You all know the feeling: even with a UFC, Strikeforce, or Bellator event on practically every week, you just can’t get enough MMA. Three days without big, burly men beating dozens of IQ points from each other is simply more than you can handle.
So, in a bout of inspiration, you turn to the smaller promotions, but find yourself inundated with choices and no way to tell which are worth your while. You don’t want to waste hours hunting down a stream (legal, of course) only to find out that it’s YAMMA all over again.
That’s where we come in.
"Best of the Rest" is a series intended to highlight the events, fights, and fighters that would ordinarily slip under the radar. Exciting prospects will get the attention they deserve and matchmaking gems will be unearthed from beneath the rubble of mediocrity.
In this, the inaugural installment, we’re going to take a look at what may be the best lightweight prospect showdown you’ll see all year -- the co-main event of M-1 Global’s Dec. 9 event: Alexander "Tiger" Sarnavskiy vs. Francisco "Massaranduba" Drinaldo.
Alexander Sarnavskiy (16-0)
Fights out of: RusFighters Sports Club
Major Wins: None
Finishes: 13 (5 KO, 8 SUB)
Barely old enough to drink in the U.S., power in his hands, a solid grappling game to back it up, and Alexander Shlemenko honing his striking. What’s not to love?
Russia’s Alexander Sarnavskiy is regarded as one of the biggest prospects in Russia, even moreso now that Magomed Shikshabekov has been out of commission for the past year. At 5’11", he’s one of the taller lightweights, and has the jab and the kicks to take full advantage of this. His striking is occasionally wild when he’s flurrying, but he’s got effective straight punches and has shown his instructor’s penchant for (and skill with) the spinning backfist.
While he primarily uses his considerable kickboxing acumen, his eight submission wins prove that he’s far from helpless on the ground. While he hasn’t had the opportunity to face the sort of powerful, grinding wrestlers so endemic to the American circuit, his takedown defense has proven solid, and his ability to take the back in short order is quite impressive.
While his level of competition is about what you’d expect from someone who has spent the majority of his career under the M-1 banner, he has yet to falter in the ring, and remains a highly-entertaining fighter with great things ahead of him.
Alexander at work:
Francisco Drinaldo (10-1)
Fights out of: Constrictor Team
Titles: Jungle Fight Lightweight Champion
Major Wins: Luiz Firmino, Derrick Burnsed, Adriano Martins
Finishes: 7 (4 KO, 3 SUB)
Were it not for some ill fortune a year ago, "Massaranduba" could have been in the Octagon by now. At Jungle Fight 22, he faced off against eventual Jungle Fight champion and current UFC veteran Yuri "Marajó" Alcantara, and after controlling the majority of their bout, was submitted via armbar in the second round. Alcantara was last seen dominating Felipe Arantes, and scored one of the more brutal knockouts in WEC history beforehand by absolutely obliterating Ricardo Lamas in a single blow.
Undaunted, Drinaldo proceeded to win four straight, finally nabbing the coveted Jungle Fight title by snapping the six-fight winning streak of Adriano Martins. Training alongside the likes of Paulo Thiago and highly-touted featherweight prospect Renato "Moicano" Carneiro, Drinaldo has cemented himself as one of the finest prospects in Brazil.
Throughout his career, Drinaldo has demonstrated a very well-rounded game, being the only man to submit PRIDE veteran Luiz Firmino and the only man to knock out Team Alpha Male’s Derrick Burnsed, accomplishing both in spectacular fashion. As with Sarnavskiy, he has yet to face the stifling wrestlers that have so vexed teammate Thiago, but he's consistently proven himself against seasoned veterans.
Drinaldo at work:
Why you should care: Not only is this practically guaranteed to be a spectacular fight, but odds are you’re going to be seeing one of these guys in the UFC in the near future. Both are fantastic fighters whose styles match up well against one another.
Who takes it: While Sarnavskiy has more fights, Drinaldo’s schedule has been significantly tougher. Sarnavskiy is still extremely young and has plenty of time to develop into the monster he can be, but for now, I’m leaning towards the man who’s faced the stiffer competition.
Remember to catch this and other excellent bouts this Friday on Showtime.