Former Rise FC bantamweight and flyweight champion Chad Anheliger will make his UFC debut on Saturday following his back-and-forth battle with Muin Gafurov on Contender Series last September.
Anheliger’s pro career got off to a difficult start, as he went 2-5 through his first seven bouts including three straight submission losses. After a two-year layoff following that losing run, Anheliger returned to action in 2016 and knocked out Cory Chambers in under a minute to kick off what is now a nine-fight win streak. During that time “The Monster” has finished seven opponents, captured both the bantamweight and flyweight Rise FC titles, and won an impressive split decision on Contender Series in a fight where he was over a 3-1 underdog coming in.
The Canadian’s fighting style is based around his boxing, and almost everything he throws is built off of his jab. Early in bouts he’ll usually focus on jabbing frequently and landing outside leg kicks; once he starts to land well he’ll try to time overhand rights off his jab. He also looks to counter with a lead left hook when opponents throw strikes, and one of his most effective combinations is a rear uppercut into left hook. When he does end up in the clinch he’ll typically look to break away, but he’ll also throw knees like the one that dropped Muin Gafurov in the first round of their fight.
Defensively Anheliger does well at backing away to avoid leg kicks, and while he can definitely be hit he’s happy to take a shot in order to either hit his opponent harder or land several strikes in return. Those submission losses early in his career are obviously a concern for his ground game, but even though Gafurov was able to take him down multiple times in their bout Anheliger’s scrambling ability allowed him to mostly get away or even land in a dominant position. His cardio was arguably the biggest difference maker in that fight, as Gafurov had to resort to labored takedown attempts in the third round while Anheliger was clearly the fresher of the two fighters.
Anheliger has obviously been on an absolute tear following that inauspicious start to his career, and he put on a great performance in his Contender Series fight. It has to be noted that Gafurov was easily the most accomplished fighter he’s faced in his career, with more fights than the combined records of Anheliger’s previous three opponents. The level of competition will be a concern heading into the UFC, as well as the fact that “The Monster” is already thirty-five years old.
This matchup with Jesse Strader is a fairly forgiving debut; Strader is only 5-2 overall and was knocked out by Montel Jackson in the first round of his only UFC bout, but he is by no means indicative of the level of competition Anheliger will be facing in the UFC’s stacked bantamweight division. Strader will likely give the Canadian the striking battle he wants, but I think Anheliger will struggle if he gets matched up with a dedicated grappler with a solid gas tank.
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