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UFC Vegas 14 - New Blood: The next big Strawweight things

RIZIN.20 Photo by Masashi Hara/Getty Images

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) women’s Strawweight division remains a hotbed of talent, and UFC Vegas 14, which takes place tomorrow night (Sat., Nov. 14, 2020) inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada, features two intriguing additions. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where I get increasingly cranky at websites demanding full price for years-old replays, we look at a fast-rising Welsh youngster and one of the best wrestlers the division has ever seen.

Cory “The Hobbit” McKenna

Weight Class: Strawweight
Age: 21
Record: 5-1 (2 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Vanessa Demopoulos

McKenna — who made her amateur debut at just 15 years old — won all seven of her amateur bouts and her first two professional bouts before dropping a narrow split decision to Micol di Segni. Two more wins under the Cage Warriors banner brought her to “Contender Series,” where she claimed a UFC contract with a decision over LFA champ Vanessa Demopoulos.

McKenna has developed an impressively complete game for such a young fighter, and she continues to improve under the tutelage of Team Alpha Male. Crisp jabs, crosses and lead-leg kicks anchor her stand up, which supports her high-level ground game. Said ground game features excellent back takes and some solid ground-and-pound to go along with sufficient submission defense to shrug off Demopoulos’ best efforts for 15 minutes, plus some nice scrambling chops.

Her primary issues at the moment lies in her striking defense and, to a lesser extent, her wrestling. While a good mover and a sharp puncher, she doesn’t move her head enough when throwing, and especially not when pressured. di Segni managed to tag her on multiple occasions with haymakers and found success walking her down, though McKenna did admittedly land some solid counters.

On the wrestling front, she’s a solid if not overpowering takedown artist. Conversely, she seems a bit easier to take down than you’d expect, which could be problematic in the long run. That said, Team Alpha Male looks like the right place to fix that.

Overall, McKenna is a very promising up-and-comer with a few more flaws to iron out before she can be a title challenger. Keep an eye on her as she rises through the ranks.

Opponent: She faces another wunderkind in Kay Hansen, who appeared to hit her stride last year after some early-career struggles. Hansen’s got some defensive liabilities on the ground, but her relentless wrestling should carry her past McKenna in an entertaining, competitive fight.

Tape: Her Cage Warriors bouts are on Fight Pass, while her “Contender Series” bout can be found on ESPN+.

Kanako Murata

Weight Class: Strawweight
Age: 27
Record: 11-1 (2 KO, 4 SUB)
Notable Victories: Lanchana Green, Angela Magana, Liana Pirosin, Emily Ducote

A world-level amateur wrestler with the misfortune of sharing a weight class with legendary countrywoman Saori Yoshida, Murata entered the professional mixed martial arts (MMA) ranks in 2016, winning four straight before a run-in with the much larger Rin Nakai. Her seven victories since have seen her submit two The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) veterans and narrowly defeat Emily Ducote to claim the Invicta FC Strawweight title.

Murata is a good enough wrestler to defeat 2016 Olympic gold medalist Helen Maroulis on the mats, and her skills appear to have made a successful transition into the cage. She’s a downright phenomenal takedown artist, boasting a beautiful and varied arsenal with which to bring opponents to the mat. Her timing in particular is impeccable, allowing her to land some excellent reactive takedowns, and she’s similarly adept at chain-wrestling.

She’s by no means a lay-and-prayer, however. Once on top, she constantly looks for strikes and submission attempts, and her two Von Flue finishes attest to the squeeze she’s got. Her submission defense also held up nicely against Ducote, who threw everything but the kitchen sink at her from her back and failed to put her in serious danger.

She also seems to have shaken her early-career habit of latching onto front headlocks for longer than was advisable, so good for her.

The weak link, as you might expect, is her striking, but it’s definitely improving. That excellent timing translates to some defense and counter punches from her southpaw stance, and her hands in general are fast and crisp when she decides to let them go. She’s also gotten the hang of setting up her shots with feints, which bodes well for her future standup development.

In case it’s not obvious, I’m extremely high on Murata and believe she can make an immediate impact in UFC’s stacked Strawweight division. She’s already good enough to get a number next to her name, and if she gets a bit more seasoning and a greater willingness to strike, UFC might have a potential title contender on its hands.

Opponent: She was initially supposed to face Livinha Souza, who formerly held the Invicta belt mentioned above. Instead, she fights late-notice replacement Randa Markos. “Quiet Storm” has the edge in experience and hits a fair bit harder, but looks out-classed in the wrestling department. In short, expect a dominant debut from Murata.

Tape: Her Invicta bouts are on Fight Pass.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 14 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ 7 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 14: “Felder vs. dos Anjos” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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