The horde of Octagon newcomers swells even further this Saturday (March 18, 2023) when UFC returns to The O2 in London, England. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series that demands a level of tape-watching that would have killed JaMarcus Russell instantly, we check out a sextet of newbies with just four losses between them.
Chris “The Problem” Duncan
Weight Class: Lightweight
Record: 9-1 (7 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Charlie Campbell
Two knockouts in Bellator earned Duncan a shot on Contender Series, where he suffered a knockout loss to Viacheslav Borshchev. After a get-well win in London, he returned to the program to face Charlie Campbell, roaring back from a disastrous start to knockout “The Cannibal” and claim a UFC contract.
Duncan is a powerful, fundamentally sound kickboxer at heart, working behind a steady jab to set up heavy straight rights and powerful roundhouse kicks. While occasionally prone to throwing spinning techniques or lunging hooks, he’s at his best when pressuring with conventional techniques. He does have some nice wrinkles, though, from his stabbing front kick to the body to his knack for landing well on the break.
It’s an effective, deliberate sort of offense held back by his general lack of speed and weirdly consistent propensity for getting caught coming in. I’ll admit that I can harp too much on defense at times and need to acknowledge that you can’t avoid every punch, but Duncan gets countered a lot. While him being slow and linear in his approach is part of it, he can also try to get fancy right in people’s faces. For example, Borshchev’s death hook landed because Duncan pulled a punch while stepping in and switching stance, and he went for a big telegraphed point-blank low kick against Campbell.
That wasn’t what got him rocked, to be fair — that happened when he threw a lunging hook and got smashed with a cross counter. Still, those aren’t the kinds of techniques you can safely use without misdirection, especially when you’re not that elusive. He needs to either feint more or employ different angles.
He does have a solid double-leg as backup, however, and can do good work with elbows on top. I can’t speak to his takedown defense, as his last three opponents have all been strikers.
“The Problem” peaks at “action fighter,” methinks. His power, toughness and offensive craft are enough to carry him past some UFC Lightweights, but he’ll quickly hit his ceiling against faster, more technically adept strikers. I do think he’ll do well in his debut, however; though Omar Morales looked like a million bucks on Contender Series, he’s yet to really find his footing in the Octagon, and he’ll give Duncan the striking battle he wants.
Sam “The Future” Patterson
Weight Class: Lightweight
Record: 10-1-1 (4 KO, 5 SUB)
Notable Victories: Vinicius Cenci, Kamil Magomedov, Felipe Silva
Unbeaten since his second professional fight, Patterson racked up five straight wins over the Brave CF banner en route to a 2022 Contender Series opportunity against Vinicius Cenci. Though he suffered an early knockdown, Patterson ultimately submitted “Chambinho” and walked away with a UFC contract.
In the vein of other gangly United Kingdom exports like Rhys McKee, “The Future” is a big lad at 6’3” and boasts a 78-inch reach to go along with it. He’s at his most comfortable circling at a distance, whacking away with low kicks and one-two combinations from outside his opponent’s range. If his legs can’t keep him out of danger, he’s shown off some solid counters, like the step-back check hook that knocked UFC veteran Felipe Silva into next week. That said, he’s generally more about output and attrition than huge one-hit kills and has the cardio to make that work.
He does, however, also have a lot of Tall Guy Problems. His defense relies on him being out of range, so he doesn’t protect his face or body much once opponents actually get inside. This issue is compounded by a tendency to really lean in with his one-two combinations instead of staying at a distance, plus a habit of bringing his jab and right hand back at his waist.
This was on full display against Cenci. As Cenci charged in with overhand lefts, Patterson tried more than once to plant his feet and come back with one-two combinations, only to get caught over and over with those lefts before hitting the deck. Kamil Magomedov repeatedly clipped him with left hands as well, so there’s a clear roadmap to reaching his chin.
On the ground, his big ol’ noodle arms are his best weapon. He has a nasty guillotine that accounts for three of his five submissions, and even if it’s not there, he can use the threat of the front choke to take the back as he did against Cenci. His wrestling, on the other hand, seems somewhat middling. Magomedov, in particular, got him down more than once before Patterson found the guillotine.
He moves well on the mat overall and knows what he’s doing off of his back, but an ounce of prevention and all that.
Patterson’s gas tank and ground skills are solid enough and there are definitely UFC Lightweights he can beat on the feet just based on his dimensions. I just don’t see him getting near contention in the Octagon, especially not against power punchers who can handle his pace and length. He won’t get a number next to his name, though he should be able to find debut foe Yanal Ashmoz’s neck.
Yanal “Red Fox” Ashmoz
Weight Class: Lightweight
Record: 6-0 (3 KO, 2 SUB)
Notable Victories: Dennis Hughes, Ryan Rizco
After scoring a pair of knockout wins in Ring of Combat and Cage Fury FC, Ashmoz signed onto the 2022 PFL Challenger Series. He emerged victorious against Dennis Hughes in his first trip to the judges, but was passed up for a contract in favor of Bruno Miranda.
You’ll see your share of flying and spinning kicks from him, but Ashmoz’s best asset is his ground-and-pound. He’s absolutely relentless on top, both with short punches and elbows while playing tight and with freakishly accurate shots while postured, standing, or keeping his hips elevated. Whether in a dominant position or punishing his opponents as they try to work their way to their feet, he’s doing damage at every opportunity, especially with his knee to the body.
Getting in position to do so is more of a mixed bag. He’s got a variety of clinch takedowns, most notably the inside trip, but is very prone to getting taken down in return. Admittedly, he’s not the easiest man to control, but he can’t rely on just getting out of bad positions and out-lasting fellow wrestlers in the Octagon.
I do also want to point out that he grabbed the fence more than once in the footage I saw, which is worth keeping an eye on.
As for his stand up, he fights out of a low, square stance, tossing out a variety pack of kicks and looping hooks/overhands from either stance. He loves mixing it up on the inside, though for my money his best asset is his no-telegraph straight right. Fairly standard slugger stuff that mixes fairly well with his clinch, in need of tightening but overall effective.
Ashmoz is going to have plenty of success against people he can take down and who can’t handle his pace and aggression. His wrestling and striking aren’t quite technical enough to hold up in the Octagon, though, so I see him settling in the lower-middle portion of UFC’s Lightweight division. He figures to have a tough time with fellow debutant Sam Patterson on Saturday.
Jafel “Pastor” Filho
Weight Class: Flyweight
Record: 14-2 (5 KO, 8 SUB)
Notable Victories: Roybert Echeverria, Vinicius Salvador
Nearly 31 months after pounding out future Contender Series graduate, Vinicius Salvador, Filho ended his layoff with a first-round submission of Dayvison Silva. This set up his own Contender Series opportunity, which saw him knock out Roybert Echeverria to claim a UFC contract.
Filho’s primary weapon is his grappling, which is every bit as potent as you’d expect from a Nova Uniao-trained product. His transitions are slick, he constantly threatens submissions, and his balance is great. As Laura Sanko pointed out on the Contender Series broadcast, he’s particularly adept at taking the back and playing backpack as he chases the rear-naked choke, which accounts for six of his eight submissions.
He doesn’t appear to have any noteworthy weaknesses on the ground, though he’s not impossible to out-scramble. Getting it there doesn’t seem to be an issue, either, thanks to his extremely dogged wrestling attack. He’s got a decent level change, but where he shines is in the chain-wrestling. He’ll haul opponents around the cage, constantly fighting for better grips or trip finishes. Of note is his preference for lifting from the rear waist lock, a technique he utilized more than once against Echeverria.
As for his stand up, it’s solid when he gets into gear. He can be prone to just chucking out naked kicks from either side, which gave Echeverria plenty of countering opportunities. As the fight progressed, however, he got better at putting together rushing combinations with kicks as punctuation. He can still be a bit too direct, lacking head movement or any real answer for leg kicks, but he’s got enough power in his hands to be a threat.
Filho’s just a quality operator overall, a genuinely high-level grappler with enough tricks to be effective on the feet. Though he lacks a real “wow” factor and has some defensive flaws, he should do well for himself in UFC’s Flyweight division. He’ll start on a sour note, though, as Muhammad Mokaev’s wrestling is too much for him to handle unless “Pastor” can snatch up his neck in transition.
Gabriel “Mosquitinho” Santos
Weight Class: Featherweight
Record: 10-0 (3 KO, 4 SUB)
Notable Victories: Jose Delano, Marcio Barbosa, Elves Brener
Eight fights into his pro career, “Mosquitinho” claimed his first regional title by beating Elvis Silva for the Future MMA Featherweight strap. Next came a run in LFA that saw him score two knockouts to win their Featherweight tournament and emerge as champion.
Santos could be summarized as a versatile, high-pressure switch-hitter. Though comfortable from either stance, he seems most comfortable fighting southpaw, firing quick volleys of straight punches and thudding roundhouse kicks. His straight left in particular is fast, accurate, and powerful, especially when thrown as a counter. He won’t overwhelm you with speed or one-shot power, but strong fundamentals and grit can let him really put the hurt on as fights progress.
As much as he likes to mix it up, though, he’s far from indestructible. An ill-advised spinning elbow allowed Marcio Barbosa to nearly knock him stiff with an overhand right and a more squeamish ref could have stopped the fight on several occasions as a clearly damaged Santos tried to brawl his way back into the mix. To his credit, he did ultimately turn things around and put Barbosa away with a head kick, and he was a fair bit more measured against the dynamic Delano save for some jumping knee attempts.
Essentially, he’s lethal as long as he stays composed. He sure doesn’t seem to like getting kicked in the leg, though.
If he doesn’t like what he’s seeing on the feet, he’s shown off a solid level change that he can finish via single- or double-leg. Nothing overwhelming, but definitely solid. He passes well and is quick to take the back in pursuit of the RNC, which accounts for all four of his submission victories.
Though he’s active off his back and willing to chase armbars, he did spend quite a while stuck beneath Elves Brener four fights back in 2020. That said, he seemed to have exhausted himself fairly early in that fight after a super-aggressive start and has shown off much better cardio since, so I’m not going to hold it against him.
Santos doesn’t have any standout weaknesses, but I do think he’ll need to sharpen his wrestling if he wants to rise above the middle of the pack. While both his striking and grappling are quality, they’re not individually enough to carry him into contention on their own, and developing his takedowns such that he can switch between them as needed will be key.
That’s likely to be the deciding factor in his debut against the more dynamic and powerful Lerone Murphy. “The Miracle” has struggled off of his back before, but I’m not convinced Santos can consistently get him there.
His LFA bouts are on Fight Pass.
Christian Leroy Duncan
Weight Class: Middleweight
Record: 7-0 (5 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Marian Dimitrov, Djati Melan, Will Currie
Duncan put together 17 wins in 23 amateur bouts before joining the paid ranks in 2020. He’s spent the entirety of his pro career in Cage Warriors, winning and defending its Middleweight title in 2022.
The 6’2” Duncan is certainly one of the more distinct fighters to emerge from the British scene. He’s all about constant motion; bouncing, circling, switching stances, offbeat upper-body twitching, you name it. He uses his height to pound away with kicks at a distance, from his reliable front kick to more esoteric techniques like ax kicks and tornado kicks, but is also happy to float in with hard punches or one of many flying knees.
Especially keep an eye out for his spinning back fist/elbow to clubbing right hand sequence. He tried it on Djati Melan and got taken down for it, but it put away Marian Dimitrov last time out.
His issues are (as you might expect from a grab-bag striker) a lack of structure to his stand up and an over-reliance on his legs as defense. He’s got a solid jab when he uses it and can put together some nice combinations, but he’s also prone to huge, dramatic movements that telegraph his attacks days in advance. While he’s certainly fast and fluid, it’s not enough to make up for the fact that he’ll sometimes do full-on crow hops before letting the bigger techniques go.
As for that defense, he keeps his left hand low and either leans or walks away from trouble, which is fine until he stops moving. There was a point against Dimitrov where he stepped in and ate more than a half-dozen punches without bringing his hands up to defend, only coming back with strikes after the combination had ended.
On the grappling side of things, he showed off a functional double-leg against Justin Moore before taking mount, moving to the back, pounding, and choking him out. He’s not so great defensively; Melan kept him on his back for most of the first round, and even when Duncan got wise to the takedowns, he still found himself stuck on the fence for a while. I feel like the telegraphing I mentioned is going to make it extra-hard for him to handle high-level wrestler.
Duncan’s good enough to not be a novelty, but I don’t see him getting past Middleweights with strong grappling or cohesive striking attacks that aren’t cowed by Duncan’s athleticism and unconventional approach. His debut foe, Dusko Todorovic, is a good opening test — the Serb has been overwhelmed by superior athletes before, but is also a capable grinder.
His Cage Warriors bouts are on Fight Pass.
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