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.
Kyoji Horiguchi made an all-in bet on himself by leaving the Ultimate Fighting Championship for the Rizin Fighting Federation. He may soon know whether the risk was worth the reward.
Horiguchi will return to his homeland for his organizational debut when he butts heads with Yuki Motoya in a Rizin 2017 in Yokohama flyweight showcase on April 16 at Yokohama Arena in Yokohama, Japan. Their three-round battle has been slotted below the headliner and co-main event, as the Nobuyuki Sakakibara-led promotion stages its first show of the year.
A 26-year-old Norifumi Yamamoto protégé, Horiguchi now trains with the star-studded American Top Team camp in Coconut Creek, Florida. The karateka has pieced together a three-fight winning streak since he failed in his bid to dethrone flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson at UFC 186 two years ago. Horiguchi, a onetime Shooto titleholder, last competed under the UFC Fight Night flag on Nov. 19, when he took a three-round unanimous decision from Ali Bagautinov.
Motoya, 27, has compiled a 10-0 mark with one no-contest across his past 11 bouts; he has not tasted defeat since August 2013. The two-time Deep champion last appeared at Rizin 3 in December, when he was awarded a split decision against Allan Nascimento. Victories over Masakazu Imanari and Yoshiro Maeda highlight the Motoya resume.
The Horiguchi-Motoya showdown is but one under-the-radar matchups worth monitoring during the month of April. Here are nine more:
TKO Major League MMA 38
April 7 | Montreal
Despite being just 19 years of age, the still-green Laramie has been tapped as one of Canada’s most promising prospects. The featherweight owns a 5-1 record through his first six professional outings, a split decision loss to Vince Murdock in 2016 the lone hiccup. Laramie, who operates out of the Maximum Training Centre in Windsor, Ontario, has posted back-to-back victories since the setback, both of them finishes. The 25-year-old Morgan will enter the cage on the strength of a five-fight winning streak.
Victory Fighting Championship 56
April 14 | Omaha, Nebraska
The vacant Victory Fighting Championship bantamweight title will hang in the balance, as the unbeaten Stots takes on Emerson at Baxter Arena. Anchored at the Roufusport academy in Milwaukee, Stots has raced out to a perfect 7-0 mark and has the look of a fighter on the rise. The 28-year-old Duke Roufus understudy last fought at Victory 53 on Nov. 23, when he earned a unanimous decision over the well-traveled and highly regarded Jeff Curran. A graduate of “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 5, Emerson has posted nine wins in his past 11 outings.
Absolute Championship Berkut 57
April 15 | Moscow
Magomedov will put his Absolute Championship Berkut bantamweight belt on the line against Yan in an anticipated rematch between two of Europe’s best young fighters. The champion has the wind of a 12-fight winning streak at his back, including a five-round split decision over Yan in March 2016. Magomedov has not fought since he submitted Oleg Borisov with a guillotine choke at ACB 50 on Dec. 18. Tiger Muay Thai’s Yan, 24, in July rebounded from his only professional defeat, as he took a unanimous verdict from Ed Arthur at Adler Arena in Sochi, Russia.
Road Fighting Championship 38
April 15 | Seoul
Road Fighting Championship has decided to dangle its vacant bantamweight title above two of its hottest commodities at 135 pounds. Undefeated (8-0-1) in nine fights since his unanimous decision loss to Bibiano Fernandes in October 2013, former One Championship titleholder Soo Chul Kim owns victories against UFC veterans Leandro Issa, Issei Tamura, Marcus Brimage, Wagner Campos and Jumabieke Tuerxun. Meanwhile, Min Woo Kim, 25, has rattled off eight wins in his last 10 appearances.
Steelfist Fight Night 49
April 15 | Salt Lake City
Graduation day may be approaching for Neal. An apex predator on the regional scene in Utah, the undefeated Steelfist Fight Night champion has finished seven of his first eight opponents, six of them inside one round. Only injuries have managed to slow down Neal thus far. Frazier would like nothing more than to take his title and steal some of his thunder. The 23-year-old has put together a tidy 4-1 record since he made his pro debut in 2011.
Rizin 2017 in Yokohama
April 16 | Yokohama, Japan
Kawajiri, who turns 39 in May, has little left to prove at this advanced stage of his career. Nevertheless, the former Shooto champion will seek to put an end to his first three-fight losing streak when he meets fellow UFC alum Birchak under the Rizin Fighting Federation banner. Once one of the sport’s best at 155 pounds, Kawajiri has suffered back-to-back-to-back defeats to Kron Gracie, Cub Swanson and Dennis Bermudez. The 30-year-old Birchak has not competed since he notched a split decision over Dileno Lopes at UFC Fight Night 90 on July 7.
One Championship “Kings of Destiny”
April 21 | Manila, Philippines
On the heels of what many called a career-defining victory over Shinya Aoki, Folayang will put the One Championship lightweight crown on the line against Ting at the Mall of Asia Arena. The 32-year-old Folayang captured the title on Nov. 11, when he wiped out Aoki with third-round punches and ended the submission savant’s reign at 155 pounds. It marked the third straight win for the Lakay MMA export. No stranger to the spotlight, Ting will ride a four-fight winning streak into the match, his latest conquest resulting in a split decision over Kamal Shalorus in February.
Legacy Fighting Alliance 10
April 21 | Pueblo, Colorado
The Legacy Fighting Alliance organization appears to have another diamond in the rough in Heinisch, a 28-year-old middleweight prospect with a checkered past. He has kept his head above water despite several well-publicized run-ins with the law, vaulting out to a 6-0 record that includes a 2016 win in the World Series of Fighting. A two-time state wrestling champion at Ponderosa High School in Parker, Colorado, Heinisch has trained out of the same Factory X camp that spawned “The Ultimate Fighter 11” alum Chris Camozzi. Rota has won eight of his last nine fights, losing only to former Resurrection Fighting Alliance titleholder Gerald Meerschaert.
Absolute Championship Berkut 58
April 22 | Khasavyurt, Russia
A blue-chip talent from all indications, Askarov pushed the price of his stock to new heights in October, when he submitted Jose Maria Tome with a fifth-round brabo choke and laid claim to the vacant Absolute Championship Berkut flyweight belt. The unbeaten 24-year-old Russian has finished all eight of his opponents and draws another intriguing assignment in his first title defense. Leone has competed in World Extreme Cagefighting, Bellator MMA and Strikeforce, weighing his skills against fighters like Renan Barao, Georgi Karakhanyan and Eduardo Dantas.