RFA 18 Preview for ‘Manzanares vs Pantoja’ Tonight (Sept. 12) in Albuquerque

RFA 18 PosterToday (Sept. 12, 2014), in the midst of a busy combat sports weekend, Resurrection Fighting Alliance (RFA) will be heading to New Mexico for RFA 18. The top of the card heavily features the lower weight divisions, as the promotion’s flyweight title will be on the line in the main event, while an intriguing (and potentially very exciting) co-main event goes down at bantamweight. Flyweight champion Matt Manzanares (7-2) puts his belt on the line against Brazilian prospect Alexandre Pantoja (14-2). Manzanares may come into this bout with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. Despite being the RFA champion, it was his originally scheduled challenger Joby Sanchez who got the call from Sean Shelby to step in on short notice at a recent UFC event. The track record for RFA champions making it to the big show has historically been excellent, and the champion hopes to retain his belt on Friday in hopes that he can drop it to make the same move to the Octagon as so many before him have done. A skilled boxer, Manzanares has made strides to improve his ground game recently, submitting Steve Swanson at RFA 9 and keeping things competitive with UFC contender Zach Makovsky in his first crack at the RFA belt back in November 2013. He fell short in that bout, but was given a second opportunity at the title when Makovsky jumped to the UFC and made good on it, picking up a split decision against Junior Maranhao in April, a fight most saw him clearly winning. Now he faces another Brazilian, but this time one with much more experience in Pantoja. Back in 2010, the flyweight division in MMA was relegated to Tachi Palace Fights in the United States, and had limited exposure in places like Brazil and Japan. Manzanares hadn’t even taken his first pro MMA bout yet. However, in 2010, Alexandre Pantoja took on the top flyweight fighter in the world, Jussier da Silva. Formiga was fresh off his victory over B.J. Kojima to become the top flyweight in the sport. Pantoja lost the bout, but he’s been at the top of the division in Brazil ever since. The fighter who now trains out of Nova Uniao has reeled off seven victories in a row since dropping the bout to Formiga, and finally gets another chance to make a bigger name for himself. He is extremely aggressive on the feet, and uses his forward pressure to mask some holes in his technique. It can leave him open to counters, and should create a nice interplay with Manzanares’ boxing. Also, training alongside Formiga seems to be rubbing off on Pantoja, as he has developed some tricky back-taking ability which has resulted in three of the wins in his recent streak coming via rear-naked choke. Against Manzanares he will need to rely on all of his skills to earn himself the RFA title. The co-main event doesn’t have the same stakes as the title bout, but it could prove to be even more entertaining. After nearly three full years out of action, Abel Cullum (18-6) returns to the cage. If you aren’t aware of Cullum, go look up his fights from the 2009 DREAM featherweight grand prix. Now. Don’t worry, I’ll still be here. You’re back? Okay. Fun, right? Well that’s basically what Abel Cullum does. He has fun fights. He doesn’t win them all, but chances are you’re going to enjoy watching it regardless. It’s hard to know what to expect from him after such a long layoff, but we could be in store for a lot of scrambling between him and Ulysses Gomez (9-4). The former UFC fighter seemed to get away from his grappling roots in the Octagon and his approach earned him two consecutive losses and a pink slip. After he had a bout for the Cage Warriors flyweight title fall through as well, he decided to return to bantamweight, and perhaps that will also signal a return to his grappling style. If that’s the case, this could legitimately end up the most exciting fight of the weekend, since both men are very skilled on the ground. RFA mainstay Chidi Njokuani (10-4, 1 NC) returns to the cage for the first time since his March no contest against Chris Heatherly. Njokuani landed a elbow to Heatherly’s back in that bout that was deemed to be to the spine, and the bout was stopped as Heatherly couldn’t continue. It’s hard to glean too much from that performance, but Njokuani has been the same fighter for some time now. He’s a talented striker who still needs to improve his takedown and submission defense. Steven Hanna (4-1) is much more of an unknown quantity, but all four of his pro wins have come by… submission. If Hanna can get his takedowns going in this fight, he could very easily upset the younger Njokuani and extend his win streak to five fights, which would put a serious kink in Chidi’s attempts to join his brother in the UFC. In the lightweight division, Black House clashes with Hammer House as Mehdi Baghdad (9-3) takes on Evan DeLong (13-7). Both fighters have taken on the respective identities of their teams, as Baghdad prefers to keep things on the feet and strike, while DeLong wants to use his grappling. With Ed Soares running RFA, you would think this matchup is being made to get him a win. He does seem to have the higher ceiling of the two, but each man has faltered when stepping up in competition in the past, so with this being the biggest stage either has fought on, it will be interesting to see who prevails. A pair of women’s bantamweights with one loss on their record will also be featured on the AXS TV main card, as New Mexico’s Brenda Gonzales (4-1) takes on Heather Bassett (2-1). Gonzales opened her career with four straight wins before dropping her most recent bout (May 2013) to Rin Nakai by submission. Bassett turned pro following her June 2013 victory as an amateur at RFA 8. She has gone 2-1, dropping a bout to Fallon Fox by submission earlier this year. With five of their combined six wins coming by stoppage, and both losses coming that way, there’s a good chance this one ends inside the distance as well. Opening up the main card is a 140lb catchweight bout between New Mexico’s Adrian Cruz (5-1-1) and Justin Linn (6-1). This is effectively a striker versus grappler matchup as Linn has the superior submission skills and Cruz will look to avoid them as much as possible. Cruz should be able to do the better work standing, so if he can keep this bout on the feet he’ll likely make the local crowd happy in the process. RFA 18 airs live on AXS TV starting at 10pm ET, and MMA OddsBreaker will release betting lines for the top three bouts later today.

Written by Brad Taschuk

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