The UFC hits Russia for the first time this Saturday, and as with any international Fight Pass event taking place at a reasonable local time, there’s a heap of fresh talents making their UFC debuts. In a card ravaged by injuries, we’ve wound up with five new faces, among them an undefeated M-1 champion, a disciple of the Korean Zombie, and a young knockout artist out of Fight Nights Global.
Let’s take a look:
Name: Alexey “Wolverine” Kunchenko
Weight Class: Welterweight
Record: 18-0 (13 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Carlos Pereira, Murad Abdulaev, Sergey Romanov, Alexander Butenko
Kunchenko went undefeated (4-0) in the venerable M-1 promotion before challenging Murad Abdulaev for the Welterweight belt in 2016, ultimately forcing Abdulaev’s corner to stop it in the fourth round. He went on to successfully defend the belt four times, most recently stopping 62-fight veteran and former M-1 Lightweight champ Alexander Butenko in March.
The Kunchenko gameplan isn’t a terribly complicated one, but it’s worked damn well for him so far. “Wolverine” walks foes down with fast, powerful leg kicks until their backs hit the ropes/fence, at which point he tears into them with compact punching combinations to the head and body alongside some knees should they make the mistake of dipping their heads. He’s surprisingly patient, waiting for the proper opportunity to uncork those nasty hooks of his, and people tend to fall down quick once he lands clean.
He can do it from either stance, too.
He’s not a prototypical bully who folds when heat starts coming back, either. Though his chin looks plenty solid, Abdulaev had him badly hurt in their first fight and Kunchenko still battled back to get the finish. He’s no frontrunner, which could be key in a division crawling with scary finishers.
A natural response when you’re backed into a corner and someone’s teeing off on your face is to duck in for a takedown, and luckily Kunchenko knows how to deal with this. His offensive and defensive wrestling both look stout, allowing him to commit to punches in bunches.
The only real concern I have about Kunchenko is his age. He’s only been a pro for five years, so he hasn’t racked up the physical mileage other fighters in their mid-30s have, but it’s still a concern, especially since the Welterweight logjam means it’ll be a long road to the title.
Opponent: Kunchenko has a fairly favorable matchup before him in Thiago Alves, who’s been battered in two of his last four fights and looks well past his prime. If Alves had recently demonstrated the underrated offensive wrestling he once boasted, this would be tricky, but the faded “Pitbull” looks like the means for Kunchenko to announce his UFC arrival via nasty knockout.
Tape: Here’s the rub: M-1 appears to have taken every full fight video of Kunchenko and Adam Yandiev on this list off of YouTube in the last week. At one point, I left a video of Artem Frolov’s fight with Caio Magalhaes open overnight with the intention of watching it in the morning, only for it to be deleted when I woke up.
Forlov wound up getting hurt, rendering the issue moot, but still.
I managed to watch a good chunk of them beforehand, but that means I don’t have much to share.
Name: Jin Soo Son
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Record: 9-2 (4 KO, 2 SUB)
Notable Victories: Toshiaki Kitada
Son is one of the three fighters on this list to debut on short notice, stepping in for injured Brazilian knockout artist Douglas Andrade just under a month back. The Korean Zombie MMA product is perfect (4-0) since his last defeat, avenging said defeat to Kitada in April, and has fought all but two of his bouts in Japan’s long-running DEEP promotion.
I’m going to be honest with you guys. I only found one fight of Son’s, that being his victory over Kitada; DEEP doesn’t seem to upload its fights and Fite.tv’s archives of the promotion don’t go back really far. All I know is what I talked about in my “Prelims” article, that he’s a willing slugger who responds to getting hit by smiling.
Opponent: Son has the toughest assignment of anyone here: Top prospect Petr Yan, who’s going to make him smile quite a bit. Yan is a lethal, well-rounded striker whom I believe could already challenge a ranked opponent. Son’s in for a rough night.
Tape: You can watch the Kitada fight here, starting at about 3:30:00.
Name: Adam “Beard” Yandiev
Weight Class: Middleweight
Record: 9-0 (3 KO, 6 SUB)
Notable Victories: None
Yandiev is the strangest of the new signings in several ways. Despite having nine first-round finishes, he’s as much celebrity as fighter. Googling his name reveals stories like his mechanic fatally crashing Yandiev’s Lamborghini and his cousin getting shot over an Instagram comment. Karim Zidan’s report of his most recent fight reveals that Yandiev gassed horribly, only for his opponent to abandon mount and get submitted.
More than a little suspicious.
Yandiev is a judoka by trade and is extremely eager to get things to the mat. I’ve seen only a few seconds of his standup, which consists mostly of frantic punching flurries in an effort to set up his takedowns. It doesn’t usually take long for him to either take his opponent down or catch them in a guillotine when they try to take him down.
Once on the mat, he’s fond of the rear naked choke, though I’ve seen him get a finish by Josh Barnett/Alexei Oleinik-style kesa gatame. His takedowns appear legit, as do his submissions.
While researching this fight, I got frustrated that I couldn’t find fight footage from the last three years, only to realize that he hasn’t fought since 2015. Worse, his strength of schedule is sorely lacking and he goes so hard for his submissions that he can easily wear himself out. The potential’s there, but he has a lot of growing to do.
Opponent: Yandiev gets a decidedly unfriendly matchup in Jordan Johnson, a Division I wrestler out of Iowa who replaces Krzysztof Jotko on short notice. Johnson’s had an iffy Octagon career, going to close decisions against Marcel Fortuna and Adam Milstead after a dominant debut, but has the cardio and overall style to exploit Yandiev’s pacing issues, shut down his takedowns, and ultimately put him away.
An x-factor is that both men are making their Middleweight debuts. This shouldn’t be an issue for Yandiev, who hit the scale at 193.1 pounds for his last fight, but it’s worth keeping an eye on Johnson at the weigh-ins.
Tape: Check what I said in the Kunchenko section.
Name: Khalid Murtazaliev
Weight Class: Middleweight
Record: 13-2 (11 KO)
Notable Victories: Grzegorz Siwy
Murtazaliev has to overcome the shortest notice of anyone here, replacing M-1 champion Artem Frolov on a week’s notice. Frolov was himself replacing Omari Akhmedov, because the human body was not designed to train for this stupid sport.
Murtazaliev opened his career with a flawless (6-0) run in M-1 before joining Fight Nights Global, where he’s fought exclusively since. Both of his losses came against Abusupyan Alikhanov, one by split decision and one by Hunt/Nelson-esque uppercut of death.
At only 24, the Russian clearly has a taste for violence. He hurls massive, looping punches with genuine thunder behind them alongside cleaner, equally devastating kicks. They tend to be thrown one at a time or in flurries, but the sheer power behind them makes him a threat regardless. He actually managed to drop Alikhanov with a jab in the rematch, though he burned himself out trying for the comeback finish.
As janky as his standup is, his ground game has some polish to it. He’s a solid wrestler, quite a good guard passer, and a lethal ground-and-pounder. He prefers the mounted crucifix, but he can do plenty of damage no matter where he is.
Despite all that power and skill on the ground, he’s still far from a finished product. He desperately needs to tighten up his punches; when Abdul Razak Alhassan throws cleaner combos than you do, you have problems. If he could just tighten his boxing fundamentals and get some real synergy between his punches and his genuinely effective kicks, he could be a real threat. Luckily, he’s young enough that there’s plenty of time to develop.
Opponent: Probably the closest matchup of any of these debuts: C.B. Dollaway. “The Doberman” is a far cleaner striker than Murtazaliev and looks to have the wrestling edge, but is a decade older than his foe and rather chinny. I expect either an early Murtazaliev knockout or Dollaway steadily wearing him down for a decision win.
Name: Stefan Sekulic
Weight Class: Welterweight
Record: 12-2 (3 KO, 6 SUB)
Notable Victories: None
Serbia’s Sekulic is 8-1 since falling to fellow UFC competitor David Zawada in 2015. In that defeat, he was dominating Brazilian veteran Adriano Balby when he tried a head kick and snapped his shin against Balby’s forearm. Amazingly, despite the horrific injury, Sekulic was back in the cage just eight months later and has won twice since.
He’s a late-notice replacement for the injured Claudio Silva.
Sekulic is primarily a grappler, though he’s no slouch on the feet. His straight left in particular is crisp, fast, and untelegraphed. He can throw some solid combinations, but that’s his best strike by far.
His wrestling looks to be his best skill. He’s got a variety of entries, but seems to prefer a knee tap that he executes quite well. His defense looks terrific as well, and considering that four of his six submissions have come by guillotine, trying to take him down or scramble out from under his top control are risky propositions.
There’s no glaring flaw in Sekulic’s game that I can see. His timing’s good, his wrestling is nice and versatile, and though he’s not a particularly devastating striker, his standup isn’t a liability. He’s a good addition to the roster and I look forward to seeing how he fares against top-notch foes.
Opponent: Unfortunately for Sekulic, he has a tall task ahead of him in Ramazan Emeev. “Gorets” possesses a similar skillset, but his has been proven to work against better opposition than Sekulic has faced. I expect Emeev to have the edge in most striking and clinch engagements, not entirely outclassing Sekulic but doing enough to earn the nod.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 136 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. ET, followed by the main card start time of 2 p.m. ET, also on Fight Pass.