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UFC 289 - New Blood: Fly high, ‘Astro Boy’

UFC Fighter Portraits Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

UFC 289, which takes place this weekend (Sat., June 10, 2023) inside Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, took a beating these last couple weeks, though only one newcomer emerged from the scuffle. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series that saves Fight Pass from my subscription service cull, we look at Australia’s top domestic Flyweight.

LIVE! Watch UFC 293 PPV On ESPN+ Here!

MASSIVE MIDDLEWEIGHT MATCH! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) makes its highly anticipated return to Sydney, Australia, for the first time in five years on Sat., Sept. 9, 2023, with a 185-pound world title fight inside Qudos Bank Arena. In the ESPN+-streamed pay-per-view (PPV) main event, Middleweight roost-ruler, Israel Adesanya, plans to silence No. 5-seeded contender, Sean Strickland. In UFC 293’s hard-hitting Heavyweight co-main event, No-6-ranked fan favorite, Tai Tuivasa, locks horns with towering Russian, Alexander Volkov (No. 8).

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

Steve “AstroBoy” Erceg

Weight Class: Flyweight
Age: 27
Record: 9-1 (1 KO, 6 SUB)
Notable Victories: Shannon Ross, Seung Guk Choi

Erceg — unbeaten since his second professional fight — made his name in Australia’s Eternal MMA promotion. His seven-fight run includes a club-and-sub finish of Shannon Ross for the Flyweight title and a guillotine finish of Paul Loga in his first (and only) defense.

Everything about Erceg’s game is super slick. He’s constantly making minor adjustments on the feet to keep things at his preferred distance, where he’ll pepper with quick jabs to provoke slip-and-rip counter opportunities. He’s adept at sneaking just out of range of incoming fire, and as the cross counter that dropped Ross showed, he’s got some serious speed and deceptive power in his hands.

Where his standup shines, however, is in its synergy with his grappling. He sets up his long-range double-legs by threatening with the hands the raise his opponent’s guard, can turn any tie-up into a sudden trip, and boasts a nasty guillotine should his opponent ever dip his head in an exchange.

Where it struggles is in its dependency on his cardio. Erceg keeps his lead hand low, leans just out of the way of incoming fire, and relies on his feet to carry him out of any danger he can’t subtly slip past. If he slows down, he’s right in the firing line, as we saw two fights back against Cody Haddon. Erceg ran out of steam early in the second round — and while he was able to muster up bursts of offense to claw his way back into the fight — he took a lot of shots in the process.

In Erceg’s defense, that fight was at Bantamweight and the announcers claim he took it on short notice. He does have a third round finish on his record, so I’m not prepared to say he needs a quick finish to win. Even when he’s fresh, though, the low left hand leaves him vulnerable to right hands when breaking the clinch, as he doesn’t bring his hand up to protect his chin even if he hasn’t returned to a safe distance. He also doesn’t check low kicks.

That said, he’s not totally lost inside. He’s got good knees to the body, a solid switch kick and can lead with boxing combinations.

He’s a very capable striker overall, though his grappling might be superior, especially from the clinch. He has excellent situational awareness when tying up, allowing him to grab dominant positions even if the initial outlook is bleak. He’ll sit through and scramble to success on a seemingly flubbed takedown, hit an esoteric clinch throw out of nowhere, or take the back in a mid-air scramble. His back control in particular is excellent.

Erceg’s quickness, fluidity and versatility make him a quality addition to UFC’s Flyweight roster. My big concerns at the moment are his gas tank and the fact that he’s a big fish in a small pond at his gym; that’s not necessarily a death sentence, but it does raise the question of whether he can be sharpened into a contender.

It’s a question he’ll have to answer quickly, as debut foe, David Dvorak, is a menace despite his recent struggles. Erceg has a not-insignificant chance of catching the hittable Pole early, but odds are he’ll succumb to Dvorak’s power down the stretch.

His Eternal MMA bouts are on Fight Pass.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 289 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 289: “Nunes vs. Aldana” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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