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Welcome to the UFC: Merab Dvalishvili and Alex Perez

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Two of the four debuting fighters at UFC Fresno include a Serra-Longo trained Sambo standout and a returning hometown boy eager to represent his valley.

UFC Fight Night: Swanson vs. Ortega will feature four new faces inside the Octagon. The first we will profile were discovered in Dana White’s new and improved scouting efforts, web based shows Looking for a fight and Tuesday Night Contender Series. The first newbie is a young Sambo and Judo expert whose skill set is reminisce of a certain Pride great. Next is a hometown hero who has taken no short cuts on his grueling path to the Octagon.

Who is Merab Dvalishvili?

26-year-old Georgia native (think more Yakov Smirnoff, less Ray Charles) Merab Dvalishvili earned his Octagon debut by making the most out of his “Looking For a Fight” opportunity. Merab’s reality show debut opponent was undefeated, highly regarded Roufusport prospect Raufeon Stotts, in what many viewed as a showcase fight for Stotts. However, Merab had other plans and put a halt to the Stotts hype train just fifteen seconds into the first-round with a spinning backfist. The victory was also his first defense of the Ring of Combat bantamweight title, the New Jersey-based promotion where Merab has fought the majority of his pro fights. Dvalishvili moved to the states from his old Soviet Bloc home five years ago and has trained with the Serra-Longo fight team since his arrival.

What you should expect?

Merab’s base is in Sambo and Judo, much like “The Last Emperor” Fedor Emelianenko, and if you asked me for a style comparison I would say Fedor is a fair one. Dvalishvili enters striking exchanges with looping hooks and works for trips and throws when in the clinch. On the mat he throws very heavy, Fedor-esque ground-and-pound. He also times his energy expenditure extremely well, exploding in key situations while making sure he doesn’t empty out his tank. Being one hundred pounds lighter than Fedor. you can expect more timely explosions from the lively bantamweight. Not to crown Merab “The Next Last Emperor,” but his skill set is impressive. and with the guidance of Matt Serra and one Raymond Peter Longo, the ceiling of this young European fighter is sky-high.

What this means for his debut?

Merab is matched up with six-time UFC veteran Frankie Saenz , who has dropped his last three Octagon appearances after coming away victorious in his first three. The difficult debut gives you an idea of the lofty expectations matchmaker Mick Maynard has for Dvalishvili. Saenz’s main weapon is his wrestling, and with his back up against the wall you can expect him to go to it early and often. Merab has great hips and is eleven years the junior of the 37-year-old Saenz, a stat that will become important in the later rounds. He will be able defend most of the takedowns and outstrike the former ASU wrestler en route to a successful Octagon debut. Dvalishvili Unanimous Decision

Don’t blink or you will miss Merab’s :15 spinning backfist KO of Raufeon Stotts:

Who is Benito Lopez?

25 year old-Team Oyama fighter Alex Perez has paid his dues in the sport, already fighting twenty-two times prior to this hometown debut. The California-based fighter nabbed his contract by choking out powerful wrestler Kevin Gray with an anaconda choke in the first-round of their Contender Series bout. Perez has already collected multiple accolades in his young career, capturing the Tachi Palace flyweight title back in 2015, and is widely considered one of the best lighter weight fighters in the California circuit. Toggling back-and-forth between bantamweight and flyweight, Perez feels he can do the most damage at 125, where he hopes to someday fight his idol Demetrious Johnson.

What you should expect?

Perez was a standout wrestler at Lemoore High and has parlayed that wrestling experience into an impressive MMA career thus far. Despite his origins, Perez is no one trick pony, he has been transformed into a complete fighter by legendary trainer Colin Oyama. His striking is very upright, allowing him to stay long and land hard in clinches in the same fashion as training partner and emerging bantamweight Marlon Vera. The wrestling will obviously be a strong point, but his submission defense has been shaky, losing three fights via the sub. After back-to back-losses to UFC vets Adam Antolin and Jared Papazian, Perez recommitted himself to the sport moving down to SoCal full-time and dedicating all of his waking hours to fighting. Since the move, Perez has gone 5-0 and his future in the Octagon is promising.

What this means for his debut?

Perez will tango with 21-year-old Filipino prodigy Carls John de Tomas who came up short in a decision loss to Naoki Inoue. This match up will have Fight of the Night potential if it stays on the feet, but overall Perez is the more experienced, more technical, and overall more polished fighter. De Tomas is durable and will hang tough but there is no reason to think he will win a round. Perez Unanimous Decision

Check out Perez’s beautiful anaconda choke on Dana White’s Contender Series: