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February is a fantastic month if you are a fan of face punching. While the month has the least days in the calendar, the 29 days (leap year) are loaded with high level action. The UFC is packing four cards into the month, Bellator is holding events on back-to-back days, One Championship has a two pack this month and there are also events that will be put on by RIZIN, Invicta and several other major promotions. With so much action going down, MMA fans will be forced to pick and choose to ensure that they are able to witness as much of the action as possible.
Here are 10 MMA fights that are flying under the radar and that are worth making sure you don’t miss.
Kansas City, Kansas
Zappitella entered the world of MMA with very high expectations having been an Olympic Trials qualifier in wrestling. She started her professional career red hot, not tasting defeat in her first six appearances. However, “Half Pint” hit a rough patch recently, dropping back-to-back decisions to the more experienced Viviane Pereira and Kanna Asakura. At just 21 years old, the Scorpion Fighting Systems representative has room to grow to reach her goal of being the best atomweight fighter in the world. While her striking game is a bit of an Achilles’ heel right now, gaining experience in top promotions like King of the Cage, Combate Americas, Invicta FC and RIZIN should pay dividends in the long run. D’Angelo, meanwhile, is 11 years the elder of Zappitella and appears to be in the middle of her fighting prime. Despite only being 4-2 in her career, she holds wins over such highly regarded combatants as Lindsey VanZandt and UFC standout Emily Whitmire. With a victory over Zappitella, the 32-year-old D’Angelo could be fighting for the title against either Jinh Yu Frey or Ashley Cummings, the two of whom will be squaring off in the evening’s main event for the Invicta atomweight title.
Boyington is one of the most accomplished fighters in New England to have never fought in the UFC or Bellator. “Pretty Boy” captured the New England Fights lightweight title and the Classic Entertainment and Sports featherweight strap, neither of which he has lost inside the cage. He is currently on a three-fight winning streak which includes a victory over UFC veteran Sean Soriano. Boyington relinquished the CES title to move back up to lightweight and return to his familiar grounds inside the NEF cage to fight for the vacant title. His originally scheduled fight drew some headlines, as he was set to face off with former UFC and WEC veteran Josh Grispi in Grispi’s return to MMA after serving years in prison for domestic violence and narcotics charges. The fight garnered different headlines when it was announced that Manny Bermudez, who was recently cut from the UFC, would be facing off against his fellow New England stablemate. “The Bermudez Triangle” was released by the premier MMA organization after he dropped his last two bouts, for which, to add insult to injury, he also missed weight. This is a crucial fight for both men as it is Boyington’s chance to show that he is ready for the big leagues and Bermudez’s first step on the road back to the big time.
Dan Ige vs. Mirsad BekticUFC 247
With arguably the greatest fighter in history in Jon Jones defending his UFC light heavyweight title against Dominick Reyes and the dominant Valentina Shevchenko putting her UFC women’s flyweight strap on the line against Katlyn Chookagian on the same card, the meeting between Ige and Bektic likely won’t get much pre-event attention. Regardless, the battle between these two talented lightweights could very well grab Fight of the Night honors. Ige is a non-stop, pedal to the metal type of fighter whose high-output game has led him to be victorious in four bouts in a row, besting Mike Santiago, Jordan Griffin, Danny Henry and Kevin Aguilar. The Hawaiian fighter will take a step up in competition when he squares off with Bosnian export. Bektic is 6-2 in his UFC stint but he needs to find some consistency. The European fighter has looked like an elite talent with his destructions of Russell Doane and Godofredo Pepey, but when he has stepped up in competition, as he did against the likes of Darren Elkins and Josh Emmett, he has fallen. The 28-year-old will have to be on the top of his game to have an answer for Ige’s forward aggression.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
After Borg fell short in his bid to capture the UFC flyweight title, it appeared he was destined to never fight again. The New Mexico native had six fights cancelled over a 17-month period before finally stepping back in the cage. When he did return, he moved up to bantamweight and fell at the hands of the then UFC newcomer Casey Kenney. To add insult to injury, the “TazMexican Devil” was unable to weigh in under the 136-pound limit. He was finally able to get back to his winning ways with a victory over the highly regarded Gabriel Silva in his last fight. Now, Borg looks to return to the weight class in which he challenged for the title. Bontorin has amassed an impressive 16-1 professional record and is 2-0 in the UFC. He was thrown right in with the lions in the division and still managed to shine, getting past the likes of Magomed Bibulatov and Raulian Paiva. With Henry Cejudo relinquishing the flyweight title, the division is wide open for all contender and the winner of this bout would be in a good position in the near future.
Russia’s top organization Absolute Championship Akhmat returns this month with a card loaded with talent. One of the top bouts features two of the top middleweights in the promotion going to war. Frolov, who sports an impressive 12-2 record with wins over UFC veterans Joe Riggs, Caio Magalhaes and Luigi Fioravanti. However, times have been rough for the 28-year-old, as he has tasted defeat in two of his last three appearances. His opponent Santos is a UFC and PFL veteran and has an impressive record of his own, which currently stands at 18-3-1. He had great success in his lone season in the PFL, never having tasted defeat in four appearances. After leaving the organization, he dropped his debut in ACA last August. With both of these fighters having their backs against the walls, both could come out firing with the need to secure a victory.
Former professional kickboxer Kielholtz appears to be hitting her stride as a mixed martial artist. Though she dropped her professional debut, she has gained victories in four out of her last five bouts with three of them coming by stoppage. Williams is 3-2 in MMA, but all three of her victories have come against quality opponents. In her professional day, she knocked out decorated boxing champion Heather Hardy, which she followed up with an upset victory over Emily Ducote. She then dropped a bout to former UFC and Bellator title challenger Valerie Letourneau before defeating Bruna Ellen. She would fall once again to top flyweight Juliana Velasquez in her last bout. With the Bellator flyweight division being shallow and champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane having defeated most of the contenders already, a showdown between Kielholtz and Williams is a crucial battle to determine the pecking order.
Auckland, New Zealand
Tukhugov is best known for his participation in the infamous brawl between members of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s corner and Conor McGregor’s corner at the end of UFC 229, but he should be known for his talent. The Russian standout has only lost one time over his last 11 fights. The Master of Sport in Combat Sambo is 3-1-1 in the UFC and is only one significant win from facing the upper echelon of UFC talent. Aguilar is a former Legacy Fighting Alliance featherweight champion and is known for packing serious pop in his fists. “The Angel of Death” is 2-1 inside the Octagon with his sole loss being a back-and-forth barnburner with the previously mentioned Ige. This fight is one of the very best on the list and could steal the show on Feb. 22.
Teo has quietly established herself as one of the very best talents in the Asian market. The fighter representing Singapore owns an 8-1 professional record with her sole loss coming when she fought for the title against reigning champion Jingnan Xiong. She would recover from the defeat nicely by picking up the biggest win of her career by edging out the talented Michelle Nicolini in her last contest. Miura enters the fight red hot after having cruised to victory over her last six opponents. She has a knack for finding the finish as six of her 10 career victories have come before reaching the judges’ scorecards. She finished her last three opponents with her signature Americana submission. This fight has the feel of a number one contender’s bout with the victor possible being next in line to challenge Xiong for the gold.
It is not often that a small MMA promotion like Premier Fighting Championship makes this list, but I am excited for the showdown between rising prospects Ji and Casey, who will vie for the organization’s middleweight title. Ji is only 2-0 as a professional but also amassed a 4-0 record as an amateur. The Canadian has stopped five of his six opponents over his combined professional and amateur career. Casey is a fan favorite from Springfield. He has competed in both CES and Bellator and only has one blemish over his seven-fight career. The 29-year-old is a physical specimen with back-to-back first round knockouts in his last two matches. I believe these two combatants could be fighting for a roster spot on the upcoming season of the Dana White Contender Series.
The last fight listed is actually my favorite as both fighters have the potential to go very far in the sport. Naurdiev had the tall task of facing vaunted veteran Michel Prazeres in his UFC debut. “The Australian Wonderboy” passed the test with flying colors by upsetting the Brazilian. The tables were turned on him in his last fight when he was heavy favorite against Chance Rencountre and lost the bout. He showed his promise once again by besting Siyar Bahadurzada in his last appearance. Brady is regarded as one of the top young fighters in all of MMA. The undefeated welterweight is a well-rounded fighter who is a former Cage Fury Fighting Champion title holder. He thrilled in his UFC debut by getting past former Ultimate Fighter winner Court McGee this past October. The winner of this contest will start to get some much needed recognition in the promotion’s stacked welterweight division.