Fri. Dec 9th, 2022

Damir Ismagulov (155 lbs)

Another Contender?

Without exception, every elite MMA star we’ve come to know and love was once an unfamiliar name. 

And yet, if I were to suggest that a relatively unknown fighter with only two bouts in the UFC could find themselves in the title hunt, you might be skeptical. If I were to go a step further and predict that this could occur at lightweight, the UFC’s most talent-rich division, you might report me to USADA for smoking banned substances.

It’s a bold prediction for sure, but one contender on the UFC Vegas 27 prelim card has die-hard fans of the sport taking note.

Making their return from a near 3-year absence is Russia’s Damir Ismagulov (19-1 MMA, 3-0 UFC). After securing and defending the lightweight belt for M-1 Global, Ismagulov made his UFC debut in 2018 against Alex Gorgees. This was the first of three consecutive unanimous decision wins that Ismagulov earned under the UFC banner. After dominating Gorgees, Damir’s momentum continued with back-to-back wins in 2019 against rising contenders Joel Álvarez and Thiago Moisés. 

Teaching Lessons

The unique, academic nature of Ismagulov’s martial arts journey provides a more literal meaning to the confrontational phrase “I’m going to teach you a lesson.”

A graduate of the Institute of Physical Culture and Sports of the Orengburg State Pedagogical University, Ismagulov studied and practiced numerous martial arts during his time in school. The hard-knocks scholar subsequently earned his Master’s of Sports in universal combat and in Army hand-to-hand combat.  

The Next “Turn”

Riding a commanding wave of 14 consecutive wins, the Russian prospect will make his return this weekend against UFC newcomer, Rafael “The Turn” Alves (19-9 MMA). Brazil’s Alves earned his UFC contract on the Contender Series last September. After several cancelled fights, he will finally make his long-awaited debut on the big stage. The winner of his last 5 appearances, Alves has accumulated an impressive streak of his own. 

While Alves may be on the wrong side of the Vegas odds makers, what could play to his advantage is Ismagulov’s extended layoff. However, if the Russian is as sharp as before, Alves may be in for a long night. Will “ring rust” be a factor in the return of Ismagulov? Or, will he indeed emerge as a dark horse in the exciting lightweight division? 

David Dvorak vs. Juancamilo Ronderos (125 lbs)

Dawn of Dvorak

Just a couple of years ago the UFC men’s flyweight division was in serious jeopardy. Over time, the flyweights have made an exciting and progressive come-back and compelling case for the longevity of the division.  

David “The Undertaker” Dvorak was slated to take on fellow ranked opponent Raulian Paiva on tonight’s card, but plans have taken an unexpected turn. Paiva was pulled from the bout yesterday after being hospitalized due to a severe weight cut. It’s not typically the case that a promotion can find a replacement on a day’s notice, but thankfully for fans and a fully prepared Dvorak, the show will go on.

David “The Undertaker” Dvorak (19-3 MMA, 2-0 UFC) will now take on Columbia’s Juancamilo Ronderos (4-0 MMA). Dvorak made his UFC debut in 2020, going 2-0 against Jordan Espinosa and Bruna Silva (also fighting this weekend). With only 2 fights in the UFC, Czech Republic’s Dvorak already finds himself climbing the ranks. Still on the green side of 30 years young, Dvorak has already accumulated a winning-streak of 15 fights. The vast majority of those wins have come byway of knockout or submission.

If his momentum continues, perhaps it’s the Undertaker who could be challenging for the strap in the near future.

The Golden Ticket

Sometimes the most dangerous contenders are the ones with nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

Fighting out of Xtreme Couture, Ronderos has won 13 consecutive contests, including 9 bouts in his amateur career. All four of Ronderos’ professional wins were earned in just 2019 alone. While he is entirely new to the UFC, Ronderos’ last bout was a 5-round split-decision victory over former UFC flyweight, Eric Shelton. After nearly 3 years absent from the cage, Ronderos will now receive the biggest opportunity of his career.

Like every other mixed martial artist, Ronderos undoubtably has aspirations of one day becoming a world champion. However, in some cases the gold that is most important is discovered beneath the wrapper of a chocolate bar.

Welcome to the factory, Ronderos.

Josh Culibao vs. Shayilan Nuedanbieke (145)

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – OCTOBER 3: backstage during the UFC Fight Night event inside Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on October 3, 2020 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Third Time’s the Charm? 

Josh “Kuya” Culibao (8-1-1 MMA, 0-1-1 UFC) prepares to make his third UFC appearance against newcomer Shayilan “Wolverine” Nuerdanbieke (19-6 MMA). Australia’s Culibao made his UFC debut in 2020 when he stepped in on short notice to face Jalin Turner. Embracing a significant size and preparation disadvantage, Kuya’s price for a UFC contract was the loss of his debut and a zero on a previously perfect undefeated record. 

Later in 2020 Culibao had a proper chance to put his skills on display. With a full fight camp at his primary home of 145 pounds, we witnessed a much healthier version of Culibao. In a close and gritty battle, Culibao and fellow prospect Charles Jourdain brawled their way to a controversial split-draw decision.

Despite the long first year in his new UFC home, Kuya is ready to prove that he’s capable of not only competing with, but beating some of the best featherweights in the world. The 26 year-old prospect has much potential, and has already begun training with and learning from fellow Aussie featherweight and champion, Alexander Volkanovski. 

Welcoming the Wolverine

Receiving an Ultimate Fighting Introduction from Culibao will be China’s Shayilan. The Wolverine will make his UFC debut after stringing together two wins in a row following his first ever KO loss last September. The 27 year-old has more than twice as many fights as Culibao, with finishes in more than half of his wins. All 24 of the Wolverine’s fights occurred over 5 years, with one fourth of his record accrued just in 2020.  

Considering their level of activity, it’s possible we will see a lot of these two in the months and years ahead. For now, one will aim for a positive beginning to their UFC journey, while the other demonstrates the level of effort and skill that was once required of him to cultivate a dominant undefeated record. 

By Jared Moehring

Growing up, I was never a big fan of other professional sports. While most kids inherited the NFL, NBA, and MLB teams rooted for by their tribes, I found joy in watching old Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan movies. At the age of 13 I fell in love with the sport of wrestling, and that same year I watched my first ever MMA event, UFC 151: Brock Lesnar vs Cain Velasquez. My eyes glued to the TV in awe as the smaller man imposed his superior wrestling, which ultimately led to a TKO victory for Velasquez. As they say, the rest was history; I was hooked. Throughout the years, I've grown from "casual fan" to "doesn't miss a single round from early prelims to the main event." However, when I'm not creating or indulging in fight-content here in my home of Omaha, Nebraska, I enjoy camping and and exploring various national parks and forests throughout the country. Get to know me on Instagram: @jaredmoehring, or email me with any inquiries: Cheers!