Skilled Super Heavyweight fighters are a rare breed in mixed martial arts (MMA), but they definitely exist, and one of them’s headed to the Octagon this Saturday (May 22, 2021) at UFC Vegas 27. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where Chinese MMA’s lack of any accessible video archives irks me endlessly, we look at a long-time Heavyweight veteran and a powerhouse Featherweight wrestler from Heilongjiang.
Chris “Beast Boy” Barnett
Weight Class: Heavyweight
Record: 21-6 (16 KO)
Notable Victories: Alexandru Lungu, Walt Harris, Kenny Garner
Known alternately as “Beast Boy” or “Huggy Bear,” Barnett has spent his 12-year career fighting all over the world, both at Heavyweight and Openweight. His current six-fight win streak includes four finishes, the most recent of which came in Sept. 2020.
He steps in for Askar Mozharov — who himself replaced Philipe Lins — on less than two weeks’ notice.
Despite standing a mere 5’9” and carrying, shall we say, some excess mass on his frame, Barnett is remarkably fast and nimble for a Heavyweight. His Tae Kwon Do background shows itself in his swift footwork and penchant for spinning kicks, which support the hard low kicks, darting straights, and swarming punches that make up the bulk of his offense. That fluffy physique also belies impressive cardio — he can definitely slow down late, but he’s still dangerous well into the third round.
His greatest enemy on the feet seems to be his own over-eagerness. While he’s got a really sharp one-two combination when he bothers to throw it, he’ll often rely on a lunging straight or Superman punch to close the distance before hurling hooks and overhands. Those spinning kicks he’s fond of also leave him vulnerable to takedowns and seem to take him off-balance more than they should. In addition, he’s prone to knuckling down and trading heat inside rather than returning to range, which got him knocked cold by 4-3 Hyun Man Myung in 2017.
He needs to focus more on fighting to his strengths, which are the kicks and footwork.
Barnett also did some wrestling in college, giving him a back door if things go south on the feet. Offensively, he primarily employs body lock takedowns, which tend to make themselves available when opponents bring up their guard to deal with his hook flurries. Like with the striking, however, he can get ahead of himself. I’ve seen him end up on his back multiple times when trying to force a takedown, and Alex Nicholson starched him with a level elbow while defending one.
Luckily, he’s surprisingly good at getting to his knees and returning to his feet, and should he end up on top, he can do real damage with his ground-and-pound.
Though he’s not a champion-level talent, Barnett is a very fun and unique Heavyweight who could give most unranked UFC fighters plenty of issues. I’m glad to see him finally reach the big show.
Opponent: He meets Ben Rothwell, whose incredible career resurgence appears to have finally petered out. It’s a coin flip, but I favor Rothwell’s height, length and indestructible chin to narrowly carry the day.
Tape: His Island Fight bouts are on Fight Pass.
Sha “Wolverine” Yilan
Weight Class: Featherweight
Record: 19-6 (9 KO, 5 SUB)
Notable Victories: Nuerdebieke Bahetihan
Sha has been extraordinarily busy throughout his five years as a professional, fighting 10 times in 2017 and six times in 2020. He enters the cage this Saturday having won seven of eight and avenged an early-career loss along the way.
As with the other Chinese debutants of recent weeks, recent footage of Sha was hard to come by. In fact, the only footage more recent than 2017 I could find was his 2020 technical knockout loss to Rongzhu, which took little more than two minutes and came via early stoppage. This analysis is most likely dated, but it’s the best I could do with what I could find.
“Wolverine’s” game revolves around his high-level wrestling, as his striking largely involves either bursting forward with alternating hands or trying to flurry on the counter while bouncing around the cage. His takedowns are legitimately quite impressive, especially his trips from the body lock. Once on top, he takes one of two approaches: he’ll either use heavy, patient pressure to steadily advance through his opponent’s guard or unleash an ultra-aggressive ground-and-pound onslaught.
He’s a sight to behold when he decides to pour on the hurt, using relentless aggression and scrambling to shut down any attempts to stand and pour on the hurt while his opponents are otherwise occupied. I’m not sure how effective it’ll be against top-tier competition, but it’s damn fun to watch him wreck shop.
That’s the rub, really. That’s because outside of Rongzhu, who finished him, we’ve yet to see Sha face quality opposition. His chances of success in the Octagon revolve entirely around his ability to hit consistent takedowns, so his debut figures to be illuminating.
Opponent: I was extremely high on Josh Culibao when he entered the Octagon and was willing to overlook his debut loss to Jalen Turner, as Culibao had to deal with an enormous size disadvantage. That said, he was a bit underwhelming against Charles Jourdain, so while I still favor his solid striking and takedown defense to spoil Sha’s UFC debut, an upset wouldn’t surprise me.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 27 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ at 7 p.m. ET.
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