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UFC Sao Paulo - New Blood: Contenders abound

UFC Fight Night 164 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, this weekend (Sat., Nov. 16, 2019) has seen nine different fights fall through for one reason or another, but surprisingly, we’ve just three newcomers to analyze. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where I realize Fight Pass is in desperate need of a technical overhaul, we check out a pair of Brazilian Middleweight finishers and an up-and-coming Flyweight, all of whom excelled on “Contender Series.”

Antonio Arroyo

Weight Class: Middleweight
Age: 30
Record: 9-2 (4 KO, 4 SUB)
Notable Victories: Trevor Carlson, Diego Henrique, Stephen Regman

Arroyo — who’d won three straight by first-round knockout since a loss to future “Contender Series” headliner Herdem Alacabek — was forced to go the distance for the first time in his battle with Diego Henrique last year. The effort wasn’t enough to earn him a contract, but his head kick and subsequent arm triangle of Stephen Regman 11 months later did the trick.

Two things immediately stand out when watching Arroyo. One is his size — he’s an impressively-built 6’2” and generally knows how to use that range. The other is the ridiculous power of his kicks. Whether targeting the leg or the body and whether from southpaw or orthodox, they’re fast, thudding and impressively loud. His head kicks in particular are hard enough to knock an opponent down through a blocking forearm, as seen in the fight with Regman, and one of them took out Carlson in less than 20 seconds.

He greatly prefers kicks to punches, but can put together some nice combinations and generally does a nice job of angling off after stepping in.

His wrestling and ground game are surprisingly legit. He’s got good timing on his takedowns, of which he boasts a variety, and has shown quality passing and submission defense. Should his naked kicks open him up to takedowns in return, he’s shown the ability to get up off of his back.

The back foot is where the problems arise. He generally moves quite well, but has a bad habit of backing straight up when aggressively pressured. Henrique, the much smaller man, repeatedly found success attacking the body when he committed to his forward advance. Also, while he does have the aforementioned ability to get off of his back, he’ll want to work more on setting those kicks up against strong top control artists.

Middleweight is a shark tank, and I don’t see Arroyo getting to the very top, but he should be able to hold his own around the division’s middle tier.

Opponent: Arroyo is a far stronger striker than Andre Muniz and ostensibly has the wrestling edge. What makes it interesting is that Muniz likes to swarm with punches to set up his takedowns, and we’ve already established that Arroyo doesn’t like getting pressured. The oddsmakers have this as one of the closest fights on the card and I’m inclined to agree, though I favor Arroyo.

Tape: His Brazil and regular “Contender Series” bouts are on Fight Pass and ESPN+, respectively.

Andre “Sergipano” Muniz

Weight Class: Middleweight
Age: 29
Record: 18-4 (4 KO, 12 SUB)
Notable Victories: Taylor Johnson, Bruno Assis

Muniz entered his own “Contender Series:” Brazil bout with wins in 10 of his previous 11 fights, only failing to stop the legendarily durable Paulo Filho in those victories. Like Arroyo, his decision win over Bruno Assis wasn’t enough to get him into the Octagon, but he made up for it by rapidly submitting the favored Taylor Johnson on the regular “Contender Series.”

He is Arroyo’s third scheduled opponent, replacing Alessio Di Chrico, who replaced Kevin Holland.

I’d love to give an in-depth analysis on “Sergipano,” but unfortunately, the “Contender Series:” Brazil episode he’s featured in is legitimately broken on Fight Pass, skipping huge sections of his fight. All the other recent tape involves first-round finishes, so I haven’t much to work with.

What is clear, though, is that those 12 submission wins aren’t a fluke. This man is lethal on the ground, an opportunistic submission menace with particularly potent armbars and front chokes. That armbar is his best weapon off of his back, and he used an omoplata sequence to sweep a top-notch wrestler in Taylor Johnson and set up the finish. Do not let this man anywhere near your neck or extremities.

The rest of his game doesn’t appear quite as developed. He relies on aggressive-but-sloppy punching flurries to set up his takedown attempts, which aren’t particularly strong. Assis was able to hip throw him and, later in the first round, countered an outside trip directly into mount. Johnson was also able to slam him without issue, though it proved to be his undoing. Muniz’s success may rely heavily on how willing opponents are to initiate the grappling against him.

His Brazilian jiu-jitsu is UFC-worthy, at least, but I’d like to see what happens against a stouter wrestler before declaring that he’ll make a strong run.

Opponent: See above.

Tape: Same deal as Arroyo.

Tracy Cortez

Weight Class: Flyweight/Bantamweight
Age: 25
Record: 6-1 (1 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Mariya Agapova, Erin Blanchfield

Cortez went undefeated (6-0) as an amateur before losing her professional debut to Cheri Muraski via second-round guillotine. Five consecutive victories, two of them in Invicta, earned her a spot on the Contender Series, where she dominated Mariya Agapova en route to a UFC contract.

She was originally slated to face Duda Santana, who herself was originally slated to face Leah Letson.

Cortez’s gameplan is straightforward and, thus far, highly effective: swarm with strikes until the takedown presents itself, then ruin her opponents’ day. She’s pure aggression on the feet, attacking with punches, knees, and elbows to open her opponent up to takedowns, which she blends nicely with those aforementioned strikes.

Once she’s on the ground, she uses a steady stream of short ground-and-pound to advance through the guard. While she seems to prefer pounding away from the crucifix, she does a good job of taking the back and maintaining control with the seatbelt grip, re-establishing back mount if opponents manage to wriggle free. Though she’s not much of a finisher, she’s definitely extremely busy, and she has the gas tank to threaten takedowns and move well on the ground from bell to bell.

Plus, she’s got good submission defense and does a good job of doing damage while defending takedowns.

Cortez really just needs seasoning right now; if she can tighten up her porous striking defense and become more of a finishing threat on the mat, she’s got the tools to be a major player at 125 pounds. That said, Erin Blanchfield did manage to put her on her back and take mount, so it’ll be worth keeping an eye on what happens when she faces a capable takedown artist.

Opponent: She’s trying her hand at Bantamweight against Vanessa Melo, who lost wide to Irene Aldana but has the counter-punching to exploit Cortez’s lack of striking defense. Cortez’s huge wrestling edge should still carry her to victory, though.

Tape: Her Invicta appearances are on Fight Pass and her “Contender Series” appearance is on ESPN+.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 164 fight card this weekend RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN+“Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the main card portion that will also stream on ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Fight Night 164: “Jacare vs. Blachowicz” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.