Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) leaves the comfortable confines of Las Vegas, Nevada, residency this Saturday (July 22, 2023) for a trip to London, England, giving it the perfect opportunity to trot out some newcomers. On this edition of New Blood, the series that’s slowly becoming just a Contender Series recap, we check out three European standouts and Syndicate MMA’s Muay Thai coach.
The most recent Contender Series season can be seen on ESPN+, the older ones on Fight Pass.
Weight Class: Heavyweight
Record: 6-0 (5 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Eduardo Neves
Parkin — a training partner of KSW champion, Phil De Fries — went 6-0-1 as an amateur before turning professional in 2019. Five knockout wins took him to Contender Series, where he choked out Eduardo Neves to claim a UFC contract.
Standing 6’4” with a 79-inch reach and weighing in at 259 pounds last time out, Parkin certainly has the frame for this division. He’s more than just a big man, however. He utilizes solid boxing on the feet, built around a strong jab and a dangerous looping right hand. He’s happy to lead, often with that right hand, but is also remarkably sharp on the counter.
There don’t seem to be any huge flaws in his standup, though he did seem a bit overwhelmed by Neves’ aggression. Neves was his first opponent with a winning record, to be fair, so that could be something that improves with time.
Even if it doesn’t, he’s equally adept at grappling. His takedowns are stout and his ground-and-pound is heavy, even from his preferred haunt of half-guard. Unlike a lot of men his size, he’s actually quite good at sweeping back to his feet. Neves took him down into half-guard early on, only for Parkin to stand with an underhook, muscle him down a couple of times, and snatch a rear-naked choke when Neves tried to stand.
He’s not a phenom like countryman Tom Aspinall, but Parkin’s mix of size, technical acumen and well-roundedness make him a solid addition to the roster. He’s definitely in tough against fellow Contender Series graduate, Jamal Pogues, a stout boxer and wrestler in his own right, though it’s closer than the odds suggest.
Jonny “The Sluggernaut” Parsons
Weight Class: Welterweight
Record: 8-3 (6 KO)
Notable Victories: Solomon Renfro
After a 4-3 professional start, Parsons found his footing in Jorge Masvidal’s iKon Fighting Federation, scoring three knockout wins. This sent him to Contender Series, where he survived early danger to edge out Solomon Renfro and claim a UFC contract.
Despite the nickname, Parsons is actually a patient Muay Thai specialist. His approach is a lot closer to the traditional Thai style than the Dutch flurries-and-low-kicks method. Indeed, he stands tall and square, firing heavy kicks from behind a high guard and generally limiting his boxing combinations to two or three punches. He’s equally comfortable from either stance, though his kicks seem to be more fearsome from southpaw.
I also want to point out that he’s terrific at checking low kicks. I watched three fights of his and I don’t think he took a single clean low kick. He’s also adept at catching kicks and kicking the trailing leg out from under his opponent.
While he utilizes the advantages of the Thai stance well, he also suffers from some of its drawbacks. Keeping such a high guard leaves him very open to body shots, a weakness exacerbated by his lack of head and upper-body movement. The guard also seems vulnerable to straight punches, and when he’s hurt, he tends to shell up and try to fire back.
Beyond that, his stance switches can be overly obvious and he can overthrow the one-two combination. I’d still rate his standup as solid overall, but it’s not super dynamic and the weaknesses are prominent enough that he’ll struggle to find finishes against higher-level opposition.
On the grappling side, he’s very fond of Thai-style foot sweeps to either take his opponents down or just disrupt them. Should he land on top, he’s a reasonably powerful ground-and-pounder who’ll take the crucifix if it’s available. If opponents change levels on him, he’s usually on the ball when it comes to finding underhooks. Renfro did manage to drag him down and spend a minute on top, but failed to do so again on multiple subsequent attempts.
I’d rate Parsons as a decent, bottom-middle of the pack sort of fighter. His original debut pitted him against the hapless Micheal Gillmore, but he’ll instead face Danny Roberts in a pick-’em. Roberts, though well-rounded and a decent striker, could easily be 1-6 in his last seven and is notoriously fragile.
His iKon bouts are on Fight Pass.
Shauna “Mama B” Bannon
Weight Class: Strawweight
Record: 5-0 (2 KO)
Notable Victories: Minna Grusander, Nadia Vera
Bannon — training under UFC veteran Paddy Holohan — capped off her amateur career with a five-fight win streak. She’s been similarly successful in the professional ranks, most recently outclassing Minna Grusander in March 2023.
Dextrous kicks and rapid-fire punching combos anchor Bannon’s striking attack. She’s constantly in motion, equally comfortably from either stance as she pounds home body kicks and straight punches. Her taekwondo background gives her impressive speed and dexterity, allowing her to mix up her head and body kicks to excellent effect. While you won’t see her throw many hooks or uppercuts, her jab is damn sharp, even on the retreat.
She’s a menace at range and does a good job of keeping it there with punches, knees, and footwork, but she’s weirdly awkward in the pocket. I’m not sure how to articulate it; it’s like she gets hit and mentally derails for a moment, allowing opponents to follow up with combinations before she remembers to tie up or retreat to a distance. Her durability is fine and she recovers quickly enough, but it raises the question of whether she can deal with aggressive strikers inside.
She also tends to step in and telegraph the big roundhouse kicks, though I’d still rate her as a very strong striker.
She’s equally capable on the mat, boasting strong ground-and-pound from the top and a dangerous triangle series off of her back. Though she did spend a decent amount of time on the bottom against Nadia Vera, she appeared to have fixed that habit against Grusander, quickly sweeping back to her feet. She doesn’t often initiate takedowns, but can use a strong whizzer to both stay standing and hit clinch takedowns if the situation arises.
I’m quite impressed with Bannon, who’s athletic and well-rounded enough to be a player at 115 pounds. If she keeps her foot on the gas, she shouldn’t have much trouble against debut foe Bruna Brasil, as Brasil’s range management completely fell apart in the face of Denise Gomes’ pressure.
Weight Class: Flyweight
Record: 16-5 (7 KO, 6 SUB)
Notable Victories: Ivan Hernandez-Flores
Spain’s Barez cut his teeth on the European scene before joining Combate, which then led to a spot on Contender Series. He wound up dropping a split decision to Carlos Hernandez, but soon got back on track with four straight first-round finishes.
Barez is a nasty mix of top-notch speed, impressive punching power, and beautifully timed takedowns. He rips the head, body, and calves with equal violence, and the jab that sets up his power shots is heavy enough to drop people on its own. He can put together some downright murderous combinations, like the right uppercut to liver shot that folded Paul Marquez Moreno three fights back.
If you can stand up to his offense, though, the cracks start to show. Barez is very linear when attacking and retreating and tends to leave his chin up, so he’s there to be hit if you stand your ground or force him to retreat with pressure. This becomes especially problematic when he starts to slow down, as he did in the latter half of the Hernandez fight. His last three trips to the judges produced two split decisions and a majority decision, so while he still had enough in the tank to hit multiple takedowns in his last third round, it’s worth keeping an eye on.
If the striking isn’t working out, he has great timing on his takedowns, especially while backing up. He’s aggressive from the top with both strikes and submissions, and he showed off a nice back take against Hernandez. While shut down all of eight of Hernandez’s takedowns, though, he did really struggle off of his back after getting knocked off-balance.
Barez is very gifted, very entertaining, and a great finisher. He’s also unfortunately in his mid-30s, so I don’t see those cardio issues going away anytime soon. Still, I’m glad he’s in the Octagon and he should make for some great fights, including what looks like a 50/50 matchup with Jafel Filho in his debut.
His UWC bouts are on Fight Pass.
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