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…
Tony Lopez (31-9) vs. Ricky Shivers (12-6-1)
If there is one fighter in mixed martial arts whose name is synonymous with the King of the Cage promotion, it’s probably Tony Lopez. The 40-fight veteran has seen the bulk of his fights come under the KOTC banner, and his trophy case is lined with the promotion’s belts. Now, Lopez looks to defend one of those titles yet again, while also avenging a prior loss, against Ricky Shivers.
Lopez has reigned over two weight classes in King of the Cage for stretches of time. For a year and a half, from 2008 to 2010, he was the promotion’s heavyweight and light heavyweight kingpin, before dropping the belts in back-to-back fights. He regained the heavyweight title in December 2011, just three months after capturing the KOTC super heavyweight championship. He’s managed to retain both titles thus far through 2012, defending the heavyweight crown twice and the super heavyweight strap once.
During Lopez’s extensive career, he has lost nine times, but he has only been stopped twice. The first time came against the late Justin Levens under the WEC banner in 2005. The second such loss came at the hands of the man he is preparing to defend his belt against. Shivers, like Levens, submitted Lopez. Shivers’ submission win came via armbar (Levens used a rear-naked choke to end Lopez’s night in their encounter).
Shivers is just three fights removed from that victory, with a 2-1 mark in the time since. For Lopez, the May 2011 loss seems but a distant memory—the ShoXC and Bellator veteran has taken part in nine bouts since then with a 7-2 mark.
This rematch has many interesting aspects revolving around it. Lopez is at home in King of the Cage, and he’s fighting in his home state of California. But he’s also proven to be susceptible to submissions and has already lost once to Shivers, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt. The two men are tall and, despite Lopez’s standing as the super heavyweight champion, on the small side for the heavyweight division. Both can easily make the 205-pound limit and would most likely shift to light heavyweight for any opportunities with bigger promotions.
In this fight, however, they’re at heavyweight, and Shivers has won this very fight before, in just over three minutes. Although Lopez has a significant number of submissions, his background is striking oriented, whereas Shivers is a grappler with several victories by some form of knockout. That translates into a battle that should be entertaining regardless of where it takes place.
Lopez has the title and, unlike in their first scrap in Alaska, the home town and familiar promotion advantages. It’s hard to overlook Shivers’ win in the first outing. The 38-year-old Lopez isn’t getting any younger, and Shivers is a quality opponent who has already found a way to defeat Lopez. Lopez will last longer this time, but in the end, he’ll find himself tapping out once again.
Other key bouts: David Gomez (13-4) vs. Brad Burrick (12-11) for the welterweight title, Brandon Hunt (8-4) vs. Johnny Cisneros (6-0)
Graham Spencer (8-1) vs. Shane Nelson (15-6)
The latest offering from Maximum Fighting Championship is topped by a middleweight title tilt between TUF alum Joseph Henle and rising prospect Elvis Mutapcic, but my colleague, Rob Tatum, did a fine job of providing an in-depth preview of that bout in Monday’s edition of Fight of the Week. So here, instead, we’ll focus on another key match-up from the card, the featherweight scrap between another TUF alum, Shane Nelson, and Canada’s own Graham Spencer.
After competing on the eighth season of The Ultimate Fighter in 2008, Nelson launched his UFC career with two wins before suffering back-to-back losses and a pink slip. Since departing the UFC, the B.J. Penn’s MMA product has tallied three wins and one loss. The loss came in a February trip to Japan’s Shooto organization to fight Takasuke Kume.
Spencer, meanwhile, has seen his biggest fights come on the stages of King of the Cage Canada and Battlefield Fight League. Spencer’s background is in jiu-jitsu, and he’s earned four of his eight wins via submission. He also trained in judo at an early age.
This fight is set for the featherweight division, but Nelson has competed at lightweight in the past and Spencer could likely make bantamweight with little effort. The size advantage will be in Nelson’s hands, and he also holds a two-inch edge in height.
The biggest edge, however, might come in the form of experience and training partners. Nelson competed on TUF and trains with the likes of B.J. Penn and Kendall Grove. Spencer’s teammates include Nick Hinchliffe, a skilled Canadian fighter but not a fighter of the same caliber as Penn. And Nelson’s time in the UFC put him in the cage with the likes of Aaron Riley, Matt Wiman and George Roop. Spencer doesn’t have any marquee names on his resume, in the win or the loss column.
With size and experience on his side, Nelson should be the clear favorite in this fight. He’s only a purple belt in jiu-jitsu, so his one strategy has to be to avoid making mistakes on the ground against Spencer. The good news for Nelson is that, much like himself, Spencer isn’t an overwhelming finisher. Twelve of Nelson’s 21 fights have gone the distance, but so have four of Spencer’s nine career outings. And those four decisions have come in Spencer’s last six appearances.
With two fighters who tend to be averse to producing finishes, it’s easy seeing this one go the distance. Nelson will look to keep this fight standing, where he can outpoint Spencer on the scorecards.
Other key bouts: Joseph Henle (8-0) vs. Elvis Mutapcic (11-2) for the vacant middleweight title, Sabah Fadai (6-2) vs. Cody Krahn (11-5), Smealinho Rama (4-0) vs. Ryan Fortin (6-3)
Bruno Carvalho (14-5) vs. Cathal Pendred (10-2-1)
The true highlight—a flyweight title affair between Rosi Sexton and Sheila Gaff—of the 49th effort from the British Cage Warriors promotion might have been lost, but the card still features a number of intriguing match-ups, including the headlining bout between Bruno Carvalho and Cathal Pendred.
Pendred, a 25-year-old prospect out of Ireland, is undefeated in his last five outings, with four wins in that span. That stretch includes a victory over UFC veteran David Bielkheden. Pendred’s preference is in the striking game, as he’s earned five wins by TKO. Pendred is the Cage Contenders welterweight champion and has gone undefeated under the Cage Warriors banner with three wins and a draw.
Carvalho enters this bout following a 9-1 stretch where his only loss came to former Dream champion Marius Zaromskis. A black belt in both judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Carvalho will hold a distinct advantage should this fight hit the mat. The Brazilian has also managed some knockouts and TKO’s in his career, but he’d be ill-advised to test his stand-up in this affair.
Pendred is a great prospect, but he’ll likely face a size disadvantage against the former middleweight, Carvalho. Carvalho has surprisingly never glimpsed the bright lights of promotions such as the UFC, Bellator, Strikeforce or even the most significant of Japanese organizations. Although his career got off to a slow 5-4 start, the highly-decorated grappler has righted the ship over his last 10 appearances.
Carvalho’s only loss in that span came against a difficult striker, so expect his judo to factor into this fight early. He’ll want to close the distance, tie Pendred up and toss him to the mat, where he can use his submission skills to bring an end to this fight. European fighters are notoriously weak in the wrestling department, so Pendred will likely succumb to Carvalho’s takedown attempts. And he’ll have no answer—other than tapping—for the Brazilian’s ground game.
Other key bouts: Tim Newman (8-3) vs. Greg Loughran (22-18), Lewis Long (6-1) vs. Paul Redmond (3-3), John Michael Sheil (8-0) vs. Faycal Hucin (7-3), Mervyn Mulholland (9-4) vs. Daniel Thomas (19-8-1)
Photo: Bruno Carvalho (Henrik Wall/MMAViking.com)