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Colleen Schneider – The Newest Puzzle Facing Bellator’s Flyweights

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Colleen Schneider vs Paaluhi

The bad news is that Rebecca Ruth is out of Bellator 170. Word of an injury trickled through the stream of Bellator-arranged interviews that her opponent, Colleen Schneider, conducted on Tuesday.

The good news is that Schneider expects to remain on the card. At the time of writing, Bellator are working their way through a shortlist of potential opponents.

Less than two weeks away from the January 21 event, the situation is far from ideal for the fighter or the promoter. Given Schneider’s increasingly impressive performances over the past couple of years, it might not be ideal for whoever takes the fight either.

The 34-year-old is a verified handful. An awkward, rangy puzzle that has rarely been figured out by anyone other than top-level fighters. Credit to anyone who takes the Bellator 170 bout on short notice, because Schneider remains focused and unfazed.

“I found out a couple of days ago, but they didn’t want me to say anything yet,” Schneider told MMA Latest. “I know they’re looking for an opponent, and I know they’ll find someone. It’ll be fine, I’ll be able to get in there and fight somebody. I don’t care too much who it is, I just want a good fight.”

To date, Schneider has fought 17 times professionally over seven years. From Alaska to Utah; Tijuana to Tokyo; Mumbai to Chongqing; her career map reads like an atlas. In her first year as a pro, Schneider fought Liz Carmouche in Strikeforce. Since then promotions like Super Fight League, Invicta FC, Kunlun Fight and Pancrase have all been temporary stops along the way.

That experience, not only inside the cage, but travelling across the world to take fights — sometimes on short notice — makes taking a last minute opponent change a little easier to deal with.

More than that, Schneider’s constant focus is on becoming a better fighter as much as it is preparing for an individual opponent. Given how often she has taken fights on short notice herself, that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

“I’m usually the one on the other end of that because I am more than willing to take fights on last minute notice, and have many times flown half way across the world on a week’s notice to fight.

Colleen Schneider vs Raquel Paaluhi

Schneider baiting Pa‘aluhi

“I have definitely scouted Ruth and had watched tape on her and her fighting style so the matchup has been a part of the strategy in training, but regardless, everything that I have worked on in camp is still there and still part of my tool kit. I can still apply it, so whoever it ends up being it doesn’t bother me to not know now. Honestly, you could tell me I’m gonna get in the cage and not know who I’m going to fight until I get in there, and I’d be ok with that. I’ve got enough experience and I’ve fought enough that I can adapt to what I need to in the fight.”

The last time Schneider saw the cage doors close behind her was an unsuccessful attempt to win Invicta FC gold in May last year. Schneider challenged Tonya Evinger as a significant underdog, and through five gruelling rounds was unable to cause the upset. Evinger won by unanimous decision.

Defeat is something that Schneider believes she deals with well, a statement backed up by hard evidence.

Going into the Evinger bout, “the Thoroughbred” had embarked on a four-fight world tour that saw her win fights in China, Mexico, Japan and the United States. That impressive run came off the back of another Invicta defeat, to Irene Aldana in February 2015.

This time around, Schneider has an even better understanding of which fighters to draw inspiration from. One former UFC bantamweight champion particularly impressing off the back of the recent UFC 207 card.

“There can be a lot of pressure if you’ve not dealt with a loss and come back from that, as we’ve seen in the UFC just recently. Winning or losing doesn’t, for me personally, define who I am as a fighter. Either way I’m looking at what I did well, what I did wrong, and how I can get better every single time.

“I feel like I’ve had a lot of growth in the past year, and there are things I did well in that last loss to Tonya Evinger. There are things I did well, and I’m proud about that fight and there are things where I know I could do differently and would, ya know would happily fight her again. It’s part of growing.

“I was actually hugely impressed with Dominick Cruz’s post fight presser after his loss to Cody Garbrandt. The way he looked at it and his attitude about fighting and about the loss, and it just seemed so level headed and reasonable and such an intelligent approach to it and it was nice to see that. I think I try and take some of that approach in the way I look at losses I’ve had as well.”

Since Bellator began making significant investment in their flyweight division in 2016, the focus has been on developing prospects. Ilima-Lei Macfarlane, Anastasia Yankova and Emily Ducote are but three of the exciting talents that seized the opportunity to shine over the past 12 months.

Fighting Schneider will be a completely different proposition for any of those fighters. Not only are they less experienced themselves, they have never faced anyone who can match Schneider’s own level of experience either.

The fighter is also tall for a bantamweight, let alone the 125 pound flyweight division. To make matters worse for prospective opponents, Schneider understands how to utilise those advantages.

“I think reach isn’t inherently an advantage. Some people are long and don’t fight long, but I think I fight well on the outside. I know how to use my reach well and at 125 when I fought at that weight before I feel very physically imposing, I feel very strong at that weight class.”

That is all part of the in-cage puzzle that Bellator opponents will be trying to figure out. Not that Schneider plans on letting her less experienced foes do so. The fighter’s sights are set firmly on making a statement on January 21. With so many new kids on the Bellator flyweight block, does being the more established commodity bring additional pressure?

“Not necessarily because I’m more experienced, but because my intention is to go in there and have that flyweight title. I want to go in there and have people watch this fight and go ‘holy crap yeah she needs to fight for the title, she needs to be in there, she deserves that shot’. I want my performance to say that. Ya know that pressure is on it, but more than anything I’ve just been out of the cage way too long and I love fighting and I’m excited. I feel excited to get in there and fight.”

Don’t be fooled into thinking either that the years Schneider has put in, or the miles she has travelled, are leading her to wind down her career. Bellator is a fresh opportunity, and one of the biggest of Schneider’s career.

The fighter made it clear that we’ve not seen the best of her yet, and those gloves will not be getting hung up until we have.

“I think there is so much more I have to grow in this sport, and so much more potential I have. I think I’m a far better fighter now than I was six months ago. Honestly this camp has been phenomenal and I’ve learned so much in this camp that it wasn’t just a matter of going in and grinding and getting in shape and getting the conditioning down. I’ve developed a lot, and I feel like if I got to the point where I stopped growing as a fighter then I would be done fighting. I mean that’s kinda how I look at anything that I do, if I’m not growing and learning and developing in what I’m doing then why the hell am I doing it?”

The list of remaining goals for Schneider seems clear. Reaching her absolute peak as a fighter, and wearing Bellator gold. It is expected that Bellator will introduce a flyweight championship some time in 2016. With an impressive performance January 21, Schneider would instantly become one of the promotion’s most credible contenders.

Colleen Schneider Pancrase

Schneider fighting in Pancrase in 2015

One other goal that remains semi-complete is fighting in Japan. In October 2015, Schneider travelled to Tokyo to fight Bryanna Fissori at Pancrase 270. The rich MMA history of both the promotion, and the country, were not lost on a fighter who was left with only one nagging disappointment. Soccer kicks.

“It was completely a bucket list opportunity for me and I got to go on the show that, I can’t think of the name of it? That Bas Rutten and Mauro Ranallo host, and Josh Barnett was on it with me. So I’m there with Bas and Josh who are Kings of Pancrase and talking about how I get to go there and fight for Pancrase so I was geeking out a little bit.

“But I love Tokyo and I love Japan. It’s an amazing country and city, and the experience over there is definitely different to fighting in the U.S. The crowd is very educated, they know what they’re watching and they appreciate subtleties, like subtleties in grappling and things that, ya know often when I’ve fought in the States people don’t really have that appreciation for it.

“They’re also very quiet which is quite, quite different. You hear everything, but just the whole experience of being in Japan and fighting over there it was such a cool thing that I was able to do it. The only thing I was disappointed about was that I really wanna fight with the PRIDE rules so maybe at some point I’ll get to go back to Japan and Soccer kick somebody.”

As I point out, Bellator have let fighters compete at RIZIN events in the past, so who knows, maybe we’ll get to see Schneider time the perfect Soccer kick some time soon.

“Oh yeah, that would be a dream come true.”

That trip to Japan was also notable for another reason. The fight kit that Schneider wore against Bryanna Fissori was intricately wonderful, and genuinely the best I have ever seen in all my years watching fights. Schneider’s unique outfits are custom made by DEFILA, the brainchild of Creative Director and founder Ila Erickson.

I can’t help but ask if something special is in store for Schneider’s Bellator debut. I’d be lying if I said that her excited answer didn’t warm my heart.

“I do, it’s gonna be awesome. Yes I have something very, very cool planned for my fight kit, but that’s as much as you’re gonna get right now, a little teaser.”

So we are left guessing, for January 21 and beyond. We are left guessing regarding an opponent, and how good Schneider is going to be with the improvements made since the Evinger fight last year.

That has really been the story of Schneider’s recent career, both in and out of the cage. Fans have never known where the fighter will pop up next. As for her opponents, they will know that feeling well too. Punches and kicks are thrown from angles that most fighters would be unable to find.

The only certainty is that whoever steps up to face Colleen Schneider on January 21 is in for one hell of a fight.

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Bellator: Selecting the Four Alternates for the Heavyweight Grand Prix.

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With an 8-man tournament bracket full of legends and former champions, join us as we chose four alternates for the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix.

Main Tournament Participants:

  • Fedor Emelianenko
  • Frank Mir
  • Chael Sonnen
  • Quinton Jackson
  • Roy Nelson
  • Matt Mitrione
  • Ryan Bader
  • King Mo Lawal

The alternate tournament bracket will consist of: two opening round fights (semi-final), and then two victorious fighters competing against one another at the finale (final). This will determine a worthy contender to step into the main tournament bracket, in case any of the main bracket fighters are injured in their semi-final bouts.

If a pull-out or injury occurs before the opening bouts, I believe Bellator have to select the most decorated fighter, and a natural heavyweight fighter. So in case of a pull-out occurring before the opening round, I would select my #1 alternate, and so on for any more opening pull-outs.

This structure covers all bases, and keeps the Bellator Heavyweight Tournament intense and prestigious.

So with the structure laid out, here is our selected alternate fighters.

  • #1: Vitaly Minakov
  • #2: Linton Vassell
  • #3: Attilah Vegh
  • #4: Emanuel Newton

Alternate Opening Round [Semi-Final]:

  • Bout 1: #1 Vs. #3
  • Bout 2: #2 Vs. #4

Alternate Final:

  • Victor of Bout #1/#3 Vs. Victor of Bout #2 Vs. #4

Linton Vassell vs. Emanuel Newton would be a trilogy that needs to be completed. Linton dominated on the ground for the most part of their first bout, but felt he gave up positions he felt he could have held longer, and took needless transitions and risks; allowing for a very sneaky Emanuel Newton to escape the clutches of ‘The Swarm’, and when the gas tank begins to empty – a scrambling Emanuel Newton is not what you want!

Fighter bios:

Vitaly Minakov: A former Bellator tournament winner, and former Bellator heavyweight champion. A Judo black belt, and multi time Sambo world champion, there’s no denying this man’s resume as one of the best put forth out of these 4 fighters.

Linton Vassell: A man who really lives up to the moniker – ‘The Swarm’, Linton Vassell has dominated and dispatched various opponents Bellator have put across from him. Having fallen short in two title fights, and a close decision loss to King Mo, Linton has shown that he’s there with the best Bellator has to offer, maybe the Heavyweight Grand Prix might see the dark-horse finally come into the lime-light! Currently contracted to Bellator with a 7-3 record for the promotion.

If you would like to follow the Bellator Heavyweight Tournament, you can check out the opening round bouts on the following Bellator MMA events:

Emanuel Newton: Already holding two victories over King Mo, who’s allocated in this Heavyweight main tournament bracket – that alone is just cause to enter Emanuel. An exciting and unpredictable entry this would be. Bellator parted ways with Emanuel in 2016. Currently, Newton is not on the best of runs, but this tournament needs a ‘wild-card’, and Emanuel owns that title.

Attilah Vegh: A former Bellator LHW champion. Not currently signed to Bellator. Was strangely released in 2014 after having a record of 5-1 with the promotion, and some victories over some very reputable names. Currently on a 2 fight win-streak outside of Bellator MMA.

If you would like to follow the Bellator Heavyweight Tournament, you can check out the opening round bouts on the following Bellator MMA events:

 

Bellator 192 at The Forum – Jan. 20, 2018: Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (37-12) vs. Chael Sonnen (30-15-1)
Bellator 194 at Mohegan Sun Arena – Feb. 16, 2018: Matt Mitrione (12-5) vs. Roy Nelson (23-14)
Bellator at Allstate Arena – April, 2018: Fedor Emelianenko (36-5, 1 NC) vs. Frank Mir (18-11)
Bellator at SAP Center – May, 2018: Ryan Bader (24-5) vs. “King Mo” Lawal (21-6, 1 NC)

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Exclusive: Hisaki Kato: “My priorities are in MMA”

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French-Japanese middleweight Hasaki Kato returns to the Bellator cage Friday as he takes on former welterweight Chidi “Bang Bang” Njokuani. Ahead of the high-level striking match-up, Kato took the time out of his busy schedule to speak with MMA Latest.

Rangy striker Njokuani makes his middleweight debut Friday as he looks to erase his loss to Andrey Koreshkov from recent memory. It isn’t lost on Kato just how tall and lanky the 6’3 striker truly is. “Well he’s very tall,” Kato tells MMA Latest. “He was a welterweight but even for a middleweight he’s really tall he’s like 6’2, 6’3 taller than me, longer reach than me. Obviously, I was watching his fights, he’s fighting with range and using his reach to fight so that’s his number one weapon.”

In Njokuani’s last fight, Koreshkov, the former welterweight champion, held Njokuani down and elbowed him until the ref stepped in. So what exactly went wrong in the fight? “Well, first I think Koreshkov is really, really strong,” Kato explains. “Chidi Njokuani normally escapes the ground part or at least he’s on top of his opponent. But Koreshkov has good pressure and good grappling and he could take the top position. Obviously, Njokuani is not comfortable when he is on the bottom. So yeah, I think he couldn’t play his game during the last fight because Koreshkov was putting too much pressure on him.”

Former UFC fighter, Gegard Mousasi, recently made his debut against Alexander Shlemenko back in October. The Dutchman had a tough debut that resulted in a controversial decision win, Kato weighed in on whether or not he’s eyeing a fight with him and what he thought of his Bellator debut. “If I have an offer I will fight him,” he says without any particular enthusiasm. “I will fight everybody in the division. Yeah, for the last fight, well, I think luckily for him it was a three-round fight. I think if it was a five round fight the victory would have gone to Shlemenko. I don’t know maybe he had a bad camp, I don’t know but he was doing terrible.”

Kato also believes a title shot isn’t far away. “I believe I’m really close to that (a title shot),” he says. “After the win, after the Gracie fight, even if it was a decision win, the Gracie is a big family name so I was expecting a title fight. I didn’t have it so I guess if I win this time I have a good chance to have it.”

Whatever you do, don’t expect to see Kato back in a kickboxing ring anytime soon. Does it interest him to return? “Not really,” Kato replies after giving the question some thought. “If the offer is good then why not, for now, I feel more comfortable in MMA so my focus, my priorities, are in MMA.”

Many fans were very disappointed with the way his last fight turned out. Paired up against jiu-jitsu fighter, Ralek Gracie, Kato ended up going to the judges for the first time in his career. “Yeah the fight itself was really frustrating,” Kato admits. “I couldn’t do what I wanted and after two rounds, I knew I had done enough to win, and I knew he would push more. So I decided ‘yeah ok then it’s going to a decision’ but at the very least I had to win that fight.  That’s why I didn’t take too many risks in the third round. During the first and the second, I really wanted to end that fight like I always try but I couldn’t do it.”

So why hasn’t Kato fought since January? “I had an offer in September,” he says. “But I got injured during the training and had to go into surgery, and after the surgery, the process is really long to recover so that’s why.”

So what does Kato predict for the fight? “Obviously his nickname is ‘Bang’ you know, he likes to fight and that’s all I like doing too,” Kato laughs. “I’m really thinking about having a big knockout with my hands.”

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Exclusive: Fernando Gonzalez talks Paul Daley and Michael Page fights

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Long-time Bellator welterweight contender, Fernando Gonzalez, has made a career out of fighting the best fighters his promotion had to offer. The always tough Californian has displayed this willingness to fight the best when he took on Paul Daley in a kickboxing match and when he took on Michael ‘Venom’ Page, in what was supposed to be Page’s coming out fight.

The kickboxing match with Daley happened back in 2015 at “Bellator MMA and Glory: Dynamite 1” in an event that featured both Glory kickboxing as well as its fair share of intriguing Bellator MMA fights. Gonzalez would go on to lose the fight in what many fans called a ‘lackluster’ contest. Speaking to MMA Latest, Gonzalez was asked if he had any interest in returning to the kickboxing ring and why he participated in Glory kickboxing.

“No. Honestly, that kickboxing match was more just to get Daley; because they kept trying to give him to me on short notice and one was on an injury,” Gonzalez told MMA Latest. “So I was like, ‘no I don’t want to give him an easy win’, but the only thing they came up with was that kickboxing match in that time. So ever since that fight, I was like ‘listen dude lets do this MMA’. I’m an MMA guy, I know how to kickbox and I’m good with it but I prefer MMA. I love doing MMA. I don’t like to have too many rules put on me. I like being able to go out there and flow freely. Honestly, I want Daley in an MMA fight so he gets the real fight.”

Gonzalez’ fight with Michael Page was booked as the veteran getting fed to the younger up and coming contender. The fight was Page’s opportunity to add another highlight reel knockout to his collection. Obviously, someone forgot to tell Gonzalez. Gonzalez went out and made sure he never gave Page any openings, unfortunately, he would go on to lose the fight by split decision. Fernando explains what went wrong in his only Bellator loss.

Honestly the only thing that went wrong in the fight is how people viewed the fight”, Gonzalez explains. “If you really look at the fight he really didn’t land anything. The whole first round they’re talking him up, how he’s dancing and how it’s putting me into a lullaby and this and that. I was never in danger. He was not throwing a single punch. This is MMA, you cant just take on the fight with one style, you have to fight different styles for different people. If it was just boxing, you would fight a boxer just one way realistically, but Michael Page has the karate style. So you have to come up with a different formula if you’re going to fight somebody like that.”

“So my style with him, I knew that he’s used to everybody rushing him and trying to take him down. I’m a striker so I don’t mind striking. If I’m not in danger then I’m going to keep it striking. So what I did was I circled, I kept him at arm’s length, so he constantly had to throw long arms where he’s having to reach out and grab you. He’s throwing those arms out, that makes him have to basically hold his arms out a lot longer than he’s used to. He’s used to guys rushing in on him. So with me playing that outside game, obviously my legs are a lot longer than my arms, so I had to throw a lot more kicks, there was a lot of head kicks to take away his power-punch where he leaps in. By doing that, that made him work a lot longer in the second and third round where he’s normally finishing guys. By that third round, he was completely exhausted and couldn’t throw. He said his timing was off and this and that, but he was just exhausted. I had already gassed him out and he had just enough to stay away from me.”

“Really it’s just how you see the fight. They automatically assumed I had to take him down to win and that’s not necessarily true. If I’m not in danger, and I’m landing kicks, and I’m landing good shots, and he’s hitting my arms. Realistically most of the shots he landed were on my arms and that really doesn’t count. So it’s really just how you see it and that’s why one judge had it 30-27. It’s just how you’re seeing the fight. If you’re a striker you would know what you’re looking at, but if you’re a ground guy, of course, you’re going to say ‘oh I got to get it to the ground’ which is what the commentators were; two ground guys talking about what I should’ve done.”

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