With her back against the wall, Julija Stoliarenko will try once again to earn her first UFC win against Jessica-Rose Clark at UFC 276. A former Invicta FC bantamweight champion, Stoliarenko was a promising talent when she made the move to the UFC in 2020. With a record of 9-3 at the time and a signature armbar she could seemingly get on almost anyone, fans were excited to see her in the big league. However, the Lithuanian champion would fall short against Yana Kunitskaya, Julia Avila, and former title challenger Alexis Davis.
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A new fighter is rarely given a chance after losing three-of-three fights in the UFC, but if there is ever a time to rise to the occasion, it is now. It is no easy task, however as Jessica-Rose Clark, a UFC fighter since 2017, will be gunning to bounce back from her February loss to Stephanie Egger.
Prior to the defeat, Clark was riding a two-fight win streak with a massive shift in her style. The largely Muay Thai-based Australian fighter has recently made waves in the wrestling department, making her a well-rounded and dangerous individual. Stoliarenko will have to be ready in every aspect of the fight game if she is to claim the first W on her UFC record.
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Clark, with the greater deal of UFC experience, will be coming into the bout as the -145 favorite over the Lithuanian.
Jessica-Rose Clark was first heralded as one of the better Muay Thai practitioners of the 135lb division. That being said, while her stand-up does replicate a much more traditional Thai striking style than some of her fellow bantamweights, it has really been her wrestling that has earned her wins in the past couple of years.
First though, on the feet, she is a tornado. She likes to attack in rapid and large combinations, mostly in bursts. Typically she ends her flurries with either the right body kick, left hook, or short elbows inside. She allows herself to attack forward so committedly because even more often, as she crashes forward, she is able to enter the clinch and look for clinch knees or go straight to trips and takedowns. Her best comes from both underhooks and a tight body lock to outside trips.
Although Clark may be the sharper kicker of the two women due to her Muay Thai roots, Stoliarenko has a freedom and power to her kicks due to her ability to fight off her back. Not the greatest wrestler, Stoliarenko tends to throw with a bit more recklessness with her legs because, falling to her back, she will happily invite her opponents into her guard. Her best kick is a tricky right head kick, but more than often the same technique is thrown to the body. That being said, the majority of her exchanges come by way of her boxing, where she is sharp and lands on the end of her punches well, but can leave her head exposed as she does so, taking a shot to land in return.
One of the best things she has consistently done in the cage is to end exchanges on her terms with a tricky check left hook and, at the same time, pivot out, retaining center cage or at the very least avoiding the fence. This will be particularly important when Clark looks to attack with her straight line flurries. For Clark, she needs to focus especially hard on gaining some respect or reaction before she bursts in to force Stoliarenko to plant in her stance, whether that’s through leg kicks or feints. Stoliarenko is very mobile in space, but when she exchanges she tends to stand heavy, eat low kicks and only move out on the end via the pivot, so leg exposure is an issue.
It will be interesting to see who chases the fight towards the ground more readily. Clark’s ground game is characterized by her good tight body lock takedowns and committed top control. She uses head pressure to force her opponent to make mistakes and floats over in top control, retaining good positions as her opponents try to alleviate the pressure with hip escapes and bumps. This allows her to advance position without cutting through the guard but rather taking advantage of her opponent’s choices. From there, it’s a steady gameplan of consistent ground and pound, which build on the score, build up damage, or even may expose a choke or limb.
However, of all of her opponents, Stoliarenko may be the most dangerous opponent to pursue this game against. She is an armbar specialist on the ground, able to attack it from various angles and positions off her back. This includes straight on with the triangle position, but she even more often is able to kick her hips to the side to attack traditional armbars. It’s extraordinary how often she is able to get the limb in such a variety of situations, and eight of her nine wins have come this way. Almost all of them come from a tight overhook grip on the limb she wants to attack, however, so baring down with her head pressure, Clark has to be very wary of where she puts her grips and where she keeps them for too long.
Stoliarenko’s signature nature to her armbar, however also causes her to be victim of her own success, when she cannot complete it she takes punishment in return, and she has been known to chase it again and again past the point of her being predictable. In doing so, especially as the clock runs out, she finds herself taking damage as she looks for the hail mary submission.
This fight is fascinating, Jessica-Rose Clark is the sharper striker, but she will have to change her typical linear style in order to get around Stoliarenko’s use of angles. Clark absolutely has the ability to do so and still highlight her superior striking, but it does take away her favorite avenue for the takedown and clinch. Whether she even wants them is another story, depending on how seriously she takes the threat of Stoliarenko’s guard, but should it end up there it will be a battle of Clark’s consistent ground and pound while staying safe and the one moment Stoliarenko needs to clasp onto the submission.
Ultimately, with Clark coming off of an armbar loss and her superior striking ability, I do think that Clark should be able to avoid the ground if she so chooses and has a very good chance at averting most danger should she be unable or decide otherwise.
Prediction: Jessica-Rose Clark to win (-145 odds at MyBookie)
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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.