In an effort to bring more attention to the global stage of mixed martial arts, this list does not focus on major North American-based promotions such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Bellator MMA and the World Series of Fighting ...
He is a giant among heavyweights, the mere mention of his name evoking thoughts of historic dominance, regal stoicism and quiet savagery.
Former Pride Fighting Championships heavyweight titleholder Fedor Emelianenko will return to the MMA scene after a three-year retirement, as he headlines Rizin Fighting Federation 2 on Dec. 31 at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. The 39-year-old Russian remains without an opponent for the event, but his supporters nevertheless await his comeback with giddy intrigue.
Emelianenko has not fought since he took care of Pedro Rizzo with first-round punches under the M-1 Global banner in June 2012. He was for years the most dominant fighter in the sport, having compiled a 27-0 record from April 6, 2001 until Nov. 7, 2009. Emelianenko sports 26 finishes among his 34 career victories, 23 of them inside one round, and owns wins over four former UFC champions -- Mark Coleman (twice), Kevin Randleman, Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia -- and three Olympic medalists: Satoshi Ishii, Matt Lindland and Naoya Ogawa. “The Last Emperor” has also beaten Brazilian icon Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (twice), four-time K-1 World Grand Prix winner Semmy Schilt and 2006 Pride open weight grand prix winner Mirko Filipovic.
The return of “The Last Emperor” is but one outside-the-major-MMA-bubble fight worth monitoring during the month of December. Here are nine more:
M-1 Challenge 63
Dec. 4 | St. Petersburg, Russia
Puetz will put his M-1 Global light heavyweight title on the line in his rematch with Nemkov. The 28-year-old Team MMA Spirit rep has rattled off four consecutive victories since his decision loss to Joachim Christensen at a European MMA event in 2014. Puetz captured M-1 Global gold with a split decision over Nemkov at M-1 Challenge 46 and successfully defended the championship with subsequent wins against Luis Fernando Miranda and Valery Myasnikov. The 28-year-old Nemkov last competed in August, when he took a unanimous verdict from Maro Perak at Grinn Arena in Oryol, Russia.
Xtreme Fighting Championships International 13
Dec. 5 | Sao Paulo, Brazil
Nova Uniao has yet another hot commodity on its hands. Uda has finished seven of his first eight opponents, establishing himself as one of the top middleweights currently operation outside of the major MMA organizations. The Brazilian owns a January 2013 submission victory over Richardson Moreira and last fought at XFCI 9 on March 15, when he cut down Boris Miroshnichenko with third-round punches. Perpetuo was a semifinalist on Season 1 of “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil” and went 1-2 in the UFC before being released.
One Championship “Spirit of Champions”
Dec. 11 | Manila, Philippines
Vera never quite met the expectations set for him in the UFC -- he was once viewed as a potential two-division champion -- but he has breathed new life into his career inside the One Championship organization. The 38-year-old made his debut in the Singapore-based promotion with a first-round knockout of Igor Subora a year ago and will now challenge the unbeaten Lewis-Parry for the vacant One Championship heavyweight title. All six of Lewis-Parry’s wins have resulted in finishes, two of them in less than 30 seconds.
Resurrection Fighting Alliance 33
Dec. 11 | Costa Mesa, Calif.
When Anderson Silva sings your praises, people tend to pay attention. Such was the case for Rountree, a 25-year-old Black House prospect who finds himself on the fast track to stardom as he approaches his clash with Polendey under the Resurrection Fighting Alliance banner. “The War Horse” last appeared at RFA 25 in April, when he claimed a three-round decision from Cameron Olson. Rountree suffered a torn pectoral muscle in the bout and has spent the past seven months recovering from the injury. Polendy will carry a six-fight winning streak into the match.
Venator Fighting Championship 2
Dec. 12 | Rimini, Italy
Barnatt’s disappointing run in the UFC ended with his being released following three straight defeats to Sean Strickland, Roger Narvaez and Mark Munoz. “The Ultimate Fighter 17” quarterfinalist will look to get his career back on track in a Venator Fighting Championship main event opposite the once-beaten Shiavolin. The 31-year-old Schiavolin won a Venator middleweight tournament earlier in the year, scoring consecutive first-round finishes against Christian Magro, Vittorio Marotta and Alessandro Botti.
Dec. 13 | Tokyo
Ishiwatari will defend his Pancrase bantamweight championship against the fast-rising Henry at Differ Ariake. The 30-year-old champion has been sidelined since rupturing the triceps tendon in his left arm while training in January. Ishiwatari owns a 10-2-1 record in Pancrase, with his only two defeats coming against Kyoji Horiguchi and Jonathan Brookins. Henry, 28, has gone 2-0 in Pancrase and 4-0 overall in Japan, posting impressive finishes against the likes of Hideo Tokoro and Masakatsu Ueda. The Josh Barnett disciple earned his title shot on Oct. 4, when he dropped a first-round guillotine on Hidekazu Fukushima at Pancrase 270.
Titan Fighting Championship 36
Dec. 18 | Kansas City, Mo.
Elliott’s Titan Fighting Championship flyweight crown will hang in the balance when he locks horns with Nobre at the Scottish Rite Center. The 28-year-old champion has posted back-to-back victories since being cut loose by the UFC in February: He captured a five-round unanimous decision over Iliarde Santos on July 18 and then submitted Felipe Efrain with a second-round guillotine choke two months later. A Murilo Bustamante protégé, Nobre has compiled a gaudy 17-1 record, a September 2012 technical knockout loss to Sheymon da Silva Moraes the only misstep.
Deep 74 Impact
Dec. 20 | Tokyo
Deep featherweight champion Yokota will risk his 12-fight winning streak in a non-title bout with the resurgent Imanari. The 37-year-old Yokota has not tasted defeat since being knocked out by Narantungalag Jadambaa at a Sengoku event nearly five years ago. His current tear includes a December 2014 decision win over Isao Kobayashi and submissions against Anatoly Safronov, Eun Kyum Kim and Yusuke Kagiyama. Imanari, 39, has strung together four straight victories, all of them by submission. He last fought on Aug. 29, when he needed just 21 seconds to tap Mun Hwan Yang with a heel hook.
Rizin Fighting Federation 1
Dec. 29 | Saitama, Japan
Sakuraba and Aoki have been tasked with ushering in a new era in Japanese MMA, as they will headline the first Rizin Fighting Federation event on Dec. 29 at the Saitama Super Arena. The shopworn Sakuraba remains one of the sport’s most beloved and revered figures, even though he has not competed since 2011 and has not won a fight since 2009. The 46-year-old has been finished in each of his last three appearances, twice by submission. Aoki, the reigning One Championship lightweight titleholder, has pieced together an eight-fight winning streak in wake of his April 2012 loss to Eddie Alvarez.