Ben Askren will touch down in One Fighting Championship on May 30. | Photo: Keith Mills/Sherdog.com
Editor’s note: 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.
Ben Askren has taken his considerable talents to the Far East.
Askren will debut under the One Fighting Championship banner on May 30, when the undefeated former Bellator welterweight champion meets Bakhtiyar Abbasov in the One FC 16 “Honor and Glory” main event at Singapore Indoor Stadium in Kallang, Singapore. A win would put Askren in position to challenge Nobutatsu Suzuki for the One FC welterweight crown later this year.
The man they call “Funky” last appeared at Bellator 97 in July, when he stopped Andrey Koreshkov on fourth-round punches at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, N.M. The 29-year-old Hartland, Wis., native compiled a perfect 9-0 mark in Bellator before agreeing to a multi-fight deal with One FC in December. Askren was a four-time NCAA All-American wrestler and two-time national champion at the University of Missouri, where he compiled a 153-8 record. He remains one of only three wrestlers, Cael Sanderson and David Taylor being the others, who has been awarded the Dan Hodge Trophy -- college wrestling’s equivalent to football’s Heisman Trophy -- more than once. He reached the quarterfinal round in freestyle wrestling at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
The less-heralded Abbasov will carry a nine-fight winning streak into the match. He last fought at a Grand European Fighting Championship event in his native Azerbaijan in December, when he submitted Azer Agayev and Anar Guseinov with first-round armbars. Abbasov has secured 10 of his 11 career victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission, nine of them inside one round.
The Askren-Abbvasov headliner is but one under-the-radar matchup worth monitoring during the month of May. Here are nine more:
One FC 15 “Rise of Heroes”
May 2 | Manila, Philippines
Lokteff has surfaced as an intriguing heavyweight prospect in his native Australia. The 27-year-old Integrated MMA representative made his One Fighting Championship debut at One FC 12 in November, when he eked out a split decision over the American Kickboxing Academy’s Tony Johnson at Putra Indoor Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Lokteff sports 11 finishes among his 12 professional victories. A graduate of “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 10, McSweeney has rattled off six wins in eight appearances.
Superior Challenge 10
May 3 | Helsingborg, Sweden
Escudero will meet Vainikainen for the vacant Superior Challenge lightweight championship. The 28-year-old MMA Lab representative saw his modest three-fight winning streak grind to a halt in March, when he wound up on the wrong side of a unanimous decision against Dakota Cochrane at a Resurrection Fighting Alliance event. Escudero’s last eight fights have gone the distance, including consecutive losses to Jacob Volkmann and Mac Danzig inside the UFC’s Octagon. A replacement for the injured Reza Madadi, Vainikainen will enter his organizational debut on the strength of back-to-back victories.
Cage Warriors Fighting Championship 68
May 3 | Liverpool, England
Mann agreed to a multi-fight deal with Cage Warriors Fighting Championship in June and proceeded to rattle off consecutive wins. The 27-year-old former Cage Gladiators and Shark Fights titleholder made waves in the 2011 Bellator Summer Series featherweight tournament before bowing out in a decision loss to Pat Curran in the semifinals. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Braulio Estima, nearly half (11) of Mann’s 23 professional victories have come by submission. Costa, 35, has not lost a fight in almost five years.
MFC 40 “Crowned Kings”
May 9 |Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
On a five-fight tear, Birchak became the first bantamweight titleholder in Maximum Fighting Championship history at MFC 38 in October, when he submitted Tito Jones with a second-round rear-naked choke. The 27-year-old Arizonan owns nine finishes among his 11 victories. The surging Croom has pieced together a string of nine straight wins since dropping back-to-back decisions to Ramiro Hernandez and Yaotzin Meza in 2012. “The Hard-Hitting Hillbilly” last competed under the Titan Fighting Championship banner in February, when he took a unanimous verdict from Bryan Goldsby.
May 11 | Tokyo
The bantamweight Queen of Pancrase, Nakai will enter her non-title bout against D’Alelio undefeated in 16 professional appearances. The 27-year-old has won five straight fights since her September 2011 encounter with Danielle West ended in a split draw. Naki has secured 10 of her 15 career victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission. An Invicta Fighting Championships mainstay, D’Alelio owns a 2013 decision win over current UFC bantamweight Amanda Nunes.
Ring of Combat 48
May 16 | Atlantic City, N.J.
Wade will defend the Ring of Combat lightweight title for the first time against the unbeaten Perez. The 26-year-old bounced back from the first loss of his career in January, when he captured the 155-pound crown with a second-round submission against Pat DeFranco at Ring of Combat 47. Wade operates out of the Long Island MMA camp, where he trains alongside undefeated UFC welterweight Ryan LaFlare and “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 14 finalist Dennis Bermudez. A Ricardo Almeida protégé, Perez, 24, has started his professional career with eight straight wins, five of them finishes.
Titan Fighting Championship 28
May 16 | Newkirk, Okla.
Brazilian Top Team’s Santos has been a prospect on the rise since 2009, as he has picked up 14 wins in 15 appearances and captured the Bitteti Combat featherweight title. The Murilo Bustamante understudy extended his winning streak to seven fights in July, when he recorded a unanimous decision over Evandro Oliveira under the Smash Fight banner in Brazil. Visa issues forced Santos, 25, to withdraw from his originally scheduled Titan Fighting Championship debut in February. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Royce Gracie, Robinson has held championships in the Ring of Fire and Aggression MMA promotions.
KSW 27 “Cage Time”
May 17 | Gdansk, Poland
Regarded by many as the sport’s top middleweight not currently signed to a major MMA promotion in the United States, Khalidov is 25-1-2 over his last 28 appearances. The Chechen-born Pole last fought at KSW 25 in December, when he needed a little more than two minutes to submit Ryuta Sakurai with a triangle choke. Khalidov has finished eight consecutive opponents, Dutch knockout artist Melvin Manhoef, “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 3 winner Kendall Grove and 2000 Olympic silver medalist Matt Lindland among them. Goncalves, 33, signed a four-fight deal with KSW in March. The Brazilian has delivered 27 of his 32 wins by knockout, technical knockout or submission.
Road Fighting Championship 15
May 31 | Wonju, South Korea
“Hellboy” Hansen returned to competition after close to a two-year-long sabbatical in April 2013, when he submitted Seo with a second-round triangle choke within the Road Fighting Championship promotion. Victories over former Pride Fighting Championships lightweight boss Takanori Gomi and reigning One Fighting Championship titleholder Shinya Aoki anchor the 34-year-old Norwegian’s resume. Hansen has held championships inside the Dream and Shooto organizations. The aforementioned loss to Hansen snapped a six-fight winning streak for Seo. The 32-year-old has not fought since.
This story was updated at 12:15 p.m. ET on May 2 to list Penn State’s David Taylor as a multiple-time winner of the Dan Hodge Trophy.