International mixed martial arts (MMA) at an ungodly hour (3 a.m. ET start time) usually means some fresh faces. And UFC Fight Night 141 this Saturday (Nov. 24, 2018) inside Cadillac Arena in Beijing, China, is no exception. Welcome back to “New Blood,” where we take a look at fighters you’ve never heard of and explain which ones you should learn about before they get big.
You know, to up your cred ...
We’ve got two guys who came up short on “Contender Series,” a top Russian prospect and UFC’s first Tibetan representative. Let’s get to it:
Name: Sergey Pavlovich
Weight Class: Heavyweight
Record: 12-0 (9 KO)
Notable Victories: Baga Agaev, Alexei Kudin, Mikhail Mokhnatkin, Kirill Sidelnikov
Pavlovich defeated top Light Heavyweight prospect Mikhail Mokhnatkin to win the Fight Nights Global Heavyweight Tournament and earn the promotion’s belt along the way. He successfully defended it against “Baby Fedor,” Kirill Sidelnikov, five months later. He’ll be fighting for the first time in 12 months.
Bloody Elbow did a good little writeup of Pavlovich here; in short, he’s effectively Russia’s top Heavyweight prospect, a Greco-Roman veteran with real power in his hands and a surprisingly deep resume. He’s primarily a single-shot boxer who prefers the overhand right, though he can slip in a nice jab when needed. It’s fairly meat-and-potatoes boxing, honestly, but he’s got a nice trick of sneaking in good head kicks during and after his punching combinations that I’d really like to see him do more of.
He’s also shown some powerful knees and uppercuts to punish opponents who get overeager about shooting in.
I honestly haven’t seen much of his wrestling. His defense looks stout, and he managed to scramble out from under Agaev when taken down. He also landed the one takedown attempt I’ve seen out of him, so make of that what you will.
Pavlovich really just needs a consistent jab and more fluidity in his standups His combinations and kicks are solid when he bothers to use them, but those occasions are too sporadic. In addition, he’s slow overall; this isn’t a huge problem at Heavyweight, where the default speed is “lumbering,” but the smaller Mokhnatkin gave him problems with his jab and quickness.
That said, I see Pavlovich reaching the top 15 without much issue, perhaps even closing in on Top 5 with the right matchmaking. He’ll need to fix up his upper body movement and get less reliant on one-and-done power shots if he wants to challenge the Miocics and Werdums of the world, though.
Opponent: UFC is throwing him right into the deep end against the ever-mercurial Alistair Overeem. “The Reem” remains dangerous, even if he’s coming off of brutal losses to Francis Ngannou and Curtis Blaydes. This could be decided by whether Overeem can get comfortable countering Pavlovich’s potshots before an overhand right finds his infamous chin.
Name: Vince Morales
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Record: 8-2 (5 KO, 2 SUB)
Notable Victories: Brandon Hempleman
Morales brought a five-fight winning streak into “Contender Series” and looked poised to earn a contract after scoring a hard knockdown of Domingo Pilarte. Unfortunately for him, Pilarte came back to choke him out, but he’s back as a late replacement after a successful one-fight stint under the Bellator banner.
“Vandetta” is every bit the knockout artist you’d expect from that record. His right hand is particularly potent; whether as a lead, doubling up, or following a jab, that thing is downright nasty. He really only needs one good connection, and though he would be well-served mixing in more kicks to set up that right hand, it’s worked for him so far.
His weakness looks to be the grappling — he’s got solid takedown defense, but surrendered that submission to Pilarte and spent some time controlled against the fence against Andrew Cruz back in 2016. He did, however, choke out his subsequent opponent after rocking him on the feet, so he’s not helpless if things go south. Still, he’s far, far better served keeping it standing and slugging it out.
Opponent: Morales gets a willing dance partner in Song Yadong, the hyper-athletic wunderkind out of China. Song’s aggressive enough that Morales’ right hand could be a problem, but the combined threat of Song’s standup and grappling make this a definite tough out for the newcomer.
Tape: His King of the Cage victory is on Fight Pass.
Name: Martin Day
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Record: 8-2 (3 KO, 2 SUB)
Notable Victories: Brady Huang
Day fell short on “Contender Series” despite a late surge, dropping two rounds to the grappling of Jaime Alvarez last year. He went on to rack up three victories in 2018, setting the stage for his Octagon debut.
He returned to Bantamweight in his most recent fight after a brief stretch at 125 pounds.
Despite being able to make Flyweight, Day is towering even for a Bantamweight, standing 5’10”. He makes the most of that crazy height with fancy spinning kicks and brutal straight punches. He’s not helpless off the back foot, either, boasting nasty counter hooks for opponents too eager to press the advantage.
When Alvarez started to tire, Day also showed an admirable willingness to pulverize the body. His standard punches and kicks are actually a lot more impressive than the spinning stuff; simple, fast, utilitarian. If the opponent gives ground, Day can absolutely maul them.
He’s not a great grappler, though he can survive bad positions. That’s not his problem, though. Or problems, to be accurate. For one, he doesn’t set up those spinning attacks, and no matter how fast you spin, it’s still easy to see coming. For two, his willingness to plant his feet and counter compromises his range advantage. If the shot doesn’t knock the opponent out, the latter is now in position to do damage on the inside or get in on his hips for a takedown
On the front foot, Day is a nightmare. When he’s pressured, he’s good, but not great. We’ll see if he can get better about keeping his opponents on the retreat.
Opponent: Day meets a similarly dynamic bruiser in Liu Pingyuan. “The Spartan” will have his customary height advantage, but Liu’s grappling may prove decisive. Day will need to shut down Liu’s takedowns and force the young aggressor to play a more cautious game if he wants to open his UFC career with a win.
Tape: His “Contender Series” appearance is on Fight Pass.
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Record: 8-1 (7 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: None
The first Tibetan to step foot in the Octagon, Sumudaerji is yet another young gun out of Enbo Gedou, the camp that gave us Song Yadong and Liu Pingyuan. Five of his knockouts have come in the first round and, at just 22 years old, he’s got plenty of room to grow.
And no, despite what Sherdog says, it’s just Sumudaerji.
In visual similarity, if not in overall potency, his game is somewhere between Stephen Thompson and Conor McGregor. He’s a lengthy southpaw with a wide, hands-low stance, from which he fires powerful lead-leg kicks, spinning stuff, the occasional jab, and his greatest weapon, a crunching straight left. From what I’ve seen, his knockout percentage is legit; he can absolutely crack with that left hand and he’ll throw it murderous intent.
He’s not much of a counter-fighter, instead preferring to initiate with side kicks, hook kicks, or long straight lefts. It makes for entertaining fights, even if he does telegraph his linear entries and leave himself open for counters.
For all his striking potency, his grappling is a liability. His loss (or losses, depending on which website you trust) came via submission and he had to squirrel his way out of full back control on one of his victories. Considering he’s fought plenty of times at Flyweight, his ability to physically handle powerful Bantamweight grapplers, of which there are many. Is going to be a question mark.
Opponent: He fights another former Flyweight in Louis Smolka, who had one of the most spectacular rises and falls in recent memory. Sumudaerji is his better in the standup by a fair margin, while Smolka has him massively outclassed on the mat. It will come down to Smolka’s takedowns, which have historically been one of the weaker aspects of his game.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 141 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” undercard bout at 3 a.m. ET, followed by the main card start time at 6:30 a.m. ET, also on Fight Pass.