Jeff Curran: Dave Mandel | Sherdog.com
Fighters are always given advice by their corners in the dying seconds of every round: finish strong. MMA fans can expect a strong finish in the final month of 2010.
From the Strikeforce show on Saturday to UFC 124 in Montreal on Dec. 11 and the traditionally star-studded Japanese New Year’s Eve events, fight sport fanciers are in for a treat this December. In addition, the regional circuits will feature plenty of exciting matchups. From Brazil to Russia, from Costa Rica to Northern Ireland, it appears as though promotions around the world have saved their best for last.
Below follows this month’s rundown of hidden gems.
As always, the list does not focus on the well-promoted main event bouts you already know to watch, but rather on fights from all over the planet that are worth seeing. The UFC, Strikeforce, Dream and Sengoku Raiden Championship are excluded by design.
Mika Nagano vs. Seo Hee Ham
Jewels “Eleventh Ring,” Dec. 17 -- Tokyo
In this month’s featured women’s fight, Nagano -- the 2009 Rough Stone junior flyweight grand prix winner and famous amateur stripper -- takes on Ham, a hard-hitting Korean, in a classic striker-versus-grappler encounter. Nagano, a former amateur wrestling champion, has feuded with Norway’s Celine Haga in 2010, splitting a pair of bouts with the Joachim Hansen protégé. Ham, dubbed “Hamderlei Silva” because of her reckless stand-up style, has an undefeated professional kickboxing record and holds a win over former Deep champion Hisae Watanabe.
Jeff Curran vs. Travis Marx
Nemesis Fighting “MMA Global Invasion,” Dec. 10 -- Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Originally scheduled for Nov. 13, the postponement of this event due to Tropical Storm Tomas means Curran will fight twice in nine days. First, he takes on Bodog Fight veteran David Love under the Xtreme Fighting Organization banner on Dec. 4 in Lakemoor, Ill. Then, the former WEC featherweight title contender will depart for the eastern shores of the Dominican Republic to square off with Marx, a Jeremy Horn protégé, at “MMA Global Invasion.”
Mairbek Taisumov vs. Ivica Truscek
GCF “Judgment Day,” Dec. 5 -- Prague, Czech Republic
In the main event of Gladiator Championship Fighting’s inaugural show, a finalist from this year’s M-1 Selection Eastern European tournament, Taisumov, will take on Truscek, a fellow M-1 veteran. “Beckan” holds significant wins over experienced Finn Jarkko Latomaki, Polish wrestler Borys Mankowski and previously undefeated Frenchman Julien Boussuge.
Meanwhile Truscek is coming off a trio of technical knockout victories. The show will take place at the brand new, 3,000-seat Sparta Arena in the country’s capital.
Simeon Thoresen vs. Vaidas Valancius
Cage Wars “Validation,” Dec. 10 -- Belfast, Northern Ireland
The marquee matchup on the first Cage Wars show of 2010 pits the pride of Norwegian MMA, Thoresen, against Valancius, a once-beaten Lithuanian. “The Grin” is patiently waiting for his shot at the major leagues. The 26-year-old training partner of Joachim Hansen has lost just once in his young career -- a close decision defeat at the hands of Japanese veteran Eiji Ishikawa in 2008. However, Valancius, a well-rounded Titanas fighter, does not plan on becoming a stepping stone for Thoresen. His only defeat came to Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Igor Araujo.
Chris Barnett vs. Mario Rinaldi
XFC 13 “Unstoppable,” Dec. 3 -- Tampa, Fla.
Two of the best heavyweights in the Sunshine State go to war in the co-headliner of the latest offering from Xtreme Fighting Championships, the regional powerhouse promotion based in Florida. “Beast Boy” Barnett is as agile as they come for someone with a 5-foot-9, 260-pound frame. The 24-year-old fan favorite will face the toughest task of his young career, as he takes on American Top Team’s Rinaldi. “Big Hurt” is a 2007 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships quarter-finalist and holds a recent win over former UFC heavyweight champion Ricco Rodriguez.
Yuki Kondo vs. Rikuhei Fujii
Pancrase “Passion Tour 11,” Dec. 5 -- Tokyo
Making the second defense of his middleweight King of Pancrase crown, Kondo will make his 66th appearance for the promotion to which he has remained faithful since making his debut in January 1996. If there ever was a lifetime achievement award for loyalty, Pancrase should bestow it upon Kondo. On Dec. 5, he squares off against Fujii, a man nine years his junior, in a rematch of their September bout under the Cage Force banner. There, Fujii beat Kondo on points. This time, he draws the champion in a ring, with a title on the line.
Alejandro Solano Rodriguez vs. John Gunderson
XVT 5 “Franca vs. Kheder,” Dec. 19 -- Cartago, Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s own Rodriguez has become a bit of a celebrity in South American MMA circles during the past 18 months. The 32-year-old knockout artist first won an eight-man, single-night tournament in June 2009 and then scored a major upset over former Chute Boxe Academy jiu-jitsu coach and Pride Fighting Championships veteran Cristiano Marcello at Bitetti Combat 7 in May. Wasting no time, domestic promotion Xtreme Vale Todo has pitted “Mandarina” against Shawn Tompkins-trained UFC veteran John Gunderson for his stiffest test to date.
Abner Lloveras vs. Shamil Zavurov
M-1 Challenge 22, Dec. 10 -- Moscow
A year of fighting on the M-1 Challenge circuit will culminate in three title fights on Dec. 10. In the welterweight division, Western Europe champion Lloveras, of Spain, takes on Eastern Europe tournament winner Zavurov, of Russia. Lloveras is a purple belt under well-regarded Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructor Rafael Haubert and has prepared with Daniel Tabera and the rest of the S.H.O.O.T Spain team in Valencia for this challenge. Zavurov will enjoy home-field advantage and has never been finished in his seven-year MMA career.
Glover Teixeira vs. Daniel Tabera
Bitetti Combat 8, Dec. 4 -- Sao Paulo, Brazil
Teixeira suffers from the same affliction as his countrymen, Bruno Carvalho and Vitor Vianna. He has legitimate skills but little name recognition. As a result, he finds it hard to secure opponents. Teixeira remains best known as Chuck Liddell’s jiu-jitsu coach and the first man to knock out Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou. At Bitetti Combat’s last offering, Tabera had to fill in for Dutchman Hans Stringer on a week’s notice. He recently reached the final of KSW’s light heavyweight tournament in Poland.
Jussier da Silva vs. Danny Martinez
TPF 7 “Deck the Halls,” Dec. 2 -- Lemoore, Calif.
The heartbreaking plea for financial support flyweight king da Silva started this summer should be fresh in the minds of everyone who follows the career of the young Brazilian standout. California-based promotion Tachi Palace Fights has answered the call and signed “Formiga” to a four-fight contract. The former Shooto South American champion will be welcomed in his United States debut by Martinez, a WEC veteran. The Arizonan will drop down not one but two weight classes to try to hand da Silva his first defeat.
Contact Tim Leidecker at www.facebook.com/Rossonero1 or follow him on twitter @Rossonero1.