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UFC Vegas 53 - New Blood: Big in Japan

UFC Fight Night: Font v Vera Weigh-in Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

UFC Vegas 53 this weekend (Sat., April 30, 2022) inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, may be a mess, but it does feature some promising newcomers. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where it becomes increasingly clear that UFC needs to merge its Fight Pass and ESPN+ catalogues, we look at two Contender Series veterans and a Japanese wunderkind.

As always, episodes from the most recent Contender Series season can be watched on ESPN+.

LIVE! Stream UFC Vegas 74 On ESPN+

HIGH STAKES FLYWEIGHT MATCHUP! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns home to UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Sat., June 3, 2023, with No. 3-seeded contender, Kai Kara-France, face rising No. 7-ranked Amir Albazi. In UFC Vegas 74’s ESPN+-streamed co-main event, an exciting Featherweight bout sees No. 15-ranked contender, Alex Caceres, lock horns with all-action Daniel Pineda.

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

Yohan “White Lion” Lainesse

Weight Class: Welterweight
Age: 29
Record: 8-0 (6 KO)
Notable Victories: Justin Burlinson, Evan Cutts

Quebec’s Lainesse claimed the CFFC Welterweight title with a second round finish of Evan Cutts in July 2021. Four months later, he entered Contender Series as an underdog against Justin Berlinson, only to level the Englishman with a vicious left hook just 97 seconds into the fight.

As you’ve probably already guessed, striking is Lainesse’s forte. Though he’s got a heavy jab, chopping right, left hook and inside low kick, his best weapon is his shifting. Lainesse constantly switches stances and generally does a good job of disguising it, such as throwing a low kick from Southpaw and bringing it back in Orthodox position. In fact, he can even do it on the retreat to set up a heavier counter. When he’s in peak form, he can be utterly befuddling to deal with.

He’s got some noteworthy issues, though, and they’re the sort that compound each other. He often loads up far too much on both his jabs and his power shots, and whichever hand isn’t punching almost always sits somewhere around his waist instead of protecting his face. His head doesn’t move nearly as much as his feet, either, meaning he’s extremely vulnerable to counters and to getting caught when he backs straight up.

On top of that, he’s markedly less dynamic and technically savvy after the first round. Last time he went the distance, he looked spent halfway through the second, and he was getting sloppier by the minute before stinging Cutts with a body shot and forcing a stoppage with an ugly flurry. He insists that his cardio’s fine, but I’m not convinced.

He also seems to get caught with knees a lot while exiting the clinch.

He does have a Plan B, however, in the form of a solid double-leg takedown. Though his top game is solid — as seen when he easily shrugged off Burlinson’s submission attempts — he doesn’t seem super adept at keeping people down. It’s still a useful weapon for setting up his striking and buying him a bit of recovery time, though.

Lainesse strikes me as a bit too defensively shaky to make a real run at 170 pounds, but he’ll definitely put on some good fights. I can see him finding a niche in the middle of UFC’s Welterweight pack.

Opponent: He takes on Gabe Green in one of those fun match ups where each fighter has the tools to exploit the other’s weaknesses. Green is a poor wrestler and possibly even more defensively inept than Lainesse, but he’s also got a great chin and gas tank. Lainesse will almost certainly win the first round dominantly before slowing down. The question is whether he can use his wrestling to keep Green from snowballing through sheer volume. In the end, I favor Green by an inch.

Tape: His CFFC bouts are on Fight Pass.

Tatsuro Taira

Weight Class: Flyweight
Age: 22
Record: 10-0 (3 KO, 5 SUB)
Notable Victories: Yoshiro Maeda

Taira put together a dominant undefeated (9-0) amateur run before turning professional under Japan’s venerable Shooto banner. He’s been every bit as successful in the professional ranks, including scoring first round finishes in each of his last three fights.

Japan’s produced some top-notch ground artists before, and Taira already numbers among them at just 22. He’s got strong chain wrestling, rock-solid top control and the ability to move into dominant positions and snatch submissions with alarming speed. He demonstrated this in each of those three first-round wins. Indeed, against PRIDE veteran Yoshiro Maeda, he converted a missed jump knee into a guillotine attempt, then scrambled onto his back and put him to sleep in seconds. Less than four months later, he racked up most of a round of top position before taking mount and wrapping up a fight-ending triangle in the waning seconds. Finally, in his most recent bout, he dropped Alfredo Muaiad with two clean right hands and had the rear-naked choke locked up by the time Muaiad hit the ground.

His striking’s not terrible either, though it’s largely basic Muay Thai. He does boast hard leg kicks, solid clinch knees and a nice ability to follow kicks with punches from the same side, which is how he hurt Muaiad. Likewise, he times his counters well and has a knack for pulling people down into back mount from standing.

Skill-wise, he’s definitely ready for the big leagues. My big concern is his lack of urgency. For example, I’ve seen him go rounds at a time without shooting, and while he wasn’t in particular danger on the feet, I’m haunted by memories of countrymen like Hatsu Hioki and Naoki Inoue throwing away winnable fights by declining to impose their grappling. He also doesn’t land very much ground-and-pound, which could come back to bite him if he fights in front of damage-focused judges.

Overall, though, the potential is there for him to make a real impact in the division. With the right mindset and guidance, he’s potentially contender material.

Opponent: He takes on Carlos Candelario, a two-time Contender Series veteran. Candelario has some solid boxing and wrestling of his own, but so long as Taira pushes the issue and regularly threatens takedowns, he should find his way onto Candelario’s back before long.


Carlos “The Cannon” Candelario

Weight Class: Flyweight
Age: 30
Record: 8-1 (2 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: Ronaldo Candido

Candelario capped off a perfect (7-0) pro start with a decision over Ronaldo Candido on Contender Series, only for injury and lack of motivation to keep him on the sidelines for the next four years. He returned to action in Aug. 2021 with a decision over Miguel Restrepo, then dropped a highly questionable decision to Victor Altamirano in his second Contender Series appearance less than four weeks later.

Sporting both a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt and some Golden Gloves accolades, Candelario is unsurprisingly a technically sound all-rounder. He fights out of a tall Southpaw stance, utilizing a striking attack built largely around his one-two combination and a steady diet of kicks. In addition to doing damage in its own right, it serves to set up his powerful double-leg takedown, though he can be a bit predictable in shooting behind the straight left. He chains his takedown attempts well and generally holds his own against the fence, reversing and changing levels without getting controlled.

He does his best work from guard, where he dishes out some genuinely damaging punches. That said, he does seem to have a bit of trouble keeping people down, though he’s persistent enough with his takedowns that he can often just start the cycle over again when his opponents get to their feet.

He really doesn’t have any big, outstanding weaknesses. My only concern is that he doesn’t have any outstanding weapons, either. He can do damage, but he doesn’t look like much of a finisher at the highest level. I just feel like he’s going to run into better strikers he can’t take down and better wrestlers he can’t out-strike, though he can at least give a decent chunk of the division a tough out.

Opponent: See above.

Tape: His win over Restrepo is on Fight Pass.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 53 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN2/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (on ESPN+) at 7 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 53: “Font vs. Vera” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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