After a long stretch of stateside fights, the world’s largest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion is headed back to “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi this weekend (Sat., Oct. 30, 2021), which means it’s time for a fresh batch of new international recruits. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where more organizations need proper video archives, we look at finishers from Russian, France and Brazil.
Albert “Machete” Duraev
Weight Class: Middleweight
Record: 14-3 (3 KO, 9 SUB)
Notable Victories: Caito Bittencourt, Vyachislav Vasilevskiy, Clifford Starks, Mikhail Tsarev, Sergey Khandozhko
Xtreme Couture’s Durav fought a “Who’s Who” of European talent during his rise through the ranks, ultimately winning and defending the ACB Welterweight title before losing it on the scales. Undaunted, he went on to win and defend their Middleweight belt, then end a three-year layoff by choking out Caio Bittencourt on “Contender Series.”
Duraev’s grappling took center stage inside UFC APEX and it’s certainly as potent as advertised. He’d adept with both long-range and clinch takedowns, which set up a smothering and occasionally vicious top game. Strong balance makes him extremely difficult to dislodge as he chases his suffocating rear-naked choke or, should the situation call for it, unload with high-volume ground-and-pound.
He’s no slouch off of his back, either. Indeed, on the rare occasions when he loses position, he does a great job of returning to his feet and separating.
Though we didn’t get to see it on ESPN+, he’s no joke on the feet, either. He’s got a genuinely excellent jab, an admirable willingness to work the body, and some powerful low kicks that buckled a very seasoned kickboxer in “Slava” Vasilevskiy. On top of that, he can do damage from either stance and boasts a nice left hook to welcome overeager opponents into the pocket.
He does tend to wing his punches when trying to throw longer combinations or chase opponents down, however, and a tendency to lead with rear-hand body shots opens him up to counters. Plus, despite his ability to tear down an opponent’s lead leg, he really seems to struggle with leg kicks in return.
Even if he got to UFC late and has a few rough edges, Duraev’s an excellent pickup with great skills and one of the stronger résumés you’re likely to find among Octagon newcomers. In the end, he should do very well for himself in the world’s largest fight promotion.
Opponent: He welcomes Roman Kopylov, who replaces Alessio Di Chirico, back to action after nearly two years away. Though Kopylov has the sprawl-and-brawl skills to potentially spoil “Machete’s” debut, his limited output could come back to bite him. Duraev’s a rightful favorite, albeit not quite a -300 one in my mind.
Benoit “God of War” Saint-Denis
Weight Class: Welterweight
Record: 8-0 (1 KO, 7 SUB)
Notable Victories: Luan Santiago, Mario Saeed
France’s “God of War” made his name in the Brave CF promotion, winning four straight after a headbutt-induced “No Contest” in his debut. He last saw action in Aug. 2021, when he choked out Arkaitz Ramos midway through the first round.
Unfortunately, there was less tape to review than I’d anticipated. While Brave CF’s website offered last March’s submission of Luan Santiago, his previous fight wasn’t on the site and the subsequent one wasn’t available for United States viewers.
So it goes ...
Saint-Denis’ grappling is his featured attraction, combining effective chain-wrestling with solid guard passing and a nasty squeeze on his chokes. He appears to prefer working for takedowns from the clinch, particularly the high crotch, but is more than able to shoot a long-range double if the situation calls for it. That said, his entries aren’t particularly great, forcing him to rely on chaining attempts together; he had all sorts of trouble trying to drag the mobile Santiago to the mat.
His striking’s functional, but shaky. He fights from a long, upright Southpaw stance, relying heavily on his left roundhouse kick and straight left. He is, unfortunately, much too stiff and upright for his own good, which allowed Santiago to land multiple clean counters on him. The stance seems to work against his wrestling, too, as while he does a good job of setting up his shots with strikes, he’s so tall to begin with that he can’t really get in on his opponent’s hips.
Saint-Denis can probably give a good chunk of the division a headache on the mat; in fact, his success will come down to whether he can get it there without getting his block knocked off. That question’s definitely up in the air at the moment, though he’s still young enough to make the necessary strides.
Opponent: He squares off with Brazilian knockout machine Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos. “Capoeira” has a massive edge on the feet, boasting more than enough power to crack Saint-Denis’ exposed chin, but has historically struggled to keep it standing against determined wrestlers. That said, Zaleski hasn’t been submitted in nearly a decade, so I favor him to stay alive on the ground and clip Saint-Denis when they return to the feet.
Allan “Puro Osso” Nascimento
Weight Class: Flyweight
Record: 18-5 (2 KO, 13 SUB)
Notable Victories: Ruslan Abiltarov
Nascimento — now entering his tenth year as a professional — stole the show with his war against Raulian Paiva on “Contender Series,” but failed to secure the win. Then came a three-year layoff, which he ended in July 2021 with a first-round submission in his native Brazil.
I’m afraid this analysis is going to be a bit dated, as the only recent fights I could find were the 2018 fight with Paiva and a 2016 loss to Yuki Motoya. I say this to absolve myself of all blame if I turn out to be totally wrong.
“Puro Osso” is a well-rounded, ultra-gritty ground specialist who’s every bit as eager to finish as his record suggests. He pushes forward in a tall, orthodox stance, using solid boxing combinations and a steady diet of leg kicks alongside regular flying knees and the occasional wild technique. It’s not super devastating, but his gas tank and brick-solid chin make it damn-near impossible to shake him off.
That high-octane offense also serves to set up his takedowns, of which he sports a varied arsenal. One on the ground, he’s an excellent scrambler with terrific submission defense to go along with his dangerous chokes and leglocks. His fight with Motoya is can’t-miss viewing for grappling enthusiasts and, while it was largely a standing slugfest, he and Paiva put forth some great ground exchanges as well.
While he’s lost to most of the big names he’s faced, including Ricardo Ramos and Will Campuzano alongside the two mentioned above, he doesn’t really have a standout weakness. His MMA game — exciting though it may be — just doesn’t seem to translate to success at the highest levels. He’s still a quality addition to the roster and will be in the running for a bonus every time he fights, but I don’t see him getting over the hump without at least pushing his takedowns to a new level.
Opponent: He meets Khabib Nurmagomedov training partner Tagir Ulanbekov, who’s withdrawn from three consecutive fights since last year’s successful UFC debut against Bruno Silva. Ulanbekov’s top-notch wrestling figures to win the day, though Nascimento’s low kicks could pay real dividends if he can stay standing long enough to use them.
Tape: His “Contender Series” bout is on Fight Pass.
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