Before the UFC light-heavyweight title madness kicks off this Saturday, let's take a look back at last weekend's regional action to see how former big-show talent has been faring under the world's more modest MMA banners.
A contractual stalemate has made him absent from Spike TV, but current Bellator heavyweight champion Vitaly Minakov (16-0, 5-0 Bellator) has nevertheless kept a busy schedule, taking fights on the Russian circuit and maintaining his status as one of the sport's best big men fighting outside the UFC. Case in point: last Friday, in the main event of Fight Nights: Dagestan, Minakov made short work of the well-traveled juggernaut Geronimo Dos Santos (36-16-0), submitting him with an armbar in the opening round. Minakov is 2-0 since last appearing in Bellator; Dos Santos, whose UFC debut was scuttled following the need for hepatitis treatment, is 3-2 since that would-be debut.
Watch Minakov vs. Dos Santos here.
Also on the card, featherweight prospect Rasul Mirzaev likewise kept his undefeated record intact, knocking out Kevin Croom via ground-and-pound in Round 2 of their co-main event bout. Mirzaev stands at 13-0-0 overall. Croom falls to 16-6-0 (1-0 Bellator).
Mirzaev vs. Croom can be seen here. Action starts at 2:45.
If, like me, you've been rewatching TUF 4: The Comeback while muttering to yourself that the UFC should revisit that concept for the next season of The Ultimate Fighter, then like me you'll also be pleased to find that seven-time UFC veteran Pete Sell returned to the ring last weekend. If you want to take a moment to let Matt Serra's screams of "Drago!" echo through the chambers of your mind (and heart?), now's the time.
Sell made a splash with his UFC debut, submitting the heavily favored Phil Baroni in the dwindling seconds of the final round. An exciting but losing performance to Nate Quarry followed, occasioning his UFC release (imagine a fighter with two fight-of-the-night-level performances under his belt and a 1-1 UFC record getting released today). Sell returned to the UFC via TUF 4, which consisted entirely of UFC veterans, making it as far as the semifinals, where he was defeated by eventually tournament winner Travis Lutter. A subsequent fight with Scott Smith made for one of MMA's greatest brawls, and an unexpected victory over Josh Burkman kept his UFC career going for a little while, though mounting losses would end up occasioning his release again 2009.
Sell has fought sparingly since, and his fight last Friday made for his first in three-and-a-half years. In the main event of Ring of Combat 52, Sell faced former nemesis Elijah Harshbarger (8-5-0), whom he beat in 2011 to briefly hold the ROC middleweight title. Ring rust and, perhaps, age would work against Sell this time around, as he lost a unanimous decision. Sell's record falls to 2-2 since last appearing in the UFC. Harshbarger is 2-1 in the last two years.
And at URCC Dutdutan 15 out of Manila, Will Chope (27-8, 0-1 UFC) made short work of Patrick Manicad (0-3-0), submitting him with a rear-naked choke in Round 1. Chope is 8-2 since being cut from the UFC, though many of his opponents have had near-non-existent MMA experience.
Meanwhile, in Canada, at Unified MMA 24, former UFC light-heavyweight Victor Valimaki (18-10, 0-2 UFC) tried his luck at heavyweight in a bout with 24-year-old Tanner Boser (8-1-0). Mid-way through Round 2, leg kicks from Boser rendered Valimaki unable to continue. The TKO'd Valimaki serves as Boser's most significant victory to date.
And on Saturday in St. Louis, Bobby Voelker (27-12, 0-4 UFC, 4-1 Bellator) did what he does best, knocking out Mike Estus (7-3, 0-2 Bellator) eighty-seven seonds into Round 1 of their headliner at Shamrock FC. Voelker is 3-0 since being released from the UFC last year.
Finally, on the undercard of One Championship: Odyssey of Champions, former UFC lightweight sensation Roger Huerta (22-8-1, 1-2 Bellator, 6-2 UFC) looked to put himself back in the win column at the expense of Koji Ando (12-4-2, 0-1 Sengoku).
At his peak, Huerta was the subject of an unprecedented publicity blitz from the UFC, appearing on magazine covers and touted as one of the lightweight division's premier talents. Huerta would end up using that platform to call attention to what he believed was dubious treatment of fighters by the UFC. Losses to contenders Kenny Florian and Gray Maynard came close on the heels of these statements, and Huerta was released. He's struggled to regain his footing since then, most notably suffering a cringe-inducing knockout at the hands (and feet) of Zorobabel Moreira in 2012, which saw him take an extended break from competition. He returned to the ring last year to hand Englishman Christian Holley his first career loss, knocking him out in the first. Against Ando, however, no such victory would be in the offing--after three rounds, Huerta was handed a loss by unanimous decision. Ando moves to 3-1 for the year. Huerta is now a dispiriting eight years removed from the last time he won consecutive bouts.
Check out Ando vs. Huerta here. Action at 1:50.