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…
Rob Wilkinson (13-2) vs. Sam Kei (8-5)
The Hex Fight Series returns this weekend with a card that’s heavy on amateur bouts and only includes a handful of professional contests. However, the headlining title tilt is certainly worthy of our attention. Light-heavyweight kingpin and former UFC fighter Rob Wilkinson puts his belt on the line against the company’s heavyweight champion, Sam Kei.
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 then notched a first-round finish via strikes of Daniel Almeida for the Hex gold. He now has seven submission victories and five knockouts on his resume. Wilkinson suffered both of his losses via stoppage due to strikes.
Kei is on a mission to become a double champ for Hex after destroying Ricky Biechun in just 29 seconds in his last outing to claim the heavyweight strap. “K9” has been bouncing around the regional scene since his 2012 debut, but he took a long sabbatical from active competition from 2014 to 2019. Prior to this period, Kei had managed a mediocre 4-4 mark. Since his return, he has a much better winning percentage, with four victories through five appearances. The difference has been in weight classes: Kei competed as a light heavyweight early in his career, but he has resided in the heavyweight division since his return to action.
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 obviously 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.
There’s a distinct difference in Kei’s performances between his time at 205 pounds and his run as a heavyweight. The former came with many struggles. He was decisioned by unheralded opponents like Mike Turner and Doo Hwan Kim, and his hiatus came after he missed the mark on the scales and had to deal with knee injuries. Since his return, though, “K9” has looked strong. He stopped two of his recent adversaries in the first round and claimed decisions over two more opponents. However, he also dropped a decision to Marat Aliaskhabov, who entered their bout with a modest 2-2-1 record. Kei, who has an amateur boxing background, was primarily a striker at 205, but he has bulked up and shown more wrestling ability at heavyweight.
This fight is a polar opposite to Wilkinson’s last affair. In that fight, he was likely to face more problems from Almeida on the mat. Here, he’ll want to avoid fighting at range with Kei, whose overhand right can put men to sleep, and try to drag the fight into the grappling realm. Kei didn’t look good on the mat in his light-heavyweight days. He was taken down with ease by judo specialist Duke Didier and spent plenty of time on his back against the aforementioned Kim as well. Wilkinson is a very skilled ground fighter who should be able to make life miserable for Kei if this fight hits the canvas.
Kei likes to walk down opponents. He’ll throw flurries and back up his foe to the cage. If Wilkinson allows this to happen, he’ll leave himself open to Kei’s overhand right and a potential knockout loss. If he’s smart, though, the light-heavyweight champ will initiate clinches and muscle his opponent to the mat. Once there, Wilkinson should have his way with Kei. This one likely ends with the UFC veteran locking in a submission for the victory.
Karl Amoussou (25-9-2) vs. Vitoldas Jagelo (7-1-2)
MMA is still relatively new as a legal sport in France, and this has opened the door for a new organization called Hexagone MMA. The company hosts its first show in Paris this weekend, and the docket features several notable names. Bellator veteran Karl Amoussou is perhaps the most successful of the bunch. He’ll square off with Vitoldas Jagelo in a 173-pound catchweight contest.
Amoussou is a well-traveled veteran of the sport. He has made appearances with Cage Warriors, Strikeforce, M-1 Challenge, Dream, Pancrase, and the Brave Combat Federation in addition to his nine-fight stint with Bellator. Along the way, the Frenchman has tallied victories over the likes of Alexander Yakovlev, Mike Dolce, David Rickels and Matt Inman. Meanwhile, he’s suffered losses to such notables as Arman Gamburyan, Lucio Linhares, Kazuhiro Nakamura, Sam Alvey, Ben Askren, Paul Bradley and Fernando Gonzalez. The “Psycho” has had a strong run since departing Bellator in 2014. Amoussou is now 8-2 over his last 10 outings, but he’s won just one of his last three fights.
Jagelo is a relative unknown, but his 7-1-2 mark is enough to classify him as a fringe prospect. The Lithuanian fighter has been competing at the professional level since a 2017 debut win under the King of the Cage banner. He lost his sophomore appearance, but he has not suffered any additional setbacks. However, he has fought to two draws and had one bout ruled a no-contest. This will serve as his first fight in nearly two years.
Jagelo has five knockout victories, but his strength of schedule leaves a lot to be desired. Anton Radko is his only victim to sport a significant winning mark. Otherwise, the Lithuanian has mostly scrapped with .500-ish foes. One of his knockouts came against a 7-13 opponent. Amoussou will be a huge step up for Jagelo in terms of skill, experience, and winning percentage.
The 35-year-old Amoussou struggled to win consistently at the highest level in Bellator, but he’s had a pretty good run in the years that have followed. While his first post-Bellator outing came against a 4-8 foe, the Frenchman has mostly clashed with fellow seasoned vets who have respectable records. He has usually come out on top, too, except in his recent encounters with Dominique Steele and Rodrigo Cavalheiro.
Amoussou likes to stand and trade, but he has a strong ground game as well. In fact, the Frenchman has more submissions (13) than knockouts (8) in his lengthy career. His chin has also failed him on three occasions. Much of the veteran’s recent success has come when he’s implemented his grappling game. Even in the Steele loss, he threatened on several occasions with submissions off his back.
Jagelo is fortunate to have emerged with only one defeat on his record. Rodrigo Mineiro was starting to get the better of him before a bad cut and swelling around the eye prevented the Brazilian from continuing into a second round. Of course, there are also the draws, which came in a pair of fights against 3-3 foes. Jagelo is a solid kickboxer, but he leaves his hands low and allows too many of his opponent’s punches to land. The Lithuanian can also be taken down and controlled rather easily on the mat.
While a fighter can never take an opponent lightly, this could turn out to be one of the easier pairings Amoussou has had since his departure from Bellator. He’s the more technically sound striker, and any action on the ground should favor him as well. Amoussou should be able to exploit Jagelo’s weak takedown defense and turn this into a grappling affair for the short time it lasts. Jagelo is outmatched here and will likely get caught in a submission early in the fight.
Other key bouts: Gael Grimaud (20-7) vs. Falco Neto (11-11) for the welterweight title, Stéphanie Page (5-1) vs. Flore Hani (3-1)
Douglas Felipe (12-1-1) vs. Yakov Ekimov (9-0)
The third event in this week’s preview takes us to Eastern Europe, where the Serbian Battle Championship promotion has teamed up with M1’s MMA Series for the former’s 31st effort and the latter’s 36th edition. The lineup features a bantamweight affair between Douglas Felipe and undefeated prospect Yakov Ekimov.
Felipe appears to be on a torrid pace. The 14-fight veteran has three upcoming fights slated within the span of just over a month. It begins with his clash with Ekimov. Until now, “He-Man” had been far more deliberate in his fight schedule. The Brazilian debuted in 2014 and only once had a turnaround of less than two months between bouts. He won six of his first seven pro affairs, with the other ending in a majority draw. Felipe suffered his one and only loss in a 2017 encounter with Victor Hugo Silva that went the distance. He rebounded with another six wins, but a combination of injured opponents and pandemic-related event cancellations has left him out of action since late 2019.
The 33-year-old Ekimov has been competing at the pro level since late 2016, but he only picked up the pace once he joined the MMA Series. He made three appearances in 2020 and already has one outing under the MMA Series banner in 2021. The Russian started his MMA Series campaign with three first-round knockout finishes, but his most recent outing went to the scorecards, where the judges awarded Ekimov a victory over Farid Alibabazade.
The blueprint for an Ekimov fight has been established in his time with the MMA Series. He’ll stand with his opponent for a short time while mixing in some jabs, combinations and kicks. Upon the first opportunity to clinch, Ekimov uses his strength and wrestling chops to bring the fight to the mat. He controls the action well from top position and usually works to gain mount. From there, his ground-and-pound barrages will often cause his opponent to give up their back. The Russian will then increase his output to overwhelm his foe and force the referee to intervene. Of course, this approach wasn’t quite as effective against Alibabazade, who survived for three rounds but still lost the decision to Ekimov.
Felipe is also inclined to take fights to the canvas, but he lacks the same ability to control his opponent. “He-Man” goes after submissions that sometimes cause him to lose the advantageous position. He’s prone to scrambles in which his foe escapes or turns the table on him. Despite what his moniker suggests, the Brazilian is hardly as strong in the clinch as Ekimov appears to be.
Despite the flaws in Felipe’s game, he still qualifies as an upgrade even from Alibabazade. Ekimov can expect to have his hands full here. It’s likely that he’ll have the same difficult time finding a finish that he experienced against Alibabazade, and he’ll also have to fend off multiple submission attempts. It’ll be a hard-fought battle for the undefeated Russian, but he’ll escape with his perfect record intact while scoring a close decision win.
Other key bouts: Denis Ekimov (1-0) vs. Zoran Đođ (13-16-1), Đorđe Stojanović (5-0) vs. Danijel Špoljarić (2-3)
The Best of the Rest
Mega Fight Champions 4: Josenaldo Silva (26-7) vs. Julio Pereira (5-1) for the lightweight title
iKON Fighting Federation 8: Ben Egli (12-4) vs. Ryse Brink (8-2) Watch Event:UFC Fight Pass
Colosseum VIII: Michele Baiano (4-0) vs. Manolo Scianna (9-4) for the featherweight title
Free Fight Academy Challenge 2: Bourama Camara (4-0) vs. Wissame Akhmouch (3-0)
Last Week’s Scorecard
Evan Cutts vs. Yohan Lainesse at CFFC 98
Lainesse by knockout
Lainesse by knockout
Ryuya Fukuda vs. Tatsuro Taira at Shooto 2021 Vol. 4
Taira by decision
Taira by submission
Oleg Popov vs. Fernando Batista at Open FC 6
Popov by knockout
Popov by knockout
Cutts was as scrappy as ever, but Lainesse still managed to find the predicted finish via strikes. The Canadian stung Cutts with a punch to the body and kept the pressure on with additional blows that forced Cutts to cover up until the ref stepped in to give Lainesse a standing TKO victory…Taira didn’t need the judges after all. The young Japanese prospect tapped Fukuda to claim Shooto’s flyweight crown…Popov did exactly as expected in overwhelming his Brazilian foe Batista. It was a lopsided affair in which Popov spent a large chunk of time in top position before getting the second-round finish by way of ground-and-pound strikes…”Best of the Rest” selections Roybert Echeverria, In Soo Hwang and Denis Stojnić finished their opponents, while Charles Johnson squeaked by with a split-decision victory in his LFA 110 headlining fight.
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