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Mackenzie Dern’s Legacy FC Debut Indication of Women’s MMA Growth

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On Friday July 22, multi-time Brazilian Jiu Jitsu world champion Mackenzie Dern makes her professional mixed martial arts debut. Facing Kenia Rosas at Legacy Fighting Championship 58, Dern has been considered one of the most exciting future stars of MMA since announcing that she would be making the transition to the sport in October 2015.

Growing up on the mats, the daughter of legendary grappler Wellington Dias, Dern has blossomed into a BJJ legend in her own right. Her grappling credentials are unmatched by any woman in MMA. Still only 23-years-old, the hype exists for good reason, justified excitement created by thoughts of how far she might be able to go in the sport.

A win over Kenia Rosas, herself making her professional MMA debut with only a little experience on the amateur circuit behind her, is the expected outcome in Lake Charles on Friday night. Should the first hurdle be negotiated successfully, tougher tests will eventually follow, but Dern’s path through the shark infested strawweight talent pool will tell us as much about the state of women’s MMA as it does her own potential.

While the UFC began promoting Ronda Rousey in November 2012 following Zuffa’s acquisition of Strikeforce, developing first one, then two women’s divisions under the largest promotional banner in the sport took time.

Opportunities for women in MMA had been nothing like those presented to the men before the UFC threw their hat into the promotional ring. Fights were hard to come by, significant paydays even harder. The talent pools were shallow and the oft used quantifier was that women’s MMA was ten years behind men’s in terms of development and depth.

As far as the UFC went, the days of single discipline male standouts carving their way to the top quickly before rounding out their skills appeared to have been left in the past. For women that was not the case, and it was Rousey herself, the fighter who forced the UFC’s hand in opening up to the possibility of promoting female fights, whose career served as the proof.

Elite level judo combined with intense aggression and a determination to chase finishes was enough to propel Rousey from professional debutante to Strikeforce bantamweight champion in only five fights spanning twelve months.

Rousey defeated Miesha Tate for that belt in March 2012 with no demonstrable striking ability. Just a scrappy balls-to-the-wall style and immaculate judo technique. That would continue to be enough to secure Rousey seven straight title defences as the Strikeforce belt morphed into a UFC one.

In the process, the Olympic judoka’s ability forced those around her to raise their games too. Opportunities for the likes of Miesha Tate, Julianna Pena, Amanda Nunes and Holly Holm grew, as did the money they were able to make from the sport, along with the realisation that the level of training required to be the best was growing too. The chasing pack eventually caught the seemingly unbeatable champion, with Holm defeating her for the UFC women’s bantamweight title in November 2015.

Rousey’s success in drawing in fans was also a contributing factor for the UFC in adding a second women’s division in 2014. The addition of the 115 pound strawweight weight class has been a success, with current champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk quickly becoming one of the most beloved champions in MMA by the sport’s hardcore fanbase.

Already this year we have seen outstanding women’s title fight after outstanding women’s title fight. Jennifer Maia vs Vanessa Porto and Angela Hill vs Livia Renata Souza in Invicta FC, Angela Lee vs Mei Yamaguchi in ONE Championship, and Holly Holm vs Miesha Tate and Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs Claudia Gadelha in the UFC. All have been fought at such a high level that the, sadly, previously attached asterisk “for a women’s fight” no longer applies. All were Just great MMA fights. Period.

If women’s MMA has developed as much as those signs suggest, Dern will not be afforded the same luxuries that Rousey enjoyed before her. The strawweight division at which Dern will compete is widely considered to be the most talent rich in women’s MMA. Simply being on another level on the ground probably won’t be enough on its own.

Training with the likes of Lauren Murphy, Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger and Benson Henderson at the MMA Lab in Glendale, Arizona, Dern has the opportunity to develop every aspect of her MMA game to the required level. That she will need to if she is to make it to the very top, for that she has one woman to thank. Ronda Rousey.

Legacy FC 58 takes place Friday July 22 at the Golden Nugget Casino Hotel in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and is headlined by a light-heavyweight title bout between Robert Drysdale and Ryan Spann.

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Announcement

Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz in the works for UFC 223

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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.

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Douglas Lima found out about change to co-main event at Bellator 192 from the internet

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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.”

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Fight Announcements

Al Iaquinta vs. Paul Felder rescheduled for UFC 223 in April

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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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