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UFC Vancouver - New Blood: Connelly and ‘Contenders’

Despite a surprising shortage of new Canucks, the ESPN+-streamed UFC Fight Night 158 card in Vancouver, Canada, this Saturday (Sept. 14, 2019) still features some fresh faces. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where I try to figure out what dark god to appease so I can get a universal fight video archive, we check out Canada’s No. 1-ranked Lightweight and a pair of promising “Contender Series” alums.

Tristan “Boondock” Connelly

Weight Class: Lightweight/Welterweight
Age: 33
Record: 13-6 (4 KO, 9 SUB)
Notable Victories: Joey Pierotti

Connelly opened his career even (5-5) before embarking on his current 8-1 run, which led Tapology to list him as Canada’s No. 1-ranked Lightweight and Welterweight outside of a major promotion. His only defeat in the stretch came against UFC veteran Shane Campbell, and he was last seen claiming the Rise FC Lightweight title in July.

He replaces Sergey Khandozhko, who withdrew because of visa issues, on a week’s notice.

Again, there’s always one “New Blood” subject with zero useful footage. I’ve scoured YouTube, DailyMotion,, and even Facebook looking for any of his recent fights, and the only one I could find was part of a $14.99 pay-per-view (PPV) replay. I love my job, but not that much. I do know that he’s a capable grappler fighting out of an excellent camp in Checkmat BJJ, which is well-known for producing top-notch Brazilian jiu-jitsu artists.

That’s all I got, really.

Opponent: Connelly moves up to 170 pounds to face Brazilian wild man Michel “Demolidor” Pereira, who announced his arrival in UFC with a brutal flying knee knockout of Danny Roberts. Pereira’s hyper-aggression leaves him open to takedowns, meaning Connelly has a real chance to wrap up a submission, but it’s a mighty tall ask against a significantly larger man with a solid scrambling game. Connelly is the biggest underdog on the card and I can’t say I disagree with the line.

Tape: You tell me.

Miles “Chapo” Johns

Weight Class: Bantamweight
Age: 25
Record: 9-0 (2 KO, 2 SUB)
Notable Victories: Richie Santiago, Adrian Yanez

A former state champion in high school wrestling who withdrew from the sport in college to pursue mixed martial arts (MMA), Johns split a pair of amateur bouts before joining the professional ranks in 2014. He picked up the LFA Bantamweight belt in Nov. 2018 with a split decision over Adrian Yanez, earning himself a “Contender Series” spot opposite once-beaten Richie Santiago. Johns leaned on his takedowns for a decision win, and since nobody on the card got a finish, this was enough to get him a contract.

Johns’ background is obvious when you watch him fight. He keeps a low, strong stance from which he can burst in with punches or high-speed, technically sound takedowns. Like a lot of wrestlers, he likes to wing his right hand, but he surprised me with his strong jab and head movement, which allow him to actually get into range to land his heavy blows without getting clipped along the way.

Despite more decisions than finishes on his record, Johns packs legitimate power in his hands. He hurt Santiago more than once with rights and has at least one finish via left hook. It also helps that he’s a fairly composed boxer, generally working behind his jab and straight right rather than purely bombing.

He’s still a wrestler at heart, though, and his lack of collegiate experience doesn’t look to have hurt him any. His double-legs are powerful and well-timed, as are his single-legs, and he’s a quality scrambler. He also showed a decent passing game and elbows from the top against Santiago, plus an aggressive pursuit of the guillotine.

On the negatives, “overcommitment” is the word that comes to mind. He can slip into a habit of throwing looping rights instead of staying behind his jab, and the guillotine attempts wound up costing him position. Plus, he was visibly flagging in the third round against Santiago despite successfully going five against Yanez, which could have been nerves or a byproduct of how hard he went after Santiago. Either way, dude needs to tone it down a tad.

Overall, I’ve got fairly high hopes for Johns. Quality wrestling and good hands can take a man far; therefore, I see him peaking somewhere around the Top 15-20.

Opponent: Johns meets big Canadian grinder Cole Smith, who turned in a strong performance against Mitch Gagnon in his Octagon debut. “The Cole Train” is a strong wrestler in his own right, and while I have Johns pegged to win this based on his technical superiority, Smith could very well spoil Johns’ debut if “Chapo’s” cardio proves to be an issue again.

Tape: His “Contender Series” appearance is on ESPN+.

Hunter Azure

Weight Class: Bantamweight
Age: 27
Record: 7-0 (3 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Chris Ocon

Yet another quality find from the MMA Lab, Azure was also a state wrestling champion in high school who, after receiving a scholarship, suffered injuries that ended his collegiate run. He enjoyed a lengthy 8-1 amateur career ahead of his 2017 professional debut, and after picking up three wins under the LFA banner, signed on to face Chris Ocon on “Contender Series.” Powerful low kicks and consistent takedowns earned him the win and a contract, and now he makes his third appearance in just over four months.

This installment had a real nice theme going: two high school wrestling standouts who didn’t go further in college, who did well in LFA, and who got a contract on “Contender Series” despite going the distance. Then Connelly had to go and throw chaos into this delightful order. Boo that man.

Azure’s stand up is presently a work-in-progress with one really nice outlier. Though he has power, Azure hasn’t developed his boxing to the extent that Johns has; I’ve seen him dropped in a brawl and his head movement isn’t that great. What he does have, however, are truly nasty leg kicks. Though he doesn’t set them up, they’re fast, powerful, and can quickly immobilize a foe enough for him to get his wrestling going.

Said wrestling is as solid as you’d expect. He looked good both offensively and defensively against Ocon, demonstrating the ability to blend it with his MMA grappling. He was constantly on the lookout for chokes, landed good ground-and-pound when Ocon turtled, and had one really nice snap down from the front headlock into a back take. With training partners like Benson Henderson, I expect to see this part of his game develop nicely.

Right now, Azure just needs seasoning. He needs a way to disguise his low kicks and set up his takedowns, both of which can be accomplished with more developed boxing technique. With a great base and a great camp behind him, he’s definitely got strong potential.

Opponent: Azure takes on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) winner Brad Katona, who’s coming off a career-first loss to Merab Dvalishvili. That fight further exposed “Superman’s” takedown defense, giving Azure a juicy target, but the MMA Lab product looks badly outmatched on the feet. Plus, Katona took out a very solid wrestler in Matthew Lopez, and Dvalishvili is honestly a one-of-a-kind takedown threat. Katona’s probably too much, too soon for Azure, the latter grinding his way to a decision through top control isn’t out of the question.

Tape: His “Contender Series” appearance is on ESPN+.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 158 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 158: “Cowboy vs. Gaethje” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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