Both men are coming into the bout with massive win streaks on the line, Ismagulov winning his last 15 fights, and giving up only one win on his 21-fight record. The last four have been inside the UFC but prior to that, he ran through competition mostly in M-1. His new opponent, Kutateladze, will gamble a 9 fight win streak this weekend, having jumped from promotion to promotion securing wins in BRAVE CF, IRFA, and Superior Challenge before winning his UFC debut in 2020. Canceled bouts have left him inactive since but have also left him chomping at the bit to return.
Damir Ismagulov is a moderate betting favorite at odds of -170 at the time of writing. Kutateladze will enter as an underdog, currently listed at +140 odds.
At odds of -170, a successful $100 bet on Ismagulov would see a return of $158 this weekend. Kutateladze’s underdog odds mean that a $100 bet on him to win would payout $240 if successful.
Ismagulov is as well-rounded a fighter as you’ll ever find. On the feet, he stands in a squared stance with a high wide guard. It is extremely difficult to land any lateral attacks on him because of this approach, and striking down the middle is also difficult because of his educated head movement but timed right, opponents have been able to split his guard early. He likes to fight very patiently and regardless of the area of fight he never hunts for the finish, instead staying disciplined and trying to dominate, until the finish materializes naturally. He will walk his opponent down and put on volume without over committing or trying any risky attacks, he sticks to classic basics, save for the odd spinning side kick. He normally utilizes very active lead weapons, including lead kicks and hooks as well as his jab, almost as a screen in order to set up the rear over hand, uppercut or heavy right low kick.
In terms of grappling, Ismagulov is an expert, but his takedowns aren’t necessarily anything special. What really stands out is his ability to hit reversals and his heavy pressure once the fight hits the mat. Often his “chip away” approach on the feet forces worse grapplers than he to actually shoot out of desperation, at which point Ismagulov defends and counters and ends on top. From there he is patient in the guard, especially if he can manage to force his opponent’s nape to the cage and stuff their movement. He has particularly hard ground and pound especially to the body as he digs his forehead under their chin or into their chest. In general whether on the feet or ground and pounding, investing in the body is always a staple of Ismagulov’s performances.
Kutateladze is very much a fighter out of a Muay Thai style, more specifically the Dutch sect. He is extremely aggressive and his strikes sometimes are loaded up on but his speed and follow-through make everything a threat. His kicks in particular are what he is known for, especially his right body kick, and few are needed to impose his kind of fight. Behind his kicks if he steps into the pocket, his combinations are much tighter on the inside than Ismagulov who likes the outside more, however, even in this area, Kutateladze will enjoy a two-inch reach advantage. In general, Kutateladze’s strikes are more evenly distributed amongst all potential weapons than Ismagulov, and he has more of them.
On the mat, however, it’s very unlikely Kutateladze will be the one shooting. Most of his grappling focus has been attacking with a very active guard with a wide array of submission and positions. He will throw up triangles, armbars, high guards to strike, and even go to single-leg X as a means to create space. He is not a submission artist but the threat is often so great that it has consistently allowed him to deter the pressure of more highly touted grapplers and forced them to re-engage on the feet. Before these submissions even come, however, opponents have to get past his butterfly guard usually, and it’s almost instantaneous that Kutateladze is looking to create space once he knows he’s going down.
For Ismagulov, his advantage in this fight is that Kutateladze isn’t going to dominate him on the ground but vice versa could happen. It’s clear that Kutateladze wants to strike and Ismagulov has more options in where the fight takes place, however, because of Kutateladze’s ability to scramble, it’s a major factor where Ismagulov decides to shoot. A major element that bodes well for him, is when he shoots, he typically runs the takedown to the fence, if Kutateladze is taken down against the cage his options are cut down, and if he can get back up he then has to find away off of the fence as well, and Ismagulov can maintain that contact and grind him out. Out in the open Ismagulov is always dangerous, but Kutateladze may be just a little bit sharper everywhere, he should take the center in order to avoid the cage and lead. Ismagulov likes to set up his strikes off of his jab, but if Kutateladze can establish his striking first and make Ismagulov fight on the counter, he will be able to fight his fight.
However, I do think the latter of these two scenarios is less likely to happen. Although Kutateladze may be the technically better striker, Ismagulov usually has more success pacing himself steadily and staying on the front foot. I think we see Kutateladze fighting on the outside of the cage a bit more and eventually getting trapped with his back to it, and from there gets put in situations in the clinch or defending in the crux of the cage and mat and loses a decision.
Pick: Ismagulov to win via decision (+125 at BetUS)
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