With two major events taking place on Thursday, this week’s MMA schedule starts earlier and is more packed than usual.
UFC 251: Usman vs. Masvidal is this weekend!
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On Thursday, Jose “Shorty” Torres will face Marcel Adur for Brave’s vacant flyweight title, while at Bellator 234, Sergei Kharitonov and Linton Vassell will clash, with the latter hoping to end a three-fight slide.
On Friday, Adrian Yanez will face Kyle Estrada in his return to the LFA stage and at ACA 101, Vitaliy Nemchinov and Piotr Strus will battle, following the former’s first professional loss to now-UFC middleweight Rodolfo Vieira.
Finally, on Saturday, Jan Blachowicz will welcome Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza to the UFC’s 205-pound division and Pat Sabatini will defend his featherweight strap against Mauro Chaulet at Cage Fury 79.
Throughout the weekend, some of MMA’s most intriguing prospects will compete, all eager to continue their respective momentum. Here are some of the names to keep an eye on, in order of appearance.
Ilia Topuria: Brave CF 29
Currently 7-0 with five impressive submission victories, 22-year-old Ilia Topuria is currently one of the best grapplers on Brave’s roster and is the first of a number of submission threats this weekend.
Topuria will be entering Brave’s cage for the second time, after a first-round mounted triangle armbar victory over Luis Gomez, and prior to that, the featherweight picked up submission wins in Cage Warriors, Cage MMA, and Mix Fight Events. Perhaps what makes these victories even most impressive is that, without fail, they are all in enemy territory, and Topuria has seemed entirely unfazed in each bout.
Clearly, the Georgian’s strengths lay on the mat, where he possesses an outstanding guillotine and is adept at maintaining top control. However, Topuria rarely seems in a hurry to grapple, and as shown in his bout against Mika Hamalainen, the featherweight knows how to jab, feint and work the body, tools that will serve him well in tougher tests.
At Brave CF 29, Topuria will face South African Steven Goncalves, currently 0-1 in Brave and a victory may set the Georgian up with a meeting against “Bad Man” Bubba Jenkins for the featherweight title. For now, Topuria will look to extend his undefeated record and continue what has been an impressive winning run.
Aviv Gosali: Bellator 234
Bellator 225 was headlined by the rematch between Sergei Kharitonov and Matt Mitrione and the 14-fight card ended with 14 finishes, nine of which came in the first round, seven finishes were by submission and seven by way of knockout.
On such a violent night, it takes a lot to stand out, but after Aviv Gosali heel hooked Eduard Muravitskiy in 11 seconds and broke Bellator’s fastest submission record in the process, it’s fair to say he did just that.
Hailing from Israel and at just 18-years-old, Gosali is perhaps one of the most watchable prospects in MMA today and while he has faced admittedly poor competition so far, a bout against 14-8 Zaka Fatullazade is definitely a step up and a chance for “The King” to show how good he is.
It’s pretty well-known that Gozali comes from a fighting family. Haim Gozali also competed professionally in MMA (as well as ADCC and Pan-Am competition) amassing an 11-6 record, including a 3-3 stint in Bellator, and Aviv certainly learned much of his grappling skill from his father, who is a 4th-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
In terms of Gozali’s ability, we don’t really know too much. The Israeli has just three fights on his professional record and has spent just 6 minutes and 53 seconds in the cage (and just 40 seconds on the feet). On the mat, Gozali is relentless and is a threat to virtually every limb, although he largely attacks arms and legs instead of the neck (indeed, in the fight Gozali picked-up his only win via choke, he spent about a minute-and-a-half attacking a heel hook, and despite his opponent physically writhing with pain, didn’t get the tap).
While Gozali’s aggression and preference for arms and legs (and, from the footage available, his very limited striking), may leave him in trouble against a higher caliber of opponent, we really haven’t seen much of “The King” to know the full extent of his ground-game. Hopefully, a tougher test awaits this weekend and provided Gozali gets through handily, be prepared to get excited about Israel’s brightest prospect.
Bellator's youngest fighter, Aviv Gozali (3-0), sets the record for Bellator's fastest submission! The 18-year-old Israeli snags Eduard Muravitskiy's heel in just 11 seconds, securing his third first-round sub win in as many bouts. #Bellator225 pic.twitter.com/SFHCutFaYE
— Kyle Johnson (@VonPreux) August 24, 2019
Robson Gracie Jr.: Bellator 234
Following the trend of submission specialists with limited experience, Robson Gracie Jr. is the latest from the famed Brazilian family to take on the MMA world.
Currently, with just two fights on his record, Robson Jr. debuted for Bellator in December last year, and despite feeling immense pressure, the welterweight sailed through with a second-round rear-naked choke win. Robson Jr. recently spoke to John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock and explained the weighty expectations that come alongside the Gracie-family name.
“It’s my first fight; you’re going to win or lose. If you lose, I know a lot of people are going to say the Gracie family is over. But I tried to turn that off; it was just me and my opponent, forgot about what happened and the Gracie name on my shoulder. Royce gave me some great advice before the fight. He said: “Go out there, don’t think too much about it and fight for yourself.”
In his second bout, Gracie was once again impressive, and despite getting caught with several punches, picked up his second win via submission, this time via first-round armbar.
Stylistically, Robson Jr. is largely a traditional Gracie-family fighter. His striking is poor, and his takedown entries can often be ineffective, but on the mat, he is a different animal. What makes Robson Jr. slightly more interesting is his size and length, which hopefully will aid his striking development in years to come. While a move to 185-pounds could be somewhere in the future (both to cut less weight and avoid a match-up with fellow Gracie, Neiman), for now, Robson Jr. is content at 170-pounds.
“I’m taller [than Neiman Gracie], but if you check the weight, he’s heavier…I feel good at 170. I have a lot of trouble already, going up will be hard. I lose weight really well, so to drop weight takes less time. Renzo wanted me to drop one more division [to lightweight], but no way! 170 is fine, I like to eat.”
With both Kron and Neiman picking up their first losses fairly recently, Robson Jr. will be hoping to end the year well for the first family of jiu-jitsu, and given that his opponent is 0-1 Ameer Bashir, it’s fairly likely that happens. More challenging bouts will await in the future, but for now, we shall enjoy what should be a showcase of this new era of the Gracie family.
Paul Capaldo: Cage Fury 79
Even with very few fights on his record, there are an awful lot of reasons to be excited about featherweight Paul Capaldo.
At just 22-years-old, Capaldo already has amassed an amateur record of 5-0 and is 3-0 as a professional, with two wins via decision and one via knockout due to a sweet left head-kick. While Capaldo is still incredibly green now, the upside of the New Jersey native is tremendous.
Capaldo’s main strengths center around his immense athleticism and in his most recent few fights, this has translated into grappling dominance. On the feet, Capaldo is fairly basic and has a tendency to look for one-shot knockouts, meaning his output is often low. Despite this, there are glimpses of some striking nous; Capaldo likes the front-body kick, and to knock out Bobby Malcolm, Capaldo hid his left high-kick behind the leaping left-hook he had been throwing all night. On the mat, Capaldo is excellent, both at maintaining control and attacking submissions and as his fights get tougher, this is a strength he will undoubtedly look to exploit more consistently.
What makes Capaldo even more intriguing is the team supporting him. Training at Nick Catone MMA, Capaldo has an embarrassingly stacked list of training partners, including Eddie Alvarez, Lance Palmer, Frankie Edgar, Marlon Moraes, and Aaron Pico. Further, as the New Jersey-based gym has become home to traveling Russian fighters, Capaldo has worked more closely with the likes of Zabit Magomedsharipov and Said Nurmagomedov, and often spends time in Dagestan training at DagFighter.
While Capaldo is still very raw, there are some clear signs that we could be looking at another legitimate prospect. Given that Capaldo is currently signed to Cage Fury, which airs on UFC Fight Pass, it may not be long before the New Jersey native is fighting under even brighter lights.
Adrian Yanez: LFA 78
If it were not for two split decision losses at LFA 7 and LFA 55 (to UFC caliber opponents), there is a very good chance we would be talking about ‘the UFC’s Adrian Yanez.’
Instead, the 9-3 bantamweight will return to LFA this weekend for his second stint with the promotion, after a successful two-fight tenure at Fury FC, and Yanez will undoubtedly be hoping that he can capture the title after falling short at the final hurdle last time.
Stylistically, Yanez is perhaps the quintessential LFA product: well-rounded, durable and athletic with a penchant for the spectacular. In bouts against Trent Meaux and Colin Wright, Yanez showed how comfortable he is going for the full fifteen minutes, while against Nathan Trepagnier and, more recently, Michael Rodriguez, the Texan demonstrated offensive potency. Of course, Yanez isn’t the perfect fighter and there are flaws to his game; on the feet, Yanez tends to rely on his power and as a result, is not as accurate as he could be, and he is a poor defensive grappler, often looking for Hail Mary submissions. Despite these, there is a lot to like about Yanez and with some winning momentum behind him, this could be the start of an LFA run that sees him join former opponents in the UFC.
For now, a main-event bout on Saturday awaits, and after, perhaps a shot at the vacant bantamweight title.
Ricardo Ramos: UFC Fight Night 164
Despite picking up his first UFC loss earlier this year, many are still excited about Ricardo “Carcacinha” Ramos, who will face the undefeated Eduardo Garagorri this Saturday in MMA’s own Classico del Rio Negro.
Ramos made his promotional debut in 2017 and after a successful showing against Michinori Tanaka, produced one of the most spectacular knockouts of 2017, finishing Aiemann Zahabi with a third-round spinning elbow. After another win, this time a split decision victory over Kang Kyung-Ho, Ramos was defeated by Said Nurmagomedov via first-round spinning back-kick but bounced back at UFC Minneapolis with a victory over short-notice opponent Journey Newson. A win this weekend could see Ramos just outside bantamweights top 15, while a dominant victory may set up bouts against #15 Casey Kenney or #14 Marlon Vera.
— Simon Head (@simonhead) November 4, 2017
It’s difficult to box Ricardo Ramos into one of the three main MMA disciplines: his striking is polished (and his love of the spinning elbow makes him worth a watch on its own), his wrestling is good, and he is a constant submission threat, with six of his thirteen wins coming on the canvas. At 5’9’’, Ramos is at the taller end of the bantamweight division and while he could use his length more effectively, there are signs that his jab is improving and his range-kicking game has always been potent (although can leave him in trouble, especially his jumping high-kicks). On the ground, Ramos is strong in scramble situations and is pretty comfortable attacking submissions both on top and from his back.
Ramos’ prospect status was briefly derailed following his emphatic loss to Said Nurmagomedov, but after an impressive showing against Journey Newson, “Carcacinha” shouldn’t be counted out just yet. After all, that spinning elbow knockout was stupidly good.
Student and sports fan in England with a passion for the sweet science of MMA