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UFC Vegas 44 - New Blood: Last-minute (and long-looming) opportunities

UFC Fighter Portraits Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

UFC Vegas 44, which takes place this weekend (Sat., Dec. 4, 2021) inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, got off relatively easy, losing just six fights and needing to plug in just one Octagon newcomer. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where I pretend to be a real, classy pundit, we look at a last-minute addition to the roster and an adept prospect who was originally slated to debut in 2017.

LIVE! Stream UFC San Antonio On ESPN+

BLOCKBUSTER BANTAMWEIGHT CONTENDERS’ BOUT! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) departs APEX for a special “Fight Night” extravaganza at AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas, on Sat., March 25, 2023, featuring a pair of thrilling 135-pound bouts. Surging No. 4-ranked contender Marlon Vera goes for his fifth consecutive win when he takes on exciting finisher and No. 5-seeded Cory Sandhagen. In UFC San Antonio’s ESPN+-streamed co-main event, former women’s 135-pound champion and current No. 3-ranked Holly Holm battles Yana Santos (No. 4).

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Darian Weeks

Weight Class: Welterweight
Age: 28
Record: 5-0 (3 KO, 2 SUB)
Notable Victories: None

Weeks ended a nearly three-year, 19-fight amateur career in 2018 with a record of 15-4. Five straight professional wins set up a “Contender Series” bout with Josh Quinlan, but COVID protocols ultimately forced Weeks to withdraw. He steps in for Matt Brown, who tested positive for COVID, on less than one week’s notice.

Though he describes himself as a wrestler, Weeks has largely been content to keep it standing in the footage I’ve seen, though that may be due to the fact that each of his last three opponents tried desperately to drag him to the mat. On the feet, he utilizes a steady diet of front and low kicks to bolster heavy if somewhat rough hands while pushing forward on flat feet.

Where he really seems to shine is in transition, where he constantly lands heavy punches and hammerfists on opponents as they struggle to either take him down or get offense going off of their backs. He can give up bad positions and submission attempts at times, especially when he backs himself to the fence, but solid balance and awareness let him slip out and go right back to doing damage. He’ll also jump on dominant positions if they’re available, though he’s often content to stand over his opponents and drop bombs.

It’s hard to extrapolate too much about Weeks when he’s only fought people intent on taking him down, but he seems decent, though less polished than I expected considering his amateur background. While he probably won’t get a number next to his name, he could find a niche in the middle of the pack with a bit more improvement.

Opponent: He takes on the badly faded Bryan Barberena, who went from giving Vicente Luque hell to losing to Jason Witt. The bookies have it a toss up and I’m inclined to agree; if Weeks leans on his wrestling, he shouldn’t have too much of an issue. If it stays standing, Barberena’s still dangerous enough to potentially overpower him late. It’ll be interesting, to say the least.

Tape: His recent LFA bout is on Fight Pass.

Azamat Murzakanov

Weight Class: Heavyweight/Light Heavyweight
Age: 32
Record: 10-0 (7 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Matheus Scheffel, Mohammad Fakhreddine, Guto Inocente, Andre Muniz

A strong run on the Russian circuit earned “The Professional” a UFC opportunity against Joachim Christensen in 2017, only for injury and a run-in with United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to both scrap that fight and leave him on the sidelines for 2.5 years. He returned to action in 2019 with wins over Guto Inocente and Mohammad Fakhreddine in a single night, then ended another lengthy layoff by stopping Matheus Scheffel on “Contender Series.”

Murzakanov’s style bears some resemblance to fellow Sambist Fedor Emelianenko’s. He’s remarkably light on his feet and blisteringly fast for a man his size, largely relying on rapid one- or two-punch explosions on the feet. His overhand left is an absolute rocket, though his right hook sealed the deal against Scheffel, and his hands are just as quick as his feet.

He also looks to have the cardio to stay nimble well past the first round.

Like Emelianenko, he’s also a highly adept grappler whose flurries set up his takedowns. He boasts a fast, powerful double-leg, and even when he can’t land the initial shot, he does a great job of slowly adjusting his grip against the fence until he can drag them down. Once on top, he’s a brutal ground-and-pounder who generally seems content to work from guard and half guard instead of pursuing more dominant positions. Considering what a tank he is, though, he really doesn’t need much room to generate real power.

There really isn’t much to dislike about Murzakanov. The only real issues I see are his tendency to leave his head exposed when hurling the left hand and an occasional lack of variety in his stand up. One of the few times I saw him throw something other than a jab, hook, or straight/overhand left, he put down Fakhreddine with one of the cleanest and most devastating uppercuts I can recall.

He’s not Fedor, of course, but that doesn’t mean he’s not an excellent fighter. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what he can do in an increasingly exciting Light Heavyweight division.

Opponent: He was originally slated to face Marcin Prachnio, whom he would have annihilated, and Philipe Lins, whom he would have comfortably beaten. He’ll instead take on hulking Heavyweight Jared Vanderaa. While Vanderaa will probably be around 40 pounds larger than Murzakanov and sports considerable height and reach advantages, his complete lack of a bottom game should allow Murzakanov to demolish him on the mat.

Tape: His “Contender Series” bout is on ESPN+.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 44 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN at 10 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 44: “Aldo vs. Font” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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