Beforehand Fight Festival's 31th event looks to be it's biggest events ever. The card is stacked with world class talent and young talented prospects.
Catchweight 80 kg / 178 Lbs: Lucio “Spartan” Linhares (16-6) vs Kenny Robertson (10-1), USA
In the main event of the evening the fighters are both hunting for their ticket back to the UFC. The fight is a matchup between two aggressive and heavy handed fighters who both have a lot to gain here.
Brazilian born Lucio Linhares has found himself a new home in Helsinki where he has stayed for years now. The BJJ black belt got a rough welcoming in the UFC middleweight division as he was set up with two of the strongest grapplers in the division in Yushin Okami and Rousimar Palhares. Even though Linhares was eventually submitted by Palhares, he did show excellent ground game in that fight and even had Palhares in a tight triangle. In addition to his polished ground skills Linhares is also dangerous on the feet. His striking might not be very technical but he packs a mean punch and has shown that he can end fights on the feet too. Since his two losses in the UFC Linhares has gone 3-0 finishing all opponents including UFC vet Xavier Foupa-Pokam. Foupa-Pokam’s kick shattered Linhares’ elbow in the first round but in the second round gutsy Linhares managed to submit the French with a triangle. Linhares is now all healed up and looking for a win here that would launch him back to the UFC, only this time in the welterweight division.
Like Linhares also Robertson drew short end of the stick when his UFC debut opponent was decided by the promotion. In his debut in February 2011 then undefeated Robertson was matched with Mike Pierce a hard hitting wrestling powerhouse. In the first round Robertson did well and had Pierce even in a solid choke attempt but early in the second round Pierce dropped Robertson with a heavy punch and finished him on the ground. Robertson hasn’t fought since so it has been a good eight months since he has been in action. Robertson is a modern day allrounder, a fighter who can threat his opponents in every area of MMA. On the feet Robertson likes to be aggressive, push forward and let his legit Muay Thai skills do the work. Robertson’s ground game is also on a high level. He didn’t have any trouble grappling with Igor Almeida, who is a very good grappler, once they fought in 2010.
Lightweight: Niko Puhakka (23-11) vs John Gunderson (32-11), USA
In the co-main event Finland’s lightweight powerhouse Niko Puhakka gets a challenge from another crafty veteran in John Gunderson. The Finn throws heavy leather on the feet while the American has won most of his fights by submissions.
Puhakka, who is ranked 5th on the European LW top ten, has done very well in his recent fights. During the last year Puhakka has fought seven times winning all but one of those bouts. The loss came in a fight against Chute Boxe’s Luiz Azeredo who was able to able squeeze a decision win over the Finn at Fight Festival 28. Since that loss Puhakka has won his latest three fights all by submission. One of those wins was over Poland’s Maciej Gorski who Puhakka beat in the final of KSW lightweight tournament. Puhakka, who earlier in his career was known as a brawler with susceptible submission defense, has shown strong grappling skills in his recent bouts. On the feet Puhakka’s main weapons are tight boxing and constant pressure.
Fighting pro since 2002 and as a veteran of nearly fifty fights John Gunderson has seen it all: from small casino events in indian reservations to luxurious shows by the UFC with crowds of thousands. Gunderson fought three times in the UFC in 2010 winning a decision over Mark Holtz and dropping decision losses to Yves Edwards and Rafaello Oliviera. Since then Gunderson has gone 2-1 and won his last fight by submission. Short and stocky Gunderson is a well rounded fighter but he is definitely at his best on the ground which is obvious when you look at his record: Gunderson has snatched 25 submission victories in his career.
Light heavyweight: Marcus ”Caveman” Vänttinen (20-3) vs Malid Merak (11-7), France
Finnish LHW prospect Marcus Vänttinen takes on the Frenchman Malid Merak who steps in on short notice for injured Victor Välimäki.
Vänttinen’s eleven fight long win streak came to end in his latest fight against Attila Vegh. The heavy handed Slovakian was able to crack Vänttinen with couple of overhand rights in the first round and that set the pace for the rest of the fight. After the disappointing loss Vänttinen has been training like crazy. He also went to Sweden to train with UFC star Alexander Gustafsson and made a trip to the famous London Shootfighters gym. Physically strong Vänttinen likes to play the clinch game where he can land lethal knee strikes and elbows on his opponents. On the ground he likes to grind his opponents with short punches and elbows while maintaining positional control.
Over 2 meter (6’7”) Malid Merak has been fighting pro since 2009. In 2011 The lanky Frenchman has gone 2-2 including a solid win over Egidijus Valavicius and a TKO loss to Mikhail Zayats in M-1. Merak obviously has a huge reach that usually gives an advantage on the feet. Merak’s striking isn’t top notch from a technical standpoint but he is not afraid to throw down which is always a good quality in a fighter. On the ground Merak again uses his long limbs well as he hunts for triangles and kimuras but there are also some holes in his ground game. Merak’s biggest weakness is his takedown defense that for example looked non-existent in his fight against Zayats.
Welterweight: Janne Tulirinta (12-3) vs Sebastien Garguier (9-7), France
Bellator signee Janne Tulirinta makes a comeback after a two year hiatus against France’s Sebastien Garguier.
Before taking two years off from fighting, Tulirinta went 4-0 in his last four fights as a welterweight. Following the success in M-1, Tulirinta was then signed to Bellator’s Lightweight tournament but delayed visa processing in the USA lead to him being unable to participate. Tulirinta usually relies on his grappling heavy game where he looks to score takedowns, achieve top control and punish his opponent with strikes. Addition to having good ground and pound, Tulirinta’s submission game is nowdays also on a very high level.
Garguier is a pretty good grappler also so it might be that this fight will offer exciting grappling for the crowd. The proof of Garguier’s ground skills is in his record: eight of the nine career wins have become by a submission while he hasn’t been submitted once. However, like Tulirinta, Garguier is also competent on the feet. The Frenchman has solid boxing skills and heavy low kicks.
Lightweight: Juha-Pekka Vainikainen (17-5) vs Steve Lopez (12-5), USA
In a high quality Lightweight bout Finland’s rising star Vainikainen locks horns with UFC vet Steve Lopez. A win for Vainikainen should lead to him getting signed by a major promotion.
Vainikainen has been on a roll lately winning six of his last seven fights with one bout ending to a draw. In 2011 Vainikainen has already scored legit wins over Brian Geraghty and Josh Pulsifer among others. Tall and lanky Vainikainen has a long frame and limbs for the LW division. His long reach combined with his technically solid striking makes him a tough fight for anyone. On the ground Vainikainen can certainly handle himself too and has numerous submission wins to back this up.
After racking up a sweet record of 12-1, Lopez got then signed by the UFC in 2009. However things didn’t go too well for the Xtreme Couture fighter. First he got smacked around by LW top talent Jim Miller and then lost by split decision to Waylon Lower in a horribly boring bout that lead to him being cut from the promotion. After his UFC stint Lopez has fought twice with no success as he was first TKO’ed by Fabricio Camoes and then KO’ed by Justin Buchholz in May of 2011. Lopez hails from a high school wrestling background but he uses his wrestling skills usually for defending rather than taking people down. Lopez has solid striking on the feet and his ground game isn’t too shabby either.
Featherweight: Joni Salovaara (8-4) vs Jeremy Pender (7-2), USA
Finnish featherweight prospect Joni Salovaara tries to keep his winning streak alive against a slick grappler in Jeremy Pender.
After his fighting career got off with a rocky start Joni Salovaara has found his rhythm and won his last six bouts against respectable competition earning him a spot on the European FW top ten list. In his fight against the German based American Anthony Durnell, Salovaara showed the whole versatility of his skill set. The young Finn landed good shots on the feet, took his opponent down few times and eventually slapped on a fight ending triangle choke. Salovaara’s latest fight was against Estonian Jorgen Matsi who despite being a strong wrestler couldn’t take the Finn down and was then outstruck on the feet. Besides MMA Salovaara has recently competed also in boxing and worked on his already good striking skills.
Pender fights out of Vision MMA gym where he trains with guys like TUF alumni Victor O’Donnell and Daniel Straus who has done well in Bellator. Pender knows his stuff on the feet but he usually prefers to fight on the ground where he can use his slick jiu-jitsu skills. Pender has won six out of seven bouts by submission and is currently riding a four fight win streak. It will be interesting to see if the American can force the fight on the ground and keep it there.
Also on the card:
Kickboxing WAKO European Championship 64,5 kg Jarkko Jussila vs Petar Zivkovic: Finnish striking machine Jarkko Jussila faces his pro careers toughest challenge in Zivkovic. A win over Zivkovic would move Jussila close to WAKO world championship title fight.
Bantamweight: Janne Elonen-Kulmala (3-2) vs Donatas Karlonas (2-3), Lithuania
Young and talented “Jamba” makes a comeback after a serious injury and takes on a combat sambo veteran in Karlonas.
Bantamweight: Mikael Silander (1-0) vs Perttu Paatola (2-0)
Finnish MMA amateur champion Paatola fights undefeated Silander in a bout between two young guns.
In the nights lone Muay Thai bout Finland’s Jaakko Dahlbacka battles with Paulius Sileikis, a skilled striker from Lithuania.