The Severe Spotlight: Movsar Evloev

UFC Vegas 56 drew some controversy. Criticism was publicly voiced on the quality of some matchup’s, specifically that of the heavyweight main event between Alexander Volkov and Jairzinho Rozenstruik. Equally questions were raised about the placement of some fights with prospect Erin Blanchfield rendered the curtain jerker. There is much to be said about the way in which the UFC has changed the way it builds, markets and schedules cards. Predominantly it feels as though building significance into a card, into its fight placements and the overall narrative is something that is lower down the hierarchy of needs in comparison to the card running.

The card in actuality was a good one. “Drago” Volkov came out of the gate looking aggressive, and dispatched Rozenstruik quickly with a brilliant right hand and follow up strikes. The co-main event was a brilliant performance, we will get to that momentarily. The rest of the main card saw Lucas Almeida finish Mike Trizano in a back and forth bout. Karine Silva pulled off a slick D’arce choke against Poliana Botelho. Ode Osbourne scored a brutal knockout over Zarrukh Adashev and the opener saw a fiery Alonzo Menifield dispatch of Askar Mozharov who has no place being in the UFC.

The featured prelim saw Karolina Kowalkiewicz return with an impressive win over Felice Herrig. Herrig called time on her career in the cage post-fight. Joe Solecki and Damon Jackson picked up decision wins, whilst Benoit Saint-Denis bounced back with a slick submission over Niklas Stolze. Tony Gravely landed a clean shovel uppercut, following up with ground and pound to finish Johnny Munoz Jr and Jeff Molina and Rinat Fakhretdinov also picked up decision wins. Erin Blanchfield continued to make good on her prospect status, coming through a tough opening round on the feet with JJ Aldrich to snatch a high-elbow guillotine at the first sniff of Aldrich’s neck.

But, the co-main event, and specifically Movsar Evloev stole the show. The Russian took his professional record to 16-0 with the biggest win of his career. Dan Ige was a large step up in class, posing lots of interesting questions with his well-rounded and varied skill set. Evloev passed that test with near flying colours.

The concerns coming into this fight for Movsar was Ige’s ability to cover distance and range, his toughness, and his well-rounded game. These concerns materialised in the opening minute of the first round. Ige was able to find his rhythm immediately, landing a couple of crisp 1-2’s, countering the naked leg kicks from Evloev well. The first vastly impressive part of this performance was Evloev’s ability to not just make reads but implement those reads immediately. The first read meant no more naked kicks, the implementation of that read; he began to mix in those kicks to his combinations and taking them up high.

Those reads slide into his overarching game well. He naturally has a vast array of striking offense, from high kicks to spinning wheel kicks. He is able to believe in, and invest in that fluid and risky striking arsenal due to his grappling pedigree and the confidence in his ability to not be taken down, or in the worst-case scenario, scramble back to his feet.

On the feet he leans his weight into his lead leg, he has a rhythmic cadence that he bounces in and out of range, always ready to squat into the mat to throw his shots, but equally ready to leap out to his left side for what is becoming a signature slip, right hand combination. He resets well, and doesn’t leave himself in the pocket longer than he needs too. He can fight on the front foot, and is able to counter. 2:32 of the first round, the most impactful strike of the round lands as Evloev times Ige’s blitz with a flying knee – a sublime display of the countering ability.

Ige took the shot exceptionally well, but the patience shown by Evloev was just as impressive. Many a fighter would land a shot of that magnitude and swarm, whether signs of hurt were etched on their opponents face or not. Movsar did nothing but continue in his gameplan.

The level change came at the expense of a naked Ige front kick, as the knee met the hip line, Evloev dived into a double, coming up with a single, and moving immediately into a back bodylock, right posting leg wide, left knee covering the hip of Ige. Evloev is searching for the back of Ige, who for his own merit is defending well. As the opportunity to secure the back did not present itself, Evloev opts for a high-impact hip bump mat return, using that to find his hooks, again Ige defends well, so Evloev moves to his third option, of a reverse trip from the same back bodylock. Eventually Ige managed to turn in, and fish a ray of hope in the form of an underhook. Not the immediacy with which Evloev’s hips swing side to side, as he off-balances Ige, using his whizzer and Uchi-Mata type throws to line the hips up and escape.

The momentum continued to build from Evloev in the second round, the only negative being the eye-poke. This is a flaw of Evloev’s game that needs to be ironed out. He uses his left arm as a piston, he extends it out in the same way a jousting stick would be extended. On this occasion he did so with his fingers outstretched, catching Ige with an eye poke.

In the third, we saw the Russian fighter in his element. The fight hit the mat early an outside trip ending up in a back bodylock, Ige attempted to Granby his way into a safer position, instead found Evloev stretching him out, and taking his back. Like most things in fighting, grappling is about dilemma’s. If enough dilemmas are presented, they will overwhelm a fighter, allowing the attacking fighter to have a significant advantage. Evloev traverses a multitude of dilemma’s, mostly stemming from back bodylock control, to conventional back attack threats. This placed Ige in a perpetual cycle of being forced to carry Evloev, strip hands, strip hooks and keep his base, with a selection of mat returns being thrown his way.

This sort of attacking cycle is both mentally and physically exhausting. The third round gives an idea of the level of operation that Movsar Evloev is at when he steps into the cage. We have a bright future watching him climb the ranks and get to the apex, it seems obvious that he will compete against some of the biggest names at 145lb, and we should be very excited to see it.