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UFC Vegas 23 - New Blood: Front kicks FTW!

UFC Fight Night Vettori v Holland: Weigh-Ins Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to ABC this Saturday (April 10, 2021), featuring not just established names but two newcomers who will get the chance to show their stuff on network television. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where coming up with pithy taglines every week is harder than I thought it would be, we look at two impressive Contender Series graduates and a promising young gun out of Invicta.

This column was originally supposed to feature unbeaten Middleweight Aliaskhab Khizriev and Brazilian jiu-jitsu standout Erin Blanchfield but their fights fell apart this week (details).

Ignacio “La Jaula” Bahamondes
Weight Class: Lightweight
Age: 23
Record: 11-3 (8 KO)
Notable Victories: Chris Brown, Edson Gomez

Just two months after beating Chris Brown for his sixth win in seven fights, Chile’s Bahamondes entered “Contender Series” against Edson Gomez. “La Jaula’s” striking prowess was on full display, finishing Gomez with a contract-winning front kick midway through the second round.

Listed at 6’3” with a 75.5-inch reach, Bahamondes uses his ridiculous length to bury opponents in long-range offense. From sharp straight punches to a wide array of kicks, he’s capable of doing serious damage to the head, body, and legs when given room to operate. Those trying to close the distance have to deal with solid jabs and an excellent step-back cross from either stance, not to mention heavy knees.

It’s damn entertaining to watch him operate, especially when he does things like switch stance mid-combination, follow a Hug Tornado with an axe kick, or gruesomely punish the midsection. As fun as his aggression can be, however, he can be overly willing to compromise his range while unleashing combinations or stepping in with straights before angling off. In addition, he’ll throw kicks from within punching range, all of which make him vulnerable to opponents willing to stand their ground and throw simultaneously with him.

The last man to beat him, Salvador Becerra, did an excellent job of keeping Bahamondes on the back foot, punishing every too-close kick with a body shot, and exploiting Bahamondes’ willingness to throw on the retreat to land combinations. He definitely seems to be getting better about it, as he’s only 23, but it’s a weakness that UFC-caliber strikers can definitely exploit.

There was little grappling to be found in his recent fights thanks to some remarkably strong takedown defense. The one time an opponent managed to put him on his back, he immediately regained guard, elevated, and separated. He’s an extremely difficult man to keep hold of, and it’s heartening to see him so adept at staying upright.

Between his technical skills, physicality and youth, Bahamondes is someone worth getting excited for. With a bit of seasoning and some better range management, he could make a name for himself even in a division this crowded.

Opponent: He takes on aging Taekwondo specialist John Makdessi. “The Bull” remains sharp despite his inactivity, but Bahamondes should be able to ride his enormous edges in height and reach to a comfortable decision.

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

Luis Saldana

Weight Class: Featherweight
Age: 30
Record: 14-6 (7 KO, 7 SUB)
Notable Victories: Vince Murdock, Ramiro Hernandez

Saldana put a 3-5 skid behind him to score three consecutive finishes, setting up a “Contender Series” opportunity against former UFC signee Vince Murdock. Despite coming off a nearly two-year layoff, The MMA Lab-trained product emerged victorious with a pair of front kicks and punched his ticket to the Octagon.

A sharp, switch-hitting boxer with an equally impressive kicking game, Saldana uses his rangy 5’11” frame to take apart opponents from the outside. His jab, side kicks and roundhouse kicks appear particularly effective, and solid range management allows him to mix up his attack and commit to heavier blows without leaving himself in danger. Where he gets in trouble is with his fondness for offbeat techniques; he throws them well and they’re clearly powerful, but he goes to the well too often with his flying knees and spinning back kicks in particular.

In addition, he doesn’t seem to check leg kicks, which I will continue to mention until fighters figure out how to do so.

I’m unfortunately unable to give a proper assessment of his grappling. Mike Santiago took him apart on the ground way back in 2016, and though he finished Carl Wittstock with a rear naked choke two fights back, AXS TV’s lack of a video archive prevents me from watching it. I will say that he hit a double-leg on Ramiro Hernandez and that Murdock had zero success trying to tie up, but the Alpha Male product also never really pushed the issue.

I’m afraid I can’t make a definitive statement on Saldana’s chances in the Octagon. I do think he’s a serious problem for most sub-elite UFC Featherweights on the feet, but until I see his takedown defense properly tested, I’ll hold off on a prognosis.

Opponent: It’ll definitely be tested by the relentless wrestling assault of Jordan Griffin. Saldana is by far the sharper striker and Griffin has had tons of trouble landing consistent takedowns in the Octagon, so I favor Saldana to emerge victorious, but Griffin will make him work for it.

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 23 fight card this weekend right here, starting with the ESPN / ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 12 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ABC / ESPN+ at 3 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 23: “Vettori vs. Holland” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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