In front of the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) veterans Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Anthony Smith at the Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg, this afternoon (Sunday, July 22, 2018) six fresh faces will enter the Octagon era, including a Cage Warriors Champion former Rizin Grand Prix participant and a student of the great Mirko Cro Cop.
Come and join us in the latest issue of "New Blood", where we tell you about the guys that it's worth buying a Fight Pass subscription.
Name: Abu "The Gladiator" Azaitar
Weight category: medium weight
Record: 13-1-1 (7 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable victories: Jack Marshman
Azaitar, born in Germany and living in Morocco, has not lost for six years, won seven fights and scored five KOs between 2012 and 2016. He was to make his UFC debut in Rotterdam in September 2017 against Siyar Bahadurzada, but retired back from injury.
Azaitar lists some kickboxing and Muay Thai achievements in his UFC biography, but even if the awards are real, I'm not sure about the competition he's facing. He wields wide blows and throws individual kicks that are powerful, but do not form a coherent attack. There is no jab of which to speak, nor any real straight punches for setups or mistakes.
A few knobby knees in the clinch.
Grappling-wise, he showed a solid double-leg, again without real setups, but also abandoned takedowns in one of his most recent World Series of Fighting bouts. He also does not seem to be a significant subjugation threat, although his obvious strength is that you do not want him above you.
In short, he's a bunch of average to fair pieces that do not flow into each other.
Opponent: Azaitar meets Vitor Miranda, a 40-year-old Kickboxer from Team Nogueira, who reached the final of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "Brazil" 3 heavyweight. Miranda has a serious knockout ability, but no takedown defense and, critically, he's so passive on his feet that he was overtaken by Chris Camozzi. It will be interesting to see if Azaitar's aggression and wrestling can silence Miranda before those sledgehammer kicks leave their mark.
Name: David "Sagat" Zawada
Weight category: welterweight
Record: 16-3 (11 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable victories: Andreas Steel. Maciej Jewtuszko
I will be in advance: I can not find new shots of Zawada. His main battles took place in the KSW promotion, which does not archive their fights as far as I can tell, and the shabby back alley that I normally find videos on does not have them.
What I've seen suggests that he has good hands, some very sophisticated travel and a strong top control. He also managed to free himself from severe adversity in April to stifle Michal Michalski, so we know he is not a front runner.
Of course, the fact that he got into this trouble at all is not a good sign.
Opponent: Zawada steps up to replace Alan Jouban against Danny Roberts. The Englishman is similarly well rounded and powerful, so I prefer him in this case because Zawada has no training camp, but the chin of "Hot Chocolate" has already been cracked. I expect Zawada to perform better than his +300 underdog status suggests, though I think Roberts will be in the lead.
Surname: Khalid Taha
Weight category: feather-weight
Record: 12-1 (7 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Wins: Keita Ishibashi
Taha – a five-year professional with an excellent finishing rate – participated in Rizin's Bantamweight Grand Prix 2017. After surviving some early ground problems, he brutally beat Keita Ishibashi in the second round, only to fight in the quarter-final defeat against veteran Takafumi Otsuka. He has since won back with a submission win when he was back at featherweight.
As you may have guessed from this ratio of KO to BIS, Taha is basically a polished striker, showing the kinds of feints, combinations and ingenious footwork you like to see from the climbers. What particularly struck me was his ability to mix head, body and leg attacks, each building on the other.
And you have all has power.
Despite all the fluidity, patience, and strength he has demonstrated on his feet, Taha's takedown defense and grappling have proved critical weakness. Bantamweights Ishibashi and Otsuka put him on the mat, and although he managed to explode out of a few shaky spots, Taha spent a worrying time in those spots. If he wants to be a challenger and not just an action fighter, he has to fix it quickly.
Opponent: He has to fix the problem Really fast, if he wants to win his debut. Nad Narimani, who was written down in an older New Blood before his debut against Nasrat Haqparast, is a tall, strong, proven featherweight with strong takedowns and ground control. Worse for Taha, Narimani can stand on his feet and is reportedly tough enough to resist Taha's power in the short time between takedown attempts.
It will be at least a learning experience.
Surname: Darko Stosic
Weight category: Light Heavyweight
Record: 12-1 (7 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable victories: Dion stares
While his affiliation with Mirko Filipovic makes headlines, Stosic is not here because of the person he's associated with. He is undefeated (8-0) since losing 2014 to Jiri Prochazka, whom I consider to be one of the best prospects in the light heavyweight division of the world, and has scored some highlight roles along the way.
He will drop from heavyweight to 205 pounds for his Octagon debut.
Stosic is just as powerful as its six-foot, 230-pound frame. A stalking, sharpshooting striker who relies on basic but effective two- and three-stroke combos, his decent boxing will be complemented by the kinds of murderous kicks you would expect from a "Cro Cop" protégé. His kicks and body kicks are extremely fast, but especially his low strokes are absolutely overwhelming. He fell in love with the 286-pound Emil Zahariev last year with a handful of them, and I can not imagine the Light Heavyweight thighs being much better against them.
Although he's not up to a real wrestler yet, his sprawl looks good and he has shown some decent takedown entries. His top control needs work when he gets up from side control with a sloppy Americana try, but it's a good weapon for a striker in his back pocket.
He has three outstanding issues of various importance. One is that he does not move his head much, relies on a high guard or goes for a switch when punches cross his path. The second is that he does not mix his kicks so well with his hands that their speed is not always sufficient to bring the shin to the finish before the opposing guards appear. The third is that I'm not sure how he wants to make 205 pounds with that barrel of chest and legs bigger than the average weight of the flyweight … he's a fat boy!
Opponent: Stosic gets someone to go on strike with him: Jeremy Kimball, who stands out for his sharp stamina as well as his incredibly awful weight control. Kimball will not wrestle, which allows Stosic to show his strikes, and its spread is not enough should the Croat decide to put it on the mat. Although Kimball is the faster and busier of the two, Stosic should gain in size and strength.
Surname: Liu Pingyuan
Weight class: Bantamweight
Record: 11-5 (4 KO, 4 SUB)
Notable Wins: None
Do not be fooled by Liu's record – he began his career without a win (0-4) before taking on his current run, which has included seven consecutive wins since 2013. He was scheduled to face Bharat Khandare last November, but had to pull back the door for young songmate Song Yadong to make a triumphant debut.
Like Song, Liu is an aggressive young finisher with a style that, while still harsh in some places, suggests he could do great things with the right leadership. He prefers to throw his hands, to compensate technical deficiencies with enthusiasm, and is willing to mix things with his body in his regular assortment of flurries, which is always nice.
His wrestling and grappling surprised me in a good way. His level changes and his trips are solid, he's a good watcher and he's always on the lookout for the goal, whether over strikes or submission. He particularly likes to work from the Kimura, both of whom use the threat as a threat and as a means of submitting other submissions. He also got off his back pretty quickly in the footage I saw.
He is young, athletic and fast, but his whole game needs just a little more shine. Various sites say he's in various camps, but I saw him in one of his promos in a Tiger Muay Thai shirt. This is a quality camp, so hopefully he will work with you.
Opponent: Damian Stasiak, who has losses for very capable Bantamweights in Pedro Munhoz and Brian Kelleher. "Webster" is pretty tough and has a dangerous game that Liu could easily fool into if he gets overzealous. It's a good test for a promising young fighter.
Keep in mind that MMAmania.com will deliver live round-by-round coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 134 Combat Card today, starting with the Fight Pass "Premims" under the card at 10:30 ET, followed by the FOX Sports 1 "Premims" under cards at 12 pm ET, before the main card start time at 2 pm ET, also on FOX Sports 1.