The injury bug has taken a tire iron to the landmark debut of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) on ESPN+, downing all-action fighters like Ion Cutelaba and John Lineker. There are still some quality fights, though, and a fresh crop of newcomers to ring in a new era. Let’s check out 2019’s inaugural dose of new blood. In addition, I recognize that Greg Hardy is making his controversial Octagon debut; however, considering that his professional career has lasted a cumulative 2:07, there’s really not much I can offer in terms of analysis besides “dude hits stupid hard.”
Name: Ariane “The Violence Queen” Lipski
Weight Class: Flyweight
Record: 11-3 (6 KO, 2 SUB)
Notable Victories: Sheila Gaff, Diana Belbita
Lipski is perfect (9-0) since losing three of her first five fights, making her name in Poland’s KSW promotion. She won its Flyweight title in 2017 and picked up a pair of title defenses before signing to fight Maryna Moroz at UFC Fight Night 140. Unfortunately, Moroz broke her foot, leaving Lipski to debut on Saturday.
“The Violence Queen” is a Brazilian who has spent most of her career in Poland and fights like she’s Dutch. The core of her offense is quick, powerful punching flurries punctuated by equally potent round kicks. She excels in exchanges — when opponents step in with offense, she’ll meet it with her own punches rather than retreat, then use her superior speed and power to overwhelm her foe. Her cardio looks good despite the obvious heat she puts behind her shots, and she’s shown some takedown and submission skills.
Lipski’s key deficiency is that she’s too upright and hittable, which isn’t a terribly unique fault among strikers with her style. She doesn’t have much upper body movement, and her habit of attacking at the same time as her opponent leaves her open if the initial blow is more than she can handle. Luckily for her, UFC’s women’s Flyweight division is short on destructive punchers at the moment.
Opponent: She has a tougher test ahead of her than she would have against Moroz. Joanne Calderwood has struggled to live up to her considerable potential during her Octagon tenure, but against a fellow striker in her ideal weight class, we should finally see “Dr. Kneevil” at her best. It’ll be damn close, boiling down to whether Calderwood can keep Lipski from planting her feet and landing in the pocket.
Name: Alonzo Menifield
Weight Class: Light Heavyweight
Record: 7-0 (6 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Daniel Jolly, Dashawn Boatwright
Menifield is another football import, having competed in college ball, in the AFL, and the CFL. He picked up a pair of first-round knockouts in the amateurs before joining the professional ranks in 2015; he got his first shot at UFC glory on “Contender Series,” but an anticlimactic ending against Daniel Jolly sent him back to LFA. Two more wins earned him another “Contender Series” slot opposite Dashawn Boatwright, whom Menifield finished in eight seconds.
He was originally supposed to debut against Saparbeg Safarov in Nov. 2018, but Safarov ultimately withdrew.
It’s been just less than four years since Menifield’s first amateur bout, so it’s not surprising he’s still developing. The athleticism is obviously there, though. He’s a tank of a Light Heavyweight, standing 6’1” with a 76” reach, and throws punches and kicks like he’s offended that you’re conscious. None of his fights have lasted longer than 5:32, and he’s faced some decent opposition in RFA and LFA.
At the moment, Menifield just needs to learn to rein himself in. He overextends with his right hand, leaving him open for takedowns. He’s good at scrambling up so far, but it remains to be seen if he can do that for 15 minutes against strong top control artists.
I was also a little worried about his gym situation — his primary gym is listed as Saekson’s Muay Thai, where he’s basically the only notable figure aside from Danielle Taylor. He’s apparently since moved to Fortis MMA, though, where he can train with a bevy of fellow UFC fighters like Ryan Spann, Diego Ferreira and Charles Byrd, among others. He may already be 31, but he’s in a good place to make strides in his game.
Opponent: In Vinicius “Mamute,” Menifield faces a far superior grappler, but the Brazilian’s slowness and helplessness on the feet mean Menifield should be able to just overwhelm him with power punches early. As long as he doesn’t leave that right hand out there and get taken down, this looks to be a triumphant debut.
Name: Vinicius “Mamute” Moreira
Weight Class: Light Heavyweight
Record: 9-1 (1 KO, 8 SUB)
Notable Victories: José Santos, John Allan
Moreira had a strong run in Super Fight League, of all places, before appearing on the Contender Series: Brazil against John Allan. Allan landed some heavy body shots, but Moreira’s grappling ultimately proved too much, forcing the former to tap to a triangle choke late in the second round.
“Mamute” (mammoth) lives up to his nickname, standing an imposing 6’4,” and uses that size to implement a dangerous top game. Moreira moves surprisingly well for a man of his stature, and rather than try to use his hugeness to cut corners, does a great job of passing to mount before opening up with anything that could leave him vulnerable. As that record suggests, people tend not to get back up without the referee’s assistance once he gets settled.
As good as he is on the mat, Moreira is a non-entity on the feet. He’s legitimately just a giant target, showing no aptitude for striking whatsoever, and while he’s got some decent takedowns, the fact that he has nothing to disguise them with renders the point moot against anyone with competent takedown defense. Without exaggeration, I struggle to think of anyone at 205 pounds who Moreira could out-strike.
Opponent: Moreira’s debut could go one of two ways: either Alonzo Menifield overcommits to his right hand and gets taken down, then submitted, or Menifield uses his colossal edge in athleticism and kickboxing acumen to shred Moreira before he gets any opportunity to bring his grappling to bear.
Name: Mario Bautista
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Record: 6-0 (2 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: Juan Pablo Gonzalez
Bautista went 4-0 as an amateur and 5-0 as a professional before facing his toughest test to date in 7-1-2 Juan Pablo Gonzalez last October. Bautista had to settle for a decision, but came out on top, and now replaces John Lineker on short notice.
In any event with more than three newbies, there’s bound to be one without a good video library, and this time it’s Bautista. From what I’ve seen, he uses swarming strikes to set up takedowns, then unleashes a legitimately impressive submission game. He’s young and fighting out of an excellent camp in the MMA Lab, so a good performance on Saturday could earn him a prospect label.
Opponent: Bautista faces someone who’s already earned that label in Cory Sandhagen. Sandhagen figures to be the better striker by a wide margin and survived the ruthless grappling attack of Iuri Alcantara last time out, but Bautista’s ground game is good enough to make it interesting.
Name: Kyle “Gunz Up” Stewart
Weight Class: Welterweight
Record: 11-1 (4 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: Jason Jackson, Jaleel Willis
For the second time in recent memory, we’ve got a late replacement for a late replacement. The original fight was Randy Brown against Chance Rencountre, but Brown withdrew, leaving Dwight Grant to step in. Grant wasn’t medically cleared, however, and thus Stewart to pick up the slack on less than a week’s notice.
Stewart had an entertaining bout with The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) veteran Jason Jackson on “Contender Series,” but the fight ended via injury on Jackson’s part, which didn’t get Stewart a contract. He’s since defeated then-unbeaten Jaleel Willis and fallen short in a title shot against James Nakashima, most recently dominating Braden Smith in November.
“Gunz Up” is an impressively rounded offensive force, powerful and aggressive on both the feet and the mat. In particular, he has a knack for doing damage at close range with his elbows and punches. Since the loss to Nakashima, which saw the latter wear Stewart down with persistent takedowns, Stewart has dedicated himself to improving his wrestling. He showed it in the Smith fight, repeatedly getting to dominant positions.
Even with that advancement, his defensive wrestling and positional control remain points of concern. Both Nakashima and Jackson had great success bringing him to the mat, and Jackson achieved back control when Stewart tried the scarfhold armlock he’s fond of.
Opponent: He’s got another wrestler to deal with in Chance Rencountre. Luckily, Rencountre isn’t all that good, and his porous striking defense in particular seems tailor-made for Stewart. So long as Stewart has made the desired strides in his wrestling, he should get a clear win.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 143 fight card on fight night, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, before the main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.