UFC’s recent trend of last-minute signings continued this week, increasing the newcomers who will compete at UFC Vegas 77 this weekend (Sat., July 15, 2023) from two to three. On this edition of New Blood, the series where I should know by now that I’m never actually done until the fighters enter the cage, we look at a CFFC champ, an undefeated Flyweight menace and a Strawweight Contender Series graduate.
Weight Class: Strawweight
Record: 6-0 (1 KO, 4 SUB)
Notable Victories: Maria Silva
Dudakova put together a perfect (6-0) amateur career before turning professional in 2020. She dispatched her first five opponents inside the distance, then battled through a knee injury to beat Maria Silva by decision on Contender Series.
Takedowns and top control form the bulk of Dudakova’s offense. She’s capable on the feet, utilizing quick boxing combinations, but her goal is to tie up and hunt for trips. Rather than actively work her way through her opponent’s guard, she seems to prefer staying heavy. Passing is done through standing over her opponents and trying to dive past their legs. She’s not much for ground-and-pound unless she can get to a dominant position like the crucifix, but she takes the back well and has a strong rear-naked choke that accounts for three of her four submission wins.
It’s generally an effective approach — bolstered by some decent synergy between her boxing and wrestling — but it’s got its flaws. Dudakova has a bad habit of ending up on her back; for example, her single-minded pursuit of inside trips allowed Maria Shutova to land on top more than once and she seemingly pulled Silva on top of herself last time out. While she seems to have decent sweeps, they weren’t enough to stop Silva from taking mount.
In addition, she’s inactive to a fault on top if she can’t pass the guard. She also has a habit of dipping before she throws strikes that makes her a bit predictable.
Dudakova’s still young and has a solid foundation to build off of, but she probably needs at least a year or two of seasoning before she can make an impact in the Octagon. She should still be too much for Istela Nunes, a gifted striker let down by awful cardio.
Her Contender Series bout is on ESPN+.
Weight Class: Welterweight
Record: 8-3 (1 KO, 4 SUB)
Notable Victories: Evan Cutts, Christian Savoie
Hafez choked out Christian Savoie to claim CFFC’s Welterweight title in 2020, only to lose it to Evan Cutts in his inaugural defense. He then moved to Fury FC, edging out UFC veteran, Anthony Ivy, before violently stopping Cutts in their rematch and walking away with the promotion’s championship.
A brick of a Welterweight at 5’11,” Hafez comes from a grappling background, at one point lasting the distance against Gordon Ryan on the mats. He leaned heavily on those skills in the first fight with Cutts, racking up takedowns and threatening submissions. His wrestling looks solid, and though he’s not much of a ground-and-pounder, he moves and controls well from the top.
While he showed off his pedigree against Cutts, he also showcased a massive weakness: nonexistent cardio. Hafez was visibly fatigued halfway through the second round, allowing Cutts to secure more and more dominant positions as the rounds went by. He hit the same roadblock against Ivy, dropping him at the start of the first and the second before losing steam and very nearly the decision as well. To his credit, his submission defense and sweeps held up even when his gas tank petered out, but an exhausted Hafez is mincemeat for UFC-level opposition.
Everything changed, however, in the Cutts rematch. A well-conditioned Hafez largely abandoned his grappling in favor of a viciously effective high-volume striking attack. Admittedly, his arsenal isn’t particularly deep. Indeed, Hafez mostly throws one-two combinations and lead overhands from either stance, occasionally punctuating his brief combos with kicks on the end. His timing, speed, and power, on the other hand, all looked excellent. He was picking Cutts off with counters every time the latter stepped in, ultimately putting him down for good with a check hook.
That final punch came near the end of the third and Hafez looked as fresh as when he’d started. He’s still a bit square and vulnerable to jabs, especially when leaning back for pull counters, but he looked like a genuine threat.
If that was the sort of performance we can expect from Hafez going forward, he’s a quality pickup. His hands and grappling are enough to put him solidly in the middle of UFC’s Welterweight pack. Unfortunately, I don’t trust him to survive Jack Della Maddalena on a few days’ notice — “JDM” is more than sharp enough to out-box Hafez and has shown the defensive grappling needed to keep it in his wheelhouse.
His Fury FC and CFFC bouts are on Fight Pass.
Azat “Kazakh” Maksum
Weight Class: Flyweight
Record: 16-0 (5 KO, 6 SUB)
Notable Victories: Fabricio Nunes, Flavio de Queiroz
Maksum cut his teeth on the eastern European circuit, primarily in Kazakhstan’s Octagon promotion. He last saw action in January, finishihng undefeated Fabricio Nunes with a d’arce choke in the waning seconds of the first round.
“Kazakh” blends relentless chain wrestling, heavy ground-and-pound, and basic-but-powerful boxing into a lethal offense. He boasts a powerful double-leg, but even if opponents manage to deny the initial shot, he’ll drive through and hit as many mat returns as he needs to get on top. Rather than play tight and sneak in the occasional arm punch, he’ll posture or stand to get leverage behind his attacks. He’ll continue to rack up damage as his opponents try to scramble, and though he can struggle at times to take dominant positions, he does a great job of maintaining top position as he dishes out heavy punches.
Submission-wise, he showed off that nasty d’arce against Nunes and easily snuffed out a lengthy series of triangle attempts from Alan Gabriel two fights back.
His standup comprises mostly jabs, a vicious right hand and switch kicks that he uses to punctuate combinations. He’s got genuine venom in his punches, dropping or stopping multiple recent opponents, but does tend to square up and leave his chin in the air. Michael Aljarouj caught him backing straight up for a knockdown a few fights back and I’ve seen him eat several flush counters while throwing.
To his credit, he blends his wrestling and striking quite well, and the sheer power and speed of his offense can serve as a deterrent. Still, something to work on.
I may be overvaluing his work against mid-level opposition, but I really think Maksum is potential contender material, especially if he can tighten up his striking defense. He’s fast, hits hard, his top control is outstanding, and his cardio is rock-solid. That said, he’s in for a test against debut foe Tyson Nam. Though prone to letting fights slip away through lack of activity, Nam has vicious counters and great takedown defense, meaning Maksum can’t afford to be his usual reckless self.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 77 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN/ESPN+) at 10 p.m. ET.
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