After an absolute torrent of newcomers in recent events, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has limited itself to just three newbies for its show this weekend (Sat., March 11, 2023) inside The Theater at Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas, Nevada. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series that consumes my waking hours like no other, we check out a trio of Contender Series graduates. As always, all episodes of the most recent Contender Series season can be found on ESPN+.
Vitor “Icao” Petrino
Weight Class: Light Heavyweight
Record: 7-0 (6 KO)
Notable Victories: Rodolfo Bellato, Gadzhimurad Antigulov
Petrino followed his 3-1 amateur career with a 6-0 pro start, capped off by a knockout of UFC veteran Gadzhimurad Antigulov. His efforts carried him to Contender Series, where he survived an early knockdown to stop former amateur foe Rodolfo Bellato and claim a UFC contract.
The 6’2” Petrino may be a student of grappling ace and UFC veteran Cristiano Marcello, but he’s here to swang and bang. He loves nothing more than to square his shoulders and wing high-speed bombs with both hands until someone falls over. When forced to actually fight properly, though, he can be remarkably mobile and light on his feet as he potshots from various angles. Some of his favorite strikes include a variety of uppercuts, including Anderson Silva-style up-elbows, and the heavy uppercut that floored Antigulov and which he likes following with his devastating left hook.
Even at his most composed, though, he’s still plenty hittable thanks to limited upper-body and head movement, unsafe shot selection like those uppercuts, and a tendency to drop his off-hand when throwing. While his chin is generally rock-solid, he did get floored by a hand trap-right straight from Bellato, so he’s not invincible.
To his credit, he showed some flashes of technical progress in the second round of that fight. Beyond the aforementioned footwork, I’ve seen him do some really nice work with no-windup lead rights and quick jabs. I’m reasonably optimistic that even if his coaches don’t iron him into a proper technician, which would honestly be to his detriment considering his physical abilities, they can ultimately build a cohesive game.
While the power is what catches the eye, I came away extremely impressed with his hips. He’s incredibly difficult to take down, as the wrestle-happy Antigulov quickly learned, and is adept at getting back to his feet if he’s caught unawares. His submission defense appears stout as well; he slammed his way out of a Bellato triangle and avoided an arm triangle after getting dropped.
If he ends up on top, he can put impressive leverage behind his ground-and-pound. His willingness to let Bellato back to his feet suggests that he’d rather just trade, though.
Even if Petrino’s too wild to be champion material, there’s a lot to like about him. He’s powerful, aggressive, entertaining, and surprisingly sharp at keeping the fight in his wheelhouse. Those hips will be crucial in his debut against late-notice replacement Anton Turkalj, who’s extremely hittable but can turn a fight into a slog if given half the chance.
Weight Class: Heavyweight
Record: 7-1 (3 KO)
Notable Victories: Jimmy Lawson
Williams stepped up in weight on short notice to battle Penn State wrestling standout Jimmy Lawson on Contender Series. Though he entered as a slight underdog, he wound up out-grappling Lawson for a UFC contract and his fourth consecutive victory.
Williams was apparently a decorated multi-sport athlete in his youth, and seeing him in action, it’s easy to believe. Whether fighting at 205 or as a trim, mid-230s Heavyweight like against Lawson, he’s clearly a specimen with incredible strength and speed.
That versatility also extends to his fighting ability. On the feet, he relies on his lightning-quick hands to deliver stabbing jabs, 1-2s, and sharp hooks, though he’ll also fire teeps and leg kicks as needed. If he wants to change gears, he has a powerful double-leg that Lawson proved entirely unable to deal with. Even if he can’t hold people down, he showed against Kyle Wright three fights back that he’s strong and persistent enough to stay attached via body lock and repeatedly muscle them back to the mat as many times as needed.
Though not the most active ground-and-pounder, he definitely knows how to do damage with elbows.
As far as weaknesses, he doesn’t check low kicks and can have issues trying to take dominant position. He repeatedly failed to get to Wright’s back or keep him down for any length of time, and when he tried to jump onto Lawson’s back after prolonged success in half guard, he got swept. For someone that had his first amateur fight just four years ago, though, he’s remarkably seasoned.
The only real red flag is that he started late and is already 33, though that admittedly isn’t old for a UFC big man. His physical tools jump off the page and he’s putting together some solid technical backing. I can see him doing well for himself at either 205 or 265, and I definitely favor him over debut opponent Lukasz Brzeski.
Sedriques “The Reaper” Dumas
Weight Class: Middleweight
Record: 7-0 (4 KO, 2 SUB)
Notable Victories: Matej Penaz
“The Reaper” won nine of 10 amateur bouts in less than 28 months before turning pro in 2020. He proceeded to make his name fighting in Jorge Masvidal’s myriad promotions to set up a Contender Series opportunity, which saw him choke out Matej Penaz in less than one minute.
As you’d probably expect from Dumas’ lanky 6’2” build, kicks comprise the bulk of his striking offense. He’s one of the rare mixed martial artists with a stoppage win each via leg kick, body kick, and head kick. While he’s often busiest with the traditional low kicks, he can bring his lead leg up remarkably quickly for front or roundhouse kicks, like the shin upside the dome that felled DeWitt Dixon three fights back.
It’s best not to ignore his hands, though, particularly the nasty straight right he used to knock out Mario Mancillas. He can use it on the counter as well, as seen when he buzzed Aaron Highbaugh in his lone pro trip to the judges. That said, he did seem to have issues when Highbaugh really put the pressure on, electing to trade rather than try and regain distance. As potent as the right hand is, I’d like to see him use more jabs to keep opponents honest and better lateral movement, as I don’t think his infighting or boxing in general can hold up against a UFC-caliber striker on the attack.
What bailed him out against Highbaugh was a surprisingly strong grappling game. Beyond the clinch takedown that set up the finish against Penaz, he’s shown off excellent scrambling skills, especially when using his long limbs to unbalance people off of his back. He utilized solid control and opportunistic passing to shut Highbaugh down on the mat, plus heavy elbows and punches on top and in transition.
If those don’t do the trick, there’s always his nasty guillotine.
Dumas’ kicking skills, stopping power, and dynamism on the ground make him a worthy addition to the UFC roster, though he’ll need to do a better job at keeping his preferred distance and rounding out his boxing. Worst comes to worst, I still see him doing decently well for himself. As for his debut, Josh Fremd is significantly tougher than original foe Abu Azaitar, though Dumas has a good shot if he can make his wrestling work.
His iKon FC fights are on Fight Pass.
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