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”.
Jonas Magard, “This is all I do. I don’t have anything else”
In the late hours of this upcoming Saturday night in the Greenwich Mean Time Zone, a new Bantamweight champion will earn his crown. A little over 300 feet from the A12 in Brentwood, England, inside the Brentwood Centre, is where it will all happen. The medium sized venue will host Brad Pickett and his Rise of Champions promotion, for their fifth event and second with the venue.
An important event, ROC 5, represents something greater to a few different people involved with Saturdays show. For the promotions co-owner Pickett, it represents an opportunity to capture American audiences on a UFC-less Saturday while being broadcast exclusively on the world-leader’s streaming service, UFC Fight Pass. Although the former UFC contender has a lot riding on the success of his shows, ROC 5 may mean less to the owner than to both his main event fighters. Currently, the ROC 5 main event is set to determine the promotions first ever champion when Denmark’s Jonas Magard takes on London’s own, Mike Ekundayo.
Both young, talented, and riding unbeaten streaks, this main event represents a major stepping stone in their careers. In the case of Jonas Magard, “It’s just a new opportunity to do something, to put my mark on things. With or without the title I just want to fight. He’s in my way to something bigger”. His words echoed his demeanor. While the Danish Amateur MMA Champion, wanted to behave excited for the opportunity, fighting under the ROC banner, his attitude simply would not allow him. “I can’t wait to see how they put on the show and stuff, I think it’s going to be fun. But again it’s just me and him, it’s not about the show… I have not been training to fight at that event. I’ve been training to fight that guy and if it’s that’s event or if it’s in the backyard, it’s the same for me”.
Not only was the young Danish fighters’ mentality impressive but his record as well. At 8-3, Magard owns 7 stoppages, 6 by Japanese neck tie. The same submission he defeated Michail Chrisopoulus, with a little less than half of the opening round remaining, in his most recent appearance at ACB 75. And the same submission in which he holds the record for most finishes.
His journey to this point could not be described by the meager word, easy. After training for a year and two amateur fights in his home of Jutland, Denmark, Magard decided to make a change. “I went to Copenhagen to try to train there, in one of the bigger gyms and they just opened their arms and welcomed me. So, I thought why not move? I was 19 at the time. I didn’t really know anybody in Copenhagen”. He continued, “the first couple of times I was over there, I would live with some of the guys from the gym. I would have an amateur fight coming up, so I’d stay there for a month… I would still have my address and live back in Jutland, but I would just go over there do my training and my training camps”.
Magard travels quite a bit for his MMA training. In his current situation, Magard splits time between Rumble Sport in Copenhagen, Denmark and All Powers gym in Manchester, England. “I think a lot of fighters, they get too comfortable in their own little circle of fighters and in their own gym, where I like to just go out, get the best training work whether it is in Denmark or wherever. I don’t care about traveling or getting pushed as much as I can”.
He’s made a routine of being uncomfortable, something he does not think can be said of his opponent, “I think he hasn’t been battle tested, the same way as I have. Yeah, he’s a good opponent, he’s a guy I have to beat. He’s undefeated… but you know, I don’t think he’s been battled tested as he’s going to be now, with me (in) this fight, it’s just different”.
“I’ve seen his opponents and his opponents are okay but, they didn’t have a lot of fights either like he don’t. Not even as an amateur. As an amateur, I fought the guy who just fought for the Cage Warriors title, Alexander Jacobsen, he had like 125 boxing matches… I fought the guy who is going to fight for the Cage Warriors flyweight championship, Sam (Creasey)… I had the hard fights as an amateur, I don’t think he had the hard fights, that’s the difference about over here in Scandinavia. We get battle tested,” he continued to elaborate, “in amateur, people don’t get built up, people are getting hard fights. I had two fights the same day, for the Danish MMA amateur championship… I’ve been facing guys who I know come there to win, who’s just not there to be food… this is all I do, I don’t have anything else, I don’t have a day job I’m going to everyday and that’s the difference. I’m a professional, I live off this, I live for this, this is all I do. He has not met anybody like me before, who has the experiences I have.”
Magard believes the experience he earned through his MMA journey is what separates himself from his opponent. Outside of MMA, the Dane fought two shoot-fighting matches and one professional boxing bout. “He is a good fighter, he is a good strong fighter but I know the guys over here, there stronger side is not the ground. The wrestling in England, people want to punch each other in the face they don’t want to wrestle. I come from a place where people like to wrestle. And during this fight camp, I’ve been training with the (Danish) Greco Roman Olympic silver medalist [Mark Madsen]. I’ve been training with Martin Kammpman the former Danish UFC fighter… I eat I sleep I breathe MMA every day and I don’t want anything else. That’s going to be the difference in this fight one hundred percent”.
Cindy Dandois Hints to Return with UFC
Much has been made of the Women’s Featherweight division in the UFC. Since its inception, and inaugural crowning of a champion back in February of 2017, the UFC is yet to release the divisions official rankings. As it stands, the roster only looks to have two real women Featherweights; Cris Cyborg and Megan Anderson. Since Germaine de Randamie earned a unanimous decision victory over Holly Holm at UFC 208, the division has seen three fights. Dissect the divisions three fight history, and you find more oddities. All three fights were for the division title. Fighters whom competed at the weight limit include, Germaine de Randamie, Tonya Evinger, Cris Cyborg (Twice), and Holly Holm (Twice). Which makes a picture posted to the Instagram page of veteran fighter, Cindy Dandois, extremely interesting.
Fight fans should see a familiar face, as Dandois competed against Alexis Davis at UFC Fight Night 108: Swanson vs. Lobov. A bout which took place in the women’s Bantamweight division. Although Dandois lost the contest by unanimous decision and subsequently cut from the roster, the Judo Black Belt earned two impressive victories in her two bouts since. Following her release from the UFC, Dandois fought at Cage Warriors 89, where she defeated Kerry Hughes by TKO in the opening round. Unfinished in her journey, she took a fight with the Japanese promotion, Rizin FF. In her single fight with the international promotion, “Battlecat” handed highly touted Riena Muira (“King” Riena) the first loss of her professional career.
The potential addition of Dandois means a couple things. First and possibly the most obvious, the UFC is finally committing to building the women’s Featherweight division. Of course, I think we can all give a big, “DUH”, to that notion. Why create the division if you never intend on building it?
Second, 2018 is the year for the UFC to heavily promote Cris Cyborg. Not to say they have not in the past but, Dandois is one of the best upper-weight female fighters today. Committing to sign her, is a step in the direction of building the best Featherweight division possible, which is always the aim and usually the outcome for the UFC. Also, it looks like all sides are finally on board with the Cyborg vs. Nunes “superfight”. The promotion can go from Cyborg vs. the toughest women’s Bantamweight in the world to the #1 ranked women’s Lightweight fighter in the world (rankings by Women’s MMA Rankings), Cindy Dandois.
The signing is yet to be made official. An official announcement should come between now and March 17th. Dandois alluded to the date in her social media post, using the hashtags March 17th, and stare-down. It certainly seems like the fighter sits on a booked bout but for now we have to wait.
Interview: Manny Bermudez, “The second this fight goes on the ground, it’s gonna be a pretty terrible story for this guy”
Manny Bermudez is accustom to many things when it comes to fighting, especially when it comes to pressure. “I’ve been doing this since I was young”, the undefeated bantamweight prospect claimed as he brushed off the question. His answer slid off the tongue as if he had been trained to do so, “Yeah, I get nervous. Yeah, it gets scary sometimes but, you either man up and face it, or you take a loss (and) you have to start over”. He certainly hadn’t. What he had trained is a calm and loose demeanor, a mindset that palpably asserts rationality. “It’s best to just take it on the chin”.
Currently, Manny Bermudez is the number one ranked professional bantamweight in the New England region (ranking by Tapology.com). Something you would not expect from the polite and kind twenty-three year old. Despite whom he projects, there comes a time, every so often, when the quiet man morphs into a dominating force. It is something you may see if you travel down to South Shore Sportfighting, in Norwell, the place he began and continues his training.
A place in which he take great pride in beginning his MMA journey, “I’ve known Bill since I was like fourteen”. He praised his head coach Bill Mahoney, the head instructor of South Shore Sportfighting. “He’s seen me, just like, grow up. He’s seen what I’m good at, what I’m not good at”. He continued following an abrupt outburst elsewhere in the room, “One of the things he always talks about is, how you have to know your fighters to be a good coach… You see all these higher up schools like the Greg Jackson’s and all that, they got all these fighters but, they can’t really focus on these guys because they’re not homegrown. And so, South Shore has been an awesome place for me to be homegrown from because Bill really pays attention to me… he knows what I’m good at, what I need to work on. When he sees a weakness, he tells me straight up”.
Or, you may see his ferocity if you purchase tickets to this weekend’s Cage Titans 37 at Plymouth Memorial Hall in Plymouth, Mass. At CT 37, Bermudez takes on another highly touted prospect, Mike Hernandez for the promotions vacant bantamweight championship title. Talking to him, you may not think you are speaking with a fighter, undefeated in ten professional bouts. Not only undefeated but finishing eight of his ten opponents, seven by choke, one by KO/TKO. Lastly, don’t forget, all eight finishes came inside the opening round.
“The second I drop down to 135, I can feel the difference in the guy’s I’m fighting. I feel like a wet rag on these guys”. Fittingly, his fights have nearly all looked that way. In his most recent bout, Bermudez toyed with his opponent on the feet, landing a hard straight right which caught the attention of his opponent, Bendy Casimir. After a bit of measuring done by both fighters, Bermudez ate a head kick from his opponent, caught it, and followed him to the ground. From there, Bermudez immediately worked himself into mount and instituted his infamous Bermudez Triangle forcing a BJJ Black Belt to tap in the opening minutes. An aspect of his game he is extremely confident about.
“I think the second this fight goes on the ground, it’s gonna be a pretty terrible story for this guy”, the Abington-native claimed. Yet, the South Boston fighter respected the ability of his opponent, “He seems like a tough, scrappy dude”. He continued, “He’s a veteran with a good record, a successful record. He’s fought in Bellator, he’s fought UFC vets. I mean, I don’t think they come much tougher, locally”. Although he understands the challenges his opponent brings to light, he is confident, “I want this to be a statement that, it doesn’t matter what you’re throwing at me, I’m gonna to face it and keep going”.
The Cage Titans promotion couldn’t be much better of a place to fight for Bermudez. Without traffic, a drive from his home to the Cage Titans event venue is more or less, thirty minutes. When asked about the significance of earning a title with a local promotion such as Cage Titans, means to him, he had nothing but praise for the promotion who hosted seven of his ten pro fights. “Cage Titans, is one of the organizations that really represents the northeast. I’ve had a lot of shows, where I’ll go down there and I see my friends so close to me and just hearing that support from the people, from the crowds. At my last fight, we flew the guy in from Vegas, and I choked him in a minute or two”, he said. “You could hear everyone yelling, ‘UFC! UFC! UFC!’… I go on Facebook, and everyone’s yelling, ‘Get Manny to the UFC!’, so they all support me, they all have my back so to be fighting for this title and the possibility of somebody else holding it, from out of state, I’d say, it’s a little more personal… it’s a promotion I fought for so many times that I think it holds more personal meaning for me, than it would for somebody like him.”
A win for the local prospect certainly muddies the waters of his situation. The #1 bantamweight in New England has no interest in signing with a promotion other than the UFC. His only desire and goal, at the moment, is to sign with the aforementioned promotion. Considering the achievements Bermudez has already accomplished in his young career, a regional title greatly increases an already deserving resume.
***UPDATE 1/25/18*** Mike Hernandez was forced to withdraw yesterday from Saturdays main event at Cage Titans 37, due to a family emergency. Manny Bermudez will now face Seth Basler, in a non-title bout.
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