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Emerging MMA Talent – Five Women to Watch in 2017

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Ariane Lipski KSW

The first Invicta and UFC events of the year have been and gone. Bellator is coming up this weekend too. The MMA pace of 2017 is increasing.

Over the next 12 months new stars will emerge. They always do. Look at where we were as 2016 began. Angela Lee was 4-0 and the combined records of her opponents to that point were 8-8. Angela Hill was 2-2 and hadn’t won a fight in over a year. Megan Anderson had lost badly in her Invicta debut and was about to meet an opponent with a 1-0 record.

If you’re wondering who to look out for in 2017, we have you covered. From China to the Ukraine, Louisiana to Brazil, here are five women you can expect big things from before 2017 comes to a close.

Andrea “KGB” Lee (5-2)

Lee had a disappointing 2016. The fighter was submitted by Sarah d’Alelio in March before being suspended for the rest of the year as a result of a positive test for a pair of diuretics. That only makes Lee’s reach for the top in 2017 more compelling.

“KGB” remains the most creative and versatile striker in the flyweight division, finding angles and openings that others can only dream of. Given her credentials as a striker that is unsurprising. Lee has won amateur world Muay Thai championships and a national Golden Gloves boxing championship in the United States.

The upside to that 2016 suspension is that it gave Lee the opportunity to compete in a number of grappling events. We might not always see it, because Lee is so good on her feet, but the fighter’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu skills were underrated even before the extra focus in 2016.

That all makes Lee a certain inclusion on this list. When you then combine her already having one win in the bag, defeating Jenny Liou impressively at Invicta FC 21, and a second fight booked for February for the Legacy Fighting Alliance title, 2017 could be the year that Andrea Lee becomes the number one flyweight in the world.

Helena Kolesnyk (3-0)

12 months ago Ukrainian featherweight Helena Kolesnyk had not yet made her professional MMA debut. Three wins later, Kolesnyk is set for a big year in 2017.

Kolesnik’s pro MMA career has so far consisted of working her way into the clinch, womanhandling her opponents, and then pounding on them after taking them to the mat. Mostly anyway. Don’t be fooled into thinking she is primarily a grappler, as her striking credentials are impressive.

Xiaomin Wang offered a little resistance back in June before being submitted in the second round. What that fight showed, is that Kolesnyk has the ability to overcome in-cage adversity, and threaten with submissions off her back.

Being an emerging prospect in a division that has so few gives Kolesnyk a head start. She has already snuck into the unified rankings, currently sitting 10th at featherweight. With the UFC entering the featherweight market, and Bellator and Invicta looking to pad out their own divisions, don’t be surprised to see Kolesnyk take a big step up in competition over the next year.

Janaisa Morandin (10-0)

At the top of the atomweight pile sits Ayaka Hamasaki. The Japanese fighter has lost only once in 15 career fights. Hamasaki has set herself apart at 105 pounds, but 2017 could be the year that she faces her greatest atomweight challenge yet.

Undefeated Brazilian Janaisa Morandin is signed to an Invicta contract and has announced that she expects to have a fight booked with the promotion soon. With 10 wins picked up in less than four years as a pro, Morandin poses a significant threat to the rest of the division.

The diminutive prospect is a master at making her opponents feel uncomfortable on their backs. Morandin’s ground and pound is best described as vicious. There is plenty more to her game beyond that though, the Brazilian is a threat everywhere.

The only question mark remaining against Morandin is how she will fare against more experienced competition. That is something we should find out in 2017.

Ariane Lipski (8-3)

The surging Brazilian has now won her last six, including two wins inside the KSW cage in Poland. Lipski had an impressive 2016, facing notable names Juliana Werner and Sheila Gaff, and defeating both spectacularly.

A warrior in every sense, Lipski is an aggressive puncher with legitimate power in her hands. The right hand that felled Werner like a tree landed perfectly. It looked pretty tasty against Sheila Gaff too, dropping the German to one knee and leading to the finish.

Approaching her 23rd birthday, the Brazilian is starting to come into her own. Lipski has already carried her power beyond the Brazilian regional scene, and made a splash in the flyweight top ten.

If Lipski chooses to remain a force in Europe there is plenty of solid competition for her to plough through. Alternatively, Bellator adding the fighter into a mix that already includes Ilima-Lei Macfarlane, Emily Ducote and Colleen Schneider would be an exciting prospect.

Weili Zhang (10-1)

Chinese strawweight Weili Zhang has not lost since her professional MMA debut in 2013. In 2016, Zhang went a perfect 6-0 defeating notable opponents such as Emi Fujino and Karla Benitez. Her impressive record only tells part of the story.

Kunlun Fight, where Zhang has primarily competed, is a hotbed of impressive female talent. With Jingnan Xiong, Bo Meng and Yanan Wu all making waves, Zhang might be the best of the bunch.

Zhang is happy to go to war with anyone on the feet and has strikes within her offensive arsenal that are capable of finishing fights quickly. The headkick that Zhang knocked out Lilya Kazak with last year was spectacular. The relentless barrage of punches and elbows she unleased on Karla Benitez showed a special kind of killer instinct. Benitez was left out cold. The Venezuelan had never been stopped by strikes in her 25 fight professional career.

China’s outstanding strawweight is a submission threat too. Four of her ten wins have come via that method. In short, Zhang has a chance to beat fighters wherever the action goes. That’s a scary prospect for any opponent.

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Fighter to Watch

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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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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UFC Middleweight Champion, Robert Whittaker Announces Birth of Third Child

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Times seem dull and dreary for the UFC’s Middleweight Champion, Robert Whittaker. The New Zealand born fighter withdrew from the promotions event debut in the eastern region of his residence, Australia. UFC 221, which takes place this Saturday, booked Whittaker to defend his title for the first time against former division champion, Luke Rockhold. His withdrawal was due to mistreatment of a serious staph infection inside of the Australians stomach.

It couldn’t get much worse, having to disappoint fans, and missing the first UFC event in eastern Australia. As it turns out, it could not get worse for Whittaker. Life only got better, as he had the pleasure of announcing the birth of his third child.

His new child is the champions third and first girl. Information regarding his child is limited as this moment is a tender and special time for the Whittaker family.

UFC 221 takes place in Perth, Australia at Perth Arena on February 11th. The cards main event features Whittakers short notice replacement, Yoel Romero taking on Luke Rockhold. Much to the satiety of fans, an interim belt is not in the equation in this instance.

Thank God. Excuse me, thank Dana White.

UFC 221 also features the ‘Super Samoan’ Mark Hunt vs. Curtis Blaydes, Tai Tuivasa faces Cyril Asker, Alexander Volkanovski vs. Jeremy Kennedy and more.

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