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New Blood: UFC Fight Night 126

This Sunday’s Austin card features a violence-packed main event, but is otherwise a tad short on big names. There are, however, several new faces on the roster getting their first shot at stardom.

Sadly, the most promising new signee, former Invicta champ Livia Renata Souza, broke her hand last week. They’re apparently looking to re-book her fight with Jessica Aguilar on one of the upcoming cards, though, so here’s hoping. We’ll just soldier on without her.

Name: Curtis “Curtious” Millender
Weight Class: Welterweight
Age: 30
Record: 14-3 (5 KO)
Notable Victories: Dom Waters, Matt Frincu, Kevin Holland, Nick Barnes

Millender stands an imposing 6’3” with a 78-inch reach, which you really don’t see that often in a welterweight. Though he went 1-2 in Bellator, suffering submission losses to Brennan Ward and Fernando Gonzalez, he currently rides a six-fight winning streak with two consecutive head kick knockouts.

As one might expect from that build, he’s a long-range sharpshooter with some nasty kicks. He can be a little awkward with his non-jab punches, overextending and getting hit in the process, but his head kick is a thing of beauty. It’s fast, it hits hard, and he’s got multiple setups for it that blend brilliantly with the rest of his offense.

For as good as his offense is, his defense can be a bit lacking, which isn’t too uncommon in lengthy fighters. He tends to back straight up when pressured, offering a solid step-back right hand but not too much head movement. Barnes repeatedly found the mark with rudimentary punches and scored a takedown without too much difficulty, demonstrating once again that Millender isn’t much of a threat off his back.

In Millender’s defense, though, he knew a UFC shot was on the line against Barnes and may have been overcommitting to the knockout, so there’s no guarantee that’s the same sort of gameplan he’ll show in his debut.

Opponent: Thiago Alves, who is six inches shorter than Millender and will have an eight-inch reach disadvantage. I’m picking “The Pitbull” anyway because he excels at two things that Millender really doesn’t like: takedowns and low kicks. Though a capable jabber, “Curtious” isn’t quite adept enough with his range management to keep Alves at bay.

That said, his kicks are for real, and the 34-year-old Alves’ reactions aren’t quite what they used to be.

Tape:

Name: Geoffrey “Handz of Steel” Neal
Weight Class: Middleweight
Age: 27
Record: 8-2 (5 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Bilal Williams, Chase Waldon

Neal has won six of his last seven, four by knockout, and impressed with a first-round finish in his Tuesday Night Contender Series appearance opposite Waldon. He also went 2-0 as an amateur back in 2012.

The name of the game for Neal is combination punching. Anchored by a sharp straight left and right hook, he buries opponents in aggressive flurries. He truly shines when he gets his opponent against the cage, mixing it up to the head and body. Though not quite as effective as his attack, his counter-punching is nothing to sneeze at, either.

This is the part where I’d talk about his weaknesses, but nothing really stands out. He counters well and wrestles well both offensively and defensively. There’s nothing really glaringly wrong or lacking in Neal’s game. He did, however, have some issues getting inside on Kevin Holland when the latter started flinging linear kicks at him, so that’s worth keeping in mind.

Opponent: Neal faces Brian Camozzi, who is 0-2 in the UFC and was outstruck by a man four inches shorter than him. While Neal may have a few issues with long-range kicking, I’m not convinced Camozzi can stay away from those power punches for long.

Tape:

Name: Steven “Ocho” Peterson
Weight Class: Featherweight
Age: 27
Record: 16-6 (5 KO, 7 SUB)
Notable Victories: Matt Hobar, Caio Machado, Manny Vazquez

Peterson, a former Legacy champ who lost in his first defense against Leandro Higo, fought Benito Lopez to a split decision on Episode 7 of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, showing enough grit in defeat to earn a callback after another win in LFA. He’s 8-2 overall since the sole stoppage loss of his career.

The Peterson gameplan is not complicated: march forward, punch enough to get their hands up, then lean forward and press them against the fence until the takedown materializes. It ain’t pretty, but he’s a genuine finisher once it hits the mat, whether via submission or ground-and-pound accumulation.

The issue? Zero defense. This man ascribes to the Fujita Fight System maxim that the best way to deal with incoming fire is to hit them in the fist with his face until their hands get tired. He’s generally got the chin to make it work, having shrugged off heavy leather from Higo and flush flying knees from Lopez, but George Pacurariu knocked him unconscious with a wound-up bomb that a post-Li Jake Matthews could have seen coming.

Also, when I said “lean forward,” I meant it. He doesn’t really change levels so much as slightly adjust the one he’s currently on, which means he enters the clinch in a neutral position at best. It works once his opponent’s tired, but he’s got to get there first, which he’s not good at doing without getting at least a mild concussion.

Opponent: It was Humberto Bandenay, who smashed TUF: Latin America 3 winner Martin Bravo, until Bandenay ran into visa issues. Instead, fellow DWTNCS alumnus Brandon Davis will meet Peterson in the latter’s second featherweight appearance since 2014.

Bandenay would have been an interesting style matchup; as a long-distance fighter with a bullwhip of a left kick and good instincts to circle out when pressured, it would have been intriguing to see whether Peterson could chase him down and do work against the cage. Against Davis, he’s in for a beating; the last thing you want to be is a stationary target against a combination striker of this caliber. Unless he can turn the fight into the sloggiest slog that’s ever slogged, Peterson’s due for some more facial redecorating.

Tape:

Name: Tim “The South Jersey Strangler” Williams
Weight Class: Middleweight
Age: 31
Record: 15-3 (2 KO, 9 SUB)
Notable Victories: Andre Gusmao, Ron Stallings, Nah-shon Burrell

You might remember Williams from his time on The Ultimate Fighter, or perhaps his other time on The Ultimate Fighter. He lost to Dylan Andrews in the elimination round of TUF 17, then went 1-1 on TUF 19, where he beat Bojan Velickovic before getting submitted by Dhiego Lima. He’s 7-2 since that season, losing only to Anthony Smith in consecutive CFFC title bouts.

He’s a wrestler and submission artist first and foremost, as one might have guessed from his finish distribution. Watching him wrestle, he ticks all the right boxes, showcasing a variety of entries and good chain grappling. His striking isn’t ideal, but it’s not a liability; he puts punches together and mixes up his boxing with his takedowns.

He’s not just out there to grind from the top, either. He passes guard quite well and consistently looks for the finish.

His submission defense isn’t always ideal, though, and he gassed badly against Lima in that fight. He doesn’t really move his head all that much, either; that’s generally not an issue thanks to his aggressive pursuit of the takedown, but it can be a real problem if he can’t put his opponent on their backs.

Opponent: It might seem odd that Williams, a very capable fighter, is one of the biggest underdogs on the card. That’s because he’s fighting Oskar Piechota, a literally world-class jiu jitsu artist with solid wrestling and stopping power on the feet. We’ve seen strong wrestlers use top control to nullify quality submission artists before, such as Pat Cummins vs. Antonio Carlos Jr. and Chad Mendes vs. Rani Yahya, but Piechota can hold his own in the takedowns and striking.

In short, Williams is in trouble.

Tape: In addition to these bouts, you can watch his other TUF fights on Fight Pass.