European Throwdown: Three to Watch

By Tim Leidecker Apr 22, 2008
The latest edition of European Throwdown features three of the most exciting young fighters in the old world right now: Mohamed Khacha (Pictures), Marius Zaromskis (Pictures) and Goran Reljic.

Khacha, a kickboxer who is arguably the biggest French talent at welterweight, has joined the ranks of American Top Team. The 23-year-old Cage Warriors veteran started out at Bushido Academie in his hometown of Avignon before moving to Rio de Janeiro's Black House gym last year.

At ATT, Khacha will find some of the best training partners in the world at 155 pounds, which is the division he plans to compete in for his next fight. The ATT roster includes two-time Hero's middleweight tournament champion Gesias Calvancante (Pictures), Pride veteran Marcus Aurelio and UFC veterans Din Thomas (Pictures) and Yves Edwards (Pictures). The Florida-based gym is also home to young talents Jorge Masvidal (Pictures), Cole Miller (Pictures) and Gleison Tibau (Pictures).

Khacha is the fifth renowned fighter that head coach Ricardo Liborio (Pictures) has added to his team in 2008. Earlier this year standout grappler Marcelo Garcia (Pictures), undefeated UFC light heavyweight contender Thiago Silva (Pictures), former pro boxer Alessio Sakara (Pictures) and former pound-for-pound No. 1 fighter Alexandre Franca Nogueira (Pictures) all relocated to Florida.

Zaromskis Seeks Revenge Against Mills

Cage Rage is leaving its cozy comfort zone in London for the first time in the promotion's six-year existence. Birmingham, the second biggest city in England, is the destination of desire for Cage Rage 26 "Extreme," which is set to take place May 10 at the 11,000-seat NEC Arena.

Very high up the card in the second main event, Lithuanian knockout machine Marius Zaromskis (Pictures) will clash with Englishman Che Mills (Pictures) -- the fighter who handed Zaromskis his lone career loss by knockout in August 2006.

Zaromskis is currently being bred by Cage Rage to become the successor of Melvin Manhoef (Pictures) and Zelg Galesic (Pictures) as the company's top foreign star. Although fighting a division lower than the aforementioned duo, he is very big for a welterweight. A win over the Brit would not only give Zaromskis a lot of compensation but also the Cage Rage British welterweight title.

Gouveia Test Too Early for Reljic?

Goran Reljic, a 24-year-old Croatian grappler, will make his UFC debut May 24 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas against Wilson Gouveia (Pictures) from American Top Team.

On paper, Reljic has the perfect curriculum vitae. He is undefeated at 7-0, trains jiu-jitsu with the world's best grappler, Roger Gracie (Pictures), and kickboxing with one of the planet's most feared strikers, Mirko "Cro Cop."

The other side of the coin is that the BJJ purple belt has not faced competition anywhere near the level of Gouveia, who is among the top-10 light heavyweights in the UFC right now. While Zuffa rarely feels the necessity to build fighters, especially foreign ones, matching the Croat with the heavy-handed Brazilian could equal throwing him to the wolves.

On the other hand, one has already seen horses puking in front of a drugstore, as they say here in Germany, and anything is possible.

Europeans in Pancrase

Two European fighters are on the card for Pancrase Shining 3, which takes place Saturday at Differ Ariake in Tokyo.

In a middleweight bout, Swedish striker Matti Makela takes on journeyman Yuji Hisamatsu (Pictures). Makela, a member of Pancrase gym in Stockholm -- Sweden's oldest MMA gym -- will be traveling abroad for only the third time in his career. Last year he fought in Brazil, dropping a decision against Eduardo Pamplona (Pictures), and in England, where he bested Rodney Moore on points.

Two weight classes below at lightweight, Djamal Kurbanov will make his Japanese debut against former welterweight King of Pancrase Katsuya Inoue (Pictures). Kurbanov, a Russian champion in sambo, is following the footsteps of SK Absolute teammates Artur Oumakhanov (Pictures) and Alavutdin Gadzhiyev (Pictures), who are already established names in the traditional Japanese league.

Originally a third Euro fighter was scheduled to compete on the card as well. Frenchman Bryan Rafiq (Pictures) was slated to face Takuya Wada (Pictures) for the vacant welterweight King of Pancrase title. The submission fighter, who turned 22 years old on Wednesday, tore the ACL in his left knee in training and had to cancel. Wada will now face Texan Jason Palacios (Pictures) instead.

Ireland vs. Belgium in Dublin

Country-versus-country matchups are currently en vogue throughout Europe and also on the British Isles. As a result, Ireland will now take on Belgium at the National Stadium in Dublin on May 3.

Local hero John Donnelly will headline the show against undefeated ground fighting wizard Tarec Saffiedine. In the second main event, Thomas Maguire, fresh off a first-round submission victory in March, will challenge Wim Deputter, one of Europe's biggest insiders' tips at welterweight.

Also on the card is undefeated Aisling Daly (Pictures). The redhead from Limerick recently became the first female fighter to win a professional bout at a Cage Rage event, scoring an easy first-round TKO over Aysen Berik (Pictures). Daly will take on unrenowned Moroccan-Belgian fighter Myriem El Banouti.

Complete Fight Card:


Paul Cowzer vs. Steven McCoombe
Gary Morris vs. Peter Wilson

Ireland vs. Belgium

John Donnelly vs. Tarec Saffiedine
Thomas Maguire vs. Wim Deputter
Owen Roddy vs. Amin El Allali
Karl Roche vs. Bastien Huveneers
Emmet McNally vs. Ludo Boulvin
Aisling Daly (Pictures) vs. Myriem El Banouti

Road to Japan, Part 2

When David Baron (Pictures), arguably Europe's strongest lightweight fighter, makes the trip to Japan on May 3 to take on former Shooto middleweight champion Hayato Sakurai (Pictures), it will be the second and most likely final chance for the 35-year-old Frenchman to establish himself in the country.

His first attempt was stuffed by none other than Pride lightweight champion Takanori Gomi (Pictures), who was given Baron as a pushover following his loss to Marcus Aurelio. Two years and three wins later, Baron's task won't become much easier when he takes on "Mach," who is perhaps behind only Gomi in Japan at 155-165 pounds.

Baron has beaten a who's who in Europe, including world-class grappler Sauli Heilimo, ground-and-pound machine Abdul Mohamed (Pictures) and Cage Warriors shingle Dan Hardy (Pictures) (twice). Now is the time for the man from Bois-Colombes to show the land of the rising sun what French MMA is all about.

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