Before mixed martial arts (MMA) veterans Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Anthony Smith take center stage inside Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg, Germany, this afternoon (Sun., July 22, 2018), six fresh faces will enter the Octagon for the very first time, including a Cage Warriors champion, a former Rizin Grand Prix competitor, and a disciple of the great Mirko Cro Cop.
Come and join us for the latest edition of “New Blood,” where we tell you about the guys it’s worth buying a Fight Pass subscription to see.
Name: Abu “The Gladiator” Azaitar
Weight Class: Middleweight
Record: 13-1-1 (7 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Jack Marshman
The German-born, Morocco-based Azaitar has not lost in almost six years, winning seven fights and scoring five knockouts between 2012 and 2016. He was supposed to make his UFC debut in Rotterdam in Sept. 2017 against Siyar Bahadurzada, but withdrew because of injury.
Azaitar lists several kickboxing and Muay Thai accomplishments in his UFC bio, but even if the accolades are real, I’m dubious about the competition he’s faced. He wings wide punches and throws single kicks, all of which are admittedly powerful but don’t form a cohesive striking attack. There’s no jab to speak of, nor any real straight punches for setups or mix-ups.
Some gnarly knees in the clinch, though.
Grappling-wise, he’s shown a solid double-leg, again without any real setups, but also surrendered takedowns in one of his recent World Series of Fighting bouts. He doesn’t seem to be a significant submission threat, either, though his obvious strength means you don’t want him on top of you.
In short, he’s a lot of average-to-decent pieces that don’t flow into one another.
Opponent: Azaitar faces Vitor Miranda, a 40-year-old kickboxer out of Team Nogueira who reached the finals of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Brazil” 3 as a Heavyweight. Miranda’s got serious knockout power, but lacks takedown defense and, critically, is so passive on the feet that he got outworked by Chris Camozzi. It will be interesting to see whether Azaitar’s aggression and wrestling can shut down Miranda before those sledgehammer kicks start finding their mark.
Name: David “Sagat” Zawada
Weight Class: Welterweight
Record: 16-3 (11 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: Andreas Stahl, Maciej Jewtuszko
I’m going to be upfront: I cannot find recent footage of Zawada. His most significant bouts took place in the KSW promotion, which doesn’t archive its fights as far as I can tell, and the seedy back-alley site I usually use to find videos doesn’t have them.
What I have seen suggests that he’s got good hands, some very nifty trips, and strong top control. In addition, he managed to fight back from serious adversity to choke out Michal Michalski back in April, so we know he’s not a frontrunner.
Of course, the fact that he got into that adversity in the first place may not be a good sign.
Opponent: Zawada steps up on short notice to replace Alan Jouban against Danny Roberts. The Englishman is similarly well-rounded and powerful, so I favor him in this one considering Zawada’s lack of a training camp, but “Hot Chocolate’s” chin has been cracked before. I expect Zawada to put on a better performance than his +300 underdog status would suggest, though I do think Roberts will come out on top.
Name: Khalid Taha
Weight Class: Featherweight
Record: 12-1 (7 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: Keita Ishibashi
Taha — a five-year professional with an excellent finishing rate — took part in Rizin’s 2017 Bantamweight Grand Prix. After surviving some early trouble on the ground, he viciously knocked out Keita Ishibashi in the Round of 16, only to suffer a comeback submission loss to veteran Takafumi Otsuka in the quarters. He has since bounced back with a submission win in his return to featherweight.
As you might have guessed from that knockout-to-submission ratio, Taha is a polished striker at heart, showing the sorts of feints, combinations, and nifty footwork that you love to see out of up-and-comers. What stood out to me was his ability to mix his head, body, and leg attacks, using each to set up the other.
And they’ve all got power.
For all the fluidity, patience, and power he’s demonstrated on the feet, however, Taha’s takedown defense and grappling have proven a critical weakness. Bantamweights Ishibashi and Otsuka got him to the mat, and though he managed to explode out of a couple of shaky spots, Taha spent a worrying amount of time in those spots. If he wants to be a contender and not just an action fighter, that’s an issue he has to fix quickly.
Opponent: He’ll have to fix that issue really quickly if he wants to win his debut. Nad Narimani, who got written up in an older New Blood before his debut against Nasrat Haqparast fell through, is a big, powerful, proven featherweight with strong takedowns and ground control. Even worse for Taha, Narimani can hold his own on the feet and is ostensibly durable enough to withstand Taha’s power in the brief time between takedown attempts.
It’ll be a learning experience, at least.
Name: Darko Stosic
Weight Class: Light Heavyweight
Record: 12-1 (7 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Dion Staring
While his affiliation with Mirko Filipovic is what makes headlines, Stosic isn’t here because of who he’s associated with. He’s undefeated (8-0) since a 2014 loss to Jiri Prochazka, whom I consider one of if not the best Light Heavyweight prospect in the world, and he’s scored some highlight-reel finishes along the way.
He’ll be dropping from Heavyweight to 205 pounds for his Octagon debut.
Stosic is every bit as powerful as his six-foot, 230-pound frame suggests. A stalking, sharpshooting striker who relies on basic-but-effective two- and three-punch combos, his decent boxing is complemented by the sorts of murderous kicks you’d expect from a “Cro Cop” protege. His head kick and body kicks are extremely fast, but his low kicks in particular are absolutely crushing. He felled the 286-pound Emil Zahariev with just a handful of them last year, and I don’t imagine Light Heavyweight thighs faring much better against them.
Though he’s yet to face a true wrestler, his sprawl looks good, and he’s demonstrated some decent takedown entries of his own. His top control needs work, as he let Staring up from side control with a sloppy Americana attempt, but it’s a good weapon for a striker to have in his back pocket.
He’s got three standout problems of various importance. One is that he doesn’t move his head much, relying on a high guard or going for counters when punches come his way. The second is that he doesn’t mix his kicks with his hands super well, so their speed isn’t always enough to get the shin to the target before opponents’ guards come up. The third is that I’m not sure how he plans to make 205 pounds with that barrel chest and legs bigger than the average Flyweight’s torso ... he’s a thick lad!
Opponent: Stosic gets someone who will strike with him: Jeremy Kimball, notable for both his sharp stand up and hilariously terrible weight management. Kimball isn’t going to wrestle, which allows Stosic to show off his strikes, and his sprawl is insufficient should the Croat decide to bring it to the mat himself. Though Kimball’s the quicker and busier of the two, Stosic’s size and power should win out.
Name: Liu Pingyuan
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Record: 11-5 (4 KO, 4 SUB)
Notable Victories: None
Don’t let Liu’s record fool you — he started his career winless (0-4) before embarking on his current run, which includes seven consecutive victories since 2013. He was to face Bharat Khandare last November, but had to withdraw, which opened the door for fellow young gun Song Yadong to make a triumphant debut.
Like Song, Liu is an aggressive young finisher with a style that, while still rough in places, suggests he could do great things with proper guidance. He prefers to throw hands, compensating for technical shortcomings with enthusiasm, and is willing to mix things up to the body in his regular assortment of flurries, which is always nice to see.
His wrestling and grappling surprised me in a good way. His level change and trips are solid, he passes guard well, and he’s constantly looking for the finish whether via strikes or submission. He seems especially fond of working from the kimura, both using it as a threat in and of itself and as a means to set up other submissions. He popped up quite quickly from his back in the footage I saw, too.
He’s young, athletic and fast, but his whole game just needs a little more polish. Different sites say he’s in different camps, but I did see him in a Tiger Muay Thai shirt in one of his promos. That’s a quality camp, so hopefully he’s working with them.
Opponent: Damian Stasiak, who’s coming off losses to very capable Bantamweights in Pedro Munhoz and Brian Kelleher. “Webster” is plenty tough and has a dangerous submission game that Liu could easily run afoul of if he gets overeager. It’s a good test for a promising young fighter.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 134 fight card today, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” undercard bout at 10:30 a.m. ET, followed by the FOX Sports 1 “Prelims” undercard bouts at 12 p.m. ET, before the main card start time at 2 p.m. ET, also on FOX Sports 1.