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UFC Fight Night 156 - New Blood: A grappling God and the next big Heavyweight

UFC Fight Night Shevchenko v Carmouche 2: Ultimate Media Day Photo by Alexandre Schneider /Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) touches down in Montevideo, Uruguay, for the first time in its history this Saturday (Aug. 10, 2019), bringing with it a mixed batch of newcomers. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where I struggle to come up with neat segues every week, we check out a pair of Latin American finishers, a Brazilian knockout artist, one of the world’s greatest grapplers, and a man who might be the next big thing at Heavyweight.

Luiz Eduardo Garagorri

Weight Class: Featherweight
Age: 30
Record: 12-0 (4 KO, 6 SUB)
Significant Victories: None

The only Uruguayan on this UFC Uruguay card, Garagorri enters the Octagon on the heels of six consecutive first-round finishes. He was set to enter this Professional Fight League (PFL) season as an injury replacement against promotional standout Andre Harrison, but was injured himself shortly before fight night.

Garagorri looks to be a powerful, highly aggressive striker by trade. He switches stances as he presses forward, looking for hard low kicks and rapid punching combinations that have more venom than that 33 percent knockout rate would suggest. He’s also shown surprisingly solid cardio for how much he puts into his shots and has shown some offensive wrestling chops to mix up things.

Unfortunately, he’s got two major issues. For one, his takedown defense looks fairly porous, which isn’t surprising considering how hard he commits to his strikes. He hasn’t shown much of a bottom game, either, so he can’t compensate by scrambling up or hitting submissions.

The other issue is that he’s 100 percent untested. He’s fought just three people with winning records and is coming off of consecutive wins over debuting fighters. It’s hard to get a bead on someone’s skills when they’re so rarely used against warm bodies.

Overall, he looks to be good for a few fun brawls, but don’t expect him to make any inroads into the division’s upper echelon anytime soon.

Opponent: Humberto Bandenay, who has dropped two straight since a stunning upset knockout of Martin Bravo in his promotional debut. It’s a coin flip, but I favor Garagorri — Bandenay faded against Austin Arnett and Garagorri looks like he can chuck heat for three hard rounds.


Rodolfo “The Black Belt Hunter” Vieira

Weight Class: Middleweight
Age: 29
Record: 5-0 (1 KO, 4 SUB)
Significant Victories: Vitaliy Nemchinov

One of the all-time greats of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Vieira owns four World Championships, five World Cup golds, a European championship, and an ADCC title. That’s not even mentioning nine medals in the Absolute divisions of those events, or the fact that five of his 10 grappling losses came against rival and fellow great Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida.

He’s been similarly dominant in mixed martial arts (MMA) so far, defeating four of his five opponents in the first round. His most recent bout saw him tap undefeated (10-0) Vitaliy Nemchinov in little more than two minutes.

It’s been fascinating to see how different jiu-jitsu greats adapt their games to MMA. Demian Maia adopted a takedown-at-all-costs style that has served him well, while Ryan Hall uses the threat of his ground game to throw basically whatever high-risk strike seems appealing at the moment. Vieira seems to be an opportunist, circling and staying patient until a takedown opportunity presents itself. Against another strong grappler in Alexander Neufang, he blended a one-two combination into a clean double-leg takedown. Against Jacob Holyman-Tague, he took advantage of a flurry to drag it to the mat. Against Nemchinov, he hit a blast double after a lengthy lull.

As a result, he hasn’t shown all that much striking for me to analyze. His one-two combination looks nice, but he’s been dinged several times at range and in close. He hasn’t been in trouble or anything, though.

In addition to solid wrestling technique, Vieira’s ground game has transitioned beautifully to mixed martial arts. He shreds guards, uses his impeccable balance to deliver nasty punches, and can take the back with incredible ease before locking up a rear-naked choke. I was also impressed to see him understand some of the nuances of fighting in the cage; Holyman-Tague managed to wall-walk up a couple of times, so Vieira made sure to pull him away from the fence before making his move to the back.

Besides maybe “Jacare” Souza, Vieira’s unmatched on the ground in UFC’s Middleweight division and looks to have a sufficiently rounded striking/wrestling game to make it work. I can see him hitting the Top 15 in three to four fights.

Opponent: Vieira fights a capable black belt in Oskar Piechota. Piechota’s shown some heavy hands and solid wrestling in the Octagon, making him a tricky foe, but is coming off of his first career loss after gassing against Gerald Meerschaert. Though the Pole is a live dog, Vieira should have the skills to drag him down and overpower him on the mat.


Ciryl “Bon Gamin” Gane

Weight Class: Heavyweight
Age: 28
Record: 3-0 (3 KO)
Significant Victories: Roggers Souza, Adam Dyczka

A Muay Thai standout and training partner of Francis Ngannou, Gane challenged for the TKO Heavyweight title in just his second professional MMA fight, knocking out promotional veteran Adam Dyczka in two brutal rounds. His first defense eight months later saw him flatten Brazilian standout Roggers Souza to earn a spot in the Octagon.

For my money, Gane is the most interesting addition to UFC’s Heavyweight roster since Ngannou himself. His striking is downright beautiful to watch; despite being 6’5”, 241 pounds, he’s incredibly light on his feet, darting in and out with straight punches and jabs from either stance. His 83-inch reach allows him to comfortably stay out of opponents’ lines of fire until he closes the distance, bolstered by solid head movement and counter-punching. He’s got a huge arsenal, all of which is thrown with razor-sharp technique, and he mixes things up beautifully.

Best of all, he’s got the cardio to keep his movement-heavy style going for a while. He hit Dyczka with absolutely everything and still had enough in the tank to move decently late in the second round, though admittedly he was a little heavier on his feet.

If he’s a beast on the outside, he’s an absolute terror at close range. His knees are some of the nicest I’ve seen in the cage since Alistair Overeem was wrecking fools left and right and he does an incredible job of attacking with hooks, elbows, knees, and uppercuts in patterns designed to constantly slip around or through opponent’s guards. The Dyczka fight in particular was a masterclass in dismantling someone who’s covering up.

Plus, since he’s a Nak Muay Farang, he’s got some trips to further disorient reeling opposition.

The million-dollar question, of course, is his takedown defense. I don’t have an answer — he was too busy beating the snot out of Dyczka and Souza for them to really try taking him down. Seeing as Ngannou’s proven nightmarishly difficult to wrangle, he’s definitely in a good place to learn.

If Gane can keep a fight standing, he’s a match for anyone in UFC. Pretty much the only issues I can see are that he tends to throw his uppercut from too far out and could theoretically get caught entering the pocket in a straight line. Keep an eye on this guy.

Opponent: Raphael Pessoa, whom he was supposed to fight in March, looks to be a decent bruiser with at least something of a ground game. Gane has him badly out-classed on the feet and should get a highlight-reel finish so long as he has any semblance of defensive grappling.

Tape: His fight with Dyczka is on Fight Pass.

Raphael Pessoa

Weight Class: Heavyweight
Age: 30
Record: 9-0 (6 KO, 1 SUB)
Significant Victories: Brian Heden, Wagner Maia

“Bebezao” fought an impressive seven times in 2017 before making his first stateside appearance in Nov. 2018 with a knockout of journeyman Brian Heden under the LFA banner. His efforts earned him a shot at Cyril Gane’s TKO Heavyweight title early this year, but he was among the insane number of injured fighters who forced the promotion to cancel the event.

Anytime there’s a large number of newbies, there’s always at least one with practically no footage, and this time it’s Pessoa. Fight Pass’s Shooto Brasil archive ends before his fight with Wagner Maia, one of only two men he’s beaten with a winning record, and all I could find of the Heden fight was highlights.

Then again, that fight lasted all of 99 seconds, so the highlights actually comprised a decent portion.

Pessoa’s a heavy-handed slugger with powerful leg kicks and a tendency to swing wild with his chin in the air. According to an interview he gave before the Heden fight, he took down Maia multiple times, so he clearly has at least some wrestling chops. That’s about all I’ve got; he’s less than three years into his pro career and looks to have some decent physical tools. He could be a problem in a year or two with proper coaching, but as-is, he’s a fairly run-of-the-mill brawler who looks like he’ll either knock out or get knocked out by whoever he fights in the Octagon.

Opponent: See above.


Rodrigo “Kazula” Vargas

Weight Class: Lightweight
Age: 33
Record: 11-2 (7 KO, 3 SUB)
Significant Victories: Jordan Williams, Mike De La Torre

Following a submission loss to Jose Caceres in 2013, Vargas rattled off four consecutive stoppage victories, among them a first-round finish of future two-time “Contender Series” competitor Jordan Williams. A split decision loss to Marco Antonio Elpidio slowed his roll, but he’s since won a decision over Danny Ramirez and knocked out UFC veteran Mike De La Torre in just 18 seconds.

This will be the first fight in 16 months for “Kazula,” who steps in for the injured Rafael Fiziev on less than two weeks’ notice.

Despite that lopsided knockout/submission ratio, Vargas seems to do his best work on the ground. The Mexican southpaw favors trips in the clinch over long-range shots, after which he passes guard well and unleashes ground-and-pound. Though he’s been taken down himself, he immediately threatens sweeps and looks to stand rather than accept the position or hunt for fruitless submissions. A strong guillotine, which accounts for two of his three submission victories, also serves as a decent deterrent.

His striking looks decent overall, though not as eye-catching as his ground work. In addition to natural speed, he’s got nice kicks and looks to have solid power in his hands. He showed some countering skills against Elpidio alongside his

The only real weakness I see in him is cardio — Elpidio took over their fight in the last two rounds once Vargas burned himself out defending takedowns and scrambling back to his feet. With the majority of Vargas’ finishes coming in the first round, it’s a definite question mark. Overall, I can see Vargas doing decently well for himself in the Octagon. Comparing him to his Latin American peers, I can see him peaking maybe a little below Enrique Barzola, but higher than Jose Alberto Quiñones.

Opponent: He’s in for a rough start, though. Alex da Silva fell short in his Octagon debut against a durable veteran in Alexander Yakovlev, but looks to be the more explosive striker and has more international experience.


Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 156 fight card this weekend right HERE, starting with the ESPN+“Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the main card portion that will stream on ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Fight Night 156: “Shevchenko vs. Carmouche 2” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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