Desperate times call for desperate measures, and in this current surge of COVID devastation, that means calling in the newbies. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where consistent workloads are a luxury I can’t afford, we check out a fresh batch of seven newcomers. Victor Henry is technically also debuting, but I wrote him up last year.
As always, Contender Series bouts from the most recent season can be found on ESPN+.
Weight Class: Welterweight
Record: 14-3 (11 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Stefan Sekulic, James Vick
Portugal’s Fialho has won four straight since a 2-3 (1 NC) skid, all of them by knockout within two rounds. The run began with a Jan. 2021 beatdown of James Vick and most recently saw him knockout another UFC veteran in Stefan Sekulic.
He originally stepped in for Muslim Salikhov at UFC Vegas 46, but COVID protocols delayed his debut by a week.
Power boxing is the name of the game for Fialho, built off a ridiculously powerful jab. He prefers to stalk forward, upright and flat-footed, while firing heavy combinations. The left hook and uppercut appear to be his power punches of choice, and should opponents get too far inside, his elbows are every bit as lethal.
The guy clearly hits like a truck, but defensive shortcomings are likely to hold him back on the world stage. His upper body barely moves and he tends to linger in the pocket when he throws, allowing counter-savvy opponents to find his chin with worrying regularity. He also gives ground far too easily and backs straight up, which allowed a far less technically adept fighter in Antonio dos Santos Jr. to maul him against the fence.
His left hook just isn’t enough to bail him out.
Beyond that, he’s too flat-footed for his own good. He had all sorts of trouble dealing with James Vick’s reach before “The Texecutioner” tried the same combination three times in a row and got check-hooked into oblivion. His cardio also seems like a potential hazard — he gassed to death after two rounds with the aforementioned dos Santos, who also massively outworked him at range. That could have been a byproduct of it being a catchweight fight with a larger man, but it’s with keeping an eye on.
As far as his grappling, he’s got a decent double-leg in his back pocket and showed solid takedown defense against Sekulic, whom he finished with an elbow while fending off a single-leg takedown.
This definitely ended up a lot more negative than I anticipated, and I don’t want to give the impression that he’s some chump. Fialho’s power and offensive prowess make him a genuine terror to those unable to exploit his weaknesses. I could definitely see him scoring some highlight-reel finishes against middle-of-the-pack UFC Welterweights. I just don’t see him getting past opponents skilled and durable enough to punish his flaws without getting clipped.
He’ll certainly struggle with debut foe Michel Pereira, who’s too mobile, versatile and rangy to give Fialho the infight he needs to score a knockout.
Tape: His most recent UAE Warriors bout is on Fight Pass.
Weight Class: Welterweight
Record: 12-0 (9 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Nikolay Veretennikov
Ecuador’s Morales earned national titles in freestyle wrestling and Muay Thai before kicking off his professional mixed martial arts (MMA) career in 2017. His efforts earned him a spot on Contender Series, where he took a decision over Nikolay Veretennikov to claim a UFC contract.
Despite that wrestling pedigree, Morales prefers to get things done on the feet, using his 6’0” frame to take opponents apart at a distance with speed and well-timed counters. He’s capable of some very nice bursts of violence, especially when he finds his flow with in-and-out strikes or tries to pound wounded opponents into the dirt, and has some nice thump in his low kicks.
Though he’s clearly an impressive athlete with good speed and movement, he’s not the smoothest or most natural striker; he has a bad habit of looping, loading up on, or telegraphing strikes other than his crisp jab and cross. This was on full display in the Veretennikov fight, where he tried a blatantly obvious shifting overhand multiple times. It’s a flaw that meshes poorly with his upright chin and occasional tendency to square up when firing combinations.
In addition, his off-hand tends to drop when throwing a punch, though not as badly as in earlier fights.
If things do get out of hand on the feet, he always has that wrestling in his back pocket. He showed a nice reactive shot against Veretennikov and a strong sprawl when the Kazakh tried his own takedowns. His ground-and-pound is decent, but he’s particularly adept at punishing opponents with clubbing shots from the single collar tie when they’re either hurt or trying to get to their feet.
The same is true when opponents try to weather the storm from turtle position.
Overall, though, Morales is definitely a work in progress. His physical abilities and extracurriculars make him someone worth keeping an eye on, especially at just 22, but he needs a lot of fine-tuning if he wants to become a contender. I’d have given him another year or two before calling him up, primarily to tighten up his boxing.
He has a tricky debut in front of him against the dangerous but inconsistent Trevin Giles. Though Giles is coming off a knockout loss and making his Welterweight debut, he’s levels above anyone Morales has faced in his professional career. Unless Morales has improved greatly in the last few months, I like Giles to beat him up on the feet.
Tape: His UWC Mexico bout is on Fight Pass.
Genaro “El Rayadito” Valdez
Weight Class: Lightweight
Record: 10-0 (7 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: Patrik White
After cutting his teeth in Mexican organizations like Combate, UWC, and Lux Fight League, Valdez entered Contender Series as a massive favorite over Patrik White. Though he wound up having to fight through considerable adversity, he ultimately secured both the win and a contract by stopping White in the second round.
Valdez’s gameplan is simple: throw heat until his opponent brings up his guard, then shoot in for either his prefered high-crotch single-leg or a backup double-leg. Once on top, he patiently works his way to mount and bombs away with punches and elbows until the ref intervenes.
That’s honestly the long and short of it. His striking kinda falls apart if he throws a combo longer than a 1-2, he leaves his chin out when he tries to blitz, he got taken down fairly easily the last time an opponent tested his takedown defense, and he’s fairly predictable with his transition from overhand right to level change. What he has going for him, however, is insane durability and grit; White caught him with some monstrous shots when their fight devolved into a brawl, but Valdez survived everything without flinching and had the presence of mind to come back with a vicious counter hook to kick off the end.
Still, gumption can only take you so far in the Octagon, and his technical abilities are massively underdeveloped for a 29-year-old. His UFC tenure figures to be both brief and highly entertaining, starting with Saturday’s clash against Matt Frevola. “Steamrolla” is the less durable of the two, but is both the better striker and better wrestler, which should allow him to hold his own on the feet and drag Valdez to the mat anytime things get hairy.
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Record: 18-3 (5 KO, 11 SUB)
Notable Victories: Jose Alday, Wataru Mimura
Astra Fight Team’s Oliveira currently sits at 9-1 in his last 10, the lone loss a decision to multiple-time BJJ world champion Ary Farias in the ACB promotion. He was slated to meet Javid Basharat on Contender Series, but instead punched his ticket to the Octagon by edging out late replacement Jose Alday in Sept. 2021.
Oliveira prefers to operate in a high, tight Muay Thai stance, tossing out a high quantity of low and front kicks as he advances. Those kicks have some heft to them, but his hands aren’t quite as crisp. Though well-timed, especially on the counter, they tend to be looping and labored, especially when he tries to rush with telegraphed flurries. It’s strange, because has a good jab when he remembers to use it and badly hurt Alday with the one straight right he threw.
That stance of his belies a fairly solid ground game. He showed both a high-crotch and a blast double against Alday, which allowed him to utilize his heavy, methodical guard passing. He can do damage from the top, but isn’t the most active ground-and-pounder.
His defensive grappling revolves around the guillotine, which accounts for seven of his 11 submission finishes. He does a very nice job of locking it up when opponents press him against the cage, and he’s confident enough in it to attempt it against Farias. That said, he’s very vulnerable to chain wrestling, as he doesn’t get his hips to safety after the initial sprawl, and will throw naked kicks even when his opponent is clearly ready to catch them. His tendency to sprint forward also opens him up to reactive takedowns, which Farias exploited even while gassed.
He also couldn’t get out from underneath Farias until the third round, though he did avoid any and all submissions. He’s never been stopped as a pro.
Oliveira probably peaks around the lower-middle of the UFC Bantamweight pack; it’s just too damn stacked for him to make a title run considering his shortcomings. Debut foe Tony Gravely looks posed to exploit said flaws, especially the takedown defense. Unless Oliveira can lock up that guillotine, he’s getting dominated on the mat.
Tape: His Pancrase bout is on Fight Pass.
Jack Della Maddalena
Weight Class: Welterweight
Record: 10-2 (8 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Ange Loosa, Aldin Bates, Glen Pettigrew
Perth’s Della Maddalena started his career 0-2 before putting together a nine-fight winning streak, which saw him claim and defend the Eternal MMA Welterweight title. Though he failed to finish Ange Loosa on Contender Series, he nonetheless impressed enough to secure a UFC contract.
No word better summarizes Della Maddalena than “crisp.” He’s a genuinely vicious boxer with thudding power, well-thrown combinations from either stance, and a withering body attack. His counters are particularly effective, namely the McGregor-style pull counter he’s used to great success in recent bouts. Though he can keep his head a bit high, his quality range management and high guard generally keep him out of too much danger.
Della Maddalena had a bad habit of starting slow early in his career, but he’s making strides to improve, as seen when he crushed Bates with a counter 2-3 72 seconds into their rematch and immediately took control of the Loosa fight.
As far as shortcomings, he throws naked kicks and visibly slowed in his first-ever third round against Loosa, which allowed Loosa to land a number of solid punches once Della Maddalena’s guard dropped and his footwork suffered. Considering the circumstances and the fact that he bashed his way back into the lead, I’m not knocking too much from his score.
Grappling-wise, he’s got a judo background and generally does a good job of getting up from his back. That said, he failed to land a single takedown on Loosa despite multiple attempts and allowed Loosa to get worryingly close to locking up an arm triangle after slipping. Glen Pettigrew also took him down fairly easily, though Della Maddalena got right back to his feet.
Della Maddalena is hugely promising; it’s no wonder the UFC brass was willing to throw him in against Warlley Alves in his pro debut. Alves got injured, however, and Della Madalena will now face 4-0 newcomer Pete Rodriguez. Expect Della Maddalena to break Rodriguez down and ultimately finish him either late in the first or sometime in the second.
Tape: His Eternal MMA bouts are on Fight Pass.
Pete “Dead Game” Rodriguez
Weight Class: Welterweight
Record: 4-0 (4 KO)
Notable Victories: None
Rodriguez spent three years as an amateur, amassing a 7-2 record before turning pro in 2020. His professional career has taken place entirely in Jorge Masvidal’s iKon Fighting Federation, where he’s ended four fights in under half a round apiece.
He steps in for Warlley Alves on a week’s notice.
There’s only so much analysis you can do on a pro career that’s lasted a combined 4:37. Best as I can tell, Rodriguez is a switch-hitting boxing specialist with some solid power and a tendency to keep his hands in constant motion. Beyond that, he can throw some hard ground-and-pound when the situation calls for it and likes to step in with shifting right hands from southpaw.
That’s about all I’ve got, aside from the ability to throw a corkscrew uppercut and counter really bad takedowns. He’s extremely untested and, as mentioned above, will most likely get his face caved in by Della Maddalena.
Tape: His iKon bouts are on Fight Pass.
Weight Class: Flyweight
Record: 6-1 (2 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Julia Polastri
Canada’s Jasudavicius fought for CFFC gold in just her second promotional appearance, dropping 10 pounds to unsuccessfully challenge Elise Reed for the Strawweight title. After returning to 125 to beat Ashley Deen, she made her way to Contender Series, where she outgrappled Julia Polastri to take home a UFC contract.
Standing 5’7” and boasting a 68-inch reach, Jasudavicius has two primary modes of striking offense. At a distance, she picks away with hard low kicks and a solid jab. Inside, she prefers grabbing the Thai clinch to unleash knees and elbows. Where she struggles is in between; the much smaller Reed and Polastri found tons of success with combination striking as Jadusavicius’ poor range control allowed them to get in range and exploit her lack of upper-body movement.
She simply doesn’t do a good enough job of transitioning between her preferred distances. Opponents who punch with her or force her onto the back foot can take her length completely out of the equation.
Luckily for Jasudavicius, she’s willing and able to change gears and take things to the ground. She does her best work from the body lock, hunting trips or throws, but she can bust out a double-leg if necessary. Though her dimensions let her do some damage when she postures up, she’s often content to stay heavy and play a more methodical game.
My big criticism of Jasudavicius, outside of the aforementioned defensive flaws, is the lack of killer instinct. Her striking rarely gets out of second gear, and though she got decently close to stopping Polastri with a late ground-and-pound surge, it was a rare bright spot in otherwise mundane performance.
She may be able to get a number next to her name, but she’s not getting past the double digits, especially not after a debut loss. Kay Hansen is a much stronger wrestler and submission artist, and considering Jasudavicius’ willingness to mix it up inside, odds are the latter’s getting tossed around and tapped before long.
Tape: Her CFFC bouts are on Fight Pass.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 270 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC 270: “Ngannou vs. Gane” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.