UFC Vegas 11 this Saturday night (Sept. 19, 2020) at UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, is mighty stacked, but there’s still room for some newbies. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where there’s never enough tape, we check out a trio of “Contender Series” veterans and a last-minute Welterweight finisher. As always, all “Contender Series” bouts are on Fight Pass and ESPN+.
Sarah “Too Sweet” Alpar
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Record: 9-4 (2 KO, 2 SUB)
Notable Victories: Joselyn Edwards, Shanna Young
Alpar snapped Joselyn Edwards’ seven-fight win streak to secure the LFA Bantamweight title, setting up a “Contender Series” bout against Shanna Young. After a competitive first round, “Too Sweet” wrangled Young to the mat and put her out with a rear-naked choke.
She was originally slated to debut in May before COVID interfered.
A squat, 5’4” southpaw, Alpar relied on heavy pressure earlier in her career, winging her shots to the head and body while landing low kicks on the regular. Against Young, she showed much better footwork and some very solid countering skills, particularly with her left hand, to make up for her lack of height and reach. That said, her stand up’s still a work in progress; most notably, she tends to lose her composure in exchanges, winging awkward punches as her stance falls apart. In addition, she leaves her chin up when throwing punches or low kicks, which got her floored by Carina Damm in 2016 and which she hasn’t fully addressed.
Luckily for her, she also boasts a strong wrestling pedigree, which she showed off against Young. She took “The Shanimal’s” back early, and though she ultimately lost position, she caught a body kick in the second to take the latter back down and ultimately choke her own. Though not much of a finisher, she’s got solid submission defense, having survived an armbar from Damm and a d’arce from Young.
That wrestling isn’t a cure-all, however. When backed against the fence by Young, she tried a point-blank double-leg and got easily sprawled on, resulting in the aforementioned d’arce.
I suppose my one-word summary would be “unspectacular.” That’s because her striking is incomplete, as mentioned, and her wrestling isn’t particularly overpowering. Combined with her lack of height and reach, I just don’t see any real weapons in her arsenal that could carry her through the ranks. Give her someone with weak takedown defense and she’ll be fine, but otherwise, don’t expect an eye-catching run.
Opponent: Jessica-Rose Clark has yet to notch a UFC win at Bantamweight, so Alpar could conceivably grind her out. That said, Clark is the better striker and looks scrappy enough to power out of what rough spots Alpar puts her in. Expect it to go 15 minutes as Clark edges out a competitive decision.
T.J. “The Truth” Laramie
Weight Class: Featherweight
Record: 12-3 (7 KO, 2 SUB)
Notable Victories: Charles Jourdain, Joao Luis Nogueira, Daniel Swain
After a brief reign as TKO Featherweight champion, Laramie joined Prospect Fighting Championships, ultimately claiming their Featherweight belt in his third appearance. Eight months later, he made the most of his Contender Series opportunity by overpowering Daniel Swain for a first-round injury stoppage.
He makes a one-month turnaround on Saturday.
Laramie achieved noteworthy success in wrestling, kickboxing and jiu-jitsu at a young age, and his current mixed martial arts (MMA) game reflects that pedigree. His jabs, crosses and switch kicks are his strongest weapons on the feet — crisp one-two combinations and one-one-two combinations comprise the majority of his striking offense, though he’s happy to pepper in body hooks or counter rights. That lead leg of his is dangerously fast and dexterous, allowing him to throw head kicks as counters or catch opponents changing levels. It’s a robust, powerful offense only slightly dented by his vulnerability to leg kicks and tendency to back straight up.
His grappling is where he truly shines. Both his offensive and defensive wrestling look razor-sharp, and he can be utterly relentless with chain wrestling and mat returns when he wants to be. Once on top, he’s generally content to work from full guard or half guard, where he can deliver remarkably destructive ground-and-pound from close range. Strong submission defense allowed him to completely neutralize Swain’s bottom game and break him down without issue.
Considering how rare truly dangerous ground-and-pound is these days, it’s good to see a young man bringing back the classics.
I’m genuinely very impressed with what I’ve seen so far, especially considering his age. The only point of serious concern is durability. That’s because he has two technical knockout losses to Alex Morgan, and while the first was an early stoppage as he shot in after getting dropped, the second one was a straight-up mauling. That tendency to back straight up could be problematic if his chin is actually shaky, but I suppose we’ll have to wait to find out.
Opponent: Laramie faces hyper-aggressive submission specialist Darrick Minner, who either taps his opponent or gets tapped in the vast majority of his fights. “The Truth’s” takedown defense is sufficient to keep it standing, where he’s got a considerable edge, but he should also be able to stay out of trouble and do damage from the top if he so chooses. Either way, expect him to start his Octagon career with a win.
Jerome “The Renegade” Rivera
Weight Class: Flyweight
Record: 10-2 (7 SUB)
Notable Victories: Luis Rodriguez
Despite rough losses to future UFC competitors Roberto Sanchez and Brandon Royval, Rivera got back in the LFA win column this past January by tapping Kendrick Latchman. He went on to make his delayed “Contender Series” debut in August, taking a narrow decision over Luis Rodriguez that initially failed to earn him a contract.
This marks his second fight in 1.5 months.
Once the 5’10” Rivera steps foot in the Octagon, he’ll be the tallest current member of the UFC Flyweight division and the tallest since “Ulka” Sasaki’s exit. His stand up is fairly prototypical Tall Guy™ stuff: stiff jabs and crosses, leg kicks, and a regular diet of front kicks at range, knees from the Thai clinch inside. He blends the two quite well, transitioning immediately from punching flurries into the plum. While he does tend to be a little too linear and keep his hands low, opening him up to counters, he’s also extremely good at using his combinations to disguise takedown attempts.
Unfortunately, his follow-throughs are nowhere near as good as his entries. Even if he gets all the way in on his opponent’s hips before they can react, he badly struggles to finish takedowns. He’s simply not very physically capable in the clinch, a weakness compounded by his tendency to easily lose the underhook battle. Once Rodriguez realized this, he consistently overpowered Rivera in the last two rounds and should have walked away with the decision.
It’s a shame, because he’s clearly got some nice ground skills. Against Latchman, he immediately transitioned from having his kick caught to locking up a fight-ending triangle, and he managed to take Rodriguez’s back early while showing nice transitions throughout. He was even willing to pull guard at the end, showing his confidence in his submissions. Without the wrestling to back them up, though, I don’t see him going terribly far in the Octagon.
Opponent: He meets well-traveled veteran Tyson Nam, an overly patient counter-puncher with excellent takedown defense lights-out power. Rivera’s not dragging him to the mat anytime soon; he could potentially outwork Nam for a decision win, but he’s likelier to get plugged and knocked out while committing to strikes.
Tape: His recent LFA bout is on Fight Pass.
Weight Class: Welterweight
Record: 8-2-1 (3 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: Jon Manley, Marco Smallman
Wells claimed the CES Welterweight title in 2018 with a decision over Jason Norwood, only to lose it to Vinicius de Jesus in his first defense. He then returned to Cage Fury, where he scored a 22-second knockout before tapping Marco Smallman for the promotion’s Welterweight belt.
He takes this fight on less than five days’ notice, replacing Mickey Gall.
Standing 5’9” — but boasting an impressive 75-inch reach — Wells is all about rapid bursts of violence. Though generally content to circle while switching stance, he’ll step in deep or outright crow-hop his way into range to send out side kicks, one-two combinations or big, swinging hooks from either hand. He’s both willing to commit to a heavy blitz or sit back and counter (a brutal counter left accounted for the 22-second knockout mentioned above).
He’s got some speed and power, but his standup is sorely underdeveloped. de Jesus managed to entirely neutralize his offense with steady, patient pressure and regular leg kicks, often backing the shorter man into the fence. Wells’ little hops also badly telegraph his attacks, making it difficult for him to actually land those wound-up bombs of his.
The Renzo Gracie Philly-trained product does, however, have some grappling chops to lean on. He appears to prefer landing takedowns from the clinch, having demonstrated some trips and a nice suplex, and is extremely heavy on top. His victory over Smallman saw him chisel away with short shots until Smallman gave up his back, at which point he wrapped up the rear-naked choke. It’s not as dynamic as his striking, but if it works, it works.
While it’s fun to watch him step into his strikes the same way a right fielder steps into a pickoff throw to third, Wells’ striking is just too rough at the moment for him to get very far. His vulnerability to low kicks and lack of subtlety in his attacks mean that any striker worth their salt will chew him up on the feet, and his grappling, while solid, doesn’t look sufficient to compensate.
Opponent: He faces the hulking Miguel Baeza, who makes up for his lack of defensive skills with sheer size, power, and durability. Wells will actually have a slight reach advantage despite being five inches shorter, but that’s not going to do him much good, especially if Baeza unleashes the leg kicks he used to finish Hector Aldana in his Octagon debut. Baeza should thrash him before long.
Tape: His CFFC bouts are on Fight Pass.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 11 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ 8 p.m. ET.
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