Maybe the best 25-year-old talent in the sport, Arman Tsarukyan, will battle ex-KSW champ, Mateusz Gamrot, this Saturday (June 25, 2022) at UFC Vegas 57 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Since his UFC debut, it was immediately clear that Tsaurkyan was special. Three years ago, Tsarukyan stepped up on short-notice to face Islam Makhachev, giving the elite Lightweight a tougher fight than many more established foes. Since then, he’s done nothing but win, picking up six-straight victories. When he debuted, Tsarukyan was already damn good, a talented wrestler with a deep gas tank. He’s only improved since then, developing his kickboxing further and growing more comfortable in the Octagon. That’s a scary prospect for the 155-pound division and anyone inside it who would like to hold the championship belt.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Before talking about anything else, it’s important to note that Tsarukyan is really an incredible athlete. He’s seriously strong and quite quick, and he has a deep gas tank given how dynamically he moves and fights. So, while the following section may be on the simpler side, keep in mind that he’s usually operating at an athletic edge over his opponents.
Tsarukyan relies on short, classic combinations to set up his takedowns. This is not a bad strategy: the 1-2-3 and 1-1-2 are boxing standards for a reason. Both are great for closing distance too, as the left hook hides a double leg shot well, and the jab-jab-right/overhand can easily be used to crash forward onto a single leg takedown.
On the whole, Tsarukyan’s lead hand is pretty sharp. When Tsarukyan jabs, he tends to come in from a lower angle from a wide, powerful stance. Both of those factors help the strike land with power and come up beneath his opponent’s guard. Then, when his opponent is concerned about his jab coming straight through the guard, he’ll switch it up with a lead hook instead.
In Fedor Emelianenko’s Fighting Systems book, the all-time great talks about disguising the hook by throwing the arm out straight and only cutting back across at the last second. Tsarukyan seems to apply a bit of that philosophy, turning his hook over thumb-down. Against Christos Giagos, a nice left hook counter thrown in that style ended the fight in the very first round (GIF).
Generally, Tsarukyan counters pretty well. He likes to walk his opponents down when looking to line up his takedowns, but Tsarukyan will circle and move to catch his breathe after an explosive scramble. When a gamer like Matt Frevola tries to walk him down during that process, Tsarukyan has the comfort and range control to still poke at his opponent with jabs or slip and return fire.
Tsarukyan’s kicks are likely better than his boxing. I wasn’t able to uncover any specific info about his striking background or if he even has a base martial art on the feet, but he kicks like a Karate guy. The Armenian talent has a very slick left leg, which chambers up high and snaps towards its target with a surprising crispness. Tsarukyan is often punctuating combinations with that left high kick, but he’ll occasionally try to catch his opponent circling with the right high kick too.
Finally, Tsarukyan can throw a pretty mean spin kick, usually to the body.
Tsarukyan is a Master of Sport in wrestling.
Again, let’s point out that athleticism. When Tsarukyan changes levels into a shot, he collides with his opponents at a different level of impact than most other fighters. The double leg off the left hook (GIF) is a classic setup commonly utilized by Tsarukyan, but he’s also happy to wrestle from the single leg. Quite often, Tsarukyan is able to drive through sprawls or lift his opponents from suboptimal positions and finish the shots regardless of their defense.
Tsarukyan excels in the clinch as well. He’s fully capable of slamming his opponents from the body lock, but Tsarukyan has craft here as well. He’s scored some slick whizzer kick throws inside the Octagon and even kept up with Makhachev in these positions (GIF), so there’s more to his game than raw strength.
Tsarukyan’s mat work is really great also. Often, he plays the Khabib game of triangling the legs immediately after landing the takedown. This gives his opponent a few options, none of which are good. From the legs triangled position, the bottom fighter can choose to 1) stay there and hold on 2) turn away and give up the back or 3) try to stand, which is difficult, while taking punches.
At a certain point, everyone decides to turn away and try to stand eventually, assuming they don’t just give up from sheer exhaustion and frustration. As soon as his foe turns away, Tsarukyan is looking to advance position. He’ll grab onto the two-on-one wrist ride — AKA the Dagestani handcuffs — and punish opponents, but he’ll also throw hooks in.
Sometimes, that combo creates the brutal half back mount, half mount with the wrist ride position, seen HERE!
Tsarukyan’s battering of Joel Alvarez is undoubtedly the best win and performance of his career. Alvarez is a genuinely excellent Lightweight, but he simply didn’t have any answer for Tsarukyan’s strength and top game. From within the guard, Tsarukyan destroyed his opponent with elbows, taking huge advantage of small moments of space (GIF).
It’s wearing to desperately cling to an athletic foe who’s landing heavy blows. As Alvarez fatigued, Tsarukyan began advancing towards more dominant positions, like the wrist ride and side control. More and more elbows and punches landed, and the situation only grew more dire for “El Fenómeno” before he succumbed to strikes.
Tsarukyan has five submission wins on his record, and it’s all classic wrestler jiu-jitsu. He’s finished a trio of rear naked chokes, an anaconda, and a guillotine — a bunch of grabbing the neck and squeezing! Seriously, the above section of about triangling the legs, taking the back, and then beating up one’s opponent should make it fairly self-explanatory how the RNC opens up from that sequence.
Inside the Octagon, Tsarukyan has shown a few submission attempts. Mostly, he tries to jump on the neck as his opponent scrambles. For example, as Matt Frevola tried to spin out of back control, Tsarukyan turned a wrestling-style claw into an arm triangle attempt.
Simple but effective strategy.
Tsarukyan does everything well and has the physical tools to carry him to the top of arguably the sport’s deepest division. If the young athlete is victorious this weekend, he’s likely to break into the Top 10 and secure a marquee name next.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.
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