Two major prospect signings for the UFC today as they pick up a featherweight replacement for the injured Mike Wilkinson in Berlin and a new light heavyweight talent for their long stagnating 205 division. First off, when Wilkinson went down with an injury just over a week out from his fight with Alan Omer, many wondered if the fight would just be scrapped altogether. After all, that was the fate of Uriah Hall vs. Krzysztof Jotko when Hall was forced out with last second visa issues. Fortunately, the UFC was able to find a new FW talent in Arnold Allen for a short notice bout. Announced on the same day, as MMA Odds Breaker scooped, is longtime light heavyweight prospect Misha Cirkunov, with a multi-fight UFC deal. No debut date or opponent has been announced for him as of yet, but...
Who is Arnold Allen?
The 21-year old English fighter comes to the UFC training out of BKK Fighters in Essex, England. The camp is the home of longtime regional vet Jack Mason as well as a stable of rising young fighters. Allen is the latest to make the leap to the big show, following Luke Barnatt and John Maguire, and does so on the back of a 9-1 record. It's not full of "big" wins, with his most notably opponent, Marcin Wrzosek, giving him his only loss, but he has wins over other rising fighters like Doni Miller and Gaetano Pirrello to round out a solid resume. While Arnold himself is an MMA native, he's also a second generation fighter, following his father Pacer Allen's short career. Prior to MMA his father was also a travelling strongman. We had Allen as the top fighter who just missed the cut to the top 10 of our FW prospects list for the Bloody Elbow scouting report, but other outlets have had him ranked much higher.
What you should expect:
The fundamental foundation of Allen's MMA game is his grinding pressure grappling and ground and pound. He's not a bad striker, with a basic 1-2 straight combination punching game, but he's yet to show himself as a very complex striker either, mostly popping off the occasional combination to judge timing and distance on his way to the clinch and the body lock. It's in tight that Allen both tends to excel and get stuck a bit. He's great at controlling opponents against the cage, wearing on them, trapping them, but he's more focused on control than he is damage in the position and really grinds people there. He prefers to use trips and drags from the body lock, rather than outside shots, but he's got a nicely technical game there and is good at securing top position on the ground where he's an active striker. Because he's so young, he has some filling out to do on his frame and will no doubt be a much bigger featherweight in time, but it'll be interesting to see if he fact that he doesn't cut a lot of weight hurts him early at 145.
What this means for his debut:
Tough to say. Short notice certainly won't do Allen any favors, but considering that he's not known for cutting a lot of weight, it may not hurt him as much as other fighters. His body lock and control games could match up really well with Alan Omer who has struggled at times to keep stronger wrestlers off him, and has been willing to work off his back for extended periods. On the other hand, Omer has shown a lot more pop in his hands and has a lot of experience under his belt. A win for Allen would be huge here, but I expect he'll look good win or lose.
To get us better acquainted, here's his 2014 bout with Gaetano Pirrello:
Who is Misha Cirkunov?
Fans of the Bloody Elbow Scouting Report have been hip to Misha Cirkunov for quite a while now. Leland and Smoogy highlighted him as a fighter to watch way back in 2012 as their #4 LHW prospect. Three years later and the 28-year old Latvian is still only 5 years into his career and a great pickup for the UFC. Cirkunov moved to Canada at the age of 13 and became one of the country's best young athletes, both in Judo and wrestling. On his way into MMA, Cirkunov began training in BJJ at Xtreme Couture Toronto and took gold in the 2007 ADCC North American trials. He still trains at Xtreme Couture and has logged a 9-2 record on the Canadian regional scene. Cirkunov was supposed to fight for WSOF late in 2014, against Teddy Holder, but the bout never came to fruition. His most notable career win is over UFC vet Rodney Wallace and has generally been taking on a solid level of regional competition lately. Adding to his strong resume, Cirkunov also has true light heavyweight size, standing 6' 4" and with the kind of physique that suggests he's cutting solid weight to get to 205.
What you should expect:
At least as of last year, Cirkunov was still a pretty wooden striker, who one broadcaster familiar with his career said has never really put much focus on his striking. It's too bad, because Cirkunov seems to have some good timing and reflexes and some natural power in his hands. But, with his multi-disciplinary grappling background supporting him, it's not surprising that he's not making a point of becoming a striker. The most important thing for Cirkunov is getting into the clinch, where he has a multitude of ways to bring the fight to the mat. Once there, it's easy to see how almost inhumanly comfortable he is, moving quickly and easily around his opponent as they attempt to struggle away from him.
For a big, strong LHW, he grapples like a lightweight. That's really the essence of his game. Cirkunov is a clinch wrestler with strength and power, who absolutely knows how to move on the mat. He's a dangerous ground and pound artist from multiple angles and uses it to get submission positions. The only thing I'd say to his detriment is that he's so aggressive grappling that he's very willing to give up position for submissions. It's a rare enough skill set in the UFC that it may not cost him as much as it would in other divisions, but it'll be interesting to see if it ends up being a major gap in his game.