Nothing produces “New Blood” like international events and the injury bug, and UFC Fight Night 159 this Saturday (Sept. 21, 2019) in Mexico City, Mexico, has both. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where Google Translate is my best friend, we check out a star Russian prospect, two Brazilian bruisers and a well-traveled Hawaiian veteran.
Askar “Bullet” Askarov
Weight Class: Flyweight
Record: 10-0 (3 KO, 7 SUB)
Notable Victories: Jose Maria Tome, Anthony Leone, Rasul Albaskhanov
Askarov has spent the majority of his career in ACB, one of the top promotions in eastern Europe. He claimed its Flyweight title with an anaconda finish of UFC veteran Jose Maria Tome, defended it with a twister on Anthony Leone, and scored a second defense via guillotine against Rasul Albaskhanov. This will be his first fight in 16 months.
Dana White better hold on to the Flyweight division, because this guy is absolutely Octagon-worthy.
On the feet, he’s one of the more laconic 125-pound fighters you’ll see, moving only as much as he needs to rather than bouncing around like many of his compatriots. His 1s and 2s are quality from either stance and he showed a crippling inside low kick against Tome. Despite his flat-footedness, he’s adept at shifting just out of range of incoming fire. All in all, he’s a remarkably efficient striker despite his grappling being the star attraction of his game, and has enough power to drop both Tome and Leone.
Askarov is a skilled, versatile wrestler. He’ll shoot behind punches, catch kicks for takedowns, transition to the rear waist lock to drag people down, or any number of other entries. While he doesn’t have great top control, he does his best work in transition, threatening with both back takes and his dangerous front chokes. Defensively, he’s shown good balance, though Leone managed to get him down by catching a low kick and Albaskhanov hit an explosive double-leg on him.
He doesn’t seem to have any outstanding weaknesses. However, the only area of concern I can see is that both Leone and Albaskhanov managed to stay on top in his guard for lengthy periods of time. He tried multiple times for submissions or scrambles against the latter, though, so at least he’s got the right mindset for those situations.
I think Askarov can do extremely well for himself, even in a division that’s now extremely concentrated. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what he can do.
Opponent: Askarov badly outclasses Brandon Moreno on the feet, but his penchant for scrambles plays into the Mexican submission specialist’s hands. He should be able to win a comfortable decision if he fights smart, though Moreno is a constant threat if the fight goes anywhere near the ground.
Vanessa “Ms. Simpatia” Melo
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Record: 10-5 (2 SUB)
Notable Victories: Molly McCann, Daiane Firmino, Jan Finney
Melo’s record is a tad deceiving — she opened her career 5-5 before embarking on her current run. She last fought less than two months ago, winning a competitive decision over Strikeforce veteran Jan Finney in Macau. She replaces Marion Reneau on less than two weeks’ notice.
Though her only two professional finishes came by tapout, Melo is first and foremost a striker with a simple-but-effective strategy: provoke opponents into throwing, then plug them with combinations while they’re in the pocket. She’s not a catch-and-pitch sort of counter specialist like fellow “New Blood” Tyson Nam, instead looking to land as her opponents throw and follow up when they either reel or try to answer back.
Her preference for the counter doesn’t mean she’s useless on the front foot. She’ll send out a steady diet of leg kicks and a stiff jab to both keep her opponent honest and provoke more countering opportunities. Her left hook to the body is solid as well.
Grappling-wise, her takedown defense is generally solid, she’s good at catching kicks for takedown, and she’s quite aggressive with both passing and ground-and-pound. She did have some issues getting controlled in the clinch in a recent match, however, though she’s shown a nice outside trip. Haven’t seen her attempt any submissions and her two tapouts came over opponents with a combined 1-2 record, so I’d say her punches are the thing to worry about when she’s on top.
Melo’s shortcomings were on full display against Finney. “Miss Simpatia” is rather short for the division at 5’5” and Finney took full advantage, working behind a stiff jab and darting in-and-out to avoid Melo’s return fire. The Brazilian struggled to get her combinations flowing, and it was only when she abandoned her countering in favor of trying to match Finney’s jab that things started working for her. Frankly, Finney deserved the win, but got robbed by the judges.
I don’t see Melo making a serious run at the title, but she’s good for a firefight or two if given willing opposition.
Opponent: Irene Aldana is one of the division’s tallest women at 5’9” and has the boxing technique to make great use of it. So long as Aldana doesn’t linger in the pocket and try to trade bombs, she should be able to frustrate Melo in a similar fashion as Finney. Hopefully, she’ll be properly rewarded.
Ariane “Sorriso” Carnelossi
Weight Class: Strawweight
Record: 12-1 (8 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Ketlen Souza
Undefeated since a loss in her pro debut, Carnelossi has established herself as one of Brazil’s top Strawweights. Her last three fights have seen her win a one-night tournament and score a brutal body kick knockout of Ketlen Souza in May. She was originally supposed to debut against Taila Santos last month, but the latter withdrew because of injury.
What is it with Brazilian fighters named “Ariane” being hyper-violent bruisers? First there was Ariane “The Violence Queen” Lipski and now we have Carnelossi, an all-action slugger. She constantly marches after her opponents, throwing powerful combinations and meeting any attempt at return fire with yet more volume instead of focusing on silly things like “defense.” She packs remarkable power in her shots, does a good job of keeping her flurries compact even when they aren’t the most technical, and has a nice habit of mixing lead-leg kicks into her combinations.
She’s not much for grappling, and her takedown defense has kept her from having to deal with it in the footage I’ve seen. That and her clinch positioning do seem more reliant on her physical strength than technique, though, so it remains to be seen how it’ll hold up against some of the powerhouses lurking in UFC’s Strawweight division.
If this is reminding you of Jessica Andrade, know you’re not alone. Carnelossi isn’t quite as insanely relentless, but is definitely more technical and varied with her offense.
Her key flaw is simple: footwork. Carnelossi stands extremely tall and square, making her movement awkward and leaving her body open to punishment. Andrade made up for her lack of crafty movement with high-speed forward pressure, and Carnelossi has no such safety net. An inability to cut the cage has doomed many a power-puncher; her success will come down to her ability to force opponents into the sort of close-quarters engagements she excels in.
Carnelossi’s sheer power and volume make her a threat to anyone at 115 pounds. At the moment, though, I don’t see her peaking much higher than the lower end of the Top 15 unless she tightens up her stance and movement.
Opponent: Angela Hill ostensibly has the technical striking prowess to exploit Carnelossi’s shortcomings. She has been overwhelmed by aggressive sluggers before, though, so it’s essentially a coin flip.
Weight Class: Flyweight
Record: 18-9-1 (10 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Eduardo Dantas, Ali Bagautinov
Tyson Nam first entered the discussion in 2012 when Bellator champion Eduardo Dantas — winner of four straight in the promotion and looking like an absolute monster — elected to fight him in a non-title bout in the Shooto Brasil promotion. Nam wound up putting him to sleep in 100 seconds, and after a brief rough patch, finds himself 6-1-1 in his last eight. He steps in for the injured Alex Perez on little more than three weeks’ notice.
Nam’s signature victory over Dantas came via brutal counter shot, and that’s basically his modus operandi. He’s an extremely patient catch-and-pitch striker, waiting for the opportunity to sit down and deliver remarkably heavy blows. And he doesn’t just answer with punches, either; he scored a literal last-second knockout of former UFC title challenger Ali Bagautinov after the latter tried a side kick.
His efforts are greatly aided by his phenomenal takedown defense. He managed to stay on his feet against the aforementioned Bagautinov, a very skilled and credentialed wrestler, despite being rocked by a massive uppercut. I haven’t seen him look for his own takedowns against strong opposition, but did handily overpower a recent opponent with body lock takedowns.
Nam’s fundamental problem is that he’s passive to a fault. While he’s got very good striking technique, boasting a quality jab, right cross, and left hook to the body, he can be badly outworked while searching for the perfect counter. Bagautinov was a second away from taking a comfortable decision and the last man to beat him, Zhalgas Zhumagulov, did so by simply being exponentially busier and banking rounds as Nam bided his time. It wasn’t until well into the fight that Nam started picking up the pace with compact flurries, and by then it was too late. He’s not going to win decisions over top-level competition when he spends half the time just idly tossing out low kicks and waiting.
To his credit, Nam does have legitimate fight-ending power when he bothers to use it, and his patient style has made it so only Marlon Moraes has finished him in the last decade. He’s always going to be boom-or-bust, though, just by nature. He’s definitely good enough to score some eye-catching finishes in the Octagon, but he’s every bit as likely to lose tedious decisions to anyone who fights smart.
Opponent: His debut against Sergio Pettis should be an excellent example of this. “The Phenom” is a sufficiently skilled technical striker to take a dull decision over Nam, but is also fragile enough to be on the wrong end of a dramatic knockout. The former looks a lot more likely to me ... just don’t blink.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 159 fight card this weekend, 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.
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