12 Apr - 
UFC ‘Atlanta’ - New Blood!

UFC 236, which takes place inside State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Ga., this weekend (Sat., April 13, 2019) is a strange beast, all things considered. Both of its championship fights are for interim titles and the ESPN+ pay-per-view (PPV) lineup is bizarrely weak below the main- and co-main events. Luckily, the undercard is rife with solid matchmaking, including three fresh new faces. In this installment of “New Blood,” the series where I hurl YouTube vids of various quality at your face to get your attention, we look at a blue-chip “Contender Series” alumnus’ long-delayed Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) debut and a pair of young knockout artists with 12 knockouts in 12 combined victories.

Zelim Imadaev

Weight Class: Welterweight
Age: 24
Record: 8-0 (8 KO)
Notable Victories: None

Imadaev has been nothing if not efficient during his time on the Russian circuit, ending five fights in the first round and entering the third just once. He spent his last three fights in the venerable Fight Nights Global promotion, dispatching those three opponents in a combined 4:53. The Chechen has been out of action because of injury since a 13-second knockout of Ivan Gluhak in March 2018.

Imadaev is a fairly prototypical young slugger: low kicks at range, aggressive punching combinations in the pocket, heavy knees in the clinch. He’s also, unsurprisingly, fond of flashy techniques, regularly throwing flying knees and once scoring a knockout via spinning back elbow. He clearly boasts considerable power, albeit with a tendency to overextend.

His overeagerness got him taken down a couple times by the debuting Dmitriy Tuzov back in 2016, though he did show some decent movement and control off of his back. He did better at staying upright against Yuri Izotov one year later, but struggled to get off the cage.

There’s not that much else to say, honestly. The two big concerns are the takedown defense, as mentioned, and the fact that five of his eight pro opponents were winless or debuting. The potential’s there; whether he can live up to it is another question entirely.

Opponent: Imadaev faces Max Griffin, who’s thus far done well against heavy-handed sluggers. We should get a chance to see whether Imadaev has improved during his time away and how well he can deal with someone who isn’t there to be hit.

Tape:


Boston “Boom Boom” Salmon

Weight Class: Bantamweight
Age: 28
Record: 6-1 (4 KO)
Notable Victories: Ricky Turcios

Salmon spent the first six fights of his professional career under the RFA banner, where he achieved some viral fame by pounding Mainus and suffered a robbery decision loss to Zac Riley. Despite this, he got the call to appear on the inaugural “Contender Series” episode, dismantling Ricky Turcios to take home a contract.

This is the fourth time he’s been booked to debut; the first time, “Tanquinho” Mendes pulled out with injury, only for Salmon to injure his knee ahead of a clash with late replacement Raoni Barcelos. They then booked him against his current foe, Khalid Taha, in Nov. 2018 before the latter tore his ACL.

Salmon’s boxing pedigree is obvious when you see him fight. He’s a tall (5’9”), patient southpaw, economical but powerful. He stands at range, occasionally pot-shotting with jabs or straight lefts to the body, before exploding with combinations as soon as opponents step inside. Despite his size, he does his best work as soon as opponents breach the pocket; his right hook in particular has an impressive thump, especially to the body. He’ll also throw the occasional kick and has demonstrated a nasty elbow going into and out of the pocket.

His takedown defense looks extremely stout, as does his chin. Nobody’s had much success pulling him out of the sort of fight he likes thus far.

He’s a little too counter-focused, for one. This translates not just to a lack of activity when opponents don’t give him opportunities, but also a tendency to forgo dodging blows in favor of keeping himself in position to swing back. He showed no particular eagerness to check Turcios’ leg kicks and Turcios found a lot of success when he committed to marching forward and forced Salmon to the fence, where “Boom Boom” elected to slug with him rather than remove himself from a disadvantageous position.

Salmon seems to operate under the assumption that the power in his counters and potshots will keep opponents too cowed to keep him uncomfortable. It’s worked so far, but I feel like someone with a strong jaw and a devil-may-care approach to eating punches could do some damage to “Boom Boom.”

Opponent: Taha is young, durable, aggressive and heavy-handed. Salmon’s boxing is the sharper of the two, but Germany’s Taha has a more diverse offense. It’s a great match up that should make for some fun back-and-forth action. And if Salmon’s ceiling is as high as I think it is, I say he edges it.

Tape:


Randy “The Zohan” Costa

Weight Class: Bantamweight
Age: 24
Record: 4-0 (4 KO)
Notable Victories: None

Costa, a Joe Lauzon protege, went undefeated (3-0) as an amateur, all by finishes inside of eight minutes. Nearly four years later, he made the jump to the professionals, where he’s knocked out his four foes in around three minutes total.

Why can’t more prospects be like Costa? His cumulative fight time is so short that researching his entire professional career was a breeze.

“The Zohan” is definitely one of the most unique young prospects I’ve seen, if nothing else. He’s like if you bolted the bottom half of “Wonderboy” to the top half of Abdul Razzak Alhassan; his best weapons are his head kicks, which he uses his 5’10” frame to unleash at unexpected angles and distances. His Brazilian kick in particular is eye-catching and well-disguised. Once he has his opponents hurt, though, it’s time for wound-up haymakers that start somewhere in the Earth’s crust and end with telegraphed hurtin’ bombs to the head or body.

His grappling is a question mark — I’ve seen one (1) takedown out of him, and that was against a guy who was 0-1 coming in.

I’m surprised to see UFC sign him when only one of his professional opponents, Chris Thorne (5-9), had a single win on his record. I get that he’s fun as hell and has the Lauzon connection, but he looks like he needs a lot more seasoning. Heck, at least have him fight someone he can’t march at with his hands at his waist and his head bolt upright before throwing him to the wolves. Though he has the tools to make an impact, I’m concerned about how he’ll deal with adversity.

Opponent: He’s in tough against the durable and relentless Brandon Davis. Davis, beyond being slightly taller than Costa, is too durable to knockout in 80 seconds. We’re going to get a glimpse of both Costa’s gas tank and his adaptability; I think it’s too much, too soon, but the kid’s clearly got talent. It should be fun no matter what happens.

Tape:


Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 236 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:15 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, before the ESPN+ PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 236: “Holloway vs. Poirier 2” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.