It's good to see the UFC finally taking a run at some of their downtrodden divisions. Women's bantamweight and men's light heavyweight are two of the most stagnant places for new talent in the UFC (men's flyweight is right in there too), but both divisions are getting a bit of a kick this week with the signing of two new fighters, or three if you want to consider Cyborg's final move into the UFC ranks as a new. Ion Cutelaba is set to make his light heavyweight debut at UFC Ottawa as announced by MMA Junkie alongside a slew of new bouts for the card. Also making headlines is the addition of a Anna Elmose. The bantamweight will make her debut in Rotterdam on May 8th against Germaine de Randamie. So...
Who is Ion Cutelaba?
The 22-year old Moldovan fighter comes to the UFC training out of Timoshkov Sport Club in Chisinau, Moldova and Combat Sambo Association Moldova. He'll be coming to the UFC with an 11-1 (1 NC) record having fought largely on the central European circuit, almost entirely with WWFC for the past two years. That being what it is, Cutelaba's record is pretty thin. Most of his fights are against .500 journeymen or complete unknowns. he's not exactly can crushing, but his record of 10 first round stoppages (and one in the early second) should be taken with a large grain of salt. His only loss comes against his best opponent, Michal Andryszak, in Cage Warriors, via DQ, so there's not a lot to take from that one way or another. Word on the street is that he was a national Judo and Combat Sambo champ as a teenager, before turning to MMA.
What you should expect:
Well, there's a pretty good chance he's going to start the fight with a spinning backfist, for one. Otherwise, Cutelaba likes to fight as a boxer first and foremost. He's got fast hands, a very aggressive style, and is more than willing to stand in the pocket and try and trade shots. He does an alright job with head movement to defend strikes, but can be a bit straight up and down when he's throwing, tending to pull his head back rather than slipping consistently in combinations. It's something that could get ironed out with time, but might be a big factor against other big punchers at 205.
His wrestling isn't bad when he's in the scramble and he's a pretty solid ground and pound threat, but can really get caught up on the feet looking to throw hands, and doesn't seem to have much takedown defense for reactive shots. Because he's a good athlete with a solid build (6' 1" with huge arms), he can scramble decently off his back to better positions. He does have a strange love of omoplatas from top control as well. I don't know that he'll get that to work in the UFC, but it'll be fun to see him try.
What this means for his debut:
This is tricky. On a skill for skill basis, Cirkunov should take this easy. But Cirkunov is only just starting to show himself as a competent striker, and that's where Cutelaba is dangerous. And unlike past UFC opponents, Cutelaba probably won't look to close Cirkunov down and clinch with him. Does that mean that Cirkunov can't or won't hit a reactive takedown, put Cutelaba on his back and twist one of his limbs off? No. But given Cutelaba's scrambling and his power from range, Cirkunov can't afford to lose out on too many chances. Cirkunov's the favorite, but I could see a big upset.
To get us better acquainted, here's Cutelaba's bout with Vitali Onishchenko:
Who is Anna Elmose?
The 31-year-old Danish fighter will maker her UFC bantamweight debut in Rotterdam, on the back of a 3-0 undefeated record. She's training out of the Rumble Sports gym, home of UFC fighters Nicolas Dalby and Damir Hadzovic, and former UFC vet Mats Nilsson, alongside Invicta featherweight Pannie Kianzad. It's a solid camp producing a lot of high level talent. Her record is about what you'd expect for a 3-0 fighter, which is to say wholly unremarkable, excepting that she's won all her fight via KO, which is likely what's sparked the UFC's interest. Outside of MMA she has a long background in kickboxing and Muay Thai.
What you should expect:
At 5' 3" Elmose is a bit undersized for the division, but given her frame, might not be all that well suited to strawweight. Given her lack of height, however, she's got just about the right style to make it all work. She reminds me a lot of Jessica Andrade, a fast starter who really knows how to put power behind her strikes early. And unlike Andrade, she's got a much deeper technical tool kit to draw from when striking. She does a great job creating frames in the clinch to land knees, elbows, and short punches, and really uses her short, powerful frame to push opponents off balance as they try to stop her knees and elbows.
Somewhat surprisingly, and somewhat like Andrade, Elmose is a little too eager to dive in on takedowns and clinch work, even when she's the superior striker. Her more typical single/double leg takedowns aren't anything special and her top game is a little too dependent on securing hard to get control positions like mounted crucifix. Given that, she could have some trouble adjusting to fighting big, powerful athletes at 135 in the UFC. She did show much more willingness to stay outside in her last fight, including some nice body punching, so that's a good sign for the future.
What this means for her debut:
There are too many questions yet to be answered to make me feel comfortable that Elmose will beat GDR. For one, I'm not sure how well Elmose's cardio will hold up, I'm also unsure of her ability to implement her game consistently against big well rounded athletes. But GDR is also something of a strange case herself. A longtime kickboxer with a long frame who has really struggled with anything other than the most ideal match-ups for her. This fight is probably something of a wash on the ground, with Elmose being the more willing grappler, but not necessarily more able. And while Elmose may have a little more pop in her hands and a more diverse clinch attack, she's giving up so much size against a similarly technical opponent that I'd have to pick GDR to grind out a win.
To get us better acquainted, here's her last fight against Mara Romero Borella (Elmose is in the gladiator shorts):