Oktagon 44 Preview; Poppek v Langer; Gamechanger Quarter Finals

Oktagon look to solidify their dominance in the German market with their show on Saturday evening. The Czech/Slovakian promotion rolls into the Rudolf Weber Arena in Oberhausen, right in the heart of Germany’s traditional industrial region, with Essen, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Cologne and Dortmund all nearby. The area is known for their traditions of hard work and loving sport. 13,000 fans will pack out the arena and will be treated to eleven MMA fights, including one for interim gold.

Karlos Vémola recently competed for the middleweight championship, and with him not defending his OKMMA Light Heavyweight title for an extended period, it was decided that an interim belt was needed. Alexander Poppeck (16-4) is a man who’s competed on the Contender Series and PFL in the past. The German joined Oktagon in 2022 and had impressive performances against Nermin Hajdarpašić and Martin Zawada, winning two on the bounce and earning a spot in Saturday’s main event. The 31-year-old’s greatest threat are his takedowns and the ground and pound he follows it up with. The Munich Top Team man comes from a Muay Thai background and strikes with a mean power. He already has wins in Munich and Frankfurt, a hat-trick will see him win gold in front of his compatriots. Pavol Langer (11-9) has accepted the role as spoiler on this occasion. The Slovakian is a karate practitioner with a decent submission game. If he takes your back, the choke is getting sunk in. The Košice man has four knockouts on his record. This is slated for five rounds, however when big boys strap on four ounce gloves, rarely do we need the championship rounds.

The second slate of the Tipsport Gamechanger tournament quarterfinals are upon us. We saw David Kozma and Louis Glismann advance at the last event, and we’ll see who joins them at the weekend. Christian Jungwirth (14-6) is another hometown hero raring to go this Saturday. “The Kelt” had a rocky start to his promotional run, going 1-4, however bounced back with five wins in the next six and has really come alive in recent times. The Stuttgart man is a powerful boxer with the cardio to go the distance. The 36-year-old beat Tato Primera via decision to make it this far. Bojan Veličković (22-12-2) is a UFC and PFL veteran, winning in the first round against Ion Surdu with an Anaconda Choke to claim his spot. The Serbian hails from the picturesque city of Novi Sad. The 34-year-old has regained the form that saw him get the UFC call-up, having his arm raised in six of his last eight bouts. Danger lurks everywhere with this man, a very strong grappler with a big submission threat and stoppage power on the feet.

Mohamed Grabinski (23-7) will have a lot of fans in attendance as he hails from nearby Düsseldorf. The 31-year-old has fought in Brave CF and landed a big right hand on Máté Kertész to book his place. The German has won just over half his contests via knockout, with another four coming via submission. This man is a huge European prospect and has really found his rhythm the last two years, showing signs of entering his prime. Andreas Michailidis (14-6) is another UFC veteran. The Greek is a good allrounder with a slick kickboxing game in particular. With six wins by knockout and five by submission, he’ll be confident anywhere this fight goes. “The Spartan” earned his position with a decision victory over Leandro “Apollo” Silva. The stakes continue to be raised as we advance through the tournament bracket.

Mateusz Strzelczyk (14-13-1) comes in hot off a spectacular knockout win over Jorick Montagnac, in what was his light heavyweight debut. The Warsaw man has won three-in-a-row and is skilled in the standing exchanges and when it hits the deck, splitting his finishes 50/50 between knockouts and submissions. “The Spider” hopes to make a run for the title in his new weight class. Rafael Xavier (11-7) is a Brazilian who has made Germany his home. Training out of Berlin, the 32-year-old is a tough and durable competitor who has had great success since joining the promotion, going 4-1. His biggest threat will come in the punching exchanges.

Ronald Paradeiser (16-8) is an Oktagon veteran set to make his fifteenth appearance under their banner. “Rony” has a karate base on which he’s added a decent submission game. The 26-year-old Slovakian is very experienced for his age and has gone 10-4 since joining back in 2017. This man will be hovering around the top of the lightweight division for years to come. Andrew Fisher (19-9-1) is a legend of the U.K. scene. The Sunderland man is one of the brightest coaches in England and practises out of the Fish Tank. The 38-year-old is a Bellator and ACB veteran and has won seven of his last ten. The durable Englishman is dogged and causes opponents fits on the ground. You don’t fight Fisher and get an easy win and every inch is paid for in blood. He’ll be keen to show that there’s plenty of living left in his professional career.

Rounding off the main card, Zdenek Polivka (8-6) is a young man who always takes the toughest fights possible. There isn’t any fear in him and he most notably holds victories against a former BAMMA champion in Cheick Kone and over ex-UFC fighter Eric Spicely. The Czech is most dangerous on his feet, where he’ll wear you down with volume and either finish or outpoint you. Hojat Khajevand (6-3) is a former foe of Will Fleury and despite that loss against the Tipperary man, he’s won six of his last seven. The Iranian is a champion wrestler who turns his grappling dominance into submission wins. Once he’s on top, you’re not shifting him. The Tehran born middleweight now trains out of Freiburg in Germany.

Antun Račić (26-11-1) is a former KSW bantamweight champion and owner of one of the best walkouts in Europe with Marko Perković Thompson’s Lijepa Li Si. This will be his first appearance in Oktagon and despite his short stature, the man is an absolute bull. The Croatian has no issue going into a one for one scrap for fifteen minutes and can easily keep the pace up. If you have any weaknesses in your wrestling game, he’s going to find it and dominate you. Half his wins have been by submission. He trains out of Germany’s top gym, UFD Gym in Düsseldorf, which is only a half hour from Oberhausen. Nuno Costa (15-3-1) has mostly fought in his native Brazil, however he did make the trip to Düsseldorf to face Račić‘s compatriot Stipe Brčić at EMC 8. The 34-year-old is mainly a submission specialist, with a particularly dangerous armbar. The interesting wrinkle to this is that Račić has never won via knockout and Costa has only lost via knockout. Are we about to see a rarity?

There is a Tipsport Gamechanger alternate bout on the prelims. Łukasz Siwiec (8-2) was the Babilon MMA Welterweight champion and had a hotly contested, razor close split decision loss to David Kozma in the opening round. The Pole is a submission specialist who’s great at taking the back and is equally lethal from bottom. This is paired with a competitive striking game. John Hathaway (18-2) had to pull out of his tournament bout due to injury. The Englishman was victorious in his debut against André Ricardo last time out, a decision win after eight years on the side-lines due to health issues. The London Shootfighters man is one of England’s top talents who wants to prove he can still do it. The Brighton man is a great Jiu Jitsu player, very durable and has great cardio. He’s very good at grinding out decisions.

Jacinta Austin (4-1) is the new kid on the block. The Australian is a kickboxing champion and has cut her teeth in Eternal MMA back down under. The 28-year-old’s only defeat was a close split decision loss to UFC bound Josefine Knutsson. The Sydney lady is an IMMAF amateur veteran and her only finish has been in her least heralded skill, a rear naked choke submission. She has also competed in pro boxing. Sofiia Bagishvili (8-3) is a KSW veteran who’s looking to bounce back after defeat to Aleksandra Toncheva in her last Oktagon fight. The Georgian is a submission expert and is lethal when catching your arms in scarf holds, triangles or armbars. She has a GAMMA amateur background, an IMMAF alternative popular in her native Georgia.

Hafeni Nafuka (4-0) might be the most important person to watch on Saturday. This is a man with all the ingredients to be a huge star. All wins have come via finish, with three by submission and one by knockout. The German stepped up in competition nicely last time in his Oktagon debut against Peter Gabal, winning by second round guillotine. Adrian Kępa (11-7) is a veteran and another big jump up in opponent for the young German. The Pole is on the best run of his career, winning three straight. The Mysłowice man has knockout power and is very tough to beat on the feet. There is a blueprint to stopping him, the rear naked choke, a submission Nafuka has won twice with.

The YouTube free prelim features Hassan Shaaban (1-1), who makes his second appearance on this section of an Oktagon card. The Lebanese trains out of UFD Düsseldorf and picked up his first victory against Martin Pipek in December. The 21-year-old has good grappling and likes to finish with submissions and ground and pound. Denis Gondžala (2-2) will fight in the promotion for the first time, however he fought at EMC in Düsseldorf last September so is no stranger to Germany. A born competitor, the Slovakian has fought across bare knuckle boxing, kickboxing and Muay Thai. In MMA, both his wins have been via submission.

Oktagon 44 is live from Oberhausen on Saturday night from 17:00 Irish time on Oktagon.tv and DAZN.

Seán Denny is a Dublin man who writes mostly on the European scene, with a keen interest in the Irish, UK and Polish scenes in particular. Follow me on Twitter at @DennyRants.

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