The largest promotion in Eastern Europe, Absolute Championship Akhmat, will visit the North Caucasus as ACA 104 takes place in Krasnodar, Russia, on Feb. 21. The Russian promotion is pulling out all the stops for its first event of 2020, bringing a monumental card with two title fights, three more likely title eliminators and a grudge match between Bellator MMA and Ultimate Fighting Championship veterans.
ACA Heavyweight Championship: Goncharov vs. Vakhaev
The main event is a heavyweight title fight between ACA heavyweight champ Evgeniy Goncharov and challenger Mukhomad Vakhaev. It will be the first defense of the title Goncharov earned after two heated battles against veteran American heavyweight Tony Johnson. It will also be a title unification bout of sorts, as Vakhaev is the former heavyweight champion of Absolute Championship Berkut, which was absorbed into ACA at the end of 2018.
The 33-year-old Goncharov is 15-2 with one no-contest and is on an 11-fight unbeaten streak, with the first Johnson fight—a no-contest due to an inadvertent eye poke by Goncharov—the only fight in that stretch that did not end in victory for the Russian. In August 2019, Goncharov and Johnson rematched to see who would become the inaugural ACA Heavyweight Champion. That fight saw all judges give the decision victory, and the belt, to Goncharov.
The 28-year-old challenger, Vakhayev (8-4-1), comes into the fight on an impressive six-fight win streak. There he will try to take this belt from Goncharov. As the ACB champion, Vakhaev was supposed to have a unifying battle with Goncharov last March, but was forced to pull out of the fight on short notice due to medical issues.
Both fighters are heavy hitters who launch punches like cruise missiles. Vakhaev is also known for his elite wrestling and knows how to quickly get an opponent to the ground and finish him there. However, Goncharov can hardly be taken lightly in this area as he is a professional freestyle wrestler with many accolades to his name. It can be assumed that if Goncharov manages to avoid Vakhaev’s takedown attempts, the advantage is his. However, Vakhaev is no stranger to the upset, or overcoming long odds; he holds a 2017 win over current Professional Fighters League standout Denis Goltsov in which he unceremoniously interrupted Goltsov’s 14-fight win streak.
ACA Flyweight Championship: Khatuev vs. Kerefov
The other half of ACA 104’s championship doubleheader takes place at the opposite end of the scale, in the form of a flyweight title fight between 8-0 Mansur Khatuev and 12-0 Azamat Kerefov. The meeting of two undefeated fighters is always intriguing and one thing is for sure, the fight should be anything but boring. Kerefov is a wrestler who has developed a great standup game. Khatuev, on the contrary, is a striker who knows how to fight well in all areas. Both are great all-round fighters: they can do well striking at distance, fighting from the clinch or engaging on the ground. Khatuev brings a cleaner, more technical striking game, but Kerefov compensates for this with extraordinary physical strength—having previously fought at bantamweight, he is very big for this weight class. Both fighters have good chances to win, both may impose their own manner of fighting on the opponent. This is the fight where both contenders appear to have an equal chance to claim the flyweight title.
Welterweights: Bagov vs. Townsend
In perhaps the most interesting fight of the tournament, former ACA lightweight champion Ali Bagov, nicknamed the “Hulk,” relinquished the belt he won last September to make the move to 170 pounds and will start the hunt for a title in his new weight class. Bagov (28-10) will take on the always entertaining Adam Townsend (19-7), appropriately nicknamed "Prime Time.”
Bagov is one of ACA’s top fighters. He is very physically powerful, as one would expect of a fighter who goes by “Hulk,” but in recent fights he has also shown improvements in all areas, including the ability to fight effectively in the championship rounds, as he demonstrated with a fourth-round kimura submission of Khusein Khaliev to win the lightweight belt. Bagov’s trump card is his takedowns and dangerous submissions. Townsend, for his part, is never an easy opponent. He fights very well in all areas, and few people have managed to successfully take him down.
Bantamweights: Meshev vs. Dudaev
Another battle that deserves special attention will be the match between Islam Meshev (9-2) and Abdul-Rakhman Dudaev (23-5). In his last outing, Dudaev took out top ACA fighter Oleg Borisov with a second-round guillotine choke, bouncing back from his loss to former champ Rustam Kerimov. Now he intends to regain his former position and make another charge for the championship belt, as the winner of this fight will have the opportunity to qualify to challenge for the title.
Abdul-Rahman is No. 1 in the ACA bantamweight rankings and is the more experienced fighter by far. Will Meshev, using his wrestling experience, be able to take Dudaev to the ground and control him there? Can Dudaev push the pace from the very beginning of the battle, attack the Meshev on the feet and get him to the ground or will he be able to strangle him with his trademark guillotine?
Featherweights: Bimarzaev vs. Polupudnikov
Another spectacular fight promises to be a featherweight fight between flamboyant strikers Apti Bimarzaev (15-2) and Alexei Polpudnikov (28-5-1). The winner of this fight will take another step towards a title fight. Bimarzaev is on an 11-fight tear and is the more technical striker and well-rounded fighter but Polpudnikov, who represents the Storm academy under head coach Alexander Shlemenko, carries a great equalizer in the form of his very powerful and heavy hands. Both have proven themselves capable of going the distance, or ending a fight in the opening seconds. However, if Bimarzaev, as the superior wrestler, can successfully apply those wrestling skills, his chances of tiring his opponent and then defeating him will increase.
Featherweights: Khasbulaev vs. Makashvili
In a fight that may offer some name recognition for attentive North American fans, M-1 Global and Bellator veteran Magomedrasul Khasbulayev (31-8) will lock horns with UFC vet Levan Makashvili. Khasbulaev, a student of famed Dagestani trainer Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov and a cousin of UFC lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov, won the Bellator Season 8 Featherweight tournament in 2013 but, due to persistent visa issues, never got the opportunity to cash in the title shot he earned and was eventually released despite a 5-0 record in the promotion.
After two victories in ACA, Khasbulaev is the main contender for the championship belt, but since featherweight champ Felipe Froes is currently sidelined with family issues, Khaslubaev elected to take the fight with Makashvili. Khasbulaev’s traditional plan, which usually includes setting a fast pace from the very beginning of the fight, applying lots of pressure, transferring the opponent to the ground and exhausting him there, may not work in this fight because no one has ever managed to take Makashvili to the ground.
ACA 104 takes place on Friday, Feb. 21 at Basket Hall in Krasnodar, Russia. It is available for viewing in North America through fubo.tv or via pay-per-view stream through Absolute Championship Akhmat’s website.