UFC 274, which takes place this weekend (Sat., May 7, 2022) inside Footprint Center in Phoenix, Ariz., offers not just a pair of title fights, but an opportunity for Octagon newcomers to show their stuff on a massive stage. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where UFC occasionally does me a solid by sticking fights on YouTube where I can actually embed them, we look at a pair of Contender Series graduates in the lower weight classes. As always, episodes from the most recent Contender Series season can be found on YouTube.
Side note: Cameron VanCamp is also slated to debut, but he got a write up back in Sept. 2021.
Kleydson “KR” Rodrigues
Weight Class: Flyweight
Record: 7-1 (3 KO, 2 SUB)
Notable Victories: Santo Curatolo, Eduardo Henrique da Silva
Team Nogueira’s Rodrigues — unbeaten since his professional debut — claimed the Jungle Fight Flyweight title with a submission finish of Eduardo Henrique da Silva in 2019. Nearly two years later, he made his way to Contender Series, where he out-classed late replacement Santo Curatolo to secure a UFC contract.
“KR” is an athletic, ultra-dynamic striker who brings to mind a more polished and controlled Yair Rodriguez. His wide array of spinning and flying techniques, which he can chain together beautifully, are made consistently effective by a steady diet of feints and sound striking fundamentals. When he’s not launching one-hit-kill techniques, he’s tearing up his opponent’s lead leg with nasty inside low kicks, landing snap kicks to the midsection, or reaching in with long one-two combinations. He’s not lost inside, either, as he’s got nasty clinch knees and elbows.
The best part? He doesn’t get tired. He maintained the same pace from bell-to-bell against Curatolo despite landing more than 90 significant strikes in the span of 15 minutes.
If there’s a weakness to be found, it’s that he can come in a bit too dramatically. He’ll linger in the pocket with his hands down after throwing those one-two combinations and opens himself up to clinches and takedowns when attempting flying knees. Luckily, he does a great job of scrambling back to his feet when taken down and has some slick little foot sweeps on the offensive side.
Rodrigues already looks like contender material — he’s technically sound, physically gifted and consistently puts on a show. In short, the Flyweight division has a problem on its hands.
Opponent: He faces the dangerous, but limited, C.J. Vergara. “KR” should have a field day with Vergara’s leaky striking defense, and he’s got the gas tank to avoid a comeback should the early finish fail to materialize. Expect a dominant debut, folks.
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Record: 10-1 (1 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: Joshua Weems
Garcia put a split decision loss to Cody Freeman behind him to win four straight under the LFA banner. He then made the most of his Contender Series opportunity, knocking out Joshua Weems midway through the first round.
Combination punching is Garcia’s claim to fame. He prefers to push steadily forward, crowding opponents to the fence before stepping in with lengthy volleys behind his snappy jab. He does a good job of doubling up with the same hand to stay unpredictable and boasts a sneaky check hook for those who try to keep him on the back foot. Though not much of a kicker, he can send out some thudding low kicks, which he’ll follow up with a left hook to catch opponents overeager to answer back.
It’s an effective style, though one that’s not short on flaws. Besides his lack of stopping power and tendency to loop his punches such that they often land more as slaps than anything else, Garcia is inconsistent about checking low kicks and keeps his left hand low, making it far too easy to catch him with right hands. He also seemed to struggle with the rangier Isaiah Batin-Gonzalez, falling short with his counters and getting picked off by straighter shots.
He also seems to start slow, and seeing as he tends to go the distance, that’s an issue.
Wrestling-wise, he’s shown off a nice reactive double-leg, and though he got taken down fairly easily by Ryan Haynes two fights back, he got to his feet fairly quickly. His ground offense appears to comprise primarily ground-and-pound from guard. And he’s got three submission finishes, but those all came more than three years ago against opponents with losing records.
While he’s legitimately skilled and more entertaining than that finishing record would suggest, Garcia’s shortcomings figure to keep him well out of contention. Expect him to peak around the lower-middle of UFC’s Bantamweight division.
Opponent: He squares off with Journey Newson, who’s coming off a lengthy layoff and has yet to find his footing in the Octagon. Though technically sound and possessed of a heavy right hand that could give Garcia issues, he’s too inconsistent for me to call an upset. In the end, expect Garcia to comfortably out-work him.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 274 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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