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Welcome to the UFC: Ward & Alhassan

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Two new welterweights will make their debuts in Belfast, Northern Ireland this week.

Welcome to the UFC

The UFC’s Belfast show looks like it will be a big platform for new talent looking to make their mark in the promotion. With Alexander Volkov, Jack Marshman, Mark Godbeer, Brett Johns, and Kwan Ho Kwak all set to make their debuts, the UFC has just added another pair of new faces. Welterweights Charlie Ward and Abdul Razak Alhassan were added as a short notice bout after Ward’s initial debut at UFC Albany in December had to be cancelled due to visa issues. Ward and Alhassan will be opening the Belfast event as the first matchup on Fight Pass. So...

Who is Charlie Ward?

SBG Ireland’s Ward is the latest fighter to make the jump to the UFC out of Conor McGregor’s home gym. Along with McGregor, it’s the stomping grounds of current UFC fighters Gunnar Nelson, Aisling Daly, Makwan Amirkhani, and Artem Lobov, making it the primary camp for Irish talent in the promotion. The 35-year old Ward will be entering the Octagon with the somewhat inauspicious record of 3-1, including a win over Joao Carvalho, who died shortly afterward from possible fight-related injuries. Outside of that tragedy, there’s nothing to say about Ward’s career to date. Other than taking a fight - and a loss - to now 20-6 John Phillips in his pro debut, Ward’s fought exactly the kind of opponents you’d expect from a fighter yet to have even 5 pro bouts to his name.

What you should expect:

Ward seems to have two basic settings in the cage, power punching and double leg takedowns. He started his career as more of a brawler (with semi-pro & amateur bouts stretching back to 2010), but has since refined that somewhat to become a more patient, cautious striker. That can mean that he lets opponents tag him up a bit, as he stalks into range, but he fires with enough raw power that he can afford to take two to give one.

Ward’s wrestling isn’t bad, but it’s not particularly connected to his striking. He tends to shoot from way outside without much setup. When he can get his hands connected, he’s incredibly strong and can throw opponents to the mats. When he can’t, however, he often ends up having to back out and reset. When he does get takedowns, Ward’s power translates well to a punishing top game focused on landing hard GnP.

To get us better acquainted, here’s some rough video of Ward’s last bout against Gareth Williams (Ward’s the one with the tattoos):

Who is Abdul Razak Alhassan?

“Judo Thunder” is a 31-year old Ghanaian fighter out of team takedown in Texas. The gym has played host to former UFC welterweight champ Johny Hendricks, along with Chas Skelly, Jared Rosholt, and Shane Roller. Much like his opponent, Alhassan will be entering the Octagon with a pretty shallow pro record. He’s 6-0 in his career to date. However, unlike Ward, Alhassan’s wins haven’t just been against other green competition. He’s taken on a number of experienced journeymen, with all his wins via first round KO for his trouble. Even without facing any top talent, Alhassan’s record is very solid for a fighter still in his first 10 pro bouts. Outside of MMA, Alhassan is a long time Judoka, having been a national champion in the sport for Ghana.

What you should expect:

Violence. Plain and simple. Abdul Razak Alhassan doesn’t do anything by half measures. Despite his Judo background, Alhassan has been more “Thunder” than anything else in the cage. He’s got a slick, power shot heavy striking game that he unleashes with great fluidity. His technique breaks down a bit when he strikes in combination, and his willingness to lead aggressively can make him open to be hit, but his timing, speed, power, and accuracy all make him a fearsome opponent.

His fights have all ended so quickly that I’m not sure how heavily his judo game enters into his style. From what I’ve seen he mostly uses any sort of clinch or grappling game he has to stay on his feet or get up from scrambles. Coupled with his extreme athletic gifts, I wouldn’t be surprised if it makes him harder than expected to take or keep down.

To get us better acquainted, you can see the bulk of his last fight (highlights starting at about 01:48) against Jos Eichelberger at Legacy FC 61 below:

What this means for their debut:

There are going to be two key factors to this fight, one of which I’m certain of, the other of which I’m not. The first is athletic gifts; Alhassan has the advantage there, without question. He’s faster, every bit as powerful, more coordinated, and more diverse in his striking than Ward. The second is chin; that’s a reasonable question mark. Alhassan is probably the more willing brawler at this point, with Ward potentially shifting to a more patient pot-shotting style, but both men are right there to be hit by well timed power strikes. Ward’s lack of footspeed may make that a much easier proposition for Alhassan, but if he gets caught coming in, then Ward probably has the power to KO him. I’m taking Alhassan, for all his intangibles, but this could just be two guys slugging it out until one of them falls down.