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Beyond the Octagon: UFC vets Paulo Thiago, Katsunori Kikuno, Mike Rhodes, Rob Emerson in action

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A look at  how MMA's big show veterans are fairing in the smaller rings and cages around the world. 

Beyond the Octagon

When it rains, it pours. On top of the deluge of UFC results you're still probably digesting, there's a double-dose of results from the world's regional circuits coming this week, including would-be prospects, former Top 10 talents, and the usual clutch of TUF alumni. But first, let's check in with the former Sengoku lightweight champion.

Satoru Kitaoka returned to the ring for his first bout this year, hoping not only to defend his DEEP lightweight crown but to rebound from from his knockout loss to the surging UFC vet Kazuki Tokudome at last November's Pancrase 271. Looking for the upset was Kota Shimoishi who, at 16-3-0, presented a challenge far more credible than the .500 fighters we often see trotted out for comeback fights. However, Shimoishi's six-fight win streak would not afford him enough momentum to get past the always sturdy Kitaoka, who walked away with a unanimous decision verdict. Kitaoka (38-14-9) has made four successful title defenses; it is the longest that any DEEP champion has ever held on to the belt.

Also on the card, the UFC's Katsunori Kikuno (24-8-2) returned to competition for the first time since his UFC release late last year, when his knock out by Diego Brandao dragged his record in the Octagon down to 1-3. The change of scene did good for Kikuno, who delivered a TKO of Takuya Oyama (7-5-0) in the waning minutes of Round 2. It's his first win in nearly two years.

And in Brazil, in the main event of Thunder Fight 7, former Top 10 welterweight Paulo Thiago (15-9, 5-8 UFC) moved up to 185 for a fight with upstart Markus Perez; at stake was the organization's vacant middleweight title. The bout is significant for couple reasons--not only does it mark Thiago's return from a two-year hiatus, but it's also the first time he's fought outside the Octagon in eight years.

Thiago made a big splash with his UFC debut in 2009, knocking out Josh Koscheck in the opening round for a tremendous upset victory that launched him into the Top 10 of the welterweight division. A follow-up loss to Koscheck's teammate Jon Fitch would put a damper on things, but subsequent victories over Jacob Volkmann and a third AKA standout in Mike Swick would cement his place in the rankings for a time. The latter half of Thiago's UFC career would be plagued with injuries, though, both his own and those of his opponents. Case in point, Thiago’s last UFC bout: original opponent Mike Rhodes withdrew, and Thiago's replacement opponent, Joe Riggs, also had to pull out at the last minute (after having shot himself in the hand, of all god-damned hair-brained things I mean come on people). Thiago’s third opponent for the event, Sean Spencer, would beat him by unanimous decision, forcing an end to his UFC career.

Thus, we come to his return bout at Thunder Fight 7, where Thiago was battling not only a larger, younger opponent, but also a three-fight slump, a two-year layoff, and the injuries and hospitalizations that forced it. All that in mind, it should come as little surprise that Thiago wound up losing the bout; on the plus side, it only came by split-decision. Thiago hasn't won a fight since 2013; Perez is 7-0-0 since that same year.

And at Victory FC 51, TUF 5's Rob Emerson (18-11-NC, 3-3-1NC UFC, 2-1 Bellator) returned from a two-year hiatus for a bantamweight title fight with Shawn West (12-7-0, 1NC). Emerson was quick to shake off any ring rust, submitting West with a rear-naked choke early in Round 2. Emerson is 8-2 since parting ways with the UFC, and 1-0 since last appearing in Bellator. For West, this loss halts an eight-fight unbeaten streak.

In the co-main event, Mike Rhodes (10-4, 0-3 UFC) continued his string of post-Octagon success as he jumped up to middleweight for a title fight with Rakim Cleveland (14-8-3). A second-round guillotine improved Rhodes's record to 4-0 since his UFC release.

Also on the card, former WSOF featherweight champ Rick Glenn (18-3-1, 4-1 WSOF) picked up his third straight victory, taking a split-decision from Ramiro Hernandez (18-9, 0-2 UFC). Glenn is 2-0 since last appearing in WSOF; Hernandez is 5-3 since his stint with the UFC.

And finally, at Hex Fight Series 6 in Melbourne, Brian Ebersole (51-18-1, 5-3 UFC) took his first fight since being cut from the UFC last summer. Ebersole's career started off with an impressive upset victory over Chris Lytle that kicked off a four-fight winning streak, which also included a one-round thrashing of a be-speedo'd Dennis Hallman. His lively fighting style, colorful persona (see: hairrow), and winning record seemed to put him in a great position. And then, things just sort of petered out. A narrow victory over John Howard could not outweigh the three losses Ebersole took in the latter half of his UFC career, and he was cut.

Spoiling Ebersole's return to the Australian scene was Steven Kennedy (23-8, 0-2 UFC), fresh off his own UFC release. Kennedy would earn a unanimous decision victory and the Hex Fight Series welterweight title.

Earlier that evening, J.J. Ambrose (26-7, 1-2 Bellator, 0-1 Affliction) submitted former nemesis Francisco Trevino (13-3, 1-2 UFC) with a guillotine in Round 2. Ambrose has won two straight. Trevino, who in their first meeting last February beat Ambrose by split-decision, is 1-1 since being cut from the UFC.

Other Results

M4TC 21

- John Maguire (23-8, 2-3 UFC) defeats TUF: The Smashes finalist Colin Fletcher (12-7, 1-2 UFC) via third-round armbar to capture the organization's welterweight title. Maguire is 5-2 since his UFC release, Fletcher 4-4.

SHC 11

- TUF 9 finalist Andre Winner (21-10-2, 2-4 UFC) defeats TUF 22 alum Abner "Skullman" Lloveras (19-8-1, 0-1 UFC) by split-decision to become the organization's lightweight champion. Winner is 3-2 in the last two years; Lloveras has dropped to straight.
- Cheick Kone (17-4-0) defeats Amilcar Alves (15-8, 0-2 UFC) by TKO in Round 1. Amilcar is 4-5 since his UFC release; this is his first (T)KO loss.

MCF 1

- In his first bout since his appearance on the show, TUF 22 alum Thanh Le (5-1-0) defeats Cody James (3-3-0) by first-round TKO.

Legacy FC 56

- Edwin Figueroa (9-5, 2-4 UFC) drops a split-decision to Levi Mowles (4-0-0). It's his first fight since his UFC release nearly three years go.
- J.C. Cottrell (17-3, 1-0 Bellator) defeats Cody Walker (7-4, 1-1 Bellator) by unanimous decision.

XKO 31

- Jose Soto (4-1-0) defeats Joseph Sandoval (7-8, 0-2 UFC) by TKO in Round 1. Sandoval is 0-4 in the last two years, with all of his losses coming in the first.

Wardog Cagefight 10

- PRIDE FC old guard Daijiro Matsui (13-28-7, 5-8-2 PRIDE) and Tomoya Suzuki (5-3-2) fight to a draw. Matsui, who has improbable wins over Quinton Jackson and Jose Landi-Jons, is 1-0-1 for the year.