Unless Daniel Sarafian shows me something in this fight that he hasn’t shown yet in the UFC, I’m just not going to understand the enthusiasm some people have about him. Besides being a contestant on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil, I simply cannot figure it out. Through three UFC fights, Sarafian hasn’t been a prolific volume striker or a good offensive wrestler. He’s landed 2.07 significant strikes per minute and succeeded on just one out of 12 takedown attempts.
The one plus skill Sarafian has shown in the UFC is his ability to catch an opponent in a submission hold. He defeated Eddie Mendez by arm-triangle choke in his second UFC fight and has finished his opponent by submission in seven out of eight UFC wins. Sarafian also seems to have pretty good knockout power although he has yet to finish a professional fight by knockout or TKO.
The problem for Sarafian is that he’s not going to win by submission if he can’t get his opponent to the ground. His one successful takedown came in his fight against Mendez; against C.B. Dollaway and Cezar Ferreira, Sarafian was 0 for 11 in takedown attempts and subsequently lost both fights by split decision.
In Sarafian’s defense, Dollaway is an excellent wrestler and Ferreira hasn’t been taken down yet in four UFC fights. It’s possible that Sarafian’s lack of success with takedowns has more to do with his opponents than with his own wrestling ability. However, from what I’ve seen on tape, Sarafian does go for low-percentage takedown attempts, often clinching and grabbing a leg without knowing how to convert that into a takedown.
It’s possible that dropping to 170 pounds will help Sarafian’s offensive wrestling game. Not only are Ferreira and Dollaway both bigger than Sarafian, they’re both big for the middleweight division on top of being good wrestlers. At 170 pounds against an easier opponent in Kiichi Kunimoto, I believe Sarafian will probably find a way to get this fight to the ground.
Kunimoto is the kind of fighter who is “good” in the context of the sport of MMA but isn’t good by UFC standards. He made his UFC debut at the Singapore event in January against Luiz Dutra, winning by disqualification after Dutra landed elbows directly to the back of his head in the clinch. Before that fight, Kunimoto was 15-5-2, fighting primarily in Pancrase during that time.
A 15-5-2 record isn’t the most impressive coming into the UFC, but sometimes a fighter’s actual performances are better than his record would indicate. From what I’ve seen, I can’t say that’s the case about Kunimoto. His striking is pretty wooden to be brutally honest; he lacks head movement and tends to throw single punches standing. His takedowns consist of a fairly slow double-leg shot, a takedown that worked in Pancrase but probably isn’t going to work in the UFC. At the very least, it didn’t work against Dutra and I doubt it will work against Sarafian.
Kunimoto’s strength is his positional grappling after landing the takedown, but that just highlights the problem with how he matches up with Sarafian. Kunimoto’s strength also happens to be Sarafian’s strength. Having watched both fighters compete on tape, I have more faith in Sarafian’s ability to land takedowns than Kunimoto although I’m not impressed with either man’s takedown game. And if it turns out to be a striking match, I have to give Sarafian the edge there as well due to better defense, better knockout power, and Kunimoto’s relative lack of effective defense.
I hate to be negative about fighters like this. I’d love for the UFC to have nothing but awesome fighters who are great at everything. But with the massive roster of fighters the UFC has, there are bound to be some fighters who simply aren’t as good as others. Kunimoto in particular is an example of a fighter I simply don’t see succeeding in the UFC. I’m not optimistic about Sarafian’s long term prospects either, but I think he matches up very well with Kunimoto in this one.
Pick: Daniel Sarafian by decision