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.
Aldo vs. Lamas 2 and Ponzinibbio vs. Perry Added to UFC Winnipeg
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.
THIS. CARD. pic.twitter.com/bc4AyNncqy
— UFC (@ufc) October 13, 2017
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
Why the UFC Needs to Introduce 165 and 175-pound Weight Divisions
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
James Gallagher out of Bellator 187 in Dublin due to injury
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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