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UFC Vegas 69 - New Blood: The Contenders, The Answer and The Lion

The upcoming ESPN+streamed show this Saturday (Feb. 18, 2023) inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, has been chopped down to just 11 fights, five of which feature an Octagon newcomer. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series UFC insists on making me regret ever suggesting, we check out three Contender Series veterans, a former UFC champ, and an undefeated (23-0) debutant.

LIVE! Stream UFC San Antonio On ESPN+

BLOCKBUSTER BANTAMWEIGHT CONTENDERS’ BOUT! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) departs APEX for a special “Fight Night” extravaganza at AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas, on Sat., March 25, 2023, featuring a pair of thrilling 135-pound bouts. Surging No. 4-ranked contender Marlon Vera goes for his fifth consecutive win when he takes on exciting finisher and No. 5-seeded Cory Sandhagen. In UFC San Antonio’s ESPN+streamed co-main event, former women’s 135-pound champion and current No. 3-ranked Holly Holm battles Yana Santos (No. 4).

Don’t miss a single second of face-punching action!

Jamal “The Stormtrooper” Pogues

Weight Class: Heavyweight
Age: 27
Record: 9-3 (4 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Paulo Renato Jr., Marcos Brigagao

Pogues claimed victory over Marcos Brigagao in his first Contender Series bid, but didn’t impress the boss enough to claim a contract. Three years later, he returned to the program as a Heavyweight, edging out Paulo Renato Jr. to earn an Octagon berth.

Boxing is Pogues’ weapon of choice, built around an ultra-fast jab, a straight right he throws with almost no windup, and a rarer left hook that he blends nicely with the aforementioned jab. His hands were quick by Light Heavyweight standards, making them blazing fast among Heavyweights, and he puts them together quite smoothly for a man his size.

Besides a lack of killer instinct and one-shot power, his issues largely revolve around mobility and are exacerbated by the extra weight he’s carrying at 265 pounds. He backs straight up under pressure, and while he was quick enough to get away with it at 205, Renato found a ton of success catching Pogues as “The Stormtrooper” backed away too slowly. Leading to the head, stepping in, and following up to the body or legs while he tries to protect his face looks like an extremely consistent means of landing damage.

He’s still capable of quick bursts, but he’s far too content to be flat-footed, and his lack of interest in checking low kicks only makes it worse.

On the grappling side of things, he’s actually remarkably good at getting back to his feet. He never accepts being stuck on his back, and his athleticism shines in how smoothly he can hit transitions when chasing sweeps or generally improving position. Mind you, that was at 205 pounds, so there’s no telling whether he can still move like that.

As for wrestling, he looks to have solid takedown defense in general, but the aforementioned footwork issues allowed Alex Polizzi to consistently pressure him and get in on his hips once Pogues’ back hit the fence.

Honestly, I’d be pushing Pogues to get back down to Light Heavyweight to get his mobility back. Renato was more than 25 pounds smaller and still managed to land a lot of solid blows on him before Pogues’ relentless jab finally broke him down. As-is, his hands are sharp enough to carry him past bottom-of-the-barrel big men, but he’s not touching the Top 15.

I do favor him in his debut against Josh Parisian, though. Parisian got boxed up by the much smaller Parker Porter and Roque Martinez, so even the current, lumbering incarnation of Pogues should be able to steadily take him apart on the feet.


Nazim “Black Wolf” Sadykhov

Weight Class: Lightweight
Age: 28
Record: 7-1 (5 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Ahmad Suhail Hassanzada

Sadykhov — a product of Longo-Weidman MMA — won all four of his amateur bouts before suffering a submission loss in his professional debut. Undaunted, he won six straight to earn a spot on Contender Series, where he secured a UFC contract by violently smashing Ahmad Suhail Hassanzada.

“Black Wolf” first started karate when he was three years old, and you can definitely see it in the long, upright stance from which he stalks his opponents. In addition to an array of spinning techniques that he can bust out at a moment’s notice, like the beautiful back kick he used to hurt Hassanzada after catching a body kick, he’s a very effective combination puncher that mixes up his head and body attacks nicely. He’s seemingly equally skilled from Southpaw and Orthodox and switches very smoothly.

As adept as he is at mauling inside, he’s arguably more dangerous on the counter. His pull counter left is a thing of beauty, and if you try to counter him while he advances, he’s happy to let the shots bounce off his high guard so he can immediately fire back.

It’s an absolute delight to watch him burst in and out of range with precision fire or unleash point-blank uppercuts and hooks without fear, but he has a serious issue with linearity. Someone, who I’m 90 percent sure was Jack Slack, once referred to Junior dos Santos’ style as fencing, a description I’d like to steal here. Sadykhov only moves in straight lines, either lunging in with heavy kicks and combos or fading back so he can come back with a counter down the pipe. This means that pursuing fighters can be confident he’ll hit the fence and retreating ones can throw counters with the knowledge that Sadykhov’s head won’t move off the centerline.

Combine that with an apparent disinterest in checking low kicks and it’s questionable whether he can hunt down opponents with good lateral movement or deal with hard-charging sluggers that his counters can’t dissuade.

One thing I can unreservedly compliment is his grappling. Both his takedown defense and scrambling are excellent, and should he get on top, he can absolutely carve people up with elbows. His aforementioned tendency to move in straight lines leaves his hips open to takedowns, so it’s good to see that he’s developed the counter-wrestling to compensate.

Not surprising, considering he’s working with Chris Weidman, but welcome all the same.

I rate Sadykhov fairly highly — definitely above the Lightweight median, but probably not quite at the Top 15-level of competition. He should be too much for debut foe Evan Elder, who showed a vulnerability to counter-punching in his UFC debut loss to Preston Parsons.

Tape: His Fury FC bouts are on Fight Pass

Clayton “Concrete” Carpenter

Weight Class: Flyweight
Age: 26
Record: 6-0 (2 KO, 2 SUB)
Notable Victories: Edgar Chairez

MMA Lab’s Carpenter racked up a 6-1 amateur record before turning professional in 2019. After a three-fight stint in LFA, he squared off with Edgar Chairez on Contender Series, surviving a rough first round to steadily overwhelm “Pitbull” and claim a unanimous decision.

If you were looking to be more pithy than kind, you could describe Carpenter’s stand up as, “we have Dominick Cruz at home.” He’s always in motion, using odd angles and regular stance switches to support his looping punches. For all the razzle-dazzle, though, his strike selection seems to be, in descending order: left hooks, low kicks, and an overhand right that he’ll switch to southpaw while throwing.

The hooks and the low kicks are genuinely quite good. He jumps in a bit too dramatically when leading with the hook, but counters with it very well, and he’s adept at hammering home low kicks as his opponent is moving or throwing. He’s got some good knees and fast head kicks as well, the latter of which account for both of his professional TKO finishes. The rest needs work.

What made Cruz so effective was that he didn’t just “move weird;” his footwork was designed piece-by-piece such that it both flowed well and accomplished specific tasks, whether that was evasion or setting up his next haymaker. If X, then Y. Carpenter’s movement is far more shallow and disconnected, which is particularly visible when he attacks in straight lines with his chin exposed.

This means that he can’t get away with looping shots the way Cruz does, especially since he also lacks Cruz’s signature upper-body movement, which nearly got him knocked out by a check hook from Chairez.

More impressive is his ground game. He’s shown off good pressure and excellent elbows from the top, and the flying scissor kneebar he hit two fights ago speaks to his submission savvy. As for the wrestling, he has a good double-leg but seems a bit unseasoned with his other takedowns; he failed a throw and gave up a body lock before hitting that kneebar, and he pulled Chairez down on top of himself in the first of two failed back takes.

There are some genuinely impressive aspects of Carpenter’s game — he just needs to tighten everything up and get it to cohere. While I wouldn’t pick him to beat any of the Top 25 or so Flyweights as he is now, he should at least be too much for Juancamilo Ronderos in his UFC debut thanks to his ground skills. Ronderos is deceptively experienced, though, so it’s far from a “gimme.”

Tape: His LFA bouts are on Fight Pass.

Themba “The Answer” Gorimbo

Weight Class: Welterweight
Age: 32
Record: 10-3 (1 KO, 6 SUB)
Notable Victories: Lyle Karam

Gorimbo knocked out Luke Michael for the EFC Welterweight title in 2019, then tapped Lyle Karam in his one and only defense. Though he fell to PFC veteran Handesson Ferreira his next time out, he returned to his winning ways by out-wrestling Julio Rodrigues under the Fury FC banner.

“The Answer’s” best weapons are his takedowns and ground-and-pound. Though he doesn’t have the quickest entries, he’s quite strong and finishes nicely. He can do real damage with bursts of punches and elbows, even when he doesn’t have a lot of space to work with. He’s hit just once submission since 2015, but he’s definitely skilled enough in that area to be a threat, as Karam found out when he took Gorimbo down and tapped to a triangle minutes later.

Sadly, his overall wrestling doesn’t appear to be world-class. Ferreira thoroughly dominated him in that department, and while Gorimbo did show off some nice transitions and the occasional submission attack, he never put Ferreira in any sort of danger and was often reduced to just holding onto Ferreira’s upper body to try and force a referee stand up. It’s not like he has some huge, obvious flaw in his game; it’s just not quite good enough to handle high-level fighters.

His stand up works when he can keep a leash on it. He throws quick, powerful jabs and straight rights alongside a steady diet of low kicks, and so long as he limits himself to a couple of strikes at a time, he’s fine. When he tries to extend his combinations, though, his technique rapidly breaks down into wild swings. His hands are fast and heavy enough to still be effective, especially when he catches opponents coming in with rapid flurries, but that’s not going to cut it against seasoned strikers.

I don’t see Gorimbo getting especially far in the Octagon. If he was a stronger wrestler and could build a more cohesive striking game, he could be a player, but I’d put him below the median at the moment. Odds are he’ll struggle with debut foe A.J. Fletcher’s stand up and takedowns for as long as the latter’s gas tank holds up.


Khusein “Lion” Askhabov

Weight Class: Bantamweight/Featherweight
Age: 27
Record: 23-0 (6 KO, 10 SUB)
Notable Victories: Edilson Teixeira, Donovan Desmae

Askhabov, who made his pro debut way back in 2012, enjoyed a lengthy and impressive run on the European circuit. After capping off his tenure under the WWFC banner, he signed to face Joanderson Brito on Contender Series, only to withdraw from both that bout and a planned UFC debut opposite Herbert Burns.

“Lion” hasn’t fought since 2020 and the most recent footage I could find dates back to 2019, so take the following analysis with a grain of salt.

Best as I can tell, Askhabov is an impressive athlete with strong wrestling and submission skills. He’s got excellent timing on his level changes, especially when opponents try to rush in, and has shown off a variety of finishes with which to turn a tie-up into a takedown. Chokes, armbars, and heel hooks make up his submission finishes, though I’m not sure how good his passing is. He can definitely land some decent ground-and-pound, albeit sparingly.

On the feet, he seems to prefer stepping into his preferred distance and planting his feet until his opponent tries something, ripping powerful low kicks as an incentive. He showed a solid one-two combination, but the rest of the combo devolved into flailing, so it seems his kicks are more developed than his boxing. That athleticism is very visible, however; he’s got a couple of flying knee finishes on his record and the low kicks are hard enough to take people off their feet.

The Askhabov of 2019 was promising just on the strength of his experience and dynamism. If Tiger Muay Thai and American Top Team have managed to mold him into a complete fighter during his time away, he’s going to be a handful. His debut against the very gifted and very self-sabotaging Jamall Emmers should be interesting, to say the least.


Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 69 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN+) at 7 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 69: “Andrade vs. Blanchfield” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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