UFC202 is now in the books and the dust has barely had time to settle on another whirlwind weekend in Las Vegas before the Ultimate Fighting Championship sets its sight on another city and another action packed card.
Travelling north to Canada for the second time this year, the UFC did a little reshuffling of the pack to provide an action packed main event for the Canadian fans. Carlos Condit and Demian Maia were originally scheduled to do battle on the UFC202 main card but were taken off the bill and instead will collide atop of an action packed fight night live and free on Fox.
Providing support for the evening’s main event is a rematch between Joe Lauzon and Jim Miller both of whom picked up big stoppage wins at UFC200 back in July. Adding another layer of interest is the return of fan favourite Paige Vanzant who takes on Bec Rawlings in a thrilling strawweight affair.
Perhaps the most interesting fight taking place on the main card aside from the main event is a mouth- watering clash between grappling wizard Charles “Do Bronx” Oliveira and the high flying and always entertaining Anthony ‘Showtime” Pettis.
Anthony is making his debut as a featherweight having struggled in recent times against the cream of the crop in the lightweight division. Dating back to the days of the WEC Pettis had terrorised the 155-pound division with an array of thrilling knockouts and slick submissions. He captured the lightweight belt in the WEC before transitioning over to the UFC in 2010. Within three years he had also added the UFC belt to his collection and his star truly began to grow.
After defending his title with a submission of Gilbert Melendez, Anthony looked to be a step ahead of the chasing pack and a lengthy run as champion was expected. What happened next shocked everyone. The Roufusport man was mauled by former champion Rafael Dos Anjos in March losing his belt and a certain amount of his pride in the process. Two more lacklustre performances followed. A loss to current king Eddie Alvarez in January 2015 set him back but it was the loss to Edson Barboza that left Anthony in an awkward space.
Having been beaten comprehensively by Barboza at his own strength, Anthony was forced to look for answers as he was moving further and further away from contention at 155 pounds.
A move to featherweight was widely touted and the man himself confirmed it in a post on his Instagram account this past June. Having already begun to cross train between Greg Jackson and Mike Winklejohn’s gym in Albuquerque as well as at home in Milwaukee Wisconsin it is clear that Pettis is searching to rediscover the form that led to his name being discussed as one of the pounds for pound best fighters in the sport. He is clearly not afraid to try new methods in both training and approach to unlocking the missing piece in the puzzle however it is not clear what he can expect by dropping ten pounds to the featherweight division.
To give ourselves an idea of what Anthony can expect this weekend in his first fight at 145 pounds let us take a look at five fighters who have made similar moves in their respective careers.
1 Frankie Edgar
Like Pettis, Edgar captured the lightweight title and defended it as well. After losing the belt to Benson Henderson and failing to reclaim it in the rematch Edgar made the decision to move ten pounds south. In his first fight at 145 pounds, Frankie met Jose Aldo at UFC156 losing a competitive decision to the then featherweight king. After that “The Answer” would go on an incredible run of consecutive wins taking out the likes of Chad Mendes, Cub Swanson, and BJ Penn in the process. This set up another clash with Aldo at last month’s blockbuster UFC200. Although once again he would come up short against Aldo, Frankie Edgar is still undoubtedly one of the best fighters in the UFC’s featherweight division.
2 Charles Oliveira
Ironically it is former UFC lightweight Charles Oliveira who will welcome Pettis to a new weight class Saturday night. The aggressive jiu-jitsu specialist once plied his craft at 155 pounds where he was initially successful before he ran into talented lightweights such as Jim Miller and Donald Cerrone. Forced to consider his options Oliveira like Pettis decided to shed ten extra pounds even though he had struggled to hit the lightweight limit previously. Since he has moved to featherweight “Do Bronx” has flirted with the excellent and the disappointing as a recurring number of botched weight cuts have certainly dampened his six thrilling submission wins. A guillotine choke finish over Myles Jury last time out has once again shown the potential that Oliveira possesses and he will have the opportunity to increase his standing at 145 with a win over Anthony.
3 Jeremy Stephens
Jeremy Stephens possessed frightening knockout power as a lightweight fighter (who can forget his destruction of Rafael Dos Anjos.) He is even scarier now considering he is playing his destructive trade against a lighter opposition. Stephens has alternated wins and losses since he began competing at 145 pounds. Lacklustre performances against the likes of Max Holloway and Cub Swanson have not helped the Alliance MMA product’s cause. The positives for Stephens are clearly his ability to end anyone in the divisions night early with one punch or kick. Take a quick glance back at UFC189 to watch his incredible flying knee knockout of top contender Dennis Bermudez once again and you can see why Stephens is an amazing asset to the featherweight ranks. A win over Renan Barao last time out has placed him on the winning path once more. As both he and Anthony are explosive finishers this could certainly be a fight of the night somewhere down the line.
4 Clay Guida
A former Pettis opponent at 155 pounds Clay Guida marked his featherweight debut with a win over Hatsu Hioki. Since then the former Strikeforce lightweight champion has struggled for consistency beating lower ranked competition but having trouble with higher tier featherweights such as Chad Mendes. His last two fights have resulted in a submission loss to in the first round to Thiago Tavares and a brutal knockout at the hands of up and coming talent Brian Ortega. Although Guida has been involved in a number of wars in his career prior to cutting down in weight his erratic form since doing so could be viewed as evidence that it is not just as simple as dropping a few pounds to rediscover one’s form.
5 Diego Sanchez
One of the sport’s original gangsters Diego Sanchez has had a storied career so far. Since winning TUF1 as a middleweight “The Nightmare” or “Dream” depending on the night has locked horns with some of the sports top names across four different weight classes. His longevity in an unforgiving sport is admirable but even the most game competitors can perform within themselves if they are energy deprived. Last November Sanchez made his featherweight debut against Ricardo Lamas. Although he did make the featherweight limit on weigh in day, he looked particularly depleted while on the scales. After losing the fight to Lamas by decision Diego took to Twitter afterward to admit he had bitten off more than he could chew in terms of weight. Immediately Sanchez returned to the lightweight division and has had mixed results losing by knockout to Joe Lauzon following a hard-earned decision win over Jim Miller.
The mixed experience of each of the aforementioned men points to the volatile nature of harsh weight cuts. While smaller fighters like Edgar have had great success at 145 pounds those with larger frames performances may have suffered by dehydrating their bodies. Anthony Pettis is by no means the largest man to ever compete in the lightweight division so it remains to be seen how he fares with the drop in size. Unfortunately for the former lightweight king, he can ill afford another below par performance and this is a must win fight. If “Showtime” can return to the form that saw him shoot to stardom he poses a huge threat to everyone else on the featherweight roster.
Anthony Pettis takes on Charles Oliveira this weekend at UFCVancouver. As always MMALatestNews will be following all of the action in the lead up to and the night of the event. Stay tuned!
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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