Despite the many cancelations and re-jiggerings, the only newcomers at UFC Vegas 33 this weekend (Sat., July 31, 2021) in Las Vegas, Nevada, are the ones who’ve been there since its inception. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where it gets harder and harder to come up with snappy asides, we look at a trio of “Contender Series” graduates from 2020.
All of their “Contender Series” appearances can be viewed on ESPN+:
Weight Class: Featherweight
Record: 8-1 (4 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Muhammadjon Naimov
A six-fight win streak carried Anglin to “Contender Series,” where he squared off against unbeaten Tajik striker Muhammadjon Naimov. Though a sizeable underdog, Anglin utilized grit, aggression and wrestling to out-last Naimov and secure a UFC contract.
He’d previously intended to debut against Seung Woo Choi in Feb. 2021.
Despite a high school wrestling background, Anglin’s more than happy to exchange on the feet. The announcers in his recent WXC fights compared him to Keith Jardine, though I’m not totally sold on that comparison. He’s definitely offbeat, at least, usually leading with low/head kicks, left hooks, or a step-in right cross that he badly telegraphs alongside a nasty right elbow. While not generally much for jabbing, he proved that he could do so in the third round of the Naimov fight alongside some heavy uppercuts and clinch knees.
He’s admittedly as defensively porous as Jardine, including a notable tendency to back straight up under pressure, but he’s thankfully nowhere near as fragile. Naimov blasted him with some murderous right hands and knees to the body without ever really getting close to a finish, and Anglin still had the gas tank to pour on the hurt when Naimov started to tire.
Just because he doesn’t always wrestle doesn’t mean he can’t, of course. His trips look particularly solid, and he did an excellent job of immediately chasing the back whenever he got Naimov to the mat. Naimov managed to scramble free while he was still fresh, but Anglin largely controlled him whenever he got him down. He also completely shut down Naimov’s own attempts to initiate the grappling, which is a good sign.
Anglin’s definitely still a work-in-progress, and it’s difficult to get an exact bead on his ceiling when Naimov was his first and only victory against a competent foe. I doubt he ever sees contention, but decent wrestling, durability and killer instinct could be sufficient to get him a win or two if he puts together a less labored and more cohesive striking attack.
Opponent: He takes on another lethal Eurasian bruiser in Melsik Baghdasaryan. It’s a given that Baghdasaryan is going to exploit Anglin’s poor striking defense and beat the stuffing out of him in the first round; however, the real the question is whether “The Gun” will have enough left in the tank when the early finish isn’t there. I’m leaning toward Baghdasaryan, but the fight favor Anglin the longer it goes.
Melsik “The Gun” Baghdasaryan
Weight Class: Featherweight
Record: 5-1 (4 KO)
Notable Victories: Dennis Buzukja
After suffering a submission loss in his 2014 MMA debut, Baghdasaryan switched his attention to boxing and kickboxing, ultimately landing a title shot in K-1 that he just barely lost. He returned to the cage with four knockouts in less than 40 seconds apiece, then out-lasted Dennis Buzukja on “Contender Series” to secure a UFC contract.
As the striking experience would imply, Baghdasaryan is a highly adept and dangerous striker, pushing forward from the southpaw stance while unleashing single power kicks and heavy straight lefts. At least against orthodox fighters, he almost never utilizes the jab, instead using his right hand to peel away opponents’ guards or hunt for check hooks.
Against fellow southpaw Kubo and fighting under kickboxing rules, he showed a greater willingness to send out jabs and 1-2s, also showing off some good timing with his counters.
As scary as he is at range, he’s even nastier in the clinch, where he sports brutal elbows and does a great job of angling his hips to drive knees into opponents’ midsections with maximum torque. In addition, he checks low kicks well, works the body with roundhouse and snap kicks, and seems to have a solid chin on him.
The big problem right now is pacing. He came out looking to put Buzukja away just as quickly as his previous opponents, and when the finish didn’t materialize, he lost the second round through apparent exhaustion. While he bounced back well in the third and ultimately won the fight, his ability to stay afloat in deep water when he can’t immediately break people remains the biggest question mark.
His grappling isn’t as eye-catching, though there are certainly some nice things to say about it. Though he gave up multiple takedowns to Buzukja, he constantly used the fence to stand back up and seemed to have a good grasp of how to worm his way out of a clinch without exposing himself to bad positions. He also showed some nice scrambling late when he tried his own double-leg and flubbed it, so it’s clear that he’s not relying on opponents to play nice and willingly duke it out with him on the feet.
Baghdasaryan is definitely a quality pickup and looks UFC-ready despite such a short professional career. I just wish he was training with someone other than Edmond Tarverdyan.
Opponent: See above.
Orion “Galaxy” Cosce
Weight Class: Welterweight
Record: 7-0 (6 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Matt Dixon, Joe Kropschot
Cosce joined brother Louis on “Contender Series” in Aug. 2020, entering as a sizable underdog against top prospect Matt Dixon. Undaunted, “Galaxy” steadily wore down Dixon en route to a third-round ground-and-pound stoppage, which earned him a UFC contract.
This will be his first fight in nearly a year, as he withdrew from a planned Nov. 2020 bout with Nicolas Dalby.
Relentless pressure is the name of the game for Cosce. He constantly pushes forward until the opportunity arises to put all his weight behind an overhand left. If his opponent retreats, he’ll follow up with marching haymakers. If they don’t and he winds up in the clinch, he’ll feed them a painful diet of knees and dirty boxing. He’s utterly fearless in his advance, relying on his sturdy chin and high school wrestling background to shrug off any strikes or takedowns that come back his way.
It’s far from a foolproof system, obviously, but his markedly improved cardio has me thinking it could work in the Octagon. His 2019 fight with Skrap Pack representative Kropschot resulted in both men gassing partway through the seconds and trading ground positions in slow motion for the rest, but he pretty much broke Dixon after a rough start by shutting down his takedowns and refusing to slow down. Even with some lingering bad habits, like a telegraphed spinning back fist he’s overly fond of, Cosce can really put opponents through the wringer.
As far as his own ground game, he took down Dixon with a nice double-leg once he had Dixon good and spent, and he’s all about doing damage from top position. It was punches from the crucifix that did Dixon in, but he’s more than willing to drop heavy punches and elbows while working his way into dominant position.
Cosce’s striking might still be a little too rough around the edges to crack the Welterweight elite, but I can see him grabbing a few wins in the middle of the pack and thoroughly entertaining in the process.
Opponent: He takes on fellow “Contender Series” graduate Phillip Rowe. Rowe’s a decent wrestler, but his tendency to back himself right into the fence when pressured plays right into Cosce’s hands. I like Cosce to break him the way he did Dixon.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 33 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 9 p.m. ET.
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