Joaquin Buckley faces Italy’s Alessio di Chirico on Saturday at UFC Fight Island 7, Jan. 16, on the first UFC event of 2021.
It seems a while ago since UFC was on our screens. In fact, the four-week break has highlighted just how successful 2020 was for the company amongst the turmoil of the pandemic and its devastating impact on sports, generally speaking. The first fight card of 2021 is an interesting one; it pits one of 2020’s stars, Joaquin “New Mansa" Buckley, with a fighter who has had a poor last two years, Alessio “Manzo" Di Chirico, this Saturday.
On the face of it, it seems like a fight that Joaquin Buckley can gain little in terms of reputation, as Di Chirico is coming off three straight decision defeats stretching back to September 2019. This will not make this any less special of a fight as Buckley has quickly risen to prominence in the UFC after he stopped Impa Kasanganay with a generational KO. If the Roman can turn around his bad fortune in the octagon, he could avoid the dreaded exodus of fighters for the UFC that Dana White has been threatening for the last month.
So, how do they look heading into Saturdays bout?
Since joining the UFC from the LFA in 2020, Joaquin Buckley (12-3) fights have guaranteed fireworks, win, or lose. The Walgreen’s manager became a household name overnight after he landed one of the most devastating spinning kicks in MMA history. The social media clip of his knockout from the UFC Twitter has amassed over four million views. His fighting style and paths to victory highlighted particularly in his last two fights.
Debuting in August 2020, the 26-year-old will be forgiven for how his debut ended. He lost to fighter-of-the-year contender Kevin Holland by TKO, only nine days after his last fight for LFA. Looking labored that night, Holland was able to strike from distance, resigning a Buckley to only one nice combination of strikes and few wayward groin strikes.
Joaquin Buckley’s most famous bout to date followed one month later when he faced Impa Kasanganay. Competing without his usual corner team, he was able to show what got him to the UFC after a competitive first round that saw exchange after exchange, but Buckley edged it by stepping inside and landing combos that were hurting Kasanganay, while also showing far superior grappling. He was also largely able to nullify the kicks of Kasangany, countering fast and hurting his opponent. The second round will be shown on highlight reels for the next fifty years, after having a kick caught in round one, Buckley seized upon an opportunity only he had seen from that encounter a round prior. Kasanganay caught another kick, which Buckley then turned into a two-touch taekwondo-style kick, stiffening Kasanganay unconscious mid-fall. Very possibly the greatest knockout in the history of the UFC.
2020 was capped off with another stunning second-round TKO of Jordan Wright. Joaquin Buckley showed off his ability to avoid kicks from a taller opponent, by wading through them and getting into the pocket as soon as they throw the leg. Wright seemed unable for large parts of the first round to keep his opponent from stepping inside and landing powerful combinations. Buckley was able to drop Wright in the dying second of the first round, but the undefeated fighter was saved by the bell. From the beginning of the round, Joaquin Buckley marched him down, avoiding any countering from Wright, and finished him via TKO 18 seconds into the round.
What seems clear about Joaquin Buckley is once he finds a way to finish the fight, he takes it. Now training with another breakout star of 2020, Khaos Williams, at Murcielago MMA in Detroit and a strong year behind him, Buckley will expect nothing short of an emphatic win against Di Chirico this weekend, looking to get inside as quick as possible, landing combinations and keep Di Chirico on the backfoot. If he can do this, although the Italian has never been stopped with strikes, a TKO should be expected.
Alessio Di Chirico
The self-proclaimed ‘knight’ Alessio Di Chirico has struggled to find any sort of form in the last two years in the octagon. The Italian has lost his last three bouts to Kevin Holland, Makhmud Muradov, and Zak Cummings, all by decision.
Di Chirico seems unfazed by Buckley and his high paced fighting style, speaking to the media this week. If he is to find success at some point, he will have to feel Buckley’s power at some stage in the fight.
The likelihood is a win or get-cut scenario, Di Chirico will look to lean on his grappling early on to slow down the forward pressure of Buckley. Although the Italian has two inches less in reach on paper, his height advantage will even out the disparity. He will be able to stay on the outside of Buckley, using low calf kicks and jabs. Relying on his chin in the clinch and when shooting for takedowns, will be paramount if Di Chirico is to get the win. Scoring takedowns and getting minutes of top control will be the best way for him to get ahead on scorecards, as he will unlikely be able to stand for 15 minutes with his opponent.
Although when it comes to grappling, Joaquin Buckley is no mug, showing his clinch work against Jordan Wright and scored multiple takedowns of Impa Kasanganay. If he outmatches Di Chirico in this department, it could be a short night.
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