10 April Tussles Worth Watching

By: Brian Knapp
Apr 4, 2016

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:

The One Championship stage once again belongs to Ben Askren.

Askren will defend his welterweight crown against Nikolay Aleksakhin in the One Championship 40 “Global Rivals” main event on April 15 at the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines. The two headliners will be subject to One Championship’s recently adopted weigh-in policy, which requires athletes to compete at their “walking around” weight.

The undefeated Askren had a forgettable 2015 campaign. The 31-year-old Roufusport rep has not fought since April 24, when his meeting with Luis Santos ended in a no-contest due to an inadvertent eye poke a little more than two minutes into the first round. Their November rematch was then scrapped when Santos failed to make weight. A four-time NCAA All-American wrestler and two-time national champion at the University of Missouri, Askren competed at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing before shifting gears to MMA. He owns victories over former International Fight League titleholder Jay Hieron and onetime Bellator champions Lyman Good, Douglas Lima and Andrey Koreshkov.

Aleksakhin will carry a six-fight winning streak into the cage. The 25-year-old Russian made his organizational debut at One Championship 33 on Nov. 21, when he tapped Burenzorig Batmunkh with a third-round rear-naked choke. All three of Aleksakhin’s defeats have resulted in submission.

The Askren-Aleksakhin clash is but one outside-the-major-MMA-bubble bout worth monitoring during the month of April. Here are nine more:

Murad Abdulaev vs. Alexey Kunchenko
M-1 Challenge 65
April 8 | St. Petersburg, Russia

The M-1 Global welterweight championship will hang in the balance when Abdulaev defends his title against the undefeated Kunchenko in the M-1 Challenge 65 co-main event. Abdulaev, who holds a May 2011 victory over current UFC welterweight Albert Tumenov, has won 11 of his past 12 bouts. He last competed at M-1 Challenge 58 in June, when he captured the vacant welterweight crown with a five-round unanimous decision over Marcelo Brito. Kunchenko, 31, boasts 11 finishes among his 12 career wins.

Antonio Trocoli vs. Dhiego Lima
Legacy Fighting Championship 53
April 8 | Atlanta

Trocoli started his career 9-0 with seven finishes, but a Feb. 2 encounter with Ultimate Fighting Championship washout Jacob Volkmann knocked him from the ranks of the unbeaten. The 25-year-old Brazilian prospect will try to bounce back against Lima under the Legacy Fighting Championship banner. Lima was a finalist on Season 19 of “The Ultimate Fighter” but was released by the UFC following consecutive defeats former King of the Cage champion Tim Means and Jiangliang Li. Operating out of an American Top Team affiliate in Atlanta, Lima has secured seven of his 10 wins by knockout, technical knockout or submission.

Lowen Tynanes vs. Koji Ando
One Championship 40
April 15 | Manila, Philippines

The degree of difficulty has begun to rise for Tynanes. The undefeated Hawaiian and former King of the Cage titleholder will lock horns with Ando in a pivotal lightweight showcase. Tynanes, 25, has touched off his professional career with eight consecutive victories, six of them finishes. He last competed at One Championship 34 on Dec. 5, when he disposed of Rasul Yakhyaev with a third-round rear-naked choke. The 31-year-old Ando has never been finished in his 16-fight career. He has won six of his last seven fights, losing only to reigning One Championship titleholder Shinya Aoki in that stretch.

Paddy Pimblett vs. Ashleigh Grimshaw
Cage Warriors Fighting Championship 75
April 15 | London

A substantial hurdle has been placed in front of Primblett, as he faces the well-traveled Grimshaw in a featherweight co-main event. Just 21 years of age, the once-beaten Primblett finds himself on a five-fight winning streak and poised to make significant waves at 145 pounds. “The Baddy” last fought in June, when he successfully defended his Full Contact Contender championship with a first-round rear-naked choke on Miguel Haro. Grimshaw, 34, has fought in Cage Rage, the British Association of Mixed Martial Arts and Ultimate Challenge MMA, where he was once champion.

Leandro Higo vs. Joey Miolla
Resurrection Fighting Alliance 37
April 15 | Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Higo has his sights set on the vacant Resurrection Fighting Alliance bantamweight championship. Only Miolla stands between the Pitbull Brothers-trained Brazilian and the gold. A protégé of former Bellator champion Patricio Friere, Higo staked his claim as a title contender at RFA 32 on Nov. 6, when he needed less than three minutes to dispatch Melvin Blumer with punches. The 27-year-old Brazilian has won six fights in a row, finishing five of them. Power MMA Team’s Miolla has pieced together an eight-fight winning streak since dropping his May 2012 pro debut.

Yuki Motoya vs. Allan Nascimento
Rizin Fighting Federation 1
April 17 | Nagoya, Japan

The Rizin Fighting Federation has matched two of the sport’s most promising young flyweights. The reigning Deep champion, Motoya has not lost a fight in nearly three years and was on a run of seven straight victories before his Dec. 29 clash with Felipe Efrain resulted in a no-contest. The 26-year-old owns wins over Yoshiro Maeda and Masakazu Imanari. Nascimento has not competed since he wound up on the wrong side of a five-round decision against Bruno Azevedo under the XFC International banner more than a year ago. He sports 12 submissions among his 14 career victories.

Rafael Lovato Jr. vs. Marcelo Nunes
Legacy Fighting Championship 54
April 22 | Catoosa, Oklahoma

The vacant Legacy Fighting Championship middleweight will be up for grabs when Lovato meets Nunes in a battle between unbeaten prospects. A multiple-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion, Lovato has kicked off his MMA career with back-to-back first-round submissions against Kevin Holland and Canaan Grigsby. The 27-year-old Nunes has finished each of his first five opponents inside the first round. They lasted 8:22 combined.

Jonas Bilharinho vs. Valdines Silva
Jungle Fight 86
April 30 | Palmas, Brazil

It may not be long before Bilharinho spreads his wings to leave the regional MMA nest. The talented Team Nogueira export will carry a 7-0-1 record into his showdown with Silva for the vacant Jungle Fight featherweight championship. Bilharinho, 25, has put together seven straight wins since his January 2011 pro debut against Carlos Peixoto ended in a draw. The 28-year-old Silva has won seven of his past eight bouts, a 2013 knockout loss to Thomas Almeida his only misstep.

Steve Carl vs. Belal Muhammad
Titan Fighting Championship 38
April 30 | Miami

American Top Team’s Carl has put his failed encounter with the frightening Rousimar Palhares behind him. The 31-year-old Belle Plain, Iowa, native and former World Series of Fighting champion made a triumphant return to competition on Dec. 26, when he tapped Beslan Ushukov with a third-round arm-triangle choke at a World Fighting Championship Akhmat event in Russia. In his latest assignment, Carl will square off with the undefeated Muhammad for the vacant Titan Fighting Championship welterweight title. The Chicago-based Muhammad will enter the match with a perfect 8-0 record.

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