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Belal Muhammad talks UFC debut, Conor McGregor & Eddie Alvarez ahead of upcoming UFC 205 bout

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Belal Muhammad joined the UFC earlier this year as the 9-0 Titan FC welterweight champion. He made his promotional debut in July in a defeat to Alan Jouban, a bout which netted each man a $50,000 Fight of the Night bonus. In that night’s main event, Eddie Alvarez defeated Rafael dos Anjos inside one round to become the UFC lightweight champion. On November 12th at Madison Square Garden, ‘Remember the Name’ will again fight on an Alvarez undercard at the UFC’s first ever New York City event. This time Alvarez will be facing Conor McGregor whilst Muhammad will square off with former Bellator welterweight champion Lyman Good.

Muhammad, who splits his training between Roufusport and Chicago Fight Team, is preparing for what will be his third fight in the UFC in just over four months. That’s 1 fight every 6 weeks, and that’s without mentioning his last Titan FC fight, a victory over former WSOF welterweight champion Steve Carl, back in April. Muhammad rebounded from the Jouban defeat with a third-round TKO victory over Augusto Montano in September- inflicting the first stoppage loss of Montano’s career.

“I’ve been lucky not to get hurt,” says Muhammad, “I’ve taken these fights one after another and had back-to-back training camps and it feels good to stay busy. It was a lot harder for me to get fights when I wasn’t in this organisation so it feels good to keep getting these calls and keep getting in the cage.

“I would like to get that fight back [with Jouban] but that’s not my goal,” he added. “I’m not worried about Jouban I’m worried about myself. He’s one of the best fighters in the world, I’m just going to keep fighting who they put in front of  me and work my way up the ladder, it’s not one of those personal things where I’ve got to get Jouban back, I’m just looking to keep these fights going, keep these wins going and get close to that belt.”

Muhammad’s second performance in the UFC was certainly a more successful outing, and one he says he felt more comfortable in, but that’s not to say he didn’t enjoy his first trip to the cage.

“Man it felt great [his UFC debut],” he says. “Just because I gained a whole lot of fans after that fight and had a whole lot of people ‘Remember the Name’ afterwards. It felt good to go in there and put on a show, you don’t want to be the guy who gets the jitters on his debut and puts on a boring fight. I wanted the fans to be like ‘let’s keep him going, put him back in the cage man this guy’s good to watch,’ and I just want to be that guy that people want to see fight.

“It was a quick turnaround [his second UFC bout] so it felt good just to be back in there and get more comfortable in the cage,” said Muhammad. “It felt good to go in there and dance around a little bit and just embrace the whole thing, not being as nervous as I was for my first fight. The fact that it was a quick turnaround, and this next fight will be a quick turnaround, makes you a lot more comfortable in the cage.”

His opponent at UFC 205 will be New York’s own Lyman Good, who is sure to be a home crowd favourite.  Muhammad is not put off by playing the villain, and points out that his last fight in Hidalgo, a card filled with Mexican fighters, was essentially in Augusto Montano’s backyard.

I asked how it felt to be part of a Conor McGregor event for the first time, and what his prediction was for the night’s main event.

“It’s gonna be exciting man,” he said. “I was able to be there for the biggest weekend, UFC 200 weekend, and now I’m going to be on the biggest card of the year. It’s gonna be nice to be on a McGregor card, as a fan I’ve been to one of his fights before, just watching it, and the Irish fans go crazy. It’ll be pretty cool to be in the arena at that time. McGregor knows how to put on a show and sell a fight.

“I think it’s gonna be an exciting fight. I honestly see McGregor winning it, just because I’ve seen them both in person and McGregor is huge,” he added. “Eddie Alvarez is pretty small for a 55’er. I think McGregror is too smooth and he’s seen Alvarez’ style a lot, like a wrestler/striker/brawler type, I think he’s seen that so many times it’s gonna be pretty easy for him to figure it out.”

It’s been a big year for Belal Muhammad. His first two performances in the UFC have certainly warranted a place on a big event and he’s been rewarded with a spot on perhaps the biggest event of all time. If he continues these kinds of performances, more and more people will ‘Remember the Name.’

UFC 205: Alvarez vs. McGregor takes place at Madison Square Garden on November 12th in New York City

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Dana White gives update on Conor McGregor and the lightweight division

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The top end of the UFC’s lightweight division is thriving. Dustin Poirer defeated former division champion Anthony Pettis, in dominant fashion. Tony Ferguson won the lightweight division’s interim title by carving Kevin Lee from his back. Safe to say, no everyday person would ever want to see Khabib Nurmagomedov down a damp and dark alley. Don’t forget, the gutsy performance of Eddie Alvarez stealing Justin Gaethje’s undefeated record away.  The division is thriving like gas attempting to escape a shaken champagne bottle.

On Friday, UFC President, Dana White, spoke to Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports, about a number of topics. One, which came up fairly quickly; Conor McGregor and his stranglehold on the lightweight belt. The pair began talking about recent performances inside the octagon when the illustrious name of, Khabib Nurmagomedov, came up. White claimed, “Conor always finds a way to win. When he hits you, you go…”. Then speaking of the potential bout between Nurmagomedov and McGregor, “I love that matchup but, Tony Ferguson is the interim champion. Conor and I haven’t really figured out when he’s coming back and what’s going on…”. He continued, “I don’t think Conor wants to fight until August, but if he waits until August or September, that’s around two years since the belt has been defended and that can’t happen”.

Iole followed up by asking, due to circumstances, does McGregor owe it to the sport to defend his title? The UFC president agreed, “And to the other fighters. Not only to the sport but, to the other fighters. This is a game of time… when you’re a professional athlete, time is your enemy and we can’t let this thing go on forever and not give other guys the opportunity. Tony Ferguson has been around for a long time and has earned his dues, Khabib has earned his dues… Conor has done very well, he’s made a lot of money, and if he decides that he doesn’t want to fight again for another however long that’s up to him… but, the belt has to move on… we gotta figure some stuff out here in the next couple months”.

It only makes sense that the UFC wants progression in the one-hundred and fifty-five lb. division. Even without their massive revenue generator, the division must move on. Athletes like Nurmagomedov may be relatively unknown outside the MMA community in the United States but, his official Instagram page holds 3.2 million followers.  While Tony Ferguson may not hold online notoriety, he does have an exciting style. A style that could win a good many of fans, the more exposure he receives.

For White, one of these two men must fight for the division’s championship title. When asked about what is next, he stated, “As long as Conor is willing to fight by March, we could do Khabib versus Tony and then the winner fights Conor… or Conor doesn’t wanna fight and wants to sit out till next fall. Then we would have to make Khabib vs. Tony for the title”.

Time can be the only truth serum in this particular situation. The UFC brass has spoken of forcing McGregor to vacate his lightweight title for some time. Yet, nothing has happened. On the other hand, it would be more than surprising to see the division’s belt sit on the shelf for another year. Considering it all, including the status of contenders and depth of the division, the bottleneck created by one man never ceases to amaze.

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Exclusive: Neil Magny: “It’s going to come down to fighting tooth and nail”

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On Saturday, December 30th, Neil Magny steps back into the Octagon as he takes on the returning Carlos Condit. Magny’s had a rough past couple of months as the 6’3 welterweight has alternated wins and losses as well as fighting a lot less than usual. Magny was known as one of the most active fighters on the UFC roster until injuries started to take away from his time in the cage.

Welcoming Magny back to the cage is a man who is also making his return after a long layoff, Carlos Condit. Fans and even Magny have been waiting a long time for the fight to come together.

I love this fight, this a fight I’ve been chasing for nearly two years now,” Magny told MMA Latest. “The fight’s going to be happening this Saturday and I’m excited for it.”

Condit hasn’t competed since he lost to Demian Maia back in August 2016. The Jackson-Wink product lost via first round rear-naked choke, the loss prompted a semi-retirement that left everyone unsure if he would ever return. The time spent away from the cage could potentially bring upon the universally hated “ring-rust”.

Not at all,” Magny said as he shot down any talks of ring-rust. “I mean, if anything, I would be more affected by ring rust than he is. I mean, I’m a guy who likes to compete all throughout the years. This is the least amount of fights I’ve had in a year- in awhile- I don’t think the ring rust will be a factor at all and I can’t let that allow me to think that this fight will be easier because of that.”

With Condit’s return being the big story in this fight, it’s easy to think Magny’s been swept under the rug. The fan-favorite has been loved for his tendency to turn every fight into a brawl and putting everything on the line. The hype and excitement haven’t lead Magny to believe he’s being overlooked.

Not all,” Magny says with a shrug. “I don’t feel like I’m being overlooked in this fight at all. There’s a lot of pressure, a lot of hype around Condit going into this fight. But yeah I don’t consider it a bad thing at all. I know I’m focused on what I need to do and I spend most of my time focusing on that rather than the other possibilities or what media attention is drawn to that kind of thing.”

Condit’s tendency to turn his fights into brawls is something Magny’s comfortable with, as technique and advantages tend to fly out the window. The Colorado native is honest about where his strengths are.

This is a fight where it’s going to be a fight and turn into a brawl and were going to fight tooth and nail,” Magny said. “Going into this fight I don’t have the grappling advantage, the submission advantage, I don’t have the significant striking advantage. So anywhere this fight goes it’s not going to be one guy just outclassing the other guy. I know it’s going to come down to fighting tooth and nail or anything that will win this fight. So that’s something that I’m looking forward to the most- going out there and allowing this fight to go down successfully.”

Magny’s rough patch continued in his last fight when he lost to former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos by submission. While a good chunk of fighters have a tendency to dwell on losses, Magny’s moved on and, more importantly, he’s learned from his mistakes.

I could backtrack and pick the fight apart and find a thousand things I did wrong and things I could’ve done differently,” Magny begin to explain. “But at the end of the day, it is what it is. There’s nothing I can do to change the outcome of the fight, all I can do is make sure I’m as prepared as I can be for this fight. That’s what I’ve been spending my time focusing on as well as covering every angle going into this fight mentally, physically, and emotionally. Everything I need to do to be successful in this fight I’ll do it.”

Although Magny’s moved on from the loss, that hasn’t stopped him from making changes in his lead up to fights.

Since my last fight one of the main things I changed in my training camp was the use of a sports physiatrist,” Magny said. “I noticed for these last four fights I got myself into tough positions all three have been lackluster fights that I wasn’t too proud of. Coming into this fight we’ll be sure to work on all angles and we’ll see if the talks and working with a sports physiologist will make a difference. I have no idea but the thing about it is that I want to be as prepared as possible.”

Welterweight contender Kamaru Usman claimed that Magny was going to fight him, that is until Magny accepted the fight with Condit.

No, nothing was ever set for Usman and I to ever fight,” Magny said. “I was in a position where I was coming off a loss and it didn’t matter who I fought next. I was just eager to get that nasty taste out of my mouth from the last fight. So he’s done his usual call me out on Twitter call me out on Instagram wherever he could I was just like ‘meh whatever, if you really want to fight me I’m available, I’m interested in doing it right away’ so why not take the matchup sooner and get the taste out of my mouth.”

Although the fight with Usman isn’t happening, the fight with Condit definitely is. So what does Magny predict?

I see me going out there and just winning any way I see,” Magny said. “Whether its a decision where we go back and forth and go all out war, or me getting the TKO, submission, or knockout. I mean, I’m just looking forward to going out there and getting my hand raised.”

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UFC 219’s Dan Hooker: Fighting in Perth Would Be an “Ideal Situation.”

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New Zealander Dan ‘The Hangman’ Hooker is somewhat of a UFC veteran these days. On the 30th December Hooker will make his eighth UFC appearance, facing Marc Diakiese at UFC 219 in Las Vegas.

The card is a marquee event with some of the biggest names in the sport competing, but Hooker isn’t letting the magnitude of the event affect his preparation.

“It’s something you can look back on tell people you fought on a big card in Las Vegas, so it’s a milestone,” the Kiwi explained. “But when you’re focused on it you have to take every fight as just another fight. You can’t let the moment overwhelm you, or distract you.”

Hooker admitted to not knowing much about his opponent, Englishman, Diakiese, when the fight was announced. “I hadn’t seen him fight before we got matched, but he’s a big name in the UK so I’m looking forward to it”

Twenty-seven year old Hooker is just happy to fight. He had planned on fighting in Sydney this past November. “I had an infection in my knee which ruled me out of Sydney. I’m glad they can get me on [a card] before the end of the year.”

The Kiwi last fought at home on the UFC Auckland card in June, defeating veteran Ross Pearson with a devastating knee that KO’d his foe in round two. A fight that proved he belonged with the best in the world.

“It’s where I believe my skills are at. I’m showing everyone else what I know I’m capable of,” he said of the fight. “I think I’m capable of much more so I’m looking forward to getting back in there and doing it all again.”

The Pearson bout was Hooker’s first in the UFC’s lightweight division, having fought his first six bouts at featherweight, ten pounds below at 145 pounds. Hooker now intends to make 155 his home, and isn’t concerned about size difference.

“I’m not going back to 145, 155 is where it’s at. I’m more likely to go up than down,” Hooker said. “I just feel my skills have caught up, even if someone is carrying more size than me, I can beat them with my skill.”

There has been scrutiny in recent times due to weight cutting in the sport and new rules have been implemented by the UFC and various commissions to make to process safer. But not much is different, according to Hooker.

“It hasn’t changed anything. The bigger guys are still here and still cutting the same amount of weight.” Hooker also expressed his concern that more divisions would do more harm than good.

“You might get the opposite effect where guys are coming down even further, thinking its not ten pounds of weight, it’s only five pounds. Everyone needs to move up a weight class and fight at their natural weight. Lifestyle wise and longevity wise it’s going to pay off.”

A big reason why 155 is where it’s at is because of Conor McGregor. McGregor is currently the champion in Hooker’s division, yet he has been inactive for over a year and shows no signs in returning any time soon. Hooker isn’t holding his breath on the prospect of the Irishman fighting again.

“I’m not getting off the couch with a 100 million dollars in the bank, I’ll tell you that. I’ve never seen a fat lion running around chasing antelope in the desert, it just doesn’t happen,” Hooker joked.

While Hooker doesn’t see the UFC stripping McGregor anytime soon, he’s indifferent about the use of interim belts in the UFC. Tony Ferguson is the current interim champion in the lightweight division and Hooker thinks he should be next in line.

“The UFC have offered Tony [Ferguson] to defend his interim title. Defending an interim title is where I draw the line. It should be your golden ticket to a title shot, or don’t hand it out”

Interim titles aside, the stage is set for the New Zealander at UFC 219 in front of a large global audience. He aims to make his way up the lightweight ladder towards a prestigious top 15 spot on the roster.

Hooker is one of a few New Zealand based fighters making a run in the UFC. Shane Young made his debut this year, as did Luke Jumeau. Both often train alongside Hooker at City Kickboxing in Auckland. Hooker also suggested that the undefeated striker, Israel Adesanya will be next Kiwi fighter to join the UFC roster.

“The New Zealand market has quite a big talent pool and we’re able to get multiple New Zealand fighters in the UFC. It’s a really good sign.”

As for 2018, Hooker isn’t looking too far ahead as the nature of the sport of MMA means an injury can be just around the corner. If Hooker does come out unscathed – and victorious – then he has a plan in mind.

“I’d like to fight as soon as possible. I’d like to catch up to the Aussies and New Zealanders who got to fight in Sydney and will be fighting in Perth. If I can catch up in Perth then that would be the ideal situation.”

The Perth card would certainly make sense for Hooker. A win against Diakiese would give him his first win streak of his UFC career and set him up for even bigger fights in 2018. For now, Hooker is focused on his English opponent and ending his year on a high.

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