This Week In Face Punching: Aoki Uncrowned

(11/9/16 – 11/15/16) – Think UFC 205 and Bellator 164 were the only shows to watch this week?  Think again!  A cornucopia of regional action surrounded this year’s biggest week in combat sports, featuring familiar faces, shocking upsets, emerging prospects, and a few vomit-worthy judging performances to boot.  From Cage Warriors to ONE and far, far beyond, get ready for your weekly romp through everything that meant anything in the universe of Global MMA.

Big Regional Promotions

Cage Warriors Unplugged (England)

     Cage Warriors made big waves for keeping top prospects Paddy “The Baddy” Pimblett and Chris Fishgold in the fold, despite likely interest from major promotions worldwide. In the Fight Pass-broadcast Saturday appetizer to the huge UFC 205 card, both Pimblett and Fishgold learned a lot about what they need to work on before ascending to the next level while both squeaking out controversial victories in their promotional title defenses.  Pimblett (13-1) faced a very stern test in one-time UFC fighter Julian Erosa (17-4), who easily ranks among the best American combatants plying his trade in the international ranks. Pimblett’s straight ahead grappling assault ran into difficulties against Erosa’s confident striking; although Paddy managed to get the fight to the ground several times in the early rounds, he incurred little damage and had substantial difficulty keeping the Oregonian in place. When the fight was on the feet “Juicy J” thrived, smashing the oncoming Pimblett with sharp counter punches and knees.  Erosa hurt Pimblett very badly in third round but failed to turn on the aggression and finish the deal, resulting in Paddy circling away from danger while taking single shots for nearly the entire fourth frame.  The fifth round was much the same, as Erosa poked at Pimblett with an array of solitary strikes but never showed urgency to finish; to Pimblett’s credit, he managed to rebound with a few solid if eventually fruitless takedowns in the closing moments.  In the end, the judges rewarded Pimblett with a widely-panned unanimous decision victory that smacked of local favoritism; if there’s a silver lining for Erosa, it’s that he performed well against a highly-regarded prospect and may have earned himself another top fight with Cage Warriors.  In an appropriate culmination for a rather slow fight, Paddy revealed in the in-cage interview that he dieted poorly prior to the fight and then proved it by losing the contents of his gut on the canvas.  We’ll spare you the “highlight” GIF for now, but TWIFP promises you’ll see it before long. (Keep reading.)

     CW’s other promotional centerpiece, lightweight champ Chris Fishgold (16-1), had a similarly harrowing performance against another tough American in Nic Herron-Webb (19-8). Jiu-jitsu is typically the Alaska Fighting Championships titleholder’s bread and butter, but Herron-Webb also showed improved takedown defense in wrestling in his matchup with the notably smaller Fishgold. Fishgold seemed to have the advantage on the feet throughout the fight, landing several solid hooks to the Alaskan’s jaw, but consistently opted to avoid striking and try to take the fight to the canvas instead.  Herron-Webb defended valiantly throughout, forcing Fishgold to exert much more energy than any other opponent during his six fight winning streak and pushing him until the final bell. In the end either man could have been reasonably awarded a win, with all three judges coming down on the side of the local defending champion. Fishgold puts himself in position for another big match in Cage Warriors, but unless he can make substantial improvements to his game this fight may well have revealed the ceiling on the Liverpool native’s international potential.

     The CW Unplugged undercard was a festive affair, featuring a potpourri of prospects and familiar faces fighting in front of a cozy studio audience.  UFC veteran Che Mills (16-9) was the biggest international name on the card, and he looked every bit the part through the first eight minutes of his matchup with UK regional mainstay Matt Inman (19-8).  Mills, once known as an elite elite striker, consistently chose to take the fight to the mat and was successful in painting large swaths of the canvas red with his opponent’s blood within the first several minutes. Had the fight made it to the second round bell Mills almost certainly would have won by cut stoppage, but just when he seemed to have things in cruise control Inman suddenly wrapped up a triangle choke and earned the tap with just 50 seconds remaining. Mills has won just one of his five post-UFC bouts, while Inman earned the biggest W of his career and asked for a shot at the Cage Warriors welterweight strap in his post-face interview.  Other notable undercard winners included Irish light heavyweight prospect Tim Moore (7-1), who blasted outmatched Spaniard Paco Estevez (6-5) into oblivion at 3:23 of round 1, and Tapology #1 UK flyweight Shaj Haque (9-2), who topped previously undefeated prospect Sam Creasey (7-1) in a bout that had absolutely no business being relegated to the untelevised prelims.


ONE FC 49: Defending Honor (Singapore)

     The sometimes perplexing ONE put on one of the most-talent rich cards of its brief history on Friday, including a pair of title fights featuring two of the most popular fighters on its eastern hemisphere focused roster.  The main event was an utter shocker, as legendary limb-snapper Shinya Aoki (39-7) fell victim to the ONE ruleset thanks to Eduard Folayang’s (17-5) perfectly timed grounded knee strike and follow up shots near the start of round three.  

     Aoki, who was a -750 favorite heading into the bout, pressed the takedown from the opening bell and had Folayang in trouble early, earning his opponent’s back for a substantial portion of round 1 but failing to capitalize with effective offense.  Round two of the bout was more of a standup affair, with both fighters being fairly tentative until an ill-advised Folayang flying attack handed Aoki a gift of top control.  Once again Aoki failed to capitalize, as Folayang successfully scrambled to his feet and survived the remainder of a relatively uneventful round.  Round three is when things got interesting, as Aoki renewed his early fervor for the takedown and was met with a fierce grounded knee blast straight to his forehead. A barrage of follow-up punches caused the stunned Aoki to turtle up, forcing a halt to the action and awarding the title to Folayang – but only after the referee looked outside the cage multiple times during the finishing sequence, presumably to seek approval to stop the fight from external sources.  A strange finish all around, and one that propels Eduard Folayang fully into the international MMA spotlight.  Look for Aoki to be hungry for revenge once the cobwebs clear.


     In the co-main event, featherweight champion Marat Gafurov gave former champ Narantungalag Jadambaa an opportunity for revenge following the former’s fourth round submission win in their first ONE title encounter in 2015. The going was much easier for Gafurov in this fight, as the Sanda practitioner maintained range during a slow start to round one before slipping in a takedown with three minute left in the frame.  From there Gafurov pounded away and advanced position, alternating between back mount, side control, and mount as he chipped away at his Mongolian opponent. As the bell approached Gafurov went all-in on a rear naked choke attempt and came up aces, capping his successful title defense with nine ticks on the clock and adding a fifteenth straight win to his unblemished record.  The 40 year old Jadambaa falls to 4-2 in ONE, with both losses coming to his Dagestani nemesis.

     And in the undercard, a pair of future potential Angela Lee opponents in Tiffany Teo (4-0) and Michelle Nicolini (3-1) won their respective matches by rear naked choke; 22 year old Singaporean local Amir Khan (6-2) earned his third straight win in the ONE cage thanks to a second round submission of Philippine lightweight Vaughn Donayre (8-6); veteran Kotetsu “No Face” Boku (25-11) earned an upset of feared featherweight Timofey Nastyukhin (10-3) after a kick check broke the 26 year old favorite’s leg halfway through round one, although the tough-as-nails Russian deserves props for gutting out the remainder of the frame defending on the mat until the inevitable doctor’s stoppage; and onetime UFC star Roger Huerta (23-9-2) broke a two fight ONE losing streak thanks to a contentious split decision win over Australian Adrian Pang (22-10-2).


Pancrase 282 (Japan)

     Sunday’s Pancrase 282 was another statement card from a promotion that has effectively used its platform on UFC Fight Pass to springboard back toward the top of the Japanese MMA scene.  The main event could have been a headliner for any non-UFC promotion in the world, as former Bellator tournament contender Rafael Silva (28-5) battled Josh Barnett protégé Victor Henry (12-3) for three rounds in a grinding bantamweight affair. Silva controlled the first two rounds against the cage, showing off his strength and clinch technique advantage and enjoying the fact that the referee allowed him to simply pin Henry on the wall for the majority of the contest. Henry made a strong run in the third, easily landing more offense than Silva could muster in the first two rounds combined and even taking the Brazilian veteran’s back late in the frame.  Despite the late rally Silva was awarded a split decision victory and likely earns himself a bantamweight title shot with his third straight Pancrase win. Henry, meanwhile, can emerge with his head held high after giving the toughest opponent of his career a thorough trouncing in round 3 that likely would have earned him a win in a promotion using full-fight scoring rules.

     In the co-main event elite Japanese WMMA fighter Rin Nakai (18-2-1) was her regular colorful and dominant self, overpowering Australian challenger Charlene Watt (6-3) with takedowns and ground strikes for the duration of their flyweight encounter.  Watt, who saw her six fight win streak snapped in June by former Invicta notable Faith Van Duin, suffers a second straight loss in painful fashion while Nakai’s comprehensive ground-oriented victory marks her second straight TKO finish since being released by the UFC:  

     And in the other globally relevant fight on the card, another Japanese star was in action as former ONE bantamweight champion Masakatsu Ueda (23-5-2) tussled with Hidekazu Fukushima (12-4-1). Ueda, whose resume is highlighted by victories over quality talent like Luis Nogueira, Royler Gracie, Kevin Belignon, and Jens Pulver, successfully implemented his standard takedown and top control heavy game en route to a relatively unremarkable unanimous decision victory. Ueda gets back in the win column following a defeat to Rafael Silva, while Fukushima sees his two fight win streak vanish in his second chance at facing international level competition following a November 2015 submission loss to Victor Henry.


EFC Worldwide 55 (South Africa)

     Demarte Pena (12-0) retained both his bantamweight title and his claim to the title of South Africa’s top mixed martial artist in a clinical if largely uninspiring five round decision win over a seemingly gunshy Irshaad Sayed.  Both Pena and Sayed employ more tactical than dynamic offensive games, which on this night led to a lot less engagement than you’d hope for in a main event.  Nonetheless, Pena was clearly the dominant party and even managed to nearly finish the fight with a rear naked choke partway through the contest.  With the unanimous decision win, “The Wolf” maintains his status as one of the most highly touted international prospects to come from the still-nascent South African MMA scene.

     The fans certainly got their money’s worth in the night’s co-main event, an EFC lightweight title rematch between American Dave Mazany (14-6) and the man who he defeated in his last outing to claim that strap, South African native Leon Mynhardt (15-9).  Mynhardt stepped in on short notice to replace the injured Don Madge and fought bravely in the face of a constant onslaught of offense from Mazany.  The fight appeared to be close to a stoppage several times in the first two rounds as Mazany used superior timing and a huge advance in technical grappling to pound Mynhardt bloody, but each time things looked bleak for the local favorite he rallied back just enough to keep referee Vickus Swart from stepping in. Finally in the third round Mazany sealed the deal, dropping Mynhardt against the cage and forcing a merciful TKO stoppage just under two minutes into the frame.  Mazany has never looked better than he did in his two fights versus Mynhardt, and if EFC chooses to keep him around he looks to be the new standard bearer for quality MMA on the African continent.  Catch the tail end of this Fight of the Night performance here:

     In an undercard fight featuring a familiar name to UFC diehards, former two-time EFC heavyweight champ Ruan Potts (10-6) came back from the dead to pull out a second straight victory at the expense of fellow former titleholder Brendon Groenewald (6-5). It was tough sledding for Potts from the get go, as Groenewald caught him with punches early and often before seeking the takedown and enacting forceful and bloodying ground and pound.  Despite taking a full-on shellacking, Potts’ resilience proved to be a key factor against Groenewald, who reported to the EFC announce crew that his full-time job prevented him from training adequately for the contest.  Groenewald indeed faded hard once his early attempts to remove Potts from consciousness failed, allowing the slightly better conditioned ex-UFC fighter to roll on top, attain mount, and eventually move to the back.  As soon as the choke was applied Groenewald instantly tapped, giving Potts the win and requisite momentum to push him toward a third opportunity at the EFC heavyweight crown. All credit to the South African for gutting out the victory, but TWIFP suspects that the 2016 version of Ruan Potts will have a very tough go of it against reigning champ Andrew Van Zyl if a fourth meeting between the two comes to fruition.


Legacy 62 (Oklahoma)

     Legacy cards usually rank among the world’s best, but this version seemed to lack the depth of top-flight young talent that diehard AXS TV and Fight Network fans have come to expect.  Nonetheless, very high quality MMA jiu-jitsu was on display in both of the top two bouts of the evening.  In the main event, Cortez Coleman (13-7) proved a very hard man to take down for defending LFC middleweight champion and noted ground wizard Rafael Lovato Jr. (4-0). Lovato attempted to drag the hard hitting “Crazy Cowboy” to the floor frequently, with both men burning a lot of energy against the fence in the first two rounds. As both men tired it looked at moments like Coleman might turn the tide, but Lovato’s chin held up well against one of the sterner fistic tests that it has faced in live competition. The jiu-jitsu black belt finally broke through in round three, cinching up an armbar that forced a quick tap from Coleman with 56 seconds left in the frame. Lovato notched his first title defense and his fourth finish in four pro matches; TWIFP hopes that LFA can lure former Legacy middleweight champ Leo Leite (10-0) back to the states for a jiu-jitsu lovers’ dream matchup in 2017.

     Things went substantially more smoothly for star Lovato pupil Justin “Darth” Rader (5-2), who absorbed a smattering of punches from co-main opponent Mike Maldonado (5-1) but managed to quickly gain an advantageous position once he forced matters to the ground.  Maldonado was totally out of his element in the grappling exchanges, as he failed to control his opponent’s legs and quickly yielding mount to Rader. Rader took advantage, blasting his previously undefeated foe with elbows and punches to earn the first round TKO win and bring his Legacy record up to 3-2.  

     And in undercard action mostly featuring under-the-radar Oklahoma prospects, lightweight Manny Muro (6-2) showed a solid all-around game in earning his first AXS win in two tries at the expense of the slightly less dynamic Derrick Adkins (8-3); 20 year old welterweight Braden Smith (6-1) earned the fifth under three minute finish of his young career with a toe hold submission of Teagen Dooley (4-1); and Hawaii’s “Dangerous” Dan Ige (5-1) snagged his second win in two Legacy starts with a dominant beatdown and kimura finish of overmatched yet scrappy late replacement Diego Pichilingue (3-2). Check out top highlights from the show below, courtesy of AXS TV:

Around the World in 9 Regional Shows

     Shooto Pacific Rim Double Championship (Japan) – The Japanese iteration of Shooto tends to ranks a few notches below Pancrase or RIZIN, but the venerable promotion still offers quality action that’s worth checking out on UFC Fight Pass.  In the highlight of the evening, golden-haired youngster Takumi Tamaru (7-0) shocked the world by submitting flyweight pioneer Yasuhiro Urishitani (21-8-6) with an armbar with 12 seconds left in the first round of their featured affair. The 40 year old Urishitani is probably best known to western fans for his UFC flyweight title tournament loss to Joe Benavidez, and now registers the second losing streak of his 16 year career following a 2014 loss to top ONE flyweight Adriano Moraes; older fans will recall that Urishitani was also the consensus global #1 at flyweight for several years prior to the division’s introduction into the UFC ranks.  It will certainly be fascinating to watch where and who the 20 year old Tamaru fights next after such a convincing win over an aged JMMA legend.

     In other notable Shooto action, Ryogo Takahashi (9-3) earned the vacant Shooto Japan 145 pound belt thanks to a flying knee KO of Tomoya Hirakawa (6-5); Keita Ishibashi (8-5-1) earned a belt of his own, submitting favorite Ryo Okada (10-3-2) to claim the promotion’s 135 pound strap; and 26 year old bantamweight prospect Tatsuya Ando (6-2) returned to the win column with a second round submission win over “The Hard Hitting Hillbilly” Kevin Croom (17-7).

     Shooto Brazil – Shooto’s Brazilian promotion has come a long way in terms of matchup quality since its debut on Fight Pass and subsequent return to Brazilian regional prominence.  Friday’s Shooto Brazil 67 followed the recent trend, with no star shining brighter than that of vaunted striker Valmir Lazaro.  Lazaro (15-4) faced a severe strength of schedule in his UFC tenure and acquitted himself fairly well, winning a unanimous call over James Krause but dropping decisions to Michel Prazeres and James Vick. On Friday “Bidu”, who is still just 31, reminded local fans why he was once considered a top prospect in the sport by scoring a rather violent round one TKO win over the almost-UFC-caliber-named Francivaldo Trinaldo (6-3).  Beatdown footage follows:  

     Other notable performers on this Shoot Brazil card included flyweight Bruno Acevedo (15-2), who earned a submission win to push his win streak to five, a run that includes a five round win over top prospect Allen Nascimento; Andre Ceara (3-0), who sprung a big upset via triangle choke in a match with Luciano Palhano (14-3) that looked like a mismatch on paper; and nine-year veteran Ismael de Jesus (15-5-1), who defended his promotional lightweight title with a decision win over fellow regional journeyman Michel Pereira (13-7).

     SOMMA 2 (Scotland) – The Scottish Organisation of Mixed Martial Arts held its second event in Glasgow, with most fights featuring developing rookie fighters.  Despite the largely local talent pool, SOMMA didn’t spare expense in finding a main event challenge for top Danish talent Mads Burnell (8-1).  The organization flew in recent Jungle Fight competitor Fernando Duarte (20-4) for the gig, but despite his shiny record the Brazilian featherweight proved little match for the crafty Burnell, tapping in 93 seconds to an ever-exotic Japanese necktie finish.  Burnell passed the biggest test of his career with flying colors to run his win streak to three straight.

     UCMMA 49 (England) – Kickboxing specialist Alfie Davis (6-1) looks primed to burst onto the UK MMA scene, as the prospect took full advantage of his UCMMA main event opportunity opposite recent Chris Fishgold opponent Jordan Miller (15-18). Miller has fought a host of quality British competition, but only managed to last 3:15 in this contest before succumbing via TKO.  Davis claims his fourth straight victory on the heels of another noteworthy performance against fellow prospect Terry Doyle on the main card of Cage Warriors 75.  In the co-main, Moldovan middleweight Pavel Doroftei (18-3) added another notch to his belt with a quick guillotine choke win over “The Legend” Shaun Lomas (22-64). Doroftei is scheduled to face a much sterner test in Californian David “Bubby” Mitchell when two meet for the FFC (Croatia) middleweight on December 17th. Given Lomas’ tendency to seek competition as frequently as possible he may well have two or three more fights on his ledger by then.

     GCF 36 (Croatia) – 21 year old Poland native Michal Bobrowski (4-0) announced himself as a regional prospect to watch with a unanimous decision victory over hometown favorite and regular GCF main eventer Milos Petrasek (8-2).  The 6’3 Bobrowski went to the judges’ cards for the first time in his career in this battle with the more massive Petrasek, and unless he grows into his frame substantially will likely be forced to return to middleweight once he earns the call-up to a larger promotion.  Petrasek sees his eight fight finishing streak rendered to dust.

      Conquest of the Cage (Washington) – WMMA fans know well that Cindy Dandois is among the best female fighters to never fight in the UFC, a fact that was reinforced by her strong performance in a regional main event battle against Anjela Pink (0-2).  The Belgian “Battlecat”, who submitted both Megan Anderson and Jessamyn Duke within the past fourteen months, put a quick stamp on upstart Pink, who made her first pro appearance opposite Anastasia Yankova on a recent Bellator main card.  Check out footage of Cindy’s 13 second victory below; TWIFP hopes that her current three-fight win streak is enough to see Dandois earn a promotion to UFC’s 135 pound division or Bellator’s 145 pound ranks in the near future.

     Dragon House 24 (California) – Bellator fans may remember when Shawn Bunch (6-3) was among the top college wrestling-to-MMA projects that the promotion tends to favor. Unfortunately the AKA product has floundered in his bigger opportunities thus far, losing Bellator matches to notables Steve Garcia and Darrion Caldwell before losing a regional split decision to another decent looking prospect in Stephen Cervantes. Bunch picked up one of the better wins of his campaign in the main event of Dragon House 24, claiming the promotion’s bantamweight title at the expense of former Bellator and Tachi Palace talent Josh San Diego (7-3). At 33 and still just 4 years into his professional MMA career, Bunch still his time to make a run at the big leagues and is certainly training in the right environs to maximize the likelihood of that coming to pass.

     Conflict MMA 42 (North Carolina) – “Master Sho Nuff” Rodney Wallace may not be the biggest name among ex-UFC veterans, but the 3-time octagon competitor has been a frequent and consistently effective presence on the international scene since his 2010 decision loss to Phil Davis.  Wallace, whose post-UFC run has included fights against notables including Emanuel Newton, Mahmed Khalidov, Michael Materla, Misha Cirkunov, and Kaleb Starnes, returned to his home Carolinas for a tussle with Kentucky tough guy Julio Gallegos (8-7). Gallegos failed to right the ship coming off of a Valor fights decision loss to prospect Sidney Wheeler, but can take some solace in the fact that he managed to last until the final bell against the much more traveled Wallace.  With the decision win Wallace ends a two fight losing streak that he suffered overseas against Dagestani prospects Isa Umarov and Saparbek Safarov.

     Total Warrior Combat (Michigan) – The Michigan regional scene is surprisingly strong, and this show featured a few matchups that eventually prove worthy of note. In the main event 21 year old atomweight Alyse Anderson (3-0) announced her presence in a thin division with a TKO win over Canuck contender Tushara Veerella (1-2); likewise, heavyweight Josh Parisian (4-1) earned the biggest win of his young career with a TKO thrashing of former Lashley victim Josh Burns (8-10); and Dequan Townsend (15-5) rebounded from close decision losses to big show vets Dakota Cochrane and Kevin Nowaczyk by dispatching of journeyman “Red” Ted Worthington (34-54) in 84 seconds.

     And to cap things as promised, here’s what Paddy Pimblett had to say about his exceedingly controversial Cage Warriors title win over deserving foe Julian Erosa.  Try to not to lose your lunch people, and see you next week for another edition of This Week In Face Punching. *HUURRKK*