Looking for FOTN: Pugliesi vs. Fusi
On Saturday, December 1st, Bellator 211 will be staged at RDS Stadium in Genoa, Italy. While the main event will see the clash between Alessio Sakara and Kent Kauppinen, in the second match of the MMA undercard the Italians Walter Pugliesi and Andrea Fusi will face-off at welterweight, at the 77 kg limit. The two athletes know each other well: Fusi was the strength and conditioning coach of Pugliesi for some time, less than one year ago.
Walter “Kraken” Pugliesi (4-0), 24 years old, is one of the hot names of the Italian scene. A fighter in great ascension whom thus far has clearly defeated all of his opponents while demonstrating charisma outside the cage as well, with statements that have generated controversy and a look that does not go unnoticed. He has captured four victories in as many matches, all in the first round, three by TKO and one, his last, by submission. From the beginning of his career he has changed various teams: currently he is a training partner of Stefano Paternò at MMA Atletica Boxe with Coach Garcia Amadori.
Given the rapidity with which he has finished his matches, overall we have seen Pugliesi in action for little more than one round: therefore it’s difficult to draw a complete profile of this athlete. From what he has showed thus far, “Kraken” is a very explosive brawler. He’s an aggressive fighter with very heavy hands (and legs, he uses low-kicks a lot) therefore he prefers to strike. Despite this, in the cage he has also showed good grappling skills. His chin has not been tested yet, though.
Pugliesi turned professional in May of 2017 when he faced Guido Iaquinta at welterweight, winning by TKO in 48 seconds. In February 2018 he fought on the very first Italian Cage Fighting (ICF) card against Riccardo Maso, this time at middleweight. Maso is a striker with a past as a kick-boxer. The match lasted just over one minute: “Kraken” managed to take his opponent to the ground and finish him with furious ground and pound.
At ICF 3 Pugliesi decided to move permanently to welterweight. His opponent was a grappler, Gabriel Conti, against whom “Kraken” defended very well against the cage, as well as displaying an effective takedown defense. Pugliesi stunned Conti first with a right hand and then with an elbow, then finished once again the match with ground and pound.
His last match took place this past September and saw him face-off against the Afghan Yousuf Hassanzada, a striker whose victories all came by TKO. “Kraken” managed to get rid of him in 41 seconds. Hassanzada started aggressive right away, forcing his opponent to back up (a game plan that might be used by Fusi as well, if not in the beginning, in some phases of the match), but Pugliesi was able to move along the perimeter of the cage and answer with counter strikes. He hit the Afghan with a right hand during a heated exchange making him lose his balance and expose his neck: Pugliesi immediately took advantage of the situation by locking Hassanzada in a textbook guillotine and forcing him to tap.
Andrea “Il Barbaro (the Barbarian)” Fusi (6-4) will turn 27 in December; he is a member of teams Clan Mano di Pietra and Ramada Jiu-Jitsu. Ha made his professional MMA debut in 2015. After having captured four victories in that year, including one against Stefano Paternò, in 2016 he fought only one time. The occasion was the rematch against the former Cage Warriors champion at Venator FC 3, in which Fusi was submitted in the third round. Nevertheless, “the Barbarian” displayed interesting wrestling skills that allowed him to take down Paternò numerous times and keep him on the ground for most of the second round.
In 2017 Fusi took a fight against Pietro Penini at Venice Combat Event/Venator FC on just ten days notice and in a superior weight class, at middleweight. The two athletes gave life to a real battle that captured the fans and the experts: the match was defined as one of the most spectacular fights in the history of Italian MMA.
Fusi and Penini exchanged openly on the feet from the first round, although “the Barbarian”, about one minute after the beginning of the match, suffered a powerful middle-kick to his ribs that forced him to back up in pain. After surviving that critical moment, Fusi showed again to be able to defend very well both with his back against the fence and with his back on the ground, and having the attitude to advance throwing strikes, even at the risk of exposing himself to takedown attempts by his opponent.
At the beginning of the third round, Penini pressured “the Barbarian” in an action that could repeat against Pugliesi: Fusi backed up, arrived against the fence and with counter striking caught his opponent with a left-hand that made him bend his knees for an instant.
Fusi came back to Venator three months later, at Venator Fight Night 1, when he fought against Angelo Rubino. This match as well saw the athletes put on a show, with a first round in which they exchanged very powerful strikes on the feet, and in which “the Barbarian” was forced to receive numerous blows. Fusi capitulate at the beginning of the second round, when Rubino took him down and unleashed upon him some furious ground and pound that ended the match.
Thus, three matches ended with as many defeats for Fusi, in these fights though “the Barbarian” managed to display various aspects of his technical abilities. In his career the fighter from Brianza has always faced tough opponents in challenging matches, which turned out to be real battles that, by his own admission, have forged his character and given him a lot of experience.
In 2018 Fusi returned to victory against Matteo Capaccioli via unanimous decision, then he was defeated on points by Orlando D’Ambrosio and finally he won by submission a match with Gabriel Conti (who was also one of Pugliesi’s opponents).
From a technical standpoint, “the Barbarian” is a brawler that has great physical strength and undeniable KO power, since he’s won 3 of his 6 matches by TKO. In his career he’s reached the judges verdict in three occasions, therefore, if the match should go into deep waters, this could favor him rather than Pugliesi.
Realistically, Fusi could rely mainly on his good level grappling to limit Pugliesi’s aggressiveness, especially in the early phases of the match. If “the Barbarian” can manage to put his back on the ground or to force his opponent against the fence, he will probably end up tiring him out, dragging the match to the distance, when his experience could favor him. But we shouldn’t exclude, considering the attitude of these two fighters, that in some phases they give up their tactics to exchange openly on the feet, and at that point each strike could be conclusive. On his part, Pugliesi has interest in keeping the match on the feet, looking for the KO, but also in wrestling he has the capacity to defend himself and pose problems to his opponent.
Given the characteristics and the history of both athletes, we should expect an intense, closely contested and spectacular match. On a prestigious show like Bellator, two true warriors will step in the cage to show their skills, holding nothing back. The right ingredients for a clash to remember that could end up being Fight of the Night.