UFC Fight Night 48 and 49: Previewing the Newcomers
The UFC is rapidly expanding and putting on more and more shows, and the increased number of events means an increase in roster size.
On Saturday, the UFC puts on two shows. It starts off with UFC Fight Night 48 in Macau in the morning (for Americans), while the night offers up UFC Fight Night 49 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Stars and prospects alike will grace both cards.
Apart from the big names, there are some fresh faces on the card. In fact, a handful of fighters are set to begin their journey with the UFC.
A dozen fighters are making their official UFC debuts this week. Let's take a look at every new fighter.
Camp: Peresvet FC
The UFC has been big on signing Russian talent lately, but it hasn't really put any Russian women on the roster. Now, the UFC has Milana Dudieva, who is possibly the most talented female Russian in MMA right now.
A submission artist by trade, Dudieva has ended six of her wins via tapout. Not only that, but she has finished two fights via ground-and-pound, with one doctor stoppage. That means this talented Russian is a finisher.
Her two most recent losses came to UFC fighter Jessica Andrade and top featherweight Pannie Kianzad. They are her two highest-level opponents, which shows she may struggle against elite fighters unless she improves.
She takes on Elizabeth Phillips, who showed to be a brawler in her UFC debut. Getting into a firefight may not be best option for Dudieva, who should use her takedowns.
Plus, seeing the amount of submissions she has via joint lock (armlocks and leglocks), her opponents will need to be wary of losing limbs against her, especially their arms.
I will be honest with you. I don't know much about Zhikui Yao.
Sherdog lists him at 1-1. It's shocking to think that the UFC couldn't sign somebody with a better record to feed to opponent Royston Wee. Not only that, but Yao will be fighting up a weight class.
Yao's only win came by submission via arm-triangle choke, which leads one to believe he is a grappler. His development likely isn't far, though, so if Wee gets the takedown, Yao could be a turtle on his back.
He is being set up to continue the momentum of Wee. Don't expect Yao to stick around if he loses, either.
Camp: American Top Team
American Top Team is home to a few wrestlers, and among them is Colby Covington.
An Oregon State veteran of wrestling, Covington has used that base to dominate opponents en route to an undefeated mark. He closes the distance quickly and uses brute strength to ragdoll guys.
Not only that, but he has some submission skills. His go-to move is the arm-triangle choke, where he uses raw strength to grab a neck and squeeze for dear life.
His opponent, Wang Sai, is not going to be able to outwrestle Covington, which means he needs a striking approach. However, given his skill, Covington should be able to avoid a striking affair and continually outwork the Chinese fighter on the ground.
Camp: Wajutsu Keishukai Suruga
One of the best prospects from Japan, Yuta Sasaki is looking to follow in the footsteps of recent studs Michinori Tanaka and Kyoji Horiguchi. He may be just as good as them, too.
Sasaki is a grappler who is among one of the best in the world at his weight class. Most of his wins have come via submission, as his slick ground work leads to back control a lot. That's where he finishes most of his opponents, as he owns seven of his submissions via rear-naked choke.
He is only 24 years old, too. He has a lot of time to grow and work on his striking, which is still getting better. Heading to a striking gym would be great for him, considering he is so good on the mat.
He takes on judoka Roland Delorme, who is a good grappler in his own right. However, Delorme was outworked on the ground by Tanaka in his most recent outing, which could be the blueprint for Sasaki's success.
Camp: Epic MMA
As you can probably tell from the first few slides, there are a lot of good grapplers on the Macau card. Alberto Mina is one of them.
A black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Mina owns finishes in all 10 of his fights. Most of those wins have come on the ground, where he uses a combination of ground-and-pound and high-class submissions.
He is Brazilian, but he is based out of Hong Kong. That means he also won't be jet-lagged, which will not only make his weight cut easier but his body will be adjusted to the time in Macau.
He hasn't been exactly busy in the last couple of years, which could hurt him a bit. However, his latest fight was in December, where he beat down Glenn Sparv with some of his improved striking.
Mina could be a diamond in the rough.
Camp: Team Climb
Things won't be easy for Shinsho Anzai. He is taking a fight against Alberto Mina on late notice, although Anzai recently fought at the end of June.
He is a wrestle who works heavily from top position with big ground-and-pound. He gets in on double- and single-leg takedowns, finishing them with high success.
His striking is a bit raw, but he is tough regardless. He is also a finisher, putting away six opponents by way of knockout.
It will be interesting to see how prepared he is for this bout. He could use his wrestling, but he needs to be wary of Mina's jiu-jitsu. That means he may have to stick with striking, utilizing his takedown defense to stay off his back.
Jianping Yang/Guangyou Ning
Record: 3-2 (Ning), 6-3-1 (Yang)
Camp: N/A (Ning), Fight Emperor (Yang)
I will include both of these fighters because I have covered this fight before. Then, late in the game, Jianping Yang got injured and the fight was called off.
Yang's journey on The Ultimate Fighter China saw him defeat Changxin Fu with a first-round armbar before taking a decision over Zhikui Yao. He was the favorite coming into the show, which comes as no surprise seeing he was the most experienced guy on the cast.
As for Ning, he showed great power and improvements on the show. After brutally knocking out Shih Liang with a one-punch KO, he downed Rocky Lee with another one-hitter quitter.
On the feet, Ning likely has the edge. However, the experience and grappling edge goes to Yang.
Record: 5-0 (1 NC)
Camp: Gamebred Submission Fighting
Brendan O'Reilly is a veteran of TUF Nations, where he was eliminated in the opening round by Kajan Johnson. It's for that reason that I think the UFC gave him a chance, in that the company thinks he will be a guy who will give the TUF China winner Lipeng Zhang an easy bout.
That will not be the case. That's because Wang Sai outwrestled Zhang in their respective UFC debut, and O'Reilly likes to wrestle.
O'Reilly is good at closing the distance and securing takedowns. From there, he can land heavy punches and search for submissions.
It's likely that O'Reilly isn't at a high enough level to be in the UFC at this point in his career; however, he has a very good chance at winning his debut against Zhang.
Camp: Jackson-Winklejohn MMA
Joby Sanchez is a top prospect in the 125-pound division, though he is being thrown into the deep end on short notice for his fight with Wilson Reis.
Sanchez caught the eye of XFC at open tryouts, prompting the company to give him a fight. It led to a 2-0 run with the company against tough fighters.
However, his most recent bout got him notoriety. At Tachi Palace Fights, Sanchez decimated UFC veteran Antonio Banuelos, forcing a corner stoppage in the second round.
Sanchez is a ground fighter who is well-versed in his attacks. Not only can he hurt you with his ground-and-pound, but he has very good submission ability.
He also has good throws from the clinch and takedowns from the outside. That allows him to put guys on their backs.
This short-notice bout will be tough, but he is a top prospect in the division who should be around for a long time.
Camp: Fit or Fight
Chris Heatherly is one of the many RFA veterans to touch down in the UFC—rightly so, as he is a very good prospect at 170 pounds.
Heatherly, a wrestler by trade, has become a well-rounded MMA fighter. Though his bread and butter is the ground game, he has decent enough striking to get by. That said, he likely doesn't want a striking war with opponent Ben Saunders.
He thrives in the submission game. Not only did he choke out Josh Cavan in his most recent affair, but he tapped out touted lightweight Dakota Cochrane with a slick armbar.
He joins a welterweight division that is filled with wrestlers, so he will need to continue working his striking. However, he has the tools to be successful and could be very good.
Camp: Nova Uniao
Valmir Lazaro is one of the many Nova Uniao fighters who have taken off in the Brazilian fight circuit. What's great, though, is that while most men are grapplers from that camp, he is a lethal striker.
A decent-sized lightweight, Lazaro is a powerhouse for a 155-pounder. He has good kicks, but his hands do the most damage to those who stand toe-to-toe with him.
He hasn't lost in 11 bouts dating back to 2010. That said, he is taking a big step up in competition in the UFC—something that some Brazilian fighters can handle and some cannot.
Though he is tall at 6'0" for the weight class, his opponent, James Vick, is three inches taller, which makes Vick even more monstrous for the division. Vick is underrated, so while Lazaro is an interesting prospect in the division, he should not sleep on the Texan.