Few things are more emblematic of modern Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) than mad scrambles to scrounge up last-minute opponents, and its show this Saturday (Aug. 5, 2023) inside Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., is no different. On this edition of New Blood, the series where I wound up doing all of my tape-watching and note-taking for a guy who wound up getting pulled from the fight within hours of accepting it, we look at a two-time Contender Series veteran and another red-hot Kazakh Flyweight.
Dennis “The Great” Buzukja
Weight Class: Featherweight
Record: 10-2 (4 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Kaleio Romero
After following in coach Chris Weidman’s footsteps to become a Ring of Combat champion, Buzukja faced Melsik Baghdasaryan on Contender Series, surging late but failing to claw his way out of an early hole. His current streak includes a decision over Kaleio Romero in his Contender Series return and, most recently, a submission of Soslan Abanokov in his Cage Fury debut.
He replaces Mairon Santos (who replaced Jesse Butler, who replaced Steve Garcia) on four days’ notice.
Buzukja’s game is built around ultra-tight boxing fundamentals and increasingly potent defensive grappling. Though he’ll often pump out front kicks to the body and leg kicks, his jab, cross and hook are his weapons of choice, generally thrown in combinations of two or three. He mixes up his head and body attack quite well, throws quality kicks from either stance, and has surprisingly vicious and accurate knees from the Thai clinch.
The foundations are darn solid — what issues I’ve seen are fixable as opposed to ingrained. Most notably, he can bring his jab back low and loads up when leading with power shots, particularly his left hook to the body. Those problems are somewhat offset by a ridiculously durable chin, which stood up to everything Baghdasaryan had to offer and flat-out ignored a flush head kick from Romero.
Buzukja has long possessed great takedown defense, but he struggled with breaking out of the clinch against Romero. Romero constantly forced Buzukja to back to the fence and controlled him for long stretches of the fight. While he’s admittedly fought lesser competition since, he seems to be addressing those issues, becoming far more proactive about framing and turning his opponents to separate. He’s quick to get to his feet if taken down and possesses a decent double-leg of his own, which he parlays into nasty ground-and-pound.
In terms of skills, Buzukja is unquestionably UFC-worthy and has some winning match ups in the Octagon. I do, however, think his lack of standout speed and power will keep him from fully breaking through. That at least figures to doom him against Sean Woodson, a uniquely long and frustrating striker who ostensibly has the style to pot-shot Buzukja all night.
His CFFC, UAE Warriors and Contender Series bouts are on Fight Pass.
Assu “Zulfikar” Almabaev
Weight Class: Flyweight
Record: 17-2 (3 KO, 8 SUB)
Notable Victories: Zach Makovsky, Aleksander Doskalchuk, Chris Kelades
Almabaev enters the Octagon in the midst of a six-year, 13-fight win streak. His run includes stints in top European promotions such as Fight Nights Global, M-1 and most recently, Brave CF.
Wrestling and top control are the highlights of Almabaev’s game. He’s got an excellent shot and a variety of finishes, from power doubles to strong single-legs to relentless suplexes if he latches onto a rear waist lock. His general grappling strategy is to chip away from guard and half guard until his opponent tries to force his way up, at which point he’ll pursue back mount and the RNC that accounts for five of his eight submission wins.
There’s a whole lot to like about his wrestling. He’s extremely dogged and difficult to dislodge; even if you do stand up, he’ll stay attached and look for either mat returns or standing back takes. That said, he struggles to maintain dominant position outside of the back. Even if he does pass guard, which he’ll often neglect in favor of ground-and-pound, he always seems to find his way back into full guard.
He also got swept at least once by Zach Makovsky and lost position chasing a fruitless guillotine against Aleksander Doskalchuk, so he’s not immune to mistakes. He does scramble well off of his back, though.
His stand up is well below what you’d expect from a 19-fight veteran. He has heavy low kicks, but he throws spinning back kicks the way most people throw jabs. They’re not even particularly fast, heavy, or sneaky but he just keeps on chucking them out. On the rare occasions he lets his hands go, he leaves his chin up and rarely throws more than one or two at a time.
To be fair, that striking is normally just a setup for his takedowns, but he’s in real trouble against skilled wrestlers.
Almabaev is going to have a lot of success against opponents he can take down and very little against those he can’t. There are admittedly more of the former than the latter in UFC, but he’s going to hit a wall sooner or later. That might be in his debut, as Ode Osbourne is a capable wrestler with the long-distance striking skills to out-class Almabaev on the feet.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Nashville 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 9 p.m. ET.
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