We’re coming up on a crammed fight weekend, with The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 28 Finale tonight (Fri., Nov. 30, 2018) and UFC Fight Night 142 tomorrow (Sat., Dec. 2018). With a bunch of fights come a bunch of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) debuts, which means I’ve got my work cut out for me. Indeed, we’ve got nine different newbies to look at this time, so we’re just going to do some quick looks. Also, because I am lazy, I’m not doing entries for TUF 28 competitors — you’ve had plenty of opportunities to see what they’ve got.
TUF 28 Finale
Edmen Shahbazyan (8-0)
Shahbazyan is Edmond Tarverdyan’s latest pupil, a 21-year-old Middleweight who has scored all of his professional victories by first-round knockout. He also shined on “Contender Series” with a 40-second knockout of Antonio Jones in July.
There’s not much footage out there of Shahbazyan, so it’s hard to say anything definitive about him besides the fact that he does have power. That said, his strength of schedule has been atrocious — he beat three winless opponents and two of the others had losing records. Jones was his first real test, and though he admittedly passed with flying colors, there are still a lot of question marks around him.
We should get some answers in his Octagon debut against Darren Stewart. “The Dentist” is as tough as they come, so Shahbazyan’s unlikely to secure another quick finish. He’ll face plenty of adversity against the Brit and I’m not sure that he can overcome it.
Antonina Shevchenko (6-0)
The elder sister of Valentina, Shevchenko joins her sister in the Flyweight division after a dominant technical knockout of Jaimee Nievera on “Contender Series.”
Luckily for the viewers, Antonina is a fair bit more aggressive than her sister on the feet. She’s effective at range, firing quick southpaw punching combinations and single kicks to make the most of her 5’8” stature, but she truly stands out in the clinch. Her win over Nievera was Silva-Franklin levels of dominance from the Thai plum.
As one might expect, her wrestling is still a question mark. Nievera took her down late in the first round and she’s yet to face a dominant takedown artist. In addition, she’s already 34, so it’s unclear whether she’ll have time to round out her game while her athleticism is still there. Still, she’s in a shallow division, so expect her in the top 10 before long.
She was originally set to debut against Ashlee Evans-Smith, who would have tested her wrestling, but instead takes on three-fight UFC veteran Ji Yeon Kim. The striking-focused “Fire Fist” should be easier to handle.
Kevin Aguilar (15-1)
Aguilar, the former Legacy and LFA Featherweight champ, steps up on short notice to fight Rick Glenn after a narrow victory over Joey Gomez on “Contender Series.” Before that, he’d knocked out the likes of Damon Jackson and Thanh Le.
“The Angel of Death” is a bit short for the weight, standing 5’7” to Glenn’s 6’0,” but boasts a 72” reach and a piston-like jab that uses his length to its fullest. His right hand packs quite a bit of power, and though he’s had some issues with defending takedowns, he’s generally good at getting back up and has some takedowns of his own in his back pocket.
In short, he’s a quick, powerful, durable striker who didn’t give a good glimpse of his potential on “Contender Series.” He’s got one of the nastier jabs in the division and, against a willing slugger in Glenn, should put on a hell of a show and come out victorious.
Roosevelt Roberts (6-0)
Roberts had a decently long amateur career before joining the pros in 2016, ultimately earning a spot on the second season of “Contender Series.” He made the most of the opportunity, repeatedly taking down and ultimately choking out Garrett Gross.
At 6’2,” Roberts is one of the biggest Lightweights on the roster, but unlike fellow big man James Vick, he does his best work on the inside. The key to Roberts’ game is his clinch, where he’s adept with a variety of trips and throws. Once on the ground, his length and leverage makes him a dangerous ground-and-pounder, and those who get too desperate to scramble out run afoul of his killer guillotine.
I haven’t seen much of Roberts’ standup, but it looks to be a bit unrefined, and he seemed content to sit in the pocket against Gross. He’ll need to make some considerable improvements there to make a dent in the division, but at 24, he’s got the time to do so.
Still, even with that, I expect him to defeat Darrell Horcher, whose leaky takedown defense presents a tempting target.
Gutierrez is 3-0 since losses to World Series of Fighting (WSOF) / Professional Fight League (PFL) standout Timur Valiev and UFC veteran Jerrod Sanders, including a victory in an LFA headliner. The 27-year-old is 5’9” and has a 69” reach.
“El Guapo” is a distance striker by trade, boasting solid punches and some downright brutal leg kicks. He can be patient if he needs to, as he was against grappling specialist Jimmy Flick, but he’s also plenty capable of pressing the action with either rapid punching combinations or a versatile wrestling game.
He’s a fairly complete fighter overall, but he’s had issues getting taken down while throwing his kicks. I talk a lot about people not setting up kicks, and though I’m cognizant that not every kick needs a flurry of punches to set it up, predictability is an issue when you consistently lead with your legs.
I expect Gutierrez to have a solid run in the Octagon, albeit one that starts off on the wrong foot. His debut sees him welcome Raoni Barcelos to the Bantamweight division. I’ve got extremely high hopes for the Brazilian, whose knockout boxing is supplemented by top-notch wrestling, and Gutierrez will struggle with the variety of offense Barcelos brings to the table.
UFC Fight Night 142
Jim Crute (7-0)
“The Brute” has been a professional since 2016, beating some decent Light Heavyweights on the Aussie circuit on his way to a September appearance on “Contender Series.” His striking carried him to a first-round technical knockout victory and earned him a contract.
Crute’s stand up was the only factor in that fight, and it’s certainly solid. He has a nice habit of blending his heavy kicks with his punches, ending combinations with low kicks or a dexterous head kick. He’s no slouch everywhere else, though; he’s a surprisingly strong wrestler, passes guard well, and can finish with either submissions or ground-and-pound.
There aren’t any standout flaws in his game. His success will boil down to how well he can execute against fighters superior to him in specific areas. Opponent Paul Craig is one of those, boasting a lethal submission game, but Crute ought to be able to sprawl-and-brawl to a comfortable victory.
A Featherweight acolyte of (ugh) Lloyd Irvin, Yusuff has won two straight since getting slam KO’d via drop seoi nage to the face in Dec. 2017. After a sub-minute knockout of Dylan Tuke, he took on unbeaten Mike Davis on “Contender Series,” dropping him twice and emerging victorious in one of the season’s better fights.
Despite his coach being known for Brazilian jiu-jitsu, among other things, “Super” Sodiq is a slugger. He has plenty of power in both hands, but his right is particularly savage. He throws from the hip, turning practically everything he throws into a potential knockout blow.
That’s not always the best, though. He tends to loop that right a little too much, headhunts, and he’s confident enough in his power that he’ll plant his feet and throw back when pressured. That’s worked for him, admittedly, but I’d like to see him up against someone with a strong jab.
Beyond that, he’s got cracking low kicks and showed strong takedown defense against Davis. He’s definitely one of the strongest prospects on this list at 25 years old, and ought to steamroll Suman Mokhtarian on Saturday.
Damir Ismagulov (16-2)
Ismagulov, the reigning M-1 Lightweight Champion, has won 11 straight since his last defeat three years ago. He successfully defended his title three times in that span, and was originally set to debut against the dangerous Joe Duffy before the latter withdrew because of injury.
Ismagulov is the latest in the Zabit Magomedsharipov/Said Nurmagomedov mold, offering fancy kicks at range and a variety of takedowns in the clinch. The latter is the stronger part of his game — once he’s inside, odds are you’re hitting the ground one way or another. I am interested in seeing how he adapts to the cage, though, because the M-1 ring goes from fence to ropes about midway up, making it easier for Ismagulov to lock his hands.
I’d like to see some tighter boxing from him, plus greater focus on the finish once he hits the mat. He’s got a good amount of (technical) knockouts, but only one submission, and he seems content to ride out a fight from top position if convenient. Overall, though, a good signing, and one who should dominate in his Octagon debut.
Alex Gorgees (7-0)
Gorgees has yet to go past the second round in his two-year career and steps up on short notice for the aforementioned Duffy.
“Hitman” fights out of Australian Top Team, which is run by the Mokhtarian brothers. Like Ashkan and Suman, Gorgees’ record is entirely empty — only his last two opponents had winning records, and they were 42 and 16-14-1. The latter was in the midst of what’s now a six-fight losing streak, all by first-round stoppage.
He’s a lengthy striker and looks to have some legitimate power, but he’s 100% unproven and going up against an experienced veteran in Ismagulov whose clinch takedowns should shut down the Aussie’s offense.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver live TUF 28 Finale (here) and UFC Fight Night 142 (here) results this weekend, which is always the best place on the Interwebs to talk about all the action inside the Octagon.