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.
Ben Askren has earned a healthy living outside the auspices of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, far away from the glitz, glamour and glare of the world’s foremost mixed martial arts promotion.
Askren will put a 16-0 record on the line when he defends his welterweight crown against Zebaztian Kadestam in the One Championship “Shanghai” headliner on Saturday at the Shanghai Oriental Sports Center in Shanghai, China. There, the four-time NCAA All-American wrestler and 2008 Olympian can continue to cement his place as one of the premier mixed martial artists not under UFC control.
Splitting his training between Roufusport and Evolve MMA, Askren has rattled off back-to-back victories since his ill-fated April 2015 encounter with Luis Santos resulted in a no-contest. The 33-year-old last appeared at One Championship “Dynasty of Heroes” on May 26, when he submitted Agilan Thani with a second-round arm-triangle choke. Wins over Jay Hieron, Douglas Lima, Andrey Koreshkov, Lyman Good, Karl Amoussou and Nobutatsu Suzuki anchor Askren’s resume.
Kadestam, 27, made waves in his One Championship debut in May, when he disposed of the aforementioned Santos with a volley of third-round knees. The former Pacific Xtreme Combat champion sports eight finishes among his eight professional victories, five of them inside the first round.
The Askren-Kadestam showdown is but one under-the-radar matchup worth monitoring during the month of September. Here are nine more:
Legacy Fighting Alliance 21
Sept. 1 | Branson, Missouri
The undefeated Noblitt has spent much of his time competing at heavyweight but downshifts to 205 pounds for his Legacy Fighting Alliance debut. Operating out of the underrated Glory MMA and Fitness outfit, the 27-year-old last competed at a Carden Combat Sports show on April 29, when he took a three-round unanimous decision from Robert Morrow and improved to 7-0. Branjao, 29, has stopped all four of his opponents inside two rounds. However, the Team Nogueira rep has not fought in more than two years.
Fight Time 37
Sept. 1 | Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
They call him “The Specimen.” Having already captured Fight Time gold at 145 pounds, the unbeaten Soares will move to the lightweight division in an attempt to strengthen his position as one MMA’s top prospects. The 29-year-old Freestyle Fighting Academy export last appeared in October, when he retained his featherweight title with a five-round unanimous decision over Guilherme Faria. In McCook, Soares draws a journeyman who has tested himself against a number of high-level opponents, from Alex Caceres and Alexandre Bezerra to Jason Knight and Michel Quinones.
One Championship “Shanghai”
Sept. 2 | Shanghai, China
Jadambaa’s crowd-pleasing style has thrilled audiences for more than a decade. Now 41, the former One Championship featherweight titleholder could be nearing the end of his run as he prepares to face Yamada in a co-headlining attraction. Jadambaa has not appeared since he submitted to a first-round choke from Marat Gafurov in a failed bid to reclaim the featherweight crown at One Championship “Defending Honor” in November. Past victories over Akihiro Gono, Kazunori Yokota, Yui Chul Nam and Kotetsu Boku have only emboldened him over the years. Tiger Muay Thai’s Yamada, 27, has won 10 of his last 12 bouts, losing only Anton Kuivanen and Eduard Folayang.
Fight Nights Global 73
Sept. 4 | Kaspiysk, Russia
Though he has seen his better days, Maldonado nevertheless serves as an intriguing test for up-and-coming talent overseas. The 37-year-old Brazilian snapped a four-fight losing streak -- all four of those defeats resulted in decisions -- at Fight Nights Global 60 on March 4, when he disposed of Abdul-Khamid Davlatov with punches 4:20 into the first round. It marked Maldonado’s first victory since 2014. The unbeaten but untested Omarov has finished four of his first eight opponents and was last seen burying Artur Astakhov under the Fight Nights Global banner in May.
Legacy Fighting Alliance 22
Sept. 8 | Broomfield, Colorado
The vacant Legacy Fighting Alliance middleweight championship will hang in the balance when Heinisch toes the line against Echeimberg in the LFA 22 main event. Off to an 8-0 start as a pro, the 29-year-old Heinisch last competed at LFA 10 on April 21, when he submitted Lucas Rota with a scarf hold armlock in the first round. Five of his eight fights have gone the distance, including his World Series of Fighting win over Tyler Vogel in March 2016. Echeimberg, 27, has spent his entire career competing in his native Brazil. He owns victories over UFC veterans Paulo Thiago and Ildemar Alcantara.
Z Promotions “Fight Night Medicine Hat 4”
Sept. 9 | Medicine Hat, Alberta
Following in the footsteps of the countless Tristar Gym thoroughbreds that have come before him, Grajcar will put his welterweight crown on the line against the battle-tested and well-respected Curtis. The 26-year-old champion successfully retained his title on June 10, when he became the first man in more than five years to stop Matt MacGrath; fifth-round punches did the honors. Curtis has excelled for a number of regional promotions, most notably the Rhode Island-based CES MMA organization. He has won five of his last six fights, a controversial and widely panned split decision loss to Nah-Shon Burrell the lone hiccup.
Aspera Fighting Championship 57
Sept. 9 | Florianopolis, Brazil
Record alone should be enough to warrant interest in Neves. The 23-year-old Astra Fight Team prospect will carry a ridiculous 33-1 mark into his clash with the unbeaten Sampaio on the Aspera Fighting Championship stage. Neves has delivered 28 of his 33 professional victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission. A May 2015 submission loss to Jordan Parsons in Bellator remains the only blemish on his ledger. Sampaio, 24, has hit the ground running in MMA, finishing all five of his opponents.
Ring of Combat 60
Sept. 15 | Atlantic City, New Jersey
Trizano has the training pedigree promoters want. The 25-year-old operates out of the Team Tiger Schulmann camp, where he sharpens his skills alongside UFC bantamweight contender Jimmie Rivera, former Bellator champion Lyman Good and the undefeated Shane Burgos. Trizano, 4-0, seems primed for a breakout in the traditionally talent-rich Ring of Combat organization. His next assignment comes in the form of a rematch with Serra-Longo Fight Team’s Gonzalez, a man he defeated by unanimous decision in March 2016. Gonzalez has since pieced together a four-fight winning streak.
Cage Warriors Fighting Championship 86
Sept. 16 | London
Wood will put the Cage Warriors Fighting Championship bantamweight title on the line when he confronts the surging and unbeaten Reed in a five-round main event. The 24-year-old champion finds himself on a three-fight winning streak, having strung together consecutive victories over Chase Morton, Vaughan Lee and Marko Kovacevic. None of the three went the distance. Anchored at the Tillery Combat MMA Academy in Wales, Reed has touched off his career with seven straight wins, six of them finishes.