An international Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) card starting at a time more convenient for the locals than the American viewers? That means fresh faces! On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where I swear perpetual vengeance on the injury bug, we check out two undefeated strikers and the cousin of Khabib Nurmagomedov, all of whom will be competing at UFC Fight Night 163 in Moscow, Russia, tomorrow afternoon (Nov. 9, 2019).
Shamil “Umar” Gamzatov
Weight Class: Middleweight/Light Heavyweight
Record: 13-0 (5 KO, 5 SUB)
Notable Victories: Rodney Wallace, Eddie Gordon, Rex Harris
Gamzatov made his World Series of Fighting (WSOF) debut in impressive fashion via first-round knockout of Teddy Holder, and after a win over UFC vet Rodney Wallace in his native Russia, returned to the newly renamed Professional Fighters League for its 2018 Middleweight tournament. Comfortable decisions over Eddie Gordon and Jeff Harris brought him to the playoffs, only for injury to force his withdrawal.
As a result, this will be his first fight in almost 15 months.
Seeing Gamzatov, you can tell he’s a former Light Heavyweight — he’s a solid, imposing figure at 6’2,” marching flat-footed across the cage and throwing with visible oomph. His standard modus operandi is to fire a constant stream of low kicks while backing them up with a capable jab and combinations. Despite generally pushing forward, he’s adept on the counter with his jab and hook and can do damage with knees when opponents get inside of his reach.
Though powerful, he has a major flaw that will keep him out of title contention: everything his throws is so stiff and deliberate that he lacks speed and fluidity. His habit of gassing sometime late in the second round is likely a byproduct of this, and it combines with his tendency to lead with naked kicks to leave him open to takedowns.
He’s not helpless off of his back, but it’s not where he wants to be.
Gamzatov needs to shore up his gas tank and learn to loosen up if he wants to make an impression in the Octagon. As is, he’s going to run into serious trouble against opponents who make him work.
Opponent: Klidson Abreu hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in his UFC fights with Magomed Ankalaev and Sam Alvey, but his size and grappling skill pose a serious problem for Gamzatov. “Umar” will need to show some improvement to get past him, or at the very least to get past him impressively.
Tape: His PFL appearances are on ESPN+.
Weight Class: Middleweight
Record: 8-0 (7 KO)
Notable Victories: Abdulsupyan Alikhanov, Yasubey Enomoto
Kopylov has not gone the distance since his 2016 professional debut, stopping all comers in notable Russian promotions like ACB and Fight Nights Global. He claimed the latter’s Middleweight title in 2018 with a fourth-round finish of champion Alikhanov, then put away dangerous veteran Yasubey Enomoto with a body shot in his first defense.
He was originally set to debut in April against Krzysztof Jotko, but was forced out because of injury.
Watching Kopylov in action, it’s not surprising to learn that he won multiple titles in hand-to-hand combat. He’s a super-crisp southpaw striker, relying on good feints and a versatile jab to set up two- and three-punch combinations punctuated by powerful round kicks. His head kick is particularly nasty, and combined with the check hook he looks for when pressured, I’m reminded somewhat of one of my favorite Welterweights, Albert Tumenov. He’s equally effective at long and close range, too, using an adept forearm guard to parry incoming fire that he can’t out-space, and has a sneaky spinning back kick alongside the rest of his dangerous body attack.
His takedown defense is equally impressive; even perfectly timing a shot underneath his combinations isn’t enough to guarantee success, and he’s quick to rise if you do somehow bring him to the mat. A kickboxer with the defensive wrestling to throw with impunity is a scary thing to deal with.
As far as negatives, he’s got power but isn’t much of a one-shot artist, generally stopping people after the midway point of the second round. In addition, he can lose composure when he starts to tire, leaving him open to incoming fire. Against Alikhanov, that didn’t happen until the championship rounds, though he did burn himself out early in the second against Enomoto. To his credit, he managed his remaining energy extremely well on his way to a fourth-round finish, so he’s nowhere near done even if he slows.
Opponent: Kopylov has the most interesting debut of the three, facing former kickboxing Karl Roberson. Roberson has leaned heavily on his wrestling in UFC, but will be forced into an entertaining stand up battle with the Russian sharpshooter. I favor Kopylov by a hair; regardless, whoever wins, it’ll be fun to watch.
Weight Class: Welterweight
Record: 15-2-1 (6 KO, 4 SUB)
Notable Victories: John Howard, Matt Secor, Jonatan Westin
The cousin of UFC Lightweight champion Khabib, Nurmagomedov entered the 2018 PFL season 14-1, the lone loss a cut stoppage to Magomed Mustafaev in a fight Nurmagomedov was winning. Pavel Kusch scored a massive upset in the second round of their bout, and though Nurmagomedov secured a playoff spot by beating Jonatan Westin and advanced via draw with Bojan Velickovic, a hand injury sent him home.
He’s not fought in more than one year.
Compared to the explosive Khabib, Abubakar is a fairly composed and patient fighter who uses crisp striking technique to set up his takedowns. He’s got a nice southpaw jab, a left behind it that he can throw either straight or looping, and some low kicks he used to good effect against the orthodox Kusch. In addition to his defensive range management and ability to strike from either stance, albeit with greater success from southpaw, he does a solid job of punching his way into takedowns without getting predictable.
Though it’s not eye-catching or all that powerful, it’s more than good enough to set up his wrestling. His only real bad habit on the feet is a tendency to dip his head when he throws the straight left; Kusch caught wind of it and managed to clip him with a knee and uppercuts, setting up a fight-ending submission. That tendency wasn’t as obvious in his most recent fights, though, so he may be aware of and working on it.
When you hear “Nurmagomedov,” you think “wrestling,” and Abubakar’s definitely got that. His arsenal includes reactive takedowns, caught kicks, chain wrestling, and straight-up double legs, all executed with speed and precision. It’s not as otherworldly as Khabib’s, of course, but it’s certainly UFC-caliber. What he does after the takedown, though, is a little disappointing. His ground-and-pound is nothing special, neither destructive nor particularly dynamic. He was content to just land short shots on Westin and Velickovic after bringing them down, a far cry from his cousin’s carpet-bombing.
Plus, his cardio might be a wee bit iffy.
Overall, he’s not champion material, nor is he particularly fun to watch. He is, however, skilled enough to at least crack the top 15 with some favorable matchmaking.
Opponent: David Zawada is a far better finisher than Nurmagomedov, but a lesser fighter overall. The Dagestani should be able to hold his own on the feet and wrestle his way out of any rough striking patches that arise.
Tape: His PFL appearances are on ESPN+.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 163 fight card this weekend RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN+“Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. ET, then the main card portion that will also stream on ESPN+ at 2 p.m. ET.
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