Talent is everywhere. Great fight camps and gyms are popping up in every region and great fights are not hard to come by.
The future stars of the UFC, Bellator, One Championship and many more had to start somewhere. If you’re willing to look, you’ll be able to catch many of these future stars early in their careers. If you’re an avid MMA fan looking to get a fight fix beyond the aforementioned UFC, Bellator, and One Championship, upcoming regional and mid-tier combat promotions are a great place to curb your appetite for combat.
With that being said, let’s look at the weekend ahead as I highlight five great fights beyond mainstream MMA to keep your eye on.
Blake Smith vs Paris Artis – Cage Fury 106, March 17th 2022 at 7 PM EST
The main event at Cage Fury 106 sees a showdown at 155 pounds for the CFFC lightweight championship and features rising stars Blake Smith and Paris Artis.
Blake Smith (6-2) is the 49th ranked pro lightweight in the US southeast region according to Tapology. He fights out of DEFWAR in Tampa Florida and has enjoyed a 3-0 run as of late, most recently submitting his opponent Zulkarnaiyn Kamchybekov in the main event of CFFC 100. With training partners such as Contender Series alum and UFC veteran Aalon Cruz, it’s no surprise to see Blake making his climb through the ranks.
Paris Artis (5-0) is the 53rd ranked lightweight in the US southeast region according to Tapology and also had an impressive submission victory at CFFC 100 over Feraris Golden Jr. He fights out of the stacked Team ROC in Fayetteville, NC and looks to maintain his undefeated record with a win over Smith. Also worth noting, his 5-0 pro record is decorated with five straight finishes, 2 KO’s and 3 submissions.
This looks to be a well contested matchup with a nice potential of fireworks, as both fighters have a history of finishing their opponents. Catch this one live on UFC Fight Pass.
Keith Richardson vs Hunter Azure – iKON FC 2, March 18th at 8PM EST
Jorge Masvidal’s iKON FC 2 looks to bring serious heat to Miami. That is encompassed in their co-main event between Keith Richardson and Hunter Azure.
Keith “The Rockstar” Richardson (21-11) is the 5th ranked bantamweight in the US southeast region according to Tapology and fights out of Modern Warrior MMA. He has faced a slew of notable fighters during his career so far including Nate Lanwehr, Charles Rosa, Tony Gravely and Patchy Mix. Needless to say, he has the experience to face almost anyone in the division. He’s also enjoying a 3-fight finish streak dating back to 2019.
Hunter Azure (9-2) is the 60th ranked worldwide bantamweight according to Tapology and fights out of the ever-impressive Fight Ready camp in Arizona. Hunter finished a recent run of 2-2 in the UFC and has notable wins over Brad Katona as well as Cole Smith. His high level of athleticism should bring some intensity and grit to this bout.
This should be a high-level affair in an up-and-coming promotion with plenty of action. Catch this one live on UFC Fight Pass.
Damir Ferhatbegović vs B.J. Bland – PFL Challenger Series 5, March 18th at 9PM EST
While the PFL itself is a rather well-known organization, it’s Challenger Series is a relatively new endeavor. We’re looking at a similar format to the UFC’s Contender Series, where high-skill but relatively unknown fighters face off for their chance at a contract, or in this case, an invite into the PFL tournament. The lightweight match-up between Damir Ferhatbegović and B.J. Bland is shaping up to be one worth watching.
Damir “The Bosnian Barn Cat” Ferhatbegović (5-2-1) is the 62nd ranked lightweight in the US southeast region according to Tapology. He fights out of Shield Systems MMA alongside notable UFC veteran Scott Holtzman and has notable fights against Luis Pena and Jonathan Pearce. After his last loss in 2017, Damir looks to have sharpened his tools and appears ready for the big stage.
B.J. Bland (16-10) is the 5th ranked pro lightweight in the AUS/ NZ region according to Tapology and trains at the world-class City Kickboxing with the likes of Dan Hooker, who recently gave a shoutout to his protégé on the MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani. With a smothering style and a team full of absolute killers, “Quicksand” should be a name to watch going forward.
This should be an intriguing matchup between two highly-skilled fighters, and can easily end with a finish. Catch this one live on fuboTV.
Jordan Vucenic vs James Hendin – Cage Warriors 134, March 18th at 1:30 PM EST
Cage Warriors is perhaps the most recognized organization on this list other than the PFL, with the likes of Michael Bisping, Conor McGregor, Dan Hardy, Gegard Mousasi and Joanna Jedrzejczyk making their starts in the UK promotion. Jordan Vucenic and James Hendin are next in line, trying to add their names to that growing list of stars. They each get a chance March 18th to further realize their dream as the two face off in the featherweight main event.
Jordan “The Epidemic” Vucenic (8-1) is the 2nd ranked pro featherweight in the UK region according to Tapology and fights out of Blood Sweat and Tears alongside UFC veteran Modestas Bukauskas. Vucenic has enjoyed a 6-fight win streak dating back to 2019. He looks to add some legacy to his name during the main event bout.
James “The Honeybadger” Hendin (6-1) is the 15th ranked pro featherweight fighter in the UK region according to Tapology and trains out of Team Fish Tank alongside KSW veteran Phil De Fries. While Hendin is a late replacement, he still has the opportunity to make a statement with a win March 18th.
Both guys here are on high trajectories and can elevate their status with a win here. It should be a high-skill and highly contested affair. Catch it all on UFC Fight Pass.
Nojus Namajunas vs Tanner Wonch – Midwest Championship Fighting 22, March 19th at 8 PM EST
While MCF might be a smaller name on this list, they are a promotion centered in one of the top US regions for sheer talent. Seeing a mix of Midwest and Colorado fight camps, the fights here shouldn’t be overlooked. This stems early into the main card as Nojus Namajunas faces off against Tanner Wonch at 145 pounds.
Nojus Namajunas (0-1) gets a lot of consideration due to his sister, UFC champion Rose Namajunas. However, Nojus doesn’t belong in the shadow of his sister. He is his own fighter who brings plenty of excitement to the cage, as demonstrated by his first round TKO win over Robin Maggs at Fury FC 37. He also trains out of another world-class gym in Genesis Training Academy alongside upcoming stars such as Grant Neal. Keep an eye out for Nojus as he should make a name for himself in time.
Tanner Wonch (0-1) has been spending his training camp with one of the brightest young coaches in the game, James Krause. He should be ready for any situation. Wonch enjoyed a 6-1 amateur record before making his professional debut and looks to keep improving his game.
This fight has the potential to be a barn burner between two up and coming names to keep an eye on. Catch the fight via PPV at www.MidwestChampionshipFighting.com.
Which of these fights are you most looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below!
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Featured image credit to Jorge Masvidal’s iKON FC