It's always good to see talent added to the UFC's thinnest divisions, and today we get two such additions, with the signings of Ashlee Evans-Smith, and Jonathan Wilson. Both fighters will debut at UFC 181, in just under three weeks time. WombatSports.com first reported the signing of Evans-Smtih, who will fill in for the injured Holly Holm against Raquel Pennington. Jonathan Wilson's signing was reported yesterday by the UFC itself. Wislon will be filling in for the injured Gian Villante against recent TUF winner Corey Anderson. So...
Who is Ashlee Evans-Smith?
Fans may remember her most prominently as the only woman to hold a win over Fallon Fox. Otherwise the 27-year old training out of Subfighter MMA will bring a record of 3-0 with her to the Octagon. Apart from her win over Fox, she has a knockout win over Marciea Allen at WSOF earlier this year and beat Jessamyn Duke while fighting on the amateur circuit. It's not a deep record, but in the current state of women's MMA, that could hardly be expected, and her wins so far suggest that she should be competitive on a pretty similar level to Pennington. Outside her MMA career, Evans-Smith has a background as an amateur wrestler and was a four time NAIA All American.
What you should expect:
Evans-Smith is a functional, come-forward kickboxer at range. She throws reasonably decent, straight punches (although she releases from her chest a bit) and mixes them in nicely with leg and body kicks. The upside of having a kickboxing style that constantly pushes her forward is that Evans-Smith really seems to do her best striking work in the clinch. She's great at getting single collar tie and throwing uppercuts, or finding the double and landing knees. She can come in a bit wide open, with both hands out and her head on line when transitioning from distance, so powerful strikers may find opportunities against her there.
Otherwise, for as decent a wrestler as Evans-Smith is, she doesn't seem to have an explosive shot. She's very good at working for takedowns once she's inside, or at controlling the takedown attempts of opponents, but she doesn't seem to be a big threat to just plant her opponents on their back. Likewise, her grappling and ground and pound are very consistent and controlling, placing an emphasis on winning the battle of attrition.
What this means for her debut:
Frankly, the answer may be all about preparation. Evans-Smith has all the basic tools she needs to beat Pennington, who really only does her best work when she has a lot of time at range to strike. Evans-Smith's pressure game, quality wrestling, and controlling grappling all fit pretty nicely together. But, Evans-Smith isn't exactly a dominating athletic force, and if the short notice nature of the bout means that her cardio and fitness aren't where they should be, it's not hard to imagine Pennington rallying in the second and third for a decision win.
To get us better acquainted (and for those that haven't already seen it) here's Evans-Smith's win over Fallon Fox:
Who is Jonathan Wilson?
"Johnny Bravo" as he is also known, is a light heavyweight fighter training out of Millennia MMA, alongside Georgie Karakhanyan, Saad Awad, and Lorenz Larkin. The 26-year old will come to the UFC with a record of 6-0 almost entirely gained through notorious can-crushing organization Gladiator Challenge. That said, I can't hold too much regard over what competition a fighter faces in the first few fights of their career. It's honestly better than it could be, with his opponents holding an overall record of 5-9 at the time he faced them. To his credit as well, Wilson does have a pretty strong 7-0 unbeaten amateur career before going pro.
What you should expect:
Wilson is a decent power striker coming forward. He doesn't tend to string together combinations, but throws reasonably technical one-off strikes with quite a bit behind them. He doesn't appear to have as much to offer fighting off his back foot, and can off balance himself a bit, with his lack of technical footwork. Otherwise, when given the opportunity, Wilson throws some good knees in the clinch, but isn't a great infighter or takedown artist. Once he's got an opponent on the ground however, his powerful ground and pound definitely stands out as something to watch out for.
What this means for his debut:
It'd just be foolish to say that Wilson doesn't have a puncher's chance here. Anderson's striking is still tentative and ugly. Wilson has exactly the kind of one-off power that could wobble Anderson and make this a dangerous fight. It doesn't necessarily help Anderson either, that he trains out of a pretty small camp (although it's one that did provide us with Brian Foster). Eventually, though, it is just a punchers chance, because Anderson is the much more well schooled wrestler and grappler and has shown a lot more aptitude for that part of his game. It's honestly about as close as we can get to the stereotypical wrestler vs. striker matchup in modern MMA.
To get us better acquainted, here's Wilson's pro debut against Ethan Cox, just last year: