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Dana White’s Contender Series - Cortez v Agapova Photo by Chris Unger/DWCS LLC/Zuffa LLC

This main event this Saturday (June 13, 2020) may be, well, bad, but there’s plenty to like in the rest of the UFC on ESPN 10 lineup. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where I’m constantly punished for trying to get research done ahead of time, we look at a “Contender Series” alum, two regional standouts, and a kickboxing veteran from Bellator MMA.

*Gustavo Lopez was a super late replacement with contractual issues and, as a result, was not included in this column. He will fight Merab Dvalishvili tomorrow night (details).

Mariya Agapova

Weight Class: Flyweight
Age: 23
Record: 8-1 (3 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: Marilia Santos

A successful run on the Eurasian circuit earned Kazakhstan’s Agapova a shot on “Contender Series,” where she dropped a decision to Invicta veteran Tracy Cortez in July 2019. Undaunted, she joined Invicta herself, scoring two first-round finishes in the span of a month. She was set to make a third appearance under their banner in February before pulling out because of injury.

A rangy, athletic southpaw with a 70-inch reach, Agapova is all about marching forward and throwing heat. Her left hand and left round kick serve as her most effective bludgeoning implements, particularly the left kick to the body, and she has at least somewhat of a grasp of combination striking. She boasts quite the killer instinct as well, and though she’s not much for passing while on top, she’s capable of doing some serious damage from guard.

Despite nearly five years in the cage, though, she remains a very unfinished product. Aside from a general lack of polish in her boxing, her aggression often leads to her stepping right into the pocket and compromising her reach advantage, a habit not helped by her tendency to keep her chin up and lose composure in exchanges. She also tends to kick from punching range, which leaves her already vulnerable takedown defense even more porous.

That defensive wrestling looks like the biggest issue. Cortez took her down repeatedly, and while Agapova showed an admirable reluctance to stay stuck on her back, she seemingly lacked the technique to go along with it. An inability to keep the fight standing and a striking style that naturally exposes her to reactive shots make for a bad combination.

To Agapova’s credit, she’s certainly improving quickly. She looks to be cleaning up her striking technique and managed to defend against Marilia Santos’ takedown attempts, forcing the latter to pull guard and ultimately bludgeoning her into submission. I’d still have preferred one or two more years of development in Invicta, but she’s not going to be in too far over her head in the Octagon.

Opponent: Agapova was originally slated to face grappling specialist Melissa Gatto, whose myriad shortcomings contrasted interestingly with Agapova’s. Instead, she’ll face Hannah Cifers, whose superior boxing is somewhat undercut by an eight-inch reach disadvantage. Agapova should be able to wilt her with size and power.

Tape: Her “Contender Series” and Invicta appearances are on Fight Pass.


Christian “The Beast” Aguilera

Weight Class: Welterweight
Age: 28
Record: 13-6 (9 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Ricardo Seixas

Nearly seven years as a professional have seen Aguilera cut his teeth in promotions like BAMMA, CFFC, King of the Cage and LFA. He’s won two straight and five of his last seven, scoring (technical) knockout finishes in four of those efforts.

Unsurprisingly, Aguilera is a power-puncher by trade. Working behind a stiff, busy jab, he’s equally effective on the attack and on the counter, especially with his check hook. He’s fast, crisp, and extremely dangerous, though he admittedly doesn’t check low kicks. Plus, he has a good sense of range management, allowing him to land those counters without getting cracked in the process.

While he generally prefers to work on the feet, he showed some wrestling chops in his most recent fight. He’s busy with his ground-and-pound, preferring to rack up steady damage rather than posture up for heavier single shots. He also demonstrated a knack for landing effective blows as his opponent tries to improve position or get to his feet.

The red flags at the moment seem to be durability and defensive grappling. Four of Aguilera’s six professional losses have come via (technical) knockout and he was dropped by Matthew Frincu in one of those two decision defeats. In addition, while he seems to be a reasonably adept wrestler, he’s kind of a non-factor off of his back, showing little ability to improve position or get to his feet once he’s stuck there. Being knockdown-prone and bad at getting out of compromising positions is a worrying combination of drawbacks.

Still, he’s entertaining and an offensive force, so expect some solid scraps even if he never gets into contention.

Opponent: Aguilera will have a considerable edge in the striking against Anthony Ivy, but faces notable height and reach disadvantages on top of a wrestling disparity. Though Aguilera’s got enough pop to make the upset feasible, odds are he’s in for a long night.

Tape:


Anthony “Aquaman” Ivy

Weight Class: Welterweight
Age: 30
Record: 8-2 (5 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: Jason Langellier, Willis Black

Ivy, who went unbeaten as an amateur, hasn’t tasted defeat since a 3-2 professional start. His current win streak includes two successful defenses of the Fury FC Welterweight title and a technical knockout finish of Willis Black for the WXC belt.

“Aquaman’s” wrestling is his strongest feature and he knows it. He keeps a high, tight guard on the feet, occasionally sending out a lead right or fast head kick, and waits for the opportunity to rush in and tie up (this generally doesn’t last more than a few seconds if he can help it). Though his initial shot isn’t great, his chain wrestling is mighty effective — he’ll take opponents to the fence, patiently work to lock his hands around their hips, and then drag them to the mat. It’s rare to see him successfully tie up and fail to ultimately complete the takedown.

His top control features solid passing and some nasty ground-and-pound. Indeed, his 6’2” frame allows him to get some real leverage behind his punches, and his excellent gas tank allows him to completely sap opponents’ energy through repeated takedowns and accumulating damage.

While he has the tools to be a contender, he has two major issues holding him back. Aside from some strong clinch striking with knees and elbows, his stand up is generally poor. And that’s fine when he can just take down opponents as needed, but he’s inevitably going to run into someone who can keep it standing.

The other issue is entirely self-inflicted: he is way, way too willing to abandon dominant positions. He seems to prefer awkward, improvised positions over established ones, consistently gets too high when taking the back, and is weirdly obsessed with chasing low-percentage submissions. In his last fight with Black — a far more dangerous striker than him — he lost back control three separate times looking for the same armbar and none of the entries were particularly good.

If Ivy just focuses on control and ground-and-pound, he’s a threat. If he insists on sabotaging himself like this, he’s in for a rude awakening.

Opponent: See above.

Tape: His most recent fight is on Fight Pass.


Zarrukh “The Lion” Adashev

Weight Class: Flyweight
Age: 27
Record: 3-1 (2 KO) MMA/16-3 (10 KO) Kickboxing
Notable Victories: None

A veteran kickboxer with experience in Glory, Adashev’s 2015 foray into mixed martial arts (MMA) ended with a first-round submission loss. He returned to the sport three years later, racking up a trio of victories in Bellator. He replaces Ryan Benoit on less than one week’s notice.

Adashev’s kickboxing pedigree shows itself in his rapid punching blitzes; after closing the gap with a jumping body kick, Superman punch, elbow, or other distance-covering strike, he tears into opponents with both hands until they leave the pocket. If he’s already within punching range, he tends to prefer lead hooks and straights over jabs, switching stance as necessary. Though not a one-shot puncher, his speed and relentless swarming make up for it.

He’s also fond of wheel kicks and jumping knees and has shown a nasty left hook to the body that he doesn’t throw enough.

The million-dollar question, or the $20,000/$20,000 question in this case, for any kickboxing convert is grappling, and Adashev is a mixed bag. In his most recent fight, the announcers mentioned that he has some Greco-Roman wrestling skills, and that’s evident in the clinch. He boasts some legitimately impressive upper-body throws and trips, plus good balance when tied up. He can also shoot a decent double-leg if needed, though he seems vulnerable to them in return.

Once it’s on the ground, he’ll press the advantage if he lands in a dominant position or stand and reset if caught in guard or half guard. His submission and positional skills remain underdeveloped, however, and he doesn’t seem able to do much damage from the top.

The big issue, besides his short reach and poor ground game, is that Adashev is completely unproven. His first two Bellator opponents were a combined 0-3, while the most recent was 3-1 with no wins over opponents with winning records. It’s not clear whether Adashev’s apparent effectiveness on the feet and on the ground are byproducts of legitimate talent or garbage competition. I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.

Opponent: He gets a striker in Tyson Nam, one whose occasional takedown attempts generally come from the clinch. It’s definitely not the most punishing stylistic matchup “The Lion” could have faced in his debut, but Nam is also taller, rangier, and exponentially more experienced. Adashev’s going to have to show a lot more than he has so far to get the win here.

Tape: His Bellator appearances are all on the promotion’s website.


Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on ESPN 10 fight card this weekend right HERE, starting with the ESPN+“Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the main card portion that will also stream on ESPN+ at 9 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC on ESPN 10: “Eye vs. Calvillo” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.