Devin “Brown Bear” Clark has been a persistent stepping stone in the light heavyweight division for years. The 32-year-old joined the UFC in 2016 and has fought future champions, contenders, and fighters no longer with the promotion. The term “gatekeeper” often gets a bad rep, but a true gatekeeper is a valuable asset to the UFC. Clark, professionally is 13-6, but his UFC record is 7-6. In the UFC, Clark tends to win by decision, getting his first finish, a 3rd round knockout, in his most recent bout.
Azamat “The Professional” Murzakanov is a 35-year-old, 11-0, prospect who only joined the UFC one year ago following a win on Dana White’s Contender Series. Murzakanov has eight knockouts and one submission win during his short tenure as a professional mixed martial artist.
Interestingly the line on this fight has barely moved since opening, implying no one has a strong opinion on the outcome yet.
The likely reason for Clark’s nearly 50/50 record in the UFC is he fights nearly the exact same way each time he steps into the octagon. With such an unprogressing fight style, Clark tends to beat the same type and level of fighter while losing to the same type and level of fighter each time out. Outside of his UFC debut loss, all of Clark’s losses have come against fighters who end up ranked, many of which inside the top 10. Meanwhile, all of Clark’s UFC wins have come against guys who have not yet put a number next to their name. This is what makes Clark such a valuable commodity to the UFC, if someone beats him, they more likely than not have the ability to earn a ranking.
The reason for Clark’s tendency to lose to ranked level fighters and beat unranked guys is simple: he is a strong wrestler, average striker, and intelligent fighter with solid cardio. But, he is one-dimensional in his path to victory- clinch wrestling-can rarely finish a fight, and has poor striking defense and footwork. Basically, Clark is not going to wow anyone and rarely “wins” fights, but, with his ability to avoid mistakes, he also rarely “loses” them either. Clark forces his opponent to fight a hard and gritty fight where they have to beat him because he won’t beat himself. It takes a well rounded fighter with solid takedown defense or submissions, technical striking, and the ability to overcome adversity for three rounds to beat Clark. However, fighters who can keep the fight standing have found a straightforward path to victory- basic kickboxing. Clark is hittable on the feet and his striking is basic. So, if someone can keep Clark at range, they can often win.
Murzakanov is the polar opposite to Clark. Where Clark is an intelligent and gritty clinch wrestler with a neutralizing style and subpar striking, Murzakanov is an explosive, high risk, high reward, striker who looks to end the fight quickly. Murzakanov’s fight style is a burst and blitz approach. He typically comes out aggressively early, throwing a heavy straight left followed by a looping but powerful right hook. He’ll often throw that same two punch combination with everything he has a few times in the first :30-:60 of a round, then, he’ll catch his breath for :60 or so while throwing almost no volume at all. Then, he’ll repeat the cycle until the round ends or he catches his opponent. During that :30-:60 window where Murzakanov has the energy to throw, he is truly dangerous.
He bounces on his feet athletically, strikes with explosion, and knows how to find the off-switch on his opponent’s chin. But, the strangest, and most concerning part of his game, is during the reset between string flurries, Murzakanov stands with a high guard, barely moves, and rarely strikes. In his last fight, Murzakanov’s opponent was able to capitalize during these lulls and nearly win the fight. But, Murzakanov was able to do what he does best, and he found the knockout during one of this 3rd round flurries. Despite his age, Murzakanov is green for a fighter; so, I expect his style to change a bit for this fight. I anticipate a slightly more measured approach so he isn’t as reliant on long stationary reset periods to catch his breath.
If he can combine strategy with his natural power to pick his shots more intelligently, Murzakanov can win this fight. But, if he fights with the same full go and then full stop approach, Clark should be able to weather the early storm and wrestle Murzakanov during the lulls in the round.
Both men do what the other struggles with: Clark is dangerously hittable, and Murzakanov has below-average grappling with poor cardio. It’ll be a fight where I hold my breath for 15 minutes because we’ve seen Murzakanov get a flash knockout after losing the first two rounds, but I like Clark to win another gritty and grinding decision.
Pick: Clark to win by decision
Michael Pounders is a high school English Teacher, a boxer himself, and is a fan who loves, gambles on, and nerds out about all things MMA.