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…
Keisuke Fujiwara (13-6-4) vs. Shunichi Shimizu (26-8-10)
ZST is ready to celebrate its tenth anniversary, and it’s bringing the majority of its champions in for the party. Its celebratory event will feature three ZST titles on the line and another ZST champion in a non-title affair. That sole champion not set to defend his crown is 135-pounder Keisuke Fujiwara. In a promotion that blurs the lines between MMA and professional wrestling—there are even tag team matches on this card—Fujiwara will lock horns with Shunichi Shimizu in what is labeled as a RINGS rules bouts. The ZST banner has played a role in reviving the name of one of Japan’s older leagues in recent years, but only to serve as a portion of its overall shows.
Under its standard MMA format, ZST considers Fujiwara as its bantamweight champion. He won the title in 2009, but the majority of his fights since then have not come in the form of title defenses. When his belt has been on the line, however, the 30-year-old has been successful in retaining it. He won’t have to worry about that in this contest though, as his belt is not up for grabs.
Among those fighters that Fujiwara has defeated to retain his crown is none other than his upcoming foe, reigning Bushido FC featherweight champion Shunichi Shimizu. This will actually be their third meeting, as Fujiwara also defeated Shimizu on an earlier occasion as well. The title defense victory came via unanimous decision, while their first encounter ended with Fujiwara scoring a knockout.
It’s hard to tell what difference the RINGS format will have on this affair, but it seems apparent that Fujiwara has Shimizu’s number whenever the two face off. However, both of his victories over the Sengoku Asian bantamweight grand prix finalist took place during a better time in Fujiwara’s career. The ZST champ is actually just 2-4 over his last six outings, with four decision losses, one decision win and a single victory by stoppage (though that was a corner stoppage, not an actual knockout or submission finish). Shimizu is a much more impressive 10-2-3 over the course of his last 15 fights, with the losses coming by way of decisions and all but two of the wins coming via a finish.
Fujiwara’s kickboxing background gave him the weapon he needed in order to hand Shimizu a knockout loss once before. But with Shimizu’s star on the rise and Fujiwara’s on the decline, we could see the tides swing in favor of the younger submission specialist in this third encounter. On the other hand, this could be the fight Fujiwara needs to right the ship. With two wins over Shimizu already, Fujiwara has to be the choice to post the win here, by a narrow margin on the judges’ scorecards.
Other key bouts: Tetsuya Yamada (8-3-2) vs. Masayuki Hamagishi (10-2-6) for the welterweight title, Ryosuke Tanuma (7-3-1) vs. Yuichiro Yajima (17-14-1) for the flyweight title, Tetsuya Fusano (7-2-4) vs. Shooto Watanabe (3-0-1)
Jesse Ronson (11-2) vs. Ryan Healy (23-11-1)
With Thanksgiving upon us, Canada’s Score Fighting Series provides the biggest event on a week where most promoters and fighters are battling a turkey rather than an opponent in the cage. Although Score Fighting’s seventh effort is headlined by a bout pitting Forrest Petz against Jordan Mein, the fact that The MMA Corner’s Rob Tatum provided an in-depth look at that match-up in Monday’s edition of Fight of the Week leaves us to preview another intriguing encounter here. That would be the bout pitting Ryan Healy, twin brother of Strikeforce lightweight contender Pat Healy, against rising prospect Jesse Ronson.
The last time Healy stepped into the Score Fighting cage, he dropped a unanimous decision to John Alessio. He watched Alessio turn that win into a contract with the UFC. That motivated Healy on his way to defeating Paul Kelly under the Super Fight League banner. Now, Healy returns to Score Fighting determined to avoid the role of the gatekeeper.
Ronson, meanwhile, brings a six-fight winning streak and an overall 11-2 mark to the cage. As a former kickboxer, “The Body Snatcher” will certainly look to keep this fight standing, where he can pick Healy apart with kicks and punches. Healy has a mix of boxing and wrestling to rely on, and he’s also made a habit of using strikes to finish his opponents.
As much as Healy and Ronson like to use their striking attacks, Healy’s wrestling might be the biggest factor in this contest. Strikers tend to have holes in their ground games, and while Ronson does have a handful of submission wins to his credit, there’s no doubt that he’s at home on his feet rather than on the mat.
Furthering Healy’s advantage in this pairing is his experience. Although the Missouri-born fighter has never taken that next step to the big leagues, he’s seen plenty in his days of fighting. Even his five-fight skid in 2008-09 can be considered a positive heading into this affair. In that stretch, the 29-year-old Healy fought to a decision in all five match-ups, and that included names such as Jorge Masvidal, Rick Story and Lloyd Woodard. He has also notched wins over UFC veterans Brad Blackburn and the aforementioned Paul Kelly. The 26-year-old Ronson’s most notable fights have come in a loss to current TUF competitor Mike Ricci and wins over fellow prospects Alex Ricci and Jason Saggo. That makes for a significant gap in the level of competition these two have faced.
Healy’s route to victory is a simple one. As much as he might fancy a stand-and-bang war with Ronson, he has to realize that staying in Ronson’s realm is a bad game plan. Healy will want to take this fight to the mat, where he can show that his grappling attack is more than the kickboxer can handle. If Healy avoids getting knocked out early, he’ll go on to grind out the decision victory.
Other key bouts: Forrest Petz (25-9) vs. Jordan Mein (25-8), Will Romero (9-3) vs. Tristan Johnson (7-3), Alex Ricci (5-1) vs. Kevin Morin (6-4), Jason Saggo (7-1) vs. Iraj Hadin (6-4), Ryan Dickson (4-0) vs. Brandt Dewsbery (10-1-1), Elias Theodorou (5-0) vs. Ali Mokdad (6-2)
Mike Kent (8-0) vs. Tim Chemelli (9-2)
There might be a lightweight title fight and the return of Ryan Ford on Agression FC’s latest offering, but the bout that grabs our attention if the match-up between Tim Chemelli and Mike Kent. Kent is undefeated through eight fights, but Chemelli is eager to take that zero away from his counterpart.
The 30-year-old Chemelli kicked off his career with an undefeated mark through eight fights, the same as Kent, but then lost his next two. The light heavyweight rebounded from his two-fight skid, which included losses to fellow prospect Nick Penner and UFC veteran Victor Valimaki, with a unanimous decision win over Simon Marini. Chemelli prefers to do his work standing, where he’s finished five foes via some form of knockout.
Chemelli’s undefeated opponent, Mike Kent, has a more balanced attack that has seen him earn three wins via TKO and four by way of submission. Although his record illustrates his ability to finish fights wherever they may go, Kent also prefers to stand. His favorite method of attack is the head kick.
This fight boils down to two things: Chemelli’s size and his struggles against truly tough competition.
Kent has primarily competed at 185 pounds, but he’ll be stepping up to 205 for this encounter. Considering that his walking-around weight has been roughly 210 pounds in the past, Kent will probably be the smaller fighter heading into this bout.
At the same time, Kent brings the record of a true prospect, and that’s something Chemelli could struggle against. Chemelli hasn’t really defeated anyone of note in his career, and his biggest win came in his most recent effort against a 9-5 adversary. Yet, despite an 8-0 mark, a closer look at Kent’s resume reveals that he hasn’t exactly faced the best competition out there either. He eked out a split decision against his toughest opponent, Alderic Keith, before earning a TKO win in their rematch. The rest of Kent’s opposition has featured less than stellar records.
Although there’s always the chance of this fight heading to the mat, Kent, who would likely hold the advantage in a grappling affair, prefers to stand with his opponents. That means we’re likely headed for a kickboxing match where the first opponent to land cleanly will earn the TKO. Chemelli might have lost to Penner and Valimaki, but that was still valuable experience for him. He’ll get the better of the standing exchanges against Kent before scoring a TKO midway through the fight.
Other key bouts: Stephen Beaumont (6-0) vs. Shane Campbell (7-1) for the lightweight title, Victor Valimaki (17-8) vs. Razak Al-Hassan (11-4), Ryan Ford (19-4) vs. Tyler Jackson (9-7-1)
Photo: Keisuke Fujiwara (Daniel Herbertson/Sherdog)