After quite a bit of rejiggering, UFC 273 this weekend (Sat., April 9, 2022) finally appears to be set, featuring some unknown, but lethal, customers. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where tape that’s less than two years old is worth its weight in gold, we check out a quartet of finishers from around the world.
As usual, all episodes of the most recent Contender Series season are on ESPN+.
“Proper” Mike Malott
Weight Class: Welterweight
Record: 7-1-1 (3 KO, 4 SUB)
Notable Victories: Shimon Smotritsky, Solomon Renfro
Malott kicked off his professional career in 2011 and tried his hand in both World Series of Fighting (WSOF) and Bellator MMA before a five-year stretch in which he entered the cage just once. He’s since made up for lost time with two first-round finishes, including a 39-second guillotine finish on Contender Series that earned him a UFC contract.
There’s not a lot I can definitively say about Malott, seeing as he’s spent less than three minutes in the cage over the past 6.5 years, but I’ll try and make do with what I’ve got. He’s a 6’1” jack-of-all-trades with solid hands and some truly ridiculous speed on the mat. He took Hakeem Dawodu’s back with alarming quickness as a dried-out Featherweight back in 2014, and if his instant rear-naked choke of Renfro and guillotine of Smotritsky are anything to go by, he’s just as swift now.
He’s definitely still got some rough edges, though. Renfro found a lot of success simply marching in with combinations, as Malott tends to back straight up and allows shorter fighters to get into the pocket. Malott did manage to plunk him with a counter right to set up the finish, however, so it’s not like he doesn’t have the means to bail himself out. Similarly, he overextended when blitzing Smotritsky, only to flip things in his favor by wrapping up a guillotine when Smotritsky got in on his exposed hims.
Being too eager on the attack and easy to pin down on the retreat is a bad combination, though. He’s going to have real issues with power strikers, though what little I’ve seen of his wrestling looks promising.
The physical abilities and technique are definitely there for Malott. We just need to see how well he can execute at the highest level.
Opponent: He faces Mickey Gall, who was last seen falling to Alex Morono. It’s a winnable fight for Malott — he looks like the more dangerous striker and figures to at least be Gall’s equal on the mat. That said, Gall’s wrestling is a real threat, especially since Malott hasn’t seen a second round since the Obama administration, and he’s never lost twice in a row in the Octagon. I say it’s 60/40 in Malott’s favor, with the understanding that I’m extrapolating from limited data.
Tape: His recent CFFC bout is on Fight Pass.
Weight Class: Middleweight
Record: 9-2 (4 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: Bruno Oliveira
Fremd scored three first-round finishes under the LFA banner to set up a shot at the Middleweight title, only to suffer a career-first knockout loss to Gregory Rodrigues. He’s since won two straight, most recently choking out Joel Buaman on Lookin’ For a Fight.
He steps in for Dricus Du Plessis, who was re-assigned to face Kelvin Gastelum, on less than two weeks’ notice.
Fremd’s offense has two key ingredients: steady pressure and a snappy, thudding jab he constantly drives into opponents’ faces and midsections. He’s got a heavy low kick, teep and bicycle knee among the rest of his arsenal, but the jab is far and away his most common and effective weapon. Special notice also goes to his check hook, which accounted for his most recent knockout.
Where he struggles is in his lack of head movement, which combines with his forward pressure to leave him at the mercy of counters. He got dropped throwing a naked low kick two fights back and took a lot of clean punches from Bauman, who also preyed on his tendency to back straight up. This also flares up when he throws long combinations — he likes to shift to southpaw after throwing his right hand and follow up with additional punches, resulting in a ton of forward momentum and an exposed chin.
He also doesn’t check leg kicks.
To his credit, he has a Plan B in the form of his wrestling, which he honed at the University of Pennsylvania. It doesn’t look particularly overpowering, as Bauman shrugged off a lot of his takedowns before the final one succeeded and Renato Valente swept him immediately, but it’s there. He at least looks to have solid timing on his reactive shots, which are a common defensive option for him. Once on top, he seems content to stay heavy and chip away, though he did showcase a nice back take and RNC transition against Bauman.
I’m not overly impressed with Fremd, but his jab and aggression may be sufficient to keep him around the middle of the UFC Middleweight pack with some favorable matchmaking.
Opponent: He squares off with Contender Series grad Anthony “Fluffy” Hernandez. Though Hernandez has had mixed success in the world’s largest fight promotion, he’s good enough at capitalizing on the sorts of opportunities Fremd’s defensive liabilities present that I have to lean his way.
Tape: His last six bouts are on Fight Pass.
Piera “La Fiera” Rodriguez
Weight Class: Strawweight
Record: 7-0 (5 KO)
Notable Victories: Valesca Machado, Svetlana Gotsyk
The Venezuela-born, Panama-based Rodriguez claimed LFA gold in her promotional debut, stopping the favored Svetlana Gotsyk with ground-and-pound early in the fifth round. Then came Contender Series, where she leaned on her wrestling to edge out Valesca Machado and claim a UFC contract.
Though she has a quick, stiff jab when she bothers to use it, Rodriguez’s primary gameplan is to rip long combinations to the head and body, sprinkling in the occasional lead low kick or sneaky switch head kick. When attacking, she’ll wade implacably forward and toss out those leg kicks before bursting in with heavy punches. Often, however, she’s content to patiently wait for her opponent to step in with their own punch, at which point she’ll unleash a lengthy flurry before they can get back out of the pocket.
Unsurprisingly, defense is her biggest issue. She stands almost completely square and keeps her hands well below her chin regardless of whether she’s throwing them at the time. Though she has a good chin overall, Gotsyk cracked her with most of the check hooks she threw and dropped her hard with a counter overhand. Catch-and-pitch counters are a good strategy, but you want to catch with something other than your face.
That offense/defense discrepancy extends to her wrestling. She leaned heavily on reactive shots against Machado, and while she didn’t complete many of them, they’re enough to add an extra dimension to her game. At the same time, Gotsyk got several easy body locks and double-legs on her when Gotsyk committed to takedowns instead of pulling guard, though Rodriguez did manage to regularly get back to her feet. That square stance leaves her way too vulnerable here as well.
I don’t think Rodriguez will get terribly far. Her defense is too leaky and her power, potent as it may be, isn’t sufficient to make up for it. She should put on some solid fights, though.
Opponent: She squares off with the struggling Kay Hansen. I like Hansen as an underdog here — she should be 2-1 rather than 1-2 in the Octagon and has the wrestling chops to ruin Rodriguez’s day. Unless “La Fiera” can sucker her into a brawl, she’s getting run over on the ground.
Daniel “Willycat” Santos
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Record: 10-1 (5 KO, 2 SUB)
Notable Victories: Cleverson Silva
Santos started his career perfect (8-0) before running afoul of ACA standout Murad Kalamov, who handed him his first professional defeat in 2019. Undaunted, he closed out the year with two consecutive first-round finishes.
This marks his first appearance in over two years, as two other planned debuts fell through.
“Willycat” is a Chute Boxe product to the core, but there’s some key features that make him far more than a run-of-the-mill brawler. He’s fast even by Bantamweight standards, unleashing both his gym’s traditional from-the-hip haymakers and more exotic spinning/shifting techniques in the blink of an eye, and has the bottomless gas tank to stay aggressive and throw wild strikes from bell to bell. Beyond the power-punches and kicks, though I should note his crushing low kicks, he can unleash nasty knees from the Thai clinch alongside sneaky elbows and an underutilized jab.
His defense, on the other hand, is weird. He looks like he should have good defense, moving his head a lot and is very light on his feet. However, punches find his face with worrying regularity even when his hands aren’t occupied with trying to cave in his opponents’ skulls. Beyond that, he backs himself to the fence way too easily, at which point he predictably starts trying to bob and weave while hurling haymakers. His fight with Dukvakha Astamirov had a ton of deja vu moments where Astamirov would simply advance until Santos’ back hit the fence and then shoot under the resulting flurry, getting in on his hips pretty much every time.
This leads into another of his admirable traits, however: his takedown defense is phenomenal. He sprawls well, frames well in the clinch, and can get back to his feet in an instant should someone exploit his over-aggression to drag him down with a well-timed shot. This gives him more freedom to unload on the feet, and that gas tank is sturdy enough that he can keep scrambling up well into the later rounds.
Santos has the physical abilities and all-action mentality to be a player at 135, even if his defensive problems will keep him out of the Top 10. I’m eager to see more of him.
Opponent: He takes on the crafty Julio Arce. It’s a damn close fight, but between Santos’ rust and Arce’s overall edge in technical striking and wrestling, I like the latter to win a hugely entertaining battle.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 273 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:15 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.
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