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UFC Vegas 9 - New Blood: Last-minute slugger, sumo’s return to the Octagon

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UFC Fight Night Overeem v Sakai: Weigh-Ins Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

This weekend’s UFC Vegas 9 card, which takes place inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, is barely intact with just nine bouts (see them), but it only required just one newcomer to be stapled onto it on late notice. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where half of my write ups end of being saved for later, we check out a hard-hitting LFA veteran and an unbeaten rikishi from Moldova.

Kevin “Quicksand” Natividad

Weight Class: Bantamweight/Featherweight
Age: 27
Record: 9-1 (5 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Kyle Estrada

Natividad went 6-1 as an amateur, losing only to future “Contender Series” and Bellator competitor Cheyden Leialoha, before debuting professionally in 2016. He’s won five straight since a 2017 defeat to Glen Baker, most recently flattening Kyle Estrada in July.

He steps in for Ricky Simon, whose cornerman tested positive for COVID (details), on a week’s notice.

Standing 5’6” atop tree trunk legs, Natividad shuffles forward in a tight, wide stance, reaching out with his jab and sharp straight right in an effort to get inside and open up with boxing combinations. Though he tends to load up on his left hook, his standard one-two combinations are plenty crisp, and he mixes up head and body shots nicely. Those huge legs also produce some nasty kicks when he decides to throw them.

That stance doesn’t always work out in his favor, however. His lead leg is wide open to low kicks, a problem he himself has acknowledged but hadn’t addressed by the time of his last fight. With calf kicks destroying the MMA metagame, leg kick defense has become more vital than ever; while he managed to knock Estrada out before getting his leg fully compromised, there are plenty of UFC Bantamweights and Featherweights who could disable him in minutes.

On the wrestling side, he’s got good technique, but tends to shoot from too far out and doesn’t seem to set them up with strikes all that well. Once on top, he passes well and has some submission skills. Unfortunately, I was unable to scrounge up any recent footage showcasing his takedown defense (thanks a lot, AXS TV).

“Quicksand” has the power and crispness to do some damage if he gets opponents willing to slug it out with him. Against those with the footwork to stay out of the pocket and the kicking prowess to tear up his lead calf, he’s in trouble. I see him having a few memorable fights, but never really approaching contention in the crazy-stacked UFC Bantamweight division.

Opponent: Despite being a career Bantamweight, he’s moving up to 145 pounds for his debut against Brian Kelleher. “Boom” is definitely happy to exchange, which works in Natividad’s favor, but Kelleher is also extremely experienced and extremely durable. Indeed, only the inimitable John Lineker has managed to put Kelleher down for the count. I like Kelleher to control the grappling and hold his own on the feet in this one.

Tape: His recent LFA bout is on Fight Pass.


Alexander “King Kong” Romanov

Weight Class: Heavyweight
Age: 29
Record: 11-0 (4 KO, 7 SUB)
Notable Victories: Virgil Zwicker

Moldova’s Romanov has gone past the first round just twice as a professional, scoring five finishes in less than two minutes apiece. The majority of his work came in his home country’s Eagles Fighting Championship, where he most recently made Sergio Freitas tap to a slam in Feb. 2019.

He was slated to debut against Raphael Pessoa in April before the event got canceled, then tested positive for the coronavirus ahead of a planned July debut opposite Marcin Tybura.

Looking at the 6’2,” 270-pound tank that is Romanov, it shouldn’t surprise you that his base is sumo. Early in his career, he had basically the exact plan of attack you’d expect: rush forward, slam his opponent to the mat, and either choke or Donkey Kong smash them into oblivion. To his credit, he’s shown a more measured approach and leaner physique lately, looking like someone taking his career seriously rather than being comfortable as a sideshow attraction.

Romanov’s stand up revolves almost entirely around his heavy southpaw kicks, and he’s got the dexterity to land to the legs, body, and head with equal ease. He’s remarkably fast and agile for his size, though he’s held back by subpar boxing, and he can be caught while throwing because of his inability to set things up with his hands.

The striking isn’t the main event, though — that would be his wrestling and top control. He seems to prefer double-legs, slams from double underhooks or over-unders, and high singles. That speed I mentioned earlier translates into some very fast shots, bolstered by his massive physical strength. If someone does manage to put him on his back in return, which I’ve only seen once, he looks like he knows enough to get back to his feet in a hurry.

He’s not the most technical ground-and-pounder out there and isn’t particularly hung up on precise positioning, but his sheer size, power and riding ability largely allow him to get away with some mistakes. Outside of his kesa gatame (scarf hold) finish of Virgil Zwicker, though, he hasn’t shown a particularly deep submission arsenal, relying on rear-naked chokes and forearm chokes against limited opposition.

It’s also definitely worth mentioning that, unsurprisingly, his cardio isn’t the best. He had a little under two rounds in his tank against Sultan Murtazaliev, but managed to dig deep and find the finish in the third. He does, however, seem to know how to manage energy and time his explosions when he’s nearly spent.

Romanov’s size, surprising athleticism and wrestling chops make him an interesting addition to the Heavyweight roster, and I can definitely see him bulldozing the Sergey Spivaks, Maurice Greenes and Don’Tale Mayeses of the division. He still needs to shed some pounds, sharpen up his hands, and tighten up his ground game if he wants to be a contender, though. At 29, he should have time to do so.

Opponent: As powerful as Marcos Rogerio de Lima is, his poor takedown defense utter lack of a bottom game should make him easy pickings for “King Kong” provided he doesn’t get clipped on the way in. “Pezao” could very easily take Romanov out in one shot, but it’s likelier that Romanov just bodies him on the ground for an early victory.

Tape:


Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 9 fight card this weekend right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ 8 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 9: “Overeem vs. Sakai” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.