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UFC Fight Night 140 - New Blood: South America’s latest MMA talents

Tyson Fury v Sefer Seferi - Heavyweight Fight Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

There were originally supposed to be just two fighters debuting at UFC Fight Night 140 this Saturday (Nov. 17, 2018) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. But, thanks to the injury bug, we’ve instead got five, four from South America and one American who shined on Dana White’s “Contender Series” program. Let’s have ourselves a look, see if any of them deserve to be on your radar.

Name: Johnny Walker
Weight Class: Light Heavyweight
Age: 26
Record: 14-3 (11 KO, 2 SUB)
Notable Victories: Cheick Kone, Henrique da Silva

The 6’5” Brazilian, who had already fought three times in 2018, made his bid for UFC stardom on “Contender Series” in August opposite six-fight Octagon veteran Henrique da Silva. He had to go the distance for the first time in his professional career, but ultimately out-struck and out-grappled “Frankenstein” to secure the decision.

Walker has had a few fights at Heavyweight and it shows — the dude is massive, well-muscled despite his massive height and 81+” reach. There’s a commiserate amount of power in that frame, too, and he uses it to great effect with long, bombing punches and heavy single kicks from the outside. He also boasts some dangerous knees, though he’s a bit too happy to compromise his reach advantage with flying ones.

Unfortunately for Walker, he’s far from a finished product. He doesn’t set up those big punches and he commits so much that he leads his head well ahead of his lead knee, opening himself up for counters. That overcommitment also makes his punches slower than they could be. Further, though he showed some decent wrestling and grappling against da Silva, “Frankenstein” is not a strong wrestler. When he did fight a decent wrestler in Jedrzej Mackowiak this March, Walker spent most of two rounds on his back before landing a fight-ending knee.

If he can learn to measure out his power punches, lumber a bit less, and tighten up his takedown defense, he could make a solid run. Heck, his current skillset might be enough; the Light Heavyweight division ain’t what it used to be. Don’t expect to see him crack the Top 10 without major improvement, though.

Opponent: The good news is that Walker’s takedown defense shouldn’t be a factor. The bad news is that his leaky defense will. He’s fighting Khalil Rountree Jr., who offsets his limited grappling and questionable fight IQ with downright ludicrous punching power. This’ll be a great slugfest for however long it lasts, but I expect Rountree’s left hand to teach Walker a harsh lesson about range management and hand position.


Name: Ian “The Hurricane” Heinisch
Weight Class: Middleweight
Age: 30
Record: 11-1 (4 KO, 2 SUB)
Notable Victories: Gabriel Checco, Justin Sumter

Heinisch fought for the vacant LFA title in his second appearance in the promotion, only to fall victim to an arm triangle from Markus Perez. Two fights later, he knocked out Gabriel Checco for the interim belt, then blasted Justin Sumter with elbows to earn a contract on the Contender Series.

He steps in for the injured Tom Breese on short notice.

Heinisch is a compact, powerful Middleweight standing 5’11” with a 71” reach. What he lacks in length he makes up for in aggression, constantly stalking opponents from a low stance before bursting in with heavy punches. Opponents who keep their hands up then get taken down, while ones who keep their hands down get an overhand right to the face and a trip to the dentist. It’s not a particularly unique style; we’ve seen the slugger-wrestler plenty of times, from classic bruisers like Jake Ellenberger to modern up-and-comers like Alexander Volkanovski, but Heinisch’s strength and wrestling pedigree make it work.

The hurt doesn’t stop once he gets on top. He slept Sumter with elbows from guard and has demonstrated a strong passing game, as well. He’s shown himself willing to use his strength for unorthodox submissions, having tapped his inaugural LFA opponent with a scarfhold armlock. No lay-and-pray here, just constant damage and advancement.

Heinisch’s problems arise in the transition from sitting at range to ruining his opponent’s day on the inside. Though he hops around on the outside, he enters in a straight line and tends to do so without setup. He’ll leap in with a right hand or left hook, usually telegraphing it enough to eat some counters on the way in. Sharp counterpunchers with the cage awareness to circle off rather than back straight into the fence are going to be his bane, especially with that limited reach.

Opponent: Heinisch faces one of the more interesting figures in the UFC Middleweight division: Cezar “Mutante” Ferreira. Since realizing that his chin is too brittle to slug it out, Ferreira has reinvented himself as a counterpuncher and top control specialist, winning five of his last six. He’ll also have a seven-inch reach advantage over Heinisch.

The Brazilian is fragile enough that Heinisch could certainly put him away with one good shot, but “The Hurricane” is just a big too predictable with his entries. Barring an early Heinisch knockout, expect “Mutante” to potshot and grind his way to victory.


Name: Laureano “Pepi” Starapoli
Weight Class: Welterweight
Age: 25
Record: 7-1 (5 KO, 2 SUB)
Notable Victories: None

Staropoli joins main card members Santiago Ponzinibbio and Guido Cannetti as one of only three Argentinians on this Argentinean card. “Pepi” has won five straight, all within two rounds, since his lone career defeat, and will be making his first cage appearance in 17 months.

Like Ponzinibbio, Staropoli is a banger through-and-through, forcing opponents back with hard punching volleys from range. Though I haven’t seen much of his ground game, he showed some nice scrambles in one of his recent fights, and refused to settle for being stuck on his back. He’s also proven willing to work the body, which we still don’t see enough in this sport, and has shown a nicely varied arsenal when opening up on the fence.

Besides facing weak competition, his biggest flaw is his defense. He backs straight up when pressured, and his instinct when his back hits the fence is to throw back rather than circle out and reset. His power has carried him through these sorts of firefights before, but he’s also been cracked, and Junior Dos Santos’ losses aptly demonstrated that it’s hard to consistently generate power when you’re against the cage.

In addition, Staropoli has fought just twice since 2015. Ideally, a busier schedule would allow him to get the experience needed to fix his cage awareness and overall defensive aptitude. He’s still young enough to improve, and after all, we saw Ponzinibbio go from mid-tier slugger to lethal contender. Who knows?

Opponent: Staropoli should get the brawl he wants against TUF: Latin America veteran Hector Aldana. Aldana was last seen losing a firefight with Song Kenan, which should give Staropoli confidence, but they’re both defensively shaky enough to make this interesting.


Name: Jesus “El Mudo” Pinedo
Weight Class: Lightweight
Age: 22
Record: 15-4 (7 KO, 4 SUB)
Notable Victories: None

“The Mute,” who’s won six straight by stoppage, steps in for teammate Claudio Puelles on short notice. He made his professional debut at 17 and has won 11 of his last 12 overall.

A rangy, 6’0” southpaw, Pinedo boasts a strong left body kick and 1-2. If given room to operate, he’s happy to do this all night, at least until one of his shots gets his opponent’s attention. From there, he swarms, mixing it up to the head and body until the stoppage comes.

Though he generally likes to work at long distance, he can do some real damage on the inside with knees or tight punches. Considering that opponents will be eager to get to this distance, it’s quite the useful skill. He also seems to have good balance in the clinch and, though I’ve yet to see him show much offensive wrestling, passes and strikes well on the ground.

Besides sharing Staropoli’s issue of trying to punch his way out of bad cage positions instead of circling, his ability to deal with quality wrestlers is still a question mark, as is his access to quality trainers and sparring partners. He could be a genuine contender, or at least a reliable mid-tier scrapper, if given the tools to live up to his potential.

Opponent: Pinedo gets a winnable, if extremely strange match up against Devin Powell. Powell is a weird mix of nasty grappling and nonexistent athleticism who looks to be well outclassed on the feet. Powell can be dangerous, but I say Pinedo’s striking carries him to a debut victory.


Name: Anderson “Berinja” dos Santos
Weight Class: Featherweight
Age: 33
Record: 19-6 (5 KO, 11 SUB)
Notable Victories: Ricky Simon, Marcos Vinicius

“Berinja” is a late replacement for a late replacement. He steps in on short notice for Sergio Giglio, who himself stepped in for Enrique Barzola. He’s won three straight since a February loss to veteran Victor Henry, and would have once been the Titan FC Bantamweight champ had he not missed weight before beating Simon in 2016.

Dos Santos is primarily a grappler; he’s happy to throw down on the feet and possesses both heavy leg kicks and a lethal right cross, but as soon as the opportunity presents itself, he’s ducking in for a takedown. He’s got a nice variety of methods to bring it to the ground, and once there, he has a knack for locking up the rear naked choke.

I’m not sure if there’s a particular deficiency in his grappling or if it’s just not good enough overall to handle top-notch wrestlers, but there’s definitely a fault in his standup: once he starts slugging, his head and feet just stop moving. He’s an incredibly easy target, which has gotten him knocked out three times and allowed Simón to tear him to pieces on the feet before getting clipped by a right hand. You’d need a concrete chin to fight as stiff and upright as “Berinja” does and he just doesn’t have that.

Still, he’s a capable fighter wherever the fight goes and looks to be a solid middle-of-the-pack Bantamweight.

Opponent: Dos Santos has to deal with another, larger generalist in Nad Narimani, a natural Featherweight with enough pop in his hands to exploit “Berinja’s” habit of keeping his chin in the air. Just a toxic style match up.

Tape: will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 140 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” undercard bout at 7 p.m. ET, followed by the FOX Sports 1 “Prelims” undercard bouts at 8 p.m. ET, before the main card start time at 10 p.m. ET, also on FOX Sports 1.

For much more on UFC Argentina click here.

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