Immediately after winning the Ultimate Fighter Season 29, fan-favorite Ricky Turcios will return to face Aimann Zahabi at UFC on
Standing opposite is a name every fight fan on earth is familiar with – Zahabi. However, it is not the famed coach of Tristar gym; instead, it is Faras Zahabi’s younger brother, a budding Canadian star with two wins in four fights inside the UFC and much potential to grow under his elder sibling’s tutelage. With major power in his hands and slick jiu-jitsu, the technical skill of Zahabi will go head to head with the scrappiness and ferocity of Turcios for what is promising to be an action-packed fight.
Surprising to some, in his debut, Turcios will come in as the favorite over the four-fight alumni in the UFC. It will require a wager of $190 on the American to return $100.
Aiemann Zahabi is a well-rounded fighter, as is his opponent. In his case, he has powerful boxing-based striking and slick jiu-jitsu. On the feet, he keeps his chin tight and utilizes a high guard, keeping himself technically safe at all points. He is rather inconsistent in terms of how much movement he uses inside the cage, sometimes constantly shifting stances and making his opponents guess, sometimes stubbornly plotting forward, and sometimes being caught extremely flat-footed. However, what he does to great is shift from orthodox to southpaw and back to hide his punches and power, where he will feint with the jab, switch and catch his opponent with power lead shots from his right.
However, he does lean on his power, which is evident in the volume in which he throws combinations. Usually, he throws about one, two, or three punches at once and rarely more, as the final shot has an emphasis on power. He tends to plant or cross-step forward, which means he can’t always angle off and string together another immediate combination. However, once he finds his range, while he may not beat out his opponent in number of strikes, his significant moments tend to add up. Be especially watchful of his jab as it is integral to establishing his range and setting up most entries.
The largest shortcoming in his style is he tends to have a weakness toward leg kicks. He stands extremely heavy on the lead leg as he throws with such force and eats kicks in return. He may happily invite a war upstairs, but he has had issues with longer fighters who can keep him walking onto long-range kicks.
Although not a kicking specialist, Ricky Turcios does have him beat out in this area. He has good Muay Thai, and he often throws wild punches and misses but lands the follow-up sharp leg kicks behind them. He also has a left switch kick to the head. What he really wants, however, is to bully his opponent to the cage, go forehead to forehead and engage in dirty boxing and elbows. Turcios’ greatest asset is his pressure, and if he can trap his opponent in a position in which they are forced to exchange constantly, he will happily take damage to return it.
Out in the open, he is difficult to pin down; he is a switch hitter who throws extremely unpredictably. Often due to the pace of his fights, his technical skill falters as well, and he will throw wide while leaving his head on the centerline. At the same time, while he gets wild in the chaos, the payoff is that his opponent is usually victim to even larger determinants in skill at this point. In particular, he has a habit of dropping his head as he moves forward to throw overhands or look to pummel into the clinch which could leave him open to uppercuts.
On the mat, both men are super dynamic, but the difference is that Zahabi is immediate with his sweeps and rolls and almost never ends up fighting off his back due to his ability to fight out in milliseconds. Turcios likewise never settles on his back but he will end up fighting from his guard, elevating his opponents and attacking submissions for longer periods of time. His opponents likewise never get to settle into a good position on top, but Ricky will entertain it to a slightly larger degree than Zahabi. When Zahabi does attack leg locks off of being taken down he usually uses these opportunities to sweep or get up while Turcios is hell-bent on finishing; in the same sense he is more likely to pull guard given the opportunity for a guillotine or triangle.
Ultimately what it comes down to is how Zahabi deals with the furious pace of Turcios. Zahabi has the power advantage, and he is a bit sharper with his jab and boxing, but Turcios has the advantage in both staying all the way out in kicking range or in closer to elbow and knee and clinch. He has been compared to prime Tony Ferguson for his scrappy nature by the likes of Paul Felder, and I think this is fair.
Turcios does not give up anything for free; he will fight out of takedowns and always swing back. I believe he will take some fire en route but ultimately force Zahabi to look desperate late when the numbers are stacked against him. If the two end up engaging on the mat, I do not think that Turcios can gain any kind of top control on Zahabi that will end up being majorly relevant, but I do give him the edge in the submission game even on the bottom.
Prediction: Ricky Turcios to win (-190 odds at MyBookie)
Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.