UFC debuts on Fight Island on July 11, 2020 with UFC 251.
The fabled island is, of course, actually Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The card is a major event headlined by three title fights. Assuming everyone makes it to the island in one piece, and COVID-free. First up, you have Kamaru Usman, defending his belt against Jorge Masvidal, stepping in for Gilbert Burns. Then Alexander Volkanovski defends his title for the first time against Max Holloway in a rematch. You also have Petr Yan vs. Jose Aldo for the vacant bantamweight title.
Lower on this very stacked card you find an exciting flyweight bout. Raulian Paiva (19-3 MMA, 1-2 UFC) will look to get his second consecutive win against Zhalgas Zhumagulov, the former Fight Nights Global flyweight champion. Zhumagulov will be making his octagon debut in the bout.
Zhalgas “Zhako” Zhumagulov
How will Zhumagulov fare in the UFC:
Zhalgas Zhumagulov is no doubt is a good signing by the UFC. He’s already proven himself beating quality oppnents like Ali and Artur Bagautinov, Tagir Ulanbekov, Tyson Nam, and Shajidul Haque. He’s the former Fight Nights Global flyweight champion which is a top promotion out of Russia holding a lot of good talent.
On the feet, Zhumagulov doesn’t have a lot of power and while he is quick, he’s not as fast as many other flyweights. What he does do well is land at a better rate, more than his opponents. Zhumagulov has excellent head movement slipping and firing his own shots. He will mix it up with his hands very well going to the head and throwing hooks to the body. The one-two to the body-head and the right-left looping hooks are a deadly combo Zhumagulov often throws. The Kazakhstani is really good at kicking that lead leg of his foes, going to the inside and outside and throwing them in combinations as well. He also has a nasty kick he will throw from time to time.
In terms of where he can improve, I would like for him to open up more and work on throwing more than two strikes. With that said his striking accuracy is always good and he’s landing at a solid rate. Zhumagulov does have decent wrestling, really showing some nice judo in the past. He certainly has the ability to get multiple takedowns in a fight. On the mat he really doesn’t have a lot to offer. While he does know what he’s doing, it’s just his top control isn’t good enough to be a threat.
Watching his fights you will notice Zhumagulov gets taken down often but you will see he’s great at working his way back to his feet. Even when on his back he’s never in any danger. His last three fights have been five-round fights so going three rounds in the UFC shouldn’t be a problem at all. A good signing who I think will at least be ranked just inside the top 15 at some point.
How does Zhumagulov match up with Paiva:
Paiva may be 1-2 in the octagon but he is someone I think has tons of potential. At only 24-years-old he’s going to develop into a better overall fighter. Paiva is the more cerebral striker, and has more conviction in his strikes including his kicks. Zhumagulov is the more well-rounded fighter who is the way more battle tested fighter. Paiva is the much faster fighter and Zhumagulov is maybe the more technical fighter. I’m more impressed with the defense and return of Zhumagulov. I just think the height, reach, and speed advantage of Paiva will be too much. Wrestling-wise I think that’s where Zhumagulov needs to exploit his opponent. I don’t think the key is a heavy wrestling attack from Zhumagulov, but to just mix it it to win rounds. It’s a very tough fight to pick — if Paiva don’t win early, Zhumagulov will take over.