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What did we learn from UFC Fight Night 105?

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After a fun night of fights, we have a few takeaways to consider going forward:

Canada’s MMA future looks really promising

Where does one begin with that? From Aiemann Zahabi’s and Gavin Tucker’s UFC debut to Marcos’ great win and Elias’ hard fought battle against Cezar Ferreira, some of UFC’s Canada representatives proved the country’s great future in the sport.

Aiemann Zahabi, younger brother of the legendary MMA coach Firas Zahabi, made his UFC debut on Sunday night and had a very tough fight against Reginaldo Vieira. Even though he faced some difficulties, the Bantamweight prospect managed to get a well-earned unanimous decision against the Brazilian in the Scotiabank Centre and he stayed undefeated with a record of 7 wins and 0 losses.

Secondly, Gavin Tucker, Nova Scotia native, had the Canadian crowd on its feet with every single one of his moves. After a very one-sided two first rounds for Tucker, his opponent, Sam Sicilia decided to search for the finish and as a result there were a few exchanges but in the end, the Canadian Featherweight prospect got the unanimous decision victory, he remained undefeated with a record of 10 wins and 0 losses and the crowd gave him an amazing reaction.

In addition to all that success, Elias Theodorou, former TUF Canada winner, faced Cezar Ferreira, former TUF Brazil winner in a back and forth battle. Theodorou proved that besides having “the best hair in MMA”, he has some fighting skills. He established his range and proved his toughness after getting out of a few submission attempts by Ferreira. After the end of the three rounds, he won a fairly controversial unanimous decision and maybe earned a future opportunity against a ranked Middleweight contender.

Lastly, Randa Markos, unranked before her fight on Sunday, had her toughest test to date in the face of former Strawweight champion, Carla Esparza. Bettingwise, Markos was one of the biggest underdogs of the night as she was heading in the biggest fight of her career and after a very brutal fight with hits landing for both fighters, the Canadian won the split decision and quite possibly a spot in the top 10 of the Strawweight division.

Duke Roufus still on top

The camp of Roufusport had a great night in Canada as both of its fighters delivered first round finishes on their coach’s birthday.

In the first fight of the night, Gerald Meerschaert submitted the Canadian Ryan Janes via armbar within two minutes. Janes came out fast and fired a load of punches and the two men ended up on the mat after the Canadian tripped the Roufusport fighter. On the ground, Meerschaert secured the full-guard and from that point and put Janes in the armbar.

In a slightly different fight, Paul Felder defeated Alessandro Ricci via TKO in the last seconds of the first round. Back and forth they went until Felder threw a perfectly timed elbow on Ricci’s nose and Ricci fell down.

Even though Duke Roufus has the Welterweight champion Tyron Woodley in his camp, he got a lot of criticism due to Anthony Pettis’ bad run in the Lightweight division and his loss against Max Holloway at UFC 206, before which he lost his opportunity at the Interim Featherweight championship due to missing weight.

Everything seems to work out for one of the greatest coaches in the world, as he’s preparing Woodley for his rematch against Stephen Thompson at UFC 209.

The weight-cut plays a huge factor in the outcome of a fight

Once again, the weight-cut, one of the most controversial issues in MMA, it was proven to play a key role in the result of a fight.

Johny Hendricks, after missing three times the 171-pound weight limit, decided to go up to the Middleweight division and Hector Lombard did his best to welcome him. Hendricks looked like a different fighter and much more comfortable fighting as a Middleweight. His movement was good, he seemed to be full of energy and his timing was on-point as he landed a few knees on Lombard. “Bigg Rigg” earned the unanimous decision victory, which was his first since March 14th, 2015 against Matt Brown.

Hendricks seems to have found his new home at Middleweight and he should enjoy his victory along with the best wishes.

The “Experience” factor

UFC booked for Sunday’s Fox Sports 1 card, a fight between former Bantamweight championship challenger, Sara McMann and undefeated newcomer Gina Mazany.

Sara McMann, with a record of 10 wins and 3 losses, was coming in Sunday’s event on a two-fight win streak after a unanimous decision victory against Jessica Eye and an arm-triangle submission win against Alexis Davis.

Gina Mazany, a holder of a record of 4 wins and 0 losses, was a newcomer in the UFC and decided to test her metal against a fighter in the top 10 of the Bantamweight division.

Understandably, McMann crushed Mazany with a first round arm-triangle submission early in the first round. The experience factor is key in a stage like the UFC and Mazany lacked. After the tap-out, the annoyance on her face was pretty clear but this fight might just be a bump on the road for the Xtreme Couture prospect.

Sara McMann capitalized on Mazany’s inexperience and gained, even more, momentum moving forward in a division that shapes up really good for the near future, with many possible interesting match-ups in the top 10.

An unexpectedly great fight card

UFC Fight Night 105 was one of those fight cards, that a fan can end up saying: “That was worth watching.” Without having the biggest names or the greatest match-ups, the fans got their money and time worth for many reasons, with one of them being the amazing wheel-kick KO by Thiago Santos against Jack Marshman.

When there was not a spectacular finish, back and forth hard-fought battles took place, with Markos vs Esparza being a great example of that. Of course, Derrick Lewis delivered one more in amazing fashion against Travis Browne with a second-round KO.

Considering the most recent Pay-Per-View event was a forgettable card, this evening needed to breathe life into UFC fans, and it did exactly that.

 

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Fight Announcements

Jacare Souza vs. Kelvin Gastelum Official for UFC 224

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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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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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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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