After three different 2020 matchups fell through and his original opponent for this card pulled out, Contender Series 2020 winner Aliaskhab Khizriev will finally make his UFC debut on Saturday against fellow Russian debutante Denis Tiuliulin.
Khizriev certainly made the most of his opportunity on Contender Series, making short work of Henrique Shiguemoto to earn his seventh first-round finish and fifth such win in under one minute.
While Khizriev isn’t going to overwhelm opponents with output on the feet, he’s had a lot of success in his career with a few key striking weapons. As a southpaw his left hand is clearly his power punch, and he’ll use it as part of a 1-2 or just as a big overhand if he prefers. “The Black Wolf” also has a powerful rear leg kick that he’ll throw to the body of opponents or occasionally mix in up high, and he’ll frequently fake this attack to make opponents react and set up punches or an actual follow-up kick. Khizriev has also flashed a front kick to the body in a few of his bouts, and likes to mix in a solid side kick to the lead knee of his opponents.
The Russian certainly carries some power on the feet, but his striking largely serves to back opponents to the fence and close the distance so he can look for takedowns. Once he has opponents on the back foot he’ll punch into a clinch to grab a body lock or drop to their hips for a takedown, often switching to a single-leg if the opponent is able to defend his initial attempt. On top Khizriev will apply strong pressure to maintain position, as well as look for opportunities to posture up and rain down hard ground and pound. Khizriev is also not afraid to try and dive in from a standing position in order to pass guard if he has the opportunity. Opponents attempting to get out from under him need to be wary of having their backs taken, as all three of his submission wins have come via rear-naked choke.
While an undefeated record with so many quick finishes is obviously impressive, Khizriev’s overall level of competition has been below what he’ll encounter in the UFC. All seven of his finishes have also come in the first round, and in his most recent decision victory over Yasubey Enomoto in 2017 his punches were looking considerably more labored the longer the fight went on. He also isn’t the biggest guy for in comparison to the average middleweight; standing at 5’9” he’ll find himself looking up at a lot of his UFC competition, which could be an issue for someone that relies so much on getting opponents down and maintaining top control.
Middleweight isn’t an especially deep division and I do think Khizriev’s skillset will allow him to have some success, but I also have concerns about how he’ll fair against larger opponents in the UFC. I also need to see how he handles a fight where it goes beyond the first round and he isn’t able to control the tempo with his grappling. I don’t expect this debut against late-replacement Denis Tuiliulin to answer many of the questions about how far Khrizriev can go, but I’ll be curious to see how the UFC chooses to match him up going forward.
Out Within 1-2 Years
A Mainstay Through the Years
Coming in as a late-notice replacement for Khizriev’s original opponent Abusupiyan Magomedov, Denis Tiuliulin most recently stopped Juscelino Ferreira in the first-round at UAE Warriors 18. This UFC opportunity comes just over a year after that win, which allowed Tiuliulin to bounce back from a 2020 submission loss to Ikram Aliskerov that snapped a four-fight win streak.
A striker, Tiuliulin relies heavily on his jab and frequently likes to double up on it. When he’s not focused on throwing 1-2’s he’ll try to time his right hand over the top of opponent’s jabs, which allowed him to rock Jean Patrick several times during their 2019 fight. Tiuliulin will also mix in a lead hook to the body, though he usually throws it as single shot rather than setting it up as part of a combination. His most effective weapon may be his knees, which he’ll throw up from space to close in on his opponents. Tiuliulin was also able to use clinch knees to great effect to set-up his finish of Ferreira in his most recent bout.
Tiuliulin prefers to keep things standing if possible, and his takedown defense and lack of urgency in getting up cost him in his split decision loss in that fight with Patrick. His most recent loss to Ikram Aliskerov was much of the same, as every time Tiuliulin started to get working on the feet he was taken down relatively easily by Aliskerov en route to a third round submission.. Tiuliulin has also shown a tendency to roll to his knees in order to try and get to his feet, which resulted in him getting his back taken several times in those two fights and could be very dangerous against Khizriev given his affinity for rear-naked chokes.
One thing that has to be said for Tiuliulin is he’s extremely tough, and he’s happy to just walk forward throwing 1-2’s even if he’s eating shots in return. While this repeatedly got him taken down against Aliskerov, it allowed him to have some success against Patrick as their fight went on after a lopsided first-round where Patrick controlled Tiuliulin on the mat. If Tiuliulin is able to avoid being taken down and/or survive early on if he ends up on the mat, he might be able to trouble Khizriev on the feet if “The Black Wolf” slows down later in the fight.
It’s obviously great for a veteran like Tiuliulin to get his UFC opportunity here, but it does feel like it’s based more on him being available to step-in late notice than it is the UFC having had their eyes on him. Only two of his wins have come against opponents with positive win/loss records (one of those due to an “illegal strike”) and as recently as 2019 he was fighting an 0-11 and 0-0 fighter back-to-back. Hopefully he gets at least one more UFC bout after this and can be matched up with someone that will stand and trade with him, but I don’t expect him to stick around in the promotion for very long.
Out Within 1-2 Years
A Mainstay Through the Years