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UFC 246 - New Blood: First ‘Contenders’ of the decade

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The decades may change, but the talent pipeline continues to churn. Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) kicks off its 2020 campaign this Saturday (Jan. 18, 2020) with Conor McGregor vs. Donald Cerrone, which headlines a pay-per-view (PPV) card filled with top-notch matchmaking and a couple of new faces. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where I struggle to come up with clever comments for this part, we check out a fresh pair of “Contender Series” standouts.

Aleksa Camur

Weight Class: Light Heavyweight
Age: 24
Record: 5-0 (5 KO)
Notable Victories: Fabio Cherant

Camur — a training partner of Stipe Miocic and Matt Brown at Strong Style MMA — knocked out all four of his amateur opponents before doing the same to his first four pro opponents. His efforts were enough to earn him a headlining spot on “Contender Series,” where he survived a brief scare to knock out Fabio Cherant with a flying knee and follow-up punches.

He has never gone past the second round as a professional or amateur.

Camur is a Golden Gloves winner and, until his most recent fight, leaned as heavily on his hands as you’d expect. His boxing is crisp, fast, and powerful, particularly his right cross. Though he boasts a solid jab, he doesn’t exclusively lead with it, mixing up his combo starters with lead rights or hooks. In the Cherant fight, he made round kicks a more prominent part of his arsenal; they’re quick and thrown properly, but he didn’t really integrate them with his punches all that fluidly. Though the issue isn’t significant enough to be a liability, it is worth keeping an eye on, especially if he focuses on kicks to the expense of his superior boxing.

He hasn’t had occasion to show his wrestling chops so far; the only time I saw him have to deal with a takedown was in an amateur fight, and where he showed some great reaction time and defensive technique. Considering his main training partner, I wouldn’t expect his takedown defense to be a liability.

For all his potential, the 24-year-old remains a bit rough around the edges. He’s prone to flashes of overeagerness; he tried some awkward leaping hooks on Cherant while struggling to cut off the cage and commits too heavily to body shots, which his 6’0” frame suggests should be a major part of his offense. In addition, he nearly went a bit too wild when he had Cherant hurt, jumping right into mount and losing position for it before ultimately pounding Cherant out later in the scramble.

Camur has the physical tools to excel and there’s nothing really missing from his game; right now, it’s just a matter of seasoning and polish. I can definitely see him reaching the Top 20 or so with proper matchmaking and steady improvement.

Opponent: Justin Ledet, whose professional experience gives him a stronger boxing pedigree than Camur’s time in the amateurs, has significant advantages in height and reach. On paper, this is a rough matchup for Camur, but Ledet’s poor fight IQ and willingness to throw the bare minimum number of punches make it winnable. I do think Ledet wins if both men fight to the best of their abilities, but only Camur is likely to do so. Should be an interesting coin flip of a match.

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

Ode “The Jamaican Sensation” Osbourne

Weight Class: Bantamweight
Age: 28
Record: 8-2 (2 KO, 5 SUB)
Notable Victories: Armando Villarreal

Osbourne followed up his perfect (5-0) amateur run with a 4-2 (1 NC) professional start, including a one-and-done RFA run. Three consecutive first-round finishes carried him to a Contender Series appearance opposite Armando Villareal, whom Osbourne submitted with a slick armbar late in the first.

Despite his wrestling background and the number of submissions on his record, Osbourne is generally happy to keep it standing with his hands low, firing heavy southpaw body kicks at range before darting in with lengthy combinations. When circling or stalking, he shows a great sense of distance, avoiding incoming fire with slick head movement and coming back with counters when opponents overextend. When he comes on the attack, though, his head stays static, leaving him vulnerable to those who stand their ground. He’s been caught coming in and is especially hittable on his flurries, as he’ll plant his feet and stay in the same spot from beginning to end.

He’s shown little inclination to initiate the grappling in the tape I’ve seen, so I can’t really comment on his takedown offense, but his defense looks solid-if-penetrable. Both of his last two opponents have taken him down, Kelly Offield with a standard shot and Villareal by taking advantage of Osbourne’s pursuit of a guillotine. This is far from game over for Osbourne, though; he has some remarkable submission skills off of his back. Offield fell victim to a triangle within seconds of Osbourne regaining guard, while Villareal tapped to an armbar after landing some solid elbows.

Submissions from guard rarely work as a primary strategy, but they’re definitely useful things to have in your arsenal.

Osbourne looks promising — between his grappling pedigree and physical abilities, he’s a potential contender once he shores up that defense. Keep an eye on him.

Opponent: Osbourne meets Brian Kelleher, who hasn’t fought since getting clubbed-and-subbed by Montel Jackson in Dec. 2018. “Boom” figures to be an excellent test despite coming off of two straight stoppage losses. Indeed, he’s got some wrestling chops of his own and lands five strikes per minute, both of which could trip Osbourne up because of his aforementioned defensive issues. I do think Osbourne taps him, but it figures to be plenty competitive.

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

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 246 fight card on Sat. (Jan. 18, 2020) RIGHT HERE, starting with the Fight Pass/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 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 246: “McGregor vs. Cerrone” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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