Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has consistently manufactured new and exciting pipelines to the Octagon, and several of those will find themselves represented inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, this Saturday (June 4, 2022). On this edition of New Blood, the series where YouTube fails me far too often, we check out two Contender Series veterans, a Lookin’ for a Fight graduate, a The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) veteran, and a short-notice Light Heavyweight first signed in 2021. As always, episodes from the most recent Contender Series season can be found on ESPN+.
Weight Class: Lightweight
Record: 13-1 (8 KO, 5 SUB)
Notable Victories: Italo Trindade, Nico Cocuccio
A torrid run through the Brazilian circuit saw Almeida win titles in venerable organizations like Max Fight and Jungle Fight en route to Contender Series. Though he fell short in a barnburner with Daniel Zellhuber inside the Apex, he returned to the win column with a quick power guillotine finish of Italo Trindade in Nov. 2021.
I probably use “prototypical” too much, so let’s try another fancy word here: Almeida is an archetypal Dutch-style Muay Thai artist. He’s all about relentlessly stalking foes, unleashing blistering punching combinations, tearing up the lead leg, and slamming home knees when the situation calls for it. His speed and power are downright nasty and he’s got a vicious streak a mile long.
Indeed, if he finds any sort of momentum, his opponent will be in a ton of trouble.
Grappling-wise, he does a good job of scooting to the fence to get to his feet and can land trips of his own if needed. He’s generally content to keep it standing, though; if he’s got a particularly tricky fighter under him, he’ll wave them up.
His issues are largely byproducts of his tall, square stance. Though he can move and slip well when starting combinations, his head stops moving once his hands start flying. Plus, while he has very good balance when throwing those shots, the sheer oomph he puts behind them can leave him out of position to defend himself. More than one opponent has exploited this by shooting or tying up when one of his murderous chopping rights whiffed.
He also appeared to gas after an incredibly high-volume first round against Zellhuber, but I’m willing to chalk that up to overeagerness in pursuit of a hurt opponent.
Those defensive issues will most likely keep Almeida out of title contention. That said, I’m very glad Dana and Co. decided to give him another shot. That’s because he’s enormously entertaining, tougher than hell, and legitimately very skilled. I hope he sticks around for a while. He’ll have his hands full with debut foe Mike Trizano, but I’ll be shocked if it’s not a “Fight of the Night” candidate.
Karine “Killer” Silva
Weight Class: Flyweight
Record: 14-4 (8 KO, 6 SUB)
Notable Victories: Simone Da Silva, Yan Qihui
Brazil’s Silva bounced back from a two-fight skid with four consecutive first round finishes. Her efforts earned her a spot on Contender Series, where she submitted Chinese standout, Yan Qihui, with a comeback guillotine.
Despite having more knockouts than submissions to her credit, Silva’s primarily a ground specialist, utilizing either clinch trips, a decent double-leg, or chain wrestling to take fights to her domain. Her top game is of the grinding variety, but she’s willing to fall back for a leg if she can’t get through the guard. Where she really entertains is off of her back, boasting a super-active and dangerous guard that uses her flexibility to great effect. She snapped Sidy Rocha’s arm with an armbar from there and largely neutralized Yan before the guillotine presented itself.
That said, she isn’t super difficult to take down and can be a bit too willing to chase submissions instead of standing, which is asking for trouble against higher-level opponents.
She’s more of a mixed bag on the feet. Her offense comprises largely hard single kicks and a one-two combination that she puts way too much behind. She also (say it with me) backs straight up under pressure, opening her to both persistent strikers and those looking to impose their own grappling. In addition, she looked to be running out of steam in the second round against Yan, so her cardio is worth keeping an eye on.
Flyweight isn’t the most stacked division, so I could see her slotting herself somewhere in the Top 20. Her debut will certainly be interesting, though. Indeed, Poliana Botelho has the tools to destroy her on the feet, while Silva has the tools to destroy Botelho on the mat. In short, this showdown could be a sleeper.
Askar “No Mercy” Mozharov
Weight Class: Light Heavyweight
Record: 19-12 (11 KO, 6 SUB)
Notable Victories: Evgeniy Golub, Cheick Kone
After starting his career 13-5, Mozharov now sits at 12-2 in his last 14 bouts. His last two fights have seen him knockout his opponents in one minute combined.
After planned debuts against Ben Rothwell and Dustin Jacoby fell through, he now replaces Nick Negumereanu on short notice.
Mozharov’s finishing percentage is no joke — the power in his kicks is absurd, the speed even moreso. The guy can deliver a shin or heel to the face with the sort of quickness you expect out of Lightweights, much less a 6’3” tank of a man. Though less flashy, his hands are similarly capable of ending things in a hurry, as seen in his recent check hook finish.
What holds him back, however, are his lack of setups and combinations. At the highest level, just throwing a strike quickly or creatively isn’t enough to ensure consistent success. In addition, he tends to drop his opposite hand when punching, a significant issue when his opponents don’t have to worry about him following up with a second or third strike.
To his credit, however, he did do a decent job of following his kicks with punches from the same hand in his most recent effort.
As for his grappling, his charges and spinning moves leave him fairly open to takedowns and he seems to be weak off of his back outside of trying to kick his way to his feet. He also attempted two guillotines in his last loss that didn’t get close and resulted in him getting dragged to the mat.
Don’t let my naysaying color your opinion too much, however. He’s got some excellent physical tools, fights out a solid camp in AKA Thailand, and is still just 27 years young. With a bit of polish, he could be something special, and he’s already super entertaining as is. His debut scrap with Alonzo Menifield looks like a 50/50 that could wind up being profoundly violent.
That said, there are some serious extracurricular concerns. Mozharov’s official record was recently audited and changed from 25-7 to 21-11 and then to 19-12, he’s had a run-in with USADA (which isn’t too surprising considering he used to fight at Welterweight), and some of his knockouts look a bit fishy. I stand by my assessment of his physical abilities, but take this all with a grain of salt.
Daniel “The Determined” Argueta
Weight Class: Featherweight/Bantamweight
Record: 8-0 (2 KO, 4 SUB)
Notable Victories: Diego Silva, Mairon Santos
Argueta entered TUF 29’s tournament as Brian Ortega’s first overall pick, only to fall to Ricky Turcios in a terrific quarterfinal war. Undaunted, he returned to LFA to win and defend its Bantamweight title.
He makes a one-month turnaround for his short-notice debut.
Argueta’s gameplan is no secret: use his wrestling pedigree to get on top, then start mauling. He’s a very strong takedown artist, but it’s his vicious top game that really stands out. Though lacking in one-shot power, he can dish out a ridiculous volume of punches and elbows, all while maintaining the balance and awareness to keep dominant position. He rides well, keeps opponents from standing, re-shoots if the first level change fails ... everything you want out of an active wrestler.
Where he struggles is on the feet, namely in his defense. When I say he has bad defense, I don’t mean that he tries to avoid damage and does a bad job. I mean that he seemingly has no interest in protecting his own face. Diego Silva teed off on his face with murderous combinations last time out and at no point did Argueta even bring his hands up to defend. It was downright bizarre.
The issues are made worse by the fact that while he’ll move his head a bit at range, he’s completely squared up when actually punching, chin immobile. He’s lucky he’s got a good chin, but there are strikers in UFC’s Bantamweight ranks who could take years off his life.
Offensively, he usually just marches forward and flurries to set up his takedown entries, though he’ll also throw naked low kicks from punching range that invite even more counters. I do, however, want to point out how well he lands elbows on the break.
Argueta has a UFC-worthy top game, but I legitimately fear for his health if he runs into a power hitter like Chito Vera or Douglas da Silva Andrade and his wrestling can’t bail him out. He’ll for sure have a rough debut, at least, as he’s moving up in weight to challenge another very strong grappler in Damon Jackson.
His LFA bouts are on Fight Pass.
Rinat “Gladiator” Fakhretdinov
Weight Class: Welterweight
Record: 20-2 (11 KO, 7 SUB)
Notable Victories: Eric Spicely, Alberto Uda
Six years into his professional career, “Gladiator” earned his first major scalp by choking out UFC veteran Alberto Uda for the Gorilla Fight Middleweight title. Two fights later, he appeared on Lookin’ For a Fight, where he scored a 55-second knockout of Eric Spicely to secure a UFC contract.
He fights for the first time in more than 16 months.
You’d be forgiven for looking at Fakhretdinov’s record and expecting another high-octane Russian destroyer. If his second-most recent fight against Jhonny Carlos is anything to go by, however, he is in fact a painfully boring grinder. Almost all of those finishes came against marginal opposition.
To his credit, Fakhredtinov has a nice double-leg takedown, especially as a response when pressured. The issue is that he doesn’t actually do anything from the top. For example, he was stood up for inactivity no less than three times against Carlos and never even bothered to try passing guard unless he landed in half or side control on the takedown. Didn’t posture, either, instead lying chest-to-chest and chipping away with punches and elbows.
Submission-wise, most of his tapouts have come via guillotine, which he can admittedly snatch up fairly quickly. He kind of, sort of considered an arm-triangle choke against Carlos, but showed no more urgency in pursuing it than he did in doing anything else.
His standup comprises largely jabs, looping left/right hooks, inside low kicks, and the straight right that caught Spicely unaware. When forced to retreat, he relies almost entirely on a sloppy check hook. It ain’t pretty, but it’s got some pop and it’s been enough to set up his ground game so far.
I was all set to pick Fakhredtinov to get demolished in his UFC debut, but the brass actually found someone he beats more often than not: Andreas Michailidis. “Gladiator’s” the better wrestler of the two and lacks the cardio problems that have ailed Michailidis in the past, so unless the cut to 170 pounds does absolute wonders for the Greek, he’s getting lay-and-prayed to death.
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