South Africa’s Garreth “Soldierboy” McLellan fights at UFC Rotterdam this weekend against Swedish middleweight, Magnus Cedenblad. Before flying to the Netherlands, McLellan was kind enough to take the time for an interview.
Where else to start other than McLellan’s last fight – a TKO win over Bubba Bush with just 2 seconds remaining back in October 2015 in Dublin. It is a night the South African remembers fondly, but not just because it was his first UFC victory. The Irish fans, as they are famous for doing, enhanced the experience. “I think the whole thing was just really special,” he began. “I think the occasion, the way that the fight went and the response from the crowd was really special. Everything just fell into place perfectly. I didn’t expect to get the reception that I did – the ovation from the Irish fans was incredible. I had heard what an amazing place it was to fight, but I don’t think you understand that until you are on the full receiving end of the Irish people. They got behind me 100% which made it that much more special for me and lasting in my memory.”
“It’s amazing,” he continued, referring to how warmly the fans received him and also when they sought him out for selfies and autographs after the event. “Back home in South Africa that’s the reception I get from the South African fans and I’m used to that kind of environment. When you go to another country, you don’t expect it to be the same, you don’t expect it to be that wild and for people to be drawn to you. It was an exceptionally humbling experience for myself.”
On the win in Dublin itself, McLellan knows how important it was. “I think it was a good time to get the win. Obviously it got that monkey off my back of getting a win in the UFC. Now it’s not a case of going in having to get that win to show that I’m capable – I’ve done that and now I can go and express myself.”
UFC Rotterdam marks the third consecutive appearance for McLellan on UFC cards in Europe. He enjoys fighting for the European fans and knows what an opportunity it is for him in his career. “You know, I think it’s a case of getting myself established in the UFC,” he said. “The way I see it is that it’s an opportunity to see the world and travel and fight for the UFC. The main cards you want to be on are one of the numbered shows in Las Vegas – that’s a goal for everybody. For now, I’m happy to fight on the European cards. They’re great, just as packed and just as vibrant as you would get in America. I like fighting in Europe, they make me feel very welcome and I’m sure you will see me on an American card at some stage.”
Regarding Cedenblad, his opponent, McLellan is more than aware of the Swede’s talent and skill, but he is confident in his own qualities heading into Sunday’s card. “He’s got an impressive record in the UFC,” McLellan explained. “He has his dreams, his goals and the direction he wants to go and he’s working hard towards that. He’s a competitor and he’s coming to fight. He’s well-rounded and he’s able to fight anywhere. There are no easy fights going forward from now. As you climb the ladder they just keep getting harder and you have to be prepared for them. I haven’t focused on him too much like in my last fight, I just prepared myself to the best of my abilities. I’m coming to fight on Sunday and I’m coming to win.”
In preparation for this fight, McLellan took a trip over to Canada for a visit to Tristar in Montreal as part of his training camp. It was a venture well worth making for McLellan. “Our gym has a good relationship with the Tristar guys,” he told me. “I just felt like I needed to experience a different environment, train with some UFC athletes and broaden my horizons a little bit. It was an amazing trip. I was very fortunate to experience time with guys like Firas Zahabi and the top athletes there and train with those guys. They made me feel very at home and they added so much to my training camp. I came back home, my training partners here pushed me really hard and it’s been a really good camp for myself. I’ve worked hard, stayed focused and I think I’ve gotten the results that I wanted.”
Every fighter has a dream of fighting for the UFC in their home country, and McLellan is no different. I asked him if he felt that dream was coming closer to reality. “We hope so,” he started. “This is what we’re looking for. We’re looking to be in a strong enough position in the rankings where we can say ‘Hey, it’s time to put on a card in Africa.’ I can be that main event. I want to create enough buzz that the UFC can’t deny us an event here. There’s a massive fan base here in South Africa, and in all of Africa. They’d be well received here, I think it will be surprising for them how well received they will be. I don’t think we’re too far off, we just have to keep pushing hard, make sure we get that done and bring them here. Being a South African fighter, we didn’t have much. We didn’t have a lot at our disposal and we’ve had to grind hard to get ourselves in the position we are in now. It would be a monumental day for South African and African MMA.”
“We have some good talent here. We have some guys who are ready for the UFC now, it’s just a case of getting them that exposure and showing the UFC that South Africans are worth having on their events. We understand as a team we have to keep pushing and I understand myself that I have to lead the way for these youngsters and make sure that, when I hang up the gloves, I’ve created a path for South Africans to get into the UFC and compete at the highest level.”
In closing, McLellan had a message for his fans and also told me what everyone can expect to see on Sunday in Rotterdam. “Thanks for the support and keep supporting. Tune in on Sunday and it’s going to be a completely different guy that you saw last time. I’m coming to please the crowd again, I’m looking for the finish and I’m going to show the UFC world that they need to take notice of ‘Soldierboy’, that he’s someone to look out for.”
Exclusive: Alexander Gustafsson eyeing summer 2018 return- wants title shot next
Top light heavyweight contender Alexander Gustafsson hasn’t fought since an impressive knockout win back in May, against Glover Teixeira. “The Mauler” is currently on a two-fight winning streak, and for many people, is seen as one of the most logical names to fight for the title next.
Currently absent from the Octagon since May, speaking to MMA Latest, “The Mauler” explains why he’s been on such a long layoff. “I have had an injury in my shoulder,” Gustafsson told MMA Latest. “I had a surgery a couple of months back where they put in a titanium plate to keep my collarbone in place. But that plate was taken out last week so I am back to training and slowly but surely getting better with all the rehab. I’m excited to be back in the Octagon soon.”
After so many obstacles, Gustafsson details when we can expect him back in the cage. “If everything goes well with rehab, I’ll be back in the octagon in the beginning of the summer – right in time for the next title match!”
Volkan Oezdemir was calling out Gustafsson for a European number one contender fight, Gustafsson explains he was never interested in the fight. “No, my prior goal and my only interest is the title fight,” Gustafsson said. “If Volkan wins against DC he will probably be my next opponent.”
The title fight is “absolutely” what Gustafsson believes is next for him and don’t expect to see him in a number one contender fight first. “As I said previously, the title fight is my number one interest.”
With Daniel Cormier and Volkan Oezdemir fighting for the title at UFC 220, Gustafsson shares his thoughts on the matchup. “It’s an exciting matchup – DC is the more experienced fighter and he is a more complete fighter than Volkan,” Gustafsson said. “DC has also been in this situation before, Volkan has not.”
Back in July, Jon Jones failed his second test for PED’s after beating Daniel Cormier to regain his light heavyweight belt. Before the fights with Daniel Cormier, Jones went to war with Gustafsson back in 2013. Gustafsson shares his thoughts on Jones’ second failed test. “Disastrous is my first thought,” Gustafsson explains. “But for the sport, it is good that the truth is out. I wish Jon good luck in his rehab and he is one of the most talented fighters in the UFC.”
Gustafsson was also asked if he eyeing a rematch with Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones before the end of his career. “Of course, I feel good and I’m motivated,” Gustafsson said. “I would like to get the opportunity to match up against both DC and Jon before I retire.”
Exclusive: Aljamain Sterling discusses upcoming fight and more ahead of UFC Fresno
Alajamain Sterling is set to meet late-notice opponent, Marlon Moraes, at the UFC’s return to California. UFC Fresno is headlined by a featherweight fight between top contenders Cub Swanson and Brian Ortega.
Sterling was originally supposed to meet Rani Yahya before he was forced to pull out. Although the Moraes is a bigger fight, it doesn’t seem to matter much to the Brazilian Jui-Jitsu brown belt.
“I don’t really give a sh*t honestly,” Sterling told MMA Latest. “I just want to fight, make money, whoop ass, and get paid, you know? That’s honestly all I really care about right now at this point in my career and I’m fighting to pay the bills. This what I chose to do and I have to keep the ball rolling. That’s honestly the way I’m looking at things right now and it is a bigger fight for sure. But at the end of the day, it’s another man standing in front of me trying to do the same thing, separate me from my consciousness, or detach a limb from my body.”
Sterling also shares his thoughts on his new opponent, Moraes. “I think he’s a great opponent,” Sterling said. “I think a win over him puts me in a position to fight for a number one contender spot or challenge for the world title.”
Another bantamweight who was also looking for a replacement opponent was Jimmie Rivera, but was a fight with ever a realistic possibility? “Yeah, it was,” Sterling said. “But it takes two to fight, so Rivera didn’t want the fight and here we are.”
So why did it take so long for a replacement to be booked? “Well if you look at the landscape of the top ten, top fifteen of the division, everyone was pretty much booked up,” Sterling explains. “So there really wasn’t no one readily available to fight, so that kind of left me to either take a stay busy fight or just kind of wait and see what happens.”
Sterling also discussed who he believes is next for him with a win. “Well it really depends on the landscape of the division right now,” Sterling says. “TJ’s (Dillashaw) talking about trying to fight Mighty Mouse, I don’t know if Mighty Mouse is going to take the fight and hopefully he, TJ, he’s fighting within our division so we can keep this division going. Right now this is the hottest division, I think, in my personal opinion. So for him to try to leave the division to go take a fight at a weight class when he didn’t clean out his weight class yet, that doesn’t make much sense to me. So hopefully the UFC keeps him rolling and keeps him active between the 135-pound division. I think TJ’s actually a really great fight for me stylistically, but right now the man I’m worried about is Marlon Moraes, he’s a tough opponent, has the legs kicks, and I can’t sleep on this guy.”
Speaking of TJ Dillashaw, Sterling was also asked if he watched the TJ vs Cody Garbrandt fight at UFC 217. “Oh definitely,” Sterling says. “I would have been, I’d be a fool not to watch that fight. I thought it was a great fight, I thought skillset was very close, I thought TJ was more well rounded. I think a lot of people called me crazy because I was saying TJ had a chance of touching him on the chin and knocking him out but if he didn’t it would be a five-round decision win for TJ. But he’s a very durable fighter, uses his brain, and he implements a great gameplan everytime he goes out there. I think the only reason he got dropped at the end of that first round was because he got a little frustrated and wanted the action to kind of pick up a little bit and in the second round he changed gears a little bit and he started to dictate the pace a little bit more. Cody’s just a big counter-fighter, counter-striker, hits hard, he’s really fast, and he’s athletic, but outside of that his skill set, if we’re looking at the skillset side of knocking people out I’m going to say his well-roundedness is not really all there, I’m not saying he can’t do it, he can’t do it all, but when he fights he primarily just strikes with his hands that’s pretty much it.”
Finally, Sterling gives his prediction for his fight Moraes. “I’m going to go out there and push the pace,” Sterling explains. “I’m going to put in work and cash out B.I.W.C.O. I think that second round I’m going to push the pace, get him, get on his legs early, fire those kicks, fire those punches down the middle, I’m going to be moving. I’m going to be moving, grooving, I’m just going to go out there and do my thing man, so I’m, we got to figure out what our skillsets are, what we bring to the table and I’m just going to, we’re just going to pull up a chair and see how we’re going to have to work this out.”
Will Fleury discusses incident on “The Fighter” and upcoming bout on December 16th
Earlier this week footage from EFC’s “The Fighter” emerged on social media. The video showed SBG’s Will Fleury being struck with countless illegal blows to the spine and to the back of the head. At first glance viewers would look and see the first strike then await the referee to stop the action and warn the other fighter. Unfortunately, that did not happen, at long last, the fight was stopped, however, instead of a disqualification win for Fleury. It was ruled a no contest. The video bodes the question to what the referee was doing as well as raising the awareness of fighter safety.
Following all the in cage drama, Fleury was forced out of the show after being told he was concussed despite no medical tests being done on him. With everything said and done, Will looks back on the situation with frustration after all the errors made by EFC.
“The situation was a mess on a number of levels. There was huge potential in the show if they’d let me fight on. But they’ve made a series of inexcusable errors that have led to this ridiculous situation. I think they wanted to brush this all under the carpet and pretend it never happened. They basically treated me like I was a problem that they didn’t want to have to deal with.”
When looking at the in-cage issues Fleury does not blame EFC, as it was, of course, the referee’s fault. The manner in which they went about removing him from the show amongst other things is something he found speculative though.
“The EFC is a promotion, their goal is profit, not fair sport. In fairness, they can’t be held accountable for the referee’s incompetence. But, how they decided to deal with it afterwards was very questionable.”
Currently, in MMA, fighter safety is one of the most talked about things, from weight-cutting to late stoppages. Ireland, in particular, takes extra precaution with the introduction of Safe MMA. In his bout, Fleury’s safety did not look like it was in the best interest of the referee. Fleury recalls meeting the ref a week later and showing him the footage only to be taken back and annoyed at the referee’s response of not seeing any issue.
“If your role as a referee is to ensure fighter safety, he clearly failed miserably. Honestly, I think he’s just not competent for the job. I don’t know how long he’s been involved in the sport for but I met him at a show a week later and showed him the video. He didn’t really think any of the shots were to the back of the head, I got so angry, I couldn’t talk to the guy. Also, It was called a no contest because my head was moving apparently that doesn’t make sense either”
Considering his health was at risk due to the referee’s actions, Will is feeling fit and well with no issues coming out of the fight.
“Yeah, it honestly seems fine. I genuinely felt fine right afterwards and in the days after too. I was winning challenges in the house 16 hours after the fight. looking at the footage is very grim tho, who knows what sort of damage its done in the long term, hopefully very little”
For those who don’t know, Will is scheduled to fight Gordon Roodman on December 16th. Not exactly pleased with the new fight offer, he is glad to finally be able to showcase his abilities but doesn’t see this fight as any consolation for what happened.
“I wouldn’t say pleased. But it gives me a welcome outlet for my frustration and I finally have a platform to show just how good I am at whooping ass. No, It’s not really a consolation. I don’t think they give a shit about what’s fair. They just reckon they can make money from me. You can expect a 1st round TKO/KO”
Will has a very close friendship with teammate Ben Forsyth, having fought before he detailed how they became friends afterwards. After mentioning how it’d be cool to fight on the same card as Ben he details that getting those ever so scarce fights at the higher weight classes come first.
“Ben contacted me about becoming less of a twat so I gave him some advice and things blossomed from there. Yeah, that’d be great but our number one priority for both of us right now is just getting the fights.”
Will then went on to detail the hardship in getting fights on the regional scene.
“Yeah, it’s a serious struggle especially when you’re known to be a good fighter and people are trying to look after their records. there’s also just not that many guys. I’ve fought twice and I’m already the best Middleweight in Ireland. If it were up to me I’d have a lot more but still, that shows you how few guys there are. and if anyone has an issue with me being the best Middleweight in Ireland make 84 and I can prove you wrong”
For those who haven’t seen the footage mentioned above, here it is. Be sure to keep an eye out for Will in his upcoming bout a few weeks from now.
EFC was approached for a comment on this footage, however, have unfortunately not responded.
This is how my time on TF1 ended. 15 elbows, 11 directly to the back of the head, 3 to the spine with the other elbow after the referee tries to stop him. I had been dominating this fight up to this point and was keen to continue (I have to full fight footage proving this). I was told I couldn’t. The fight was declared a no contest rather than a DQ as I was “moving my head”. I was then booted out of the tournament because I was “concussed” (never did any tests to prove this and I was winning challenges in the house 16 hours after this happened) I was the best fighter in that house by a considerable distance and would have smashed any of the other 10 contenders if given the chance. I proved it in every training session and every legal moment in any of my fights. I’ve been denied the chance to earn a decent contract and get my title shot. I’m Will Fleury. I win shit these fucks have disturbed the natural order and I will restore it. #Bullshit #TF1 #irishmma #EFC #mmanews #mmafighting #trykeepmedown #rawbastard #resilientbastard
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