The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) return to UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada, has already seen eight fights fall through, leaving just two newcomers to ply their craft. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where half my work goes down the drain on the regular, we check out a once-beaten Bantamweight and a potential Flyweight sensation who’s cut his teeth overseas.
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Record: 11-1 (3 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: Kevin Wirth
Askar — not to be confused with UFC Flyweight contender Askar Askarov — won his first 10 professional bouts before running afoul of Professional Fighters League (PFL) veteran Saidyokub Kakharamonov in Feb. 2020. He got back on track the following October, defeating Kevin Wirth in an LFA main event.
Standing bolt upright and marching forward without a care for return fire, Askar is an aggressive stalker who fires two-punch combinations and single kicks until the opportunity to change levels arises. He looks like a strong wrestler, setting up his shots with punches and proving able to power through an opponent’s sprawl, and has shown the wherewithal to lift opponents and carry them to a more advantageous location before settling on top.
While not particularly flashy, his ground game seems decent. He’s definitely a position-over-submission sort of grappler, and though he can be swept, he’s capable enough with his control and ground-and-pound to be a menace from top position.
I generally start with a fighter’s stand up in these sorts of breakdowns, but I saved Askar’s for last, as I’ve got a lot to say and very little of it is good. On the plus side, he has a solid jab, good clinch knees and uppercuts, and natural power in his hands. On the negative side, he has the upper-body mobility of a mummy. It’s downright eerie to watch him power-walk after opponents without a trace of bend in his spine, especially when he follows that solid jab with a looping right hand or other semi-flailing punch. That allowed Kakharamonov to knock him stiff in 39 seconds, and there’s heaps of UFC Bantamweights who could very easily do the same.
Askar’s still young, but his failure to address those massive flaws after Kakharamonov so thoroughly exposed them has me concerned about his chances in the Bantamweight shark tank. Barring some massive improvement or very soft matchmaking, don’t expect him to get particularly far.
Opponent: He meets the ever-dangerous Cody Stamann, whose only Octagon losses have come against elites like Aljamain Sterling and Jimmie Rivera. Stamann is by far the better striker and can more than hold his own in the wrestling, making this an extremely steep uphill battle for the UFC newcomer. In short, expect a rough Octagon baptism.
Tape: His recent LFA and Island Fights bouts are on Fight Pass.
Manel “Prodigio” Kape
Weight Class: Flyweight
Record: 15-4 (9 KO, 5 SUB)
Notable Victories: Kai Asakura, Takeya Mizugaki, Ian McCall
After putting together a 9-1 run on the European scene, Portugal’s Kape battled his way to the finals of Rizin’s 2017 Bantamweight Grand Prix with finishes of Erson Yamamoto and Ian McCall. A subsequent submission loss to Kyoji Horiguchi kicked off a 1-3 skid, but he enters the Octagon on the heels of three consecutive knockout wins, the most recent of which saw him avenge a 2018 loss to Kai Asakura.
This will be his first fight in more than one year, as Rogerio Bontorin and Alexandre Pantoja withdrew from planned bouts in 2020.
“Prodigio” certainly lives up to his nickname: the man’s an athletic marvel, boasting remarkable speed and movement even by the lower divisions’ lofty standards. His fast hands and footwork allow him to burst in and flurry when needed or fire off laser-like counters at a moment’s notice, and while he can still be over-reliant on his physical gifts in lieu of technical perfection, he’s shown better kicks and combination work in recent efforts alongside the occasional flash of excellence that hasn’t quite melded with the rest of his game.
For example, he’s got really nice lateral movement and pivots when he decides to use them. Against Takeya Mizugaki, he burst in with corkscrew uppercut that carried him past the UFC veteran, switched to Orthodox as he spun to face him, and then crushed him with a right cross at point-blank. That’s the sort of stuff that could really elevate him into something special.
He’s got some lingering flaws in his striking, notably a tendency to keep his hands low and leave his head unprotected in the pocket after ending his combinations, but the real red flags come on the ground. In 2018, he took on UFC veteran “Ulka” Sasaki, whose inability to take down UFC-caliber opposition doomed his Octagon career. While Kape showed some solid sprawls and scrambling skills early on, Sasaki found increasing success taking him down with low singles and keeping him there as the fight progressed. By the third, Kape had lost most of the zip on his punches and was reflexively sprawling any time Sasaki even hinted at changing levels.
His last couple fights have seen him try shots of his own, so he could very well have improved his wrestling since then, but it’s still a question mark.
Kape is loads of fun to watch, an enthralling blend of flamboyant violence and increasingly sound fundamentals. He’s got the physical gifts to potentially reach title contention at his current rate of growth. Indeed, if he can learn to keep it standing and properly protect his chin, look out.
Opponent: “Prodigio’s” getting tossed right into the deep end against division stalwart Alexandre Pantoja, whose current 1-2 skid belies his ability. The Brazilian is incredibly durable and lethal on the mat, so if Kape’s takedown defense isn’t up to snuff, he’s in trouble. Beating “The Cannibal,” who survived everything Deiveson Figueiredo could dish out, would immediately vault Kape into title contention.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 18 fight card this weekend, 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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