Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heads to the uncharted boondocks of Boise, Idaho, this weekend (Sat., July 14, 2018) with five fresh faces, including a former World Series of Fighting (WSOF) champion who headlines opposite the ever-terrifying Junior dos Santos.
From Mark Henry’s latest prodigy to the top women’s Flyweight outside the UFC to a Roufusport young gun, UFC Fight Night 133 is one of the best cards of the year in terms of new talent. Let’s take a closer look:
Name: Blagoy Ivanov
Weight Class: Heavyweight
Record: 16-1 (6 KO, 6 SUB)
Notable Victories: Smealinho Rama, Josh Copeland, Shawn Jordan
Ivanov’s original claim to fame was besting Fedor in the 2008 World Sambo Championships, after which he further proved his badassery by surviving a near-fatal stabbing in 2012 and returning to the sport one year later. Though he lost to Alexander Volkov in the finals of a Bellator tournament, he enters the Octagon with the World Series of Fighting heavyweight title and a five-fight winning streak.
Standing a squat 5’11” with a thick, somewhat soft build, it’s hard to ignore the Fedor comparisons, especially since “Baga” prefers the same sort of winging punches that “The Last Emperor” so famously used. He’s a southpaw, though, and stands a bit heavier on his feet than Emelianenko did back in his heyday. I don’t think he’s quite as explosive as a prime Fedor, either, but his hands are deceptively fast and he’s got a chin on him, allowing him to do real damage when he can get into punching range.
As aggressive as he is, he’s no slouch on the counter, doing a solid job of getting his head off the centerline and coming back with punches. He also has a nice habit of throwing two or three consecutive punches with the same hand, which you don’t see enough of in this sport. Don’t let that frame fool you, either; this guy can go five hard rounds. His battle with Copeland was downright grueling.
He doesn’t have any obvious weaknesses besides his lack of kicks, jabs, or ranged takedowns, but don’t go into this event expecting Fedor 2.0. He doesn’t have that spark of greatness that made Fedor so awe-inspiring, doesn’t have that supercomputer mind or unflappable air or earth-shaking ground-and-pound. He is a very good heavyweight, just short of great, and frankly that’s enough to take him far these days.
Opponent: Ivanov’s jumping right into the fire against Junior Dos Santos, owner of the most ferocious offensive boxing in the division. Despite Dos Santos’ power, five-inch height advantage, and four-inch reach advantage, though, his vulnerabilities make this an interesting fight. He still hasn’t fixed the ringcraft issues that let opponents run him into the fence, where his ferocious punches are muted, and his chin isn’t what it used to be after his disasters against Cain Velasquez.
Ivanov is rightly the underdog here, but the outcome is far from given.
Name: Said Nurmagomedov
Weight Class: Flyweight
Record: 11-1 (2 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: Walter Pereira, Rakhman Dudaev, Luis Nogueira
Nurmagomedov is 5-0 since losing to Magomed Bibulatov in the finals of ACB’s 2014 Bantamweight grand prix, winning the 2016 edition with a five-round decision over Dudaev and picking up two subsequent victories. This will be his flyweight debut.
Frankie Edgar, with whom he trains under Mark Henry, was quite excited to hear about his signing.
Despite the name, Nurmagomedov’s game is much more reminiscent of Zabit Magomedsharipov’s, another of his teammates. He offers that same blend of quick, flexible kicks from both legs and a dangerous grappling game should he be unable to maintain his preferred range. Strong hips mean he can throw those kicks with impunity, and he’s got great balance in the clinch along with a sneaky little uchi mata should opponents get too eager to drag him down.
From what I’ve seen, he prefers reactive and clinch takedowns to long-distance shots, and while he doesn’t have that Khabib touch of death where he can grab a leg hair and turn that into a slam, he’s no slouch when he wants the fight on the ground. It also helps that he’s 5’9,” making him the tallest Flyweight on the current roster behind the freakishly huge “Ulka” Sasaki, and has the strength and flexibility to use that leverage to great effect,
Being big, fast, and incredibly skilled in his areas of expertise, it’s obvious that he has a high ceiling. Where he struggles, aside from not being a particularly dangerous ground-and-pounder, is with his hands. His boxing isn’t bad, per se, but he doesn’t set up his kicks with it and hasn’t shown much of a jab. He doesn’t really move and punch well, either, so his head’s static when he opens up with his hands. He also has Luke Rockhold’s bad habit of responding to incursions with a check hook while keeping his chin up in the air.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s still a really good prospect who can give most of the division fits. He’s just got some holes.
Opponent: There is no fighter on UFC’s Flyweight roster more stylistically similar to Nurmagomedov than Justin Scoggins, so of course that’s who he’s fighting. “Tank” is every bit the wrestler Nurmagomedov is and has more power in his hands, but is held back by shaky submission defense and some of the worst fight IQ imaginable. Literally three of his four pro losses came from him taking opponents down and getting choked in fights he was dominating.
There is very, very little that could happen in this fight that would surprise me.
Name: Raoni Barcelos
Weight Class: Featherweight
Record: 11-1 (6 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Tyler Toner, Ricky Musgrave, Bobby Moffett, Dan Moret
Barcelos rebounded from a submission loss to Mark Dickman to win the RFA Featherweight belt two fights later with a decision over Musgrave. He went on to defend against Moffett and Moret, the latter of whom he melted with a vicious check hook early in the second round. After RFA merged with Legacy FC to form LFA, Barcelos was supposed to fight Legacy champ Kevin Aguilar for the title, but wound up suffering an injury three weeks out.
He was supposed to debut on short notice against Contender Series standout Boston Salmon last October, but “Boom Boom” injured his knee and is still on the shelf.
I’ve been waiting to see this guy in UFC for a while. Despite boasting a competition-tested BJJ black belt and freestyle wrestling experience, he’s primarily a lethal counter-boxer who uses that grappling proficiency as a backup.
He’s got one of the more unique punching styles I’ve seen; it’s like there’s no tension in his arms. His favorite counter, the straight right, looks almost like a swat at times, while his check hook can whip around and deliver major power with very little motion. He’s also got a nifty little bolo uppercut with which to surprise opponents. In addition to stopping power, he also is busy enough not to fall into the usual countering trap of giving rounds away on lack of volume.
Despite just one submission finish, his grappling is as legit as those credentials would suggest. Both his offensive and defensive wrestling games are solid, as is his work on the ground. Generally, though, he prefers to pick foes apart on the outside and bring that speed and power to bear.
I honestly haven’t seen any standout weaknesses in what tape there is. The big concern is that he’s approaching his mid-30s and has spent nearly two years on the shelf, so I’m not sure he has enough time to break into the shark-infested waters of the Featherweight elite. He’s also just 5’6” with a reach under 70”, so the physical side of things will be an uphill battle.
Opponent: Kurt Holobaugh, making his UFC return after five years away. This is definitely a winnable fight for Barcelos; his outboxing looks like a good answer for Holobaugh’s aggression and the latter has historically struggled with takedown defense, meaning Barcelos has options.
Name: Jennifer Maia
Weight Class: Flyweight
Record: 15-4-1 (3 KO, 5 SUB)
Notable Victories: Jéssica Andrade, Zoila Frausto, Vanessa Porto, Roxanne Modafferi, Agnieszka Niedzwiedz
If you can’t tell by the “notable victories” list up there, Maia’s a pretty damn good signing. She’s got a strong claim to being the best women’s flyweight outside the Octagon, with only Bellator champ Ilima-Lei Macfarlane coming close.
Before joining the UFC, She avenged a loss to Porto to win Invicta’s interim title, then defended it with decisions over Modafferi and Niedzwiedz. She’d previously fought a who’s who of talented fighters, including Leslie Smith and DeAnna Bennett in addition to the list above.
Though you might expect a Chute Boxe product to be an all-action slugger, Maia is at her core a patient, skilled Muay Thai specialist who works behind crisp combination punching and an effective clinch. She’s not overwhelmingly fast or powerful, but she throws good volume with enough pop behind it to wear down opponents.
She’s shown a solid sprawl, at least once she’s started putting the pace on opponents, and does good damage in the clinch with elbows and knees. Again, nothing flashy, but it gets results.
Her key flaws are a shaky chin and a tendency to start slow. Both Porto and Niedzwiedz managed to drop her, the latter with a punch that didn’t seem all that hard, and while the division isn’t replete with power-punchers at the moment, it’s worth keeping an eye on. In addition, Maia had early issues in all three of her title fights before pulling away in the championship rounds, suffering the aforementioned knockdowns and surrendering takedowns.
Opponent: Liz Carmouche will welcome Maia to the UFC and could very well play spoiler. Maia’s tendency to struggle in the early rounds before coming on late works when she has 25 minutes, but she’ll only have three rounds. Worse, Carmouche is a lot more dangerous from top position than Modafferi and Niedzwiedz, both of whom got Maia to the mat before the championship rounds. Maia is the sharper striker of the two and certainly the more consistent fighter, though, so this one’s a coin flip in my book.
Tape: Her Invicta appearances are on Fight Pass.
Name: Elias Garcia
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Record: 5-0 (1 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: None
Garcia is a product of the same Roufusport camp that gave us the Pettis brothers, whom he is a cousin of. He put together a 5-0 amateur run before debuting in 2013, missing all of 2015-2016 after three fights, and then coming back with another two wins in 2017.
Garcia’s standout skill is buttery-smooth ground transitions. Even in his pre-hiatus bouts, he was slick as can be, going from pass to submission attempt to pass with ease. Just moments into his 2014 bout with Alex Figueroa, he transitioned from a takedown attempt to deep half guard to leglock position in a flash. He’s a joy to watch on the mat, equally aggressive and dangerous from the top and bottom.
During his time away, his striking went from nonexistent to basic-but-effective. He’s got a good cross, mixes his kicks with his punching, and showed some decent pop by dropping his last opponent en route to the submission finish.
Unproven wrestling and some position issues keep me from labeling him a blue-chipper, though. In that Figueroa fight, he repeatedly lost position to a guy who clearly didn’t know what he was doing until said guy’s cardio started to fade. His takedowns looked iffy, as well, although he could very well have improved since coming back to the sport.
In short: a lot of stuff he hasn’t shown yet, but what he has shown is intriguing.
Opponent: Garcia is moving up from Flyweight to fight Mark De La Rosa, who’s coming off a loss to Tim Elliott. De La Rosa has exponentially more experience against quality opposition and looks to be the better striker by a decent margin, so we’ll have to see some sizable improvement from Garcia for him to win this.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 133 fight card tomorrow night, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” undercard bout at 6:30 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.