10 June Tussles Worth Watching

By Brian Knapp Jun 9, 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:

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He casts a shadow unlike anyone else in mixed martial arts.

Former Pride Fighting Championships heavyweight titleholder Fedor Emelianenko will compete in his homeland for the first time in nearly four years when he meets Fabio Maldonado in the Fight Nights Global 50 main event on Friday, June 17 at Sibur Arena in St. Petersburg, Russia. The event will stream to UFC Fight Pass.

Emelianenko, 39, came out of retirement on New Year’s Eve to strike Jaideep Singh into submission under the Rizin Fighting Federation flag in a little more than three minutes. A multi-time combat sambo world champion, “The Last Emperor” has rattled off four straight victories since being knocked out by Dan Henderson in Strikeforce in 2011. Emelianenko was for years one of the central figures in the sport, as he amassed a ridiculous 27-0 record from April 6, 2001 until Nov. 7, 2009. He owns victories 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. Emelianenko has also defeated 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 36-year-old Maldonado holds a 24-0 record as a professional boxer while also piecing together a meaningful MMA career, including an 11-fight stint in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. He has graced a number of high-profile training camps with his presence, from Team Nogueira to American Top Team, and has secured 16 of his 22 victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission. Maldonado last fought at UFC Fight Night “Belfort vs. Henderson 3” on Nov. 7, when he wound up on the wrong side of a unanimous decision against Corey Anderson in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The Emelianenko-Maldonado showdown is but one outside-the-major-MMA-bubble matchup worth monitoring during the month of June. Here are nine more:

Andre Harrison vs. Deivison Francisco Ribeiro
Titan Fighting Championship 39
June 10 | Coral Gables, Florida

Harrison will put his perfect 12-0 record and Titan Fighting Championships featherweight title on the line when he faces Ribeiro in the Titan 39 co-main event. A Ring of Combat veteran, the 28-year-old Harrison has long been viewed as one of MMA’s more promising prospects at 145 pounds. He captured the Titan featherweight crown with a five-round unanimous decision over Kurt Holobaugh in July 2015 and has since defended it twice in back-to-back wins against Desmond Green and Steven Siler. Though he has not competed in almost two years, American Top Team’s Ribeiro, 27, will enter the cage on a four-fight winning streak.

Levan Makashvili vs. Ryan Sanders
CES MMA 36
June 10 | Lincoln, Rhode Island

A crack at the CES MMA lightweight title may hang in the balance when Makashvili confronts Sanders in an impromptu co-main event. Makashvili, who will serve as a short-notice replacement for injured 155-pound champion Luis Felix, has not fought since a three-bout stay in the Ultimate Fighting Championship ended with a draw against Damon Jackson at UFC on Fox 18 in January. The 27-year-old Georgian has already held organizational gold inside the Cage Fury Fighting Championships promotion. A Bellator MMA alum, Sanders will step into the cage on the strength of a three-fight winning streak.

Hiroyuki Takaya vs. Nazareno Malegarie
Pancrase 278
June 12 | Tokyo

The 38-year-old Takaya has rattled off four straight victories and looks to continue his late-career resurgence at Malegarie’s expense. A former Dream champion and World Extreme Cagefighting veteran, Takaya has battled and beaten many of his contemporaries over the years, having defeated Takeshi Inoue, Kazuyuki Miyata, Hatsu Hioki and reigning One Championship titleholder Bibiano Fernandes during a career that dates back to 2003. Malegarie, who has never been finished in 28 pro bouts, has gone 7-1 across his past eight outings, a split decision loss to Joaquim Silva at UFC 191 the lone setback.

Alexander Volkov vs. Attila Vegh
M-1 Challenge 68
June 16 | St. Petersburg, Russia

Volkov has a difficult task ahead of him, as he prepares to defend the M-1 Global heavyweight championship for the first time. “Drago” on Feb. 19 rebounded from consecutive Bellator losses to Cheick Kongo and Tony Johnson by submitting Denis Smoldarev with a third-round triangle choke to claim the vacant M-1 belt. Twenty of the 27-year-old Voklov’s 25 career wins have resulted in finishes. Vegh, like Volkov, is a former Bellator champion. The well-traveled American Top Team rep will enter the match on the heels of back-to-back split decision defeats to Goran Reljic and Emanuel Newton.

Raoni Barcelos vs. Bobby Moffett
Resurrection Fighting Alliance 39
June 17 | Hammond, Indiana

Perhaps Barcelos will be the next fighter to use the Resurrection Fighting Alliance as a springboard to bigger and better things. Until then, he has business to tend to, as the 29-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt will risk the featherweight title against Moffett in the RFA 39 headliner. Barcelos has been on the sidelines since claiming the 145-pound championship in a lopsided unanimous decision over Ricky Musgrave in August. He boasts six finishes among his nine pro victories, five of them having occurred inside the first round. On a four-fight tear, the once-beaten Moffett last fought on Feb. 6, when he submitted Caleb Williams with a second-round arm-triangle choke at a Hoosier Fight Club event in Michigan City, Indiana.

Mike Rhodes vs. Rakim Cleveland
Victory Fighting Championship 51
June 24 | Des Moines, Iowa

Rhodes and Cleveland have their sights set on the same prize: the vacant Victory Fighting Championship middleweight throne. Spawned by the Milwaukee-based Roufusport camp, Rhodes has quietly put together back-to-back-to-back wins since being released by the UFC in December 2014. Still just 26 years old, the Duke Roufus protégé has plenty of time to fulfill his considerable promise. Cleveland, 27, has won four in a row. He last appeared at Victory 49 on April 1, when he delivered a 36-second knockout against Brian Houston.

Manny Vazquez vs. Steven Peterson
Legacy Fighting Championship 56
June 24 | Dallas

Vazquez raised eyebrows in February, when he submitted the highly touted Ricardo Lucas Ramos for the vacant Legacy Fighting Championship bantamweight crown. It was easily the 22-year-old’s most significant victory to date. Vazquez now takes his turn as the hunted, as he puts his 135-pound championship on the line against Peterson in the Legacy 56 headliner. Octagon MMA’s Peterson has the wind from a five-fight winning streak at his back. He has been finished just once -- George Pacurariu knocked him out in April 2013 -- in his 17-fight career.

Brian Ebersole vs. Steven Kennedy
Hex Fight Series 6
June 24 | Melbourne, Australia

Ebersole has accumulated plenty of miles during a professional MMA career that encompasses 70 pro bouts -- a fact which led to his decision to retire in 2015. It seems the call to competition was too great a temptation to overcome. Ebersole will come out of retirement to sling leather with Kennedy at a Hex Fighting Series event in Australia, the country where “Bad Boy” enjoyed his greatest success as a mixed martial artist. Kennedy was released following a failed two-fight stint in the UFC, where he bowed to Richard Walsh and Peter Sobotta.

Satoru Kitaoka vs. Kota Shimoishi
Deep 76 Impact
June 26 | Tokyo

Kitaoka has kept the Deep lightweight championship under wraps for more than three years. That prize will be up for grabs when the Japanese powerhouse meets the fast-rising Shimoishi at Korakuen Hall. Kitaoka, 36, saw his run of five straight wins grind to a halt in November, when he fell prey to Kazuki Tokudome in a failed bid to capture Pancrase gold at 155 pounds. Nevertheless, he has filled his extensive resume -- his career stretches all the way back to October 2000 -- with victories over a number of high-quality opponents: Carlos Condit, Takanori Gomi, Kurt Pellegrino, Paul Daley and Katsunori Kikuno, to name but a few. The 28-year-old Shimoishi has won each of his past six bouts.

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