Welcome to KEYlock! Named after the keylock submission, KEYlock is a weekly article that highlights one non-main event bout from the upcoming UFC fight card, and explores why it deserves your attention.
The UFC returns to the APEX this weekend, with UFC Vegas 48. Originally headlined by the mouthwatering matchup of Rafael dos Anjos and Rafael Fiziev (now the co-main event for UFC 272), the main-event sees a clash of Light Heavyweights, as Johnny Walker and Jamahal Hill collide.
My KEYlock for UFC Vegas 48 is Abdul Razak Alhassan vs Joaquin Buckley. Put simply, do not expect this fight to go the distance.
Abdul Razak Alhassan
“Sometimes people know me as the Berserker, and I come in and try to go berserk”.
Those words, spoken by Alhassan of himself, perhaps best portray the ferocity of the 36-year-old in combat. Indeed, when looking at the entirety of Alhassan’s professional career, his record borderlines on the ridiculous, in the best way possible. The Ghanaian has won all 11 professional victories via first round KO/TKO. When Alhassan joined the UFC in 2016 with a 6-0 professional record, his total fight-time from all six professional bouts was equivalent to just over a single round, at 5 minutes and 38 seconds. Of those six professional fights, his longest bout lasted just 1 minute and 26 seconds. Alhassan was an efficient, effective finisher.
It was an authentic Alhassan performance when the Ghanaian made his UFC debut November 19th 2016 at UFC Fight Night 99. Knocking out Charlie Ward in just 53 seconds, Alhassan even earned a $50,000 ‘Performance of the Night’ bonus. His second appearance, versus Omari Akhmedov at UFC Fight Night 109, saw Alhassan go the distance for the first time professionally; incredibly, the 15 minute bout was 2.3 times longer than his entire professional career fight-time at that point. Whilst that fight brought Alhassan the first professional loss of his career, he returned to winning form with back-to-back first round KO/TKO wins over Sabah Homasi at UFC 218 and UFC 220; Alhassan also earned a second ‘Performance of the Night’ bonus in the latter. The form continued at UFC 228, where Alhassan extended his promotional record to 4-1 with a first-round knockout of Niko Price.
Alhassan’s three fight win-streak, however, ended at UFC Fight Island 1, when he lost the second distance fight of his professional career to Mounir Lazzez; to add salt to the wound, even though the bout won ‘Fight of the Night’, Alhassan’s failure to make weight excluded him from the $50,000 bonus. Adversity continued as Alhassan endured the first stoppage loss of his career to Khaos Williams at UFC Vegas 14. At UFC Vegas 24, Alhassan lost the third distance fight of his professional career to Jacob Malkoun, via unanimous decision. In less than one year, Alhassan saw his promotional record slip from 4-1, to 4-4.
Change was needed. Thus Alhassan moved from his training base in Texas to Team Elevation in Colorado. The move rejuvenated Alhassan, both physically and mentally. Indeed, the benefits of such a move were fully evident in his most recent performance at UFC Vegas 35. In authentic Alhassan fashion, the Ghanaian delivered a devastating 17 second knockout of Alessio Di Chirico; needless to say, the knockout earned a third ‘Performance of the Night’ bonus.
If you don’t recognise the name Joaquin Buckley, you most certainly will have seen him in action. After all, ‘New Mansa’ delivered arguably the greatest knockout in UFC history, and became a viral sensation; but more on that later.
Much like Alhassan, Buckley has a tendency to finish his fights, rather than go the distance. Indeed, 10 of his 13 professional wins are via KO/TKO, including his three UFC victories; it’s been just under 4 years since Buckley last went the distance.
The 27-year-old, fighting out of St. Louis, Missouri, made his debut for the UFC under exceptionally short circumstances. After a second round TKO of Jackie Gosh (the man who handed Buckley his first professional loss) July 31st 2020 at LFA 87, Buckley received an offer from the UFC to serve as a short notice opponent for Kevin Holland at UFC Vegas 6; just 8 days after LFA 87. Buckley accepted, but it was a tough ask; short notice against a then surging Kevin Holland proved to be too much, as Buckley lost via third round KO. Unbeknownst to Buckley, however, what came next would immortalise him in MMA history.
At UFC Fight Island 5, October 11th 2020, Buckley executed a sensational spinning back kick knockout of Impa Kasanganay. Many dubbed it knockout of the year, knockout of the decade, and even knockout of promotional history. Naturally, the knockout earned Buckley a $50,000 ‘Performance of the Night’ bonus. The replay became a viral hit, and Buckley experienced exposure to an audience unlike anything prior. Buckley showcased what he was capable of, and the fans loved it.
Just over one month later, at UFC 255, Buckley capitalised on his new-found audience with a tremendous second round knockout of Jordan Wright. Buckley earned a second $50,000 ‘Performance of the Night’ bonus for his efforts; even Dana White was onboard the hype train, saying that Buckley was one to watch in 2021.
At UFC Fight Island 7, the hype train derailed. Despite entering the contest as a moderate favourite, Buckley lost to the same opponent that Alhassan snapped his 3-fight skid with; Alessio Di Chirico. Whilst it was a crushing first round head-kick knockout that finished Buckley, it must be noted that Di Chirico entered UFC Fight Island 7 with a 3-fight skid of his own; Di Chirico was realistically fighting for his career. However, Buckley bounced back at UFC Vegas 37, his most recent appearance, with a third round knockout of Antônio Arroyo that earned him a third $50,000 ‘Performance of the Night’ bonus.
The Fight Ahead
Both Alhassan and Buckley enter UFC Vegas 48 with an opportunity to reignite a win-streak. Both have won all of their UFC victories via KO/TKO, and both have won 3 ‘Performance of the Night’ bonuses. Undoubtedly, this bout will be a classic stand and bang, and all signs suggest this will end inside the distance. This will be an incredibly entertaining fight between two talented strikers, so don’t miss this matchup this weekend at UFC Vegas 48!