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Fighter Of The Week: Lando Vannata

In this week’s edition of Fighter of the Week, we take a look at the most aptly-nicknamed fighter in the UFC today, ‘Groovy’ Lando Vannata.

Unpredictable, unquestionably groovy, and completely unmissable.

Four UFC fights. Four Performance of the Night bonuses.

Lando Vannata is our Fighter of the Week this week ahead of his UFC 226 return on July 7.

For all the Pitbull’s, Punisher’s and whatever other overused nicknames you can think of – few do such an adequate job of summing a fighter up as the one possessed by the ‘Groovy’ one.

It’s easy to forget that Vannata is still very much a work in progress.

Now don’t get me wrong when I say that. Every time we’ve seen him in action so far in the UFC he has looked a better, more polished version of himself – but at 25-years-old, his style is still in the process of being formed.

And that’s why he is so exciting.

As part of that new generation of creative, free-flowing and almost artistically inclined strikers – Vannata moves in and out with the type of fluidity and explosiveness that can make him an absolute nightmare at range.

He’s got power in his hands, an extremely versatile kicking game, surprising strength and a granite chin. They didn’t give him four consecutive Performance of the Night bonuses just for showing up. Every single Lando-fight in the UFC so far has been unmissable.

On top of that, he may well hold the distinct honour of having had the finest unsuccessful UFC debut we’ve ever seen.

The Jackson-Wink prospect‘s debut was announced as a short-notice replacement spot for top-10 lightweight submission specialist Michael Chiesa – who was forced to pull out the night’s original headliner against Tony Ferguson.

Ferguson was – and continues to be – one of the very best fighters on the planet and a surefire inclusion in the top-15 pound-for-pound rankings.

The unknown commodity that was Vannata was a lamb being led to the slaughter on paper. ‘El Cucuy’ was just on another level – an unorthodox striker who utilised relentless pressure, awesome cardio, creative striking and submission threats to impose his will on whoever it was that he fought.

‘The debutant would step in to fill a gap only to be dispatched by the far more experienced man in front of him with relative ease before he faded back into obscurity.’

If that was the script then someone forgot to send it to Lando that morning.

Vannata came forward against Ferguson, confusing both him and everyone watching with his unorthodox movement, unpredictable patterns and lack of telegraphing on his shots. Catching Ferguson repeatedly and dropping him more than once before being caught and finished in the second-round, Lando learnt an invaluable lesson despite eventually succumbing to his opponents slick d’Arce choke submission.

It seemed to be an overconfidence thing on the surface. Taking too many shots with no respect for Ferguson’s power, he did seem to fade slightly as the fight went on – with his reliance on his chin over actual defence becoming an issue.

This is what I mean by ‘work-in-progress’ though.

Some fighters start their careers looking distinctly average before gradually growing into themselves and becoming a contender.

That is not Lando Vannata.

Someone who has never even watched MMA before can tell you that this guy is good. He looks like a future contender – maybe even a future champion, so when we see him make mistakes at this early stage in his career, it’s easy to give him a pass.

His draw against Bobby Green as well as his decision loss to David Teymur did little to take away from his reputation, all things considered. For a fighter that has just one win from four UFC bouts – the hype behind this young man is ridiculous.

Despite only emerging victorious on one occasion, Vannata has shown up to fight on every occasion, mixing accurate hands with a variety of spinning attacks, cartwheel kicks and some truly beautiful counters off of catching the leg.

Who can forget his spinning-kick KO of John Makdessi at UFC 206 too?

Sure there are some creases to iron out, but as prospects go, Lando Vannata is about as promising as anyone to have emerged in the last year or two and he’ll get a chance to prove that at UFC 226 next weekend – facing Drakkar Klose on the UFC Fight Pass prelims.

Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena

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Author: Cillian Cunningham

Lead mixed martial arts writer who can be contacted at cillian@punditarena.com.