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UFC 290 - New Blood: Last-second saviors

On this edition of New Blood, the series that always seems to get more time-consuming by the time fight week rolls around, we look at four fighters scheduled to compete at UFC 290, which takes place this weekend (Sat., July 8, 2023) inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, shooting their shots on super duper short notice.

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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!

UFC 290: Official Weigh-in Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Valentine “The Animal” Woodburn

Weight Class: Middleweight
Age: 29
Record: 7-0 (5 KO)
Notable Victories: None

Woodburn has spent virtually his entire career in the promotion Combat Night, including seven of his eight amateur bouts. He racked up five consecutive knockouts to start his professional career, but settled for decisions in his last two bouts.

He replaces the injured Tresean Gore on just four days’ notice (full details here), having previously been slated to compete on Contender Series in August.

Chris Curtis described Woodburn as a “fire hydrant” and the comparison is apt. “The Animal” is a 5’8” slab of muscle with an appropriately straightforward approach: marching after his opponents and hurling as many loaded-up right hands as he can. There’s admittedly some variety there, namely a willingness to lead to the body and some nasty uppercuts inside alongside a notable ability to catch kicks and counter, but that seems to be his one-size-fits-all gameplan.

If his blitzes don’t work, his fights tend to devolve into excessive clinching. He’s not particularly adept at maintaining control of opponents, repeatedly trading dominant position against the fence, and tends to get caught on the exit. His takedown defense looks decent, though I only saw him complete a single takedown, after which he rushed a move to mount and lost position.

As for his cardio, he’s got enough in the tank to stay functional for 15 minutes, though he does seem to lose effectiveness past the halfway point. He notably failed to stop a completely gassed Wesley Martins two fights back.

Woodburn definitely has speed and power, but the overall lack of technique and variety in his standup will keep him from getting far in the Octagon. I don’t see him peaking anywhere above the middle of the pack ... and even that might be a bit optimistic. He’s almost certainly doomed against debut foe, Bo Nickal, unless he can time a perfect uppercut.

UFC 290: Official Weigh-in Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Josiah “Muscle Hamster” Harrell

Weight Class: Lightweight/Welterweight
Age: 24
Record: 7-0 (4 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: Tracy Reeder

UPDATE: This bout has been canceled:

Harrell needed just 12 months to rack up an almost-perfect amateur record (6-0-1), ultimately joining the professional ranks in 2020. He spent his first five bouts in Ohio Combat League, then successfully stepped up in class with finishes in CFFC and LFA.

He steps in for Sean Brady on less than a week’s notice (see why ... if you dare).

A training partner of Matt “The Immortal” Brown, Harrell is a mobile, well-rounded finisher. His striking style is built on constant side-to-side movement and a sharp left hand, which has more nuance to it than it appears. He mixes up the traditional fast straight with dipping level changes that set up his left head kick in what Jack Slack calls a “double attack.” He has a tendency to leave his chin up and really doesn’t deal well with low kicks, but output and decent power make it an effective style.

He’s shown off good timing on his takedown attempts and can put some real heat behind his shots, as seen when he blast-doubled Mike Roberts through the cage door. Though patient on top, he seizes opportunities to move to dominant positions, where he’ll either wrap up a rear-naked choke or — as in his last three bouts — just flatten them out and unload from back mount until the ref steps in.

That said, he did get soundly out-wrestled two fights back by Tracy Reeder, his most competent pro foe to date. Reeder put him on his back multiple times, including once when Harrell threw a naked low kick from too close. While Harrell did ultimately find his own takedown and ground-and-pound his way to a comeback win, it raises the question of whether he can take down UFC-caliber opposition.

Harrell is definitely promising — he’s short on glaring issues and has plenty of time to improve at 24 years old. I do, however, have some concerns about size. He didn’t even come close to the Lightweight limit against Reeder, but successfully made a 162-pound Catchweight his next time out. He seems to be stuck in what you’d call the Kevin Lee Zone, which could complicate things going forward.

As for his debut, he’s boned. Jack Della Maddalena is way too sharp for him on the feet and has shown strong defensive grappling besides.

His CFFC and LFA bouts are on Fight Pass.

UFC 290: Official Weigh-in Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Edgar “Pitbull” Chairez

Weight Class: Flyweight
Age: 27
Record: 10-4 (4 KO, 6 SUB)
Notable Victories: Gianni Vazquez

Chairez cut his teeth in Combate before shooting his shot on Contender Series, where he started strong against Clayton Carpenter, but found himself overpowered in the latter two rounds. He bounced back with a quick submission victory in UWC, then choked out and tapped Gianni Vazquez in an infamously viral Fury FC title fight:

He makes his UFC debut on less than two weeks’ notice, having previously been slated to return to Contender Series in August.

Chairez is an absolute tank of a Flyweight, standing 5’7” with a ridiculous 72-inch reach. Much of his offense revolves around a thudding jab and a constant stream of leg kicks, though he offers heavy counters and the occasional explosive flying/spinning technique as well. He also makes use of front kicks to maximize his length.

While he does have power and a cinderblock of a chin, I’ve got more negatives than positives to say about Chairez’s striking. Whether it’s the strain of juicing himself down to Flyweight, where he came in three pounds heavy against Vazquez, or something else, he can’t seem to maintain consistent output from bell to bell. Worse, he has a really bad habit of stepping in too deep when throwing and leaving his chin up, leaving him super-vulnerable to counters. That’s when he’s not just throwing from too close to begin with, which is a regular occurrence with his naked low kicks.

Opponents who throw with him can consistently out-work him even if they’re not technicians. For example, Vazquez was putting the hurt on him with boxing combinations and clinch strikes down the stretch, only losing after an ill-advised takedown allowed Chairez to wrap up a triangle.

Plus, Chairez really telegraphs the spinning techniques and his speed isn’t enough to make up for that.

His grappling is similarly mixed. Though he can hit a nice blast double and has both solid chokes and a dangerous triangle/armbar series in his arsenal, his tendency to back up until he hits the fence consistently allows opponents to raise his guard with strikes and then shoot under it for a takedown. He’s dangerous overall off of his back, as Vazquez learned, but didn’t have a ton to threaten Carpenter outside of once sweeping to his feet in the third round.

I also want to point out that he blatantly grabbed the fence multiple times in that UWC win to defend a takedown and set up the fight-ending guillotine. If you need to cheat against a 5-7 opponent, your future doesn’t look bright.

That assessment was probably more negative than Chairez deserves, but I’m just not really impressed by him. While he’s huge for 125 pounds and prone to bursts of eye-catching violence, he lacks the consistency to threaten UFC-caliber opponents. He’s almost certainly screwed against the well-rounded Tatsuro Taira, who should submit Chairez without too much trouble.

His UWC and Fury bouts are on Fight Pass.

UFC 290: Official Weigh-in Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Terrence “Terr-Bear” Mitchell

Weight Class: Bantamweight
Age: 33
Record: 14-2 (7 KO, 7 SUB)
Notable Victories: None

All the way back in 2016, Mitchell entered The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 24 as Alaska FC’s Flyweight champion, only to suffer a 30-second knockout loss to Kai Kara-France. He fought just once in the next six years, only returning to action in 2022.

He replaces Christian Rodriguez on less than three weeks’ notice.

A bit of background: Alaska FC is one of the most notorious record-padding leagues in the business, right up there with Xplode Fight Series or Gladiator. Mitchell was in the midst of an eight-fight win streak when he joined TUF and four of those men have Tapology records of “N/A.” His current league, Alaska Combat Entertainment, is even sketchier. Indeed, Tapology lists a disqualification victory over Josh Terry, but it’s nowhere to be found on either the official video or Mitchell’s Sherdog record.

It’s hard to tell whether he can actually fight when there’s maybe three minutes of recent fight footage out there. From what I’ve seen, his preferred approach is to hit a double-leg as soon as possible and quickly chase a submission. Swiftness appears to supersede technicality; he had an easy time locking up an arm triangle against Skyler Schlosser, getting his head in position from the opposite half guard before hopping over to get the squeeze, but lost position chasing a one-armed guillotine against Christian Alexander last time out before countering a takedown and wrapping up a no-hooks RNC.

As for his standup, he seems like a generically functional kickboxer who can’t check low kicks. There’s not really enough recent data to perform deeper analysis — Kara-France was the last real striker he fought and “Terr-Bear” got smoked in seconds.

There’s nothing to suggest Mitchell is more than a small fish in an even smaller pond. I don’t see him going far in the Octagon, especially not against debut foe Cameron Saaiman. “MSP” may be a weak wrestler, but he’s incredibly difficult to put away, so odds are that Mitchell hits a takedown or two before falling apart under Saaiman’s power punches.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 290 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard on ESPN/ESPN+/ABC 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 290: “Volkanovski vs. Rodriguez” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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