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Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association is announced

Matthew Wells

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016, will mark the date of a new revolution in the world of mixed martial arts.

Bjorn Rebney, founder and former CEO of Bellator, along with Georges St-Pierre, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, T.J. Dillashaw, Tim Kennedy, and Cain Velasquez were on hand today to announce the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association. The conference call lasted two hours and addressed many important questions from the media about the plans for the organization.

The idea of Rebney heading up the organization was a bit of a head scratcher for some in the MMA community. Some will point to his dealings at Bellator that left a sour taste in the mouth of certain managers and fighters. Undercard fighters were paid low wages and the lawsuit that Bellator filed against Eddie Alvarez while Rebney was in charge are just a couple of examples questioning his best interests of fighters’ well-being.  However, today’s call clarified Rebney’s role in the association.

While still very much in its infancy, the MMAAA board will currently consist of five fighters, the same five who were present for the conference call today. Tim Kennedy, Georges St-Pierre, Cain Velasquez, T.J. Dillashaw, and Donald Cerrone will make all of the major decisions of the association, while Rebney’s role will be that of an advisor. The fighters who put their health at risk will be the decision makers in this venture, which should appeal to other fighters interested in joining the association.

All of the fighters present today except Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone are represented by the Creative Artists Agency (CAA) which has a history of run-ins with William Morris Endeavor Entertainment (WME-IMG). Many theories began flying around after the initial news of today’s call broke, mainly suggesting that this was another battle between CAA and WME-IMG. Bjorn Rebney directly addressed this question head on when asked during the call. “CAA is not backing this venture, but they’re supporting the athletes,” stated Rebney.  He would go on to shoot down the idea that this was something the CAA came up with to specifically target WME-IMG, who purchased the UFC for $4.2 billion earlier in 2016. Tim Kennedy supported Rebney’s comments by stating, “There’s nobody from CAA in this room right now. This has nothing to do with anyone else besides the fighters.”

The primary goal of the MMAAA is a collective bargaining agreement that will move the revenue share for fighters from an alleged 8% of UFC profits closer to 50%, similar to that of Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association. While the exact percentage of revenue share is not currently known, it was stated as 8% during the conference call, however, it has been rumored that the actual number is closer to 15% of revenue currently being paid to the fighters in the UFC.

Health care is another major concern for the fighters, who expressed their desire for plans throughout the call. “There is no post-retirement health plan. That’s why we’re coming together now, to make our lives better now and for the future,” stated Cain Velasquez. After speaking about prior injuries and surgeries,  Velasquez who is scheduled to fight Fabricio Werdum at UFC 207 on December 30, 2016, stated he already has another surgery scheduled for a date after the bout.

Rebney was clear that the MMAAA is not a union, rather it is an association.  He stated that due to the independent contractor status of the UFC fighter a union is the incorrect avenue for the athletes to take on.  Rebney stated they are classified as a 501(c)(6) organization, which is a business league that is non-profit and no part of any earnings may benefit any private shareholder or individual.

Another key moment during the call, was the hint of a potential labor strike by UFC fighters.  Lucas Middlebrook, labor attorney well-known in MMA circles for handling Nick Diaz’ suspension case and was until recently supporting the Professional Fighters Association (PFA), suggests that not pursuing a union and threatening a strike is the wrong move:

Each of the fighters on the call expressed their desire for other fighters to reach out to them as soon as possible to discuss further details about the association, and why joining would benefit them. Over the course of two hours, many fighters engaged in conversation about the union, looking for answers to their questions.

For now, it’s unclear the immediate impact today’s announcement will have on fighters openly supporting the MMAAA, especially considering that Cerrone, Velasquez, Dillashaw, and Kennedy all have fights scheduled over the next month. Georges St-Pierre expressed he believes the UFC will view him as a villain, but it’s an acceptable tradeoff to do what is right for the fighters.

As Donald Cerrone stated during the call, “What’s going to happen, I have no f***** idea, but let’s run it until the goddamn wheels come off.”

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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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UFC Middleweight Champion, Robert Whittaker Announces Birth of Third Child

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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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Dhiego Lima vs. Yushin Okami added to Glendale, Arizona card

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Fights, fights, fights, the world-wide leader in MMA added another fan-friendly bout to the already exciting ‘Fight Night: Glendale’ card. Two time ‘Ultimate Fighter’ finalist, Dhiego Lima takes on veteran Yushin Okami. Lima took to Instagram earlier today to announce the news.

Four days after adding an important Heavyweight clash to UFC Glendale, the promotion booked another crucial bout, in the Welterweight division. While, neither fighter ranks inside the top 15 of the Welterweight division, both sit at pivotal points in their career. In the case of Lima, he comes off a second appearance on the reality series, The Ultimate Fighter. Much like his first appearance, the Welterweight made the competition finals.

Lima first appeared on the reality series during Season 19: Team Edgar vs. Team Penn. In the preliminary round, he defeated Adam Stroup via unanimous decision (2 rounds), to earn a place in the house. From there, he submitted both his quarter-final and semi-final opponents. Lima left the Ultimate Fighter house undefeated, down the line, he did a similar thing on the 25th season of the show. He defeated Hayder Hassan, Gilbert Smith, and Tom Gallicchio, all by unanimous decision leaving the house undefeated for a second time.

Unfortunately, the inverse of his performances in the ‘TUF’ house came to fruition in the finals. In two Ultimate Fighter Finale’s, his record fell to 0-2, following Ultimate Fighter Finale Season 25. What happened to be even more unfortunate, Lima’s opponent at, The Ultimate Fighter Finale Season 25, Jesse Taylor, tested positive for the anti-estrogen agent clomiphene. The sample collected for the failed drug test was in an out-of-competition setting, therefor Lima’s loss to Taylor stands. The loss puts his record with the UFC at, 1-4.

A loss shouldn’t place Lima near the chopping block but, a win would greatly improve his standing with the promotion. The other half of the newly announced bout, is in a similar position.

Yushin Okami made his first appearance for the promotion at UFC 62. Okami earned the victory in his debut. The win marked his third consecutive win in the midst of a six fight win-streak. Over the course of those six victories, Okami defeated Alan Belcher (UFC 62), Kalib Starnes (UFC 64), Rory Singer (UFC 66), and Mike Swick (UFC 69). The Japanese born mixed martial artist remained on the roster for seven more years before being cut following a first round TKO loss to Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza.

Okami fought for various organizations following his release, while also dropping down to Welterweight. When, in the latter part of 2017, he was called upon as a short-notice injury replacement by the UFC. Seven days before UFC Fight Night 117: St. Preux vs. Rua, one half of the main event, Maurico Rua, withdrew due to an apparent knee injury. Okami answered the call, giving him seven days to prepare for rising Light Heavyweight contender, Ovince St. Preux. The Japanese native lost the contest by submission in the opening round.

UFC Fight Night Glendale takes place in Glendale Arizona at the Gila River Arena on April 14th. The main event features Justin Gaethje vs. Dustin Poirer.

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