This week, we feature two up-and-coming fighters both inside and outside of the UFC. One is an unranked fighter competing on this week’s UFC card, Damir Ismagulov. The focus here is on a fighter who has never been ranked, but who could be one day. The other, Clayton Carpenter, is a prospect outside the UFC who has a very high ceiling.
Lightweight, Damir Ismagulov (19-1)
UFC Vegas 27 goes down this Saturday in Las Vegas, Nevada in the Apex arena. The card is topped off between two bantamweight contenders Rob Font and former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt. On the card, there were a few options for who to put in the spotlight, but easily Damir Ismagulov deserves the spotlight.
Damir Ismagulov signed with the UFC back in late 2018. Prior to coming to the UFC Ismagulov was the M-1 Challenge lightweight champion. When he signed to the UFC Ismagulov had a lot of hype behind his name. He made his debut against Australia’s Alex Gorgees and dominated through three rounds. His other two UFC victories against Joel Alvarez and Thiago Moises didn’t seem too good at the time. However, both Alvarez and Moises have gone 3-0 since losing to Ismagulov.
When labeling someone as a complete martial artist Ismagulov fits the bill. The ticket to his success in the UFC and beyond is his ability to keep guys guessing and having them like a deer in headlights. Ismagulov fights behind faints and will do it the duration of the fight. He likes to dip his head to the side to either come over the shoulder with his right hand or shoot for a takedown. He does it so much his opponent has no idea what’s coming. With his lead left hand forward he has an excellent jab as he jabs the body very well too. With that left hand, he will throw out hard feints to read his opponents. His capability of reading guys and drawing them into exactly what he wants is so fantastic to watch. Not to mention, his wrestling is high-level as well. If he doesn’t complete the takedown he has the urgency to aggressively stay after it until he grounds an opponent.
While on top Ismagulov looks a world apart. His head position is on point and even when riding out in a position he’s always active with subtle movement and short punches and elbows. Ismagulov being the technical standout he is he likes to let loose and show his diversity. Throwing the spinning back fist and using spinning kicks he does frequently but it’s always thought out. On top of that being as active as he is his gas tank looks endless. Never stalling and can easily go three rounds.
On the other side of Damir Ismagulov is last Summer contender series winner Rafael Alves. Alves is an all-action fighter who will throw everything including the kitchen sink. He’s got a diverse explosive style while being unpredictable on what he’s gonna throw. He’s also got some nice trips and judo throws he uses in the clinch. Alves has excellent jiu-jitsu when needed as well. When fighting Ismagulov the style of bull-rushing and throwing at the wind will only take him so far. As Alves has looked better he still has nine losses and lost to lower-level guys especially compared to Ismagulov. It’s just a bad match-up for Alves.
Flyweight, Clayton Carpenter (3-0)
In a stacked week of prospects putting the spotlight on someone, only 3-0 is a bit crazy. I like crazy and I like Clayton Carpenter. Carpenter is a 24-year-old fighting out of Pheonix, Arizona. The young flyweight trains out of a top camp in the MMA Lab under head coach John Crouch. He trains with the likes of Kyler Phillips, Sean O’Malley, Mario Bautista, and many more.
Carpenter has not only had success in MMA; he’s gotten some nice accomplishments in a bundle of disciplines. He was the USA junior National Muay Thai champion, a four-time Muay Thai National Champion, a junior Golden Gloves Boxing Champion, World junior Grappling and Pankration medalist, and an IBJJF World Champion in gi and no-gi. Carpenter actually has a win over one of the sport’s biggest young superstars in Bellator star Aaron Pico, defeating the top prospect in a 2009 Pankration tournament. Both men would be a part of the USA Pankration team.
As expected with his experience across an array of sports, Carpenter puts it all together in MMA. He doesn’t do anything significantly better than the other, but he’s as well-rounded as they come for such a young fighter. Carpenter on the feet is a technical player, fighting behind forwards pressure and leg kicks being highlighted. He mixes it up perfectly, lunging forward with knees and strikes, and sits back, takes out the legs, and goes up top for the kill. Carpenter has some nice head movement, slipping his head right off the center line and coming back with combinations to make his opponents pay for their aggression.
Carpenter makes you think he is so comfortable striking and mixing it up, you might even forget about the takedown threat. Once he does get it down to the mat, he’s immediately passing guard and eventually getting into the mount. The transitions are smooth and although he has just one submission as a pro, he’s a threat at snatching that neck and can finish with an armbar as well, doing it twice as an amateur. Strong top position with active ground and pound to eventually find an opening for a submission.
He’ll be making his televised debut inside the LFA cage this Friday. His opponent is 32-year-old Nick Clem. Outside of a 3-1 MMA record Clem tried his hand at boxing as well. While watching Clem he’s got a very awkward style. With decent jiu-jitsu, it’s his willingness to scrap it out that stands out, as he’s a durable guy. Watching him fight and not being inside an MMA cage since 2018, it sounds like a good match-up for Carpenter.