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Five Reasons You Should Care About Alexa Grasso’s UFC Debut



Alexa Grasso vs Mizuki Inoue

As far as TUF finales go, Saturday night’s offering in Mexico City is about as good as it gets. Rafael dos Anjos and Tony Ferguson meet in a crowd-pleasing headliner with title implications. Then there is a supporting cast that includes Marcin Held’s UFC debut against Diego Sanchez, and a featherweight scrap between Ricardo Lamas and Charles Oliveira.

On top of that, Invicta FC standout Alexa Grasso will be setting foot inside the UFC’s octagon for the first time when she faces Heather Jo Clark. With a series of thrilling action-fights at the top of the card, you could be forgiven for overlooking the main card opener, so here are five strong reasons why you shouldn’t.

1 – Always Exciting. Always

Grasso took a combined one minute and 13 seconds to dispatch the first three opponents of her professional MMA career. While the level of competition has since increased, the Mexican’s performances have been no less enthralling. From her competitive bout with fellow prospect MIZUKI, to her dominant dismantling of Jodie Esquibel, Grasso’s fights always make for compelling viewing.

When Alexa Grasso throws punches she commands attention. Slick footwork, effortless head movement, and incredibly fast hands fired off from all angles. That might be what you would expect from someone coming from a country with such a rich boxing heritage, but Guadalajara’s undefeated strawweight shows ever improving grappling too. Grasso’s smooth yet aggressive submission offense is the perfect compliment to a striking game built around sound fundamentals.

2 – Underrated Opposition

Recently turned 36-years-old, building a UFC career that has been held back by significant injury, Heather Jo Clark’s name rarely comes up when people talk about the top end of the strawweight division. The Xtreme Couture fighter’s 7-5 professional record does not tell the full story.

After struggling with injury during The Ultimate Fighter season 20, Clark still managed to beat scrappy Australian Bec Rawlings at the season finale. Then after nearly 17 months away from the octagon, Clark pushed future title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz hard in a competitive losing effort back in May. Win or lose, Clark has never been an easy fighter for opponents to get past. How Grasso fares in her step up to the big league against Clark, will tell us plenty about how far she can go in the division.

3 – This is Important for Invicta too

The perception held by many fans is that Invicta FC is a feeder organisation for the UFC. Some even confuse the UFC Fight Pass broadcast deal that the all-women’s promotion have with UFC ownership. While Invicta’s role in providing opportunities for women in the sport is important, the reality is that more recently, the UFC have rarely been calling fighters up from Invicta at all.

Over the past 12 months, Veronica Macedo, Lina Lansberg, Ketlen Vieira, Katlyn Chookagian, Kelly Faszholz, Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger, Danielle Taylor, and Anna Elmose have all made their UFC debuts. Eight fighters. Not one was picked up from Invicta. If you include Tatiana Suarez and Amanda Bobby Cooper who fought in the TUF 23 finale, it would be 10, with only Cooper making the move from Invicta into the UFC through the show. Invicta has to be the platform that helps fighters achieve their UFC goals, and adding Alexa Grasso’s name to that list reminds us that it can be.

4. Prospect Status Overload

It’s not that the strawweight division is devoid of prospects. It’s packed with them. Rose Namajunas, Tecia Torres, and Paige VanZant are still young in their MMA careers despite their status within the division. Recent TUF winner Tatiana Suarez has the tools to make a serious dent in the division too. That is before we’ve even considered fighers outside of the UFC such as Angela Lee and Livia Renata Souza.

Yet there is a champion at the top of the 115 pound division who has become so dominant, so quickly, that competitive contenders could start to dry up in a hurry. Joanna Jedrzejczyk has only met one woman who could truly test her, Claudia Gadelha, and she has already beaten the Brazilian twice. If Jedrzejczyk gets past Karolina Kowalkiewicz at UFC 205 people will already start to wonder who is next. If the Mexican can continue to show the promise she has thus far, a future Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Alexa Grasso title fight is not out of the question.

5. Finally the Mexican Star the UFC Have Courted

The UFC have been keen to develop their Mexican fanbase for some time. From the events they have held across the border, to the three Latin American series of The Ultimate Fighter that they have put together, Mexico is a market they are interested in cultivating. The final piece in the puzzle is a charismatic, heroic star who can connect with the nation’s passion. They have never had that.

While Cain Velasquez has held the UFC heavyweight title on two separate occasions, he is far from media friendly. Often reported as difficult to deal with, and injured as often as he is available to fight, building a relationship with fans has never been easy. Beyond that, only Yair Rodriguez has made any sort of waves in his division and is still some way from the very top. There are plenty of ifs where Grasso is concerned too, but if she can put it all together there is a connection there ready to be built with a Mexican audience the UFC would love to develop further.

The TUF Latin American 3 Finale: dos Anjos vs Ferguson takes place Saturday, November 5 at the Arena Ciudad de Mexico in Mexico City, Mexico. The Alexa Grasso vs. Heather Jo Clark bout opens up the main card, which will air live on FOX Sports 1.

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Fight Announcements

Jacare Souza vs. Kelvin Gastelum Official for UFC 224



Brazils second UFC event of the new year added another middleweight contest. UFC officials announced, Kelvin Gastelum will face Jacare Souza in Rio de Janeiro at UFC 224.

The inevitable main card booking of Souza comes after headlining UFC on Fox 27. The Brazilian fighter is 3-2 in his last 5. His recent contests only look worrisome in comparison to the entirety of his long career. Prior to his past 5, Souza held an eight fight win streak. In that period of time, he defeated Gegard Mousasi, Derek Brunson (for the first time), and Chris Camozzi twice. Despite the drama words and numbers on screens create, his recent record is nothing to have concern over. A split decision loss to Yoel Romero in 2015, and a 2017 TKO loss to division champion, Robert Whittaker is manageable. Defeating Derek Brunson in the opening round of their main event bout kept him deep in the milky opaque froth that is the middleweight title picture. Clearly his position in that photo lies upon the upcoming match up.

Looking ahead for Jacare Souza, assuming he wins, becomes interesting, just as it devastating for Kelvin Gastelum. Gastelum is 3-1 since returning to middleweight, technically his record sits at 2-1 and 1 No Contest. He tested positive for marijuana in a sample collected the night of his bout against Vitor Belfort by USADA in March of 2017. Originally, the outcome of the bout read the way viewers remembered it; a 1st rd. TKO in favor of Gastelum. On May 7th, 2017, the win was officially overturned and changed to a No Contest. He also received a 90 day suspension, adjusted to the day of the failed test (March 11th).

In the aftermath of the failed test, his scheduled contest against Anderson Silva. He then split his next two contests, losing to Chris Weidman and defeating Michael Bisping emphatically, yet under odd circumstances. A win for Gastelum certainly muddies the waters of middleweight contenders, while adding to a good 185 lb. resume.

UFC 224 takes place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on May 12th, 2018 at the Jeunesse Arena. A battle betwen Brazilians is set for the date as Lyoto Machida takes on Vitor Belfort. Other featured bouts include; Aleksei Oleynik vs. Junior Albini*, Cezar Ferreira vs. Karl Roberson*, Alberto Mina vs. Ramazan Emeev, and Davi Ramos vs. Nick Hein*.

*Bouts reportedly set for UFC 224

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Fighter to Watch

Exclusive: Mike Ekundayo, “He could come with anything, I don’t care”



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, 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



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 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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