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Holly Holm vs. Valentina Shevchenko – A Career Defining Moment Set to Fade

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On Saturday night at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois, Holly Holm and Valentina Shevchenko headline the latest UFC on FOX card. It is the first time women have closed the show on FOX, and only the second time in UFC history that a non-title women’s bout has been given main event honours.

The fight also carries major title implications. We know that Ronda Rousey will get a shot at the UFC title any time she opts to return and claim one, but we still have no idea when that might be. An impressive win for Holm would likely see her status as a former champion in a still young division propel her to the next shot against newly crowned bantamweight Queen Amanda Nunes.

Nunes’ dismantling of Miesha Tate at UFC 200 was vicious and it was brutal. Winning the title in what had been billed as the largest show in UFC history was the defining moment of Nunes’ career. Holm and Shevchenko are both one fight removed from their own.

Bringing an 11-1 professional MMA record with her to the cage for her UFC debut against Sarah Kaufman in December 2015, Shevchenko had been on the prospect radar for a while. The big question mark was her level of competition.

Her most notable win came against Jan Finney, a fighter known only for serving as Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos’ victim in Sherdog’s beatdown of the year for 2010. On top of that, while Shevchenko’s fight with Finney was one-sided, it was anything but thrilling.

The other recognised name on Shevchenko’s record was Liz Carmouche. Shevchenko had returned to the sport in 2010, and was beaten by the future UFC title challenger. While many will tell you otherwise in hindsight, the truth is that none of us really knew quite how good Valentina Shevchenko was. Yet.

That changed when Shevchenko stepped up to make her UFC debut against Kaufman on short notice. The first ever Strikeforce women’s bantamweight champion, Kaufman held wins over Miesha Tate, Alexis Davis, Valerie Letourneau and Liz Carmouche. The step up to the big league to fight one of the top fighters in the world bought out the best in Shevchenko, as she matched her more experienced opponent over three tough rounds to win the fight by split decision.

The magnitude of the win cannot be understated. At the time, Kaufman was an obvious top ten fighter on the all-time women’s pound for pound list. Shevchenko was stepping in on only one week’s notice to fight by far the greatest fighter she had ever faced in her career.

To suggest it ranks alongside Holly Holm’s biggest win would be disingenuous. Nothing matches up to Holm’s knockout of Ronda Rousey in Melbourne at UFC 193. It is one of the most emotive moments in UFC history, and however the rest of her career plays out Holm will always be remembered as the fighter who ended Rousey’s reign of terror over the bantamweight division.

Yet while the stunning image of that knockout is one that will be forever etched into the memory banks of MMA fans across the world, even the most visceral images can fade over time. Holm’s performance that night as a massive underdog was sensational. It was the stuff of legend. It was James “Buster” Douglas over Mike Tyson.

Douglas had utilised a precise jab to pick Tyson apart in Tokyo in 1990, before knocking him out in the 10th round. Just like Holm against Rousey, few had given Douglas a chance of even making the fight competitive, such had been Tyson’s dominance over the heavyweight division to that point. Just like Holm, who did so against Miesha Tate, Douglas would drop the title in his first defence against Evander Holyfield. Douglas never made it back to the top, or anywhere near it, again.

When Holm and Shevchenko meet on Saturday, they do so with the biggest wins of their career in danger of fading. Both approach the fight off the back of a loss, Holm losing her title to Miesha Tate, and Shevchenko dropping a decision to Amanda Nunes.

Should Holm be defeated, naysayers will talk of how that special night in Melbourne was merely an outlier on a resume that doesn’t stack up well against the division’s other top fighters. After all, beyond Rousey, Holm’s most impressive victory came against Marion Reneau, a good rather than great fighter who currently sits outside the top 15 in the division.

Defeat for Shevchenko and she is miles away from entering the discussion when future title shots are being handed out. The win over Kaufman diminished, chalked down to late replacement awkwardness, with Kaufman perhaps not being quite the fighter she once was.

For the winner, the integrity of their career defining moment remains intact. If that is Shevchenko, she might even be creating a new one. Whoever loses on Saturday night only moves one step further away from greatness.

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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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Announcement

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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Announcement

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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