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UFC Vegas 41 - New Blood: Two more makes four

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UFC Fight Night: Costa v Vettori weigh-in Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Never underestimate the world’s largest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion’s ability to scrounge up quality replacements on the latest notice imaginable. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where my “Prelims” pieces grow more out-of-date by the second, we look at an unbeaten Lightweight striker, an explosive Flyweight finisher, a towering Strawweight, and a Georgian grappling ace.

LIVE! Stream UFC Vegas 44 On ESPN+

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Sat., Dec 4, 2021, with a thrilling Bantamweight contenders’ bout that will see No. 4-ranked Rob Font battle No. 5-seeded Jose Aldo. In UFC Vegas 44’s co-main event, No. 12-ranked Lightweight contender, Brad Riddell, squares off with No. 14-seeded Rafael Fiziev in a striking fan’s dream fight.

Don’t miss a single second of face-punching action!

David Onama

Weight Class: Lightweight
Age: 27
Record: 8-0 (5 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: Brad Robison

The latest James Krause acolyte to join the world’s largest fight promotion, Onama went 10-0 as an amateur before making his pro debut in 2019. He’s since ended all of his fights inside the distance, five of them in the first round.

He steps in for Alan Patrick on four days’ notice.

The Uganda-born, Missouri-based Onama is a patient, stalking striker with the ability to easily switch stance and deliver big power from either. A sharp-if-underutilized jab sets up heavy hooks and overhands either on the attack or as counters and his kicks, particularly from southpaw, are fast and thudding. It’s not a hugely fanciful offense, but it’s a very effective one, even if he does tend to loop his rear hand more than he should

His grappling is rather more interesting, at least from the perspective of someone trying to analyze it. While his takedown defense isn’t particularly elite, he does an amazing job of exploding out of bad positions, as seen when he spun into Justin Overton’s guard three times after giving up back mount. He’s also got some strong trips of his own and showed some really intelligent work from the top, holding, attacking, or disengaging depending on how Overton attacked.

I don’t really have any huge criticisms of Onama; he’s UFC-ready as-is, just in need of some tweaks to his punching and takedown defense. I’m very excited to see where he goes from here.

Opponent: He squares off with the lethal Mason Jones in an immediate dive into the deep end. Onama’s skilled enough to hold his own, but Jones’ durability and aggression should let him take over as the fight progresses.

Tape: His FAC bouts are on Fight Pass.


Daniel “Miojo” Lacerda

Weight Class: Flyweight
Age: 25
Record: 11-1 (5 KO, 6 SUB)
Notable Victories: Rodrigo Sarafian

Brazil’s Lacerda won seven straight fights to set up a bid for Jungle Fight gold, only to injure his shoulder less than a minute into the bout. He’s since gotten back on track with three straight first-round finishes, including a ground-and-pound knockout of Rodrigo Sarafian in July 2021.

Lacerda’s only ever left the first round once as a professional, which isn’t terribly surprising considering the way he fights. He’s primarily a rangy, bouncy striker who unleashes bullwhip kicks from either stance, and he’s capable of chaining them together in unique and devastating fashion. His left high kick is his money shot, and while it’s hard to get an idea of his boxing skills from the limited tape, he usually doesn’t need them.

He’s similarly all-action on the ground, where he unleashes heavy punches and elbows with little regard for positioning. Should he end up on his back, which isn’t a particularly rare occurrence considering that balls-to-the-wall ground-and-pound, he’s shown a solid triangle/armbar series and some solid elbows once there.

Besides his unknown cardio, his wrestling looks like the weakest link at the moment. His attempted takedown against 4-2-1 Augusto Cesar da Silva was awkward and resulted in Lacerda landing on his back, though he did admittedly to a better job setting up and completing a shot in that win over Sarafian.

Lacerda’s young, powerful, clearly skilled, and admirably committed to scoring finishes. There are too many unknowns to make a definite prognosis on his UFC future, I’m very eager to see him in action.

Opponent: He squares off with Contender Series veteran Jeff Molina, last seen warring it out with Aoriqileng to win Fight of the Night. Molina’s the far more proven fighter and is more than capable of smashing Lacerda if the latter’s cardio fails the test, but his preference towards fighting off the back foot should allow Lacerda free reign to let his kicks go. I’ve got Lacerda, though it’s admittedly a gut pick.

Tape:


Maria “Neta” Oliveira

Weight Class: Strawweight
Age: 24
Record: 12-4 (7 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: None

Oliveira, a teammate of former champion Jessica Andrade, put a 1-2 pro start to win nine straight. Consecutive losses to Kanna Asakura and Marina Rodriguez followed, though she enters the cage this Saturday in the midst of a two-fight winning streak.

“Neta” is primarily an upright, patient Muay Thai stylist, utilizing low kicks and basic punching combinations to keep opponents on the back foot. She added a bit of flavor recently, including a vicious knee to the body that finished her last opponent, and can put some solid heat behind the right cross she uses alongside a solid jab.

Things get a bit hairier when she’s not the one dictating the pace. Rodriguez found tons of success simply walking into the clinch and tearing Oliveira apart with knees and elbows, and even the 0-1 Dyulie Duarte consistently managed to tie up early in their fight. She does seem to have improved her ability to circle out rather than back straight up, but it’s still a liability.

Speaking of liabilities, her ground game badly lets her down. She was completely helpless off of her back in her 2017 bout with Asakura, simply holding onto her opponent while fruitlessly trying to bridge. She showed a bit of offensive wrestling prowess against Duarte, landing multiple single-legs, but completely failed to generate offense from half guard or even side control; the only meaningful ground-and-pound came in the final seconds when she finally achieved mount.

On top of that, it’s hard to give much credit to her successes when her opposition has been godawful. She’s beaten just one opponent with a winning record and got thoroughly torched each time she stepped up in class. You could argue that she’s still just 24 and lost to Rodriguez when she was 21, but you can’t definitively say she’s improved when she hasn’t fought anyone even near that caliber since.

While she’s a functional fighter, I don’t see Oliveira getting very far at all in the division. Young fighters have surprised me before, but a lack of seasoning and grappling skill portend a short UFC tenure.

Opponent: She takes on the talented Tabatha Ricci, who stepped up in weight to challenge top prospect Manon Fiorot in her unsuccessful debut. Oliveira will have considerable advantages in height and reach, but Ricci’s judo pedigree and dangerous ground skills should let her take “Neta” down and dominate from there.

Tape:


Zviad Lazishvili

Weight Class: Bantamweight
Age: 29
Record: 12-0 (9 SUB)
Notable Victories: Ricky Steele

After amassing a 10-0 record in his native Georgia, Lazishvili spent four years away from the ring, returning in November 2019 to beat Josh Huber in his LFA debut. This set up a title shot against Ricky Steele, whom Lazishvili took down and choked out late in the first.

He was originally slated to debut against Jack Shore in September, but now steps in for Aaron Phillips on three days’ notice.

As that record suggests, Lazishvili does his best work on the ground, blending very strong control with heavy ground-and-pound and a powerful squeeze. He’s extremely adept at staying on top through unconventional positions and doing consistent damage along the way via punches and elbows, and even if his opponents do work their way back to their feet, he does a great job at taking out their base and dragging them back to the mat to start the whole cycle over again.

Despite those grappling skills, however, it’s hard to get a bead on his wrestling. Lazishvili only really seems to try and take people down off of caught kicks or knees, at least in the two fights he’s had since 2015. This was the case even when Huber started taking him apart standing; Lazishvili didn’t try a single long-range shot or even attempt to enter the clinch. Whether that was a preference, a limitation, or just a guy struggling after four years away, I can’t really say. It’s something he’ll have to prove to hold up in the UFC, though.

His standup is patient and fundamentally sound, but also a bit underwhelming. He’s largely content with jabs and crosses, and though he has solid timing with his counters, a lack of head movement and hand positioning allowed Huber to essentially land at will late in their fight. He also doesn’t check low kicks at all, which is a pretty significant no-no in the modern age of MMA.

Lazishvili’s success really boils down to his takedown skills. Even if they’re not on the level of countryman Merab Dvalishvili, his skill on the mat can take even a middling wrestling game and keep it afloat in the UFC. If they’re not there, his poor striking defense could prove his undoing.

Opponent: He meets powerful kickboxer Jonathan Martinez, who saw a 4-1 streak collapse thanks to a vicious left hand from Davey Grant. He’s a hell of a litmus test, a capable counter-wrestler that utterly annihilated another gritty grinder in Frankie Saenz. If Lazishvili can’t consistently take him down, he’s in for a beating.

Tape: His LFA bouts are on Fight Pass.


Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 41 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ at 4 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 41: “Costa vs. Vettori” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.