Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has loaded this Saturday’s UFC 253 pay-per-view (PPV) on ESPN+ event with some of the company’s most consistent action fighters, but there was still room for some newbies. On this edition of “New Blood,” where we always keep some grains of salt to take with our highlight reels, we check out an elite Slovak striker, a two-time “Contender Series” winner with a 100 percent finish rate, and an unknown Light Heavyweight out of Brazil.
Weight Class: Featherweight
Record: 16-2 (7 KO, 8 SUB)
Notable Victories: Lukasz Sajewski
Klein’s 2017 Cage Warriors debut didn’t go as planned, tapping to an Aiden Lee rear-naked choke midway through the first round. He’s since rattled off seven consecutive wins, six by knockout and three of those by head kick.
He steps in for Nate Landwehr, who tested positive for COVID, on less than two weeks’ notice.
That knockout/submission ratio may suggest that he’s a generalist, but Klein has established himself as a lethal striker. His stand up essentially boils down to three strikes: his ramrod jab, his powerful straight left, and his left roundhouse kick. Like Mirko Cro Cop before him, he uses the left cross and round kicks to disguise one another, and his effective work with feints opens up even further opportunities. Fluidity, speed and power are all in abundance, and I especially like the way he takes his head off the centerline when throwing the straight left. That’s because this both makes it harder to counter and makes the wind-up further resemble the high kick.
The only faults I can really find in his striking are his tendency to back straight up, which is slightly offset by his countering skills, and the fact that he doesn’t check leg kicks. Yes, I recognize that I mention this in almost all of my breakdowns, but we’re in the “Age of the Calf Kick” and checking them is a pretty important skill.
His most recent opponent, three-fight UFC veteran Lukasz Sajewski, immediately put Klein’s wrestling to the test. The Slovak proved up to the challenge, showing far superior balance than in his 2017 defeat, and even when Sajewski finally managed to wrangle him down into side control, Klein got to his feet after a couple of minutes and floored Sajewski with a head kick. He also showed some offensive wrestling chops in his prior bout, though he didn’t elect to engage his submission-savvy foe on the mat.
I’m extremely impressed with what I’ve seen so far out of Klein. As long as his takedown defense continues to improve, I can easily see him getting a number next to his name before long.
Opponent: He takes on Shane Young, who’s 2-0 since a rough Octagon debut against Alexander Volkanovski. Klein’s the faster and more powerful of the two, but Young’s no slouch in the stand up. In short, I favor Klein ... in a coin flip.
William “Knightmare” Knight
Weight Class: Light Heavyweight
Record: 8-1 (7 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Herdem Alacabek, Cody Brundage
After two rounds of struggling with Herdem Alacabek’s grappling on “Contender Series,” Knight turned the tables and pounded him out to secure a developmental contract. He won two of his next three, losing only to future series standout Tafon Nchukwi, he stopped Cody Brundage with first-round elbows in his return to the series.
He makes his second appearance in less than four weeks.
This may sound bizarre considering that Knight has a physique somewhere between Tyron Woodley and Paulo Costa, but he honestly reminds me more of an early Derrick Lewis than anything else. He doesn’t offer much striking skill aside from his leg kicks, jab and admittedly dangerous right hand. Plus, despite his wrestling background, he struggles to actually put people on their backs or stay on his feet when he wants to be there.
He did, admittedly, show some better scrambling skills against Brundage, but still nothing to write home about.
Instead, his fights follow a consistent pattern: he gets taken down, eventually sweeps into top position or the feet, then pounds his opponents out when they try and force the wrestling issue again. This process can take a while, but opponents’ single-minded desire to grapple Knight make it bizarrely effective.
The only skill of his I’d really tab as UFC-worthy is that ground-and-pound, as he’s genuinely got a ton of power in that 5’10” frame. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, he doesn’t have the takedown skills to bring it to bear of his own accord. He spent the entirety of the Nchukwi fight trying and failing to take him down, eating regular shots without offering any sort of setups.
That’s the long and short of it: Knight has one genuinely strong skill and some impressive physicality, but can’t bring any of it to bear unless his opponents willingly fight in the least effective way possible. He’ll need very favorable matchmaking or some incredibly rapid improvement to make any real impact in the UFC Light Heavyweight division.
Opponent: Aleksa Camur is a significantly better boxer than Knight and should have the wherewithal to actually strike with him instead of blindly charging into a wrestling battle. Camur should comfortably outclass Knight on the feet.
Tape: His “Contender Series,” CES, and CFFC bouts are on Fight Pass and/or ESPN+.
Weight Class: Middleweight/Light Heavyweight
Record: 9-2 (4 KO, 4 SUB)
Notable Victories: None
Marques got the opportunity to headline an LFA show back in 2017, only to drop a controversial split decision to Myron Dennis. He returned to his native Brazil to win two straight, picking up a regional title in the process. He fights for the first time in more than 30 months.
Several years ago, UFC realized that it didn’t trust Lando Vannata to reliably beat anyone on the roster, so it called up the unknown and largely incompetent Marcos Mariano to serve as a victim. I feel like a similar thought process went into this signing. Let me run down the three bits of footage I managed to dredge up:
1. Against Marcio Teles in 2016, Marques circled and jabbed for a while before leaning in for a body jab, leaving his hands low as he retracted it, and getting knocked the hell out by a right hook.
2. Against Junior Lourenco, he threw a decent one-two combination and some feints, then spent the rest of the fight trading ungainly takedowns until his opponent gave up his back on a failed shot for the third or fourth time.
3. I could only find a highlight of the Dennis fight. Said highlight featured two failed takedowns from Marques and one decently-thrown two-three combination.
If there’s tape out there of his last two fights, I haven’t found it.
So, yeah. He’s a subpar grappler with some subpar striking to back it up. We’ve definitely seen fighters improve massively after lengthy layoffs, like Amanda Ribas and Amanda Lemos, but my hopes are not high.
Opponent: Playing the role of Lando Vannata in this scenario is Khadis Ibragimov. Once an unbeaten M-1 champion with sky-high potential, he’s currently winless (0-3) in the Octagon and has looked awful in the process. Ibragimov’s the better grappler and should have enough pop to put Marques to sleep, but don’t be surprised if he somehow finds a way to bungle this layup.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 253 fight card this weekend RIGHT HERE, starting with the early ESPN 2/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance (also on ESPN 2/ESPN+) at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
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