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Is Dan Henderson the UFC’s Most Unlikely Title Contender? Possibly Not ….

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Five months ago nobody was clamouring for this fight. Nobody was even thinking of it, least of all UFC 204’s world title challenger Dan Henderson.

Yet here we are. UFC 204 is only a few days away and sitting right there as the headline attraction is a rematch from UFC 100. Michael Bisping vs. Dan Henderson, with the UFC middleweight championship on the line. It is a booking both absurd and brilliant in equal measure.

Look at everything that had to happen for this championship bout to come together. Firstly, Michael Bisping, forever the 185 pound nearly man, had to actually win the middleweight title because, lets be clear, in 2016 Dan Henderson could only get a shot at UFC gold if Bisping were the champ.

Bisping, who had gone 6-4 in his previous ten fights, wasn’t even scheduled to fight for the title until Chris Weidman withdrew with a neck injury three weeks ahead of UFC 199. On top of that, Bisping wasn’t even the first choice substitute, with Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza turning down the opportunity as he had injured his meniscus in his UFC 198 clash with Vitor Belfort.

To make the eventual outcome even more unlikely, Bisping had to defeat Luke Rockhold to win the title. The same Luke Rockhold who had cruised past Britain’s premiere mixed martial artist less than two years prior, submitting Bisping early in the second round of their bout in Sydney, Australia. Since then Rockhold had continued to improve, which contributed to Bisping opening and closing as a bigger betting underdog than he had for their first fight.

Bisping would defeat Rockhold to realise a career-long dream and become UFC middleweight champion. All that had to happen before we even consider Henderson playing his part, which he did, by defeating Hector Lombard in thrilling fashion on the very same night in Inglewood, California.

Winning any fight in the UFC was becoming an increasingly difficult proposition for Henderson by that point. Before the Lombard fight, Henderson had won only twice inside the octagon since 2011. His overall record during that time was 2-6 and he had lasted one minute and 20 seconds against Vitor Belfort in November 2015 in his last outing.

The right win at the right time, bringing together two fighters whose opposing history dated all the way back to season nine of The Ultimate Fighter in 2009, and included the most devastating defeat on Bisping’s 12 year resume in front of far and away the largest pay-per-view audience the company had ever broadcast to at UFC 100.

Even then, had it not been for nostalgic fans bombarding the UFC all over social media calling for this fight to happen, the promotion may well have opted to pit Bisping against someone higher in the middleweight rankings for his first title defense.

All things considered, the UFC 204 main event might be the most unlikely championship bout in UFC history, and as you will see from the following shortlist that is a bold claim. Here are some of the other major contenders for that honour.

Andrei Arlovski vs. Justin Eilers – UFC 53

If you think the heavyweight division in 2016 lacks depth, try to imagine what it was like back in 2005 when many of the best big men in the sport were fighting in Japan. Eilers was not only coming off a knockout loss to Paul Buentello at UFC 51, but he was the fifth choice challenger for Arlovski’s interim heavyweight title.

Injured heavyweight champion Frank Mir was still on the shelf following his motorcyle accident. A bout between Arlovski and Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic in Japan could not be made either. Former UFC champion Ricco Rodriguez was scheduled to face Arlovski but pulled himself from the fight. Then Buentello, who had hit Eilers so hard at UFC 51 that the Miletich fighter had lost complete control of his legs, was not medically cleared to fight when the UFC 53 title fight was made. That meant Eilers was the last man standing, at least until the four-minute mark of his title shot against Arlovski, where his desperate title bid was ended by the in-form champion.

Randy Couture vs. Brock Lesnar – UFC 91

Former WWE champion Brock Lesnar’s star power was never in question, nor was his physical prowess and athletic ability. His mixed martial arts resume when he stepped into the cage against Randy Couture to challenge for the UFC heavyweight title in 2008 though? That was thin. Really thin. Lesnar had only made two appearances inside the UFC’s octagon, picking up a loss against Frank Mir and a win over Heath Herring. His only previous MMA outing was a one-minute mauling of Min-Soo Kim.

The bout was, at least partly, the product of Couture’s contract dispute with the UFC which had seen Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira crowned as the interim champion in his absence. With Nogueira and Frank Mir tied up coaching season eight of The Ultimate Fighter ahead of their interim title fight, Lesnar was left to face Couture for the title “the Natural” had never lost. Lesnar took little more than eight minutes to tear away Couture’s championship belt and leave the hall of famer eyeing a return to light-heavyweight.

Frank Shamrock vs. John Lober – UFC Brazil

Long before Dan Henderson was granted a title shot against Michael Bisping largely because he held a previous win over the champion, John Lober was given a similar opportunity against Frank Shamrock. The reigning UFC middleweight champion had already won three championship bouts against more notable competition when he defended the title against Lober in October 1998, but the challenger was the last fighter to beat Shamrock at that time.

It didn’t matter that the win was the result of a contentious 30-minute split decision at a time when the sport was still figuring out how to determine who won when bouts went the distance. Nor did it matter that since that fight, Lober had lost five of his next six, with only a time limit draw against Osami Shibuya sandwiched in the middle. Still, with Shamrock clearing out the division in a hurry, the UFC presumably figured that a win over the champion made him a sellable contender. Unsurprisingly, Shamrock forced Lober to submit making it six defeats and one draw from seven fights for Lober, who never fought in the UFC again.

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Aldo vs. Lamas 2 and Ponzinibbio vs. Perry Added to UFC Winnipeg

Harry Davies

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The UFC has added Jose Aldo vs. Ricardo Lamas 2, and Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Mike Perry to their UFC Winnipeg card on December 16th.

The two fights were announced as official today on the UFC’s Twitter account.

Aldo (26-3) last fought at UFC 212 in June, where he lost by third round TKO to Max Holloway. After being promoted to the undisputed 145-pound champion last November, he was looking to make the first defence of the title against Holloway.

Lamas first faced Aldo back in 2014 at UFC 169. Aldo, who was again featherweight champion at the time, defeated Lamas with ease winning by unanimous decision (49-46) on all scorecards. Lamas is on a two-fight winning streak after defeating both Charles Oliveira and Jason Knight with impressive finishes.

Since his last UFC loss to Lorenz Larkin back in 2015, Ponzinnibio (25-3) has won five consecutive fights. His most recent victory was a upset win over Gunnar Nelson in July at UFC Glasgow. There was some controversy after the fight, as replays seemed to show a short grab and several eyes pokes from Ponzinnibio before knocking out Nelson in the first round.

Mike Perry has taken the UFC by storm since making his debut for the promotion last August. Picking up four wins all by knockout, the only loss ‘Platinum’ suffered was too Alan Jouban by decision. Ranked at #9 in the welterweight division, a win over Ponzinnibio could definitely propel Perry into the top ten at 170-pounds.

With the additon of these two fantastic fights, the lineup for UFC Winnipeg is as follows:

  • Robbie Lawler vs. Rafael dos Anjos – Welterweight bout
  • Glover Teixeira vs. Misha Cirkunov – Light heavyweight bout
  • Antônio Rogério Nogueira vs. Jared Cannonier – Light heavyweight bout
  • Tim Elliott vs. Justin Scoggins – Flyweight bout
  • Chad Laprise vs. Galore Bafondo – Welterweight bout
  • Alessio Di Chirico vs. Oluwale Bamgbose – Middleweight bout
  • Vitor Miranda vs. Julian Marquez – Middleweight bout
  • John Makdessi vs. Abel Trujillo – Lightweight bout
  • Nordine Taleb vs. Sultan Aliev – Welterweight bout
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Why the UFC Needs to Introduce 165 and 175-pound Weight Divisions

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  • The debacle that were the UFC 216 weigh-in last Friday further highlighted current weight cutting problems in mixed martial arts.

More specifically in this case it was in the UFC’s lightweight division. A fight between Nik Lentz and Will Brooks was pulled due to Lentz having ‘medical issues’ according to a UFC statement, hours before he was due to weigh-in.

Title challenger Kevin Lee then took to the scale seconds before the deadline and was over the limit by a pound. Fortunately he made weight after being given an extra hour. But these are not isolated cases, especially at 155-pounds.

There isn’t necessarily a solution to this problem but there may be a short term fix in the form of new weight classes approved by the ABC (Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports) in July 2017. These include 165 and 175-pound divisions.

While not specific to the lightweight division, the problems with weight commonly occur there. In March this year, Khabib Nurmagomedov was rushed to hospital during fight week when cutting down for his title contest with Tony Ferguson. Subsequently the UFC 209 main event was cancelled. Khabib has been regularly discussed as a title challenger but he’s often struggled to make weight and failed on numerous occasions.

With drastic dehydration it is still unknown what health implications may effect him and other mixed martial artists in the future.

Some top ranked fighters such as Donald Cerrone, Jorge Masvidal and Rafael Dos Anjos have moved up to the welterweight division to preserve their health from these strenuous cuts, and have all been relatively successful.

Former UFC lightweight Donald Cerrone has looked spectacular since making the move up to 170-pounds.

However, many fighters are still reluctant and insist on dropping 10-20% of their bodyweight in the hours and days leading up to a bout. For example, Kevin Lee was rumoured to be 19 pounds over the day before he stepped on the scales.

At 170 pounds, welterweight is fifteen pounds more than lightweight which is a noticeable difference between relatively low weight classes. Especially when you consider that the divisions increase ten pounds from as low as 115 up to 155. There are many fighters who find themselves too big to be a lightweight, yet too small to compete at welterweight.

The incidents last Friday should hopefully be a wakeup call to the UFC, who can also set an example for other organisations such as Bellator, One FC, and Cage Warriors.

So far in 2017 the UFC has lost 14 fights in 48 hours or less before they were due to take place. That is one fight every two cards. While weight cutting is not always to blame, more often than not it plays a big role. These situations leave the UFC at a loss, fighters without opponents and a pay check, and fans disgruntled. Not to mention the health implications for the athlete involved.

The UFC must recognise these common patterns, remove the 170 pound welterweight division and create 165 and 175 pound rosters instead. Some may see an additional weight class as devaluing UFC titles even further but this would not be the case.

The UFC’s official website only lists four fighters in the women’s featherweight division.

Recently the women’s featherweight title was created without having a roster of women to fill it. However, the difference with lightweight and welterweight is that they are comfortably the two deepest, most talent stacked divisions in the organisation.

Admittedly, there is a lot of history attached to the welterweight title since Pat Miletich first won it back in 1998. The likes of Matt Hughes and Georges St Pierre have also added prestige to the belt over the years.

Even so, the sport has changed since then and it’s in a transitional phase. We are in the era of USADA, the era of banned IV drips and certain commissions tightening their regulations on how much they allow fighters to safely cut. Everyone is accountable and aware of the dangers, yet steps still need to be taken.

The athletic commissions and the UFC in particular must act by introducing super lightweight (165lbs) and super welterweight (175lbs) divisions. Perhaps from a fighter’s perspective it seems like a no-brainer that their health should be the main priority.

From a fans point of view there is plenty of talent that could be used in those two divisions. The novelty of fighters blending into these classes would also have the feeling of a superfight. The likes of Nurmagomedov, Lee, Masvidal, Cerrone and Dos Anjos would certainly fit well into a 165 pound division.

Similarly, at 175 pounds, Tyron Woodley could transition from welterweight champion to super welterweight champion. Top talents such as Robert Whittaker, Stephen Thompson, Demian Maia and Robbie Lawler would be perfect matches for this weight.

Could we see the current welterweight champion Tyron Woodley compete at 175-pounds in the future?

If this was a success then super middleweight (195lbs) and cruiserweight (225lbs) divisions could be an option in future too.

As previously mentioned this won’t necessarily fix the issues of weight cutting but it gives martial artists another option and is a positive step towards fighter’s safety. Currently there has been no mention by the UFC about introducing these new divisions.

However, with fighter safety being of upmost importance these new divisions must be given serious consideration.

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James Gallagher out of Bellator 187 in Dublin due to injury

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Irish fans will have to wait a little longer to see James Gallagher fighting on home soil after Gallagher suffered a knee injury in preparation for his main event fight with Jeremiah Labiano in Dublin next month. This bad news was first reported by MMAFighting.com.

The 20-year-old from Strabane co. Tyrone who trains in the famous SBG gym with Conor McGregor and Gunnar Nelson among others has set the featherweight division alight since joining Bellator in 2016.  James “The Strabanimal” Gallagher has gone 3-0 with all three of his wins coming by rear naked choke.

After submitting Chinzo Machida, the brother of former UFC light heavyweight champion, Lyoto Machida in Madison Square Garden Gallagher has become a budding star for Bellator.

Due to the youngster’s attitude and potential, many comparisons between Gallagher and UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor have been made by the fans and media which has made Gallagher one of Bellator’s most recognizable names. This notoriety has ultimately led to the young Irishman getting a chance to headline in Dublin this November but this injury has delayed his rise for the time being.

Gallagher on social media Thursday stated that he has suffered an injury to his PCL and LCL in his knee and would be out for the remainder of the year. He has assured fans we would return next year and carry on where he started with “The Jimmy show.”

His longtime rival AJ McKee, who has engaged in a Twitter war with Gallagher after his last fight, will now headline Bellator 187 in the 3 Arena in Dublin on November 10th against Gallagher’s SBG teammate Brian Moore. Moore will be making his third appearance for Bellator in this featherweight clash.

 

 

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