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UFC 239 - New Blood: Enter the ‘Raging Panda’

Despite being the original UFC women’s division, Bantamweight has found itself in a rut, with many of its notable figures dropping to 125, aging out of relevance, or simply not posing a threat to the seemingly unstoppable Amanda Nunes. Luckily, a fresh face hits the Octagon this Saturday in Las Vegas. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where I grow increasingly frustrated by ESPN+ keeping archived fights off of Fight Pass, we look at Invicta standout Julia Avila.

***Side note: Marlon Vera got a late-notice opponent, so he’s on the board as well.

Julia “Raging Panda” Avila

Weight Class: Bantamweight
Age: 31
Record: 6-1 (3 KO, 1 SUB)
Significant Victories: Marion Reneau, Nicco Montaño

Avila debuted in 2012 with a decision over future UFC competitor Marion Reneau, but didn’t make her sophomore appearance until 2016. Four professional victories earned her a spot in Invicta FC, where she debuted against future The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) competitor Marciea Allen and suffered a gruesome compound fracture in her finger less than one minute into the fight. She rebounded with a knockout on the regional circuit, then stopped Alexa Conners upon her return to the Invicta cage.

As I said in my “Prelims” analysis (read it), Avila is the most interesting new addition to the division next to Macy Chiasson and Aspen Ladd. “Raging Panda” lives up to at least the first part of her nickname, constantly advancing and looking to unload rapid punching flurries. Though her technique can suffer when she gets too aggressive, she puts her shots together well, using a one-two combination on the outside and some sneaky uppercuts in close.

She really shines against the fence, though, burying opponents in a swarm of knees and elbows alongside point-blank punches. To make matters worse for her opponents, she has the gas tank to match that frenetic pace — she finished Conners in the waning seconds of the second round and looked every bit as fresh as when she started.

The concern on that front, as I said, is her tendency to get so aggressive that she loses crispness. In that rebound fight against Ashley Deen, she was delightfully efficient with her onslaught. Against Conners, she came out like she was trying to make a point, committing hard to one-two combinations to close the gap and flurrying with reckless abandon. It worked, clearly, and there aren’t that many brutal punchers at the weight to punish her, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Also, she doesn’t seem to check leg kicks.

Though her offensive wrestling doesn’t seem like anything special, her takedown defense looks solid. Montaño only managed a few seconds of top control over the first four rounds of their fight, and though she hit a solid takedown into side control in the final round, she was unable to do anything with it.

Between her aggression, power and technique, Avila is a breath of fresh air in a terribly stagnant division, and I’m quite looking forward to seeing what she can do.

Opponent: Avila had an easy task ahead of her in Melissa Gatto, but instead fights TUF veteran Pannie Kianzad, who steps up on less than two weeks’ notice. Kianzad is a strong boxer with decent wrestling in her back pocket, which ought to make for an entertaining fight. Between the short notice and Kianzad’s inconsistency, though, Avila looks like a safe pick.

Tape: Her Invicta appearances are on Fight Pass.

Nohelin “Suave” Hernandez

Weight Class: Bantamweight
Age: 25
Record: 9-2 (3 KO)
Significant Victories: Martin Day, Josh San Diego, Kyle Reyes

American Kickboxing Academy’s “Suave” enters the Octagon on a four-fight win streak, taking home victories in quality promotions like Tachi Palace Fights, Bellator and Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA). He’s won six of his last seven overall, the sole loss among them coming against Hawaiian prospect Vince Cachero.

He replaces Sean O’Malley — who had another run-in with United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) — on just four days’ notice (details).

A rangy, 5’10” Bantamweight with a 72-inch reach, Hernandez is a boxer by trade, firing off three- or four-punch combinations at distance. He’s happy to plant his feet and trade rather than potshot his way to victory, and I reckon he hits harder than that paltry finishing percentage would suggest.

Though that willingness to exchange makes him fun to watch, it’s also his biggest weakness. In addition to getting caught with strikes in transition, Hernandez tends to leave his chin stationary when firing combinations and has a bad habit of getting dropped; Cachero downed him three times in one round and his other professional loss came when a technically inferior opponent clipped him and choked him out. He looks to be one of those Eddie Alvarez types who’s easy to hurt, but difficult to actually knockout, at least, but that won’t save him from opportunistic submission artists.

I haven’t seen all that much of his grappling, but no red flags stood out — his submission loss came after getting rocked on the feet, so I don’t see it as necessarily an indictment of his Brazilian jiu-jitsu. His takedown defense held up against Cachero in the first round of their fight, at least, and his long frame allows him to dish out heavy ground-and-pound even from the guard. No clue on his own takedowns, though; in fact, the two times I saw him on top were from a knockdown and a slip, respectively.

Opponent: He’s up against Marlon Vera, whom I believed was in serious trouble against O’Malley. Hernandez looks to be a more beatable opponent — lacking O’Malley’s funky movement or one-shot power, he’s far more vulnerable to Vera’s kickboxing offense. Worse, he’s not hard to drop, while Vera has walked through shots from sluggers like John Lineker and Douglas Andrade without flinching. I expect Vera to either take a clear decision or choke out Hernandez after flooring him.

Tape: Global KnockOut won’t let me embed, so just search Hernandez’s name on YouTube.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 239 fight card this weekend, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:15 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 on ESPN+.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 239: “Jones vs. Santos” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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