This Week in Face Punching: From Russia With Love

[AKA, The Extremely Fucking Late Thanksgiving Week Edition. Sorry guys. – Editor]

11/16/16 – 11/22/16 Sure, you’ve caught up on all the news from the feast of major US MMA shows that the weekend hosted courtesy of Invicta, Bellator, and UFC (x2). But the action also came out piping hot from the opposite side of the globe, with four cards from top Russian promotions serving up a face punching feast worthy of any buffet table. And if that’s not enough to sate the appetite there were also plenty of tasty appetizers offered up by less prominent organizations, featuring the likes of Bigfoot Silva vs. corrupt Russian officiating, spinning kicks and elbows galore, and a pair of fine performances from heavyweights domestic and abroad who never say no to second helpings. So loosen that belt a notch or two, pull up a seat, and dig in to this week’s edition of This Week in Face Punching!

Big Time Cards from Russia

WFC Akhmat 31 (Chechnya) 

     Chechnyan ruler Ramzan Kadyrov’s Akhmat Fight Show is controversial for its political affiliations and recent contests featuring children, but when it comes to matching up grown adults there’s little doubt that the organization ranks among the top 3 promotions in Russia along with ACB and M-1.  The latest iteration of WFCA boasted a top quality welterweight title fight balanced with a circus co-main designed for wider global appeal.

     The title contest, which doubled as the tournament finals of the 2016 Akhmat welterweight Grand Prix, saw top young Chechen contenders Abubakar Vagaev (12-2) and Beslan Ushukov (14-2) do battle in what graded out as a tactical striking contest for the first few rounds. Both men pawed with punches and kicks at distance, landing relatively scant meaningful offense until business picked up somewhat in the third. Finally halfway through the fourth round Ushukov ended matters suddenly and decisively with a wicked cross right to his opponent’s jaw.  While there could only be one winner tonight both countrymen have looked talented and poised throughout their successful early careers; check out the KO finish and look for big things from these two in the future.

     Unfortunately the carnival co-main failed to live up to any but the lowest of expectations, as former UFC heavyweight champion Ricco Rodriguez (53-24) came up lame as soon as his first grappling attempts failed to secure a takedown on notorious bad boy Gilbert Yvel (39-16). Just a minute in Rodriguez fell to the mat with a leg issue and called for timeout, awarding the most technical of TKO wins to Yvel in his first match since March 2012.  

     Luckily the other featured attraction was more impressive fare, as 25 year old Shooto Brazil featherweight champion Felipe Froes (15-2-1) smashed top Akhmat contender Zurab Betergaraev (11-2-2) via second round TKO to run his winning streak to eight in his first career appearance outside of Brazil. The deep prelims also provided one of the top highlight KOs of the week – enjoy Chechnyan lightweight Shamkhan Danaev (4-1) planting a scintillating spin kick upside the head of undercard foe Roman Belogurov (7-8).

M-1 Challenge 72 (Russia) 

     M-1 routinely books some of the top non-UFC cards in the world and this weekend’s Challenge 72 certainly met the promotion’s high standards, with elite Russian welterweight Alexei Kunchenko (15-0) defending his belt in a marquee rematch against former titleholder Murad “Hunter” Abdulaev (15-5). Abdulaev fared substantially better than he did in his April meeting with Kunchenko, managing to last the full five rounds rather than succumbing inside the distance as he did in the first contest.

     The challenger even started fairly well, controlling the grappling for periods of time in the first two rounds, but eventually Kunchenko began to get his opponent’s timing down and battered him with a varied striking and takedown attack late. With the clear decision victory Kunchenko registered his first title defense in the M-1 promotion and seems certain to continue enjoying his position as one of the top talents and draws in all of Russia. Click here to check out the entire title fight on YouTube thanks to M-1 Global.

     Fans were also treated to three other top-level contests, with 18-fight M-1 lightweight Artiom Damkovsky (22-10) playing a starring role in his co-main event contest versus Alexey Makhno (13-5). Damkovsky laid a severe enough beating on the game Makhno that the latter’s corner was forced to literally throw a towel into the cage a minute into the third round.

     Meanwhile, on the undercard Kazakhstani competitor Damir Ismagulov earned a hard-fought win and Fight of the Night bonus in his contest with Brazil’s Rubenilton Pereira (16-4), while exciting 25 year old middleweight prospect Artem Frolov (8-0) efficiently dispatched of long-ago UFC fighter Luigi Fioravanti about two minutes into their contest.

EFN 54 (Russia) 

     The week’s first of two EFN cards brought the heavy hitters, as MMA Sun #1 global heavyweight prospect Sergey Pavlovich (10-0) did battle with longtime top Eurasian talent Alexei Kudin (21-10). Pavlovich started the match strongly, tossing his kickboxing-centric opponent to the ground within the first minute and attaining side control with ease. But then Pavlovich did the unexpected, standing up and allowing Kudin back to his feet – apparently the prospect wished to test his striking tools once he learned that the takedown would be available at his whim. From there Pavlovich engaged in a technically dominant but fairly uneventful kickboxing contest with the more seasoned striker, easily earning the 30-27 nod from each judge but failing to inspire the spectating masses. Nonetheless, the victory marks the biggest win to date for the top prospect, who could very well find his name near the top of a UFC card in the not-too-distant future.

     The co-main event featured a much more evenly matched and exciting featherweight contest between Georgian-American UFC veteran Levan Makashvili (13-2) and unbeaten top Dagestani star Rasul Mirzaev (17-1). The vaunted Mirzaev is used to overwhelming foes as he pleases with power striking and fierce grappling, but Makashvili refused to back down and landed many of the better strikes in the contest. However the American’s superior grappling game proved to be the real difference, as Makashvili pressed takedown after takedown and eventually succeeded at wearing down his previously undefeated opponent’s resistance. In the end Makashvili claimed the upset decision win and guaranteed himself a future as one of the top stars within the Russian MMA sphere. Meanwhile Mirzaev has taken his first loss in stride, reportedly signed with the World Series of Fighting for an early 2017 stateside debut. The fight was among the better contests of the week and well worth your time – enjoy the full video below:

     Other notable winners on the EFN 54 undercard included hirsute Armenian lightweight powerhouse David Khachatryan (23-3), who slowed in the final round but generally dominated his striking-oriented match with Ukranian journeyman Anatoloy Safronov (22-25), and Khalid Murtazaliev (7-1) who felled fellow Russian middleweight Sergey Kalinin (4-3) with a scorching liver kick and efficient followup shots.
EFN 55 (Russia)

     The second of the week’s two EFN cards, EFN 55 was a lower-grade offering that suffered from high profile late cancellations on the part of onetime JDS conqueror Joaquim Ferreira and Artur Bagautinov (brother of UFC flyweight contender Ali). After a very slow card both action-wise and skill-wise, things picked up in serious fashion during the main event lightweight matchup between Englishman Jack McGann (11-3), who has finished every one of his wins, and native son Igor Egorov (12-6).

      Both men came out looking for the first round finish, with McGann mixing together wicked striking salvos while Egorov countered with swings of his own and largely-rebuffed efforts at initiating a grappling contest. The second featured more high-octane offense, with McGann getting the upper hand thanks to a mix of strong footwork and sharp striking inside the pocket. Then in the blink of an eye McGann brought the affair to a spectacularly thudding halt with a counter uppercut that made Jeremy Stephens’ knockout of RDA look like a delicate love tap. Quite the accomplishment for the man who strolled down to the cage attired in a Victorian-era ensemble replete with top hat and cane; treat yourself to a look or two at the finish, which put Egorov out cold for upward of five minutes.

Around the World in 15 Shows:

DEEP Hitachinaka (Japan)

      While this DEEP card was primarily staffed with lower-level regional Japanese competitors, it was notable nonetheless for the semi-competitive return of JMMA icon Tatsuya “Crusher” Kawajiri (35-10-2). Kawajiri, who recently requested and received his release from the UFC, treated fans to an unscored one round exhibition match with 45 year old legend Ryu Sakurai that saw its way to the abbreviated final bell. This short contest was just an appetizer for the man’s legion of fans; Kawajiri’s first official post-UFC action is scheduled for RIZIN’s New Years Eve card when he figures to provide a stern test for top Brazilian prospect Kron Gracie (3-0).

PXC 55 (Guam)

      Pacific Extreme Combat has churned out an array of eastern hemisphere UFC talent, including upcoming Fight Night: Melbourne competitor and recent promotional flyweight champion Jenel Lausa. Lausa’s former belt was on the line Friday in the co-main event pitting former UFC top 15 flyweight Darren Uyenonyama (10-6) against Hawaiian Riley Dutro (9-3). The two high quality grapplers got to work straightaway, with Dutro withstanding and reversing the 37-year old’s repeated leglock efforts and eventually forcing matters back to the feet. From there Uyenoyama caught a tough break, apparently suffering a leg injury and falling to the mat; within moments Dutro was on top, pounding away at his helpless foe for the first round TKO win and the PXC flyweight crown.  

     The PXC 55 main event featured another title contest, as a match between Guamanians Trevin Jones (9-4) and Kyle Aguon (9-6) turned into a grueling clinch-heavy five round affair. Although the judges were split, Jones came away with the decision win and the title of top bantamweight in the Pacific.  And in undercard matches, former Bellator and Affliction lightweight competitor JJ Ambrose (28-7) claimed his third straight victory at the hands of Dylan Fussel (11-3), while Philippine bantamweight Stephan Loman (10-2) staked his claim for the next shot at Jones’ newly claimed 135 pound crown with a triumph over Australian Mark Abelardo (13-5).  
Reign in Power (China) – In the sole notable contest of the evening Thai-based Norwegian welterweight Glenn Sparv (13-4) rebounded from a crushing 11 second KO defeat to PXC star Zebaztian Kadestam with a 2nd round TKO win over well-traveled TUF 16 vet James “The Coolest Kid You Know” Chaney.  Sparv makes it 6 of 7 with five wins inside the distance during his recent stretch of top form, and sets himself up for further high-level action somewhere in the burgeoning Asian MMA scene.

Oligarch Fighting Entertainment (Russia)

     OK, TWIFP admits that’s not the real name of the organization that promoted Bigfoot Silva’s (19-11) first post-UFC battle against the relatively unknown Ivan Shtyrkov (5-0), but it’s probably close enough. Some parties were dubious that this would be a legit contest, given whispers that Shtyrkov’s previous match with ancient anarchist Jeff Monson was possibly fixed. After a tentative first round Silva and Shtyrkov put the rumors of outright match scripting to rest in the second, as the musclebound Russian sent Pezao flying through the ropes with a hard cross and proceeded to rain down dozens of solid headstrikes onto the prone Brazilian. Silva, likely enjoying the benefits of therapeutic TRT use, persevered in a manner that we haven’t seen since his legendary first meeting with Mark Hunt and managed to turn the tables on his fading opponent in round 3.

     What followed was an absolute manure-fest that began when Silva crumpled his opponent with an uppercut that sent the Russian’s mouthpiece deep into the crowd. The partisan referee saw this as an opportunity to let the rocked hometown fighter rest for more than a minute, yet when the action restarted Silva simply continued his assault. The referee intervened multiple times from there on out, standing up the action with Silva in control twice and literally putting his hands in the path of some of Bigfoot’s ground strikes. Thanks to the official’s helpful assistance Shtyrkov managed to stagger his way to the final bell and, despite being unable to stand for minutes after the contest ended, enjoyed a unanimous decision win in the eyes of the hometown judges. Despite incurring another loss on the record this was a fine performance from Silva compared to his recent struggles; check out the killer third round uppercut from Bigfoot that earned the Russian a minute long juice-and-cookies break.

ROC 57 (New Jersey)

     Lou Neglia’s Ring of Combat has been hosting premiere northeastern talent for years, and despite the late cancellation of a scheduled contest between top featherweight prospect Andre Harrison and TUF bad boy Julian Lane the show still brought the goods in the form of two competitive title contests.  The main event saw Team Tiger Schulman’s Julio Arce (10-2) keep things on the feet to claim featherweight gold from Jersey boy Frank Buenafuente (7-3), while in the co-main event Russian wrestler and defending champ Ruslan Melikov (6-1) kept things mostly on the ground and withstood a late charge from kickboxer Willie Hosch (4-4). Yet the most impressive performer of the night had to be New York welterweight Taj Abdul Hakim (4-0), who TWIFP grades out as having the potential to become an improved version of Uriah Hall; check out the Docket Regional Spotlight on ROC 57 for a full recap of the night’s festivities.

XCC 26 (Pennsylvania)

     “The South Jersey Strangler” Tim Williams (14-3) is among the most decorated US regional middleweights around, with notable recent wins over Ron Stallings, Ruslan Melikov, Dervin Lopez, and Nah-Shon Burrell outweighing a pair of losses to Anthony “Lionheart” Smith in the years since his TUF17 and TUF19 runs. The grappling ace added another regional strap to his belt collection in XCC 26’s headline attraction, finishing Legacy vet Muhammad Abdullah (8-2) early in the second round via armbar.

GKO 8 (California)

     A relative newcomer to the US western scene, Global Knockout treated its fans to an impressive regional card featuring several standout regional competitors on the undercard and a pair of notable flyweight prospects in the five round main event. After the dust settled Team Alpha Male’s Joseph Morales (7-0) retained his career-long winning streak, although Josh Paivi (8-2) can take some consolation in being the first man to go the distance with Morales since the prospect’s professional debut.  Paiva, who entered the match off of the heels of a submission win in the Bellator cage, sees a four fight finish streak of his own come to a halt.  Other winners on the night included California regional mainstay Buddy Wallace (13-6), Jackson-Wink featherweight prospect Stephen Cervantes (7-2), and fellow young featherweight noisemaker Tyler Diamond (6-0).

WFF 32 (Arizona)

     In the most notable bout of the show, three fight UFC featherweight veteran Roman Salazar (10-5) returned to the win column with a unanimous decision call over Mexican competitor Gilberto Aguilar (17-14-1).  Salazar snaps a four-fight winless streak that included bouts with known big league competitors Kid Yamamoto, Mitch Gagnon, Marlon Vera, and Ed West.
Sugar Creek Showdown 32 (Oklahoma) – The oddly-named SCS promotion may have a moniker that screams “minor league” but often features skilled competitors with some name cache; in recent times the promotion has been most newsworthy for hosting several of Jeremy Horn’s golden years bouts. True to form, SCS’s main event featured precisely one international-level competitor in local featherweight wrestler Jeremy Spoon (19-3). Spoon used his signature grappling and top control game to neutralize veteran striker Ran Weathers (18-25) en route to a unanimous decision nod that handed him his seventh win in eight starts since a 2012 TKO loss to Mike Richman in the Bellator cage.

Fury FC 14 (Texas)

     Three fight big show veteran Roger Narvaez (8-2) may be the most high-profile active firefighter competing in the sport other than UFC 265 pound champ Stipe Miocic, and the Texan certainly burned hot in his main event light heavyweight matchup with Juan Torres (5-8).  Narvaez bloodied his overmatched opponent before putting him away 3:56 into the contest, and in the process earned his first win since suffering a March 2015 TKO thrashing at the hands of current UFC middleweight and pound-for-pound haircare king Elias Theodorou.

Island Fights 39 (Florida)

     If you don’t love “Huggy Bear” Chris Barnett, it probably means that you don’t know who he is.  The 5’9, 300+ pound Taekwondo expert has savaged the regional scene in the US and Japan in recent years, with his only big show appearance limited to a dubious split decision loss to “Baby Fedor” Kirill Sidelnikov at a RIZIN show in April.  Huggy Bear got back to work this past weekend, beating up recent Bellator competitor Frank Tate (4-3) for three rounds en route to a unanimous decision win that should put the smile back on the ample yet nimble Barnett’s face.

Karkilla Fight Night (Finland)

     This event may not have been large enough to land on the radars of western fight reference sites, but luckily this back elbow KO courtesy of Toni Lampinen (1-1) speaks entirely for itself: 


Lyon FC 7 (France)

     MMA may be illegal in France, but please don’t tell that to the fine folks in charge of Lyon Fighting Championships (or the local authorities!). The show went off without a hitch, but given how things turned out the top-ranked Frenchmen on the card may well wish that the cops had broken things up prior to belltime. First, the co-main event saw top middleweight and recent Paulo Thiago victim Cheick Kone (17-6) drop his second straight at the hands of an Adam Mutaliev (8-3) armbar.  Then in the main event BAMMA and Cage Warriors veteran Damien Lapilius (13-8), who is the older and larger brother of top UFC prospect Taylor Lapilus, also ended up on the wrong side of the ledger as he suffered an upset TKO loss to onetime ACB competitor Fares Ziam (5-1).

XFC 28 (Australia)

     The XFC cage descended upon Queensland, Australia this past weekend for a night of combat featuring a host of nascent fighters and a handful of quality talent from Down Under.  The main event saw #2 Australian regional lightweight Kieran Joblin (20-7) add the vacant XFC belt to his collection thanks to a third round armbar win over “Dynamic Monkey” Sung Hwa Han (8-6) of South Korea; and the co-main featured a pair of notable Aussie welterweight prospects, as Matt Vaile (6-1) liberated Andrew Mills (7-0) from the ranks of the unbeaten with a round 3 TKO.  Vaile wins in his first outing since dropping a CITC regional lightweight title match to ex-UFC competitor and current ACB star Benny Alloway in September.

ROAD FC 34 (China)

     ROAD has been rapidly ascending to a position of prominence in Asian MMA, and with a $1 million lightweight tournament scheduled for 2017 things are bound to only get bigger for the South Korea-based promotion.  The organization has made particular inroads into the Chinese market and this show emphasized that progress, with several top fighters from that nation taking to the cage.  In the most notable undercard bouts, WMMA pioneer Emi Fujino (18-10) barely commenced her strawweight fight with top Chinese female pugilist Xiaonan Yan (7-1) before the bout was called due to a cut from an accidental headbutt; another notable Chinese competitor, Kenan Song (12-3), fell via decision to underrated Russian welterweight Elnur Agaev; and the impeccably named Khuukhenkhuu Amartuvshin of Mongolia (4-3) earned a slot in the upcoming million dollar tourney with an upset decision win at the expense of Brazilian Rodrigo Caporal (13-6).

     But the real highlight of the show, for TWIFP’s money, was Chinese heavyweight hero Aorigele (4-3) smashing a mudhole into former M-1 and KSW competitor Yusuke Kawaguchi (19-12). TWIFP recommends that anyone who suffers from cathisocacomorphobia (fear of being sat on by a very large person) turn their head away immediately.  

For everyone else, enjoy the GIF and thanks for joining us for another engorging edition of This Week in Face Punching!



ALSO: In case you haven’t noticed, we use a LOT of gifs from @Jolassanda and @GrabakaHitman. Click those names there, and give a follow. YOU WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED. Thanks J & G for all your hard work. You guys make the MMA-Spice flow. And MMA-Spice is life.