After some last-minute adjustments, UFC Vegas 20 this weekend (Sat., Feb. 27, 2021) on ESPN+ enters UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, with two newcomers in tow. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series built on last-minute improvisation, we check out a pair of “Contender Series” veterans.
Weight Class: Welterweight
Record: 8-0 (1 KO, 4 SUB)
Notable Victories: Jordan Williams
After putting together a strong run on the Eurasian circuit and claiming victory in his sole Professional Fighters League (PFL) bout, Kuramagomedov entered “Contender Series,” beating Jordan Williams by split decision but failing to secure a UFC contract. He returned to Russia for a get-well victory 4.5 months later, then returned to the United States in Sept. 2020 with a submission victory under the Cage Fury banner.
He steps in for Randy Brown on less than a week’s notice.
When Kuramagomedov can get comfortable and set the pace, he’s a joy to watch, blending debilitating kicks with crisp combination punching while gliding around the cage and using deft head movement to avoid return fire. His jabs, crosses and low kicks are particularly effective, and he can throw them from either stance with equal ease. On the inside, he excels with knees and elbows, and he’s capable of busting out spinning and flying techniques when the situation calls for it.
Though he’s not a hugely overpowering wrestler, he boasts a strong double-leg takedown as well, further setting up his versatile offense.
Start pressuring him, however, and things start falling apart. Williams found considerable success catching Kuramagomedov while he threw, as the latter occasionally kicked from too close or saw the aforementioned head movement fail him. In addition, he tends to back straight up while looking for counters, which leaves him vulnerable against opponents durable and persistent enough to maintain pursuit. Even the limited Trevor Ollison managed to back Kuramagomedov to the fence on multiple occasions last time out, and it was only Kuramagomedov’s wrestling and top control that managed to bail him out.
He was also gassed by the end of the second round against Williams, which is another red flag.
As far as his wrestling, he showed some good timing and drive in his shots, but struggled to keep Williams down for any length of time. When he does manage to get his grappling going, however, he can be quite difficult to dislodge and takes the back well.
As negative as that breakdown was, I do think he’s got real potential. He’s still young and, best as I can tell, fights out of a quality camp in Xtreme Couture. The tools are definitely there — if he can tighten up his cardio and get more experience against pressure fighters, watch out.
Opponent: He takes on the lethal — but terribly inconsistent — Alex “Cowboy” Oliveira. This one’s a toss-up because Oliveira has the power to capitalize on Kuramagomedov’s lapses, but his need to pace himself limits his ability to properly pressure the Dagestani newcomer. While Kuramagomedov will have to be careful from bell-to-bell, I like him to out-last the Brazilian.
Tape: His “Contender Series” appearance and recent CFFC fight are on Fight Pass.
Ronnie “The Heat” Lawrence
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Record: 6-1 (3 KO)
Notable Victories: Jose Johnson
Nashville’s Lawrence won all six of his amateur bouts and his first three professional bouts before running afoul of Steve Garcia and spending the next two years on the shelf. He wound up joining the latest iteration of “Contender Series” in Sept. 2020, dominating Jose Johnson to earn himself a UFC contract.
“The Heat” is an interesting blend of mobile, light-footed striking and truly suffocating wrestling. He’s generally content to operate at range on the feet, switching stances while sending out hard low kicks, side kicks, or the spinning back kick he’s quite fond of. He’s got a bit of boxing as well, notably tearing up his comeback opponent’s body after hurting him with an elbow, but does struggle a bit with rushing in a straight line when trying to close the distance. While it’s not a terribly deep attack, it serves its purpose, which is setting up takedowns.
Lawrence absolutely smothered Johnson, putting him on his back a dozen times over the course of 15 minutes. His weapon of choice appears to be a trip from the body lock, but he also demonstrated excellent timing on his reactive level changes and some extremely persistent chain wrestling; whatever opportunities Johnson gave him, he capitalized to devastating effect, and he was just as adept at dragging him to the mat in the third round as he was in the first.
Once he’s gotten on top, he’s solid, if less spectacular. He utilizes an aggressive passing game that can get him caught in guard or half guard if unsuccessful, and his ground-and-pound isn’t particularly devastating. On the submission side of things, he’s too trigger-happy with his guillotine, but makes up for that positional deficiency with a solid guard attack.
Lawrence’s wrestling aloe should be sufficient to get him one or two Octagon wins. If he wants to make a real impact in one of the organization’s most stacked divisions, however, he’ll have to be more technical when closing the gap, tighten up his top control, and work harder on becoming a legitimate finishing threat.
Opponent: He takes on Vince Cachero, who got mauled by Jamall Emmers in his promotional debut. The ease with which Emmers manhandled Cachero in the clinch and took him down on five of seven attempts should give Lawrence plenty of hope, and while Lawrence isn’t anywhere near as dangerous on the feet as Emmers, he should still dominate the Hawaiian on the mat.
Tape: His “Contender Series” bout is on ESPN+.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 20 fight card this weekend right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET.
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