European Evaluations – UKMMA Returns, Russia’s ACA delivers (September 15th – 21st)

ACA lightweight champion Abdul Aziz Abdulvakhabov withstands a tough challenge from Alexander Sarnavskiy. Credit: ACA

MMA fans are slowly starting to see MMA return to our screens on a regular basis, and with promotions with as Fight Nights Global, BRAVE CF, MMA SERIES, Belarus Fighting Championship, Evolution of Combat, and ACA all returning to business as usual, last week marked a glimpse of the post-pandemic landscape.

There were some good performances this week, and realistically, there could have been another 10 entries from ACA based on how incredible their ACA 111 card was, but performances across the greater scope also earned recognition.

Karamatullo Sufiev (def. Ilya Bashko & Dmitriy Shestakov) – MMA-SERIES 14

Usually, the European Evaluation will feature fighters that perform at a little bit of a higher level, but Sufiev turned away two opponents to win a one-night tournament last Saturday, and his efforts can’t be dismissed.

First up was Belarusian Ilya Bashko. Although he looked to have some commendable kicks in the opening moments, Karamatullo would take the fight to the mat, almost instantly locking up a quick submission.

His next clash would see him fight fellow Russian Dmitriy Shestakov. Dmitriy won by knockout seconds into his first-round fight, so both men would be very fresh coming out for the final. Knowing his opponent’s striking prowess, Sufiev didn’t try and play the game on the feet. He took the fight down, landed some good ground and pound and asserted his dominance with great control.

To kick off your professional career with back to back fights in a one-night tournament is a daunting task, but Karamatullo Sufiev walked through the challenge unphased. It’ll be interesting to see if a single fight will prove to be effortless after fighting almost 4 rounds in his first time out, but only time will tell.

Sam Patterson (def. Felipe Silva) – BRAVE CF 41

There was some talk when this fight was booked that it wasn’t the best matchmaking: Felipe Silva is a UFC veteran who left the top promotion with a 1-2 record, while Patterson’s biggest win was against a 2-3 Cian Cowley. However, anyone doubting this matchmaking has egg on their face now, as not only did Patterson prove that he deserved to be in this match, he proved that he was above it.

Patterson came out utilizing some impressive leg kicks as he tried to avoid strikes and use his footwork to avoid the cage. Silva was closing him down but remained patient in looking for attacks. It looked a little rocky for the Englishman in those early moments, as we saw Silva land on the target on two occasions, both seeming to do some damage.

Those two shots were the final of Felipe’s night. A stunning right hook counter from Patterson as Silva charged in faceplanted the Brazilian. It was surprising Patterson featured lower on the card than Cian Cowley and Ahmed Amir’s lacklustre fight, as Sam submitted Cian and had a draw with Amir in his BRAVE debut. With a performance like that, expect BRAVE to put him in a much more favourable position next time out, with a rematch against Amir potentially being number one in the cards.

MMA-Prospects’ Joseph Shaw spoke to Patterson after the fight:

Sean Clancy Jr. (def. Ewan Muirhead) – Evolution of Combat 7

It’ll be rare that an amateur fight is included in the European Evaluation series, but the outstanding finish from Evolution of Combat 7 couldn’t be ignored. Undefeated amateur Sean Clancy Jr. was competing against a fellow Scot, Ewan Muirhead, on Saturday’s event.

Muirhead would charge forward looking for a clinch, and managed to push Sean against the cage on occasion, but a cool, calm, and collected front saw the undefeated fighter deal with these situations easily.

In the second round, Muirhead managed to reverse a grappling position resulting in both men being tangled up awkwardly. Both commentators, along with the vast majority watching the live broadcast, had no idea what was happened. It wasn’t until the referee attempted to move Muirhead’s arm that we realized he was unconscious. How many amateur fighters are aware of what a buggy choke is, let alone how to finish a fight with it? How many pros?

Clancy Jr. extended his amateur record to 4-0 and has grabbed the attention of all who witnessed her performance on Saturday night.

Abdul-Aziz Abdulvakhabov (Vs Alexander Sarnavskiy) – ACA 111

On paper, this was an incredible fight. Abdulvakhavbov was capitalizing on Ali Bagov vacating the lightweight title to chase the 170-lb strap, while the insanely experienced Sarnavskiy was surprisingly facing his first ACA title shot.

Abdulvakhabov won the title from Eduard Vartanyan in 2017, defending the belt against Bagov and Vartanyan before ultimately dropping it to Bagov in the pair’s trilogy. Alexander Sarnavskiy is perhaps best known for his run in Bellator, going 6-3 including a tournament final bout against Will Brooks.

The first round was slightly tentative in the fight. Abdulvakhabov would look to clinch up, but he stood very close to Alexander without throwing many strikes. This made the opening stanza very difficult to call. However, the next 2 rounds featured some brutal boxing from ‘Tiger’ Sarnavskiy as he worked the body meticulously and hurt the former champion on more than one occasion. The cardio of Abdul-Aziz is absolutely stunning, though, as even in the face of punishing bodywork, ‘Lion’ Abdulvakhabov managed to come out in the fourth round like it was his first of the night, and from there the night took a disastrous turn for Sarnavskiy.

The dirty boxing of Abdulvakhabov was brutal, and Alexander was eating shot after shot at the relentless pace. The final two rounds were miserable for the Bellator veteran, and Abdulvakhabov managed to turn it around for a nail-biting judges decision. As both men stood beaten and bloodied, Abdul-Aziz Abdulvakhabov’s arm was raised and the ACA lightweight belt was once again etched across his waist. It was an incredible effort from the Tiger, but ultimately the Lion remains the king.

Alexey Butorin (def. Asylzhan Bakhytzhanuly) – ACA 111

Two mainstays in ACA trailblazing the light heavyweight scene from beyond the confines of the UFC, Alexey Butorin and Asylzhan Bakhytzhanuly went to star in an epic encounter which demonstrated a bit of everything that makes MMA special.

Bakhytzhanuly was entering the contest fresh off of one of the most impressive streaks of his career, while Butorin had his win streak snapped by Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov back in December.

Straight away in the fight, we saw the Kazakh Asylzhan slowly push forward, landing strikes at distance and repeatedly banging in the leg kicks. Butorin was waiting for his opportunity to pounce on a mistake and he did just that, dropping Asylzhan late in the round. All credit to Asylzhan, however, as he recovered very well.

In the second round, the story was completely reversed. This time Butorin found himself unable to avoid the strong takedown game of his opponent and was forced to fight off of his back for the majority of the round.

The biggest highlight came in the closing round, however, as even though Asylzhan looked the fresher, stronger fighter, a mammoth counter from Alexey Butorin ended the night for his opponent. It was a razor-close battle, but Butorin’s power once again proved to be a threatening prospect at any stage in the contest.

This week was nothing in comparison to the incredible week of fights to follow. Although just before this Evaluation was written there have been some major cancellations to the Cage Warriors Trilogy events, there are still a handful of great fights included throughout. Add in UAE Warriors, BRAVE, Babilon, and more, it’s a good time to be a European MMA fan.

Tune in when MMA-Prospects breaks down all the key performances next week.