UFC 279, which takes place inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, this weekend (Sat., Sept. 10, 2022) is far from a conventional Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) pay-per-view (PPV) event; however, it does include some intriguing talent. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where recent tape is a luxury I’m not afforded nearly enough, we look at a trio of undefeated newcomers.
Anton “Pleasure Man” Turkalj
Weight Class: Light Heavyweight
Record: 8-0 (5 KO, 2 SUB)
Notable Victories: Acacio dos Santos, Ibo Aslan
Sweden’s Turkalj went 11-3 as an amateur before turning professional in 2018 and winning his first seven bouts inside the distance. He couldn’t find the finish or a UFC contract on Contender Series, but did walk away with a decision win over Acacio dos Santos in July 2022.
He steps in for Shamil Abdurakhimov on little more than one week’s notice.
For all those quick finishes, Turkalj is actually at his best in the clinch. His distance striking largely consists of lead kicks, often thrown from too close, and squared-up punching flurries when he’s not spinning or jumping. These combine with consistently low hands and limited head movement to leave him highly vulnerable to counters and straight shots in general. No surprise, then, that he’ll occasionally straight-up run after his opponent to wrap up his preferred body lock and go to work.
He can punch his way in like a normal person, of course, but he’s willing to get sloppy.
If big, eye-catching lifts aren’t doing the job, he’s got a nice assortment of little foot sweeps to keep his man off-balance as he fishes for the back. He can control for quite a long time with a single standing hook and uses both uppercuts and knees to rack up damage at point-blank. If he does manage to get on top, he’s capable of wrapping up the RNC in a hurry, but there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot else. He was unable to land any significant ground-and-pound on dos Santos or get close with any submissions, so control seems like his best trait at the moment.
Honestly, Turkalj needs a lot more seasoning. He’s too easy to hit due to some basic, fixable issues, and his actual finishing ability in his area of expertise is much less than his record would suggest. Light Heavyweight is top-heavy enough that he might be able to learn on the job, but as of now, he’d be fortunate to get past the likes of Devin Clark or Philipe Lins.
Opponent: He’s in trouble against fellow Contender Series alum Jailton Almeida. Almeida’s grappling blows Turkalj’s out of the water and he’s not too shabby on the feet, either. Unless Turkalj can find the spinning back fist that felled Konstantin Soldatov two fights back, this will end poorly.
Weight Class: Featherweight
Notable Victories: Taneisha Tennant
Wolf, a former Olympic boxing hopeful, made her mixed martial arts (MMA) debut during the 2020 season of Contender Series. Though it wasn’t the dominant win she would have liked, she managed to eke out a decision over Taneisha Tennant and claim a UFC contract in the process.
Three guesses as to Wolf’s fighting style and the first two don’t count. She almost exclusively leans on her hands in the cage, standing square and firing off quick volleys of jabs and crosses. The 1-1-2 looks like her favorite combination, which she’ll occasionally supplement with a body or head kick. Those punches are plenty sharp and quick, but the big problem is that they’re pretty much all she’s got in her arsenal. Best as I could tell, she didn’t throw a single hook or uppercut against Tennant aside from a flurry in the third. It’s all jabs and right hands, and while I get that she wants to keep opponents at punching distance so they can’t threaten with takedowns, it’s awful predictable.
On top of that, she doesn’t seem to move out of danger all that well. Tennant managed to clinch up virtually any time she wanted and consistently caught her with punches and low kicks when she got Wolf to move backwards. Wolf didn’t check those low kicks, either, which isn’t very surprising but is a worry. Honestly, Tennant beat her on the feet on my scorecard once she got used to Wolf just pumping jabs and crosses at her, out-landing Wolf in all three rounds and two-to-one in the second alone.
As far as the all-important grappling, things seem mixed. While she does get clinched easily, she frames and separates quite well; the only time Tennant managed to get on top was when Wolf jumped guard on a guillotine. That said, she kept holding onto the guillotine even when Tennant got to side control, and she didn’t offer much off of her back besides decent movement and upkicks.
Frankly, I don’t see Wolf doing much, even in UFC’s thinnest division. She’s pushing 40 and isn’t all that good even in her supposed wheelhouse. She hasn’t fought for two years, so maybe she’s polished things up, but I’m not holding my breath.
Opponent: She was originally slated to debut against Felicia Spencer, who would have choked her out with ease, but now faces Norma Dumont, who will beat her some other way with ease. Wolf only wins this if Dumont elects to sit at range and trade. Indeed, if Dumont uses her clinch and takedown games, there’s not a whole lot Wolf can do to stop her.
Tape: Her Contender Series bout is on Fight Pass.
Melissa “Super Melly” Martinez
Weight Class: Strawweight
Record: 7-0 (5 KO)
Notable Victories: Desiree Yanez
Martinez — who debuted professionally at age 18 — scored four finishes in her first five Combate bouts to earn a shot at the title in 2019. She proceeded to edge out Desiree Yanez for the belt, then turned her attention to kickboxing and schooling before returning to the cage this coming Saturday.
“Super Melly” is a light-footed Southpaw striker by trade, fond of pounding home heavy leg, body, and head kicks amid jabs and crosses. Of the eight limbs, her legs are the most fearsome — kicks account for three of her five knockouts, and she does a good job of punctuating her combinations with them. Also worth noting is her lateral movement, as she’ll circle off to one side under fire rather than back straight to the fence.
Two major problems hold her striking back. One is a tendency to throw naked kicks from punching range, which makes it easier to take her down or land a counter. The other is that when she’s not flurrying, her punches can be weirdly deliberate, at least in her last couple fights. She can load up on her jab and overhand left, robbing them of some speed and snap. Still, she’s an impressive whirling dervish when she finds her groove.
As for the takedown defense, it’s good so long as she has the fence behind her. She’s got very good balance to begin with, frames well, and knows how to use that fence to get to her feet when taken down. She even showed off a potential guillotine in her most recent effort When Yanez managed to pull her away and muscle her down into side control in the open mat, however, Martinez struggled mightily. She spent most of that round eating punches and elbows from side control and mount, and a last-ditch escape attempt only served to let Yanez take her back.
It’s definitely something to work on.
To be fair, all of this was when Martinez was a 22-year-old in 2019. However, I found a bit of footage of her recent kickboxing endeavors, which featured a seemingly ramped-up focus on leg kicks and some good-looking counters, but it’s hard to make a judgment as to how that will translate back to MMA. Assuming she’s improving at a steady rate, the Strawweight division could have a problem on its hands.
Opponent: She meets late replacement Elise Reed, a fellow striker who looks to pose a solid test. I slightly favor Reed over the 2019 version of Martinez, so it comes down to how much “Super Melly” has managed to tighten up her game.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 279 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 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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