The second appearance for Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) on ESPN+ will also be its first Brazilian appearance, and as is standard when the world’s largest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion hits South America, there’s a whole mess of new faces. From “Contender Series” veterans to kickboxers, there’s plenty to examine, so let’s get to it.
Sarah “A Treta” Frota
Weight Class: Strawweight
Record: 9-0 (2 KO, 5 SUB)
Notable Victories: Maiara Amanajas
Frota is the only newcomer to get a main card slot. She has fought three times a year since her 2016 debut and laid down an absolute beating on Amanajas on the inaugural episode of “Contender Series:” Brazil.
She’s essentially a plodding left-handed slugger with dangerous grappling to back it up. Her left cross legitimately has a ton of pop in it and she’s got plenty of killer instinct, even if she does have a bad habit of exclusively headhunting with her hands. I haven’t seen a whole lot of her wrestling, but she’s willing to pull guard if needed and has scored more than one submission finish that way.
That’s not the most detailed breakdown I’ve ever written, but there really isn’t all at much to her game. Some dangerous subs and stiff-but-powerful standup are what she offers, and at 31, I’m not sure how much tweaking she can make. The one thing she can presumably fix, however, is her cardio — she was completely gassed going into the second round of the aforementioned SFL bout and looked close to punching herself out against Amanajas. That’s not a shortcoming she can afford to have in what’s a remarkably stacked Strawweight division.
Opponent: Frankly, I think she’s going to get smashed. She has to deal with former Invicta champion Livia Renata Souza, who can hold her own on the feet and outclass Frota on the mat. Once Souza gets her takedowns going, Frota’s gas tank is going to empty in a hurry, and I anticipate her tapping out before the end of the second round.
Anthony “Fluffy” Hernandez
Weight Class: Middleweight
Record: 6-0 (1 KO, 4 SUB)
Notable Victories: Brendan Allan, Jordan Wright (overturned)
Hernandez split his two amateur bouts, then went on to finish his first five professional opponents in less than one round apiece. He utilized strong positional grappling to win a decision over Brendan Allen in his LFA debut, then crushed Jordan Wright in 40 seconds on “Contender Series.”
That was changed to a “No Contest” after Hernandez tested positive for marijuana, but he finds himself in the Octagon regardless.
I sincerely wish LFA would put its fight library online, because the only other footage of Hernandez is of him crushing people in less than five minutes. Based on what I’ve seen, he mixes powerful, swarming punches with a dangerous submission game. Of particular note is his guillotine, which accounts for all four of his submission finishes. He’s shown multiple entries, too, making it the sort of danger one has to keep in mind no matter the current position.
On the wrestling front, I’ve seen him pull off some solid trips. He also showed good submission defense against Allen, escaping a deep leglock, and found his way to mount against the grappling specialist.
Really, all he needs to do is further refine his game and maybe sprinkle some more variety into his boxing. He’s already got the tools to make a solid run.
Opponent: Hernandez has a … unique challenge ahead of him in fellow LFA vet Markus Perez. “Maluko” is a bizarre mix of trippy standup and lethal grappling, likely outclassed on the feet, but dangerous on the mat. Hernandez should have the wrestling to keep it standing and the aggression to win rounds on the scorecards — just don’t blink if it hits the mat.
Weight Class: Flyweight
Record: 15-0 (10 KO, 2 SUB)
Notable Victories: Gisele Moreira, Estefani Almeida
Santos marched through marginal competition on her way to “Contender Series,” a potential Invicta bout with Irene Aldana falling through due to visa issues. She cruised past once-beaten Estefani Almeida in Oct. 2018, earning herself a contract in the process.
Santos is a kickboxer by trade, though not the smashing machine her record would suggest. She’s patient and measured in her approach, boasting a legitimately excellent jab and some heavy leg kicks. She’s content with one-two combinations and check hooks if she can get away with it, she throws decent combos, although her hand speed seems abnormally slow outside of her jab and straight.
I haven’t seen much of her grappling, but she did a good job against Almeida’s sporadic takedown attempts and spent a significant portion of the third round in back mount.
Her issue is that her competition has been, save for the two “significant victories” mentioned above, utter garbage. Eleven of her 15 opponents had losing records or were making their debuts, and it’s telling that she failed to stop three of the four exceptions. Her skills look legit, but I’m going to need to see a lot more from her before I can get a good grasp of her ceiling.
Opponent: Mara Romero Borella surprised many with her upset of Kalindra Faria in her UFC debut, but figures to be outgunned in the striking. Borella’s willingness to wrestle and Santos’ ability to keep her from doing so will determine the outcome.
Jairzinho “Bigi Boy” Rozenstruik
Weight Class: Heavyweight
Record: 6-0 (5 KO)
Notable Victories: Andrey Kovalev
Rozenstruik — following in the footsteps of countrymen like Remy Bonjasky, Melvin Manhoef and Andy Ristie — has assembled a gaudy 76-6 (64 KO) record in kickboxing. He made his MMA debut in 2012, fought once more six months later, and didn’t return to the cage until 2017. He earned his biggest (and only notable) victory in May 2018, taking a split decision over Andrey Kovalev in Rizin, and replaces Dmitry Sosnovskiy on short notice.
He is, indeed, a big(i) boy, standing 6’2” and looking ripped at more than 240 pounds.
Rozenstruik is active and quick on the feet for a man his size, doling out regular helpings of leg kicks and swift punching combinations. As Frank Trigg pointed out in the Kovalev fight, he varies the timing and composition of his offense nicely, using a crisp jab to set up an unpredictable array of striking sequences. Padded record or not, his power seems to be legit, particularly his left hook.
The biggest gripe I have with his stand up is that he’s a little too trigger-happy with his check hook and tends to pull his head back and to the right with worrying regularity.
None of that matters if he can’t grapple, though, and I think the jury’s still out on that. Rozenstruik actually got caught greasing ahead of the Kovalev fight and succumbed to the first takedown attempt without much resistance. He ended up riding out that round from the bottom, unable to get up but avoiding significant ground-and-pound, and proceeded to stuff a gassing Kovalev’s next few attempts. I’d say there are a handful of UFC heavies he could reliably sprawl-and-brawl, but I wouldn’t trust him against a dedicated grinder at this point.
Opponent: He should have a willing dance partner in Junior Albini, who’s coming off of consecutive losses that saw him sleepwalk through a bout with Andrei Arlovski and succumb to Alexey Oleinik’s Ezekiel choke. Albini’s considerably more experienced and does have a couple submissions to his credit, which could offset Rozenstruik’s technical edge on the feet, so I’d agree with the oddsmakers calling this a toss-up.
Weight Class: Flyweight
Record: 14-1 (2 KO, 11 SUB)
Notable Victories: Gustavo Gabriel
Bontorin went undefeated in his first 13 bouts, the only hiccup a bout against Takeshi Kasugai wherein he armbarred his foe off of his back, but because of Pancrase’s rules, had to settle for a “No Contest” due to horribly missing weight. UFC veteran Michinori Tanaka handed him his first defeat in 2017, after which he knocked out Paulo Cesar Cardoso and scored a ridiculous come-from-behind submission of Gustavo Gabriel on “Contender Series.”
I really, really hope that Henry Cejudo’s heroics actually kept the Flyweight division alive, because Bontorin is a top-notch pickup for UFC. The young Brazilian looks to be a complete grappler. Tight kickboxing and versatile takedowns set up an absolutely lethal ground game; of particular note are his balance on the mat and chain wrestling. I’ve seen him hit a suplex while semi-conscious from a right hand to the head and choke his man out seconds later. He looks profoundly difficult to dislodge once he has a grip and demonstrated powerful hips on the defensive side of things.
Losing to Tanaka isn’t too damning for a grappler, as the Japanese grinder has notoriously impenetrable submission defense. The worry comes from that “Contender Series” fight. Gabriel was not a particularly notable technician and still came within spitting distance of knocking Bontorin out in the second round. Bontorin also tried to slug his way out of danger before turning to his wrestling, and while I can understand not wanting to be predictable, Gabriel could have sparked him with a little more patience.
It’s also worth remembering that “high-speed grappler” is already an overcrowded archetype in UFC’s 125-pound division. Bontorin is a terrific young fighter, but he’ll need some way to stand out amongst the pack.
Opponent: Bontorin has the stiffest test of any newbie on the card in Magomed Bibulatov. “Chaborz” was tabbed as a potential heir to the Flyweight throne before getting knocked into oblivion by John Moraga, and his top control is potent enough to shut down Bontorin’s dangerous bottom game. Bibulatov is dealing with a heap of rust, though, so don’t count the Brazilian out.
Geraldo “Espartano” de Freitas
Weight Class: Bantamweight/Featherweight
Record: 11-4 (4 KO, 5 SUB)
Notable Victories: Zeilton Rodrigues, Luciano Benicio
Freitas has won six straight since a rough start to his professional career, picking up victories in quality promotions like Jungle Fight and Shooto Brazil along the way. He claimed the latter’s Bantamweight title in 2017 and has stopped four of those six opponents.
There’s always one guy I can’t find good footage of, and this time it’s “Espartano.” He’s got plenty of grappling experience if his Brazilian jiu-jitsu competition videos are anything to go by, and the highlights of his title-winning victory showed okay striking and decent timing on his takedowns. Other than that, hard to say anything definitive.
Opponent: He moves up to 145 pounds to face fellow newcomer Felipe Colares. Both men received this assignment on less than two weeks’ notice and Colares is coming off of a huge layoff, so this one looks like a pick-‘em to me.
Felipe “Cabocao” Colares
Weight Class: Featherweight
Record: 8-0 (2 KO, 5 SUB)
Notable Victories: Thiago Silva (no not that one), Caio Grigorio
Colares, fighting professionally since the age of 19, dispatched his first seven opponents inside the distance, five of them in the first round. He had to go to the scorecards his next time out against Caio Grigorio, but walked away with a unanimous decision and the Jungle Fight Featherweight title. This will be his first appearance since that bout, which took place in Sept. 2017.
I only found one recent fight of Colares,’ but luckily, it went the better part of three rounds. From what I’ve seen, he prefers to pressure with quick punching flurries to set up takedown attempts against the fence, ultimately working his way towards those chokes he’s fond of. His entries really aren’t great, but he knows how to chain attempts together once he’s in the clinch. He managed to hit one of the few drop seoi nagis I’ve seen in the sport, too, so there’s creativity to go along with the versatility. He’s not particularly explosive on the mat, but has solid fundamentals.
On the flipside, his striking looks underdeveloped and I’m not sure he has the cardio to maintain his preferred pace. Luckily, he’s still plenty young and is getting quality training at Team Nogueira.
Opponent: See above.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 144 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” undercard bouts at 5 p.m. ET, followed by the ESPN+ main card start time at 9 p.m. ET.