UFC 277, which takes place this weekend (Sat., July 30, 2022) inside America Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, has taken its lumps these past few weeks, upping the number of planned debutants from one to three. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where I should probably just bite the bullet and learn Cyrillic at this point, we look at an undefeated Olympian, a new Welterweight on the heels of a major upset, and a heavy-handed Contender Series graduate.
As always, episodes from the most recent Contender Series season are on ESPN+:
Weight Class: Heavyweight
Record: 5-0 (5 KO)
Notable Victories: None
Abdelwahab — who represented his native Egypt as a Greco-Roman wrestler in the 2016 Olympics — went 4-1 in the unpaid ranks before turning professional in late 2021. After a pair of victories in Jorge Masvidal’s bareknuckle promotion, he racked up another three wins in the span of six months.
He replaces Justin Tafa on less than two weeks’ notice.
In short, Abdelwahab is about what you’d expect when you hear, “Greco-Roman specialist early in his MMA career.” The wrestling pedigree is very apparent — he’s got some nice trips from the body lock and can bust out a strong double-leg when needed. If he can land in side control, he can rack up damage very quickly with short elbows and hammer fists. Unfortunately, he can be neutralized fairly easily in the guard, as he doesn’t seem able to pass or get any ground-and-pound going. The only pass I’ve seen him use is the old, “stand up, toss their legs aside, and dive in with a right hand” standby, and even then his opponent managed to regain his guard without too much trouble.
As for his stand up, he prefers quick lead rights, the occasional counter left hook, and naked low kicks. While he does use the jab, it’s as a one-and-done weapon rather than a means to set up further offense. If he thinks he’s got his man hurt, he’ll unleash the classic two-fisted flurry, even if he’s eating counters in the process.
Cardio-wise, he seems to slow down after the first, though he’s still capable of big explosions. That said, the one time he went past the first as a professional came against an opponent who wasn’t eager to push the pace, so no telling how his gas tank will hold up in a legitimate firefight.
I’d have given Abdelwahab another year or two of seasoning before throwing him into the big show. Yes, he’s already approaching 30, but there’s no shortage of Heavyweights who found their strides past that age. As-is, I can see him grinding out a few low-level guys, but struggling around the middle of the pack.
Opponent: Don’Tale Mayes is definitely closer to the middle than the bottom. He’s got a ton of height and reach over Abdelwahab, much more developed striking, and some decent wrestling in his back pocket. He’s had some defensive grappling issues in the past, so it wouldn’t be too outlandish to see Abdelwahab wrestle his way to victory, but odds are that Mayes chews him up on the feet for a wide decision or late stoppage.
Tape: His first iKon bout is on Fight Pass.
Weight Class: Welterweight
Record: 8-2 (4 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: Solomon Renfro
After a perfect (3-0) amateur career, Fugitt started his professional run 7-2, those losses coming to future Contender Series competitors Austin Vanderford and Kailan Hill. Then came a two-year layoff, which he ended in Feb. 2022 with a massive upset knockout of Solomon Renfro.
He steps in for Ramiz Brahimaj on eight days’ notice.
Fugitt has one of the more distinct stand up styles you’re likely to see. A lanky Southpaw fond of bending his upper body at odd angles, he relies largely on his right switch kick to the body and stiff jabs and crosses at a distance. Though he almost exclusively used his right leg before his layoff, sometimes sneaking in front kicks alongside the roundhouses, he spent much of his brief fight with Renfro hurling left head kicks with reckless abandon. Inside, he’s got a knack for landing clinch knees and nasty, creative elbows, though he’s overly fond of the spinning back elbow.
Things get a bit iffier when he gets outside his comfort zone. He really squares up when throwing combinations and telegraphs his lead right hook by taking big, dramatic wind-up steps. It can get downright ugly when he tries to put more than two or three shots together. Plus, he has a bad habit of putting up a static earmuff guard under fire, which allowed Reno Remigio to drop him with a clean uppercut three fights back.
I’m more impressed with his grappling, honestly. He boasts a very strong double-leg and good timing on his reactive shots, which set up a brutal ground-and-pound attack. He appears to particularly enjoy doing damage on turtling opponents, though his kimura finish four fights back showed that he’s a submission threat, too.
That said, Fugitt’s wrestling isn’t enough to make him a contender and those shortcomings in his kickboxing are too exploitable, but there are definitely a handful of UFC Welterweights he could beat.
Opponent: He’s in for a rough time against debut foe Michael Morales. The Ecuadorian young gun looks to be the superior athlete, has a sufficiently strong wrestling pedigree to shut down Fugitt’s takedowns, and packs enough power to punch clean through Fugitt’s guard. It would be a much bigger upset than the Renfro fight if Fugitt somehow pulled it off.
Tape: His recent LFA bout is on Fight Pass.
Ihor “Duelist” Potieria
Weight Class: Light Heavyweight
Record: 20-2 (9 KO, 7 SUB)
Notable Victories: Lukasz Sudolski
Ukraine’s Potieria has not tasted defeat since a 3-2 professional start, amassing 17 victories in less than five years. His latest was his biggest yet, an upset knockout of Lukasz Sudolski on Contender Series that earned him a UFC contract.
Standing 6’3,” Potieira is a stalking Southpaw slugger by trade, leaning on heavy punching flurries and the occasional switch kick. Though his combinations aren’t always the cleanest, he’s admirably aggressive and prone to bellowing taunts if his opponents aren’t responding in kind. If he does prove able to wring a response, he’s got solid timing on his counters, particularly with his power hand.
His grappling is a similar sort of rough-but-effective. He pummels and moves well in the clinch and has a really nice little foot sweep he uses to upset his opponents’ balance, but his tendency to leap in with his strikes opens him up to reactive takedowns. His bottom game appears somewhat limited, though he’s capable of standing if the opportunity arises.
Offensively, his ground-and-pound looks more dangerous than his submissions. His last tapout was a triangle choke he was essentially gift-wrapped.
Potieria just seems like an unfinished product at this point. That gaudy record was largely built on very low-level opposition, and while the physical tools are clearly there, he leaves far more openings than his raw skills can overcome. The division’s top-heavy enough that he could be a problem 2-3 years from now, but he’s middle-of-the-pack at best right now.
Opponent: He takes on Nicolae Negumereanu, who’s currently riding a three-fight win streak. Negumereanu doesn’t have much going for him outside of persistence and toughness, but that should be enough here, especially considering Potieria’s a long-time Middleweight and has a style that will give Negumereanu plenty of opportunities to tie up and haul him to the fence.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 277 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ABC/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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