COVID has been rather merciful toward UFC Vegas 47 this weekend (Sat., Feb. 5, 2022), leaving exactly the same number of debutants as when it first came together. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where searching video sites in Cyrillic is a normal occurrence, we look at two Contender Series grads and a Ukrainian Flyweight standout originally slated to debut in 2021.
As always, bouts from the most recent Contender Series season can be found on ESPN+.
Chidi “Chidi Bang Bang” Njokuani
Weight Class: Middleweight
Record: 20-7 (12 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Hisaki Kato, Andre Fialho, Ricky Rainey, Max Griffin
Njokuani — brother of WEC and UFC veteran Anthony Njokuani — put together a nine-fight unbeaten streak before dropping three of four in the Bellator cage. He bounced back with a knockout under the LFA banner, then stopped Mario Sousa to claim a contract on Contender Series.
Standing 6’3” and boasting an 80-inch reach, Njokuani is unsurprisingly a rangy sharpshooter. He constantly feints with both his hips and hands while stabbing out with front kicks to the body alongside jabs, straights, and some heavy round kicks. His successful kickboxing experience shows itself in a number of fun little tricks, from buttery-smooth stance switches to kicking out opponents’ lead legs as they punch from out of range to, at one point, dropping a guy with a 3-2-head kick as a counter. When he gets a head of steam going and starts putting together fluid, versatile combinations, it’s a sight to behold.
I do, however, feel like his kickboxing instincts work against him sometimes. He’s got a terrific counter right, but like the counter low kick, it can allow persistent opponents to power through and get inside his range for a clinch. This is compounded by a tendency to circle too near the fence, which allowed John Salter and Rafael Carvalho to get takedowns going against it.
While he’s extremely dangerous in the clinch, particularly with his knees to the body, it seems like he can be outmuscled. He was a Welterweight for quite a while before a series of egregious weight misses sent him up to 185, and considering how easily Carvalho controlled him, I’m not sure how well he’ll fare against some of the division’s bigger representatives.
As far as his ground game, he’s not great at getting up from his back and can open himself up to rear waist locks when trying to scramble away. He did, however, hit a nice half guard sweep against Sousa, so perhaps he’s improving. If he does contrive to get on top, his elbows are absolutely vicious and his punches aren’t too shabby, either.
He’s super fun to watch, but I see his UFC career going like his brother’s. His takedown defense and ground game just aren’t up to snuff. As long as the matchmakers pit him against other strikers, though, we’re in for a treat.
Opponent: He takes on Canadian tough guy Marc-Andre Barriault. The bookies have it dead even (as do I). Njokuani is by far the better striking technician, but Barriault’s relentlessness and Njokuani’s aforementioned bad habits could allow “Powerbar” to tank his way through early adversity and wear down his man with pressure. Either way, I’m certainly looking forward to it.
Tape: His recent LFA bout is on Fight Pass, his Bellator bouts on the promotion’s website.
Jailton “Malhadinho” Almeida
Weight Class: Light Heavyweight
Record: 14-2 (5 KO, 9 SUB)
Notable Victories: Nasrudin Nasrudinov, Ednaldo Oliveira
Almeida brought an eight-fight win streak into Contender Series, where he took on Russian standout Nasrudin Nasrudinov in 2021. Though he entered as the underdog, he utilized a powerful grappling attack to force a second-round tap and claim a UFC contract along the way.
The 6’3” “Malhadinho” has compared his style to Khabib Nurmagomedov’s, and while I wouldn’t go that far, he’s definitely not someone you want to be underneath. He utilizes both a fast, powerful double-leg and some solid clinch trips to unleash his top control, which leans on patient guard passing to set up his preferred rear-naked and arm-triangle chokes. His transitions are great, particularly into that head-and-arm choke, and his rare bits of ground-and-pound have some mustard on them. He’s not helpless off his back, either; though he ate some hard punches from Nasrudinov, his deep half and leglock attack were enough of a nuisance that the Dagestani let him up rather than continue to engage.
One odd, but effective, quirk is that he’ll attack the neck without putting his hooks in first. This got him in a weird one-hook position against Nasrudinov, but he showed strong control from the seatbelt grip and ultimately managed to worm the other one in.
His striking revolves around his front, body, and low kicks, which he throws in volume and without terribly much set up. He really loaded up on his punches against Ildemar Alcantara in 2020, though the few he threw against Nasrudinov looked a bit crisper. His defense might be a problem, as he’ll either walk or hop straight back in the face of incoming fire.
Out-wrestling and submitting Nasrudinov was a huge statement, one that suggests Almeida could be a factor in a Light Heavyweight division far shorter on overpowering grapplers than in days past. That said, he does need to polish his striking. That’s because he does an alright job of blending it with his takedowns, as seen in his punch-to-level-change to end the first round on Contender Series, but it has to be a credible threat to open up his impressive takedown game. If he can make those strides, he could be a Top 15-ranked fighter before long.
Opponent: He meets grinding countryman Danilo Marques, who suffered a comeback knockout loss to Kennedy Nzechukwu to snap his two-fight UFC win streak. I was more impressed by Almeida’s takedown and submission abilities than Marques,’ so as long as his unproven gas tank holds up, “Malhadinho” should repeat his successful efforts against Nasrudinov.
Tape: You can catch his win over Ildemar Alcantara on YouTube.
Denys “Psycho” Bondar
Weight Class: Flyweight
Record: 16-3 (5 KO, 11 SUB)
Notable Victories: None
Bondar went from dropping two straight to winning 10 in a row ... all of them via stoppage. The run included two victories in one night and a brief reign as WWFC Flyweight champion.
This marks his fourth attempt at a UFC debut in the last year, as he withdrew from two bouts and saw a third rescheduled.
“Suffocating” and “smothering” may be overused adjectives when it comes to describing grapplers, but there’s really no way around using them here. Bondar thrives on relentless pressure, stalking opponents until he can tie up and use his impressively fancy arsenal of trips to bring it to the ground. Particular note goes to his little foot sweep to the heel; it’s not a game-changing secret weapon or anything, I just think it’s neat.
On top, he plays a simple but effective game: stay extremely heavy and mash with punches until the opportunity to pass arises. Excellent balance allows him to ride out his opponents’ attempts to scramble, doing damage as he patiently works his way into dominant position and hunts either rear naked chokes or arm triangles. It’s all very tight, persistent, and debilitating thanks to his pace.
When he’s not doing the smothering, however, things get trickier. His standup is rather sloppy outside of a remarkably sharp jab, and while he has the wherewithal to throw counters, he’s quite vulnerable when forced to give ground. He’ll back straight up and keep his hands low as he hauls himself to the fence, leaving him open to aggressive combination strikers. To make matters worse, his normally solid takedown defense can suffer, though he does a good job of scrambling back to his feet.
The other big concern is his lack of quality opposition. Most of the men he beat in his current run had records around .500, making it difficult to say for certain whether his game will work at the highest level. I definitely like what I see, but I’ll have to wait until his UFC debut to make a definitive statement on his future.
Opponent: He takes on Malcolm Gordon, last seen upsetting Francisco Figueiredo for his first UFC victory. While Gordon’s not quite as favorable a matchup as Victor Rodriguez, whom Bondar was slated to face in May, his nonexistent takedown defense should negate his striking advantage and allow Bondar to cruise to victory through top control.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 47 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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