Despite eight different fights being canceled or rescheduled, UFC’s latest APEX-based event limps across the finish line this Saturday (Aug. 22, 2020) with a number of fresh faces in tow. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where I plot to hunt down AXS TV executives until they publicly release their LFA video archive, we check out two welterweights and a “Contender Series” veteran.
As a side note, Trevin Jones joined UFC on ESPN 15 too late to get a write up and Calen Born ghosted the weigh-ins earlier today (details) so his debut has been postponed or scrapped altogether ... time will tell.
Jordan “The Beverly Hills Ninja” Wright
Weight Class: Middleweight/Light Heavyweight
Record: 10-0 (5 KO, 5 SUB)
Notable Victories: Gabriel Checco
Wright built up a fluffy record in notorious promotions Xplode Fight Series, Gladiator Challenge and Alaska FC before claiming his first notable win in LFA and earning a shot on “Contender Series.” Said shot ended in 40 seconds courtesy of Anthony Hernandez’s punches, but after that was overturned, Wright returned from 1.5 years away to knockout Gabriel Checco in January.
He steps in for Jorge Gonzalez on less than five days’ notice.
Despite his nickname and “Wonderboy” Thompson-esque stance, Wright’s game is fairly simple: right roundhouse, overhand right. There’s some spinning stuff in there, but he largely focuses on pounding the head, body, and legs with single kicks while occasionally mixing in a hard right hand. That in and of itself isn’t a condemnation. Indeed, as Jack Slack has repeatedly written, Mirko Cro Cop essentially built his entire style around this double attack, using the threat of kicks to set up his rear hand and vice versa.
As Hernandez and, to a lesser extent, Checco demonstrated, however, Wright really has no answer to someone just stepping in and opening up. He throws kicks from punching range and lacks head movement, making it easy to hurl a counter as he’s on one leg or just force him to back to the fence. He needs to develop either an effective close-range attack or a better grasp of when and where to safely throw kicks if he doesn’t want people to maul him at close range.
Luckily, his wrestling defense is a little better. Checco repeatedly failed to take him down, ultimately shooting right into a knee. I’m not sure if he’s got a similar level of wrestling offense, as the submissions I saw both came about from takedowns he countered, but he’s at least functional from top position.
If pitted against grapplers, Wright could score a highlight-reel knockout or two. Against UFC-caliber strikers, however, I see those defensive issues ending his Octagon run early.
Opponent: He steps up to 205 pounds to take on Isaac Villanueva. While Wright is the better kicker, Villanueva’s combination punching looks like a serious problem for him, especially since Villanueva shouldn’t have much of a speed disadvantage. Unless he can slam his shin into Villanueva’s dome, Wright’s in for a short and deeply unpleasant night.
Tape: His “Contender Series” appearance and recent LFA bout are on Fight Pass.
Matthew “Semi” Semelsberger
Weight Class: Welterweight
Record: 6-2 (4 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Richard Patishnock, Zulkarnaiyn Kamchybekov
Semelsberger — who made his amateur debut all the way back in 2012 — enters the cage this Saturday on a three-fight winning streak. He last fought in February, knocking out former WSOF title challenger Rich Patishnock in little more than two minutes.
“Semi” is all about aggression, constantly switching stance and feinting before charging in with jabs and overhands behind them. He’ll mix in Superman punches, elbows, stutter-step low kicks, or shifting blitzes as needed, constantly pursuing a big knockout. Despite these tactics, he’s also happy to counter, making him dangerous whether or not he’s the one to start the exchange.
That style isn’t without its downsides. As Kamchybekov showed, Semelsberger’s generally solid takedown defense suffers when he steps in super deep and leaves his hips open. Those overhands aren’t particularly crisp, either, so someone willing to stand their ground and throw back could do some serious damage.
As is, Semelsberger is just too rough around the edges to make a real impact in the Octagon. I can definitely see him getting an “of the Night” bonus or two while he’s around, though.
Opponent: He fights fellow debutant Carlton Minus, a less-aggressive but technically superior kickboxer. Though Semelsberger could theoretically catch him cold, I like Minus to jab and counter him into oblivion.
Tape: His CFFC bout is on Fight Pass.
Carlton “Clutch” Minus
Weight Class: Welterweight
Record: 10-1 (6 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Justin Buchholz, Schon Ellis
After establishing himself as one of Alaska FC’s best, Minus answered the call to face Rick Story on short notice under the PFL banner. Though he fell short against the UFC veteran, “Clutch” returned after 18 months to beat Schon Ellis this past February.
He steps in for “Contender Series” winner Philip Rowe.
Minus is a highly mobile, sharpshooting striker with one of the strongest jabs I’ve seen in a while. That thing is a genuine piston, snapping opponents’ heads back and nicely setting up his similarly crisp straight right behind it. He keeps his hands low as he circles, constantly firing the jab or punishing with a check hook when pressured. With solid combinations, good body and low kicks, excellent timing, and a noteworthy ability to mix his head and body shots in combination, Minus can quickly defuse and exhaust those looking to chase him down.
He does, however, have his fair share of shortcomings. Like many fighters that willingly give round, his trailing leg is vulnerable to low kicks, a problem made worse by the fact that he’ll occasionally try to backpedal directly away from opponents instead of cutting angles. His low hands can also open him up to fast punches down the middle, and he’ll occasionally lean too far forward when opening up to create a similar defensive lapse. These aren’t career-derailing flaws, but crafty strikers will undoubtedly be able to exploit them.
No, the potentially career-derailing flaw is his takedown defense. He had no answers whatsoever for Story’s wrestling onslaught, and though he showed an improved ability to get off of his back in his most recent fight, he still ended up there multiple times. All the striking skill in the world can’t help you if you can’t stay on your feet, so he’ll need to dramatically improve in that area if he wants a long UFC run.
Still, he’s got such a nice striking attack that I’m happy to see him join the roster. Hopefully, UFC will put him in match ups that let him show it off.
Opponent: See above.
Tape: His Alaska FC bouts are on Fight Pass.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on ESPN 15 fight card this weekend right here, starting with the ESPN+/ESPN “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+/ESPN at 8:30 p.m. ET.
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