By Alistair Hendrie
Bryce Mitchell shot to the cusp of a featherweight ranking at UFC 249 on Saturday, dominating Charles Rosa on the mat for scores of 30-25 (twice) and one 30-24. Undefeated in thirteen fights, Mitchell, 25, will now be looking for a step-up in competition after commanding Rosa from side control and mount, threatening with arm-triangles and twisters.
While the Arkansas star leaves matchmaking to his manager, Matt Weibel of First Round Management, he could do a lot worse in 2020 than face Sodiq Yusuff. The Nigerian stands at 12-1 after outscoring Andre Fili in January, showing a malicious jab and a heavy top game, not to mention a granite chin – Yusuff had his knees buckled early but recovered well, boxing Fili’s head off for the rest of the round.
Depending on when the UFC can arrange further events during the coronavirus outbreak, facing Yusuff would make a lot of sense for Mitchell. Both men are unbested in the UFC and with Mitchell at 25 and Yusuff at 26, they are at similar levels of athletic and physical development. Mitchell was the second man to score a twister in the UFC and would hold the advantage on the ground given how he takes his time and strives for position rather than strikes. Still, would he be able to take Yusuff down, despite Yusuff’s mass and bulk at 145lbs?
Mirsad Bektic could also oppose Mitchell soon. Training under Firas Zaharbi and boasting a UFC record of 6-3, the Bosnian-American is unranked but would have been higher up the food chain were it not for bouts with Renato Moicano and Arnold Allen falling through. Not to be taken lightly, Bektic earned the biggest win of his career in June 2018 when he outpointed Ricardo Lamas, while he dropped a razor-thin decision to Dan Ige in his latest bout in February.
It’s fair to say Mitchell could make a lot of people sit up a take notice with a win over Bektic, a tough competitor who made his UFC bow in 2014. Georges St-Pierre described Bektic’s top game as the strongest he’s ever trained with so Mitchell could earn another feather in his cap by submitting “The Bosnian Bomber.”
Trouble is, featherweight is a crowded house and you only need to look at the career of Allen – who is 7-0 in the UFC yet only ranked twelfth – to see than Mitchell may have to wait for the bigger fights and recognition. The domination of Jose Aldo and Max Holloway in recent years, coupled with the rivals’ rematch in 2017, made it difficult for prospects to get a look in but that may have changed because of Holloway’s defeat to Alexander Volkanovski six months ago. Still, there’s no rush for Mitchell.
There’s no question over his talent and when you consider he won his first eight contests by tapout – seven of them in round one – he guarantees excitement. He’s got his head screwed on, too. Away from fighting he enjoys simple pleasures such as fishing and has been entrenched in the same gym, Westside MMA, from day one. His coaches at the Arkansas training base must have been delighted with how Mitchell disposed of Rosa on Saturday.
Mitchell scored a beautiful takedown in round one, tying up his rival’s shins with his legs and establishing wrist control, stunting his opponent with one of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s favourite techniques. He went close with an arm triangle and a twister and in round two, he attempted another twister, swapping grips on Rosa’s wrist and striking to the body and head. Once Mitchell locked up the twister, Rosa was saved by the bell.
“Thug Nasty” completed his victory parade in the third when he utilised fight IQ to telegraph a spinning-back kick and take the back. Thereafter he dominated and transitioned between side control, crucifix position and the twister set-up wherever possible.
With performances like that it’s no surprise the likes of Daniel Cormier, Javier Mendez and Matt Serra have all praised Mitchell after seeing his talent during season 27 of The Ultimate Fighter and various sparring sessions. For now, though, Mitchell is keen to stick with those who know him best at Westside MMA. While Mitchell’s coaches have nurtured his single-mindedness and broad submission arsenal, you never know, maybe one day they’ll help him secure a second twister finish as he ascends the UFC featherweight ladder.
Check out Alistair Hendrie's Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women's MMA in Britain, featuring interviews with Rosi Sexton, Joanne Calderwood and many more