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 like the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Bellator MMA.
Two of the sport’s top women’s flyweights are on a collision course in Invicta Fighting Championships.
The well-traveled and battle-tested Vanessa Porto, who has twice fought for titles within the company, will meet undefeated Polish prospect Agnieszka Niedzwiedz in the Invicta 23 headliner on May 20 at the Scottish Rite Temple in Kansas City, Missouri. The event will stream in its entirety to UFC Fight Pass at 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT.
Porto, 33, last appeared at Invicta 16 on March 11, 2016, when she wound up on the wrong side of a unanimous decision in her rematch with Jennifer Maia -- a woman she had submitted with an armbar four years prior. The loss snapped her three-fight winning streak. Victories over Tonya Evinger, Hitomi Akano, Tara LaRosa, Zoila Frausto and reigning Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s featherweight titleholder Germaine de Randamie buoy Porto’s resume. She has compiled a 3-3 record in Invicta.
Hype precedes Niedzwiedz’s return to Invicta. The 22-year-old Cage Warriors Fighting Championship veteran made her promotional debut at Invicta 18 in July, as she picked up a three-round unanimous decision over Christine Stanley. Niedzwiedz last competed at a Ladies Fight Night event on Dec. 17 in her native Poland, where she stopped Samara Santos Cunha with third-round punches. She boasts seven finishes among her nine professional wins.
The Porto-Niedzwiedz showdown is but one under-the-radar clash worth monitoring during the month of May. Here are nine more:
Kunlun Fight MMA 11
May 4 | Jining, China
The Kunlun Fight MMA organization will crown its first women’s flyweight champion, as it pits Xiong against Duarte. Xiong has been regarded as one of the most promising talents in China for some time, but the dazzling striker has feasted on subpar competition in pushing her record to 9-1, rattling off four straight wins since her decision loss to Colleen Schneider in June 2015. The degree of difficulty rises considerably with the unbeaten Duarte. The 33-year-old Brazilian captured the vacant Jungle Fight women’s flyweight title with a split decision over Bianca Daimoni on July 30.
British Association of Mixed Martial Arts 29
May 12 | Birmingham, England
The fate of the vacant British Association of Mixed Martial Arts welterweight championship will hang in the balance when Gahadza faces Brazier at Genting Arena. Gahadza sports a gaudy 16-1 record that features five wins by submission and seven more by knockout or technical knockout. However, the 29-year-old Zimbabwe transplant finds himself on the rebound for the first time following a split decision defeat to Nathan Jones at BAMMA 27 on Dec. 16. Brazier will enter the match on a six-fight winning streak that includes four first-round finishes.
CES MMA 44
May 12 | Lincoln, Rhode Island
Bessette has hit his stride in CES MMA. The 32-year-old Hartford, Connecticut, native will defend his featherweight championship opposite Spoon at the Twin River Casino, the wind of a six-fight winning streak in his sails. Bessette, who went 7-2 in a nine-fight run in Bellator, last competed at CES MMA 41 on Jan. 27, when he disposed of Kevin Croom with third-round punches. He has finished all six of his opponents during his current tear. Spoon, 32, has rattled off eight victories across his past nine appearances, a split decision loss to Ryan Roberts under the Victory Fighting Championship promotion the lone blemish.
Titan Fighting Championship 44
May 19 | Pembroke Pines, Florida
The unbeaten Torres will look to become a two-division Titan Fighting Championship titleholder when he challenges Sharipov for bantamweight gold at the Pembroke Pines City Center. Torres laid claim to Titan’s flyweight championship in 2016 and now has his sights set on the belt at 135 pounds. The 24-year-old has not fought since he needed just 86 seconds to wipe out Pedro Nobre with punches at Titan 43 in January. Sharipov, who operates out of a Gracie Barra affiliate in Orlando, Florida, has never been finished in a 24-fight career that stretches back nearly a decade.
Invicta Fighting Championships 23
May 20 | Kansas City, Missouri
A former Invicta atomweight champion, Tiburcio must confront yet another difficult obstacle at 105 pounds. The 4-foot-11 Brazilian dynamo snapped a two-fight losing streak at Invicta 20 on Nov. 18, when she took a three-round unanimous decision from Simona Soukupova. Tuburcio, 25, made international waves in 2014 with her stunning upset of Jackson-Wink MMA mainstay Michelle Waterson, only to follow it with consecutive defeats to Ayaka Hamasaki and Jinh Yu Frey. Simpson, 30, will carry a three-fight winning streak into the bout, with the victor perhaps emerging as the No. 1 contender for Hamasaki’s atomweight title.
Absolute Championship Berkut 61
May 20 | St. Petersburg, Russia
The undefeated Balayev will risk his Absolute Championship Berkut featherweight championship against the unbeaten Bataev in a clash between two of Europe’s best at 145 pounds. Balayev can only be described as a late bloomer, as he did not make his pro MMA debut until the age of 38. Now 41, he last appeared in the ACB 50 co-main event on Dec. 18, when he captured the organization’s vacant featherweight title with a unanimous decision over Yusup Raisov. Bataev has won his first seven fights, four of them by decision.
One Championship “Dynasty of Heroes”
May 26 | Kallang, Singapore
If prospects had a pecking order, Lee might be at the top of it. The Evolve MMA export has raced out to a perfect 7-0 record, her resume highlighted by six finishes and a unanimous decision over Mei Yamaguchi in a 2016 “Fight of the Year” contender. Lee, 20, last competed at One Championship “Warrior Kingdom,” where she struck Jenny Huang into submission in the third round of their main event. In Nunes, she draws and undefeated but unproven 24-year-old with ambition to burn. Nunes trains out of the same Parana Vale Tudo camp that spawned UFC women’s strawweight contender Jessica Andrade.
May 27 | Warsaw, Poland
Gamrot has chewed up the regional circuit, recording notable victories over Andre Winner, Marif Piraev and Mansour Barnaoui on his way to becoming the Konfrontacja Sztuk Walki lightweight champion. The 26-year-old Polish grappler now boasts a 12-0 record, having successfully defended his title at KSW 36 on Oct. 1, when he submitted Renato Gomes Gabriel with a second-round heel hook. In his latest assignment, Gamrot locks horns with the seasoned Parke, a UFC veteran who won “The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes” lightweight tournament in 2012.
May 28 | Tokyo
Promotional gold will be at stake when Ishiwatari defends his bantamweight King of Pancrase title against Silva at Differ Ariake. The 32-year-old champion has won 11 of his past 13 bouts, losing only to “The Ultimate Fighter 12” winner Jonathan Brookins and recent Rizin Fighting Federation signee Kyoji Horiguchi. Ishiwatari avenged his defeat to Brookins at Pancrase 279, where the judo black belt was awarded a three-round unanimous decision over the mercurial American on July 24. An Astra Fight Team rep, Silva has posted six consecutive victories since his loss to Darrion Caldwell at Bellator 137 in 2015.
BEST OF THE REST: Nick Mamalis vs. Kevin Gray (Victory Fighting Championship 57, May 5), James Nakashima vs. LaRue Burley (Legacy Fighting Alliance 11, May 5), Lewis Long vs. Che Mills (Cage Warriors Fighting Championship 83, May 6), Takafumi Otsuka vs. Koichi Ishizuka (Deep Cage Impact 2017, May 13), Viktor Nemkov vs. Ronny Markes (M-1 Challenge 77, May 19), Sean Brady vs. Tanner Sarceno (Cage Fury Fighting Championships 65, May 20)