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UFC Vegas 46 - New Blood: Contender Series vanguard

Dana White’s Contender Series - Barnes v Holmes Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

The first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) card of 2022 has already seen 10 fights either fall through or get rescheduled, and that opens the door for a fresh batch of newcomers. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where tape viewing consumes my life, we look at a trio of Contender Series grads with a habit of ending things early.

As usual, all Contender Series bouts are on ESPN+.

UFC 220: Kattar v Burgos

LIVE! Stream UFC Vegas 46 On ESPN+

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) kicks off the New Year with a thrilling Featherweight contenders’ bout that will see No. 5-ranked Calvin Kattar take on No. 8-seeded Giga Chikadze inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Jan. 15, 2022. UFC Vegas 46’s reworked co-main event will feature a Heavyweight slobberknocker between Octagon veterans Jake Collier and Chase Sherman.

Don’t miss a single second of face-punching action!

Joanderson “Tubarao” Brito

Weight Class: Featherweight
Age: 26
Record: 12-2-1 (4 KO, 6 SUB)
Notable Victories: Diego Lopes, Jose Mariscal, Wellington Prado

Brito put a 1-2 professional start behind him to go unbeaten in his next 11, including a 44-second knockout in his LFA debut. Two years after that victory, he tried his hand on Contender Series, where he survived some gnarly submission attempts to beat Diego Lopes by technical decision and claim a UFC contract.

The word that comes to mind when watching Brito is “powerhouse.” The man’s a 5’8” tank of a Featherweight who marches relentlessly forward, leads with heavy kicks and follows up with bombs from the hip. He’s got a lot more power than those four knockout wins would suggest, does a good job of throwing back when hit, and actually flashed both a decent jab and a heavy body attack on Contender Series.

As you might imagine, this berserker-style offense leaves him open to counters, including the check hook from Estibili Amato that dropped him three fights back. He can also telegraph his shots, especially to the body, and doesn’t throw his punches nearly straight enough.

He does have a Plan B, though, and it’s quite good. “Tubarao” is a vicious ground-and-pounder who tore up Lopes from guard while shrugging off every submission attempt that came his way. The double-leg appears to be his preferred method of getting in position to smesh, and he’s fond of the guillotine when opponents try to take him down in return. Though he didn’t show much inclination to advance against Lopes, he needs so little room to deliver power that it doesn’t really hamper him.

What honestly surprised me most was his gas tank. Michael Bisping and the rest of the Contender Series crew described him as someone who only gasses once the fight is over; despite pushing a furious pace and clearly putting everything into his strikes, he can go into deep waters. That alone puts him above many of his brawl-happy peers, as it lets him maintain the aggression he needs to mask his technical shortcomings.

I don’t think Brito will ever touch a title, but he’s good enough to find a place for himself in an extremely stacked division. I’m definitely keen to tune in any time he’s up to bat.

Opponent: He meets the always entertaining Bill Algeo in what looks like the most interesting of this week’s debuts. Brito’s aggression, power and physicality could work well against the defensively-lax Algeo, but Algeo’s fluidity and volume could pose issues if Brito can’t pace himself. Considering Algeo’s inability to consistently stop takedowns, I favor Brito. That’s because even if Algeo does start touching him up on the feet, there doesn’t seem to be much stopping “Tubarao” from dragging him to the mat and cruising from there.

Tape: His LFA bout is on Fight Pass.


Viacheslav “Slava Claus” Borshchev

Weight Class: Lightweight
Age: 29
Record: 5-1 (4 KO)
Notable Victories: Chris Duncan

Borschchev enjoyed a lengthy kickboxing career and a 2-0 stint in professional boxing before committing full-time to mixed martial arts (MMA) in 2019. He sits at 3-0 since a razor-thin loss to William Starks, most recently starching Chris Duncan on Contender Series to secure a contract.

Borshchev presently serves as Team Alpha Male’s kickboxing instructor, and it’s easy to see that he’s qualified for the jab. The man’s got gorgeously violent offensive striking, particularly with his hands. Besides the speed, power and precision with which he throws combinations, the real standout is his ability to mix levels. Indeed, he punishes the body like few others, using blows to the midsection to both set up his head strikes and do considerable damage on their own.

The rest of his stand up is similarly potent. On top of his sharp jab, he has brutal knees in close, shifts stance well even as he’s throwing, and can dish out some nasty kicks to the legs, body and head. If there are chinks in his armor, they’re the fact that he occasionally backs straight up and seems open to body shots in return.

The all-important grappling looks solid. He never just cedes a bad position on the ground; as soon as he’s on his back, he’s working to stand, and he does a pretty good job of it. That said, while he does a great job of stuffing his opponents’ initial shots, he can be vulnerable to chain wrestling, which forces him to lean on those scrambling chops.

More than one opponent has also caught him with strikes on the break.

What really stands out about Borshchev, though, is that he’s clearly improving fight to fight. His counters and lateral movement looked better than ever against Duncan, and he also did a much better job of picking his spots with his kicks instead of just launching them without setup. If this trend continues, he’s contender material.

And even if it doesn’t, he’s already a quality fighter who’s damn fun to watch.

Opponent: Borshchev squares off with one-fight UFC veteran Dakota Bush, who was last seen dropping a short-notice unanimous decision to Austin Hubbard in April 2021. “Hairy” has a solid wrestling background, which could prove a useful weapon if Borshchev gets too eager with his flurries, but Borshchev’s ability to get to his feet and his far sharper kickboxing should earn him a decisive victory.

Tape: His LFA and Titan FC bouts are on Fight Pass.


“Ugly Man” Joe Holmes

Weight Class: Middleweight
Age: 26
Record: 7-1 (2 KO, 5 SUB)
Notable Victories: Jhonoven Pati, Shonte Barnes

Holmes — the latest Glory MMA product to join the world’s largest MMA promotion — hasn’t tasted defeat since his professional debut. His last two efforts have seen him choke out Shonte Barnes on Contender Series and knockout fellow series alumnus Jhonoven Pati on Dana White’s “Lookin’ for a Fight.”

He steps in for Caio Borralho on less than two weeks’ notice.

“Ugly Man Joe” stands 6’4,” sports an 80-inch reach, and knows how to use both of those things. Though not terribly quick, which he himself acknowledges, he’s quite crisp with his one-two combinations and footwork. This allows him to keep opponents at a distance, which is useful considering he can also be slow to react to takedowns and return fire. Beyond his hands, he’s got some surprising thump behind his body kicks and a nice, busy jab even when it’s not followed by the right cross.

I also want to shout out his toughness, which allowed him to survive a flush spinning back kick to the balls from Pati.

Holmes considers himself a “submission fighter” first and foremost, however. That’s a bit more of a mixed bag. Though he does have some nice trips in the clinch, his entries just aren’t great, perhaps because of his height; he can just kinda lean forward and walk in at times. Barnes also managed to lock his hands on a double-leg attempt, which could bode ill against more seasoned wrestlers.

Once he’s on the ground, he’s a solid guard passer with a good rear-naked choke. As recently as Aug. 2021, however, he fell off 3-2 DeWayne Diggs’ back while trying to take it from mount and got swept within seconds on another occasion, though he admittedly managed to scoot his way to the fence and stand.

I’m just not sure how well the preferred part of his game will hold up against UFC-caliber opposition because his positional issues and shaky wrestling look prime for exploitation. I’d advise him to focus more on his striking, which looks sufficiently developed to keep him afloat despite his lack of swiftness.

Still, at just 26, he’s got time to develop. In the long-term, I can see him becoming a middle-of-the-pack sort of fighter.

Opponent: He faces Jamie Pickett, one of the only men on UFC’s roster who can match Holmes’ reach. Though “Nightwolf” can be dangerous when he puts the pedal to the metal, Holmes is the more technically sound and consistent boxer, not to mention the more potent kicker. I like him to jab his way to a debut victory and, depending on how much work he’s done to sharpen up his wrestling, potentially mix in some good work on the ground.

Tape: His Fury FC and LFA bouts are on Fight Pass.


Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 46 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN+) at 7 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 46: “Kattar vs. Chikadze” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.