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The Morning After UFC 207

Matthew Wells

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The return was not feared.

What does a lion fear? They are considered the king of the jungle. While the male lions appear more vicious and menacing with the most distinctive characteristic of the species, the thick mane, it is the female lion, the lioness, who is more efficient and effective as a hunter. Generally smaller, more agile, and quicker to the attack, the lioness is also cold and calculated. After Friday night, perhaps there is no other nickname more appropriate for the UFC Bantamweight Champion Amanda Nunes.

Taking a theatrical approach to her nickname of “lioness”, Nunes stood on the scale during the ceremonial weigh-ins wearing a lion’s mask. Just as a lioness will stalk her prey from a distance, after peering out into the sea of fans in attendance at the T-Mobile Arena, Nunes slowly turned her head and focused her attention to the end of the stage where Ronda Rousey stood. After stepping down from the scale and getting face to face with her opponent, the hunt was all but on. Exchanging intense glares, neither woman backed down from the moment, creating a powerful moment to fuel the fire for the fight which lacked the normal fight week promotion.

After her fall from grace at UFC 193 via a Holly Holm head kick, Ronda Rousey was finally set to make her return to action Friday evening. However, the return would be on her terms which included zero fight week media obligations aside from the ceremonial weigh-ins and appearances on UFC Embedded. Unsurprisingly, this was a wildly unpopular move with the media who traveled to Las Vegas for coverage of the former champion. Fans of the sport would also voice their displeasure with the move via social media. While there is no finite way to measure the effect this would have on Pay Per View sales, there is no question that fight week press conferences and interviews create an increased buzz for fights in the final hours before hitting the pay wall – just ask Conor McGregor.

For Ronda Rousey, who went silent for months after her loss to Holm, facing the media during fight week (or not facing) was an important step to reveal her mental state heading into the fight against Nunes. As she would eventually discuss in the famous interview with Ellen Degeneres, the loss to Holm completely shook her to the core, driving her to suicidal thoughts. Sure, the official UFC promos would paint the picture that Ronda Rousey was completely rejuvenated and focused on regaining her title at UFC 207. However, avoiding the media under the guise of “they turned on me” post-UFC 193, told a story all its own. While simply looking at her physique, Ronda arrived in Las Vegas in perhaps the best shape of her fighting career. More importantly, though, if Ronda was not mentally strong enough to answer hard questions about her career from the media, how could she possibly be in the right place mentally to compete against a fearless striker like Nunes?

Despite her best game face in staredowns and during her walk into the Octagon, once the first punch from Nunes landed, the iconic fierce demeanor of Rousey quickly faded. The former Olympian was locked in a cage with a lioness hunting for a kill – and as punch, after punch landed, there was no escaping this mauling. In just 48 seconds, Herb Dean stepped in to stop the violence. For the second time in a row, Ronda Rousey left the cage battered and distraught. For a fighter who made her career off dishing out lighting quick finishes of her opponents, the latest (and possibly final) chapter of her career was on the receiving end.

 

Is it the end?

For the many people that view Rousey as a figure of inspiration and strength, it is important now more than ever for her to face the media and speak on her recent shortcomings inside the Octagon. Rousey’s celebrity reaches into homes and television screens of people who would otherwise not watch mixed martial arts. They tune in for Ronda and her story, the DNB campaign, and the overall image of feminine strength she has created. Inspirational figures must deliver on their promise which includes facing the reality of outcomes. There are many young girls who are inspired by what Ronda has been able to accomplish throughout her career and will be paying attention to how Ronda handles this loss.

If this was the last image of Ronda Rousey in the UFC cage, her career accomplishments as an Olympian, fighter, transcendent celebrity and trailblazer for women’s mixed martial arts will trump the recent lows. Without Ronda Rousey, there is no WMMA in the UFC in 2012. It took a special athlete and a special personality to change the mind of UFC President Dana White, who at the time believed women’s MMA wasn’t a good fit for the promotion. As we prepare to ring in 2017, women’s MMA has since evolved rapidly into a beast all its own, creating new superstars and fights that earn top billing on Pay Per Views. If Ronda Rousey was not there to carry the torch, who knows where we would be at this point? Luckily she was and we are all alive in a time to witness something truly special in the world of sports.

Regardless of what may be next for Ronda Rousey, we must all take a moment to say, “Thank you.”

 

No Love for the Dominator

While one career may be reaching the resolution of its plot, another is in the middle of the rising action phase.

Cody Garbrandt, a Team Alpha Male product, was set to take on the UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz, the one man who has wreaked havoc on the camp’s top names for years – Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez, and T.J. Dillashaw would all fall victim to the ghost-like movement of Dominick Cruz during his 13 fight win streak that stretches back to the WEC days. That run of wins and successful bantamweight title defenses would come to end on Friday evening, as Cody Garbrandt put on a masterful performance in the co-main event of UFC 207.

It was billed as and believed to be a clash of the elusive, unorthodox wizard against the always-forward, powerful knockout artist. Garbrandt threw everyone for a loop as he revealed an entirely different aspect to his game – an incredibly patient, technical, and tactical fight approach. For a stylish man outside of the Octagon, Cody “No Love” brought a certain stylish flair into the cage with him on Friday night as well, as he taunted Cruz at any opportunity over the course of five rounds. Garbrandt channeled his inner Diaz brother in the fourth round after dropping Cruz with a hard left hand that was followed up not by subsequent strikes to end the bout, but rather by pointing and laughing as Cruz picked himself up from the canvas. Nobody has picked Dominick Cruz apart in such a manner, much less taunting and dancing while doing so.

To cap off 2016, it was only right that we witnessed one more incredible changing of the guard, especially considering the madness that has occurred over the past twelve months in the sport. While Garbrandt’s performance was incredible enough, his post-fight dedication to Maddux Maple, his good friend, and leukemia survivor was the icing on the cake. Just as Dana White wrapped the belt around Garbrandt’s waist, Cody would do the same for Maddux, making good on his promise from a few weeks ago to give him the real belt should he be successful. It was a very special moment to celebrate his friend, who he credits with changing his life for the better, leading him to become a UFC champion.

Whether the newly crowned champion decides to fight former Team Alpha Male partner T.J. Dillashaw or wants to run it back with Dominick Cruz, the bantamweight division is as hot has it has ever been.

It was real, 2016.

Looking back on the year that was 2016, the game has changed in many ways.

We’re still feeling the impact from WME-IMG’s purchase of the UFC over the summer, which has seen many long-time employees and executives searching for the next phase of their careers, including commentator Mike Goldberg, whose final event on the mic was Friday evening. UFC matchmaker Joe Silva also partook in his final event as a UFC employee at UFC 207. Dave Sholler left his PR gig with the UFC to move to the NBA. Lorenzo Fertitta made his exit from the company when the sale was completed. There have been plenty of changes behind the scenes, yet the promotion continues to deliver a solid product.

For the fighters who make this sport truly incredible, 2016 should mark an important year in terms of fighter pay. Multi-million dollar disclosed paydays were realized by Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey. As a result, their opponents benefited by increased pay which should continue to create a ripple effect throughout the sport. Free agency and fighter unions were both hot topics in the MMA world in 2016, which will both continue to evolve in the new year.

In a year which New York legalized mixed martial arts and provided numerous broken records, the sport is in a very good place heading to 2017.

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Interviews

UFC 219’s Jimmie Rivera to TJ Dillashaw “Defend Your Belt or Vacate.”

Harry Davies

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MMA Latest had the chance to talk to #4 ranked UFC bantamweight Jimmie “El Terror” Rivera ahead of his fight at UFC 219 against John Lineker.

Rivera (21-1) extended his unbeaten run to twenty when he defeated Thomas Almeida at UFC Long Island in July. Originally scheduled to face former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, we began by asking Rivera how the opponent change had affected his preparation for UFC 219.

The only thing that’s changed is the game plan, everything else stays the same. Cruz is more of an irritating fight because he just doesn’t stop moving, but with Lineker, he’s going to stay in the pocket and bang, and I love that.

Recently, Rivera posted a video to his Twitter account of him sparring with the recently crowned bantamweight champion, TJ Dillashaw. He told us about the context of this video, and how the sparring went down between them.

It was 3 or 4 years back. I think TJ had just lost to (John) Dodson on TUF. My teammate Louis Gaudinot was actually fighting Tim Elliott at the time, and we were in Milwaukee so I got to train with (Urijah) Faber and Dillashaw.

I just sent it to TJ to say, don’t forget what happened. I was getting the best of him, and I don’t really brag about it. But he wants to leave the weight class and fight DJ for the money fight, and I want to fight for the belt, so it’s defend your belt or vacate.

After briefly referencing the potential superfight between Demetrious Johnson and TJ Dillashaw, I asked Rivera about his thoughts on the somewhat flawed UFC rankings system, and title fights being put together purely for entertainment value.

It sucks. When I become champ I won’t be like a TJ or McGregor, I’m going to be like Demetrious Johnson and defend my belt against people coming up, it’s the right thing to do. If you want to win the belt and leave the division straight away, it’s kind of bullshit.

Rivera concluded by telling me that although he isn’t looking past Lineker at 219, “the only fight that makes sense after this one, is fighting TJ for the belt.”

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Announcement

Mark Hunt Returns to Fight Curtis Blaydes at UFC 221

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UFC 221 in Perth has officially added a another Australian to the main card. Joining Robert Whittaker is the knockout legend Mark Hunt.

The Daily Telegraph first reported that Hunt will be stepping into the octagon to face #9 Curtis Blaydes. Some weren’t sure if we would ever see Hunt fight again after he was pulled from the main event in UFC Fight Night 21 against Marcin Tybura. The UFC removed him due to “medical concerns” while Hunt was stating he was perfectly fine.

After getting evaluated and cleared to fight by Australian and American doctors, it looks like his time has come to return.  Hunt’s last fight was back in June when he derailed the Derrick Lewis hype train with a 4th round TKO win.

Hunt had been adamant about calling out #3 ranked heavyweight Fabricio Werdum and trying to get that rematch booked, labelling Werdum a “chicken shit” and a “coward.”

Curtis “Razor” Blaydes who has an 8-1 record, is coming off a TKO victory due to doctor stoppage at UFC 217 in November. Since losing to now title challenger Francis Ngannou in April of 2016, Blaydes has rattled off three straight wins over Alexey Oleynik, Daniel Omielanczuk, and Cody East.

With all this momentum from the win streak, Blaydes looks to capitalize and win the biggest fight of his career against Hunt.

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Valentina Shevchenko vs. Priscila Cachoeira Officially Booked for Belem, Brazil card

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The wait is over. Valentina Shevchenko (14-3, 3-2 UFC) will make her highly anticipated flyweight debut when the UFC returns to Brazil. She will face Priscila Cachoeira (8-0) on the February 3rd card scheduled for Belem, Brazil. Luciana Andrade was the first to report the match-up last week. On Tuesday, the UFC posted an article which stated the bout had been set.

Now that the flyweight tournament is over and the inaugural champion has her crown, many women shall migrate from the strawweight and bantamweight ranks in search of a more suitable weight class. The division is so infantile means a lot moving parts in the rankings. Yet, only women who fought at one hundred and twenty-five lbs. are ranked. Such practices muddy the title picture for the time being. Essentially ruling out the idea of Montano vs. Shevchenko for the first defense of the belt, illogical. An idea that floated around the internet until today’s confirmation of the newest female flyweight match-up. The TUF 26 winner, Nicco Montano called it, “kinda silly”, earlier this week while on The MMA Hour. Montano believes her first title defense, as it stands, should pit her against the original finalist of the flyweight tournament, Sijara Eubanks. Although Eubanks withdrew from the title fight, she is still ranked as the #1 contender in the division.

Shevchenko explained her desire for the flyweight belt on The MMA Hour, a week earlier than Montano, “For me it’s number one, to fight for the title… It doesn’t matter for me, if I have to have one fight before it, okay I will do it… my main goal is to be the champion… It doesn’t matter I move from one thirty-five to one twenty-five. My goal is still the same, to be the champion”. The Russian fighter is coming off an unsuccessful title shot in the bantamweight division against the current reigning champ, Amanda Nunes. The bout went to a decision after close five rounds, Nunes ultimately defeated Shevchenko via split decision (47-48, 48-47, 48-47).

Her opponent, Priscila Cachoeira, is not only new to the UFCs female flyweight division but the promotion’s roster as well. Cachoeira originally was scheduled to make her promotional debut against veteran Lauren Murphy at The Ultimate Fighter Finale 26. The Brazilian fighter withdrew from the bout due to visa issues. As a professional, she is undefeated with four knockouts in her eight fights.

UFC Belem is scheduled for February 3rd, 2018. The card will feature Timothy Johnson vs. Marcelo Golm in the heavyweight division. It will also have Thiago Santos taking on Anthony Smith in the middleweight division.

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