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Welcome to the UFC: Pedro, Volkanovski, & Lausa

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A new light heavyweight talent, a new flyweight, and a new lightweight make their UFC debuts in Melbourne, Australia.

Welcome to the UFC

The UFC is in a bit of a “developmental events” stretch. Between last week’s doubleheader, this week’s Melbourne fight card, next week’s TUF finale, and UFC Albany, there are a lot of fights going on with very little name value. On the flip side, that also means a lot of chances for young fighters to win big and stand out against their peers. In Australia this week, there are three fighters looking that opportunity square in the face for the first time. Light heavyweight Tyson Pedro makes his debut against fellow prospect Khalil Rountree. Flyweight Jenel Lausa faces off against Yao Zhikui. And lightweight Alex Volkanovski takes on Yusuke Kasuya. So...

Who is Tyson Pedro?

The 24-year-old Aussie comes to the UFC fighting out of Lions HPC, where he trains with UFC vet James Te-Huna and alongside Arlene Blencowe, and new UFC signee Tai Tuivasa. Pedro will enter the UFC with a 4-0 (possibly 5-0) record, having won all fights by stoppage, with 1 (possibly 2) KOs and 3 submissions. All of his last four bouts have ended in the first round. Other than his last bout against fellow prospect Steven Warby, Pedro’s record is exactly what you’d expect for a young fighter in the first years of his career. Outside of MMA, he has backgrounds in Karate and boxing before moving to BJJ more recently.

What you should expect:

Pedro’s definitely got the look of an exciting talent about him. His time as an amateur boxer shows heavily in his footwork, upper body movement, and tight punching form. It’s unclear how well this will translate into a kicking game or into takedown defense, especially given the general lack of wrestling on the Australian MMA circuit. He honestly reminds me of a greener LHW Joe Duffy, with the same kind of background and, potentially, the same kind of flaws. It should be interesting to see how that game works in the light heavyweight division, where there’s less margin for error when trading power punches.

To go with his striking, Pedro’s takedown game is athletic and powerfully delivered. He may not be the best control fighter in terms of wrestling, but he’s got a great transition BJJ game, and moves exceptionally well on the ground for a man his size.

What this means for his debut:

Rountree is going to be one hell of a test for Tyson Pedro and vice-versa. Rountree is every bit the athlete that Pedro is, with the same blazing handspeed and power. He’s not as well rounded as Pedro, however, and had a lot of trouble dealing with Andrew Sanchez on the ground. But, Sanchez is a much different animal when it comes to takedowns than Pedro - given his long wrestling pedigree - and he was able to work a chain takedown game that Pedro may not have. If Rountree can stuff Pedro’s shots, then this will be a battle of cardio, chin, and hand-speed. I might pick Rountree at that point, just because he’s had a couple more hard fights and has a better idea of what to expect. Overall though, this could be a tossup.

To get us better acquainted, here’s Pedro’s 2016 bout with Don Enderman:

Who is Alex Volkanovski?

“The Hulk” is a 26 (as of March 2016) year-old fighter from Freestyle Fighting Gym in New South Wales, Australia and Tiger Muay Thai in Phuket, Thailand. While he’s the first fighter of note from his home camp, Tiger Muay Thai has played host to a number of UFC fighters including Zubaira Tukhugov, Mairbek Taisumov, Nick Hein, and Valentina Shevchenko. Volkanovski will enter the Octagon with a 13-1 record to his name, including wins over vet Rodolfo Marques Diniz, UFC fighter Anton Zafir, and prospects Yusuke Yachi and Jamie Mullarkey. Overall, it’s a very solid record with a good mix of veterans, prospects, and less notable regional competition. Volkanovski also has a strong reputation as a finisher, with 11 of of his 13 wins coming by stoppage. He’s currently on a 10-fight unbeaten streak. Prior to his MMA career, Volkanovski was a national champion wrestler and professional rugby player.

What you should expect:

Wrestling and lots of it. Volkanovski reminds me a bit of recent UFC acquisition Gregor Gillespie, in that he’s a tireless, aggressive, technical wrestler, and also way undersized for his division. Volkanovski has largely fought at 145, but even there he’s small. He’s entering the UFC at lightweight and should probably really consider a drop to bantamweight longterm. Standing just 5’ 5” his striking game is surprisingly sharp and powerful even from distance, with good hooks and a nice overhand. But, it’s not deep and as the fight goes on, it can fade away altogether.

Fortunately, even when Volkanovski’s striking game fades, his wrestling is still there. He’s got a good shot from outside and a great chain wrestling game even if that first shot fails. He’s aggressive in his pursuit of doubles and singles and knows how to turn the corner. Despite being outsized, he’s also got a decent control and ground and pound game. He shows a great knack for finding positions to work, or if he gets in bad positions, scrambling back to safety. Add in a nose for transition striking and clinch work and he’s a tough fighter to out-last.

What this means for his debut:

This is largely a good matchup for Volkanovski. Kasuya is a dangerous grappler with some decent power in his hands, but he has the Japanese fighter problem of tending to drift through bouts with only brief bursts of offense. This is especially true of his grappling, where he will rarely engage unless he’s already been hurt or taken down. That’s going to give Volkanovski a lot of opportunities to lead the fight. As long as he defends well and keeps his control game tight, he should win here.

To get us better acquainted, here’s his 2016 bout with Jamie Mullarkey:

Who is Jenel Lausa?

“The Demolition Man” is a 28-year-old fighter out of Team Insider Boxing Gym in Makati, Philippines. He’s coming to the UFC with a 6-2 record, having also won the PXC flyweight title. His last bout - to win the belt - is also his most notable, as he took a split decision over notable PXC vet and former bantamweight champion Crisanto Pitpitunge. It’s also worth noting that of his two career losses, Lausa has avenged one of them, KOing Ernesto Montilla Jr. in 2015. Outside of MMA, Lausa has competed as a professional boxer, with a 7-0 record and the interim Philippine Boxing Federation super bantamweight title to his name.

What you should expect:

True to his background, Lausa is very much a boxer. He tends to stalk with a high guard and tight footwork, looking to land big power shots in swarms. Otherwise, while he’s not a bad technical striker, he has a habit of waiting on his opponent and not setting up his entries as he moves into the pocket. He throws a lot of hard single strikes that leave him open for counters if he doesn’t land clean.

His tendency to lean into his strikes puts him in a bad position to defend takedowns, but his athletic ability and fast footwork means he’s not at a complete loss there. Perhaps the biggest problem for Lausa as a wrestler and grappler is size. As a boxer he competed at 122lbs and even in his last bout, announcers noted he didn’t have much weight to cut. So while Lausa is an athletic scrambler and occasionally shows some ability to stuff shots, he can be out-muscled. He does drive well for his own power double-legs and is aggressive from top positions, but that also means he doesn’t hold those positions all that well.

What this means for his debut:

Lausa should, frankly, be able to beat Zhikui. The Chinese fighter isn’t a bad athlete, and he’s a very willing wrestler, but he’s not a commanding technical force and most of his only UFC win to date had more to do with an opponent who had no clue how to pressure or command range at all. As long as Lausa can scramble and as long as he’s willing to throw standing, he should win this fight. If he can’t stop himself from giving up control and position then Zhikui will be there to win rounds, but it’s a fight Lausa is full capable of winning.

To get us better acquainted, here’s his most recent bout against Crisanto Pitpitunge at PXC 51: