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UFC Vegas 72 - New Blood: The brand-new and the overdue

UFC Fighter Portraits Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

The volatile nature of mixed martial arts (MMA) means you never know when your Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) moment will come. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where UFC just loves dropping new faces on the Tuesday before fight night, we look at an Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA) champion making a two-week turnaround, a power-puncher stepping up on three days’ notice, and three debutants who haven’t seen action since 2021.

LIVE! Stream UFC Vegas 74 On ESPN+

HIGH STAKES FLYWEIGHT MATCHUP! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns home to UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Sat., June 3, 2023, with No. 3-seeded contender, Kai Kara-France, face rising No. 7-ranked Amir Albazi. In UFC Vegas 74’s ESPN+-streamed co-main event, an exciting Featherweight bout sees No. 15-ranked contender, Alex Caceres, lock horns with all-action Daniel Pineda.

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

Fernando Padilla

Weight Class: Featherweight
Age: 26
Record: 14-4 (4 KO, 8 SUB)
Notable Victories: Cameron Graves, Nate Richardson, Darrick Minner

Padilla enters the world’s largest fight promotion in the midst of a 4-1 run, the lone loss coming to UFC veteran Spike Carlyle. His current two-fight winning streak saw him defeat Nate Richardson in LFA before knocking out Cameron Graves to claim the Fury FC Featherweight title and a UFC contract via Lookin’ For a Fight.

Standing a towering 6’1”, Padilla is a stalking combination puncher adept at both pressuring and unloading catch-and-pitch counter flurries. He utilizes a “marching” style on the lead, shifting mid-combination to cover more distance and turn what would be jabs into power crosses. Should opponents try to close the distance, he’ll meet them with rapid-fire flurries as they throw, often dipping to his right to come back with an uppercut before following up with hooks.

His kicks are fairly heavy, as seen when he stopped journeyman Donald Sanchez with low kicks, and he does a particularly nice job of mixing up the timing on his left hook when ending combinations. He’s not helpless on the inside, either; his build lets him get a ton of leverage behind his clinch knees and he flattened Graves with a gnarly elbow from point-blank.

As for weaknesses, he tucks his head better than a lot of tall fighters I’ve seen but doesn’t move it all that well. Once he slowed down enough that his feet couldn’t carry him out of danger, Nate Richardson ate him alive with jabs and low kicks. He also has a tendency to bring his non-punching hand back low, meaning he’s there to be hit if you time a counter.

Overall, though, pretty darn effective and avoids some of the common Tall Guy pitfalls. That said, he really needs to beef up his cardio and do a better job of checking low kicks.

I wasn’t able to find any recent footage of Padilla’s grappling. He apparently got outwrestled by Carlyle, who admittedly does tend to outwrestle people before his gas tank empties, so that’s worth keeping an eye on. He does have a 10th Planet brown belt and says he’s got the best rubber guard in MMA, however; he’s racked up a number of triangle/armbar finishes alongside a dead orchard, so that may not be bluster.

Still, it didn’t work on Carlyle, so I’m not sure it’ll work against UFC-caliber wrestlers.

It is worth noting that the Carlyle fight was in 2019 and Padilla hasn’t seen action in almost two years, as visa issues scrapped a 2021 UFC debut against Sean Soriano. I wouldn’t be hugely surprised if he fixed some of those lingering issues, as the talent and skills to be a fringe contender were already there at age 24.

He’s in for what looks like a 50/50 UFC debut against fellow tall guy Julian Erosa. Padilla has the edge in durability and one-shot power, while Erosa has more experience and more proven cardio. All I can say for sure is that it’ll be entertaining.

His LFA and Fury FC bouts are on Fight Pass.

Trey “The Truth” Waters

Weight Class: Welterweight
Age: 28
Record: 7-1 (3 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: Jalin Fuller, Benjamin Bennett

Waters punched his ticket to the Contender Series with a vicious upset knockout of Benjamin Bennett, only to succumb to Gabriel Bonfim’s Von Flue choke four minutes into the first round. He then returned to LFA to challenge Jalin Fuller for the vacant Welterweight title, ultimately claiming it with a one-punch finish midway through the second round.

He replaces Ange Loosa on a week’s notice for his second fight in 15 days.

“The Truth” is a massive Welterweight at 6’4” with a 77” reach, though the fact that he came in at 168.8 against Fuller suggests that the weight cut isn’t an issue. He uses his impressive dimensions to execute, as the DWCS commentators accurately described it, a relaxed, flowing offense built around a steady jab. He kicks relatively infrequently for a man of his stature, instead relying largely on one-two combinations and three-two combinations when leading the dance. When opponents try to crowd him, he’ll meet them with rapid-fire counters instead of retreating.

His hands, especially his right, are startlingly fast for a tall guy; he kept pace with the merciless combination punching of Bonfim and the cross counter that folded Fuller was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bullet of a punch.

That said, he can be too relaxed for his own good. He keeps his hands low at all times and really leans in when chucking one-two combinations, leaving his head way in front of his hips as he brings his hands back without protecting his chin. It can work to entice opponents into stepping in, at which point he’ll simply lean back at the waist and meet them with a hook or uppercut, but his feet are so slow that he’s often still in the firing line when he lets his hands go.

Those slow feet and his inclination to plant them on the counter instead of retreating came back to bite him in recent efforts. Bennett got under his punches and in on his hips virtually every time he tried, while Fuller had free rein to batter Waters’ lead leg with oblique kicks, knee stomps, and traditional low kicks. Fuller also caught him more than once by stepping in deep with two-piece combos, as Waters couldn’t back away fast enough and has a predictable tendency to bring his left shoulder up and dip to his right under fire like he’s trying a shoulder roll.

To Waters’ credit, he moves his head better than a lot of tall guys and has a remarkably strong chin that shrugged off a vicious head kick. Plus, as easy as it is to get in position for a takedown against him, it’s surprisingly difficult to actually drag him down or keep him there. The exception came against Bonfim, as Waters sold out on a palm-to-palm guillotine that allowed Bonfim to finish the takedown and ultimately put him away with the Von Flue.

Still, being able to survive bad positions is a lot less useful than avoiding those situations in the first place. Waters has the skills to sprawl-and-brawl his way past middle-of-the-road fighters, but odds are that he’ll struggle with stronger takedown artists and power strikers on a stylistic level. Debut foe Josh Quinlan, who specializes in crushing low kicks and power hooks, figures to be a nightmare matchup for “The Truth.”

Marcus “The Maniac” McGhee

Weight Class: Bantamweight
Age: 32
Record: 6-1 (6 KO)
Notable Victories: None

MMA Lab’s McGhee went 3-2 as an amateur before smashing his way to a 4-0 pro start. A submission loss to Rafael Do Nascimento bounced him from the ranks of the unbeaten, though he quickly bounced back with knockouts of Abe Sellers and Luciano Ramos.

He steps in for Brian Kelleher on three days’ notice.

“Seek and destroy” would be my pithy summary of McGhee. He loves nothing more than getting inside on his opponents and unloading to the head and body with remarkably heavy punches, aided by crushing low kicks and heavy knees that he does a great job of sneaking into flurries. He can operate from either stance, but seems to prefer southpaw.

I really do want to emphasize his body punching. He won’t just lead to the midsection, he’ll throw entire combinations at it if his opponent is too concerned with protecting his head.

He hasn’t really faced anyone who can handle his standup yet, so he’s yet to show any particular shortcomings outside of an underutilized jab and willingness to throw unsafe leads. He did seem to back straight up when Ramos pressured him, though, so it’s unclear how well he can fight off the back foot.

As for his grappling, he’s purely defensive, even preferring to back off rather than take top position if it’s available. His takedown defense looks solid in general. Nascimento managed to wrangle him down with a blast double, but McGhee initially did a good job of getting to his feet and keeping up in the scramble before Nascimento finally got his hooks in. Ramos, for the record, completely failed to take him down despite a number of attempts.

Much as I’d love to see him fill John Lineker’s shoes, I’m not sure there’s quite enough depth to his game to make a run in the stacked UFC Bantamweight division, especially since he fell short against his only opponent with a decent record. Still, he’s going to give us some great action while he lasts.

He’s in for what looks like a tricky debut against Journey Newson. We’ve seen Newson blown away by more powerful strikers like Randy Costa, but he’s good enough on the mat to ruin McGhee’s day like Nascimento did. McGhee’s takedown defense will be the deciding factor.

His LFA bouts are on Fight Pass.

Irina “Russian Ronda” Alekseeva

Weight Class: Bantamweight
Age: 32
Record: 4-1 (1 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: None

Alekseeva, a decorated judoka, won her first three professional bouts before punching herself out against journeywoman Liliya Kazak. A subsequent move to Bellator proved more successful, as she grappled her way past Stephanie Page in October 2021.

Those expecting the level of dynamic takedowns and groundwork Alekseeva’s nickname implies may find themselves disappointed. That said, she can more than hold her own in the clinch, especially when she can lock up a whizzer or overhooks in general, and is willing to shoot a double-leg from long range. Once on top, she’s generally content to land ground-and-pound to the head and body rather than pass or chase submissions; her one nod to being “Russian Ronda” is that her sole pro submission victory came via armbar.

On the feet, she usually elects to spam body kicks from both legs, occasionally sprinkling in a spinning back kick or back fist. Her hands are heavy, as seen when she floored Kazak in the early going, but she can still be prone to slinging wild hooks despite visibly getting more comfortable on the feet between her last two fights. On top of that, she’s extremely susceptible to leg kicks and gassed out badly after a frantic first round against Kazak.

The building blocks are there for a decent fighter and they may have come together during her time away from the cage, but her overall lack of dynamism makes it hard to get excited for Alekseeva. I don’t see her evolving past “decent,” even in a profoundly underwhelming division; her grappling isn’t dominant enough to save her from more adept strikers or stronger takedown artists like debut foe Stephanie Egger.

Her Bellator bout is on the promotion’s website.

Jamey-Lyn Horth

Weight Class: Bantamweight
Age: 33
Record: 5-0 (3 KO, 2 SUB)
Notable Victories: Mayra Cantuaria

After a 3-0 amateur career that saw her twice defeat future training partner Lupita Godinez, Horth racked up four pro wins on the Canadian circuit before taking her talents to LFA. There, she choked out Mayra Cantuaria to claim the Flyweight title, though a planned title defense against Sabina Mazo fell through a year later.

Horth prefers to operate at a distance, using her considerable leg reach to plug away with front kicks, roundhouses alongside jabs and straights. There’s not a ton of variety to her boxing offense and she can overextend when stalking, but her hands are reasonably quick and heavy and she uses the fun trick of following a kick with a punch from the same side. She’s not lost on the inside, either, boasting some powerful clinch knees.

If getting overeager is her weakness on the front foot, not staying mobile is her weakness when countering. She has, or at least had, a tendency to throw switch kicks when circling. While kicking on the retreat is fine, she’d plant her feet to do so, which let pursuing opponents get inside and land punches. The shorter Corinne Laframboise dropped her early with a cross counter and managed to repeatedly tag her through sheer aggression before Horth managed to slow things back to her preferred pace.

That was in 2019, though, so odds are she’s smoothed that out.

Her grappling appears to be improving nicely, which is to be expected from someone training with Godinez. Beyond her solid takedown defense and clinch work, she’s a surprisingly fearsome ground-and-pounder and can snatch up the RNC in an instant. She does seem to have a bit of trouble passing guard, however, relying more on standing over her opponents and trying to circle around their legs.

Horth is a bit long in the tooth for a prospect, but she’s a consistent finisher, a solid striker, and an increasingly capable ground artist. Whether she stays in the talent-starved 135-pound division or returns to 125, I see her doing well for herself. Admittedly, she’s in for a tough debut against a physical beast in Hailey Cowan, but I favor Horth’s far smoother standup and good takedown defense to carry the day.

Her LFA and TKO bouts are on Fight Pass.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 72 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 72: “Yadong vs. Simon” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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