Fri. Dec 9th, 2022

As 2021 rounds out to a close, another terrific year in the sport of MMA also wraps up. While many organizations put on some of their best events, few have taken the risks and expanded their global presence the way that Brave Combat Federation has over this unprecedented year. As BRAVE continues to push itself as the fastest growing MMA promotion in the world, it’s the perfect time to look back and appreciate just exactly what happened in the BRAVE calendar in 2021.

Accomplishments

While organizations like the UFC and Bellator may still hold many numbers over the young BRAVE CF, it’s fascinating to look back at exactly how quick the promotion has grown in roughly one sixth the time. Having only been founded a mere five years ago, BRAVE CF has managed to travel to 25 countries worldwide by the end of 2021 compared to the UFC’s 28 since 1998 and already surpassed Bellator’s 11 since 2008.

Of course this is by design as BRAVE has made a point to emphasize globalization in the sport of MMA. Going to countries and working with local promotions to spread the sport has been a goal since year one and never has it been so on track as in 2021. In 11 events, BRAVE has added Poland, Kazakhstan, Russia (twice), Belarus, Serbia and Italy to their list of host countries as well as returning to the promotional home of Bahrain. Particularly putting on cards highlighting the immense talent of the host country via teams Russia, Serbia and others facing off against the rest of the world in their home territory.

Changing of Gold

As in any good year of MMA, champions rose and champions fell, and some champions cemented their reigns. In 2021, four BRAVE CF world championship titles were put on the line and these were the results:

At BRAVE CF 46 in Sochi, Russia, defending champion Eldar Eldarov put his Super Lightweight belt on the line against Brazil’s Leonardo Mafra. In an instant classic, the Russian showcased his boxing combinations in the first round, and while Mafra was able to return with his own good strikes, Eldarov set a precedent for how the fight would go.

Of course, the rest of the fight wasn’t long with Eldarov slicing a gash over Mafra’s eye prompting the doctor to step in and call a stop to the bout, resulting in Aldarov retaining his title with a first round TKO stoppage.

Fast forward to BRAVE 50 and it’s now the Super Welterweight Championship on the line. Champion Jarrah Hussein Al-Silawi of Jordan stepped up to defend his throne against Ismail Naurdiev. Pushing the pace Naurdiev established his presence in the center of the cage early, methodically walking down his opponent with patient striking.

Things would heat up quickly in the second round however, with Naurdiev taking the center again and blasting Al-Silawi with leg kicks. It would turn out to be a battle he never should’ve started, as it would be Al-Silawi who would win soon after via leg kicks, striking through a likely broken leg of his opponent and securing the title defense.

Four months later in Milan, Italy, the vacant Light Heavyweight title was up for grabs at BRAVE CF 52. Contenders, Mohamed Said Maalem and Mohammad Fakhreddine met in the center of the cage for what was expected to be a great bout.

In the most unpredictable sport in the world, fans would once again get the unexpected, when Maalem landed a wicked punch, only to get over aggressive and land another devastating blow this time to the back of Fakhreddine’s head. The illegal technique disqualified the “would-be” champion’s victory and a no-contest would be the ultimate result. The title will now likely be put back on the line in the coming year.

Finally, the last belt to be challenged for in 2021 happened at BRAVE 54 in Konin, Poland. Amin Ayoub, BRAVE’s Lightweight champion was challenged by Ahmed Amir in his pursuit to become the first Egyptian world champion in MMA history.

In a hard fought five round war, the defending champion, known for his dangerous guard, did his best to defend and attack off his back. Yet, for every sweep or submission threat thrown up, Amir had an answer. Overall the Egyptian’s wrestling made all the difference and in a close, competitive match up the belt changed hands and Amir went home the victor and new champion.

The Flyweight Tournament

One of the biggest stories surrounding the world of MMA this year was the BRAVE flyweight tournament. While Championship bouts headlined four of the eleven cards, tournament matchups made up a notable number of fight cards as well. Although the tournament was initially kicked off in 2020, the majority played out in 2021.

First, at Brave 49 fan favorite Jose “Shorty” Torres met SBG’s Blaine O’Driscoll in the quarter-finals. In a three round decision, Shorty came out on top setting up a fight with the winner of Ali Bagautinov vs. Dustin Ortiz.

Which of these two would get the shot was answered in April at BRAVE 50, when Ali Bagautinov defeated Dustin Ortiz over three rounds. It seemed as though two of the most exciting contenders in the bracket would already be matched up by the semi finals. However fate would prove different, as Jose Torres dropped from the bout due to weight cut issues.

In a surprising turn of events, just a day out from the potential fight, Torres announced that he could not make weight and that this was the end for him at 125 pounds. Torres is expected to return as a bantamweight under the BRAVE banner in 2022. In the meantime Sean Santella stepped up to bat against the Russian on his home turf, fought valiantly but again Bagautinov would win and prove why he has been among the best flyweights in the world for years.

While this was going on, on the far side of the tournament bracket, another Russian stand out in Velimurad Alkhasov, who had earned his shot into the semi finals in 2020, this year took on Zach Makovsky at BRAVE 50, a rematch of a fight a year prior. Makovsky won via split decision in 2020, but roles would be reversed as Alkhasov came out the winner via split decision in 2021 securing a spot in the tournament finals against his fellow countryman Baugutinov.

The finals of the BRAVE CF Flyweight tournament are expected to come to a close in the new year.

What’s to Come?

After an impressive 2021, it’s a daunting task for BRAVE Combat Federation to follow it up in 2022, however some very interesting plans seem to be on the horizon. In an MMA Island exclusive interview with BRAVE president Mohammed Shahid earlier this year, Shahid described what he sees for the promotion in the near future.

As BRAVE continues to expand, North Africa looks to be a priority among potential host countries, as well as the middle eastern nations who are currently working hard to develop the sport. This could include Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, but for Shahid, he admits that doing an event in Dubai is a personal goal of his. In his words “Of course, we haven’t done Dubai which is shocking to say. In the Middle East, how do you not do an event in Dubai?”.

That being said, North America may be the next step in 2022, as it’s not only one of the global superpowers in MMA, but it’s already been an established goal for BRAVE CF. Both the United States and Canada play home to many BRAVE stars and breaking into these markets would be a big move.

As of now however, events in both France and Germany have already been made official for BRAVE CF in 2022, so European fans can look forward to a promising year there.

Of course, as discussed before, the Flyweight tournament should come to a finale in 2022, with Russian all-stars Ali Bagautinov and Velimurad fighting sometime in the year. While this will set up a potential champion for the currently vacated 125lb belt, other belts also need owners.

The Light Heavyweight strap is a no brainer, as the controversial first title bout ended in a no contest in 2021. As to whether or not the same rivals will once again compete in a rematch remains to be seen. Both the bantamweight belts and featherweight belts lay vacant as well, with a surplus of exciting challengers chomping at the bit to lay claim in 2022.

By Braeden Arbour

I am a Media Studies and Literature graduate from Trent University in Ontario, Canada, a black belt in Shorin Ryu Karate, and a blue belt in Judo. I hope to persue a career in sports journalism and writing about various elements around the world of martial arts.