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UFC 243 - New Blood: It’s a full house ‘Down Under’

UFC 243, which takes place inside Marvel Arena in Melbourne, Australia, this weekend (Sat., Oct. 5, 2019) is absolutely loaded with fresh faces, with five different fights featuring at least one newcomer. On this edition of “New Blood”, the series where I do more research than I did for my senior project in college, we look at a whole heap of talent from Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere. There’s seven of the buggers this time around, so we’re sticking to quick hits.

Yorgan De Castro

Weight Class: Heavyweight
Age: 31
Record: 5-0 (4 KO)
Notable Victories: Alton Meeks

De Castro — who had won a regional Catchweight title two fights prior — was all set to welcome Jimmy Lawson to “Contender Series” in June before the latter suffered an unexpected defeat. He instead took on Alton Meeks, and despite entering as more than a 5:1 underdog, put away the wrestling standout with first-round leg kicks.

De Castro’s leg kicks are clearly the star attraction of his game. In one of his earlier fights, he threw them to an extent that resembled button-mashing, constantly hurling them despite getting hit by punches as he did so like a poor man’s version of Justin Gaethje. I will say that he went about things much more intelligently against Meeks, moving well and showing additional dimensions to his striking like a jumping knee to counter takedowns and an assortment of hard right hands.

His defensive wrestling really shined against Meeks. He did a great job of standing as soon as he was taken down, used the whizzer well, and looked to damage Meeks as he entered or exited. Odds are, most Heavyweights below the middle tier are going to wind up striking with him.

It’s not all good news, though. De Castro is carrying loads of extra weight, weighing in at 253 pounds against Meeks despite making the Light Heavyweight limit just a year prior. He also lacks fluidity in his hands, usually just hurling lead rights and occasionally flowing up with wide swings. His cardio could also be a concern — he looked spry against Meeks despite an energy-intensive pace, but also appeared to empty his tank in two minutes against Ras Hylton in Nov. 2018.

I don’t see him progressing much past “action fighter” status, although that might be enough against a fairly green debut opponent in Justin Tafa. Tafa’s a legitimate Heavyweight with real stopping power, but he’s also unproven, easy to hit, and doesn’t check low kicks. I favor De Castro by a hair.

Tape: His “Contender Series” appearance is on ESPN+.

Justin Tafa

Weight Class: Heavyweight
Age: 25
Record: 3-0 (3 KO)
Notable Victories: Jeremy Joiner

A training partner of fellow Pacific Islander standouts Mark Hunt and Tai Tuivasa, Tafa has yet to go the distance as a professional or amateur. He picked up the XFC Heavyweight belt in July 2018 with a knockout of Jeremy Joiner, then one-punched David Taumoepeau in his lone defense 10 months later. His brother Junior is ranked in the GLORY Heavyweight Top 10.

Tafa’s a southpaw bruiser, relying heavily on his overhand left, powerful round kicks, and his single best punch: a lead right uppercut where he slips outside his orthodox foe’s lead hand before firing it underneath their arm and into their chin. That punch earned his first and his most recent knockout, with the other two coming via ground-and-pound and a blitzing flurry, respectively. Despite his power, he can be easy to hit, and has been stung repeatedly by the bog-standard anti-southpaw right hand in the past.

He’s a bit more apt to initiate the wrestling than Tuivasa or Hunt, though, and he can do real damage from top position. Though he looks to have decent takedowns, he has issues maintaining top position. He got swept repeatedly in his pro debut, saved only by his opponent being too gassed to take advantage, and reportedly spent a while on the bottom in his last fight after getting swept again. Still, that’s a lot of dude to have on top of you.

He’s got the physical tools; right now, it’s just about seasoning. Scroll up to see my thoughts on his debut.


Maki “Coconut Bombz” Pitolo

Weight Class: Welterweight
Age: 28
Record: 11-0 (5 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: Justin Sumter, Chris Cisneros

Pitolo bounced back from consecutive losses to claim victory in CFFC and Bellator, avenging his first-ever pro defeat in the process. He then moved up to 185 pounds to face Justin Sumter on “Contender Series,” where he put down his favored foe via first-round body shots.

Pitolo’s aggressive offensive boxing is a genuine joy to watch. He constantly varies his lead punch, will mix up punch speed in a way that you don’t see in this sport outside the Diazes, throws great combinations that he’ll switch stances in the midst of, and can mulch the body when given the opportunity. He’s also shown good enough takedown defense to keep his combinations flowing and can at least attempt to wrestle himself if the opportunity arises.

I could tell you more about his submissions, which he used to dispatch Chris Cisneros two fights back, but Bellator actually spliced in the wrong third round in its video archive. Good job, guys.

Striking defense is Pitolo’s big problem. The guy’s head just doesn’t move when he’s throwing, which has gotten him hurt on multiple occasions and knocked unconscious in two fights. He just doesn’t seem quite durable enough to fight the way he does, although it does mean he’s likely to end up on somebody’s highlight reel one way or the other every time he enters the cage.

Luckily for him, debut foe Callan Potter is an undersized grappling specialist with four knockout losses and a distinct inability to protect his chin. We should be seeing some “Coconut Bombz” go off.

Tape: His “Contender Series” appearance is on ESPN+ and two-thirds of his Bellator fight is on its website.

Brad “Quake” Riddell

Weight Class: Lightweight
Age: 28
Record: 6-1 (5 KO)
Notable Victories: Song Kenan

A veteran of more than 60 professional kickboxing fights who’s shared the ring with the likes of John Wayne Parr and Cedric Doumbe, Riddell now fights out of City Kickboxing alongside Dan Hooker and Israel Adesanya. He’s won three straight, two by form of knockout, since a submission loss to Abel Brites in 2018.

Riddell is a close-quarters wrecking machine, putting together lengthy boxing combinations to the head and body with the occasional round kick or step-in knee thrown in from either stance. In addition to his technical prowess, which includes solid countering and the ability to fight well from either stance, he’s blazing fast. Watching him reminds me a lot of a smaller Gokhan Saki, and he seems to boast a similar level of stopping power.

The all-important wrestling remains a question mark, unfortunately. He showed a solid sprawl in a recent fight and his submission loss came from his opponent essentially pulling guard when they tied up. I will say that his style seems a lot better-suited for defending takedowns than, say, Giga Chikadze’s, and training partner Israel Adesanya’s insane wrestling improvement suggests he’s in the right place to improve it.

Debut opponent Jamie Mullarkey is a damn good striker in his own right and looks to have a bit of wrestling in his back pocket, making this an excellent test for Riddell. I do favor “Quake,” though, as he’s the larger man and Mullarkey isn’t terribly difficult to hit.


Jamie Mullarkey

Weight Class: Lightweight
Age: 25
Record: 12-2 (8 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: Abel Brites

Mullarkey’s undefeated run came to an end at the hands of Alexander Volkanovski, after which unheralded Luke Catubig put him away with elbows. He has since stopped four consecutive opponents, picking up the Superfight MMA Lightweight title in the process.

Mullarkey is a nasty offensive boxer, light on his feet as he fires lightning-quick one-two combinations and leg kicks. He’s got serious power, a great jab, and puts his punches together quite well. He’s admittedly rather easy to hit, but has shrugged off a lot of major blows without flinching, suggesting that he’s a lot tougher than those two knockout losses would suggest.

His offensive and defensive wrestling are both solid but unspectacular. What really stands out is his ability to catch kicks for takedowns, which I’ve seen him pull off on multiple occasions. Once he gets on top, though, he seems to have a bit of difficulty passing guard. That said, he can still do damage from half guard with his elbows.

Defensive liabilities are Mullarkey’s big problem at the moment; besides his difficulties defending his face, he doesn’t check low kicks. Both of those figure to be a big issue against Riddell, although his ability to catch kicks may come in handy if he can withstand “Quake’s” onslaught. Win or lose, he’s an excellent pick up for UFC.


Zarah Fairn dos Santos

Weight Class: Featherweight
Age: 32
Record: 6-2 (4 KO)
Notable Victories: Suvi Salmimies

France’s dos Santos suffered a controversial split decision loss in her lone BAMMA appearance, but bounced back with three victories in 2017. These set up an Invicta debut opposite Kaitlin Young, only for Dos Santos to run into visa issues. This will be her first fight in almost 22 months.

dos Santos’ game comprises mostly flicking noncommittal jabs, a right cross she occasionally sits down on, solid knees on the inside, and remarkably good defensive wrestling. She pressures relentlessly, constantly feinting with her jab until she can touch her opponent with it and follow up with a bigger right hand. Her sprawl and ability to scramble allow her to march forward with relative impunity, and despite neglecting the body, she’s relentless enough to drain opponents with her pursuit.

Her problem is really just a lack of variety. She almost never throws kicks or hooks, and it doesn’t seem like it would be difficult to just constantly circle her if your cardio held up enough for it. She’s good for a scrap, just not necessarily at making unwilling people scrap with her.

That might come back to bite her against Megan Anderson, who boasts a height advantage and the power kicking game to use it. She can win if she consistently get inside, but I don’t see her doing so.


Bruno “Bulldog” Silva

Weight Class: Bantamweight
Age: 29
Record: 12-4-1 (4 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: None

Silva god his first chance at glory on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Brazil” 4, where he knocked out Gustavio Sedorio to earn himself a spot on Anderson Silva’s team. A guillotine loss to Dileno Lopes ended his run, since which he’s gone 3-1-1 with a draw against current UFC competitor Casey Kenney.

The only tape of Silva’s since his TUF run that I can find is either hidden behind a paywall or comprises him getting head kick KO’d in seven seconds. I don’t got much to work with. I can tell you that he’s a highly mobile switch-hitting range striker with a strong kicking game, bolstered by some solid wrestling. His power was such that he reportedly managed to drop Kenney, and the front kick he landed on Sedorio busted the latter’s jaw.

I can also tell you that he’s undersized for 135 pounds, standing a mere 5’4” and regularly competing at 125 pounds. We’ve seen small fighters do work above their natural weights and he definitely benefits from being the faster man, but it’s definitely a point of concern against the more physically imposing men lurking at the top of the division.

One of said men is his debut opponent, Khalid Taha. Taha’s wrestling has failed him before, but his size advantage will make it difficult for “Bulldog” to exploit that weakness and I favor the German’s power over Silva’s offbeat stylings.

Tape: His TUF bouts are on Fight Pass.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 243 fight card this weekend right HERE, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN 2 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 243: “Whittaker vs. Adesanya” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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