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Jalin Turner is the fighter to watch at UFC 276

Jalin Turner puts his four-fight stoppage streak on the line against Brad Riddell at UFC 276

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Jalin Turner made his UFC debut opposite Vicente Luque. He was 23 years old and had a pro record of 7-3 with seven first-round finishes. Turner took the fight on short notice at 170 pounds, instead of competing at his usual weight of 155 pounds. Three months before he accepted the Luque matchup, Turner failed to earn a UFC contract on the Dana White Contender Series despite his first-round TKO win (doctor stoppage) over Max Mustaki. The two fighters who won White awarded contracts on that card, Bevon Lewis and Jordan Espinosa, are no longer with the UFC.

Turner looked good against Luque, who was a -900 favorite in the bout. He was confident in his striking, composed when he got tagged, slick with his counters and varied in his technique. However, Luque’s power proved to be too much for Turner, as he caught his opponent with a counter while Turner’s defenses were down after he landed a spinning elbow. The fight ended at the 3:52 mark of the first stanza.

Following his loss to Luque, Turner flew from California to Australia to put in 53 seconds of work inside the octagon. Turner, who returned to lightweight for the event, ran over Callan Turner and scored a 53-second knockout courtesy of his striking.

UFC matchmakers then booked Turner opposite Matt Frevola. Turner’s striking was effective in this bout, but Frevola took advantage of the moments when the fight went to the mat. Turner’s composure might have hurt him in this matchup. His sense of urgency was lacking on the feet and with Frevola’s striking defense being above average, Turner failed to turn the tide of the fight in his favor while the two were standing. Frevola won the bout via decision.

A return to the Southern Hemisphere for Turner followed the Frevola loss. Turner earned a fairly easy win in that outing. After his dominant second-round finish of Josh Culibao, I noted that as impressive as Turner looked in his first two UFC wins; they did not come against what one would consider top-notch UFC competition.

Back in the states for his next fight, Turner once again showed off his striking, which was relaxed and effective. However, it was his grappling skills that earned him a second-round submission over an outmatched — and no longer with the UFC — Brok Weaver.

At UFC 266, the UFC matchmakers pitted Turner against Uros Medic who was coming off a “Performance of the Night” bonus-winning stoppage of Aalon Cruz. He was also 7-0 with seven stoppage wins. The booking felt like a test to see which rising lightweight would get a push from the UFC machine in the contest’s aftermath. The pre-fight odds favored Medic.

Turner showed in this fight that while he is primarily a striker, he was developing — and not afraid to employ — a ground game. Nevertheless, what stood out in this fight was Turner’s fight IQ. He hurt Medic with body strikes while the two were standing. Instead of head-hunting for a finish in that situation, something we have seen countless other fighters do, Turner mixed up body and head strikes to break the will of his opponent and set up a submission win before the end of the first round.

After the win, Turner gave credit to Frevola for the progress of his grappling game.

“Remember when I fought Matt Frevola?” He asked UFC commentator Daniel Cormier. “He was telling me, my grappling was off and I worked on it… I’m trying to be well-rounded. I want to be a champion one day. I told you all that. I’m working towards it.”

In March, Turner faced Jamie Mullarkey, who was on a run of two straight knockout wins. Turner’s composure during competition had been noted prior to this contest, but that calmness was even more obvious in this scrap because of his ability to remain in control while under fire from the heavy strikes of Mullarkey. Turner kept his winning — and finishing — streaks intact with a second round knockout win over Mullarkey.

The 27-year-old Turner has yet to break into the official UFC lightweight rankings, but that could change on Saturday when he faces the No. 14 ranked Brad Riddell at the top of the ABC portion of the UFC 276 fight card.

Riddell entered the UFC lightweight rankings at No. 12 following his IFC 263 win over Drew Dober. Following that “Fight of the Night” winning scrap, Riddell faced Rafael Fiziev in December. Fiziev scored a third-round knockout in that bout. The loss, the first knockout defeat of Riddell’s career, ended the 30-year-old New Zealander’s seven-fight winning streak. The setback also dropped Riddell to No. 13 in the 155-pound rankings.

Turner is confident that his striking and developing ground game gives him an advantage over Riddell.

“I think I’m one of the highest-level strikers,” Turner told MMA Junkie ahead of Saturday’s fight card. “I have to go against high-level strikers and showcase that, so we’ll see on that night who’s a better striker. And even if it goes into a grappling exchange, I feel like I’m the better grappler, also. So I’m pretty confident wherever the fight goes, and it’s just another step up.

“Brad’s tough. Honestly, I never really go for spectacular finishes – they just happen. I just go in there and try to be basic, but I just have a niche for picking people’s flaws apart. I’ve been studying him a while, so we’ll see. I’ve got a few things up my sleeve, got a lot of composure, diligence for this guy, and we’ll see on fight night.”

Turner is still young enough to bounce back from a defeat and work his way back into the lightweight mix. However, in a sport like MMA where cage time can have many negative effects, it’s always better to take the shortest route possible to the top of the division. Getting past a fighter like Riddell puts Turner on the path to tangling with the elite of the division.

Turner has looked very good during his time with the UFC, but Riddell is his first big test with the promotion. During his rise, Turner has looked like excellent. He has power, footwork, grappling, length, height, composure, good fight IQ and the smarts to know what aspects of his game are fully developed and what he and his team need to work on and shore up. With a win on Saturday, Turner moves from fighter to watch to top-15 UFC lightweight.