Masakatsu Ueda will head for Bellator following his Jan. 8 bout. | Photo: Marcelo Alonso
Another year has come and gone, and the sport of mixed martial arts continues to grow around the globe.
In the United States, the Ultimate Fighting Championship has taken the next step in its development and brought its brand to network television. A similar boom is happening in Brazil, which will host the first international season of “The Ultimate Fighter” in 2012. Other respectable events have surfaced or re-emerged in Singapore (One Fighting Championship), South Africa (Extreme Fighting Championship Africa) and the United Kingdom (Cage Warriors Fighting Championship).
Considering the UFC’s ambitious schedule and with the Viacom-backed Bellator Fighting Championships set to pick up where it left off, the regional promotions in North America, South America, Europe, Brazil and Japan are becoming more and more important. In our monthly “10 Tussles” series, we have made it our business to take fans around the globe in an effort to broaden their MMA horizons, showcasing the best fights that might not receive much attention otherwise.
As always, the list does not focus on the well-promoted main event bouts from major organizations you already know to watch, but rather on fights from all over the planet that are worth seeing. The UFC, Strikeforce, Dream and Bellator are excluded by design.
Shamar Bailey vs. Darrell Smith
Colosseum Combat 19 | Jan. 7 -- Kokomo, Ind.
The depth and quality of the UFC’s lightweight division resulted in “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 13 alum Bailey being released from the promotion after he lost to Danny Castillo in November. Now, the 29-year-old Windy City native has found work outside the Octagon. First, Bailey will take on 35-fight veteran Smith in the backyard of the man they call the “Bulldog.” Then, in two weeks, Bailey will travel to Plains, Pa., to face the undefeated Ford Robinson at Pure MMA “The Beginning.”
Hiroki Aoki vs. Luiz Andrade I
Deep “Fujisan Festival” | Jan. 29 -- Fuji, Japan
Deep lightweight mainstay Aoki is not related to his more accomplished namesake, Shinya Aoki, by blood or marriage. The versatile 26-year-old crossed over from Pancrase in 2011 and last fought in a three-round battle against Pride Fighting Championships and Dream veteran Seichi Ikemoto in September. Known as “AB,” his next challenge comes from Nippon-based Brazilian Andrade I. The 26-year-old karateka is one of the longest-serving Deep fighters and has already fought the likes of Katsunori Kikuno, Takafumi Otsuka and Abner Lloveras. Both Aoki and Andrade I lack consistency but are almost always involved in great fights.
Matt Muramoto vs. Angelo Sanchez
King of the Cage “Night Stalker” | Jan. 14 -- Santa Fe, N.M.
Featherweights Muramoto and Sanchez will duke it out for the King of the Cage super fight belt. Known as “The Kamikaze Kid,” Muramoto took the first prominent scalp of his young career last summer, when he handed Charles “Krazy Horse” Bennett a submission loss. Sanchez, meanwhile, is best known for splitting a pair of bouts with former KOTC featherweight champion Donald Sanchez. “The San-I Warrior” comes from a boxing background but has excelled with his submission game of late, tapping out his last three opponents. He hopes to make it four in a row in front of his home crowd.
Shunichi Shimizu vs. Alan Yoshihiro Yamaniwa
Zst “Battle Genesis Vol. 9” | Jan. 22 -- Tokyo
Shimizu is the oldest of three brothers fighting out of the Uruno Dojo in Tokyo. The dynamic grappler fought his way into the finals of the Sengoku Raiden Championship bantamweight tournament but never got to fight for the belt, as the promotion went out of business before the bout was held. Yamaniwa trains under black belt brothers Mauricio Souza and Marcos Souza at Bonsai Jiu-Jitsu and has yet to taste defeat in his professional career.
Michelle Waterson vs. Diana Rael
Jackson’s MMA Series 7 | Jan. 21 -- Albuquerque, N.M.
Strikeforce veteran Waterson and world-ranked strawweight Rael will headline the seventh Jackson’s MMA Series event. Watterson, “The Karate Hottie,” has plenty of lighter weight fighters with which to train at Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts, like “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 14 winner John Dodson and world-ranked bantamweight Julie Kedzie.
Despite her connection to a high-profile fight camp with excellent connections, the 25-year-old has had difficulty securing fights. That is why her bout against once-beaten Coloradan Real comes at an opportune time, especially since the Serial Boxe fighter also likes to stand and trade.
Kleber Orgulho vs. Emiliano Sordi
Jungle Fight 36 | Jan. 21 -- Rocinha, Brazil
Wallid Ismail’s Jungle Fight promotion has emerged as the premier organization in South America, putting on a whopping 11 events in 2011. “The Gracie Killer” has similar plans for 2012 and will get right to work with the 36th edition of his popular event series. In the main event, Orgulho, who has served as one of the main sparring partners for UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos, will take on unrenowned Argentinian Sordi. The 20-year-old caused a minor tremor on the regional Brazilian scene on Dec. 17, when he ended the three-fight winning streak of Bruno Capelosa with a quick guillotine.
Kiyotaka Shimizu vs. Seiji Ozuka
Pancrase “Progress Tour 1” | Jan. 28 -- Tokyo
Reigning flyweight King of Pancrase Shimizu has carried his great form of 2010 into 2011 with wins over Junya Kudo and eternal rival Mitsuhisa Sunabe, while losing only to former pound-for-pound ace Shinichi Kojima by decision. The 27-year-old will open his 2012 campaign with the fourth defense of his 125-pound title. Challenging the champion will be Ozuka. The 11-year veteran has had runs in Shooto and Deep and will carry a five-fight undefeated streak into the title matchup. “Oz” likes to knock out his opponents and will use every available body part to do so.
Sara McMann vs. Hitomi Akano
ProElite 3 “Grove vs. Minowa” | Jan. 21 -- Honolulu
Without question one of the premier wrestlers in all of MMA, South Carolina’s McMann has entered the sport on the back of an Olympic silver medal, as well as a second-place finish in the world championships. Poised to become one of the aces for the reborn ProElite promotion, the 31-year-old made her debut for the organization in August, as she manhandled Raquel Pa’aluhi. McMann will take a huge step up in competition as she takes on former Smackgirl champion and Top 5-ranked Japanese veteran Akano, who is coming off a major win over Roxanne Modafferi.
Brian Cobb vs. Antonio McKee
Maximum Fighting Championship 32 | Jan. 27 -- Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
With wins over Kazunori Yokota and Drew Fickett under his belt, Cobb could be one more significant victory away from getting his second shot at the major leagues. In 2009, the master of the rear-naked choke had a one-fight stint in the UFC, losing to Terry Etim in spectacular fashion. However, MFC champion McKee has no plans on being a stepping stone for Cobb. After a unsatisfying one-fight appearance in the UFC himself -- McKee lost a split decision Jacob Volkmann at UFC 125 -- “Mandingo” wants to live up to his earlier success in the Great White North.
Masakatsu Ueda vs. Kyoji Horiguchi
Shooto “Survivor Tournament Final” | Jan. 8 -- Tokyo
The ultimate passing of the torch-type of fight pits former Shooto featherweight champion Ueda against Horiguchi, perhaps Japan’s top prospect. While Ueda is a strong wrestler with stifling top control and almost impenetrable submission defense, Horiguchi is an exciting young power puncher with extremely fast hands and aggressive ground-and-pound. The 20-year-old’s biggest challenge will be to pace himself against the wily veteran and avoid storming right into one of the Paraestra Tokyo fighter’s traps.
Follow Tim Leidecker on Twitter at @TimLeidecker or contact him at www.facebook.com/Rossonero1.