Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) goes international once again this weekend (June 1, 2019), and as expected, that means a slew of fresh faces making their first Octagon walks. Though UFC Fight Night 153 (a.k.a. UFC on ESPN+ 11) takes place inside Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden, we’ve got a variety pack of newcomers. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where I spend entirely too much of my life trying to find the Next Big Thing, we look at a Korean brawler, a Russian kickboxer, a Kurdish bruiser, a Brazilian slugger, and an Italian grinder.
Sung Bin “Korean Falcon” Jo
Weight Class: Featherweight
Record: 9-0 (5 KO, 4 SUB)
Significant Victories: Yoshifumi Nakamura
Jo has spent his entire mixed martial arts (MMA) career on the Asian circuit, racking up wins in China’s Kunlun Fight and his native Korea’s TFC. His last fight saw him take on Korean Zombie protege Jun Young Hong and survive a quickly-compromised leg to score an impressive fourth-round finish and claim the interim TFC Featherweight belt.
Korean UFC signings have almost exclusively been stifling grapplers or hard-nosed sluggers, and Jo is firmly in the latter category. A hulking Featherweight at 5’11,” the “Korean Falcon” is a patient, stalking power-puncher. He’ll pressure with heavy blows or plant his feet to catch opponents as they throw, leaning on his iron chin to stay in the pocket and trade power shots. He’s not terribly wild, thankfully, though he throws pretty much everything with full hip rotation, prioritizing power over speed.
He doesn’t seem inclined to initiate the wrestling, but his takedown defense looked fairly solid against Yoshifumi Nakamura. It helped that Jo had an eight-inch height advantage, though, and Nakamura didn’t set up his shots particularly well. It doesn’t look to be a liability, but I’d still like to see it tested.
Jo’s issues, as you’d imagine, are almost purely defensive outside of his lack of a jab. Like fellow Korean bruiser Hyun Gyu Lim, besides his willingness to knuckle down and trade bombs to the head, Jo doesn’t check leg kicks. Hong forced Jo to switch to southpaw after just two rounds of low kicks, and though Jo is serviceable from that stance, he was on his way to a one-sided decision loss before catching Hong with a nasty right hand and powering through the pain for the finish.
I don’t expect him to reach the heights of Chan Sung Jung, but Jo could find a niche for himself as an entertaining action fighter hovering in the middle of the Featherweight division. I can definitely see him racking up a ton of post-fight bonuses with the proper matchmaking.
Opponent: Jo takes on a willing striker in Daniel Teymur, who’s winless (0-3) in his Octagon career. Teymur is faster than Jo and a fair bit crisper on the feet, but has struggled with cardio. I’d call this a toss-up, as Teymur could certainly outclass Jo standing if he paces himself and Jo has the durability to take over late if he doesn’t.
Sergey “Honda” Khandozhko
Weight Class: Welterweight
Record: 25-5-1 (10 KO, 7 SUB)
Significant Victories: Stanislav Vlasenko
Khandozhko smashed his way to a 21-1-1 start in his MMA career, the only loss in that span coming to one of Russia’s best in Eduard Vartanyan. He went 3-4 in his next seven, including a submission loss to UFC veteran Benny Alloway, but enters the Octagon on a two-fight winning streak.
Khandozhko is a remarkably fast kickboxer, boasting a nasty right cross and left switch kick that he can unleash with very little warning. His last fight saw him score a knockout via spinning back kick and he owns a five-second head kick KO from that switch kick, catching Mauricio Machado as the Brazilian ducked in. I don’t think he’s a huge one-punch hitter, but he makes up for it with his speed and still has some noteworthy pop.
Though I’ve heard him described as having a wrestling background, takedown defense is Khandozhko’s obvious Achilles’ heel; I feel like he was either on his back or defending against the fence in half the footage I saw of him. He reacts well to the initial shot, but persistent chain wrestling is a serious issue for him. That said, he makes a genuine effort to get off of his back and has shown some trips of his own.
I should also mention that he was visibly worn out after two hard rounds of grappling with Vlasenko; it wouldn’t surprise me if his technical issues defending takedowns make him expend more energy than he should.
Khandozhko’s a good enough striker to hang with a solid chunk of the Welterweight division, but I don’t see him breaking into the top 15 with the heaps of wrestlers lurking near the top.
Opponent: Khandozhko was booked to fight Bartosz Fabinski, whose entire gameplan is spamming takedowns. He would have lost that one big, but might have more success against the skilled-but-unproven Rostem Akman. I expect an entertaining fight out of these two and am leaning towards Khandozhko’s speed and experience.
Rostem “Kurdimus Prime” Akman
Weight Class: Welterweight
Record: 5-0 (4 KO, 1 SUB)
Significant Victories: None
Akman enjoyed a prolific and successful amateur career, winning several tournaments in the unpaid ranks. He’s spent nearly his entire pro career in his native Sweden under the Superior Challenge banner, finishing all of his opponents along the way.
He replaces Poland’s Bartosz Fabinski on around a week’s notice.
Akman’s fights in Superior Challenge are on FITE, but you can only watch them by buying the par-per-views in their entirety. As much as I love what I do, I’m not going to shell out three months’ worth of Fight Pass to watch three fights. I’ve thus had to make do with his amateur footage.
Akman’s best skill seems to be his wrestling; he times his entries well and is good at passing the guard as he lands. Based on a highlight reel I’ve seen, though, he’s gotten more comfortable keeping it standing as a professional. He’s clearly got heavy hands, though he’s not much for jabbing. He’s also, I want to mention, arguably the hairiest man to enter the Octagon since Dave Herman’s historically hirsute showing against Stefan Struve.
That’s all I got, really. I’ll hold off on a prognosis until after his UFC debut.
Opponent: As mentioned above, he’s fighting Sergey Khandozhko, so scroll back up for the analysis.
Duda “Cowboyzinha” Santana
Weight Class: Featherweight
Record: 3-0 (1 KO)
Significant Victories: None
Santana, a protégé of Alex “Cowboy” Oliveira, picked up her first three pro victories in the span of nine months, setting up a Contender Series: Brazil appearance opposite Luana Carolina. Santana round up running into visa issues, making this her first fight in nearly 18 months.
Don’t expect Oliveira’s earth-shaking power or penchant for off-the-wall violence out of Santana. She’s a plodding puncher, offering flicking snap kicks and a solid 1-2 at range and slow-but-effective knees on the inside; the rest of her punches are too wild to be effective at this point. She doesn’t really commit to either the jab or the kick, but there’s some pop in the right cross and she’s shown good timing on the knees.
Though she hasn’t shown much of her wrestling game, she did briefly end up on top in her recent fight and committed to some heavy hammerfists; considering “Cowboy’s” destructive ground-and-pound, I can imagine that being an effective part of her game.
Besides being fairly slow, Santana remains unpolished, which isn’t surprising considering her age and limited experience. She’ll plant her feet and throw with her chin straight up when she’s got someone against the fence, leaving her open to whatever overhands or hooks come back her way. Her preference for the straight right should theoretically allow her to outspace the return fire, but she doesn’t have proper distance management yet. She actually got visibly rocked in her last fight by a 1-2 opponent, and while the UFC Women’s Featherweight division is a wasteland, some of its denizens hit scary hard.
Santana wouldn’t be UFC-ready in any other division, though she shows a bit of promise. Luckily for her, most of her compatriots in the division are in the same boat.
Opponent: Santana welcomes one-and-done The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 28 competitor Bea Malecki to the Octagon. Malecki’s the more technical striker by a fair margin and the level elbow she’s fond of could work well against a stationary target. Santana’s the busier of the two, though, and after Malecki’s struggles on the fence against Leah Letson on TUF, I can see Santana outworking her with pressure and clinch knees.
Danilo “Caterpillar” Belluardo
Weight Class: Lightweight
Record: 12-3 (6 KO, 3 SUB)
Significant Victories: None
Belluardo hit a 1-3 slump not far into his pro career, starting with a ground-and-pound loss to the dangerous AJ McKee in his sole Bellator appearance and ending with two consecutive (T)KO defeats. He’s since gone 6-0, ending four of those bouts in the first round and claiming the Venator FC Lightweight title last March with a decision over Denilson Neves.
“Caterpillar” sits down on his punches and looks to have a bit of pop, but generally doesn’t prefer to spend too long on the feet. He’s got pretty, well-timed level changes in center cage and capable chain wrestling against the fence. On the mat, he’s more a ground-and-pounder than a submission specialist despite a solid back attack, and though he struggled to do more than grind against Neves, he’s proven able to do real damage when he can get his ground striking going.
His defensive wrestling looks fairly stout; while two of his three TKO defeats came from ground-and-pound, he was able to quickly get back to his feet in more recent efforts and generally hold his own as far as clinch positioning.
Belluardo still needs to show what he can do against someone he can’t consistently take down; his striking doesn’t look terrible, but he did get clipped and stopped by Stefano Paterno in a fight he was dominating when he tried to trade. In addition, he tends to leave his neck out during takedowns; Neves had a couple of decent-looking guillotine attempts he couldn’t finish, which is cause for concern against UFC-caliber submission artists.
Opponent: Joel Alvarez welcomes opponents’ takedowns as a means of utilizing his front chokes and guard game and Belluardo looks like he’ll oblige. That said, it’s a toss-up on the feet and Alvarez’s willingness to stay on his back doesn’t mesh well with the pain Belluardo can inflict from the top. It looks to be a 50-50 match up.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 153 fight card this weekend right here, starting with the ESPN 2 “Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. ET, then the main card portion that will stream on ESPN+ (7-day free trial here) at 1 p.m. ET.
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