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Marloes Coenen’s Call for UFC Featherweight Division Unlikely to be Heard



It is hard to pinpoint exactly when the movement — albeit a relatively small one — began for the UFC to create a women’s featherweight division around the best 145 pound fighter on the planet, Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino.

There were murmurs when Zuffa signed Cyborg to a contract early in 2015. By the time Brazil’s one-woman wrecking crew actually made her UFC debut against Leslie Smith in May this year, the issue became a more prevalent talking point. Now, with two UFC wins at 140 pounds in the bag, and a whole host of footage available detailing the traumatic, physically destructive experience the fighter puts herself through to make weight, the conversation seems to be more widespread than ever before.

On Friday it was former Strikeforce champion, and top Bellator featherweight Marloes Coenen who added another voice to the collective cry from those who believe the UFC has a duty to create a women’s featherweight division.

“I think it’s a very big disgrace for the UFC that they don’t build a division around her (Cyborg) at 145.” Coenen told MMAMania ahead of her Bellator 163 bout with Talita Nogueira on November 4.

“I mean she has proven to be attracting people, wanting to tune in to watch her fight, then they come up with this catch weight at 140? I mean come on, take us women in the sport seriously and give us more divisions. I mean look at Bellator, they opened up the 145, I don’t have to make the 135. I can fight at my own weight.”

The 140 pound catchweight Coenen mentions is right at the centre of the debate. When Zuffa first signed Cyborg to a contract, they did so with the intention of eventually making the much anticipated superfight between then bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, and historically the top pound for pound woman in the sport, Cyborg.

Despite her best efforts, it soon became apparent that Cyborg could not make 135 pounds, and that, combined with the defeat of Rousey to Holly Holm in November 2015, meant that the charade was over. Sort of.

By the time Cyborg was pencilled in to make her UFC debut against Leslie Smith earlier this year, talk of ever making 135 pounds was almost extinct. Why then was she booked to fight at 140 pounds?

At the time that was put down to the opponent. For all Smith’s heart, determination, and wildly entertaining offense, she is essentially a flyweight who competes at 135 pounds because the UFC does not have a flyweight division. Fighting anyone at 145 pounds would have been a big ask, let alone the most feared featherweight in the history of the sport. Yet that tells only half the story.

The chapters that were overlooked by so many, detailed the statement of intent laid out by the UFC at the time regarding how they would be utilising Cyborg. There is no 140 pound division, not only in the UFC, but in any of the major MMA promotions. What 140 does represent though is an opportunity to make more appealing catchweight fights against willing bantamweights. The likes of Holly Holm and Miesha Tate have both indicated their interest in testing themselves against Cyborg. A fight with Rousey may never materialise, but fights with other top bantamweights could still be big business for the UFC.

When Cyborg made her second UFC appearance, against Lina Lansberg in September, things could not have been any clearer. Lansberg’s previous fight had been at 145 pounds, yet still the UFC were booking her and Cyborg at 140. The mandate was out for all to see. The UFC were not interested in 145 pounds. Not for Cyborg, not for anyone.

Avid fans of the Brazilian made their feelings known, even starting a petition pleading with the UFC to start a full and complete 145 pound division. At the time of writing, with the petition now live for one full month, only 2,000 people have put their name to the cause. It is a number unlikely to make a dent in the intentions of the UFC.

That isn’t to say that the promotion cannot be swayed by public opinion. Dan Henderson would not have got a shot at the UFC middleweight championship without hordes of fans making it clear that they wanted to see a rematch with Michael Bisping become a reality.

More than that, when there is a cause worth fighting for the MMA community has shown in the past that it can come together in a hurry. When Nick Diaz was suspended for five years by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, an online Whitehouse petition was started. For it to be recognised it needed 100,000 signatures within one month. It did that and more, reaching over 115,000 signatures before the deadline.

If the petition for a featherweight division hit those sort of numbers, maybe the UFC would acknowledge it. At the very least, they might provide a formal response or we would get another one of those future promises from Dana White when asked about it at an upcoming event. Yet it hasn’t, and it won’t. The gap between 2,000 and 100,000 is vast.

For a start the issue has become confused. Where many are insisting a 145 pound division must be created, in essence all they really want is for Cyborg herself to be promoted at 145 pounds. It’s a reasonable request, and it doesn’t need the UFC to go out and find 20 or more featherweights to bring into the company to make it happen either.

Creating an entire division though, as Coenen, and the most vocal cheerleaders who campaign for women’s MMA to be given a fair crack of the UFC’s whip continue to call for, would require far greater investment. At a transitional time, when the company’s new ownership are reportedly looking to cut costs, that seems unlikely.

To make it even more difficult, the other notable 145 pound fighters are under Bellator contract and could not be signed. Marloes Coenen and Julia Budd have been the clear two and three ranked featherweights in the world for some time, and both would be out of the equation.

Arlene Blencowe and Gabrielle Holloway, boasting modest 7-6 and 5-4 records respectively, have both been fighting in Bellator too. Could the UFC call up Charmaine Tweet and Megan Anderson from Invicta? Absolutely, and both would be worthwhile additions to the company. Beyond that though, the featherweight waters get shallow in a hurry. The top twenty-five is packed with part-time fighters juggling MMA careers with gruelling schedules away from the cage, with .5 records and little room for major development.

By contrast, when Dana White said publicly at the back end of 2015 that the next division introduced to the UFC would be women’s 125 pounds, the depth of available talent at that time was far beyond what we see today at 145. One year on, we are still only a small step closer to the company adding women’s flyweight into the mix, with Valerie Letourneau and Joanne Calderwood competing in the company’s first ever 125 pound women’s fight in Canada back in June.

That is a division packed with emerging talent, and a bunch of top prospects already competing in the UFC. If the promotion went full force at 125 pounds tomorrow, they could build the division around fighters already under contract before even looking elsewhere. Katlyn Chookagian, Valerie Letourneau, Jessica Andrade and more. Even Cat Zingano and Jessica Eye have competed at 125 pounds in the past and could be tempted to reinvigorate their careers at flyweight.

Flyweight doesn’t need a petition, nor does it need the perceived ill-treatment of one big star to force action. That division is ready to go, yet still the UFC are holding back until they are absolutely sure it is the right time to make a big move.

As far as featherweight goes, it will take a lot more than 2,000 names on a petition, and the words of a heroic MMA pioneer or two, to create serious traction with the UFC.

Cyborg might get to fight at 145 pounds in the UFC before her career is over. In truth, she probably should, but even if she does, a full women’s featherweight division could be a long time coming.

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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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