The deep roster of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) subsidiaries means it’s almost never too late for the brass to call up a ringer. On this edition of “New Blood,” where fights getting salvaged at the last minute fill me with more anger than joy, we check out two Contender Series veterans and a Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA) champ.
Waldo “Salsa Boy” Cortes-Acosta
Weight Class: Heavyweight
Record: 7-0 (4 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Danilo Suzart, Thomas Petersen
Cortes-Acosta — a 6-4 professional boxer with a notable victory over Kingsley Ibeh — defied lengthy odds to knockout Thomas Petersen for the LFA Heavyweight title in April 2022. Four months later, he punched his ticket to UFC, stopping Danilo Suzart on Contender Series.
It will not surprise you to learn that Cortes-Acosta’s hands are his weapons of choice. Aside from a rare low or body kick, he prefers working behind a stiff, steady jab, occasionally following up with brief — but remarkably quick — combinations. He’s particularly fond of launching looping overhand rights, though he’ll straighten them out to hit the body and set up a follow-up left hook to the head.
Inside, he’s shown off solid knees and used punches from the single collar tie to great effect against Suzart. I also want to shout out one nice trick he used against
Fast hands, genuine power and a surprisingly stout gas tank make him a potent offensive force, and it’s something to behold when his killer instinct kicks in and he tees off with everything he’s got. Unfortunately for him, he’s got the same issue that ended Junior dos Santos’ career and forced Andrei Arlovski to reinvent himself: he backs straight up with his hands either down or trying to counter without protecting his face. While his lateral movement is fine in neutral, if you put any sort of persistent pressure on him, he’s going to retreat until he hits the fence. Tack on some combinations as you chase him and his chin will be there to hit, as Petersen amply demonstrated.
That habit also compromises his takedown defense, especially if he’s throwing counters and his hands aren’t in position to fish for underhooks. To his credit, though, he does a good job of immediately getting to his knees and standing up even while eating punches. The one time he did get on top in his last three fights, he largely kept his head low and looked for elbows. A standing pass got him to half guard, at which point he took side control, got the crucifix, and promptly lost position.
Cortes-Acosta’s physical abilities and offensive striking craft look sufficient to earn him a steady job as a UFC Heavyweight. There are just too many aggressive punchers and takedown artists near the top for him to become a genuine contender.
Opponent: He squares off with the free-falling Jared Vanderaa, who sits at 1-5 in the Octagon and is coming off a knockout loss to Chase Sherman. It’ll be reasonably competitive if the Vanderaa who beat Justin Tafa shows up, but odds are that Cortes-Acosta’s speed and power will carry him to a debut victory.
Tape: His LFA bouts are on Fight Pass, his Contender Series win on ESPN+.
Carlos “Tizil” Mota
Weight Class: Flyweight
Record: 8-1 (4 KO)
Notable Victories: Rizvan Abuev, Steven Merrill
Brazil’s Mota was perfect (3-0) as an amateur and the same (6-0) as a professional before unsuccessfully challenging Charles Johnson for the LFA Flyweight title in Jan. 2022. His second title shot proved more successful, flattening Rizvan Abuev with a one-punch knockout midway through the first round.
He steps in for Kleydson Rodrigues on less than one week’s notice.
A vicious body attack, a heavy right hand, and sheer relentlessness combine to make Mota a terror on the feet. He thrives on marching forward while mixing up his punches to the head and midsection, oftentimes mid-combination. He also possesses a sharp jab when he decides to use it, and should opponents try to meet him head-on, he’s got excellent timing with his counters.
Though he doesn’t throw as many kicks as he does punches, they’re a dangerous part of his arsenal. He does a great job of sneaking them into combinations in the middle or end, and surprising dexterity with both legs allow him to threaten with head kicks from awkward angles.
He’s durable, he’s aggressive, he’s got great cardio, and there’s enough craft in his offense to make it work against quality strikers. His issue is that he doesn’t have a lot of lateral movement or head movement, making him too easy to hit. Oftentimes, he straight-up won’t react to strikes as they bounce off of him, and while this keeps him in position to counter, it means he can be overwhelmed if he can’t keep up. When he finally started fading late in his fight with Johnson, Johnson was able to tee off on his head with relative impunity, though Mota did fight back until the very end.
That boxing-focused stance also leaves him unable to check low kicks. He counters them well, as mentioned, but that’s not a sustainable solution.
I’m unfortunately a little short on grappling data. He kept up with Johnson for much of their fight, landing takedowns off caught kicks and shrugging off Johnson’s own attempts to bring it to the mat, but did get dragged down in the fourth once attrition set in.
I love Mota’s approach, and if he’s got the wrestling chops to keep fights standing, he’ll be a handful for a good chunk of the division. If not, well, he’ll be must-watch television regardless.
Opponent: He squares off with dangerous wrestling specialist Cody Durden. While Durden does have the takedown skills to give Mota issues, he also tends to fade down the stretch, making Mota’s body attack an excellent weapon. I’ve got Mota by a hair.
Tape: His LFA bouts are on Fight Pass.
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Record: 10-2 (9 SUB)
Notable Victories: Mo Miller
Weems carried a seven-fight win streak into Contender Series, where he suffered a first-round knockout loss to Fernie Garcia. After submitting Thiago Belo for a regional title, he did the same to fellow Contender Series alum, Mo Miller, to claim the Fury FC Bantamweight championship.
He replaces Garrett Armfield on less than one week’s notice.
Weems is a highly mobile kicker on the feet, peppering with heavy round kicks, the occasional linear low kick, or more esoteric spinning techniques. He generally contains his punching combinations to a handful of shots, often leading to the body and stepping in with considerable vigor. A solid gas tank allows him to stay active well into the fight, and while he’s not a particularly devastating hitter, his fight with Garcia showed the damage his low kicks can do.
He’s fairly adept with his knees in the clinch, as well.
That movement can fail him under pressure, though. Both Garcia and Miller got him to back himself to the fence on multiple occasions, and Weems appeared to shell up behind a high guard when his opponents put combinations together. Garcia managed to knock him out with an overhand right around the guard and the wrestling-focused Miller got in on his hips multiple times by just punching until Weems raised his hands too high to get under hooks.
It’s a good thing that Weems has a nasty ground game to fall back on. He moves extremely well on the mat, chaining submissions, sweeps, and positional improvements together with impressive fluidity. He finished Belo by using a kimura to set up an armbar on the same side and the guillotine he landed on Miller forced a tap in seconds. He’s also demonstrated the ability to sweep to his feet if the sub isn’t there, so he’s not the type to lose rounds chasing Hail Mary submissions.
That ground game is admittedly held back by middling wrestling. Belo and Miller got him down multiple times, and it wasn’t until Miller started to fade in the third round that Weems’ own takedown attack bore fruit. Part of it, I think, is that he can’t really blend his long-range striking with his takedowns, so he ends up shooting from too far out without proper setup.
He’s been good enough to tap people from his back so far, but that’s not going to last at the highest level.
Weems’ submission game is legit and he’s not too shabby on the feet. I’m just not sure he has the tools to break through in such a stacked field, especially with that limited wrestling. He likely peaks around the lower-middle of UFC’s Bantamweight division.
Opponent: He squares off with Contender Series graduate, Christian Rodriguez, who does admittedly have some issues with grapplers; however, his aggression and Weems’ issues with pressure suggest that we could see a repeat of the Garcia fight.
Tape: His Fury FC bout is on Fight Pass.
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