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Brian Ebersole: The End of a Long Road

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In among the craziness of a UFC Fight Night chock-full of shock KO’s, heavyweight hook kicks, the new side of Ben Rothwell and one MMA icon resurrecting his UFC career, another veteran of the sport gracefully slipped into retirement: Brian Ebersole. In a career that spanned 15 years and a staggering 70 professional bouts, Ebersole, without doubt, is more than worthy of a tag that is far too often overused in this day and age, that of legend.

Ebersole’s introduction to sport came at a very young age when his father introduced him to wrestling. Although, by his own admission, he wasn’t aware wrestling was preparing him for a career as a fighter. A highly successful wrestler in high school, with more than 500 matches worth of experience, he earned a spot on the wrestling team at college in Illinois. However, after an incident that turned violent between himself and a student of a rival university. Despite the fact that Ebersole did not initiate the fracas and no statement was issued against him, he lost his spot on the team. This ended his wrestling career and sent Ebersole into depression, ultimately resulting in him losing all motivation to complete the final year of his history degree and dropping out of college. In a number of interviews since, Ebersole has stated that he should have walked away from the incident without reacting, but that, in hindsight, it helped make him the man he is today.

By then, Ebersole already had a few MMA bouts under his belt, so he pursued it full-time after joining the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA). Although a natural welterweight, Ebersole certainly did not mind fighting at other weight classes. He fought as a light heavyweight against fighters like UFC hall of famer Stephan Bonnar, and even as high as heavyweight. His goal was to fight for the UFC or in PRIDE and he believed that working hard on all aspects of his game as well as fighting regularly was the way to achieve that goal. As far as Ebersole was concerned, a fight was a fight. This is most evident in the fact that between April of 2001 and April of 2003, just a mere two years, he amassed 26 fights, often times with multiple fights per night and in tournaments. He continued this relentless attitude to fighting until he suffered a further setback.

After a fight in 2006 in which Ebersole defeated Shannon Ritch, it was alleged that the fight was faked and ‘worked’ like a pro wrestling style match-up, as it was claimed the two were talking while on the ground and that Ritch tapped out with no submission locked in. Ebersole and Ritch were suspended by the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) and the fight ruled a no contest. It is widely believed that this was due not to the fight being a fake, but to a lack of understanding on the part of the commission. In an interview on the Glove Up or Shut Up podcast some years later, Ritch described what had happened. At some point, Ebersole landed a cartwheel kick, his favourite technique, dropping Ritch and ending up on top of him. This was the first question mark the commission had over the fight, as they didn’t think it was a legitimate technique and more for show, despite, as Ritch said, Ebersole being known for using it. As for the submission, Ritch clarified that he did indeed tap before Ebersole locked in a submission, but not because the fight was worked. Ebersole was wearing a large cup, and when he took the back of Ritch and got both hooks in, the cup painfully pressed into his spine, causing him extreme pain which forced him to tap. Regardless, the suspension and the fact that his integrity was questioned led to Ebersole moving to Australia to further his MMA career.

He fought to a 1 – 1 record there over two months before returning to America to say goodbye to friends and family. While there however, he was offered a short notice fight in the now defunct International Fight League (IFL).  However, he was to fail a post-fight drug test for marijuana, which he explained was due to eating marijuana cookies before he even knew he was going to fight and that the marijuana did not have enough time to leave his system. Once again, he was suspended by the CSAC. He continued with his plan and moved back to Australia, where he travelled across the country fighting as often as he could, but also training the local fighters. He admitted subsequently that fighting in Australia wasn’t the best way to put himself firmly in the minds of the powers that be at the UFC, but he was earning good money for the first time. In that run, he fought Hector Lombard handed future UFC fighter Dylan Andrews his first competitive loss and defeated former UFC welterweight champion Carlos Newton by decision at the inaugural event of Impact FC. With his professional record standing at 46-14-1-1, Ebersole got the call he had waited for his whole career. The UFC were holding an event in Australia and Carlos Condit had pulled out of his fight with Chris Lytle, leaving them with less than 3 weeks to find a replacement. That was right up Ebersole’s alley and he was offered the fight, an opportunity that he was not going to turn down. After 11 years and 53 fights, he had achieved his goal of fighting for the UFC.

In a result which shocked many, as Lytle was being talked about as a potential title challenger and, despite his long record, he was relatively unknown by a lot of fans, it was Ebersole who had his hand raised at the end of a fight that received Fight of the Night honours. Before the end of that year, he had notched a further 2 wins in the UFC; a TKO victory over Dennis Hallman (in a fight also remembered for Hallman’s Speedos ring attire) and a decision over Claude Patrick. With another win over TJ Waldburger in 2012, Ebersole was on a hot streak, but back to back losses to James Head and Rick Story firmly put the brakes on his surge up the division. He would bounce back by beating John Howard, before his final fight last Saturday against Omari Akhmedov. Heading into that bout, he has said he had a hard training camp, with niggling injuries to his back, neck and knee troubling him to the extent that he had to visit specialists. During the fight, he took several heavy leg kicks to that knee and, sitting on his stool after round 1, he knew it was over. He signalled for the referee to stop the fight, thus ending his MMA career.

Remarkably, that result marks the first time in his 70 fight career that he has received a loss on his record via TKO. Considering he has fought far larger opponents than himself as well as some devastating strikers, that is a highly impressive statistic. In total, his record finishes as 51-17-1-1, with a finish rate of 66% (14 knockouts, 20 submissions). His exciting style and willingness to use unorthodox techniques endeared him to fans. His humorous side too, often shaving designs like arrows into his chest hair for fights for example, was also a factor in his growth in popularity during his UFC stint. Brian Ebersole retires with the respect of everyone who knew him, be it as a fan, trainer, student or fellow fighter, but also, on his on terms, an option which many in the sport don’t get. His knowledge and skills as a trainer would be an invaluable tool for any fighter to have the opportunity to learn from, and I doubt he will be short of offers on that front. Brian Ebersole deserves to, and will, be remembered as a legend of this great sport of MMA. Thank you Brian, and enjoy your retirement.

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Jacare Souza vs. Kelvin Gastelum Official for UFC 224

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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

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Exclusive: Mike Ekundayo, “He could come with anything, I don’t care”

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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”.

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Announcement

UFC 222 Re-Worked with Cris Cyborg vs. Yana Kunitskaya, and Frankie Edgar vs. Brian Ortega

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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.

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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