10 January Tussles Worth Watching

By Brian Knapp Jan 9, 2017

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.

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The Invicta Fighting Championships featherweight crown has fallen into a state of limbo following Cristiane Justino’s failed drug test and resulting suspension.

Megan Anderson and Charmaine Tweet have moved in to pick up the slack, as they are primed to meet in the Invicta 21 headliner on Jan. 14 at the Scottish Rite Temple in Kansas City, Missouri. The event will stream in its entirety to UFC Fight Pass, as the trailblazing all-female MMA organization hits the ground running in 2017.

Anderson has rattled off three consecutive victories since she submitted to a Cindy Dandois triangle choke a little more than a year ago. The 26-year-old Australian last competed at Invicta 18 on July 29, when she disposed of “The Ultimate Fighter 18” alum Peggy Morgan with first-round punches. Anderson has secured five of her seven professional wins by knockout, technical knockout or submission.

Tweet will enter the cage on the strength of a three-fight winning streak. The Canadian muay Thai practitioner last fought at Invicta 17 in May, when she cut down Latoya Walker with a spinning back fist. Tweet owns a 2-2 mark under the Invicta banner, her victories over Walker and Veronica Rothenhausler offset by losses to the aforementioned Justino and Strikeforce veteran Julia Budd.

The Anderson-Tweet clash stands as one under-the-radar matchup worth monitoring during the month of January. Here are nine more:

Carls John de Tomas vs. Derrick Easterling
Universal Reality Combat Championship 29
Jan. 7 | San Francisco

Tomas has feasted on regional competition. The undefeated Filipino prospect has raced out to a perfect 8-0 record in capturing the Universal Reality Combat Championship flyweight title. The 20-year-old’s level of competition thus far leaves something to be desired, but no one can argue with the results. Tomas last appeared at URCC 28 on Nov. 6, when he took a five-round unanimous decision from Alvin Ramirez to retain his 125-pound championship. Easterling, 29, has won three of his past four bouts, a decision defeat to Team Alpha Male’s Hector Sandoval his only misstep.

Shamil Nikaev vs. Alexandre Pimentel
Absolute Championship Berkut 51
Jan. 13 | Irvine, California

The call him “Little Fedor.” Nikaev, 21, has begun to make noise on the European scene, where he has touched off his career with six straight victories. The 5-foot-8 lightweight operates out of the Fight Club Berkut camp, where he has trained alongside the unbeaten Azamat Amagov, Musa Khamanaev and reigning World Series of Fighting flyweight champion Magomed Bibulatov. Pimentel serves as a serious step up in competition. The 38-year-old Blackzilians rep has pieced together a three-fight winning streak since suffering his only pro setback -- a technical knockout loss to Rick Glenn in March 2013.

Leandro Higo vs. Steven Peterson
Legacy Fighting Alliance 1
Jan. 13 | Dallas

The Legacy Fighting Championship-Resurrection Fighting Alliance merger has resulted in a crackling unification bout between bantamweight champions. Higo rose to the top of the RFA’s 135-pound weight class in April, when he submitted Joey Miolla with a first-round rear-naked choke. The 27-year-old Pitbull Brothers export has won seven fights in a row, finishing six of them. Peterson, meanwhile, laid claim to Legacy gold on June 24, as he choked Manny Vazquez unconscious in the fourth round of their encounter. He will enter the inaugural Legacy Fighting Alliance event with the wind of a six-fight winning streak at his back.

Vitaly Bigdash vs. Aung La N Sang
One Championship “Quest for Power”
Jan. 14 | Jakarta, Indonesia

The One Championship middleweight crown will hang in the balance when the unbeaten Bigdash defends his title against Sang at the Jakarta Convention Center. Bigdash, 32, has stopped all eight of his opponents. However, he has not fought since he tuned up Igor Svirid with second-round punches and struck One Championship gold in October 2015. A short-notice replacement for the injured Marcin Prachnio, Sang will enter the cage on a four-fight winning streak. The Ring of Combat and Cage Fury Fighting Championships veteran boasts 18 finishes among his 19 career victories.

Pannie Kianzad vs. Raquel Pa’aluhi
Invicta Fighting Championships 21
Jan. 14 | Kansas City, Missouri

Kianzad remains a prized commodity, her technical knockout loss to reigning Invicta Fighting Championships titleholder Tonya Evinger in September 2015 notwithstanding. The 25-year-old prospect returns to the cage for the first time since her first career setback, as she has been slotted opposite Pa’aluhi at Invicta’s 2017 debut. Pa’aluhi operates out of the Gracie Technics camp in her native Hawaii and finds herself on the rebound following a split decision defeat to Colleen Schneider a little less than a year ago. She has also fought and lost to Raquel Pennington, Sara McMann and Amanda Nunes.

Chico Camus vs. Darrick Minner
Legacy Fighting Alliance 2
Jan. 20 | Prior Lake, Minnesota

Camus has not skipped a beat since parting ways with the UFC following back-to-back decision losses to Henry Cejudo and Kyoji Horiguchi in 2015. The 31-year-old Roufusport representative responded with consecutive victories under the Resurrection Fighting Alliance banner. Camus last fought in the RFA 40 main event on July 15, when he was awarded a three-round unanimous decision over Czar Sklavos. Minner, 26, has rattled off six wins across his last seven appearances. He has secured 12 of his 15 professional victories by submission.

Jose Torres vs. Pedro Nobre
Titan Fighting Championship 43
Jan. 21 | Coral Gables, Florida

Torres went 8-0 as an amateur and has won his first three fights as a pro, emerging as one of the sport’s top prospects at 125 pounds. In his latest assignment, the 24-year-old puts the Titan Fighting Championship flyweight crown on the line against Brazilian Top Team’s Nobre in the Titan 43 main event. Torres has not fought since he knocked out Abdiel Velasquez to win the title in August. Nobre, 30, has won four of his past five bouts and owns a December 2012 victory over Matheus Nicolau Pereira.

Denis Smoldarev vs. Michal Andryszak
Absolute Championship Berkut 52
Jan. 21 | Vienna, Austria

Two of Europe’s most promising young heavyweights will lock horns inside the Absolute Championship Berkut organization. Smoldarev has twice fought for M-1 Global gold, losing to Marcin Tybura and Alexander Volkov. They remain the only two men to defeat the 26-year-old Estonian. Smoldarev last appeared at M-1 Challenge 69 on July 16, when he bounced back from his loss to Volkov and earned a unanimous verdict over Kenny Garner. Andryszak, 24, has begun to make waves of his own. The Polish export has finished has last three opponents -- Tim Hague was among the victims -- in 2:28 combined.

Matt Bessette vs. Kevin Croom
CES MMA 41
Jan. 27 | Lincoln, Rhode Island

Bessette will risk a five-fight winning streak when he defends the CES MMA featherweight championship for the first time. The 32-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt has stopped all five of his opponents during his current tear, four of them by submission. Bessette last fought at CES MMA 37 on Aug. 12, when he tapped Joe Pingitore with a second-round heel hook to capture the east coast promotion’s featherweight crown. Croom, who trains out Luttrell’s MMA and Fitness in Albuquerque, New Mexico, boasts 13 finishes among his 16 career victories.
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