Generally speaking, it is assumed that once a fighter hits the UFC, their career path is at its highest point. After all, the UFC is the big show, the Super-Bowl of MMA, the place where the best fighters in the world go to compete, and the best of the best stay. So when an MMA fighter is released from the UFC, where do they go? Doesn’t that mean they are on the downslide of their career? I’ve come to tell you that it is, in fact, possible for a fighter to thrive, grow, and maintain a successful professional MMA career even after they have competed in the UFC.
Take Nam Phan and Andy Main, two perfect examples of veteran fighters whose skills and careers have continued to flourish despite their non-UFC ties, and whose respective careers also happen to be very closely and very uniquely tied together.
In June of 2010 taping for the twelfth installment of The Ultimate Fighter reality show began when it saw 28 lightweight prospects look to compete for a spot on either Georges St. Pierre’s team or Josh Koscheck’s team. After both successfully claiming a spot and eventually landing on Josh Koscheck’s team, Main and Phan were to be teammates for the duration of the 7 week period in which the season was filmed.
When the season ended, only a handful of contestants were signed by the UFC, including Nam Phan, Alex Caceres, Michael Johnson, and the show’s winner, Jonathan Brookins. It was at this point that Phan and Main’s respective career paths diverted from each other. Phan went on to compete in the UFC as both a featherweight (145 lbs.) and a bantamweight (135 lbs.) earning both exciting wins and one-sided losses. Never finding much consistency in the UFC, a three fight losing streak saw Phan released from the promotion in 2014. After four years, 8 fights and a 2-6 record, Phan was forced to reevaluate his career. Having fought some top talent even before he was in the UFC, Phan was certainly a draw to other promotions.
After TUF 12, Andy Main was one of the many cast members who the UFC decided not to sign into the promotion. However, Main, at 22 years old and only a professional fighter for a year, had a 4-1 record, and the experience of a fighter many years his senior. The opportunity to be locked inside a gym with the top UFC fighters for 7 weeks was something that kickstarted his MMA career and he has been busy since then.
Posting a 6-1-1-1 (one draw and one no contest) record, including a robbery of a loss, Main has not slowed down. Not only has he stayed busy as a fighter, but Main also opened up a Martial Arts school with his younger brother, who is a talented BJJ black belt in his own right. In his six wins since TUF 12, Main has posted five finishes. Four of those fights have been in the longtime Japanese promotion Pancrase, which has seen the likes of Ken Shamrock, Bas Rutten, Ricardo Almeida and Josh Barnett grace its ring. Pancrase has also recently signed a deal with UFC Fight Pass to show its old and new events. With a record of 3-0-1, Main is undefeated in Pancrase and has finished his last two opponents. One win by way of TKO and, in his most recent fight, by submission less than one minute into the first round against an opponent who had previously never been finished.
Phan, since being released from the UFC has put together a 3-1 record, with 2 of those wins fighting for, you guessed it, Pancrase. Phan won the Pancrase featherweight title in his second fight for the promotion, and in that time Main has been climbing the ranks in the very same division, knocking off challenger after challenger. After his most recent fight this past weekend, Main has outright stated that he believes, after finishing two straight opponents, he is the #1 contender and deserves the Pancrase title shot against his old Team Koscheck teammate. Those who run the organization apparently agree as the updated rankings were released just a few days ago and it saw Main skip over a few names to land as the well-earned #1 contender in the division.
Strange how careers can weave through and even run into each other over the course of years. An interesting point to consider is that, while Phan had his stint in the UFC, Main never truly got to fight for the promotion. It’s easy to forget that, despite having an impressive 10-2 record, and competing on The Ultimate Fighter over 4 years ago, Andy Main is only 25 years old!
While Phan is no old man, at 32 years of age with an astounding 35 fights and a career that started almost 15 years ago, he is a hard-worn, journeyman fighter who is definitely a tough test for anyone looking to break into the next level of their fighting career. The skill level between these two fighters is remarkable, and if a fight does come to fruition, it will be one that showcases decades of practice and perseverance. Up until a week ago, no one would have guessed it, but it’s a fight 5 years in the making, since the moment Josh Koscheck chose both men to represent his team.
MMA is alive and well outside the UFC, make no mistake about it. And to see two men; one who fought in the UFC, and another who may yet do so, take the next step in their respective careers in the motherland of Martial Arts, after coming in close contact years ago, is a storyline that is only written about in movies. It’s intriguing and inspiring. It’s a tale that crosses nations and disciplines, experience and personal growth. It’s the fight to make, it’s the fight to see, and it features two fighters who have spent most of their fighting years outside of the UFC.
Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz in the works for UFC 223
UFC 223 looks to add a variety of intriguing bouts. With Paul Felder vs. Al Iaquinta reportedly set for the unannounced UFC 223 card, the promotion looks to add a high stakes female flyweight match-up. According to MMANYTT.com, sources confirmed a bout between Felice Herrig and Karolina Kowalkiewicz, is in the works for the pay-per-view card.
Assuming the match-up does come to be, both women have much to gain from a victory. For Herrig, she currently sits on a four-fight win streak. A streak in which the strawweight contender defeated Kailin Curran, Alexa Grasso, Justine Kish, and Cortney Casey. The MMA veteran, Herrig, began fighting professionally in 2009. As of late, her issues with the marketing machine that is the UFC have intensified.
After demonstrating her technical prowess over Justine Kish at UFC Fight Night 122: Chiesa vs. Lee, Herrig put her emotions on display. She stated at the post-fight media scrum, “Sometimes, I feel like, I’m not young and beautiful enough for the UFC to want to promote me. And it’s sad because I’ve really worked so hard to be here and it’s hard to see these people who’ve not been through what I’ve been through. Who just got into the UFC at the right time. They’re getting all these opportunities and I see how hard I work to get here and it’s just like, it doesn’t matter. I just feel like, ‘I’m not pretty enough and I’m not getting any younger'”.
A frustrated Felice Herrig then spoke to MMAJunkie.com in December. She claimed, “Aside from (former UFC women’s strawweight champ) Joanna (Jedrzejczyk), I’m the only strawweight who’s gone on a four-fight winning streak. That’s a fact. At this point, I want to fight someone in the top 10. It doesn’t really make sense for me to keep fighting girls that are ranked below me. That’s the whole point. If I want to keep working my way up. I fight the most dangerous girls outside the top 10”. The #9 ranked women’s flyweight has a point. In her UFC career, she recorded one loss in six appearances. Yet, she has one co-main event booking, while fighters like Michelle Waterson, booked the main event in her second UFC bout. In Waterson’s third bout, she received a co-main event scheduling. Understandably, Felice Herrig is upset with her situation.
Later in her interview, Herrig brought up Kowalkiewicz as a potential next opponent. “For whatever reason, I really want to fight Karolina. I just think that would be an exciting fight… Stylistically, I really like that fight. She’s ranked above (me), and it may be a good gauge for me,” she stated. Right now, it looks like Herrig is close to getting what she wants.
Kowalkiewicz last fought in her native country of Poland on the UFC Fight Pass card, UFC Fight Night 118: Cowboy vs. Till, in October. The Polish star defeated Jody Esquibel, after losing consecutive contests to former UFC female strawweight champion, Joanna Jedrzejcyk and Claudia Gadelha, respectively.
A win for either makes a good case for the next or an eventual title challenger. Kowalkiewicz holds a victory over current division champion, Rose Namajunas. While a win for Herrig would further establish her impressive win streak and undoubtedly give her the boost in the rankings she deserves.
Douglas Lima found out about change to co-main event at Bellator 192 from the internet
Bellator 192 fight card has gone through a shake-up over the past week. Bellator president Scott Coker revealed last week that the scheduled welterweight title fight between Rory MacDonald and champion Douglas Lima will now be serving as the co-main event and the heavyweight matchup between Chael Sonnen and Rampage Jackson would instead take top billing. At the time no explanation was made for the change. Monday Douglas Lima was a guest on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani to discuss this change.
“I was little bummed, but it is what it is, it’s business you know. I was pretty excited you know? Being the main event, having Rampage fight as the co-main event, I was happy there. Then I was bummed out that they changed it back to the co-main event. It’s not going to change a thing for me, I’m just focusing on the fight.”
Lima has been notoriously looked over in the eyes of fight fans. A longtime member of Bellator and a two-time champion has not gotten the notice he deserves and hopes to get.
“I found out through the internet, nobody tells me anything, I didn’t know. the same thing happened in New York, I thought my fight would be before the two main events there, but it ended up being the first fight of the night on Pay-Per-View. Hopefully, it doesn’t take anything away from the fight, you know spotlight and stuff.”
Lima is looking to make all the naysayers take notice at Bellator 192 that takes place at The Forum in Inglewood, Califonia on January 20th.
“This is the fight I’ve been waiting for for a long time. To get my name out there, to get people to know who I am. I’ve been delivering a lot of good fights, fights fans like to watch but no attention yet. I’m hoping though that after a win over Rory this week it will really put my name out there and show all these welterweights out there that I am for real.”
Al Iaquinta vs. Paul Felder rescheduled for UFC 223 in April
MMA fans around the world wept in deep sorrow when Al Iaquinta withdrew from a bout scheduled for UFC 218 against Paul Felder. Weep no more, for Paul Felder faces Al Iaquinta at UFC 223. Rumblings behind the match-up, first reported by FloCombat.com, came Sunday night before MMAFighting.com confirmed the bout scheduled for unannounced pay-per-view card, later in the evening.
The original bout fell through due to a severe knee injury to Iaquinta. He spoke to BJ Penn Radio about the injury nearly a week before the December 2nd, PPV event in Detriot. The Long Island real estate agent claimed, “I tore my PCL and my MCL maybe three or four months ago… for me to really put in a full training camp and do what I need to do, I would’ve had to just focus on fighting and physical therapy… it was the kind of thing where all roads led to me not kind of taking a risk and fighting on December 2nd”.
Iaquinta went on to say, “I kind of accepted the fight, but I never signed a bout agreement… I was kind of told I had to give them an answer pretty quick. It was a fight I thought I really wanted. I thought it was a good stylistic match-up for me, so I accepted the fight, and then thinking about it over the course of a day, we realized it probably wasn’t a smart decision for my health, for everything”.
An outspoken lightweight, he is not the first of his kind. Al Iaquinta is no stranger to idly waiting on the sideline for the UFC to make a move. Contract disputes and other bad strokes of luck left the Serra-Longo with three octagon appearances since 2015. The feud between Iaquinta and the promotion comes as a surprise when looking at the credentials of the aforementioned fighter. With an octagon record of 8-2, he earned notoriety as one of the best lightweights in the world. During his time in the UFC, he defeated Kevin Lee, Ross Pearson, Joe Lauzon, Jorge Masvidal, and most recently Diego Sanchez.
His opponent, “The Irish Dragon”, Paul Felder, holds an impressive UFC record of his own. At 7-3, Felder defeated tough competition as well. His record notes wins over Daron Cruickshank, Jason Saggo, Stevie Ray, and Charles Oliveira. Even more impressive than his record, his knockout ratio. At this stage of his career, Felder knockouts 55% of his opponents (10 knockouts in 18 career pro bouts).
Like his opponent Iaquinta, Paul Felder has a separate career outside of fighting. As many should notice, Felder found a role as a color commentator with the promotion he fights for. Following the footsteps in a long line of fighters before him, Felder announced multiple events alongside another new addition to the UFC broadcast team, Brendan Fitzgerald.
PPV card, UFC 223 and its location are not official yet. Despite a lack of an announcement, the event takes place in Brooklyn, New York at the Barclays Centre, according to multiple reports. Currently, the card features no official bouts. Reports state Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz (per Jim Edwards), and Evan Dunham vs. Mairbek Taisumov (per Farah Hannoun) are both in the works for UFC 223.
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