Despite losing six matchups to coronavirus, rescheduling, and “undisclosed reasons,” this Sat, night’s (Aug. 1) return to UFC APEX will feature just
three (EDIT: four, though two came too late to properly analyze) debuting fighters, all of whom do their best work at 135 pounds.
On this edition of “New Blood”, the series where nothing is set in stone until the bell rings, we look at a former TKO champion,
a surging Dagestani PFL standout, and a decorated wrestler out of a solid camp.
Let’s dive in.
Nathan “Mayhem” Maness
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Record: 11-1 (4 KO, 2 SUB)
Notable Victories: Caio Machado, Jesse Arnett
After successfully debuting in the promotion with a decision over Legacy and LFA veteran Caio Machado, Maness knocked out Jesse Arnett to claim the TKO Bantamweight Championship. Though he lost it to unjustly released UFC veteran Taylor Lapilus his next time out, he enters the Octagon on the heels of a 99-second knockout at Featherweight.
The adjective that comes to mind when watching Maness is “workmanlike.” A tall Bantamweight at 5’10”, he’s generally content to circle and retreat until countering opportunities present themselves. Though right-handed, he seems almost more comfortable as a southpaw, and he throws his jabs and straights with equal effectiveness from either stance. He also boasts a powerful right body kick and has shown good timing with his reactive takedowns.
Though his dimensions and timing make him effective in his wheelhouse, the Lapilus fight showed a number of flaws that other UFC-caliber opponents could readily exploit. Despite standing four inches shorter than Maness, “Double Impact” consistently backed him into the fence and landed flush with rapid combinations. Maness’ inability to keep a persistent striker off of him and questionable defense from southpaw both bode ill when stepping up to the world stage. In addition, he doesn’t seem particularly fleet of hand or foot for the weight, occasionally loading up on his punches.
To his credit, he showed more aggression in his recent bounce-back win, but that came against a tailor-made victim. It’s still unknown whether he’s comfortable opening up like that against someone who can do real damage.
I don’t see Maness ever getting a number next to his name or drawing a post-fight bonus. Though not a “bad” fighter, his lack of any standout skills will likely make for a short, uneventful Octagon run.
He’ll enjoy quite a bit of height and reach on Ray Borg ; if he can keep “The Tazmexican Devil” on the outside, he’s got a shot at the upset. Unfortunately, that seems a little beyond his abilities, and he should find himself contending with Borg’s boxing and relentless wrestling for 15 painful minutes.
Ray Borg withdrew from his bout with Maness for undisclosed reasons; “Mayhem” instead faces unbeaten Johnny Munoz Jr., who’s enjoyed a decent run in King of the Cage. I’m not familiar enough with Munoz to give a definitive answer on Maness’ chances, but I do think the Kentucky native is a bit more seasoned.
Tape: You can find his TKO bouts on Fight Pass.
EDIT: Valiev is out of his debut with visa issues.
Timur “The Lucky” Valiev
Weight Class: Bantamweight/Featherweight
Record: 16-2 (5 KO, 2 SUB)
Notable Victories: Chris Gutierrez, Max Coga, Bekbulat Magomedov
Dagestan’s Valiev has tasted defeat just once since dropping his professional debut, a controversial decision loss to Chris Gutierrez he later avenged. He made the PFL 2018 Featherweight playoffs with wins over Max Coga and Bekbulat Magomedov, only to withdraw due to injury and return to action last year with a pair of victories on the Euro circuit.
Valiev trains at Ricardo Almeida BJJ in New Jersey, where he’s worked alongside the likes of Frankie Edgar, Edson Barboza, Said Nurmagomedov, and Marlon Moraes. It’s not hard to see his current and former teammates’ influence; my one-sentence summary of Valiev would read “80% Edgar, 20% Moraes.” He glides around the ring with constant feints, a steady jab, and slick head movement before stepping in with crisp boxing and surprisingly vicious low kicks. He’s definitely got Edgar-esque output and an effective switch kick that calls “Magic” to mind, but what really stands out is his speed, especially against Featherweights.
He’s got some wrinkles of his own, namely his constant stance switching, willingness to throw the same strike several times in sequence, and fondness for flying knees, but also shares some of “The Answer’s” foibles. Most notably, he has Edgar’s same habit of attacking in a straight line; as difficult as he is to hit or corral on the outside, he’s vulnerable when he commits to his offense. His kicks, fast as they are, have also proven catchable, further compromising his defense.
Luckily, that’s where his wrestling comes in. In addition to some solid takedown chops, Valiev sports terrific balance and an excellent ability to get off of his back. If he wants to keep it on the feet, you’ll have a terribly difficult time convincing him otherwise, and this skill lets him move and vary up his striking with greater confidence.
Besides the aforementioned defensive lapses, Valiev’s biggest issue might be that he just isn’t a finisher; he can dish out some nasty ground-and-pound if prompted and has enough pop to make you respect his standup, but there’s a reason he’s got more decision wins than knockouts and submissions combined. Still, Edgar didn’t really get the hang of finishing people until after he fought his way to the Lightweight title, so that’s not a dealbreaker. He’s still a top 15 talent with the potential to become even more impressive in short order.
Opponent: Valiev’s heading back up to 145 to fight Jamall Emmers, a top-notch wrestler with notable advantages in height and reach. That said, Valiev’s got the technical striking edge and Emmers has a bad habit of engaging opponents in their areas of expertise before getting his takedowns going, which could allow Valiev to build up an insurmountable lead and lean on his strong balance to survive Emmers’ late surge.
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Record: 11-2 (5 KO, 5 SUB)
Notable Victories: None
Durden rebounded from two consecutive losses by winning his next seven in the cage, all of them inside the distance. He last fought less than a month ago, smashing John Sweeney in just 80 seconds.
He replaces Luke Sanders on six days’ notice.
Unfortunately for me and other would-be analysts, Durden’s most recent fights, the only ones of his career to come against competent opposition since his 2017 loss to Jared Scoggins, are locked behind FloCombat’s paywall. As such, this will be more Cliffs Notes than detailed breakdown.
Durden’s most eye-catching bit of pedigree is his wrestling background, which saw him excel in his native Georgia. That skill is evident in what recent footage there is; in last year’s fight with Dylan Schulte, Durden seemingly knocked him cold with a vicious slam before following up with unnecessary elbows. I’ve also seen him hit a nice reactive single-leg, so he’s not a one-trick pony. His ground-and-pound looks reasonably effective and he managed to choke out one of the better-credentialed opponents on his résumé, suggesting a fairly complete grappling game.
As far as his standup, he sports the traditional wrestler’s overhand right and some decent body shots. Training with the Welterweight division’s premier leg amputator, Douglas Lima, has also given him some nasty low kicks and effective body kicks. How effective he can be on the feet against world-class opposition remains a question, but don’t write him off as a one-note grinder.
It’s hard to say anything definitive about his prospects in the Octagon, but he’s at least got a strong background and good training partners.
Opponent: On the one hand, debut opponent Chris Gutierrez has struggled with wrestlers in the past. On the other, Gutierrez is a far, far superior striker to anyone Durden’s faced before and could have a field day tearing up Durden’s lead leg. The version of Durden I’ve seen gets demolished in the kickboxing; he’d better hope for his own sake that he’s shaped up in a hurry.
Should be an interesting night of fights.
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