UFC Vegas 48 this weekend (Sat., Feb. 19, 2022) inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, lost more than just its main event recently, leaving a handful of newcomers to fill the gaps. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where it’s always too early to say that my workload is low this week, we look at a trio of Bantamweight Contender Series veterans. As always, their bouts on the show can be found on ESPN+.
Nikolas Motta is also making his debut, but he got a writeup back in Sept. 2021 (read it here).
Christian “CeeRod” Rodriguez
Weight Class: Bantamweight/Featherweight
Record: 7-0 (3 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: Junior Cortez
Roufusport’s Rodriguez cut his teeth in promotions like Bellator, LFA and CFFC to earn a spot on Contender Series. Though he wound up dominating Junior Cortez, a scale fail and lack of finish combined to deny him a UFC contract.
He replaces Austin Lingo on four days’ notice.
I’m very glad UFC kept Rodriguez’s number after he fumbled his first opportunity because he’s definitely Octagon-worthy. He’s a remarkably versatile, aggressive and fluid striker with some fairly strong grappling to back it up. He primarily uses lengthy punching combinations punctuated by knees, kicks or elbows, mixing up both his strikes and the area of the body he’s targeting mid-flurry. When he gets a head of steam, he’s a well-oiled engine of destruction, manipulating his opponent’s guard to create and exploit openings to the head, body or legs.
While he can quickly snowball if given room to operate, he’s still got a couple of bad habits to iron out. One is his lack of upper-body movement — he relies on a high guard to intercept incoming strikes, and though it’s generally effective at doing so, this leaves him open to being caught as he throws. This is especially problematic because of how linear he is with his movement, which makes him predictable. The other is a tendency to overcommit when he steps in to punch, which allowed Cortez to tie him up on multiple occasions.
Luckily for him, he’s no slouch in the wrestling. He stuffed eight of Cortez’s 10 takedowns and immediately stood up after the two successful attempts. Offensively, the aforementioned guard manipulation lets him set up clean entries when his opponents shell up to protect their heads, though he’s not as great at finishing those shots. Once on top, he’s effective at both passing guard and racking up damage once he gets into a dominant position.
Rodriguez is an extraordinarily promising young man. His only real issues at the moment are those bad striking habits and an apparent lack of stopping power. I’m looking forward to seeing him develop further in the Octagon.
Opponent: He moves back up to Featherweight to face Jonathan Pearce. Though Rodriguez has a clear edge on the feet and very stout grappling, Pearce’s motor and physicality look like more than he can handle on short notice. Rodriguez has a better shot than the lopsided odds suggest, but it’s likely he starts his UFC run on a loss.
Tape: His CFFC bout is on Fight Pass, his most recent LFA bout on the promotion’s Facebook page.
Jay “Savage” Perrin
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Record: 10-4 (2 KO, 4 SUB)
Notable Victories: Josh Smith, Kin Moy
Perrin rode a six-fight win streak into Contender Series, where he dropped a narrow decision to Dwight Joseph. After bouncing back with a narrow decision win of his own over Diego Silva, he choked out Josh Smith to claim the CES Bantamweight title.
He steps in for the injured Khalid Taha, also on just four days’ notice.
As that finishing rate suggests, Perrin’s nickname is in no way reflective of his fighting style. He’s a skilled grappler with a relaxed, but effective, striking game to back it up (effective if not particularly devastating).
On the feet, he’s a fundamentally sound kickboxer with a decent body attack and a particular fondness for the left hook, though it’s meant more to set up takedowns than score a finish on its own. He’s very adept at landing reactive takedowns or at the very least securing clinches when opponents get too eager in their attacks, and he’s quite difficult to dislodge from there.
Beyond his solid top pressure, he does an excellent job of attacking with punches, knees, and elbows as opponents work their way to their feet, then shooting back in when they bring up their guards. Should he be taken down in return, he’s no slouch in a scramble, and his four rear naked choke finishes speak to his finishing ability once he gets into a dominant position.
Perrin doesn’t really have any glaring flaws in his game, but nothing really stands out, either. He’s not much of a finishing threat and isn’t sufficiently overpowering with his takedowns to bring his grappling to bear against top-shelf competition. Though I can see him getting a win or two in the Octagon, odds are he’ll peak below the middle of the pack.
Opponent: He takes on kickboxing specialist Mario Bautista. Bautista’s counter-striking and lethal kicks figure to give “The Savage” all sorts of issues unless Perrin can consistently drag him to the mat, which doesn’t seem terribly likely.
Tape: His CES bout is on Fight Pass.
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Record: 11-5 (6 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: Muin Gafurov, Brady Hiestand
Anheliger started his professional career 2-5 before an eight-fight win streak saw him win the Rise FC Flyweight and Bantamweight titles. Though he entered his subsequent Contender Series bout with Muin Gafurov on the heels of a nearly two-year layoff, an early knockdown and strong finish carried him to a split decision upset victory and a UFC contract.
As a disclaimer, I was unable to watch as much tape as I’d have liked. Anheliger’s recent bouts with Hiestand and Craig Maclean were locked behind FITE paywalls and would have cost me more than $30 to watch. I’ll be working off of the Gafurov fight and his 2018 win over Terrence Chan.
Nevertheless, “Offbeat” would be my knee-jerk description here. Anheliger’s a mobile, pot-shotting striker who’s equally comfortable pressuring or circling. Though he can use a high guard if needed, he generally prefers keeping his hands low and wide, occasionally turning side-on in a sort of pseudo shoulder roll. From there, he sends out jabs and low kicks until his opponent either backs himself to the fence or tries to force his way inside. In the former case, Anheliger tees off with either elbows or high-speed punching flurries. In the latter, he steps back and fires remarkably accurate one-shot counters.
It’s a simple-but-effective system bolstered by a strong chin and gas tank. That said, those low hands leave him open to be clipped if he himself hits the fence and runs out of space to retreat. As well as it works against fighters who burst their ways into the pocket, steady, patient pressure seems like it could give him some real issues.
Speaking of issues, all five of his losses came by submission, which speaks to his struggles on the mat. Though he’s clearly made some strides, particularly in his ability to scramble back to his feet or sweep, he still fell victim to most of the takedowns Gafurov attempted. Plus, he seemed to have zero answers when Gafurov just focused on maintaining position in half guard.
On the other hand, he can dish out some serious damage if he ends up on top, so he can shift the momentum with one good sweep.
Anheliger’s too old and one-dimensional to have a real impact in a division this deep, though there are a handful of winnable match ups to the found in the Octagon. He figures to entertain at the very least.
Opponent: Jesse Strader is one of those winnable match ups, an admirably violent body puncher let down by a shaky chin and subpar cardio. I like Anheliger to survive the early blitz and put him down with a counter once Strader starts to fatigue.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 48 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.
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