An international Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event means international newcomers, and Saturday’s show (Jan. 21, 2023) inside Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is no different. On this edition of New Blood, the series where I look at UFC Vegas 68’s 10 newcomers with all-consuming drear, we check out a half-dozen newbies from Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA) and Contender Series.
As always, all episodes of the most recent Contender Series season are on ESPN+. Most of LFA’s recent events can be found on Fight Pass, too.
Brunno “The Hulk” Ferreira
Weight Class: Middleweight
Record: 9-0 (6 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: Leon Aliu
Ferreira battered his way onto Contender Series by ending each of his first eight professional bouts in less than seven minutes apiece. His efficiency once again showed itself on the big stage, where he crushed Leon Aliu in just 95 seconds.
He steps in for the injured Brad Tavares on less than two weeks’ notice.
A relatively short 5’10” Middleweight, Ferreira makes up for his lack of size with light feet and nonstop stance switches, occasionally frivolous, but often blended into his strikes. Though equally effective from either stance, he seems to prefer kicking from southpaw. He’s not much of a jabber, but he makes up for it with eye-catching speed and power.
As much as he likes to explode into range and tee off, I actually think he’s better on the counter. He does a great job of subtly switching stances as he retreats to disguise which side is his power side, and he has great timing, as seen when he obliterated Sebastiao Ferreira with a one-hitter quitter and clipped Leon Aliu with a check hook to set up the finish.
He really could use a jab, though. Dangerous as he is, he can’t skate by on his athleticism forever. As we’ve seen from physical monsters like Rafael Alves, power isn’t all that useful if your opponent sees everything coming.
He has a Plan B, though, and that’s his powerful double-leg takedown. He plays a heavy top game, but once in a while he’ll seemingly just decide to stand up and start blasting away with punches and hammer fists to surprisingly good effect. He does seem to be lacking in control, though, as journeyman Well Oliveira managed to dislodge him a couple times before Ferreira bombed him out.
Ferreira is a ton of fun, but without a bit more polish to his stand up, odds are he’ll be stuck in the “Action Fighter” class for a while. He should at least make for a great fight with Gregory Rodrigues, even if “Robocop” figures to overpower him.
Gabriel “Marretinha” Bonfim
Weight Class: Welterweight
Record: 13-0 (3 KO, 10 SUB)
Notable Victories: Trey Waters, Eduardo Garvon, Brenner Alberth
The younger of the Bonfim brothers claimed LFA’s Welterweight title with a 79-second d’arce choke finish of Eduardo Garvon. He got his Contender Series shot six months later against Trey Waters, whom he finished via Von Flue choke late in the first round.
Don’t let that finish ratio fool you, though, because Bonfim’s got hands. He’s reportedly a Brazilian national boxing champion with one of the nastiest jabs I’ve seen in some time. His hands are fast, they’re heavy, and he puts them together beautifully. When he gets the chance to plant his feet and lets the combinations go, it’s poetry in motion. He doesn’t neglect the body or his counters, either.
Seeing him in action, it shouldn’t surprise you that he’s Vicente Luque’s sparring partner. The bloodlust is a dead giveaway.
That said, there are still some issues, chief among them a lack of head movement. He does a bit of side-to-side wiggling while stalking, but once he starts throwing, that chin is there for the taking. Grappling specialist Brenner Alberth nearly knocked him out when Bonfim lingered in the pocket, and the taller, rangier Waters consistently damaged him by firing counters any time Bonfim led with the jab.
Plus, he can be a bit over-reliant on the check hook and on leaning back out of reach when under fire.
Luckily, he does possess a stout ground game. He’s got very good balance on the feet, some surprisingly technical chain-wrestling, and Luque’s evil d’arce choke. Though most of his submissions came over limited competition, he clearly knows what he’s doing.
Bonfim’s got a ton of potential and figures to secure a number of “of the Night” bonuses during his UFC stay. A Top 15 berth definitely isn’t out of the question. Like Luque, though, there’s only so long you can rely on your chin before things go south.
He’s favored in his UFC debut against Mounir Lazzez, but for me it’s close to an even fight. Lazzez is an extremely adept kickboxer in his own right, and if he can get his low kicks going and keep Bonfim at a distance, he’s got a real shot at handing “Marretinha” his first defeat.
Tape: The only things available on YouTube were old, so check out Fight Pass for the LFA bouts.
Ismael “Marreta” Bonfim
Weight Class: Lightweight
Record: 18-3 (8 KO, 4 SUB)
Notable Victories: Nariman Abbasov, Andrey Augusto, Rangel de Sa
The elder Bonfim has not tasted defeat since a 2014 loss to Renato Moicano, which left his professional record at 6-3. His current 12-fight win streak includes a pair of impressive wins under the LFA banner and a dominant decision over Nariman Abbasov on Contender Series.
Like brother Gabriel, Bonfim is a skilled boxer whose game is built around a stinging, educated jab. Though not quite as fast or devastating as “Marretinha,” Bonfim makes up for it with superior defensive awareness and a deeper, more effective countering game. Of note are his nasty uppercut and the vicious left hook to the body he throws with equal ease as a lead or a counter, the latter of which he used to steadily dismantle Abbasov. I’d like to call notice to the way he keeps his right hand glued to his face while throwing the left, as well — it’s rare to see someone who protects himself as he throws that way.
He also boasts some strong kicks, generally thrown from Southpaw, and accurate, well-timed knees in the inside.
As for his shortcomings, I’d say the biggest is a tendency to let his back hit the fence before circling. Abbasov found early success with pressure, as did previous opponent Andrey Augusto, who at one point exploited Bonfim’s high guard to shoot underneath it behind a flurry. Those counters did manage to scare Abbasov away from pressuring for the rest of the fight, though, so there’s some synergy there.
Beyond that, he loops his right hand a bit too much and he seems to struggle with leg kicks. It got to the point that rather than check them against Augusto, he was reaching down to catch them, which can end very poorly.
Also like Gabriel, he’s a very solid defensive wrestler and stands up quickly when taken down. Augusto did manage to keep him stuck against the fence for a long while, but couldn’t get any real offense going, and Bonfim was hammering him with elbows and punches while defending.
Bonfim is another very promising addition to UFC’s ranks, and while he might lack an “X-factor” with which to break into the Lightweight division’s ultra-stacked top tier, he’ll enjoy plenty of success in the Octagon. He’s definitely in for a helluva debut against Terrance McKinney, though. I’ve got McKinney around 60/40, so we’ll see if “Marreta” is up to the task.
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Record: 12-1 (10 SUB)
Notable Victories: Nariman Abbasov, Wellington Lopes, Raulian Paiva
Nova Uniao’s Lacerda — undefeated since a 2014 loss to grappling ace Ary Farias — enters the Octagon in the midst of a 10-fight win streak. Said streak includes nine finishes, including a rear-naked choke submission of Marciley Alves in May 2022.
Full disclosure: I didn’t have much recent footage of Lacerda to work with. I found his most recent LFA bout, but the one before was on the “Prelims,” which Fight Pass for some reason declined to archive. Everything else available was half a decade out of date, so I’ll just be working with the Alves fight.
Lacerda is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace first and foremost. Though he showed off a super slick single-leg, he’s more than happy to pull guard once he’s got a grip on your leg. From there, he can threaten with either a leglock or a sweep to get into dominant position. He’s so confident in his ground game that he went for and successfully hit a heel hook from top half guard against Tayron Pedro, his second-most-recent foe.
He’s clearly as much a wizard on the mat as his record would suggest, though there’s still a lot of work to be done on the feet. To his credit, his striking is plenty functional, especially his counters and his powerful body kick. He’s generally one-and-done outside the one-two combination and can load up on the right, but the real issue is his footwork and cage awareness. It’s far, far too easy to get him to back himself into the fence, and he’ll try to retreat along it instead of finding an angle when pressured. Alves found a ton of success just staying in Lacerda’s face and firing flurries, plus some low kicks that took advantage of Lacerda’s upright stance.
Aside from that, Lacerda doesn’t seem particularly explosive, which is an issue when his level changes aren’t always the best. He has some great moves, don’t get me wrong; I loved his subtle stance switch into single-leg. Just as often, though, his shots would get snuffed out and force him to pull guard.
Lacerda is an immensely skilled jiu-jitsu player, and I expect him to hold his own in that area even against strong UFC Bantamweights. That poor footwork and lack of athleticism are going to bite him before he gets too far up the ranks, though, starting with debut foe Cody Stamann. Stamann is an extremely strong wrestler and a deceptively good striker, so while “Spartan’s” submission defense has failed him before, he’s good enough to sprawl-and-brawl to victory here.
Tape: Nothing available on YouTube.
Daniel “Soncora” Marcos
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Record: 13-0 (7 KO)
Notable Victories: Brandon Lewis
In less than one year, Marcos amassed six amateur victories to set up a Sept. 2015 professional debut. After a perfect (12-0) run saw him win and defend a regional title, he spent nearly three years on the sidelines, returning in 2022 with a dominant win over Brandon Lewis on Contender Series.
Back in 2019, shortly before that big layoff, Marcos was a deeply underwhelming grinder with extremely limited stand up. He certainly spent his free time wisely, developing into a very effective kickboxer with excellent defensive grappling. He’s got two primary modes depending on whether he wants to lead or fight off the back foot. In the former case, he’s a stalking combination puncher who’s more than happy to mix it up, often willingly planting his feet and dripping his head when opponents step in so that he can trade hands inside. In the latter, he’ll use good lateral movement to land crippling low kicks and walk opponents into surprise right hands, often sneakily switching stance to set up out-of-nowhere counter shots.
A weapon worth mentioning is his front kick, which he landed at least three times on Lewis. It’s remarkably fast and can land at wholly unexpected distances (the first one was practically point blank and still had enough juice to knock Lewis loopy).
Issues arise between distances. When advancing, Marcos uses a “marching” sort of approach in that he’ll repeatedly switch stances as he lets the combinations go. At times, however, he’ll telegraph his entry with big, dramatic steps. This is most visible in the flying knee he loves to unleash, though he’ll also do big windups on punches and other techniques at times.
Also of note is the fact that he visibly gassed out against Lewis. He completely compromised Lewis’ lead leg late in the second, but seemingly lacked the juice to actually try and get rid of him in the third. While I’m willing to chalk that up to cage rust, it’s something to keep in mind.
Grappling-wise, he showed off really nice takedown defense against Lewis, never even letting him get much control time on the fence despite giving up a couple of body locks. The one time Lewis managed to drag him down, Marcos slipped out of the attempted back take and let him up.
Overall, he’s a quality operator. Not contender material since UFC’s Bantamweight division is so egregiously loaded, but a good fighter and a worthy signing. Put him in with other strikers and have a ball, like we’ll enjoy in his debut against Saimon Oliveira. It’s a bit of a mirror match, one in which I slightly favor Oliveira’s stronger body of work and ostensibly superior cardio.
Tape: Here’s his second-most recent fight from 2019.
Melquizael “Melk” Costa
Weight Class: Lightweight
Record: 19-5 (7 KO, 6 SUB)
Notable Victories: Junior Melo, Leandro Santos
Costa bounced back from a 1-3 skid, winning seven of his next eight, the lone loss a narrow one to Italo Gomes. He last saw action in Nov. 2022, when he evened up his LFA record by stopping Junior Melo in the third round.
He replaces Guram Kutateladze on around two weeks’ notice.
I watch tape in chronological order, and call me a softy, but it always warms my heart when a fighter addresses all the concerns I had between fights. When he faced Gomes, Costa employed a straightforward gameplan: pound away with southpaw roundhouse kicks and answer with punching combinations whenever Gomes tried to step in and smother his offense. Though he showed off some very nice wrinkles, such as spinning techniques and a nice habit of knocking Gomes away with a side kick whenever he missed with a round, the predictability allowed Gomes to tie up and hit enough takedowns to eke out the win.
He was worlds better when he met Melo. In addition to being much more willing to lead with his hands, he did a great job of following his lead kicks with punches. I’m always a sucker for following a kick with a punch from the same side, so he immediately got into my good graces. He also showed a good understanding of setups, as seen when he followed a lead left to the body with an overhand left that put Melo down for the count.
While I’d like to see him load up a bit less on his punches and do a better job of keeping his rear hand up when he jabs, the prognosis for his development is plenty promising.
In both fights, he proved somewhat easy to take down but incredibly difficult to hold down. He scrambles well and sweeps well, and though he doesn’t seem to be as much of a submission threat as his record would suggest, he can do some good work with elbows from the top.
Costa is skilled and well-rounded enough to be successful around the middle of the Lightweight pack, though he’ll likely struggle with higher-level wrestlers and strikers. That includes debut foe Thiago Moises, who should overpower “Melk” on the mat.
Tape: Nothing recent on YouTube.
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This story originally Appeared on MMAmania