A motley assortment of fresh faces hit UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, this Saturday evening (March 20, 2021), all of them in match ups that could easily produce fireworks. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where I continue trying to get things done ahead of time despite the blatant futility, we check out a lethal husband/wife duo and several other exciting finishers.
Weight Class: Heavyweight
Record: 7-3 (2 KO, 5 SUB)
Notable Victories: None
Hunsucker put a 1-2 professional start behind him to win five straight, setting up a November 2020 clash with Jared Vanderaa on “Contender Series.” He proved unable to conquer “The Mountain,” though he returned to the win column in Feb. 2021 with a 45-second knockout of Cory Moon.
He steps in for Don’Tale Mayes on three days’ notice.
It’s hard to make a thorough analysis of Hunsucker for the simple reason that all of his fights ended in the first round and most were against godawful opposition. Indeed, he’s beaten just two men with winning records, one of whom was 1-0 and the other of whom had been knocked out in nine seconds by an 8-14 fighter in his previous fight.
Luckily for me, Hunsucker’s game doesn’t appear to be particularly deep: he’ll send out single low kicks until the opportunity to storm forward with two-fisted flurries arises, then tie up and hunt for takedowns against the fence if the situation calls for it. Once he’s got his opponent down, he chases the Americana while showing off his Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt with solid passing.
As far as I can tell, that’s the long and short of it. He seems to have a bit of pop, but his wrestling failed him as soon as Vanderaa managed to get a solid clinch, and it didn’t take Hunsucker long to succumb to ground-and-pound. His striking looks technically deficient, his cardio is unknown, and his only experience against competent opponents saw him torn up in less than five minutes.
There are few, if any, UFC heavyweights I’d pick him to beat. As mean as it feels to say, he won’t have a long tenure in the world’s largest fight promotion.
Opponent: He meets Tai Tuivasa, who hits harder and is ostensibly more durable than Hunsucker. Tuivasa’s a dead fish off of his back, so Hunsucker might have a chance if he somehow winds up on top, but he’s almost certainly getting pasted by the hulking Aussie.
Tape: His “Contender Series” bout is on ESPN+.
Cheyanne “The Warrior Princess” Buys
Weight Class: Strawweight
Record: 5-1 (1 KO)
Notable Victories: Hilarie Rose
Buys started her professional career 1-1 after participating in a dozen amateur bouts, ultimately working her way into “Contender Series” in Aug. 2020. There, she overpowered Hilarie Rose in dominant fashion, securing a contract despite the lack of a finish.
Her husband may excel on the mat, but “Warrior Princess” is a lethal, aggressive combination striker who’s looking better each fight. She enjoys launching high-volume punching volleys punctuated with body or head kicks, and what really stands out is her adaptability. Though she prefers pushing forward behind her jab, she’s also a highly adept counter-puncher, more than able to circle and pick her shots when advancing isn’t the best course of action.
Plus, while she’s not much of a finisher, there’s obvious thump in her strikes ... especially as they continue to grow crisper.
Just because she doesn’t focus on wrestling doesn’t mean she isn’t good at it, of course. She dominated in the clinch against Rose, shutting down her takedowns entirely and landing solid blows from inside. When she bothered to engage on the ground, she looked quite adept, showing JP’s knack for taking the back while demonstrating quality control.
I’m definitely high on Buys; however, if there’s a standout weakness to be found, it’s that she can be caught while throwing heat, but she’s got the power and craft to win those exchanges anyway. Keep your eye on this woman.
Opponent: She was slated to meet another highly promising youngster in Kay Hansen, whose top-notch wrestling and limited striking made for an intriguing contrast. Instead, she gets debutante Montserrat Ruiz, a swarming clinch specialist. Buys is the far better striker and will have the edge in height and reach, but Ruiz can definitely ruin her day if she gets her down. Considering how strong Buys looks to be in the clinch, however, I favor her to start her Octagon career with a win.
Tape: Her “Contender Series” bout is on ESPN+, while her previous LFA bout is on Fight Pass.
Montserrat “Conejo Mad” Ruiz
Weight Class: Strawweight
Record: 9-1 (2 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: Janaisa Morandin
Montserrat cut her teeth on the Mexican circuit before a 2018 Invicta debut, which saw her drop a unanimous decision to UFC veteran Danielle Taylor. Though she missed all of 2019, Ruiz came back strong in July 2020 with a dominant first-round finish of former title challenger Janaisa Morandin.
She replaces Kay Hansen on little more than one week notice.
Ruiz — a 5’0” fireplug and one of many ultra-aggressive southpaws training under King MMA’s Rafael Cordeiro — has a very simple gameplan: march forward with punches, get the clinch, hit a head-and-arm throw, and work from there. I do make an effort to go in-depth in these analyses, but that’s really the long and short of it.
To her credit, though, she does seem to be getting better at it. While she failed to make any real impact with her strikes against Taylor and never managed to get her down before desperately selling out in the third round, she caught Morandin with some legitimately heavy punches before slinging her to the mat and locking up a scarf hold armlock. While the head-and-arm throw is effectively obsolete at this point, she might be able to make a real impact if she develops a more versatile clinch takedown game.
It’s hard to make a definitive statement on her potential at this point, as the Morandin fight was her only appearance in the last two years. As she is now, she’ll likely beat anyone with poor takedown defense and/or bad scrambling, but she’ll struggle with seasoned wrestlers and strikers with the lateral movement or counters to avoid her blitzes.
Opponent: See above.
Tape: Her Invicta bouts are on Fight Pass.
J.P. “Young Savage” Buys
Weight Class: Flyweight
Record: 9-2 (3 KO, 5 SUB)
Notable Victories: Luthando Biko, Jacob Silva
Buys made his first bid at UFC stardom in 2017, when he fell to Joby Sanchez on “Contender Series.” After winning and defending the EFC Bantamweight title among other victories, he returned to the show in November 2020, defeating Jacob Silva by controversial referee stoppage to earn his long-desired contract.
Phenomenal wrestling has long been Buys’ calling card and it remains as potent as ever. His takedowns and scrambles are an absolute joy to watch, constantly demonstrating impressive timing, speed, fluidity, and versatility. The fun doesn’t stop once he settles in top position, either, as he passes extremely well, shows great patience, and has a knack for taking the back. There, he’s dangerous with both ground-and-pound and an array of chokes.
He’s no slouch defensively, either, utilizing the threat of his guillotine and solid framing to shut down and separate from anyone looking to take him down in return.
As incredible as his ground work can be, his standup remains a weakness, albeit one he seems to be slowly fixing. He doesn’t offer much besides low kicks and a surprisingly hard right hand, but more pressing than his limited arsenal is his cage awareness. Gamzat Magomedov kept him on the back foot with steady pressure and Buys consistently found himself with his back against the cage as Magomedov brought his own takedowns to bear, and while Buys initially managed to shrug him off with the techniques mentioned above, Magomedov found more and more success as the fight progressed and Buys began wearing down. By the end of the second, Buys was stuck underneath in half guard and was only bailed out by taking an illegal elbow to the back of the head.
That cardio is worth keeping an eye on as well; while he managed to go four rounds in his win over Luthando Biko, he spent most of that time in top position, and the Magomedov fight suggests that he could have difficulties digging deep when the takedowns aren’t immediately there.
Still, Buys is enormously promising and already a UFC-caliber talent. I can definitely see him making a name for himself in a crowded UFC Flyweight division.
Opponent: He takes on Brazil’s Bruno Silva, who’s now welcomed three consecutive blue-chip prospects to the Octagon. Silva fell short against another top wrestler in Tagir Ulanbekov last time out, but he’s also quite adept in that department, so Buys needs to be prepared for three hard rounds. While I do think he’s got what it takes, it’s far from a gimme.
Tape: His “Contender Series” bout is on ESPN+, while his previous LFA bout is on Fight Pass.
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Record: 5-1 (4 KO)
Notable Victories: Isaiah Gonzalez
Strader has spent four of his six pro fights inside the Combate cage, losing only to fellow high-octane UFC import Marcelo Rojo along the way. This marks his first appearance since Aug. 2019, when he scored one of the best knockouts in Combate history at Isaiah Gonzalez’s expense.
No three words better sum up Strader than “bootleg John Lineker.” While he boasts some powerful kicks and can hit a double-leg if the situation calls for it, the man has an admirably single-minded devotion to pulverizing opponent’s bodies. He’ll lead with right hooks downstairs and throw lengthy flurries exclusively targeted at the midsection without a care for his exposed chin, occasionally following with a left hook to the head to devastating results. When he’s in the cage, you’re guaranteed unreasonable quantities of violence, and he never stops pressing forward.
That said, it takes more than power and tenacity to be John Lineker. What made the Brazilian so effective, even against top-tier opposition, were his bottomless gas tank and frankly inhuman chin, neither of which Strader appears to possess. Oh, he’s gutsy and tougher than hell, but he’s far from unstoppable. Against Jose Aguayo, he visibly slowed after going all-out for an early finish, leaving him to pick his spots and use occasional takedowns to recuperate for the last two rounds. Then, against Rojo, he got crumpled by clinch knees and brutal punches despite a red-hot start.
On the grappling side, he seems to only really use his wrestling as either a means to keep opponents honest, bail himself out of a real bad spot, or to give himself time to recover after a big energy expenditure. He regularly let Aguayo back to his feet after easily dumping him to the mat and didn’t manage to rack up much top control on Rojo. What footage I found failed to show off his takedown defense, so I can’t make a definitive statement on that front.
You can’t throw a rock at UFC’s Bantamweight division without hitting at least one terrifying knockout artist, so Strader could very well go the way of Nate Landwehr in the Octagon. If he can tighten up his defense without sacrificing what makes him so fun, though, then we’re in for an absolute treat.
Tape: He squares off with gargantuan bruiser Montel Jackson, who hits way too damn hard for Strader’s traditional devil-may-care approach. Between Jackson’s size, power and backup wrestling, all Strader can really hope for is to go out on his shield.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 22 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+/ESPN2 “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 10 p.m. ET.
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