UFC Fight Night 153 – New Blood: UFC’s melting pot, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) goes international once again this weekend (June 1, 2019), and as expected, that means a slew of fresh faces making their first Octagon walks.
UFC Fight Night 153 Live
Though UFC Fight Night 153 (a.k.a. UFC on ESPN+ 11) takes place inside Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden, we’ve got a variety pack of newcomers. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where I spend entirely too much of my life trying to find the Next Big Thing, we look at a Korean brawler, a Russian kickboxer, a Kurdish bruiser, a Brazilian slugger, and an Italian grinder.
Jo has spent his entire mixed martial arts (MMA) career on the Asian circuit, racking up wins in China’s Kunlun Fight and his native Korea’s TFC. His last fight saw him take on Korean Zombie protege Jun Young Hong and survive a quickly-compromised leg to score an impressive fourth-round finish and claim the interim TFC Featherweight belt.
Korean UFC signings have almost exclusively been stifling grapplers or hard-nosed sluggers, and Jo is firmly in the latter category. A hulking Featherweight at 5’11,” the “Korean Falcon” is a patient, stalking power-puncher. He’ll pressure with heavy blows or plant his feet to catch opponents as they throw, leaning on his iron chin to stay in the pocket and trade power shots. He’s not terribly wild, thankfully, though he throws pretty much everything with full hip rotation, prioritizing power over speed.
He doesn’t seem inclined to initiate the wrestling, but his takedown defense looked fairly solid against Yoshifumi Nakamura. It helped that Jo had an eight-inch height advantage, though, and Nakamura didn’t set up his shots particularly well. It doesn’t look to be a liability, but I’d still like to see it tested.
Jo’s issues, as you’d imagine, are almost purely defensive outside of his lack of a jab. Like fellow Korean bruiser Hyun Gyu Lim, besides his willingness to knuckle down and trade bombs to the head, Jo doesn’t check leg kicks. Hong forced Jo to switch to southpaw after just two rounds of low kicks, and though Jo is serviceable from that stance, he was on his way to a one-sided decision loss before catching Hong with a nasty right hand and powering through the pain for the finish.
I don’t expect him to reach the heights of Chan Sung Jung, but Jo could find a niche for himself as an entertaining action fighter hovering in the middle of the Featherweight division. I can definitely see him racking up a ton of post-fight bonuses with the proper matchmaking.
Opponent: Jo takes on a willing striker in Daniel Teymur, who’s winless (0-3) in his Octagon career. Teymur is faster than Jo and a fair bit crisper on the feet, but has struggled with cardio. I’d call this a toss-up, as Teymur could certainly outclass Jo standing if he paces himself and Jo has the durability to take over late if he doesn’t.
Khandozhko smashed his way to a 21-1-1 start in his MMA career, the only loss in that span coming to one of Russia’s best in Eduard Vartanyan. He went 3-4 in his next seven, including a submission loss to UFC veteran Benny Alloway, but enters the Octagon on a two-fight winning streak.
Khandozhko is a remarkably fast kickboxer, boasting a nasty right cross and left switch kick that he can unleash with very little warning. His last fight saw him score a knockout via spinning back kick and he owns a five-second head kick KO from that switch kick, catching Mauricio Machado as the Brazilian ducked in. I don’t think he’s a huge one-punch hitter, but he makes up for it with his speed and still has some noteworthy pop.
Though I’ve heard him described as having a wrestling background, takedown defense is Khandozhko’s obvious Achilles’ heel; I feel like he was either on his back or defending against the fence in half the footage I saw of him. He reacts well to the initial shot, but persistent chain wrestling is a serious issue for him. That said, he makes a genuine effort to get off of his back and has shown some trips of his own.
I should also mention that he was visibly worn out after two hard rounds of grappling with Vlasenko; it wouldn’t surprise me if his technical issues defending takedowns make him expend more energy than he should.
Khandozhko’s a good enough striker to hang with a solid chunk of the Welterweight division, but I don’t see him breaking into the top 15 with the heaps of wrestlers lurking near the top.
Opponent: Khandozhko was booked to fight Bartosz Fabinski, whose entire gameplan is spamming takedowns. He would have lost that one big, but might have more success against the skilled-but-unproven Rostem Akman. I expect an entertaining fight out of these two and am leaning towards Khandozhko’s speed and experience.
Akman enjoyed a prolific and successful amateur career, winning several tournaments in the unpaid ranks. He’s spent nearly his entire pro career in his native Sweden under the Superior Challenge banner, finishing all of his opponents along the way.
He replaces Poland’s Bartosz Fabinski on around a week’s notice.
Akman’s fights in Superior Challenge are on FITE, but you can only watch them by buying the par-per-views in their entirety. As much as I love what I do, I’m not going to shell out three months’ worth of Fight Pass to watch three fights. I’ve thus had to make do with his amateur footage.
Akman’s best skill seems to be his wrestling; he times his entries well and is good at passing the guard as he lands. Based on a highlight reel I’ve seen, though, he’s gotten more comfortable keeping it standing as a professional. He’s clearly got heavy hands, though he’s not much for jabbing. He’s also, I want to mention, arguably the hairiest man to enter the Octagon since Dave Herman’s historically hirsute showing against Stefan Struve.