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…
Aaron Cañarte (6-0) vs. Alexander Barahona (12-6)
Alexander Barahona may hold a modest 12-6 pro mark, but the Mexican has become a familiar name on the regional circuit lately as a result of pairings with top prospects and UFC veterans. Well, he’s set for another one at the 27th edition of Mexico’s Ultimate Warrior Challenge. Barahona’s latest task is to derail the rise of undefeated lightweight upstart Aaron Cañarte.
Barahona debuted in 2014 and stopped his first four opponents. He ran into trouble over his next two contests, in which he dropped a decision to a fighter with a severe losing record and got submitted by a rookie combatant. After recording another two stoppage victories, he once again fell short on the scorecards against a fighter with a losing mark. He then won five straight with a number of stoppages before he began his current three-fight skid. Barahona is no stranger to high-profile fights. He was stopped via strikes by Daniel Zellhuber to close out his 2020 campaign. Then, he clashed with UFC castoff Brok Weaver in early April and dropped a decision. Barahona made a quick turnaround and fought Combate veteran Jose Luis Verdugo later that same month and was submitted.
Cañarte has yet to face the level of adversity that Barahona has experienced. Instead, the Ecuadorian standout remains perfect six fights into his pro career. “Tommy Gun” debuted in 2020 after a flawless five-fight amateur run. He continued his winning ways at the pro level with stoppages in his first four fights. The 24-year-old has needed the scorecards in his last two outings, including one against a 1-3 foe, who happens to also be the most experienced opponent that Cañarte has encountered thus far in his MMA career.
In addition to MMA, Cañarte has also ventured into the kickboxing world. That’s where he has faced more experienced competition, specifically in the form of UFC veteran Rony Jason. Cañarte performed well against Jason and even dropped the Brazilian in round one. The Ecuadorian came very close to winning the fight, which was scored a draw overall and was awarded to Jason based on the outcome of the final round.
As much as Cañarte likes to press forward and throw combinations at his foe, he doesn’t want to get in a slugfest with Barahona. The Mexican fighter has 11 career knockout victories and would welcome this type of fight. Barahona gave Verdugo problems on the feet at times and would likely do the same to Cañarte.
Fortunately, Cañarte’s wrestling is an underrated portion of his game. While highlight reels focus on his knockouts, he actually does well to set up level changes by pressuring his opponent and then shooting for the legs. He’s strong from top position on the ground. This happens to be an area where Barahona has struggled. Verdugo was eventually able to submit him, and the aforementioned Weaver controlled him for much of the fight en route to a decision. If Cañarte’s team has watched any film on Barahona, then they will have a game plan in place to exploit these weaknesses. There’s a chance Cañarte comes away with the submission win or a ground-and-pound stoppage, but there’s a good chance he just focuses on maintaining the dominant position and rides out a decision victory.
Other key bouts: Manuel Torres (10-2) vs. Carlos Enrique Cañada (10-11), Silvana Gómez Juárez (10-2) vs. Sandra Chimeyo (2-1) for the women’s strawweight title, Braian Gonzalez (7-1) vs. Paul Marquez Moreno (7-6), Guilherme Antunes (2-0) vs. Patrick Faeh (5-2), Rene Hernandez (2-0) vs. David Garzaro (0-0)
Igeu Kabesa (12-1) vs. Reinaldo Ekson (15-5)
South Africa’s Extreme Fighting Championship Worldwide organization was once a staple in this preview series. Its 86th show appears to be a return to that form, primarily thanks to the inclusion of featherweight kingpin Igeu Kabesa. The champ is set to defend his crown in the evening’s headliner, where he meets Reinaldo Ekson.
Kabesa, who has a background in wrestling, has been an EFC mainstay for his entire pro career. He debuted in 2013 and won six fights before challenging Danny Henry for the featherweight strap in his first fight at 145 pounds after competing mostly as a lightweight. “Smiley” captured the belt with a decision over Henry. He made his first title defense against Hanru Botha, who didn’t even last a full round with Kabesa. He was set to meet Boyd Allen at EFC Worldwide 57, but Allen was forced out and the organization booked Kabesa in a rematch against the former champ Henry. Henry won the fight via submission, but he then departed the organization to join the UFC. Kabesa was paired with Pierre Botha in a fight for the vacant strap and scored the knockout finish to reclaim his throne. After another nixed bout against Allen, Kabesa moved back up to lightweight for a victory over Paulo Bananada and then made successful defenses of the featherweight title against Calum Murrie and Karlo Caput. However, it’s now been more than two years since Kabesa has competed.
Kabesa’s Brazilian foe has actually been sidelined for the exact amount of time — both men last competed in separate contests at EFC Worldwide 79 — so any ring rust should be nullified. Ekson is a 20-fight veteran out of the Pitbull Brothers gym. He debuted in 2012 and lost two of his first three fights before reeling off eight straight victories. He’s now 6-3 over his last nine appearances. His bout at EFC Worldwide 79 was his promotional debut, and he won via guillotine choke early in the second round.
Kabesa’s only stumble came against a UFC-caliber foe. Ekson is not at that same level. The 32-year-old Brazilian has fed mostly on low-level competition, topping out with a win over Tumisang Madiba in his lone EFC outing. His losses have come against the best competition he’s seen: Willian Cilli (7-3), Caio Machado (9-2), and Marcelo Marques (5-0). If this is any indication of Ekson’s abilities, then he’s in for a long night against Kabesa.
The champ has five knockouts and two submissions to his credit. The southpaw combines wrestling and top control with a healthy dose of power that his adversaries rarely overcome. Kabesa used to rely heavily on his wrestling, but he now features a number of weapons in his striking arsenal, including well-timed knees and spinning back elbows. He has excellent defensive wrestling that keeps him out of danger against submission specialists who struggle to get him to the mat.
Ekson isn’t a very efficient finisher. He has five submission victories and three knockouts, but he tends to go to the judges frequently to claim wins. Meanwhile, he’s already been knocked out once and submitted twice. Kabesa is a marked step up in competition for Ekson even from the likes of Machado and Marques. He’ll have his hands full with one of the best fighters on the EFC roster.
Ekson’s stats may suggest that he’s a grappler, but he’s actually a Muay Thai practitioner. “Guerreiro” is perfectly happy to stand and bang with an opponent, as he did against Madiba. He will swing for the fences, but he lacks one-punch knockout power. He was unable to drop Madiba despite connecting with a number of strikes. His submission finish in the fight came on a defensive choke as Madiba took him down.
The Brazilian’s free-swinging style could mix well with Kabesa’s own forward-charging attacks to create a “Fight of the Year” candidate. However, Kabesa should be able to outclass his opponent and emerge with the victory. He’ll get the better of the stand-up exchanges and find the knockout once more.
Other key bouts: Anicet Kanyeba (13-9) vs. Alain Ilunga (12-5) for the interim lightweight title, Gian Souza (7-0) vs. Luthando Biko (7-2), Mzwandile Hlongwa (6-1) vs. Francois Cundari (2-3)
Open Fighting Championship 5
Crystal Stadium in Zhiguliovsk, Samara, Russia Event Date: June 12
Sharaf Davlatmurodov (17-3-1) vs. Kleber Silva (20-10)
Russia’s network of regional promotions include a number of companies that seem intertwined through a connection to the Gorilla Energy Drink empire. The Open Fighting Championship is one such organization. It returns for its fifth show, which features the deepest lineup of any regional event this weekend. The most compelling affair is the middleweight showdown between Sharaf Davlatmurodov and Kleber Silva.
Davlatmurodov debuted in 2015 and steamrolled his competition en route to a perfect 6-0 mark before he collided with Imran Abaev in a fight that ended in a draw. Still technically undefeated at the time, the “Wolfhound” resumed his winning ways with another five triumphant performances. This run included a decision nod over The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 3 alum Jolton Santos and a finish of UFC vet Benny Alloway. Davlatmurodov had a tough 2017 and early 2018 that resulted in a 1-3 stretch that included setbacks to Mukhamed Berkhamov, Brett Cooper and Gadzhimurad Khiramagomedov. He has since rebounded with a five-fight winning streak in which he avenged the Cooper loss, added a TKO finish of UFC castoff Amilcar Alves, and notched a decision over 52-fight veteran Jones Boeno. He was slated to compete for the Legacy Fighting Alliance in May, but his bout with Rafael Carvalho fell through.
Brazil’s Silva is another established veteran foe for Davlatmurodov. “Orgulho” has been competing as a pro since 2008. His early setbacks came to Guto Inocente and Francimar Barroso, both of whom went on to appear in the UFC. He also scored a victory over 2019 Professional Fighters League champ Emiliano Sordi. Silva ran into problems in late 2012 and has gone just 8-8 in the years since. However, he continues to baffle with his performances, which include losses to a number of mediocre fighters, record padding through outings against rookies and sub-.500 opponents, and surprising wins over Philipe Lins, Konstantin Glukhov and UFC vet Luis Henrique da Silva.
The “Wolfhound” isn’t invincible by any means, but he’s been competing at a high level while regularly scoring wins. He can get the job done with his fists or on the mat, as showcased by a balanced sheet that includes eight knockouts and five submissions.
Silva, meanwhile, is a lot more imposing than his overall record would imply. He lacks consistency, but he can occasionally show up to play spoiler, as he did against Lins in Bellator and a struggling da Silva in the pair’s native Brazil. The 33-year-old has knockout power that has led to 13 finishes via strikes. He also has three submissions on his record.
There’s a reason the LFA attempted to bring Davlatmurodov over for a fight with Carvalho. The Russian is surely on the UFC’s radar as one of the best international prospects around. He’s a well-rounded fighter with a solid stand-up game, good counter-punching, and an effective takedown. His biggest weaknesses come on the mat. However, he’s sneaky from the bottom, where he will look helpless before exploding for a sweep or reversal.
Silva has his own problems on the canvas. He’s easy to take down, which will work to Davlatmurodov’s advantage here. Silva has been stopped via strikes on three occasions, and the “Wolfhound” could up that tally to four if he can plant Silva on the ground and unleash a barrage of ground-and-pound blows.
Other key bouts: Daniil Prikaza (14-4-2) vs. Maksim Grabovich (11-5) for the welterweight title, Mateus Santos (15-6) vs. Alimardan Abdykaarov (13-6-1), Ilya Sukonnikov (1-0) vs. Ruslan Betsenaev (2-3), Sergey Maslov (9-2) vs. Bakhytbek Duyshobay Uulu (8-2), Anna Rudenko (6-2) vs. Marina Shutova (3-1), Karim Ruzbakiev (6-0) vs. Anton Volkov (5-1), Viktoriya Dudakova (3-0) vs. Ksenia Lachkova (10-6), Kamoldin Mamojonov (2-0) vs. Vitor Caiado (2-0), Elvin Guluev (6-0) vs. Nikita Sharshavin (4-0), Firuz Khodibaev (5-0) vs. Ruslan Khisamutdinov (12-9)
The Best of the Rest
MMA Series 34: Heart & Fist of Bashkortostan: Alexander Durymanov (12-5-1) vs. Ali Mashrapov (10-3) Watch Event: pay-per-view stream at mma-series.com
Shooto Torao 26: Soki (3-0) vs. Yukinari Tamura (17-13-9) for the Pacific Rim welterweight title
Universal Fighters League: Gadzhimurad Gasanguseynov (13-0) vs. Ericley da Silva (5-2-1)
Megdan Fighting 9: Under the Bright Sky: Antônio “Bigfoot” Silva (19-12) vs. Quentin Domingos (5-2)
Last Week’s Scorecard
Roman Bogatov vs. Abdulmutalip Gairbekov vs Brave CF 51
Bogatov by decision
Bogatov by decision
Askar Askar vs. Justin Wetzell at LFA 109
Askar by knockout
Wetzell by knockout
Salahdine Parnasse vs. Filip Pejić at KSW 61
Parnasse by knockout
Parnasse by submission
Bogatov survived a momentary scare against Gairbekov and took two rounds on the scorecards for the predicted decision victory…Wetzell silenced any doubts about his readiness for tougher competition and kept Askar on the defensive for much of their fight before getting a second-round TKO victory via ground-and-pound strikes…Parnasse pulled a submission finish seemingly out of nowhere when he used a body lock to bring Pejić to the mat, where he immediately locked in a rear-naked choke for the finish…”Best of the Rest” selections Dejan Kajić and Bo Hyun Park scored stoppages, while Steve Erceg earned a decision win. Meanwhile, Joelson Pantoja remained undefeated when his opponent, Paulo Henrique was disqualified for throwing an illegal elbow.
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