Dustin Poirier and Dan Hooker will have some fresh faces in the supporting cast when they headline UFC on ESPN 12, which takes place inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada, this weekend (Sat., June 27, 2020). On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where trying to complete analysis ahead of time remains a fool’s errand, we check out two submission aces and a pair of Invicta standouts.
As a reminder, all “Contender Series” and Invicta FC bouts are on Fight Pass.
Weight Class: Middleweight
Record: 9-0 (8 SUB)
Notable Victories: Stephen Regman, Michael Lombard, Jonavin Webb
Philadelphia’s Daukaus choked out UFC veteran Jonavin Webb for the Cage Fury Middleweight championship, setting up a “Contender Series” shot opposite Michael Lombardo. Though he emerged victorious, he failed to find a finish, leaving him to successfully defend his CFFC title with two more d’arce finishes before getting the Octagon call.
He replaces Ian Heinisch on less than two weeks notice.
While his record may suggest that he’s one-note, the 6’3” Daukaus is impressively well-rounded. He puts together solid boxing combinations on the feet, though he has a tendency to lean too far in and compromise his length, He’s aggressive, willing to walk through fire, and able to use his striking offense to set up his takedowns.
On the ground, front chokes are clearly his forte — d’arce chokes account for five of his eight professional finishes. That’s far from the extent of his arsenal, though, as he also boasts a dangerous triangle and busy, effective ground-and-pound alongside good positional control. He does seem to have a bit of difficulty getting a good angle on rear-naked chokes, but that’s not a major issue.
Daukaus really doesn’t seem to have any standout problems besides some porous striking defense and wrestling that’s not as overpowering as it could be. He’s big, aggressive, quite skilled, and plenty fun to watch. I’m glad to see him get an Octagon opportunity after falling short of a contract the first time around.
Opponent: He takes on former LFA champ Brendan Allen. While I referred to Allen’s recent clash with Tom Breese as a mirror match, this is a downright uncanny bit of symmetry. Two tall, lengthy southpaws with effective kickboxing and lethal ground games. Hell, they even share the same problem of leaning in too far when throwing. The oddsmakers have this a blowout in Allen’s favor, and though I do think Allen’s wrestling will win the day, Daukaus has a much better chance than the lines suggest.
Tape: His CFFC bouts are on Fight Pass. The fight below is from 2018.
Weight Class: Welterweight
Record: 8-2 (8 SUB)
Notable Victories: William Macario, Bilal Williams
Brahimaj submitted his first six professional opponents in less than one round apiece, four of them in under a minute. Though he lost two of his next three, he got back on track in March 2019 with a 55-second submission of Carlos Martinez.
He was slated to face Miguel Baeza on “Contender Series” last June, but was forced with an injury.
As I mentioned in my “Prelims” piece (read them here and here), LFA’s lack of a video archive for its AXS TV tenure means I’m forced to extrapolate from highlights. Said highlights show an insanely aggressive submission artist, one who’s got some pop on the feet, but prefers to shoot in and wrap up a choke at the earliest opportunity. His wrestling looks strong, he’s got some ground-and-pound chops alongside the jiu-jitsu, and his litany of instantaneous finishes should give a hint as to how little time he needs to end things once he’s on top.
While big on highlights, the footage was rather short on lowlights. It did, however, feature Brahimaj getting floored by a right hand against Patterson and some commentary suggesting that the painfully disappointing “Patolino” Macario managed to trouble him early on the feet. Brahimaj can go three competitive rounds, so he’s not doomed if the quick-kill submission isn’t there, but it’s worth seeing how he manages when he can’t score consistent takedowns.
Opponent: He faces Japanese knockout artist Takashi Sato in a rather intriguing match up. Though Sato’s last two losses to Belal Muhammad and Glaico Franca came by tapout, both men ran Sato through the grappling wringer for multiple rounds before finding the finish, and Sato hits more than hard enough to spark Brahimaj out if the latter’s stand up turns out to be a liability. It’s a coin flip that should produce an entertaining finish one way or the other.
Jinh Yu Frey
Weight Class: Atomweight/Strawweight
Record: 9-4 (1 KO, 2 SUB)
Notable Victories: Ashley Cummins, Minna Grusander, Herica Tiburcio
Long considered one of the sport’s top Atomweights, Frey defeated Minna Grusander for the Invicta belt in 2018, then made it 2-0 against “Brutsku” five months later. Belt in tow, she went to Rizin to rematch their champion Ayaka Hamasaki, and lost a decision after spending the final round on her back. Her return to Invicta last February saw her pick up a second win over Ashley Cummins, but fail to make weight in the process.
Frey relies on a straightforward but effective strategy: use consistent lateral movement to pull opponents onto her heavy left hand, forcing them into a slow-paced battle. She sports solid low kicks, a body kick she doesn’t use enough, well-timed reactive takedowns, and a tendency to go body-head with her combinations. Defensively, she’s shown decent head movement, allowing her to slip incoming shots.
The left hand is really the highlight of her game, though. Despite just one professional knockout, there’s some real pop behind it, and she’s proven able to do damage with it even from a single collar tie. If she manages to hurt someone with it, she’ll stalk after them and throw it from the hip, and the threat it poses does a good job of keeping opponents sufficiently tentative.
She is, however, plenty flawed. Though she slips single shots well, she doesn’t respond well to punches in bunches, especially when she’s on the fence and out of room to retreat. In addition, she doesn’t seem particularly strong in the clinch, as more than one opponent landed heaps of strong knees to the body after denying her shots. Her wrestling, though decent, rarely produces much top control, and she’s not a terribly large threat off of her back.
Critically, she’s also just a low-volume fighter in general, which has produced numerous close and controversial decisions throughout her career. Not that going on the attack works better for her — Seo Hee Ham knocked her silly with a counter left and those heavy swings she enjoys open her up to takedowns.
Frey is skilled, but between the aforementioned technical issues and the size disadvantage she’ll face at 115 pounds, her UFC future looks rough.
Opponent: Frey faces Kay Hansen, 15 years her junior. Frey badly out-classes Hansen on the feet and could land some telling shots in the clinch, but the latter’s bullying grappling attack should synergize well with her size advantage and hand Frey her fifth professional defeat.
Weight Class: Strawweight
Record: 6-3 (2 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: Liana Pirosin, Nicolle Caliari
Hansen, UFC’s youngest fighter at 20 years old, got off to an inauspicious 4-3 professional start before beating Carolina Jimenez in the Phoenix Series and winning her next two. Her last time out, she dominated Liara Pirosin in March for her first official decision victory as a pro.
Let’s change up the pace and talk about the bad first: Hansen is a non-entity on the feet. I don’t think I saw her land a single standing punch in the three fights I watched and her foray into pro boxing ended with a 1-4 record. Indeed, all she has got to offer is a decent low kick.
For this reason, she generally doesn’t spend more than a handful of seconds trading strikes, instead forcing grappling exchanges in which she excels. She’s absolutely relentless with her takedowns, excels at catching kicks, and chain-wrestles well enough that denying the initial shot is far from a guarantee of success. Once on top, she’s got strong ground-and-pound and excellent passing, often ending up in mount or on the back.
She can, however, be a bit overzealous. Her recent split decision loss to Magdalena Sormova came about due to Sormova capitalizing on poor takedowns to land in dominant position. Luckily, though she’s not particularly dangerous off of her back, she’s got some sweeps and a bizarre ability to trip opponents who stand over her and kick at her legs.
Hansen is definitely still quite green, as you’d expect from someone who can’t legally drink yet, but her ground attack already looks UFC-caliber. I’m looking forward to seeing how she continues to develop.
Opponent: See above.
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