. He has good takedown defense and the ability to avoid submissions, even against a skilled grappler like Grant.
Sardari’s approach in his last two fights was to slowly chip away at his opponent, allowing the damage to add up over five rounds. We could see more of the same from “The Wolverine” here. The champ has fallen in love with kickboxing and won’t often go for the takedown unless he’s in trouble. McColgan could make an easier target than Sardari’s last two opponents, but the titleholder’s slow starts suggest that this one could make it into at least the third round. After McColgan’s win over Queally, he cannot be taken lightly, but Sardari’s approach should lead to a late knockout victory and a successful title defense.
Other key bouts: Jesse Urholin (6-0) vs. Aaron Khalid (10-6-1), Steve Aimable (15-8) vs. Edward Walls (10-5), Luke Shanks (7-2) vs. Nicolas Leblond (6-3), David Bear (9-1) vs. Justin Burlinson (5-0), Nathan Fletcher (5-0) vs. Brain Bouland (10-3), Jean N’Doye (9-2) vs. Harry Hardwick (6-3), George Hardwick (6-1) vs. Dean Trueman (10-6), Dylan Hazan (5-0) vs. Josh Reed (11-5)
Ian Garry (6-0) vs. Jack Grant (17-6)
The big weekend for Cage Warriors closes out with its 125th event on Saturday. This one has a clear front-runner when it comes to fights to watch. That would be the battle for the vacant welterweight title that features the undefeated upstart Ian Garry against 23-fight veteran Jack Grant.
Ireland’s Garry is a top up-and-comer with an unblemished mark through six pro fights. “The Future” debuted in early 2019 with a decision nod over James Sheehan at Cage Warriors 101. He returned later that same year to hand Matteo Ceglia his first pro defeat. Garry has gone on to add four more victories to his record while extending his streak of stoppages to five. His most notable win came in his most recent outing when he dropped UFC veteran Rostem Akman with a head kick.
The 29-year-old Grant has been a fixture on the British circuit since 2012. He spent time in BAMMA and already holds a 5-2 mark under the Cage Warriors banner, where his only losses came in previous lightweight title bids opposite future UFCer Jai Herbert and current champ Agy Sardari. The Asylum Vale Tudo representative seems particularly susceptible to strikes, as seen in his losses to Herbert, Dez Parker and Jack McGann. However, he’s also a very efficient finisher in his own right, with seven knockouts and nine submission finishes on his resume. Following the loss to Sardari, Grant moved up to welterweight and submitted Madars Fleminas via anaconda choke.
Grant turned in valiant efforts in his fights with Herbert and Sardari. However, Herbert was able to expose the biggest flaws in Grant’s otherwise well-rounded game. Grant’s lack of head movement allowed for plenty of Herbert’s strikes to land. Grant displayed a solid chin, but the damage mounted by the third round and led to a gassed Grant who could no longer effectively score takedowns or maintain top control the few times he did drag Herbert to the mat.
Obviously, Herbert was good enough to go on to the UFC. Against most opponents, Grant has looked far better and more confident on the feet and often racks up points with kicks and knees. This also allows him to use his wrestling and grappling to far better results. He combined all aspects of his game to score first-round finishes of Aleksi Mäntykivi and Yassine Belhadj, plus a second-round stoppage of Fleminas. He almost beat Sardari as well in a war of attrition.
Grant has spent much of his career at lightweight, but he’s occasionally jumped up to the welterweight division. He suffered an early career knockout loss to the aforementioned Parker at 170 pounds, but his return to the weight class against Fleminas went far better. Garry, who is undefeated but inexperienced, will be another interesting match-up for Grant.
Garry is a truly special talent. The youngster rarely gets in trouble in fights. When he does, he recovers well and shows a level of composure far beyond his years or experience level. At 6-foot-3, he’s a big and long welterweight who could potentially shift to the middleweight division in the years to come. He has snapping low kicks that can sweep the feet out from under his opponent, but he’s also capable of delivering big head kicks, as Akman discovered in their fight. Garry does well at maintaining distance to land his strikes while not taking much damage. He has excellent takedown defense and grappling as well. He can beat his opponents in a stand-up war, submit them, or dominate with ground-and-pound from the top position.
Grant is going to have his hands full in this one. The two-time former lightweight title challenger is a solid member of the Cage Warriors roster, but Garry has thus far lived up to his moniker as “The Future” and appears poised for a UFC call-up. Grant will give up size and length to the youngster, which will leave him at a severe disadvantage on the feet. Grant’s most promising route to a victory comes on the mat, where he might be able to lock in a submission. However, Garry is no slouch on the ground. In fact, he might be even more likely to secure a submission or ground-and-pound stoppage if this fight hits the canvas. In reality, there’s really no area that truly favors Grant, who might just have the misfortune of once again playing the role of stepping stone for a future UFC talent. Garry likely finishes this one with his fists.
Other key bouts: Gerardo Fanny (9-2) vs. Connor Hignett (9-6), James Hendin (5-1) vs. Paull McBain (6-1), Connor Wilson (1-0) vs. Ciaran Mulholland (0-2), Tobias Harila (9-1) vs. William Gomis (6-2)
Shooto GIG Tokyo Vol. 30: Tateo Iino (14-7-1) vs. Jo Arai (7-9-2)
Fight Exclusive Night 35: LOTOS Fight Night 6: Kamil Kraska (6-1) vs. Jose Barrios Vargas (11-2) Watch Event: pay-per-view stream at fenmma.tv
Pancrase 322: Tatsuki Ozaki (9-7) vs. Keito Yamakita (4-0)
Last Week’s Scorecard
Maxim Butorin vs. Makhmud Gaziev at AMC Fight Nights 102
Gaziev by decision
Butorin by knockout
Jesse Arnett vs. Ray Borg at UAE Warriors 20
Arnett by submission
Borg by decision
Reina Miura vs. Yoko Higashi at Deep 101 Impact
Miura by knockout
Higashi by decision
You can’t always get them right, right?…Gaziev did find some success with his wrestling in a back-and-forth first round, but Butorin stuffed his first takedown attempt early in round two and wore away on Gaziev for several minutes with ground-and-pound strikes for the TKO finish…Borg proved to be too much for Arnett. The New Mexican outworked his Canadian foe for a decision nod in a competitive affair…Higashi shocked Miura in their fight, outpointing “King” en route to a decision victory…”Best of the Rest” selections Shamil Zavurov, Alejandro Flores, Kuat Khamitov and Felipe Maia scored stoppage victories.
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