For the first time ever, UFC action took Sioux Falls, South Dakota by storm on Wednesday night as another product of “Dana White: Lookin’ for a Fight” Matthew Lopez squared off with promotion veteran Rani Yahya. The rookie and Arizona native Lopez brought in a spotless 8-0 professional record and seven finishes while Yahya entered with a 5-1 mark in his last seven bouts (1 no contest) in addition to a hunger to add the first blemish to his opponent’s record. In other words, this evening’s UFC Fight Pass prelim was bound to be entertaining.
As soon as the five-minute clock started, Yahya rushed out and began his attack with a right kick and a follow-up 1-2 strike. Silent initially, Lopez responded with an engage, in which both traded, landed, and broke away. Moreover, the American continued to push the pace prior to nailing his opponent with a hard shot. To answer, the experienced submission artist started a body lock while up against the side of the cage. In close quarters, Yahya initiated solid knees before landing his first takedown. Although the time on the canvas would be swift for the bantamweight pair since Lopez transitioned to top position and was able to get back to his feet, it was Yahya, not Lopez, who enjoyed a big strike in stand-up via a kick. Following the landed strike, however, Lopez began to find his groove. From landing nice counters to taking advantage of the Brazilian’s predictability, the rookie started scoring before the 2:00 mark. Under the aforementioned amount of time remaining, Yahya missed a leg kick, which allowed Lopez to get the action to the ground and showcase his submission talent. Yet, the veteran escaped the loose hold in a scramble and even withstood a knee bar attempt. The segment would end with Yahya inducing a failed mediocre choke on the opposition.
Unlike the 1st, the two fighters took it slow to begin the 2nd. However, once the pace quickened, it did not slow. The first strike was a heavy right straight, which blasted Lopez at the end of a flying knee attempt. Despite the previous, the American scored a nice takedown but ultimately put his arm in danger as Yahya looked for isolation. Yet, it was Lopez who had the submission of the round, for he locked in an inverted leg triangle that was tight around the veteran’s neck. With more than 3:30 remaining, some were skeptic of whether Yahya could survive the remaining time. Though, it really never became a factor as Lopez abandoned his tight submission attempt, allowing his opponent to take top position while unleashing haymakers with his left hand. Yahya persisted to take advantage of his position by landing brutal right hand punches. Displaying a grit of his own, the Cal State Fullerton product got to his knees and sprawled on the submission artist. Moreover, Lopez took the match back to stand-up; but, the style would be short lived as Yahya capitalized on a left counter and took down the opposition. The Brazilian advanced his position to top mount and attempted a well-angled armbar. But, Lopez survived and a 3rd round was up next.
At first glance, both Rani Yahya and Matthew Lopez were visibly gassed. While the veteran landed some soft jabs and a kick, Lopez took top position after a takedown. Again on the ground, the Brazilian eyed an armbar; yet, there was nothing going as Lopez realized to get off the canvas and ultimately slipped out. Later, Yahya tried a takedown; however, it was defended very well by his adversary. But, the never ceasing Yahya continued to work hard for a desirable position, and he found it shortly after the 3:30 mark by covering Lopez like a blanket. On top, he unloaded short elbows and rock hard punches. After slamming Lopez to the mat when the two were locked up, Yahya took top position again and did not squander the finish opportunity, for he beautifully set up an arm triangle and earned the tap-out with just 41 seconds remaining in the bout.
Rani Yahya defeats Matthew Lopez via arm triangle, Round 3 – 0:41
He Said It:
“It’s a great win. Matt is definitely a prospect, he was undefeated. I wanted to fight against, like him, a good wrestler, who was undefeated,” said Rani Yahya in his initial thoughts of his performance.
He Said It (Part II)
“Yeah, he’s a grappler too. I wanted to strike and surprise him, and I think it did work. The grappling came natural. I think it is natural for both of us,” analyzed Yahya.
He Said It (Part III)
“I want to fight in Brazil. It’s my hometown and birth town. There’s a fight [card] in September and I would like to be in it,” stated Yahya about where he would like to fight next.
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 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”.
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 MMAFighting.com and confirmed later in the evening by the UFC.
— UFC (@ufc) February 8, 2018
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.
UFC Middleweight Champion, Robert Whittaker Announces Birth of Third Child
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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