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, Bellator MMA and the Professional Fighters League.
Not many mixed martial artists walk away on their own terms. Ben Askren plans to do so.
Askren will defend his welterweight title against Japanese submission savant Shinya Aoki in the One Championship “Immortal Pursuit” co-main event on Nov. 24 at Singapore Indoor Stadium in Kallang, Singapore. Win or lose against Aoki, the four-time NCAA All-American wrestler, two-time national champion and 2008 Olympian intends to retire at the age of 33.
His flag planted at the Roufusport academy in Milwaukee, Askren has rattled off three straight wins since his April 2015 encounter with Luis Santos resulted in a no-contest. He last fought at One Championship “Shanghai” on Sept. 2, when he put away Zebaztian Kadestam with second-round punches to move his undefeated record to 17-0. Prior to his arrival in One Championship, Askren lorded over Bellator’s welterweight division -- a three-year reign that saw him defeat Lyman Good, Jay Hieron, Douglas Lima, Karl Amoussou and Andrey Koreshkov. While the Hartland, Wisconsin, native has secured 10 of his 17 professional victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission, it appears as though he will call it a career without ever having set foot in the UFC.
Aoki, 34, holds the rank of black belt in judo and jiu-jitsu and has captured titles in Dream and Shooto. Wins over Mizuto Hirota, Joachim Hansen (twice), Eddie Alvarez, Caol Uno, Gesias Cavalcante and Tatsuya Kawajiri dot his superb resume, which includes 25 submissions: five by armbar, four by neck crank, three by triangle choke, three by rear-naked choke, two by keylock, two by gogoplata and one each by twister, triangle armbar, Achilles lock, hammerlock, heel hook and standing arm lock. Aoki last competed at One Championship “Defending Honor” on Nov. 11, when a shocking third-round TKO loss to Eduard Folayang snapped his nine-fight winning streak and cost him the promotion’s lightweight crown.
The Askren-Aoki clash is but one under-the-radar matchup worth monitoring during the month of November. Here are nine more:
Aspera Fighting Championship
Nov. 4 | Gaspar, Brazil
The fate of the vacant Aspera Fighting Championship featherweight title will be decided when Bruno and Grundy lock horns at the Fazenda Park Hotel. A finalist on Season 4 of “The Ultimate Fighter Brazil,” Bruno has seen action in Shooto Americas and the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The 35-year-old Nova Uniao export has won five of his last seven fights, losing only to Glaico Franca and Gray Maynard in the UFC. The once-beaten Grundy trains with the Team Kaobon outfit in Liverpool, England, and carries with him a career-best seven-fight winning streak that includes a July 22 submission of Australian prospect Michael Tobin.
Global Knockout 11
Nov. 4 | Jackson, California
Toomer has not done enough to get off the regional MMA island, despite an 11-1 record. The 30-year-old Resurrection Fighting Alliance veteran finds himself on a two-fight winning streak and last appeared at Global Knockout 9 in March, when he put away Anthony Avila with punches in less than two minutes. It was Toomer’s sixth first-round finish. Erosa was a semifinalist on Season 22 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series. He has gone 4-2 since parting ways with the UFC in 2016.
One Championship “Legends of the World”
Nov. 10 | Manila, Philippines
Moraes, 28, will put a three-fight winning streak on the line when he defends his One Championship flyweight title against the undefeated Kingad at the Mall of Asia Arena. Spawned by the Constrictor Team camp in his native Brazil, Moraes has delivered 11 of his 16 professional victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission. He last competed at One Championship “Kings and Conquerors” in August, when he avenged a 2015 defeat to Kairat Akhmetov in a five-round unanimous decision and reclaimed the Singapore-based organization’s flyweight championship. Akhmetov entered their rematch with a perfect 20-0 record. Team Lakay’s Kingad has touched off his career with five straight wins, but the 22-year-old faces an uphill climb against the seasoned and well-rounded Moraes.
Legacy Fighting Alliance 27
Nov. 10 | Shawnee, Oklahoma
His rising stock a byproduct of an eight-fight winning streak, Watley will defend the Legacy Fighting Alliance flyweight championship against Wilson in the LFA 27 main event at the FireLake Arena. The 28-year-old champion has come into his own during his current tear, which has seen him finish four of his eight opponents. Watley laid claim to LFA gold on July 21, when he took a five-round unanimous decision from Thiago Moises. Wilson, 25, has rattled off five straight wins since he suffered his only pro defeat in a unanimous decision loss to Derrick Adkins in April 2016.
Titan Fighting Championship 46
Nov. 17 | Pembroke Pines, Florida
Two-division champions are rare occurrences at any level, hence the hype surrounding Torres. Having struck Titan Fighting Championship gold at 125 and 135 pounds, the undefeated 25-year-old will risk his bantamweight belt against DeJesus at the Pembroke Pines City Center. Torres dethroned Farkhad Sharipov on May 19, when he was awarded a five-round unanimous decision over the Bellator MMA and Tachi Palace Fights alum. DeJesus, 25, trains out of the powerhouse American Top Team camp in Coconut Creek, Florida. He last fought in August, when he submitted Chino Duran with a rear-naked choke 2:28 into the first round of their encounter at Titan 45.
Fight Nights Global 79
Nov. 19 | Penza, Russia
Prospect watchers have taken a keen interest in Pavlovich, as young heavyweights are worth their weight in gold these days. The undefeated Russian will stake his 11-0 record and heavyweight championship against Sidelnikov in the Fight Nights Global 79 headliner. The 6-foot-3 Pavlovich has recorded eight of his 11 victories by knockout or technical knockout -- a run that includes 20-, 24-, 59- and 75-second finishes. Sidelnikov, aka “Baby Fedor,” has won five fights in a row and has not tasted defeat since September 2009. A longtime training partner of the great Fedor Emelianenko, the 29-year-old is a five-time gold medalist at the Combat Sambo World Championships.
One Championship “Immortal Pursuit”
Nov. 24 | Kallang, Singapore
Their first encounter resulted in a “Fight of the Year” contender in 2016, as the unbeaten Lee walked away with a unanimous decision and the One Championship atomweight title. Now, they meet again, the stakes just as high. The 21-year-old Lee has emerged as one of the crown jewels of the One Championship promotion. An Evolve MMA product, she has finished seven of her first eight opponents, with only Yamaguchi surviving to see the final bell against her. Lee last appeared on May 26, when she submitted Istela Nunes with a second-round anaconda choke at One Championship “Dynasty of Heroes.” Yamaguchi secured her rematch with a rear-naked choke submission on Jenny Huang in June.
M-1 Challenge 86
Nov. 24 | Nazran, Russia
Buchinger’s M-1 Global featherweight championship will be on the line when he dukes it out with Dalgiev atop the M-1 Challenge 86 lineup. The 31-year-old champion has been a star on the European scene for years and has won 14 of his past 16 bouts, losing only to Magomed Idrisov and Conor McGregor. Victories over Mairbek Taisumov, Magomedrasul Khasbulaev, Steven Ray and Mansour Barnaoui anchor the Buchinger resume. Dalgiev, 26, trains with the Fight Club Berkut camp in Grozny, Russia. He has authored seven finishes during his current nine-fight winning streak.
Cage Warriors Fighting Championship 89
Nov. 25 | Antwerp, Belgium
Already the reigning light heavyweight champion, Moore can become the first fighter since Conor McGregor to become a two-division titleholder in Cage Warriors when he faces Cerilli for the promotion’s heavyweight crown at the Lotto Arena. Moore has pieced together a three-fight winning streak since he submitted to a Paul Craig guillotine choke a little more than two years ago; it remains his only professional defeat. He boasts six finishes among his eight career victories. The 6-foot-2, 242-pound Cerilli, 34, will enter his organizational debut on the strength of back-to-back-to-back wins.