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UFC 234 - New Blood: Three newbies rise in ‘Land Down Under’

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia, this Saturday (Feb. 9, 2019) for its first pay-per-view (PPV) event of the year, but despite the location, two of the three Octagon newcomers are actually Brazilian. In this latest installment of “New Blood,” the column where I try to get you to care about fighters you’ve never heard of, we’ll break down a “Contender Series” standout, a Dollar Store Anderson Silva, and a late notice grappling standout.

Raulian Paiva

Weight Class: Flyweight
Age: 23
Record: 18-1 (3 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: Iliarde Santos, Allan Nascimento

Paiva, whom Tapology had listed as Brazil’s No. 1-ranked Flyweight not signed to a major promotion, enters the Octagon on a 12-fight win streak, including a 58-second knockout of Octagon vet Iliarde Santos. Said knockout led to an appearance on “Contender Series,” where he edged Allan Nascimento via entertaining split decision.

What struck me about Paiva is, well, what didn’t strike me, as obtuse as that sounds. He’s a come-forward slugger, endlessly aggressive with his hands, but not a standout technician. The only area where he really shines is in his takedown defense, which is downright insane. Nascimento made a bevy of well-timed entries, but Paiva was able to either stuff or scramble out of all of them. This guy is built to destroy grapplers, and I can see him handling even UFC-caliber ground specialists.

The problem right now is his lack of stopping power, to which his record attests. It’s not for lack of trying — Paiva throws with everything he’s got. He just can’t seem to generate bludgeoning force despite clearly putting his weight behind his punches. I’ve seen fighters grow into their power, so to speak, and that’s definitely still a possibility for the 23-year-old. Still, he’s going to have issues with opponents willing to plant their feet and slug it out.

Opponent: The Flyweight division may be short on true knockout artists, but unfortunately for Paiva, Kai Kara-France definitely fits the bill. Paiva’s headed for a firefight against a far bigger hitter, and though he has the durability edge, I don’t think he packs enough heat to keep Kara-France honest and his rushes put him in the line of fire. Rogerio Bontorin surprised me last week, so anything is possible, but I think Kara-France levels him.


Marcos “Dhalsim” Mariano

Weight Class: Lightweight
Age: 32
Record: 6-4 (2 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: None

Mariano enters the Octagon with wins in four of his last five fights, including two victories in less than one minute apiece. As befits his nickname, he stands an imposing 6’1” (6’2” if you round up).

The Brazilian looks a hell of a lot like Anderson Silva, but the resemblance ends when he enters the cage. He uses his rangy limbs to hurl one-two combinations and look for the Thai plum when opponents close the distance. He looks like he has decent leg kicks as well, though he doesn’t bother to set them up.

Unfortunately, his ground game is nonexistent. Indeed, he was taken down and positionally dominated with ease in his most recent bout with a competent opponent, ultimately tapping to an armbar in the second round.

Frankly, this is one of the most undeserved signings I’ve seen in a while. I’ve seen guys step into the Octagon with terrible grappling before, but Mariano’s striking isn’t entertaining enough to make up for it. He’s just very tall and very mediocre. This is a guy whom I would tab as an underdog against John Gunther.

Opponent: As far as I can tell, Mariano was brought in as cannon fodder for the eternally underachieving Lando Vannata. Vannata can have an extremely easy night if he focuses on takedowns, but knowing Lando, we’ll probably wind up with a slugfest regardless.


Callan “The Rockstar” Potter

Weight Class: Lightweight
Age: 34
Record: 17-7 (6 KO, 10 SUB)
Notable Victories: Jack Becker

Potter’s picked up belts in a handful of Australian promotions during his nearly eight-year-long professional career, which started 2-3. He’s won nine of his last 10, the loss a heel hook courtesy of UFC and Bellator veteran Marcin Held. He replaces the injured Alex Gorgees on short notice.

“The Rockstar” is a big lad at 6’1,” but though he packs some decent pop with his kicks and right hand when slugging from the outside, his goal is to get in on his opponent’s hips and work for trips. He’s a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with a wide array of choke finishes to his credit, and while he’s found himself in bad spots before, he’s generally quite effective on the mat. He is, unfortunately, held back by so-so wrestling.

He’s held back even more by his striking defense, in that he doesn’t seem to have any. Opponents can step inside of his range and throw heat with relative impunity, and his chin has repeatedly failed him in the past. He’s pulled off a couple of comebacks after getting staggered, but that’s not a tenable strategy.

The fact that he’s only gone the distance once in 24 fights means he might be able to find a niche as an action fighter for Australian/NZ cards, like a newer model of Damien Brown. I certainly don’t see him making a strong run, though.

Opponent: I will say this: he has more of a chance against Jalin Turner than Gorgees did. Potter is a legitimate submission threat, while Gorgees is just kind of bad. It’s still not much of a chance — Turner hits like a truck and is even taller than Potter. Any outcome that isn’t Turner laying Potter out in less than five minutes would surprise me.


Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 234 fight card on fight night, 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 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 234: “Whittaker vs. Gastelum” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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