The chaotic nature of UFC’s quarantine efforts and the constant need to reshuffle fight cards means that Octagon hopefuls are seeing more opportunities than ever. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where I’m rewarded for procrastinating, we look at a Welterweight knockout artist out of Tunisia, Sweden’s top prospect, and a pair of European Light Heavyweights. We were also going to look at Jorge Gonzalez and Kenneth Bergh, but the latter flubbed his weight cut, so we’re down to just four.
Mounir “The Sniper” Lazzez
Weight Class: Welterweight
Record: 9-1 (8 KO)
Notable Victories: Dmitrijs Homjakovs
Born in Tunisia and training out of Team Nogueira Dubai, Lazzez enters the Octagon having won two straight since an unsuccessful Brave CF title shot against Eldar Eldarov. The most recent victory took just 59 seconds and marked the fifth first-round knockout of his career.
Seeing as he’s a 6’2” Welterweight nicknamed “The Sniper,” you can probably already guess his style. He’s a long-range, high-volume orthodox kickboxer with a strong jab and power in all eight limbs. Of particular note are his ability to throw clean, varied combinations, the front kick he’s fond of, his strong right hand, and the powerful knees he uses to punish incursions into the pocket. He can be a bit easy to reach with strikes, especially when he plants his feet to counter or when opponents commit to chasing him with long combinations, but makes up for it with durability and a genuine mean streak.
His wrestling isn’t terrible, but it’s still a weakness, one not entirely compensated for by his ability to quickly sweep his way to his feet. Though I was unable to locate footage that wasn’t behind a paywall, an inability to stop Eldarov’s takedowns or get enough done during his brief windows on the feet reportedly caused his lone career loss. He does have some takedown chops, though, and can dish out some nasty ground-and-pound.
While the Welterweight division is a wee bit too stacked for him to become a standout contender at the moment, he’s definitely got Octagon-worthy skills and is likely to net at least one “of the Night” bonus. Unfortunately, he’s probably going to be on the wrong end of a bonus-worthy knockout in his debut against Abdul Razak Alhassan. Though Lazzez is by far the better technician and could theoretically control the fight with his jab, “The Sniper’s” occasional defensive lapses and general willingness to throw down will earn him a night-ending haymaker to the face before long.
Khamzat “Borz” Chimaev
Weight Class: Welterweight/Middleweight
Record: 6-0 (4 KO, 2 SUB)
Notable Victories: Marko Kisic, Ikram Aliskerov
A standout wrestler in his native Sweden, Chimaev trains out of Allstars alongside UFC veterans Alexander Gustafsson, Ilir Latifi, Reza Madadi and David Teymur. He’s yet to see the second round as a professional, finishing four opponents within the first five minutes.
Chimaev is by far the most promising newcomer on this list and, if he lives up to his potential, could become one of the most noteworthy UFC signings of the year. This kid is a beast — tight, extremely powerful stand up complements a rock-solid top control game that boasts dangerous ground-and-pound and some gnarly chokes. Though he doesn’t always make the smoothest entries, his top-notch chain wrestling and ability to wrap up a body lock despite opposing underhooks means you’re likely going for a ride whether you’re prepared for his shots or not.
I’ve yet to see a noteworthy flaw in Chimaev besides a reluctance to check leg kicks. At this point, he just needs experience going multiple rounds against world-class opposition. He probably won’t get that against debut foe John Phillips. While the Welshman has jaw-dropping power and should be the larger man, his utter lack of defensive grappling means Chimaev should be able to take him down and either choke or pound him out in the first few minutes.
Dominance MMA head @AliAbdelaziz00 tells me he's signed a deal with undefeated welterweight prospect Khamzat Chimaev (@KChimaev).— John Morgan (@MMAjunkieJohn) June 11, 2020
Ali is always enthusiastic about his fighters, but I'm not sure I can ever remember him being this excited about an up-and-comer. Worth watching. pic.twitter.com/KeYtIpuIh8
Weight Class: Light Heavyweight
Record: 10-2 (7 KO, 2 SUB)
Notable Victories: Marthin Hamlet Neilsen, Riccardo Nosiglia
Bukauskas has not seen the judges since his professional debut and enters the cage on an undefeated (6-0) run. Five months after out-lasting Marthin Hamlet Nielsen for the Cage Warriors Light Heavyweight title in June of last year, he smashed Riccardo Nosiglia with Travis Browne-style elbows to secure victory in his first defense.
Standing 6’3” and regularly weighing in well below the 205-pound limit, Bukauskas combines crisp boxing, a wide arsenal of kicks, and a terrific motor to wear down opponents on the feet. He blends his punches and kicks quite nicely, jabs well, and attacks the head, body, and legs with similar fervor, making him an exhausting and confusing pain to deal with in the standup.
Especially when he adds the spinning stuff.
What lets him down, besides an occasional tendency to get caught in the pocket, is his footwork. He has a bad habit of getting backed against the fence, which combines with his overall subpar defensive wrestling to make him prime takedown bait. To his credit, he’s adept at using the cage to stand, and people have historically gotten more tired trying to hold him down than he has trying to get back up. Still, that’s an obvious target you can expect UFC-level opposition to exploit with gusto.
Bukauskas would be best served shoring up his defensive wrestling and possibly moving down to 185 pounds; as is, he’s a fun action fighter but not one that’ll get a number by his name anytime soon. Luckily for him, he has a fairly forgiving debut matchup in late-notice opponent Andreas Michailidis, whose suspect gas tank, lack of size and shoddy boxing have him primed for a Lithuanian mauling.
Tape: His Cage Warriors bouts are on Fight Pass.
Andreas “The Spartan” Michailidis
Weight Class: Middleweight/Light Heavyweight
Record: 12-3 (6 KO, 5 SUB)
Notable Victories: Marcel Fortuna
A successful Fight Nights Global debut set up a main event slot for Michailidis, who subsequently suffered his first loss in three years against one of Russia’s best Middleweights in Vladimir Mineev. He has since won three straight, all by first-round (technical) knockout, and replaces hulking Brazilian Vinicius Moreira on short notice.
What immediately stands out about the light-footed “Spartan” is that his boxing hasn’t caught up with his kicks. Though he can throw a mean wheel kick and boasts your standard arsenal of leg-based bludgeoning techniques, he tends to wing his punches and rely on a lead left hook in lieu of a jab. Luckily for him, he’s both shown some improvement in that area and has a strong ground game to lean on. He both passes and ground-and-pounds well, giving him a very effective out for when the striking’s not working.
His big red flag is his gas tank. He’s been to the third round just twice and looked completely spent each time. Once he starts to fade, he’s limited to just spamming weak takedowns, which got him pounded out by Mineev. He absolutely needs to improve his conditioning and tighten up his hands if he wants to be a contender; otherwise, he’s going to find that the quick finishes aren’t there in the Octagon and get ignominiously walloped for his trouble.
As I mentioned above, expect his fight with Bukauskas to be similar to most of the latter’s recent efforts. Michailidis scores a few takedowns, runs out of steam as Bukauskas continues to scramble back to his feet, then gets pounded out once he’s spent.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on ESPN 13 fight card this week, starting with the ESPN+“Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the main card portion that will also stream on ESPN/ESPN+ at 10 p.m. ET.
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