Every Thursday, The MMA Corner will take a look at three regional or international cards, previewing from each a single fight to which people should pay close attention. We will also list other significant bouts from the card, as well as information on how to follow each promotion and watch the events.
Let’s discover those prospects that fight in the obscurity of the regional and international circuits, waiting for their shot at the bright lights and big stage of the UFC, and those veterans looking for one more chance at stardom. It all begins here, in the small convention centers and high school gymnasiums. It all begins with promotions such as these…
Joseph Henle (7-0-1) vs. Luke Harris (9-1)
The Canadian Maximum Fighting Championship promotion delivers balanced events and has the added bonus of exposure on AXS TV, the network formerly known as HDNet. Although a number of the fights on the promotion’s 34th effort feature stellar match-ups, it’s the bout between undefeated The Ultimate Fighter 11 alum Joseph Henle and streaking prospect Luke Harris that really catches the eye.
Since his time on the UFC reality series, Henle has continued to improve. Now training at Reign MMA, the 28-year-old is seeking a path to the Octagon. He has had to seek out a higher level of competition, which comes in the form of Harris.
Harris holds a black belt in judo and has used his skills to make quick work of nine opponents. Win, lose or cage malfunction (the cause of the no-contest ruling in his 2011 bout with John Troyer), Harris has yet to see the second round. He’s a quick finisher, and he has faced veteran competition in the form of Edwin Dewees and Brandon MacArthur. The big question for Harris comes in the striking department, given the TKO loss in his pro debut versus Brad Zazulak.
The biggest question mark for Henle might come in the form of the fighting environment. Harris has fought once before in the MFC, and it came at an event held in the MFC’s five-roped ring. Henle is more at home in a cage and has been working to adjust his game for the ring.
This is a contest that has been called “too close to call,” and for good reason. Both of these men are at similar stages of their careers. Harris has the judo and submission game to give Henle trouble, but Henle might have enough in his stand-up arsenal to cause problems for Harris. This is truly one of those fights that could go either way. Up until now, Henle hasn’t pushed himself against quality competition, and that, along with fighting inside a ring rather than a cage, will likely spell his downfall. Harris keeps up the streak of quick wins by using his judo to take Henle down and earn an early submission.
Other key bouts: Adam Lynn (17-9) vs. Mukai Maromo (7-2), Nick Hinchliffe (19-8) vs. Dhiego Lima (6-1), Jacen Flynn (10-2) vs. Elvis Mutapcic (10-2), Tim Hague (14-6) vs. Mike Hackert (5-1), Cody Krahn (11-4) vs. Jason Zentgraf (5-1)
Vyacheslav Vasilevsky (17-2) vs. Jorge Luis Bezerra (15-6)
Russian promotion League S-70 has put together a strong effort for its visit to Sochi, the host city of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. The event will feature three superfights, plus the finals of its set of tournaments to crown champions in four divisions. The promotion is also advertising famous actor Steven Seagal and 2012 Olympic silver medalist judoka Alexander Mikhailin as guests for press conferences and fight night. Although Bellator mainstay Alexander Shlemenko is fighting in one of those superfights, it’s actually Vyacheslav Vasilevsky who has the more intriguing and challenging opponent in his middleweight scrap.
Vasilevsky will be fighting Jorge Luis Bezerra, also known as “Michelan.” The 26-year-old Brazilian fights out of Checkmat, a camp more closely associated with the sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The association shows in Bezerra’s efforts in MMA, as he has notched 13 of his victories via submission. Bezerra prefers to attack his opponent’s legs, having snagged four kneebars and three heel hooks. He lost to UFC competitor Erick Silva via unanimous decision and also dropped the third bout of his career, back in 2006, to The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil finalist Daniel Sarafian.
Bezerra will definitely test Vasilevsky’s submission defense. However, the Russian enters this contest as a black belt in judo and an International Master of Sports in Combat Sambo. The 24-year-old has already captured gold under the M-1 Global banner, but fell short in his attempt to do the same in Bellator, as he lost to UFC veteran Maiquel Falcao.
The Falcao fight demonstrated that Vasilevsky still has to work to do if he wants to be among the top middleweights in the world. But Falcao is a strong fighter with power on his feet and a more than competent ground game. Bezerra doesn’t possess as much of a well-rounded arsenal. The Brazilian has just one win by way of knockout.
Bezerra will most likely zero in on Vasilevsky’s legs from the very start. Look for him to employ a strategy of rolling for kneebars and heel hooks, or even pulling guard and looking for sweeps. Vasilevsky’s sambo and judo will play a defensive role in this fight. The Russian is talented on the ground, but he’ll want to avoid the mat and Bezerra’s biggest strength. Vasilevsky will attack with his superior stand-up, easily outclassing Bezerra in that department. Bezerra is tough, so he could hang in there until the final bell, but Vasilevsky should take this one via either submission or decision.
Other key bouts: Alexander Shlemenko (45-7) vs. Anthony Ruiz (29-16)
Steve Carl (16-3) vs. Andrew Trace (7-1)
More promotions should follow the approach that the Madtown Throwdown series is taking with one of its top prospects. When Lenny Nelson was forced to withdraw from his scheduled bout with rising star and Wisconsin Fighter of the Year Andrew Trace, the Wisconsin-based fight series brought in an even tougher test for the submission specialist. Trace will lock horns with Bellator veteran Steve Carl. Carl has twice been sent packing from Bellator tournament competition. The Iraq War veteran managed to win his quarterfinal tourney outings, but could not overcome the tougher foes he met at the semi-final level.
Trace needs a test such as this one. The Ruff Dawg MMA and DeLeon Martial Arts Academy product has only lost once—a 2011 unanimous decision defeat at the hands of fellow prospect Christopher Curtis. His other seven fights have ended with his hand raised after he submitted his opponent. Other than his first two pro fights and the rebound fight following his loss, Trace’s wins have come against fighters with respectable records.
Carl has been around the block, and his experience and level of competition should play a huge factor here. His losses have come against Brian Foster, Dan Hornbuckle and Douglas Lima. He has also posted wins over Tyler Stinson, Brett Cooper and James Warfield. The Hard Drive MMA fighter brings a wealth of ring savvy to this fight. That means he enters as the favorite, but it also gives his adversary a golden opportunity to make a name for himself.
Trace has been a first-round finisher throughout his pro career, snagging a variety of submissions and usually taking less than three minutes to secure the finish. The one time he was pushed into deep waters, he dropped a decision. He had similar struggles as an amateur, eking out a split verdict in his final ammy outing. The victory gave Trace nine wins and no losses before turning pro. His amateur run actually puts him within a few fights of Carl in terms of overall experience, though it is much different fighting the Richard Ryan’s of the world than the Douglas Lima’s.
Carl and Trace both prefer to do their work on the ground, but with both men’s strengths focused in the same aspect of MMA, this could turn into a stand-up war instead. Trace wrestled in high school, but he won’t hold a huge edge over Carl in that aspect of their games. Trace will come out aggressive, looking for a takedown and a quick submission. Carl’s experience will allow him to weather this early storm and turn this into a lengthier grinding fight. Once Trace loses steam, the Bellator veteran should be able to capitalize and rally for the unanimous decision verdict.
Photo: Luke Harris (Arnold Lim/Sherdog)