The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) card at BB&T Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., this weekend (Sat., April 27, 2019), which will be headlined by a Middleweight showdown between Ronaldo Souza vs. Jack Hermansson, may not have the star power to air on ESPN (details), but it’s chock-full of quality match ups. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where I try to figure out who’ll be the next big thing, we look at a Lightweight guillotine specialist, a Japanese knockout artist, an undefeated Invicta champion, and a “Contender Series” alumnus.
Thomas “The Young Lion” Gifford
Weight Class: Lightweight
Record: 17-7 (3 KO, 13 SUB)
Notable Victories: Wade Johnson, Trey Ogden
“The Young Lion” made his name on the regional scene by taking out multiple hyped prospects, including Wade Johnson, Trey Ogden (twice with the same move), and most recently Jackson-Wink product Chris Brown. He enters UFC unbeaten in his last six fights, the lone blemish a 51-second submission win over Cameron VanCamp that was overturned when Gifford kicked VanCamp’s unconscious body off of him.
The 6’1” Gifford is what would happen if you took Brian Ortega and kinda stretched him out somehow. His aggressive, defensively lax striking is more about forcing opponents to shoot into his sick-nasty guillotine than anything else, and he’s lethal off of his back. His submission skills are legit — he’s got a great squeeze on his guillotine, a nice triangle-armbar sequence, and can move those long limbs surprisingly quickly.
That strategy has its drawbacks. Gifford, though he has a decent jab, tends to overreach with his right hand and leave himself vulnerable to counter punches from shorter opponents. In addition, whether by design or not, he’s extremely easy to take down. Unless you’re a genuine monster on the mat, a strong guard isn’t a viable substitute for takedown defense at the highest levels of the sport.
Gifford’s ceiling doesn’t seem terribly high, but I can see him catching an upset submission or two and picking up some bonuses before his eventual exit from UFC.
Opponent: Gifford’s in tough against fellow prospect Roosevelt Roberts. Roberts is actually the taller of the two at 6’2,” is every bit the guillotine expert Gifford is, and has some strong wrestling on top of that. Further, Roberts’ preference for clinch takedowns over long-range double-legs limits Gifford’s guillotine opportunities. Though a freak submission from “The Young Lion” is possible, Roberts should come out on top.
Weight Class: Welterweight
Record: 14-2 (9 KO, 2 SUB)
Notable Victories: Masayuki Hamagishi, Matt Vaile
Sato — a student of Japanese mixed martial arts (MMA) veteran Ryo Chonan — finally got his first crack at Pancrase gold last July, only to lose a grueling battle with UFC veteran Glaico França. He returned three months later for another wild war with Kiwi prospect, Matt Vaile that saw both men suffer knockdowns before Sato finished him off with ground-and-pound.
Sato is a 5’11” southpaw, bouncing on his feet but standing bolt upright. His weapons of choice are a solid jab and a crisp, powerful straight left he’ll happily throw as a lead. On the inside, he has a knack for sneaky elbows and has some nice knees as well. It’s not a terribly deep arsenal; I haven’t really seen any hooks out of him or much of a kicking game. That said, his punches are quick, he times the elbows well, and there’s clear power in what he dishes out.
As far as wrestling, he prefers clinch takedowns over long-range shots and can unleash some nasty ground-and-pound once he gets on top. His defense isn’t quite as sound, but he’s got strong submission defense and can scramble. He fended off França’s submission game and managed to hurt him badly, only succumbing when his gas tank ran out.
Sato is all offense, and as you might imagine, that means some serious defensive deficiencies. When opponents press forward, he either steps in to meet them or backs straight up with his hands low. Vaile exploited this nicely by stepping in deeper than expected and sending Sato to the mat with an overhand left. His lack of head movement also means he can be clipped in exchanges, which got him knocked out by Kenta Takagi, and it doesn’t look like his chin can support that level of crazy aggression.
I’d say he tops out at “action fighter,” good for a slugfest but never really breaking into the elite. Him against someone like Li Jingliang would be guaranteed violence.
Opponent: Sato faces Ben Saunders, who’s been violently knocked out in three of his last five fights. He could easily overextend and get caught with a knee, but odds are Sato plunks him with a straight left before long.
Tape: You can find a large number of Sato’s Pancrase bouts on Fight Pass
Virna “Carcara” Jandiroba
Weight Class: Strawweight
Record: 14-0 (11 SUB)
Notable Victories: Ericka Almeida, Amy Montenegro, Mizuki Inoue, Janaisa Morandin
Brazil’s Jandiroba tapped Amy Montenegro with a first-round armbar in her Invicta debut, then dominated Mizuki Inoue to claim the promotion’s vacant Strawwight title four months later. She made her first defense in Sept. 2018, choking out Janaisa Morandin midway through the second round.
She steps in for the woman who formerly held her Invicta belt, Livinha Souza, on short notice.
Jandiroba is a powerhouse wrestler with terrific top control, a combination that could have her in UFC title contention before long. She’s got versatile takedown entries, good clinchwork, good guard passing, and excellent balance. She’s not one to lose position chasing submission, either; more than half of her finishes have come by rear naked choke and she seems to prioritize advancement over quick-kill subs. Once she gets in range, odds are you’re headed to the mat and staying there for the rest of the round.
Getting there’s the problem.
Jandiroba just doesn’t seem comfortable on her feet. There’s not much to her standup besides a jab and a slow, looping right hand. Inoue touched her up repeatedly with tight jabs and crosses, and if Jandiroba finally runs into someone she can’t take down, she’s in for a long night. Considering the monsters lurking at the top of the division, she’ll need to make some rapid improvements.
Opponent: Jandiroba meets the inaugural UFC Strawweight champion, Carla Esparza. Esparza’s the better striker by a fair margin and the wrestling should be about even — I have Esparza winning this, but Jandiroba’s a threat, even on short notice.
Tape: Her three Invicta appearances are on Fight Pass.
Mike “Beast Boy” Davis
Weight Class: Lightweight
Record: 7-1 (6 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: None
Davis was the A-side on “Contender Series,” entering the bout as a significant favorite, but struggled with the power of Sodiq Yusuff en route to a unanimous decision loss. He returned to Island Fights to pick up a pair of stoppages, then answered the call when Eric Wisely wasn’t medically cleared.
There’s a lot to like about Davis. His offensive boxing is excellent, buoyed by a ramrod jab and quality body work. He’s also got a nasty Brazilian kick and step-in knee that make excellent use of his 6’0” frame. When he’s on, he’s shown solid head movement and an ability to blend his wrestling with his strikes, though his top control looks like it could use work.
Also, I’m like 99 percent sure the “M” tattooed on the back of his neck is the Majin symbol from Dragon Ball Z, so he’s good in my book.
He’s a patient, powerful stalker who definitely looks UFC-ready. The one major liability is what allowed Yusuff to have so much success. Davis doesn’t maintain range when he’s on the attack and doesn’t always take his head off the centerline, making him vulnerable to catch-and-pitch counters. If an opponent plants their feet and trades, he’s there to be hit. He also doesn’t check leg kicks, which led to issues when Yusuff targeted his calf.
I also want to mention that he turned in a poor performance in his first fight after Yusuff, wading in with his chin high and getting repeatedly tagged by a 5’7” opponent on a five-fight losing streak. I think it may have just been a bad night, but it’s worth keeping in mind.
The talent is definitely there, though. I can see him making a solid run at 155 or 145.
Opponent: Said run will not start smoothly. He faces Gilbert Burns on short notice, and there are few debut opponents less welcoming than “Durinho.” The Brazilian hits like a tank, is colossal for the weight, and has legitimately world-class jiu-jitsu to back it up. Davis hits hard enough to hurt him, but his defensive issues and the side difference have me thinking Burns takes his head off before the end of the first.
Tape: Davis’ Island Fights appearances are on Fight Pass.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 150 fight card tomorrow, starting with the ESPN2 “Prelims” undercard bouts at 5:30 p.m. ET, followed by the ESPN “Prelims” at 7 p.m. ET, before the ESPN+ main card start time of 9 p.m. ET.
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