The next season of TUF is possibly going to be one of the best as we will see some of the best flyweights in the world compete against one another to become the next TUF winner. Unlike most seasons of TUF, this one will probably be one of the most competitive yet because the contestants will not only competing for a UFC contract, they will also be competing for an opportunity to become the next UFC flyweight champion. This season will be coached by Joseph Benavidez and Henry Cejudo and contestants will be decided by invite only, meaning the best fighters from around the world will be handpicked by the UFC. So here at MMA Latest News we decided to take a look at who are the top contenders that could possibly make it on the show and this is who we’ve come up with.
1. Rany Saadeh
First up we got the BAMMA flyweight champion of the world, Rany Saadeh (8-1). Rany has been dominating the BAMMA flyweight ranks since 2013, picking up the title in only his 3rd bout under the promotion with a win over Jody Collins. He has since gone on to successfully defend his belt once and is expected to defend it again in September at BAMMA 26. Hailing originally from Germany, Saadeh now trains out of Phuket Top Team, a top gym in Thailand, and he is also arguably the top European Flyweight around at the moment.
At only 23 years of age, Saadeh is a very well rounded fighter, capable of comfortably bringing the fight anywhere. His striking is possibly his strongest aspect of his game, boasting very quick hands with powerful leg kicks to follow. When it comes to clinch work then he is usually very dominant, putting his opponents back against the cage, throwing effective strikes and ultimately landing big takedowns that will land him in top control of his opponent. Rany would certainly be a great addition to the TUF 24 season and after dominating the flyweight division of Europe’s top promotion at the moment, he would most definitely be a worthy contender.
2. Magomed Bibulatov
Up next is Magomed Bibulatov who is most well-known by some after winning the inaugural WSOF flyweight title in his promotional debut. Bibulatov boasts a spotless 12-0 record dominating every challenger who stood across from him. As well as his WSOF glory, Bibulatov has proven victorious in an ACB 8 man tournament at 135lbs and is currently in the final of the Akhmat Fight Show 125 Grand Prix.
The Russian has previously spoken about his want to join the UFC, in an interview last year with Bloody Elbow he explained how he believed he could beat the current champion Demetrious Johnson and how he’d love to join the UFC. TUF 24 might just well be his shot at doing so. Bibulatov has been a fan and practitioner of wrestling and sambo since he was young, both playing a fair role in his fight style. Despite only one TKO on his record, though, his striking is nothing to sleep on, excelling in his practice of Kempo Karate. Bibulatov would be an extremely tough and competitive guy to have on the season that would bring the fight to anyone in his way.
3. Alexandre Pantoja
Top Brazilian prospect, Alexandre Pantoja (16-2) has broken through the ranks over at well-known American-based promotion, RFA to become the company’s flyweight champion. As well as taking over as king of the RFA flyweights, he has also proved just how good he is, with an outstanding submission victory over UFC veteran and current Legacy FC champion Damacio page at RFA vs. Legacy FC: Superfight. Now currently riding a 9 fight win streak, the Nova Uniao fighter would be the perfect fit for the show.
At the beginning of his career, Pantoja seemed to prefer to finish his opponents with his phenomenal striking, however, in most recent times he has gone on to show his prowess on the ground, finishing 4 of his last 5 by way of submission. Similar to the other champions on this list he is still only young at 26 making him more appealing to have on the show becuase if he was then signed by the promotion he would have quite a lot of years ahead of him to fight and excel in the promotion.
4. Yuki Motoya
26-year-old Yuki Motoya is arguably the top flyweight out in Asia right now, making easy work of everyone put in front of him. Motoya is currently enjoying his second spell as DEEP flyweight champion after avenging his loss to the man who once dethroned him to take back his coveted crown. He has most recently fought under RIZIN, with the bout ending in a no contest. Motoya making the cast would actually make a lot of sense, especially since he was chosen for Roy Nelson’s team on “Road to UFC” but unfortunately was forced to pull out due to injury, therefore an invite here would really get his UFC dreams back on track
Motoya is currently undefeated since 2013 winning 7 consecutive fights. Despite only starting training at the age of 18 Motoya is a unique all-round type of fighter that is capable of finishing the fight wherever it goes with numerous wins coming from all methods of victory. Since 2014 following his successful title challenge, Motoya has been eager to travel overseas and fight in the top promotions, if he is seen as a serious contender for the season, a call to take part in TUF 24 could finally be his shot.
5. Bruno Menezes
Bruno Menezes (16-5) is currently the flyweight champion under top Brazilian promotion Jungle Fight where former UFC champions such as Fabricio Werdum, Jose Aldo and Lyoto Machida once competed. Menezes picked up the title there back in 2015 with a decision victory over Nildo Nascimento then followed it up 3 months later by successfully defending his the flyweight strap with a 1st round TKO victory. He has yet to fight since his first defence, despite being scheduled at the end of last year, the fight was scrapped after Menezes failed to make weight, something that could possibly damage his hopes of getting an invite to the TUF 24 house if he was ever to be in contention.
Menezes is quite big for a flyweight, he likes to stand in front of his opponents and strike, he likes to look for that big right hand to finish it while mixing it up with a variety of different kicks. Whilst being a rather technical fighter, he has not been shy of taking his opponents to the mat and putting together a lock or choke to force his opponent to submit. Without a doubt, this guy would be an intriguing one to have in the cast.
6 .Sean Santella
At 15-5, Santella has been knocking on the door to the big show for quite some time. He is widely recognised as the one of the most talented flyweights in the Northeast region of the US and has achieved a large and loyal fan base fighting in well-established organisations like Ring of Combat and the Cage Fury Fighting Championships, both of which he was the champion. Sean has fought at both bantamweight and flyweight and has amassed a flyweight record of 7-2-1. His 10 submission wins should indicate that he is a dangerous grappler and aggressive finisher.
When he isn’t training with the likes of Frankie Edgar, Corey Anderson, and Edson Barboza at Ricardo Almeida’s gym, he’s mixing it up with Jim and Dan Miller at Miller Brother’s MMA, where he is the head Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instructor. He has fought UFC veterans in Aljamain Sterling and Nick Pace at bantamweight and there are even some rumoured TUF 24 competitors that have turned down fights with Santella in the past. Being a former CFFC champ also seems to hold weight with the UFC nowadays as Paul Felder, Jim Miller, the aforementioned Aljamain Sterling, and Lyman Good are all former CFFC champs who were called up to the UFC and have found success there. We might be adding Santella to the list sometime soon.
7. Matt Schnell
Fighting out of ATT, Matt Schnell (10-2) is the current Legacy FC interim flyweight champion and is best known for appearing on ‘Caged’. A docu-series produced by MTV profiling four young fighters from Louisiana and looking at their journey with MMA and efforts to make the big time.
Schnell is quite the grappler and submission artist, finishing 7 of his 10 wins via submission, be it a lock or a choke. He has only been brought the distance on two occasions throughout his career, winning one and losing one. Since the last time he has gone the distance, none of his fights have made it out of the second round, some not even making it past 30 seconds. Now on a 7 fight win streak and after 2 organised fights falling through an opportunity tom compete in TUF 24 would be perfect for him to get back in there if it ever came about.
Although it may only be quite an outside chance he may feature, “Zulu Boy” (8-2) has been dangerous over in leading South African based promotion EFC where he has held titles in two different weight classes. Starting his career at Bantamweight, Zulu won the title in the respected weight class at EFC 27, upon losing it in his first defence he opted to move down to flyweight where he has most recently won the title.
Zulu, who’s inspiring story can be seen in a Fightland documentary, is an exciting fighter who doesn’t like to give his opponent a moment to breath, he very active on the feet and likes to throw some crazy combos. He may not be the most likely to get an invite due his lack of experience at 125lbs but wouldn’t be out of place in the competition that’s for sure, especially after his displays under his current promotion in each weight division.
Jacare Souza vs. Kelvin Gastelum Official for UFC 224
Brazils second UFC event of the new year added another middleweight contest. UFC officials announced, Kelvin Gastelum will face Jacare Souza in Rio de Janeiro at UFC 224.
The inevitable main card booking of Souza comes after headlining UFC on Fox 27. The Brazilian fighter is 3-2 in his last 5. His recent contests only look worrisome in comparison to the entirety of his long career. Prior to his past 5, Souza held an eight fight win streak. In that period of time, he defeated Gegard Mousasi, Derek Brunson (for the first time), and Chris Camozzi twice. Despite the drama words and numbers on screens create, his recent record is nothing to have concern over. A split decision loss to Yoel Romero in 2015, and a 2017 TKO loss to division champion, Robert Whittaker is manageable. Defeating Derek Brunson in the opening round of their main event bout kept him deep in the milky opaque froth that is the middleweight title picture. Clearly his position in that photo lies upon the upcoming match up.
Looking ahead for Jacare Souza, assuming he wins, becomes interesting, just as it devastating for Kelvin Gastelum. Gastelum is 3-1 since returning to middleweight, technically his record sits at 2-1 and 1 No Contest. He tested positive for marijuana in a sample collected the night of his bout against Vitor Belfort by USADA in March of 2017. Originally, the outcome of the bout read the way viewers remembered it; a 1st rd. TKO in favor of Gastelum. On May 7th, 2017, the win was officially overturned and changed to a No Contest. He also received a 90 day suspension, adjusted to the day of the failed test (March 11th).
In the aftermath of the failed test, his scheduled contest against Anderson Silva. He then split his next two contests, losing to Chris Weidman and defeating Michael Bisping emphatically, yet under odd circumstances. A win for Gastelum certainly muddies the waters of middleweight contenders, while adding to a good 185 lb. resume.
UFC 224 takes place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on May 12th, 2018 at the Jeunesse Arena. A battle betwen Brazilians is set for the date as Lyoto Machida takes on Vitor Belfort. Other featured bouts include; Aleksei Oleynik vs. Junior Albini*, Cezar Ferreira vs. Karl Roberson*, Alberto Mina vs. Ramazan Emeev, and Davi Ramos vs. Nick Hein*.
*Bouts reportedly set for UFC 224
Exclusive: Mike Ekundayo, “He could come with anything, I don’t care”
In a little less than a week, Rise of Champions crowns its inaugural bantamweight champion. The crowning of the first 135 lb. champion marks the young promotions first champion. It makes sense why the promotion owned and operated by UK MMA star, Brad Pickett, and Team Titan head coach, Mickey Papas plan to crown the promotions first champion in the bantamweight division. Pickett competed in the division throughout his tenure with the WEC, and ultimately the entity which absorbed the light weight promotion, the UFC. Even more-so, two young and rising prospects of the division. One undefeated in his professional and amateur career, the other riding a seven consecutive victories, five by submission. The two meet February 17th, Mike Ekundayo puts his career unbeaten streak up against Jonas Magard’s at ROC 5, for the aforementioned, inaugural bantamweight championship.
Speaking to the undefeated Ekundayo before his fight, he believes this opportunity to be inevitable. Born in Hackney, (a borough of London) early in life, Ekundayo was no stranger to cramming his belongings into large cardboard boxes. At the age of 7, he moved from Hackney to Herne Hill, a district located in South London. Two years later he found himself in similar situation, moving from his vaguely new home in Herne Hill to Brixton. A road trip in the car to his new home, took approximately 5 minutes.
It is admittedly, not an easy life. In a harrowing article describing the horrors of gang life in London by the metro.uk, former gang member turned community activist, made the claim, “When you are from Brixton, from Peckham, west London, anywhere in London, you are seeing hardship where a lot of communities can’t reach their full potential”.
In his own words, Ekundayo describes his home as, “not the best start to have in your life. It’s not the best upbringing”. But that couldn’t matter any less for him. Not only does the London resident consistently work to grow his potential, he gets to see it every day. His coaches Brad Pickett and Mickey Papas hold the knowledge as well as first-hand experience, increasing his limits with every session. “We’re all close”, speaking of his coaches and team. “My head coach is Mickey Papas, he’s very knowable in the game. He’s been around for a very long time. He teaches me a lot, I can learn a lot of stuff from Mickey Papas. Sometimes I just think, how does he know all of this? Where did he get this information from?”
He continued, “While I was coming up through amateur, Brad (Pickett) was still an active fighter, but nowadays he’s taken a coaching approach. So he’s coaching us prospects getting us to where he got to and further… He’s been through it all, gotten to the top, and stayed at the top”.
Further discussing his coach, “For UK MMA, you could definitely call Brad a legend. He’s done a lot in his career, and someone who I rate highly as an MMA fighter is Demetrious Johnson, and of course Brad has got a win over (him). I feel like just being surrounded by someone like Brad, you’re working towards the right things. When he passes information onto you, you respect it that bit more because of far he got in his career. He’s definitely given me the right guidance, I trust his guidance”.
When it comes to the upcoming title fight, confidence poured out from where praise and respect had once been. “I just think it’s my time, to be honest. I really do believe it’s my time for all of this. The work I put in, certain things become inevitable”, he said. “I actually called this after I won my third fight, I called for belts and big shows. I spoke it to existence”. He continued, “It’s my time to finally to get a strap of some sort. All the straps is what we’re going for, all of them. We’re going for every one”.
“Rise of Champions is my show… That’s how I feel when I’m performing on ROC, it’s just my show, it’s my time to shine. Everyone knows who there here to see, there not really there to see the other guys. It’s my time, it’s my show and I’m going to put on a show on February 17th and I’m going to win that belt”.
The infectious nature of his positive attitude was palpable. Although we only spoke through small rectangular devices, I could feel his energy in the room. His attitude shined brightest when talking about what it would mean to be the first ever ROC Bantamweight champion. Ekundayo claimed, “It just means a lot to have my first belt in anything to be honest… Within myself, I call myself a champion, every day. But now, other people would have to call me a champion because I’ve got a belt… And one thing I really want to do is, which sounds a bit weird, I just want to take the belt home to my area, to Brixton.”
“I just want to take it to my area, and just show the people of that area what hard work can achieve… I want to just take it to my people and show them that not for nothing, we are from Brixton, it’s not the best start to have in your life. It’s not the best upbringing but you can rise above it and you can achieve your goals and that’s what the belt will mean”.
When the conversation shifted to the topic of his opponent, Ekundayo had less encouraging words rolling off his tongue. Jonas Magard, the second half of the ROC 5 main event, holds a record of 7-4. Currently he owns a seven fight win streak after starting his career 1-3. Ekundayo thought, “He did fight quite decent guys in his three loses… but in the seven fight win streak, none of his opponents have been of caliber”.
He elaborated further, “What’s in my thoughts is more me, then it is of him. So, he could come with anything, I don’t care. I’m just focused on how I’m going to be picture perfect. How I’m going to paint a masterpiece, how I’m going to make it a beautifully perfect performance. That’s what my primary focus is on, so what he does to me is irrelevant, I’m just going to focus on how I’m going to be perfect on the night of February 17th”.
UFC 222 Re-Worked with Cris Cyborg vs. Yana Kunitskaya, and Frankie Edgar vs. Brian Ortega
UFC 222 has been saved, and it didn’t take a superhero to lift the burning boulder which was Max Holloway’s injury and withdrawal. All it took was a female named Cyborg and a man with a demeanor so smooth, he could be mistaken for an alter-ego. Cris Cyborg now serves as the UFC 222 main event when she defends her featherweight belt against Yana Kunitskaya. Frankie Edgar bumped down to the co-main event to face Brian Ortega in what is likely a title eliminator. The news of the UFC 222 revival originally stemmed from a report by MMAFighting.com and confirmed later in the evening by the UFC.
— UFC (@ufc) February 8, 2018
Over the course of the week, reports surrounded the Las Vegas card and whether it would survive. Multiple options were reportedly being mulled over; cancelling the card outright, changing the pay-per-view (PPV) to a ‘Fight Night’ with an Edgar vs. Ortega main event, Dillashaw vs. Garbrandt 2 main event, among others. Ultimately, the promotion landed on Cyborg vs. Kunitskaya as the new main event, while also booking Brian Ortega.
This adjustment of the card places their women’s Featherweight champion in the second PPV main event in three months. Cris Cyborg recently put her undisputed Featherweight title on the line against Holly Holm at the year ending card, UFC 219. She successfully defended her belt by unanimous decision, in what was an amazing technical display from the Brazilian. In her octagon career, Cyborg is undefeated in her four appearances with three KO/TKO stoppages.
The second half of the new main event, Yana Kunitskaya, makes her UFC debut against the scariest women on the roster. If the 145 lb. champion was not enough of a challenge, Kunitskaya also makes her first appearance in the division since defeating Cindy Dandois in December of 2010. Of Russia descent, her most recent performances came inside the Invicta FC cage. At the female-only promotion, she posted a record of 1-1, with 1 No Contest. Her loss and no contest, both came at the hands of former UFC Featherweight title challenger, Tonya Evinger.
Turning to the co-main event, both fighters have been relatively inactive but, for good reason. Brian Ortega amazingly forced perennial men’s Featherweight contender, Cub Swanson, to tap in the second round of their ‘Fight Night: Fresno’ contest. Ortega fought twice in 2017, but more-so stayed inactive following his stoppage victory over Swanson. The Californian contender announced his desire to wait in line for the next title shot following the recent victory.
For Frankie Edgar, his last fight took place at UFC 211 when he absolutely demolished young and rising star, Yair Rodriguez. A card which took place last May. While Ortega holds an undefeated record, Edgar is undefeated in his previous 9 fights, excluding people named Jose Aldo.
UFC 222 takes place at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on March 3rd.
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