Have you ever looked at a UFC event and wondered “who are all these people?” I used to be like you but for better or for worse I have gone off the deep end when it comes to knowledge of MMA fighters. Let me help you all out and give you a guide to every single fighter who is fighting on next week’s UFC card.
Johnathan “Dragon” Martinez (13-4, 4-3 UFC): Martinez is a fighter who I am very excited to see back. Before a demoralizing loss to Davey Grant, Martinez was riding a wave of momentum, claiming a highlight-reel knockout of Frankie Saenz and spoiling the return of former star Thomas Almeida. Martinez has an excellent mix of strikes in his disposal and works excellently in the clinch. While he may not be the best off of the back foot, he’s absolutely deadly when pressuring forward. His cardio has seemed to take a hit as of recently, but the time off I think will be good for Martinez. Martinez’s plan will be to press his opponent backwards and try to land the nasty kicks he has become known for. Out of all the fighters on this card, Martinez is one of the most intriguing. I would not miss the opportunity to watch him fight.
Marcelo “Pitbull” Rojo (16-7, 0-1 UFC): Marcelo Rojo stepped in on short notice to face Charles Jourdain earlier this year and put on one of the best fights of 2021. While we saw a lot of fun things from Rojo, his flaws are quite clear. When it comes to defending strikes from above-average accuracy punchers, Rojo seems to be useless. Jourdain seemed to hit Rojo with every single strike that he threw. Rojo also does seem to have cardio issues but the fight was at a weight class higher than this one will be. The former Combate Champion is making his debut at 135 in the UFC. Similarly to Martinez, he’s a crushiing striker who will throws lots of volune with power behind it. He will find himself struggling if his back is put up against the fence but again he is a crushing striker. He will have problems finding his way in the UFC if he cannot fix his issues but when Rojo fights, it is always going to be fun.
Dalcha “Champion” Lungiambula (11-2, 2-1 UFC): When the question of “who has the best physique in the UFC?” arises, an answer that I never see is Dalcha Lungiambula. This is unfortunate, as Dalcha is most likely the correct answer to that question. Apparently that comes at the expense of his fighting abilities. Dalcha has an incredibly limited skillset. He’s well-known for tiring very quickly and throwing very low volume. Dalcha wins all of his fights by simply being that much stronger than his opponents. He doesn’t have much in the way of defense. If he can get the fight to the ground, it is very hard to get up from under him, as he is incredibly strong. Dalcha will have no problems beating weaker, slower, and less technical competition but will struggle when he moves up the ranks.
“Powerbar” Marc-André Barriault (12-4 1 NC, 1-3 1 NC UFC): Barriault is an intersting case. On the one hand, he doesn’t really seem to be especially good at anything, yet he seems to be kind of competent in everything. His UFC run has been tumultuous and he has been on the side of some fortunate matchmaking. Barriault has the advantage of cardio over most of his opponents. He throws lots of volume for a middleweight, but it is usually quite sloppy and not technical. Barriault’s gameplan is usually to tire out his opponent and swing at them until they fall. It has worked in his last two fights against Abu Azaitar and Oskar Piechota. Barriault does have good takedown defense and will not be brought to the mat easily. While he is not elite enough to proceed into the rankings, he will be a solid gatekeeper to any fighter trying to ascend up the middleweight ladder.
Charles “Air” Jourdain (11-3-1, 2-2-1 UFC): While still being quite green, Jourdain has quickly turned himself into must-see TV. When it comes to the striking department, Jourdain has an arsenal not matched by many at his current standing in the promotion. While Jourdain is excellent in the clinch, he’s even scarier at long range. He has a solid jab and great kicks. His weaknesses are all defensive. When faced with accurate strikers, he will get landed on repeatedly. This is where his amazing chin comes into play. He took some hard shots from Doo Ho Choi and Marcelo Rojo but he stayed conscious enough to outlast them and win. Jourdain has never been finished even by deadly strikers. The path to beating him seems to be through wrestling. Each time Jourdain has been beaten it was by superior grapplers who took him down multiple times. Jourdain is guaranteed entertainment and for the most part has been able to hang with everyone he has fought thus far. He has great cardio and can fight at a crazy pace for three rounds. Jourdain’s pace is one few can match and that is why you see him tiring out his opponents throughout the fight. This is reflected in his two UFC wins being by late finish. If he can shore up his defensive issues, Jourdain will be a problem for years to come.
Julian “Juicy J” Erosa (25-9, 4-5 UFC): Erosa has taken up the mantle of the wily veteran that prospects test themselves against to see if they belong in the top of the division. Erosa is a wildman in the cage, which means he can score crazy finishes in the blink of an eye but it also means he can get pieced up by those more careful and technical than he. While easily outgrappled by strong grapplers, his wildness allows him to grab submissions on lesser opponents he brings to the mat. He can keep a crazy pace with anyone, seeing as he went toe-to-toe with Sean Woodson and tired him out. Erosa is incredibly poor defernsively and will get landed on repeatedly. His chin seems to have diminished over time but it does not stop him from engaging in crazy brawls. Even in losing efforts, Erosa has found himself in incredibly entertaining brawls and he is quite dangerous if you underestimate him. He’s a kill-or-be-killed fighter and will always be fun to watch.
Jack “Tank” Shore (14-0, 3-0 UFC): Jack Shore is the best fighter from Wales by a long margin. Shore is a crushing wrestler, consistently chaining takedowns to the world of his excellent position grappling. Shore’s top control is relentless and he will fight his way to the back quite often. He uses the rear naked choke to perfection, as he has landed it twice in his UFC career and seven times over his whole career. That makes half of his wins coming from the rear naked choke. Shore has nearly every takedown in the book, from single legs to double legs to high angle slams, Shore will find any way he can to get you to the mat. While his striking is still underdeveloped, it’s still enough to be able to hang with dangerous punchers. He is rarely hurt and he rarely forgets his gameplan. Other great wrestlers can be dragged into brawls, but Shore will always play to his strengths because there might not be a grappler in the entire division that can hang with him. He does not get tired and will press you up against the cage the entire fight before slamming you to the mat. Shore is a legitimate blue chip prospect and he has a very bright future. It is rare to see a young fighter in his place in the UFC with the skills that he has. His grappling is absolutely elite and his ceiling is sky-high. Every time Shore fights, you have to watch.
Liudvik Shaolinian (9-1-1, 0-0 UFC): Shaolinian is getting his shot in the UFC after all. After appearing on the latest season of TUF, Shaolinian has been talked about a lot for a regional bantamweight. He got the world watching when he took out Team Volkanovski’s #1 Bantamweight pick in Mitch Raposo. Shaolinian is a wrestler through and through, he doesn’t have much in the way of striking. His wrestling seems to work very well against other wrestlers as well, as he was able to control Raposo and keep him from doing much of anything. One thing Shaolinian does that is troubling is that he allows himself to get into brawls. Against eventual winner Ricky Turcios, Shaolinian abandoned his gameplan in the final round to throw down with Turcios, who was clearly the superior fighter. When Turcios swept position against Shaolinian, he did not seem to be very good off of his back. He is not much of a submission threat nor a knockout threat, merely he wants to maintain control and fire ground and pound to win the decision. Wrestlers always seem to do decently well in the UFC, it will be interesting to see how his career plays out.
“Firefist” Ji Yeon Kim (9-3-2, 3-3 UFC): Ji Yeon Kim is just about the definition of average. She is an unremarkable striker who throws decent enough boxing combinations. She gets landed on just about as much as she throws so she never really looks like she is ever winning a fight. Two of her wins are by split decision and the split decision win over Justine Kish is one that nearly everyone agrees that she lost. Kim stands stiff in front of her opponent and rarely moves her head, so strikers like Alexa Grasso can tee off on her without issue. Kim is hesitant to pressure her opponents and is especially susceptible to range strikes. She will not take her opponents down and is also easily taken down. She is purely a striker with a very limited talent for striking itself. I wouldn’t be surprised if she gets cut by the end of next year.
“Meatball” Molly McCann (10-4, 3-3 UFC): McCann is a fighter who is perpetually confusing. After a tough submission loss in her debut to Gillian Robertson, McCann would rattle off three straight wins. She would use her grit and toughness to walk down unimpressive strikers and grind out tough decisions. She almost fooled us all that she could grapple. However, when fighters win three straight, they are due to hit a step-up in competition. When McCann hit the step-up, she faltered. She has been taken down at will in her last two fights, whittling her takedown defense to a measly 28%. While she cannot grapple, she still can grind out decisions over those who allow themselves to be pushed back against the cage. McCann will always be in the fight as long as it is standing. While her status as a contender are far behind her, she still can pick up wins over any unranked women’s flyweight.
Luigi “The Italian Stallion” Vendramini (9-2, 1-2 UFC): Luigi Vendramini is still very much an unknown. He is a low-output striker with not much in the way of the grappling department. From what we have seen from him, his volume seems to pick up as the round goes on. Vendramini is excellent defensively, as he has been able to keep higher output strikers to lower numbers throughout his career. He has good enough striking defense and is competent enough to stand with anyone in the divison. He throws great kicks and around average boxing. He is quite inaccurate in his striking, however. He may throw a decent amount but he doesn’t land a lot either. Vendramini will be a great test for any high output striker to fight someone with a defensive style and to see his grappling get tested is something that is necessary to see if he is to progress in the UFC at all.
Paddy “The Baddy” Pimblett (16-3, 0-0 UFC): Pimblett’s UFC debut is one that many have been waiting for. The former Cage Warriors champion is a prospect that those tuned in to the international scene have had their eyes on for a long time. Pimblett is a bizarre bastardization of the classic English MMA fighter. While most fighters are excellent strikers with little grappling ability, Pimblett is a poor striker who is a sight to behold on the ground. His entire gameplan is to drag opponents to the ground where he can use his incredble BJJ to nab a submission. It will be interesting to see whether Pimblett’s wrestling will be as effective in the UFC with opponents with solid takedown defense. While on terms of the best MMA grappler scale, he is relatively low, his skills are still good enough to watch with a close eye. People have wanted to see how Pimblett would fare in the UFC and now they will finally get their chance.
Khalil “The War Horse” Rountree Jr. (8-5 1 NC, 4-5 1 NC UFC): Rountree remains one of the most frustrating fighters on the UFC roster. He has shown flashes of greatness but on the other hand he has turned in some abysmal performances. If he can replicate a fraction of the Eryk Anders performance he would be in the top 15. Rountree’s performance over Anders is nothing short of legendary. He broke down Anders with massive leg kicks and showed advanced Muay Thai techniques. This started the “Bangkok Ready Rountree” meme that was prevalent in MMA social media spaces. Rountree trains in Thailand where he sharpens his Muay Thai skills. That basically boils down who Rountree is as a fighter, a Nak Muay who loses confidence in his abilities. Rountree’s output begins to fall off as the fight goes on and in his most recent performance against Marcin Prachnio, he stopped throwing his kicks. When he consistently kicks, he seems to be unbeatable but he always seems to find himself in his own way. He is useless against wrestlers but when he finds himself in the right matchup on the right night, he can put on a masterclass performance. While his confidence may seem to be gone, if he ever finds it, Rountree has the potential to be special.
Modestas “The Baltic Gladiator” Bukauskas (11-4, 1-2 UFC): Modestas Bukauskas is an interesting prospect in the Light Heavyweight division. Even though he has suffered a pair of setbacks in his last two fights, Bukauskas still remains someone to keep an eye on. He usually has a height advantage over his opponents and fights most of his fights at range. He works well behind the jab and front kick. While his takedown defense might be a bit suspect, he has shown that he has a good get-up game. Bukauskas has issues with shorter opponents getting in on him, though. When he gets backed up, he leaves his chin in the air as he tries to avoid the strike. Against a punishing puncher, tendencies such as these will see fighters get knocked out more times than not. This is why he got knocked out against Jimmy Crute but he showed improvements against Michal Oleksiejczuk. We have not seen much of an offensive wrestling game from Bukauskas, but we’ve seen him shown leaps and bounds in the defense department. He isn’t an accurate striker either and he barely leg kicks. He’s worth a watch.
David “Sagat” Zawada (17-6, 1-3 UFC): When it comes to bad luck in the UFC, David Zawada is a fighter who should come to mind. Zawada has been on the wrong side of two very close split decisions that he has a genuine case for winning both. Zawada is one of the most aggressive submission grapplers in the UFC. When he gets put to his back, he continuously throws up submissions to a volume that might be to his detriment. He was able to land one against Abubakar Nurmagomedov. When Zawada is unable to land the submission, he struggles to have anything in his pocket that helps him win decisions. His striking is sort of wild and inconsistent and he can be outlanded pretty easily. He struggles to land takedowns to try and submit his opponents from top position. Zawada’s skillset is built for him to be a finisher. He showed improvement when he fought Ramazan Emeev to a split decision, but he was able to do that because Emeev is very bad on the feet and Zawada was able to hurt him. For Zawada to win in the UFC, the matchup has to be situational. But if he wins, it will be very exciting to see.
Alex “The Great White” Morono (19-7 1 NC, 8-4 1 NC UFC): Credit to the hosts of Heavy Hands who made the comparison that Alex Morono is basically a watered-down Justin Gaethje. He is quite unathletic but he fights like he is two times the athlete he is in reality. He charges forward and wings shots like he is Justin Gaethje. He wants to swing and swing until you fall with your back up against the fence. When he is fighting someone who is easily backed up, this strategy works wonders. Where Morono starts to run into trouble is when he fights someone who has the ability to counterpunch him. This is where he fell into trouble against Khaos Williams and Anthony Pettis. His defense is not good but his swarming offense has proven to be good enough where it can overwhelm fighter who do not like getting backed up. Morono has enough power to be a threat but his durability is a concern. The way Morono fights may not be the best for him but it is always entertaining to watch. There are worse fighters to have on a main card.
Tom Aspinall (10-2, 3-0 UFC): When it comes to Heavyweights, when a prospect that looks any semblance of decent comes along, people get very excited. Team Kaobon’s Tom Aspinall has taken the division by storm in a way reminiscent to current Interim Champion Ciryl Gane. Aspinall seems to do most things well. His boxing is solid and he attacks the body which is a rarity in MMA. He has a black belt in BJJ which we haven’t exactly seen the extent of yet. Before you say anything, taking the back of a tired and ancient Andrei Arlovski doesn’t do much for me. What Aspinall seems to lack is an offrensive wreslting game. I haven’t seen him defend enough takedowns to tell you how his defensive wrestling is, but we will get a chance to see it tested quite soon. Outside of Arlovski, Aspinall has not fought impressive competition so far. His skills have looked on point but they haven’t been tested against the best of the best quite yet. To say he has no promise is a lie, though. With Gane’s ascent to Interim Champion, he has passed the mantle of best prospect in the division to Aspinall. He has shown concepts that will take him far in this division. While he may not be a genuine blue-chip prospect, he is close. Aspinall is a can’t-miss talent, he will be a top contender in the division. Watch his early career while you still can.
Serghei “Polar Bear” Spivak (13-2, 4-2 UFC): Spivak is one of the least talked-about Heavyweights for no reason. When it comes to the division, Spivak actually seems like an above average fighter. He brings a sambo base into the octagon which means he has great takedowns and his top game is excellent. He has excellent ground and pound, look no further than his most recent fight against Jared Vanderaa. If Spivak fights someone with poor defensive wrestling, they will be in for a rough night. Spivak will keep people he takes down on the mat. While his striking skills are below average, they are by no means terrible and are competent enough to hang with most heavyweights. Spivak will encounter trouble, however, when he is fighting an opponent who is a better wrestler than him or someone who is stronger than him. He relies on being the stronger man to force the positions he wants on the mat and the takedowns he wants to get. Spivak is an low-ranked heavyweight’s worst nightmare. Most of them will not have to face a talented grappler at this point in their career. Spivak might not reach the heights of the division but he will rack up wins for years to come.
Derek Brunson (22-7, 13-5 UFC): Derek Brunson’s rise as a contender in the Middleweight division has been one of my absolute favorite developments of the past couple of years. Brunson was seen as the consumate gatekeeper, being the test that every rising 185er has to pass before reaching the title. When you look at the names who have beaten him, it’s safe to say he has done his job well. He has only lost in the UFC to Jacare Souza, Yoel Romero, Anderson Silva, Robert Whittaker, and Israel Adesanya. All of these men find themselves among the greatest Middleweights of all time. Because of this gatekeeper status, Brunson has never received the credit he deserves for being one of the absolute best. Brunson has now strung together a four-fight win streak and finds himself as an actual contender. Brunson brings a great wrestling game, offensive and defensive. If the opponent is not well-versed off of their backs, Brunson will keep them there. Brunson has been known to have defensive weaknesses when it comes to striking but he seems to have fixed the durability issues he was having in the past. He does not get tired over five rounds and can match the paces of the most frantic of fighters. He allows himself to get backed up sometimes but he will not accept it for long. Brunson has solid pressure and decent cage cutting. His skills are those of an elite contender and he can hang with the elite of the division. Derek Brunson is tired of being a gatekeeper, so he is coming for the belt.
Darren “The Gorilla” Till (18-3-1, 6-3-1 UFC): Darren Till has become a polarizing figure in the MMA community. After a controversial win over Stephen Thompson earned him a title shot, Till’s time at Welterweight would end with violent finishes at the hands of Tyron Woodley and Jorge Masvidal. He moved up a division to 185 and has split results with Kelvin Gastelum and Robert Whittaker. Till has convinced people that he is a counterstriker when in reality he is just low output. His base is Muay Thai striking, as he uses his elbows and knees as his most damaging strikes. The problem with Till is that he struggles to throw mucvh output at all and he brings that kind of fight out of all his opponents. He will get backed up constantly and try to snipe a big countershot but he doesn’t have threatening power. Till may have dropped Whittaker but many people do, it’s a trait of Whittaker’s to be dropped and rocked easily but he recovers. Till also has shown to be susceptible to big shots and have defensive issues. His best ability is his penchant for delivering terrible performances over almost everyone he fights. His style is so low-output and uncommon that many fighter do not know how to deal with it. I don’t see Till as a future title contender nor as a high ranked fighter in this division for a long time, but he’ll be ranked for the remained of his time. As a big name and outspoken personality, however, he’s someone who demands the attention of the MMA world.