In the first of three lightweight bouts this weekend at UFC on ESPN 48 will be Elves Brener welcoming ‘The Georgian Viking’ Guram Kutateladze back to the octagon.
In his first fight in over a year, Kutateladze will be looking to get back on track with another win against a talented prospect in Brener. This will be both fighters’ first time fighting in the APEX and you can expect to hear plenty of punches and kicks land in the empty arena as we are likely to see a great display of striking.
There’s been a lot of hype surrounding Kutateladze in the MMA community since before his debut win over elite Lightweight prospect Mateusz Gamrot. Time away from the octagon has seen the hype fizzle out, but he’s looking to remind everyone why he deserves to be fighting ranked opponents as he will try to solve the puzzle of the ground-game specialist Elves Brener. Brener is riding a huge upset victory of Zubaira Tukhugov in his debut and the UFC was quick to give him another killer to see just how much talent the Chute Box prospect really possesses.
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The odds for this one are skewed heavily toward the Georgian Viking. With so much time away from the octagon for his opponent, Brener at such high odds could be a steal given his ground expertise.
Returning to the octagon for only the third time in the last three years is Guram Kutateladze. The Georgian product is 31 years old with a pro record of 12-3 and over 70 K1/Muay Thai bouts so he has plenty of fight experience. Guram has faced challenges with his health outside of the octagon that has thwarted his rise in the UFC, but his two fights since joining the promotion are against elite talent at 155 lbs.: Damir Ismagulov and Mateusz Gamrot. He’s 1-1 in these fights, however, could (and should) be 2-0. Before his controversial loss to Ismagulov, Guram was on a 10-fight win streak that included 5 knockouts.
With all of his kickboxing experience, he’s a very high-level striker with wrestling skills that are not often seen in those with a striking pedigree such as Kutateladze. He has great movement and reactions on the feet, bouncing in and out of range and using lots of head movement to keep himself off the center line. He loves to throw in combination but has very good power that is capable of dropping opponents in one shot. His combos are well thought out and often end in kicks to the leg or body as his opponent looks to get out of range. His footwork is really shown off when he throws these combos as he’s always well-balanced to keep from overthrowing and allowing himself to be open for counters. His best weapon on the feet is the kick to the body which he’s very effective at landing both against orthodox and southpaw fighters with tons of force and speed.
Usually with a fighter like this, we highlight their lack of wrestling. Guram is not like other fighters. He’s shown very impressive takedown defense and even effective defense from his back to quickly get back to his feet. His takedown defense is aided by his great reaction times as he’s able to go from defending strikes to fighting for underhooks, sprawling or preventing the takedown in other ways with little delay. When he’s on his back, he uses all four limbs to defend and work to different positions to create space and squeak out from the bottom. He’ll use wrestling offensively every once in a while, but given his only time in the UFC was against two high-level wrestlers, it hasn’t been a focal point for him thus far in the octagon. The biggest question for Guram will be how he’s spent the time away to get better and stay ready. He showed little ring rust in his fight against Ismagulov after taking almost two years away, so I’m betting on him looking good but it’s important to note his absence.
He’ll be taking on the 25-year-old Chute Box product, Elves Brener. Brener is 14-3 and is currently on a three-fight win streak. Like Guram, the outcome of his last fight is debatable as he won a split decision against Zubaira Tukhugov though most had it going the way of his opponent. He’s a submission expert, holding 11 wins by way of sub with only one finish by KO, but he was able to keep the fight competitive against Tukhugov in a stand-up war over 15 minutes. His toughness should come as no surprise for most as he hails from the famous/infamous Chute Box camp where hard sparring is an integral part of training.
The area of expertise for Elves is the ground game. Though he has almost a dozen submissions as a pro, his ground-and-pound is equally as impressive. He’s very fluid in transitions between strikes and submissions to continuously pour on pressure. In Brener’s fight against Gabriel Santos pre-UFC, Santos was able to get top control, but Elves displayed great escapes and submission attempts to reverse position or get up against another high-level grappler. In scrambles, he’s quick to react to reverse position to end up on top before continuing an onslaught of attacks. He hasn’t had a lot of opportunities to display his takedowns in the UFC but he has flashed good trips/sweeps to force the fight to the mat.
In the striking game, Brener utilizes a very diverse set of strikes to overwhelm and keep his opponent guessing. He has a great jab when he’s fighting in space and has room to come forward. His right hand often follows, but he loops the strike at times and gives his opponent plenty of time to react to slip it and counter. He has good kicks to the leg, body, and head and will target the body with his boxing as well to further switch up the attacks. He’ll throw some crazy strikes too; willing to use spinning elbows, backfists as well as flying knees, and anything else he may come up with in the moment. This gives him a level of danger when his opponent comes forward, but higher-level strikers won’t struggle with it.
Something that is consistent amongst his fights thus far in his career is he doesn’t always eat damage well. His striking defense is mostly his guard to cover the head, often leading the body and legs wide open. In MMA, utilizing just a high guard won’t be enough to stop you from eating power shots. With such small gloves, it’s near impossible to rely on just your hands and shoulders to keep safe. Another critique of his striking is when he comes forward with strikes as he can get too far over his front foot at times which leaves him very open to counter striking especially when the right hand comes looping over top. This gets exacerbated as the fight goes on and he starts to fatigue.
Prediction and Betting Guide
This fight’s odds are heavily favoring Guram as he’s the much cleaner striker with good wrestling and adequate grappling. Elves has a lot of skills on the ground, but he hasn’t shown the ability to impose this game by effectively taking down his opponents. He seems OK with standing and trading in the octagon which has proven costly against fighters who aren’t nearly on the level of Kutateladze on the feet.
Guram has great combos and punishing body kicks that he can land no matter what stance Brener tries to keep. Brener’s striking can be slow and telegraphed which will give Guram plenty of time to counter and land bigger shots. They both have good motors, but Brener’s striking is much more affected by the grind of a 15 minute war which will only widen the gap between the two on the feet as the fight wears on.
If Brener is able to get Guram down and keep top control, his submissions are always incredibly dangerous and would give him his best shot at knocking off the Georgian. However, given the wrestling defense displayed in his fight against Gamrot, I’m confident Guram will be able to keep himself on his feet and force another striking match for Brener.
The only remaining question is if Brener is capable of holding up against the power, pressure and pace of Kutateladze enough to last the full 3 rounds. He took a lot of big strikes against Tukhugov and was rocked against Gabriel Santos, so he hasn’t exactly displayed a Vettori-like chin. I think Guram’s striking will build up damage on Brener over the course of three rounds and he gets him out of there in the 2nd or 3rd round.
Pick: Kutateladze to win inside the distance (-110)
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