All the fans know the UFC and all the press report on that promotion but where do their fighters come from? What else is going on now? Perhaps most importantly what shows should fans watch to see tomorrow’s stars develop? The Declaration of Independents is a monthly snapshot of what is going on in “independent” scene from major events on Spike TV to smaller non-UFC events webcast at UFC Fight Pass.
The big news so far this year is Bellator’s glacier-paced heavyweight grand prix, an eight-man tournament like Bellator’s early years but instead of being spread over one season instead taking the entire year. The wait is worth it considering the participants are the stature of former Pride champion Fedor Emelianenko and former UFC champion Frank Mir but as of this writing only half the quarter-finals have transpired with the other two taking place April 28th and May 12th. The downside is Bellator so far have only had two title fights this year with Rory MacDonald winning the welterweight title in January and Darrion Caldwell defending the bantamweight belt in March, the next title fight takes place in April when Brent Primus defends the belt at lightweight. Bellator keep buying established if past-their-prime talent such as recently signing UFC vet and former WSOF champion Jon Fitch under the nose of PFL but seem to be struggling to build the up-and-comers they used to be known for. Bottom line is Bellator MMA may still be the second-largest promotion behind the UFC itself but by contrast their relevance on the future has slowed to a trickle.
In a largely overlooked move PFL have finally got their butts in gear and announced details of their 2018 league. The plans seem a mix of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series last summer and Bellator’s early seasons. Seven weekly events will take place in July and August with the fighters in the six weight classes competing for $10 million in “postseason prize pool”. Note that no word is available on what the fighters will be paid for the tournaments themselves. Supposedly 72 fighters will compete in tournament structures however no names have been confirmed. This might sound like early Bellator but with Bellator the fighters were competing for a shot at the title and a contract in a promotion that held twenty-two events for their second year. This also sounds like a copy of DWTNCS but with that UFC Fight Pass show the fighters were competing for UFC contracts, again a sense of stability. Fighters who sign to PFL now are going to be inactive until June then will be under contract in a start-up with no solid dates for post-season while the $10 million is for post-season, not the tournaments to get there. Meanwhile AXS TV and UFC Fight Pass shows are viewed as the quickest path to the UFC and all of them have “UFC clauses” while the biggest paydays for sponsorship are still viewed as being with Bellator. To top it off Jon Fitch just jumped ship to join Bellator while PFL predecessor WSOF standout Nick Newell is now with LFA. The selling point for fighters in PFL seems to be the exposure as the events will be broadcast on NBCSN and streamed on Facebook. There will surely be fighters willing to gamble on PFL but it is definitely a gamble at this point.
Here is a list of the top confirmed independent MMA events on TV and the internet for the next six weeks:
- March 23rd LFA 36 (AXS TV)
- March 24th One Championship (iPPV)
- March 24th CWFC 92 “Super Saturday” (UFC Fight Pass)
- March 24th Invicta FC 28 (UFC Fight Pass)
- \March 30th M-1 Challenge 90 (webcast)
- April 6th Bellator 196 (Paramount Network)
- April 6th CES MMA 49 (AXS TV)
- April 6th Titan FC 49 (UFC Fight Pass)
- April 13th Combate Americas (TBA)
- April 13th Bellator 197 (Paramount Network)
- April 14th VFC 60 (UFC Fight Pass)
- April 20th LFA 37 (AXS TV)
- April 20th One Championship (iPPV)
- April 20th Combate Americas (TBA)
- April 28th Bellator 198 (Paramount Network)
- April 28th CWFC 93 (UFC Fight Pass)
Bellator MMA (Bellator) – In four “real” shows and one “Monster Energy” event so far this year Chael Sonnen and Matt Mitrione advanced in the heavyweight grand prix. Two more events take place before Fedor Emelianenko faces Frank Mir to advance to the semifinals at Bellator 198 with former UFC champion Benson Henderson facing UFC vet Roger Huerta at Bellator 196 and Brent Primus defending the lightweight title against Michael Chandler at Bellator 197.
Combate Americas – In the most recent Combate Americas event on December 1st Kyra Batara returned to Combate Americas where she defeated Paulina Granados. Just announced are two back-to-back events April 13th and 20th with the 13th taking place in Los Angeles, the 20th in Monterrey, Mexico. Both shows are advertised to be televised but with no details beyond fight card available at this time. The L.A. show is headlined by John Estrada vs. Pablo Sabori.
Classic Entertainment and Sports MMA (CES MMA) – Greg Rebello finally managed to claim the heavyweight title with a quick finish of Travis Wiuff February 2nd. Up next for “the other AXS TV promotion” is CES MMA 49 on April 6th when Chris Curtis takes on Jason Norwood in the main event, Nate Andrew and Chris Padilla square off for the vacant lightweight title on the main card.
Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA) – The busiest independent promotion has already held six events this year with the most recent headlined by Nick Newell returning after two-and-a-half years off to defeat Sonny Luque. LFA now have by their standards a bit of a break with two events scheduled at this time, LFA 36 on March 23rd and LFA 37 on April 20th. The March 23rd event is headlined by Ricky Simon defending the bantamweight title against Vinicius Zani.
Professional Fighters League (PFL) – At the end of January the upstart promotion announced plans for 2018. Starting June 7th there will be a seven-event “season” that runs through the end of August on Thursday nights with broadcasts on NBCSN. No word is available on if there will be any other “fight night’ events like the one held in November, no word is available on what the fighters will do for income between now and then. Adding to speculation of the promotion’s demise is news on March 1st that former WSOF champion and headliner form PFL 1 last June Jon Fitch has signed to Bellator with his first bout in the second-largest promotion being in Bellator 199. Also WSOF fan favorite Nick Newell who only lost to former WSOF champion/current UFC fighter Justin Gaethje fought last weekend for LFA. To top it off PFL President of Fighter Ops Ray Sefo was spotted in the corner of Cheyanne Vlismas at LFA 35, eyebrow-raising considering Ali Abdel Aziz’s conflict of interest issues during his time in the offices of WSOF. Considering Bellator’s penchant for signing the UFC vets arguably past their prime and events such as LFA and ROF that have “UFC clauses” for the up-and-comers it is puzzling what strategy PFL can put forth that would tempt fighters to sign with them for more than the seven-event “season 1”. Basically PFL are currently DWTNCS minus the UFC contracts and with different distribution.
UFC Fight Pass
Cage Warriors Fighting Championship (CWFC) – Three events are lined up for England’s most important promotion with the first one aptly named “Super Saturday”. This March 24th event is advertised to hold “4 title fights across 2 cards” but only three title fights are confirmed with one of them being a “Lionsdale” title. Of the two world title fights Nathaniel Wood defends the bantamweight title against Luca Iovine in the main event while Mauro Cerilli defends the heavyweight title against Karl Moore in the co-main slot.
Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series (DWTNCS) – The first season of the most intriguing MMA series is complete, no information is available on the second.
Invicta FC – The all-women promotion’s vacant atomweight title is up for grabs between Virna Jandiroba and Mizuki Inoue on March 24th. Jandiroba replaces Milana Dudieva who instead fights Christina Marks.
Titan FC (TFC) – Luiz Gomez’s first defense of the Titan FC featherweight title comes April 6th at Titan FC 49 when he faces Jason Soares. The most recent Titan FC event was in February when Jose Torres defended the flyweight title and Raush Manflo defended the lightweight title.
Victory FC – The March 30th Victory FC “Fight Night” event will not be webcast while the next event at UFC Fight Pass will be April 14th. Unfortunately no fight card is currently available for the return to Fight Pass.
Other webcast shows
M-1 Global – Alexey Kunchenko has defended the M-1 Global welterweight title three times so far, his next defense comes against Alexander Butenko at M-1 Challenge 90 on March 30th. This marks the fourth event for M-1 Global so far this year.
ONE Championship – Holding One Championship’s featherweight and lightweight titles aren’t enough for Martin Nguyen who faces defending champion Bibiano Fernandes for that title on March 24th. Asia’s largest promotion have four more events schedule for 2018 with the next one coming April 20th, no card is yet available.
Ring of Combat (ROC) – March 2nd saw Tajuddin Abdul Hakim defeat Bradley Desir for the welterweight title at ROC 62 while also on the main card Phil Caracappa defeated Brandon Urquijo for the bantamweight belt and Tommy Espinosa defeat William Elliott for the flyweight strap. At this time there is no word on the next event.
Rizin Fighting Federation (Rizin) – Rizin’s entire 2018 schedule is out which consists of five events. The first event of the year takes place May 6th with Kyoji Horiguchi facing Ian McCall in the main event.
Tachi Palace Fights (TPF) – November 2nd saw Rodrigo Lima defeat Rolando Velasco and Tony Llamas emerge victorious over Sergio Quinones in the main and co-main events respectively. Also on the card were the semifinals of a heavyweight tournament where Mohammed Usman and Mitchell Sipe advanced to the finals which take place next year. No information is available on the next event.