Welcome to another installment of a brand new MMA Plus feature, Under The Radar, which sees us look to the week ahead in the world of MMA and highlight the fights that may have escaped your attention. Every week we will be pulling our selection of “fights to watch” from each corner of the globe and outlining exactly why they deserve your interest.
This week sees an unusually quiet MMA schedule on both domestic and international fronts with only a sparse selection of shows for our viewing pleasure. However, with plenty of fights around the world still to choose from, we have put together a special “rogues’ gallery” edition of UTR looking at the week’s bouts for three fighters who have had shocking and notorious run-ins with the law.
World Fighting Championship Akhmat 42 – Wednesday, September 27
Alexander Emelianenko (23-7) vs. Geronimo Dos Santos (39-19) – Heavyweight (265lbs)
Alexander Emelianenko returned to fighting on Wednesday after serving time for sexual assault charges and no surprises here, his first fight back was for Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov
He managed to grab a quick TKO victory over Brazilian veteran Geronimo Dos Santos in the early stages of the first round of Wednesday evening’s WFCA 42 contest to secure his first win since 2013.
Whether it be the hepatitis accusations leveled against him after canceled appearances with KSW and the now-defunct American promotion Affliction, his association with Russian nationalists or the legitimacy of his prison tattoos, Emelianenko has had a habit of making headlines for all the wrong reasons during his career.
In 2015, the notorious Russian was jailed for four-and-a-half years after being found guilty of charges relating to the rape and assault of his former housekeeper, Polina Stepanova. Despite an appeal being rejected, Emelianenko was released on parole for “good behaviour” after serving only a fraction of his sentence in October 2016.
Although he is unlikely to ever fight outside of the motherland again, it is all the more fitting that his second chance at enjoying the twilight of his career has been offered to him by personal friend Kadyrov. The divisive leader is known for his own questionable morals and faces accusations of allowing and encouraging his regime to carry out atrocities on gay men in the Russian republic of Chechnya.
Fight Nights Global 74 – Friday, September 29
Nikolay Aleksakhin (19-5) vs. Micheal Graves (6-0-1) – Welterweight (170lbs)
Despite being released and blackballed by the UFC over a domestic violence arrest in 2016, welterweight prospect Michael Graves attempts to get his career back on track this Friday night after being handed a multi-fight deal by premier Russian promotion Fight Nights Global.
The American Top Team product makes his promotional debut against local favourite Nikolay Aleksakhin in the main event of Fight Nights Global 74 at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia.
Breaking onto the scene during TUF 21: American Top Team vs. Blackzilians whilst representing the former, Graves impressed the UFC brass enough to earn a multi-fight contract with the promotion.
Scoring impressive wins over Vicente Luque and Randy Brown and battling to a hard-fought draw with Bojan Velickovic, the Ohio native had established himself in the 170lb division, and with his undefeated record, looked a solid prospect as a future contender.
However, ahead of his UFC Fight Night 100 clash with Sergio Moraes, Graves was arrested and charged with a single count of misdemeanor battery in relation to a domestic violence incident at his home in October 2016. Despite the charge ultimately being dismissed, the UFC released the 26-year-old following a third-party investigation into the incident leaving his career hanging in the balance.
“I put myself in a s*** spot,” Graves told MMAjunkie.com back in July. “I understand (the UFC’s) position and what they did, and I can’t really hate on them too much for that. I did what I did, and it was (expletive) up, so if they want to let me go or fire me or cut me or whatever you want to call it, I understand.”
Still engaged to the fiancée who was involved in the incident and living with theirtwo-year-oldd son, Graves will look to seize the chance at redemption he has been handed by FNG and could still one day appear back in the Octagon when he has been judged to have atoned for his actions.
Fist Fight 2 – Saturday, September 29
Charles Bennett (30-35-2) vs. Cody Pfister (13-6-1) – Lightweight (155lbs)
Lastly this week, we look to the U.S. regional scene where MMA cult icon “Felony” Charles Bennett brings his unique brand of craziness to Texas as he takes on ex-UFC lightweight Cody Pfister in Saturday night’s Fist Fight 2 main event.
Despite a rap sheet more befitting of a career criminal, the journeyman has continued to build a large fan base around the world whilst fighting for promotions such as King of the Cage, RIZIN FF and Tanko FC.
With both parents addicted to crack cocaine and growing up in a broken home, Bennett didn’t have the best starts in life. The Floridian’s tumultuous upbringing resulted in him dropping out of high school and the resulting years would see him in and out of prison for drug dealing.
Taking up MMA to try to straighten out his life, his natural strength and speed allowed him to turn pro while he continued to pick up criminal charges ranging from selling cocaine to burglary to aggravated battery of a pregnant woman.
In 2011, the birth of Bennett’s first son saw him take his profession much more seriously and leave his life of crime behind. An upturn in the fortunes of his career followed including an infamous rivalry with Wanderlei Silva and the Chute Boxing team, and saw the 37-year-old become one of the most popular international stars in mixed martial arts inside and outside of the cage.
Coming into this weekend’s bout whilst riding a five-fight winless streak, Bennett may be coming to the close of his career and will no doubt fall to another defeat against the much younger and talented Pfister. However, his story shows that in this sport, it is possible to find a road to redemption despite such a chequered past.