10 May Tussles Worth Watching

By Brian Knapp May 1, 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:

The last 11 men who have tried to beat Mamed Khalidov have failed. That run of excellence, no matter where it has taken place, cannot be ignored.

Khalidov will put his 11-fight winning streak on the line when he defends the Konfrontacja Sztuk Walki middleweight championship against Aziz Karaoglu in the KSW 35 main event on May 27 at Ergo Arena in Gdansk, Poland. The champion has not lost a fight since he wound up on the wrong side of a unanimous decision against Jorge Santiago more than six years ago.

Regarded by some as the top middleweight competing outside the auspices of the UFC, Khalidov last fought at KSW 33 on Nov. 28, when he steamrolled Michal Materla with a flying knee and follow-up punches to claim KSW gold at 185 pounds. It took all of 31 seconds. Khalidov, 35, has delivered 29 of his 31 career victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission, a staggering 24 of them inside one round. His list of victims includes Melvin Manhoef and a slew of UFC veterans: Santiago, Tor Troeng, Igor Pokrajac, Maiquel Falcao, Kendall Grove, Rodney Wallace, Jesse Taylor, Matt Lindland and James Irvin.

The little-known Karaoglu will enter easily the most significant bout of his career on the strength of three consecutive victories. The 38-year-old Germany-based Turk last appeared at KSW 33, where he disposed of Falcao a mere 30 seconds into the first round of their showdown. All nine of Karaoglu’s victories have resulted in finishes.

The Khalidov-Karaoglu title clash is but one outside-the-major-MMA-bubble matchup worth monitoring during the month of May. Here are nine more:

Angela Lee vs. Mei Yamaguchi
One Championship “Ascent to Power”
May 6 | Kallang, Singapore

The undefeated Lee will face the battle-tested Yamaguchi for the vacant One Championship women’s strawweight title. One Championship put Lee on the fast track to stardom, and the 19-year-old Evolve MMA prospect has done nothing to betray the organization’s confidence. She has submitted each of her first five opponents inside two rounds, utilizing two rear-naked chokes, a neck crank, a twister and an armbar. A professional for nearly a decade, Yamaguchi has never been finished in her 24-fight career.

Livia Renata Souza vs. Angela Hill
Invicta Fighting Championships 17
May 7 | Costa Mesa, California

Souza has the look of a runaway freight train at 115 pounds. Out to a 9-0 start as a pro, the 25-year-old Brazilian captured the Invicta Fighting Championships strawweight crown with a triangle choke submission on Katja Kankaanpaa at Invicta 12 and then defended it by stopping DeAnna Bennett in 90 seconds on Jan. 16. Only one of Souza’s nine opponents has seen the scorecards. Spawned by Season 20 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” Hill was awarded the title shot following back-to-back knockouts against Alida Gray and Stephanie Eggink.

Benito Lopez vs. Albert Morales
West Coast Fighting Championship 17
May 7 | Sacramento, California

The vacant West Coast Fighting Championship bantamweight title will hang in the balance when these two unbeaten prospects lock horns. Team Alpha Male’s Lopez last appeared under the King of the Cage flag in March, when he wiped out Rick James in just eight seconds. The 22-year-old has put away his past three opponents in less than two minutes combined. Morales already has Bellator and WSOF appearances on his resume. The 22-year-old Californian boasts four finishes among his five victories.

Shay Walsh vs. Tom Duquesnoy
British Association of Mixed Martial Arts 25
May 14 | Birmingham, England

The ballyhooed Duquesnoy will attempt to become a two-division British Association of Mixed Martial Arts champion when he challenges Walsh for promotional gold at 135 pounds. The BAMMMA featherweight championship already sits on the Frenchman’s mantle. Duquesnoy, 22, will ride an eight-fight winning streak into the match, having knocked out Damien Rooney in the first round of their BAMMA 24 pairing in February. Walsh last fought on Nov. 14, when a three-round unanimous decision over Ed Arthur brought him the bantamweight belt.

George Roop vs. Yoon Jun Lee
Road Fighting Championship 31
May 15 | Seoul

Roop draws a co-main event assignment for the Korea-based Road Fighting Championship organization, as he ventures outside the UFC for the first time since 2010. A semifinalist on Season 8 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” the 34-year-old Arizonan will look to get back in the win column following consecutive losses to Takeya Mizugaki and Rob Font. Victories over Chan Sung Jung and former World Extreme Cagefighting champion Brian Bowles highlight the Roop resume. Lee has rattled off eight straight wins in wake of an April 2013 submission loss to Min Jong Song.

Adam Antolin vs. Hector Sandoval
Tachi Palace Fights 27
May 19 | Lemoore, California

A late bloomer out of the American Kickboxing Academy camp, Antolin will risk a seven-fight winning streak when he defends the Tachi Palace Fights flyweight championship against Sandoval. The 34-year-old Antolin got his hands on the gold on Nov. 19, when he needed just 75 seconds to submit Alex Perez with a guillotine choke. “Captain Chaos” has gone the distance only twice in 14 professional appearances. Sandoval, a former champion, has rebounded to win four fights in a row after a technical knockout loss to Willie Gates cost him the 125-pound title two years ago.

Anatoly Tokov vs. Arbi Agujev
Absolute Championship Berkut 38
May 20 | Rostov-on-Don, Russia

The 22-2 record and 15-fight winning streak speak for themselves. One of Europe’s most promising young middleweights, Tokov will meet Agujev for the vacant Absolute Championship Berkut title at 185 pounds. The 26-year-old Russian last fought on Dec. 29, when he lit up Bellator veteran A.J. Matthews in 55 seconds at a Rizin Fighting Federation event in Japan. Agujev, 28, has navigated his past 11 bouts without a loss, going 10-0 with one no-contest. The Austrian has delivered 13 of his 20 career victories by submission.

Marat Gafurov vs. Kazunori Yokota
One Championship “Kingdom of Champions”
May 27 | Bangkok, Thailand

One Championship appears to have something special in Gafurov, as the 31-year-old has raced out to a 13-0 record with 10 finishes. The “Cobra” laid claim to the One Championship featherweight throne on Nov. 21, when he unseated Narantungalag Jadambaa with a fourth-round rear-naked choke at the Olympic Sports Center Gymnasium in Beijing. Gafurov also has wins over Mairbek Taisumov, Ev Ting and Martin Nguyen on his resume. A two-division Deep champion, Yokota finds himself on a career-best 12-fight winning streak.

Mateusz Gamrot vs. Mansour Barnaoui
KSW 35
May 27 | Gdansk, Poland

Gamrot and Barnaoui will vie for the vacant KSW lightweight championship when the two blue-chip prospects collide in Poland. The 25-year-old Gamrot has won all 10 of his fights, finishing six of them, and will enter the cage on the heels of his second-round technical knockout of the previously unbeaten Marif Piraev on Halloween. Barnaoui, 23, has already captured a British Association of Mixed Martial Arts title and owns victories over Colin Fletcher, Curt Warburton and Maxim Divnich. The only three men to defeat him -- Kevin Lee, Islam Makhachev and Ivan Buchinger -- did so by decision.

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