10 February Tussles Worth Watching

By Brian Knapp Feb 10, 2016

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:

On suspension in the United States following a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs, onetime Bellator middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko has decided to take his talents back home.

Shlemenko will meet former two-division M-1 Global titleholder Vyacheslav Vasilevsky in the M-1 Challenge 64 main event on Feb. 19 at the Olympic Sports Complex in Moscow. The 31-year-old Shlemenko has not lost a fight in his native Russia since losing a decision to Vener Galiev under the Cup of Empire banner more than a decade ago.

Known for his dazzling array of spinning attacks and his commitment to them, Shlemenko boasts 37 finishes among his 51 professional victories. He last competed at Bellator 133 a year ago, when he knocked out Melvin Manhoef in the second round of their encounter in Fresno, California. However, the result was later changed to a no-contest when Shlemenko was flagged for an elevated testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio and tested positive for the anabolic steroid oxandrolone. The California State Athletic Commission has since levied a three-year suspension against him.

Vasilevsky sports a gaudy 27-3 record and has won 10 of his past 11 bouts. A five-time combat sambo world champion, he owns victories over Xavier Foupa-Pokam, Trevor Prangley and Maiquel Falcao. Vasilevsky, 27, last appeared at M-1 Challenge 62 on Oct. 10, when he submitted Kristijan Perak with a rear-naked choke 62 seconds into the second round.

The Shlemenko-Vasilevsky clash is but one outside-the-major-MMA-bubble bout worth monitoring during the month of February. Here are nine more:

Jason Soares vs. Danny Chavez
Fight Time 29
Feb. 12 | Miami, Florida

The undefeated Soares will defend his Fight Time featherweight championship against Chavez in a battle between two of Florida’s more promising prospects. The 26-year-old Soares has delivered seven of his eight wins by knockout, technical knockout or submission, four of them inside one round. A former contestant on “American Ninja Warrior,” he competed on Season 22 of “The Ultimate Fighter” but failed to advance beyond the elimination phase. Chavez has pieced together a 7-1 record since turning pro, a five-round decision loss to Jordan Parsons under the Championship Fighting Alliance banner his lone misstep. He will climb into the cage on the strength of a three-fight winning streak.

Rolando Velasco vs. Joe Neal
Tachi Palace Fights 26
Feb. 18 | Lemoore, California

The Tachi Palace Fights bantamweight crown will hang in the balance when Velasco entertains his first challenger as champion. A product of the same Last Stand Fight Team that spawned UFC bantamweight contender Michael McDonald, Velasco captured Tachi Palace Fights gold on Aug. 6, when he tapped Josh San Diego with a third-round arm-triangle choke. It was his seventh win in eight appearances. Neil, 29, suffered his first professional defeat at Bellator 142 in September, when he wound up on the wrong side of a unanimous decision against Gabriel Carrasco.

Curtis Blaydes vs. Luis Cortez
Resurrection Fighting Alliance 35
Feb. 19 | Orem, Utah

The hype behind Blaydes seems to be legitimate, especially when one considers the dearth of quality young heavyweights present in today’s MMA. The 24-year-old was a decorated amateur wrestler, winning a junior college national championship at Harper College in Palatine, Illinois, before transitioning to mixed martial arts. Blaydes has stopped each of his first four opponents ahead of his Resurrection Fighting Alliance debut. Cortez last competed at a Front Street Fights show on Sept. 11, when he put away Colton Vaughn with punches in just 23 seconds.

Mansour Barnaoui vs. Artiom Damkovsky
M-1 Challenge 64
Feb. 19 | Moscow

At 23 years of age, Barnaoui appears to have a bright future ahead of him. The Team Magnum export failed in his bid to become a two-division M-1 Global champion in October, when he downshifted to 145 pounds and lost a five-round decision to Ivan Buchinger at the Ice Cube Curling Center in Sochi, Russia. Barnaoui now shifts his focus to defending the M-1 Global lightweight title against Damkovsky, a seasoned 29-fight veteran who has rattled off four straight wins. A native of Belarus, the 32-year-old Damkovsky has not fought since he took a unanimous decision from Heydar Mamedaliev at M-1 Challenge 55 a little less than a year ago.

Luis Rafael Laurentino vs. Fabricio Viegas Sarraff
Aspera Fighting Championship 32
Feb. 20 | Curitiba, Brazil

The record alone is enough to warrant attention. Laurentino will put his perfect 31-0 mark on the line against Sarraff inside the Aspera Fighting Championship promotion. The 23-year-old Astra Fight Team featherweight has gone the distance just three times in those 31 fights and finds himself on a run of six consecutive first-round finishes. Laurentino last fought on Sept. 12, when he needed just 1:25 to submit Paulo Sergio dos Santos with a rear-naked choke. Sarraff, 23, has won two of his last three bouts.

Alexander Sarnavskiy vs. Murad Machaev
Fight Nights “Battle of Moscow 21”
Feb. 26 | Moscow

North American fight fans will recognize Sarnavskiy from the considerable time he spent in Bellator, where he was a finalist in the Season 9 lightweight tournament in 2013. The 27-year-old Shlemenko protégé started his career 20-0 and has won 12 of 15 bouts since, losing only to Rich Clementi, Will Brooks and Marcin Held. Sarnavskiy last appeared at a Far Eastern Federation of Modern Pankration event on Nov. 28, when he knocked out Nova Uniao’s Leandro Rodrigues Pontes in less than a minute. On an eight-fight winning streak, Machaev has been on the radar of prospect watchers for some time. The 29-year-old has recorded 13 finishes among his 17 victories.

Tom Duquesnoy vs. Damien Rooney
British Association of Mixed Martial Arts 24
Feb. 27 | Dublin

Duquesnoy will keep his British Association of Mixed Martial Arts featherweight championship on the shelf, as he descends to 135 pounds for a co-headliner opposite Rooney. Regarded by some as the top prospect in the sport at any weight, the 22-year-old Duquesnoy has gone 7-0, with one no-contest, since submitting to a Makwan Amirkhani brabo choke three years ago. He last fought at BAMMA 22 on Sept. 19, when he escaped his encounter against Brendan Loughnane with a controversial split decision. In Rooney, Duquesnoy faces an opponent who has been on the sidelines since November 2014.

Yushin Okami vs. Ryuta Sakurai
Deep 75 Impact
Feb. 27 | Tokyo

Okami touches down in the Deep organization for the first time, as he looks to get himself pointed in the right direction. The former UFC and World Series of Fighting title contender will enter his promotional debut on the heels of back-to-back losses to Jon Fitch and David Branch. At 34 and with 40 fights already under his belt, Okami’s window of opportunity may finally be closing. Still, previous wins over Hector Lombard, Nate Marquardt, Mark Munoz and Alan Belcher (twice) cannot be ignored. The 44-year-old Sakurai has even more miles on his odometer. He has lost each of his last four fights, three of them via submission.

Louis Gaudinot vs. Sidemar Honorio
Cage Fury Fighting Championships 56
Feb. 27 | Philadelphia

Cut loose by the Ultimate Fighting Championship following a decision loss to Kyoji Horiguchi at UFC 182 in January 2015, Gaudinot has returned to the familiar haunts of the regional fight scene. A quarterfinalist on Season 14 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” he will challenge Honorio for the Cage Fury Fighting Championships flyweight title. Gaudinot made a successful CFFC debut on Sept. 12, when he claimed a unanimous verdict from Claudio Ledesma and picked up his first victory since he choked John Lineker unconscious with a guillotine in 2012. Honorio will enter his second title defense on a three-fight winning streak that includes a five-round decision over Lincoln de Sa Oliveira in June.

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