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5 MMA Fights not to Miss in January

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Happy New Year to you all. We enter 2017 with the MMA landscape a quite different place than the one that started 2016. January promises to kick the year off with a bang, as we take a look at the 5 fights for the month that you cannot afford to miss.

1.)   January 14th, Invicta FC 21 – Pannie Kianzad vs Raquel Pa’aluhi

Invicta FC hosts their first event of the year on January 14th from their traditional base of Kansas City, Missouri. The card is filled with exciting match-ups – a credit to quality matchmaking. One fight that certainly stands out takes place in the bantamweight division between Pannie “Banzai” Kianzad and Raquel Pa’aluhi. At just 25 and 26 respectively, both Kianzad and Pa’aluhi are known for being entertaining fighters, and matching them together should result in a serious fight of the night contender. A former Cage Warriors world champion, Kianzad has racked up 8 wins in her professional career to date, including wins over current UFC fighters Milana Dudieva and Lina Lansberg. Kianzad has had a spell on the sidelines recently due to a knee injury, but will be looking to use her comeback fight as a springboard towards another shot at Invicta gold. Pa’aluhi has been talked about as a potential title contender in Invicta since her debut win over current Invicta matchmaker Kaitlin Young, but an early 2016 loss to Colleen Schneider slowed her momentum. Having already shared the cage with the likes of Raquel Pennington, Sara McMann and Amanda Nunes in her career, Pa’aluhi has gained a wealth of experience beyond what her 10-fight record suggests and, with both women eyeing title shots in 2017, fans could be in for a treat when they take to the Invicta cage on January 14th.

2.)   January 15th, UFC Fight Night 103 – Jimmie Rivera vs Bryan Carraway

The UFC’s bantamweight division was turned on its head at UFC 207 when Cody Garbrandt upset the odds to snatch the title away from Dominick Cruz. While it appears as if TJ Dillashaw is the favourite to get the first crack at the new champion, another bantamweight bout in the first UFC show of 2017 also carries meaning in the title picture as #6 ranked Bryan Carraway faces #4 ranked Jimmie Rivera. Carraway only fought once in 2016 – a May decision win over Serra/Longo prospect Aljamain Sterling. That win catapulted Carraway up the rankings and into the upper echelons of the division. Suddenly, the line of challengers at bantamweight is beginning to grow, and Carraway gets the chance to force his way ahead of another one at UFC Fight Night 103. Jimmie Rivera, on the other hand, is riding a 19-fight unbeaten streak and emphatically staked his claim as a serious title contender with a dominant unanimous decision win over Urijah Faber last September. With the division undergoing an upheaval, both Carraway and Rivera will be determined to make a statement on January 15th and show why they should be the first challenger for the new bantamweight king.

3.)   January 21st, Bellator 170 – Tito Ortiz vs Chael Sonnen

If the first two fights on the list featured divisional prospects, this fight features two veterans of the sport who also happen to be two of the most polarising figures in the history of MMA. “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” Tito Ortiz takes on “The Bad Guy” of MMA Chael Sonnen in a main event of Bellator 170 that is certain to do big viewing numbers for the promotion. Ortiz was last seen in the Bellator cage in late 2015, coming up short in his bid to take the Bellator light heavyweight title from Liam McGeary. However, Sonnen has had a much longer layoff, with his last fight coming in 2013 prior to his suspension for failing a drug test. The duo have been doing what they both do best in recent times – using their trash talking to hype the fight. While some of the exchanges have come across as a little forced, it cannot be denied that when Tito Ortiz and Chael Sonnen trash talk, people sit up and listen – and when Tito Ortiz and Chael Sonnen trash talk each other leading up to them meeting in the cage, people are going to tune in. Both men are certainly far past their best days in competitive MMA, but this is a fight that will bring out nostalgic feelings for fans, and is likely to be one of the last opportunities to see these two MMA legends in the cage.

4.)   January 28th, UFC on FOX 23 – Donald Cerrone vs Jorge Masvidal

The UFC returns to the city where it all began way back in 1993 – Denver, Colorado. So much has changed since then, but one thing that remains the same is the appetite of fans for high quality fights – and the evening’s co-main event is the perfect remedy for that hunger. Two of the welterweight division’s most exciting fighters will collide when Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and Jorge Masvidal take to the octagon. Since making the move to 170 pounds in 2016, Cerrone has looked better than ever, rattling off 4 straight finishes of Alex Oliveira, Patrick Cote, Rick Story and Matt Brown that have seen him steadily climb the rankings to a position of #5. With the regularity at which Cerrone fights, a title shot is by no means out of the question in 2017. However, Jorge Masvidal has every intention of halting Cerrone’s march through the division. After seeing bouts with Siyar Bahadurzada and Kelvin Gastelum fall apart towards the end of last year, Masvidal fought Jake Ellenberger at The Ultimate Fighter 24 Finale in December, emerging with a first round TKO win, building on his previous decision win over Ross Pearson. Both men have a reputation for putting on a show for the fans, and there seems to be no reason why this bout should prove to be any different. Without doubt, Cerrone vs Masvidal falls under the category of ‘must not miss’.

5.)   January 28th, UFC on FOX 23 – Valentina Shevchenko vs Julianna Peña

 

One thing that has changed since the UFC 1 in 1993 is the presence of women’s divisions, so it is perhaps fitting that the UFC’s return to the city where it all began features a main event featuring the women’s bantamweight division. It is a main event with massive implications at the top of the division, too, as the winner appears all but guaranteed to face the undisputed queen of 135 pounds in Amanda Nunes. The women ranked #2 and #3 will clash as Valentina Shevchenko and Julianna Peña aim to prove beyond doubt that they are next in line for their shot at gold. Shevchenko, of course, has history with Nunes, losing to the now champion by unanimous decision last March. In her sole bout since then, Shevchenko put on a masterclass to easily take a 5-round decision win over former champion, Holly Holm, exhibiting her world class striking prowess. On January 28th, she will meet an opponent in Julianna Peña who is yet to suffer defeat in the UFC. Since winning The Ultimate Fighter 18 in 2013, Peña has taken down Milana Dudieva, Jessica Eye and, most recently, Cat Zingano at UFC 200 in what was the biggest win of her career to date. Peña has been very outspoken about her belief that she should have had a title shot by now, as well as questioning the UFC’s decision to award Ronda Rousey a shot at Nunes at UFC 207. One would expect that, should Peña defeat Shevchenko, the UFC will not be able to deny her that shot any longer. One person who will certainly be casting a watchful gaze over proceedings will be “The Lioness” Amanda Nunes, as Shevchenko and Peña battle for the right to face her next.

January looks set to get the MMA world off to a great start for 2017 and set us up nicely for the year ahead. Which of these fights are you awaiting most keenly? Is there any other fight in particular you are looking forward to this month? Get in touch and let us know on Twitter @MMALatestNws.

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Douglas Lima found out about change to co-main event at Bellator 192 from the internet

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Bellator 192 fight card has gone through a shake-up over the past week. Bellator president Scott Coker revealed last week that the scheduled welterweight title fight between Rory MacDonald and champion Douglas Lima will now be serving as the co-main event and the heavyweight matchup between Chael Sonnen and Rampage Jackson would instead take top billing. At the time no explanation was made for the change. Monday Douglas Lima was a guest on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani to discuss this change.

“I was little bummed, but it is what it is, it’s business you know. I was pretty excited you know? Being the main event, having Rampage fight as the co-main event, I was happy there. Then I was bummed out that they changed it back to the co-main event. It’s not going to change a thing for me, I’m just focusing on the fight.”

Lima has been notoriously looked over in the eyes of fight fans. A longtime member of Bellator and a two-time champion has not gotten the notice he deserves and hopes to get.

“I found out through the internet, nobody tells me anything, I didn’t know. the same thing happened in New York, I thought my fight would be before the two main events there, but it ended up being the first fight of the night on Pay-Per-View. Hopefully, it doesn’t take anything away from the fight, you know spotlight and stuff.”

Lima is looking to make all the naysayers take notice at Bellator 192 that takes place at The Forum in Inglewood, Califonia on January 20th.

“This is the fight I’ve been waiting for for a long time. To get my name out there, to get people to know who I am. I’ve been delivering a lot of good fights, fights fans like to watch but no attention yet. I’m hoping though that after a win over Rory this week it will really put my name out there and show all these welterweights out there that I am for real.”

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Refereeing’s Loss is Bellator’s Gain

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When former Bellator color commentator Jimmy Smith left the organization last week, not many expected MMA veteran referee, John McCarthy, to be his replacement. There is little doubt that McCarthy will make an excellent color analyst. However, it’s hard not to be disappointed that the sport is losing one of the best and most experienced referees.

McCarthy has been part of the fabric of MMA and the UFC in particular, since 1993. He was hugely influential in creating and enforcing the rules of the cage that have changed MMA into the respected sport it is today. Back in early to mid-nineties, the ‘sport’ was fairly labeled by some critics as ‘human cockfighting’. Without McCarthy as an instrumental player in changing regulations and rules, who knows where the MMA would be today.

What we have grown to appreciate most about McCarthy over the past two decades is how simple he makes this tough job look, which can be credited to years of experience and dedication. To the layman, it would appear that it’s a simple as stopping the fight when a fighter is knocked out or submitted. MMA fans know there’s a lot more to it than that.

It’s difficult to remember a moment in recent memory where McCarthy has let a fight go too long, or even stopped a fight too soon. His timing is almost always perfect. His composure and rationale in the cage are unmatched. When McCarthy is the third man in the Octagon we know the fighters are in safe hands.

It’s worth reiterating how important McCarthy is in maintaining the standard of referring and judging in the sport. The sport of MMA is still very young and is growing rapidly and so are the rules. The former LAPD police officer created his own training school known as C.O.M.M.A.N.D. The course teaches the next generation of MMA referees and judges, and there is no better person to be educated by. Referees must complete this or a similar course run by Herb Dean to be licensed as an official.

Former fighter Frank Trigg, who has pursued refereeing since his career wound down, has taken the course. He recently appeared on The MMA Hour to explain just how tough C.O.M.M.A.N.D is. It took Trigg three attempts to pass, emphasizing just how difficult a career path officiating is.

While ‘Big John’ as he is more affectionately known hasn’t completely left refereeing, he will likely no longer be seen in the cage at the biggest shows. The pool of referees trusted with the big title fights is rather small. Normally McCarthy and Herb Dean are tasked with the important title fights.

It’s not all bad that McCarthy is stepping aside for the time being. The likes of Mark Smith, Jason Herzog, and Chris Tognoni have all shown they are capable officials. There is now a great opportunity for them to move into the main event slots. There are also the likes of Yves Lavigne, Mike Beltran and Marc Goddard who can be trusted to referee the big fights.

While it is surprising, it’s understandable that McCarthy is looking for new career ventures. It is no secret that MMA referees are poorly paid relative to other sporting officials. Las Vegas often discloses referee pay when assignments are announced. The pay tends to range between $1000 and $2000 for the night. Trigg explained on The MMA hour that there is no money in becoming a referee and that most also have full-time jobs. McCarthy’s passion for the sport of MMA has been the biggest incentive for refereeing. It is totally understandable that he would take a bigger payday and put all his knowledge of the sport to good use in the commentary booth.

McCarthy will almost certainly be as dedicated to his new job as he was with his refereeing duties. He can also offer a fascinating insight into the officiating of a fight that nobody else can offer. If there wasn’t already an excuse to watch Bellator 192 on January 20th, headlined by Rory MacDonald vs Douglas Lima, then there most definitely is now.

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Chael Sonnen vs. Rampage Jackson the new main event at Bellator 192

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Bellator is getting ready to kick off their heavyweight grand prix at Bellator 192 on January 20th. The grand prix gets started with two former UFC greats who have now set their sights on Bellator gold, Chael Sonnen and Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson. Today it was announced that this heavyweight matchup of two ordinarily light heavyweights will be getting the bump up to the main event. The reason for the change has not been announced.

The main event was scheduled to be the much anticipated welterweight matchup between champion Douglas Lima and former UFC title challenger Rory MacDonald. Bellator has been promoting this event as such the welterweight title fight would get top billing. Earlier this week the fighters involved in the main and co-main event were part of a conference call. At the time there was no mention of the switch to the lineup.

This fight between Sonnen and Jackson is just the first in a series of heavyweight fights leading up to the crowning of the Bellator heavyweight championship in December. There has been great interest shown in this heavyweight grand prix between fans and media, which could attribute to the last minute change.

Lima vs. MacDonald will now serve as the co-main event on January 20th. Lima, who has been with Bellator since 2011 has been accused of being overlooked by the organization. He has held the welterweight title since November 2016 and perhaps has not gotten the showcases he deserves. This event will take place at The Forum in Inglewood, California.

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