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Oli Thompson talks upcoming bout with Matt Mitrione, in-cage fight announcement, Fedor fight and more

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I spoke with one of the UK’s top heavyweights, UFC vet, former UCMMA and IGF champion and winner of 2006’s Britain’s Strongest Man, “The Spartan” Oli Thompson, who will be facing Matt Mitrione at Bellator 158 on July 16th at the O2 Arena in London. We spoke about the unusual nature of the announcement, how he sees the fight going and coming so close to a bout with Fedor Emelianenko.


So, a couple of weeks ago you entered the cage following Mitrione’s fight and Jimmy Smith broke the news that the two of you would be fighting on the London card. Mitrione didn’t seem to remember too much about the fight he’d just had and suddenly they were announcing his next fight just 3 weeks later. What do you think about the timing of that announcement?

Oli Thompson: Well I didn’t really know why I was flying out initially, I did have a few ideas, a few possibilities but obviously Mitrione still had a fight so we didn’t know what was going to happen. I went out and did some promotional photos, had my medical because I’d signed a contract anyway, I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen. I can understand people saying that maybe it was a bit premature but at the same time it would have been a shame to waste the fact that we were there together. If it hadn’t come off then obviously there’d have been a change of plans but I guess it was an opportunity they didn’t want to miss.

Would this match up still have been put together if he’d lost that fight?

OT: No.

That did come close to happening, Mitrione was caught by a huge right hand early on in his Bellator debut and looked close to being finished. You said to him yourself you were worried he’d blown it for a minute. What did you think of Mitrione’s performance?

OT: [Laughs] Yeah, I did. The performance was definitely sloppy, there wasn’t much of it to judge him on but what did happen was sloppy. He was fortunate that Carl wasn’t more clinical and Carl didn’t grapple as well as he could have in there.

Were you worried that Matt might not be medically cleared to compete in London?

OT: Yeah, I mean I knew that I’d signed a contract with Bellator and I was going to fight one of their top names, I was sure of that whether it was London or somewhere else. Mitrione fitted the bill and I was definitely keen to fight him. When he went down, if that door had shut it would have just opened up the door for one of their other guys, I wouldn’t have cried about it but I was pleased he passed the medical, for myself competitively and for him, for his health.

Things could have gone a couple of different ways at Bellator 157, were you already in a fight camp before the actual announcement?

OT: When the fight was first spoke about as a possibility, just maybe a week or two earlier I upped the intensity of my training and planned things out a bit better, put a bit more structure to it. I was prepared for the possibility the fight would happen, it wasn’t a long camp but generally I don’t get too far from fight shape most of the time.

Would you have fought someone else on the Bellator card or was your deal always to fight Mitrione?

OT: I would have fought on the card and fought anyone they wanted me to fight, as long as it was exciting for me and motivating for me. I wanted to fight in London, that’s exciting but if I’d had to fight on a different Bellator show I’d have been equally excited and had the chance to get some more training in, so I’d be happy either way.

Your fight is at the O2 arena in London. Obviously you’ve had big fights in big promotions, fought in the UFC but this has to be up there as one of the biggest fights you’ve had, how much are you looking forward to fighting in London?

OT: The fight itself, to me is the biggest fight I’ve ever had. Obviously if you’re a good competitor your next fight is always your biggest fight, that should be how it is but Mitrione is a guy who’s been successful against guys who have been successful, he can do a lot for me. It’s in my hands, it’s in London, I have a good support network and a lot of home comforts in my surroundings.

This card has been nothing if not eventful, we had the tragic untimely passing of Kimbo Slice who was obviously scheduled to main event against James Thompson, Josh Koscheck pulled out of the Paul Daley rematch that feels destined never to happen at this point, Michael Page’s opponent withdrew due to visa issues, we’ve had late fight announcements, Linton Vassell withdrew due to injury, Mark Godbeer pulled out of his fight with James Mulheron citing a contractual dispute. Has this been a pretty crazy introduction to Bellator?

OT: Yeah, sure. Lots of ups and downs. Like any other combat sports fan I was gutted about Kimbo’s passing. That was a tragedy regardless of the show, just in general. Before that happened there’d been talks about the possibility of this fight with Mitrione coming up, it was already a possibility to go on as well as that fight initially on the same card. That tragedy happening probably accelerated things through necessity. I’m sad to see Linton out, he’s a friend of mine, I train with him he’s a great guy and it’s sad to see him out so close to the fight. It’s sad for my pal James as well, he was preparing for a fight that he’s not getting now.

Specifically on the Mark Godbeer issue, Tapology rank you as the number 1 heavyweight in the UK, James Mulheron and Mark Godbeer are 2nd and 3rd respectively. Is it disappointing for the UK heavyweight division that this fight isn’t going ahead?

OT: It was an interesting fight definitely, for both guys. They’ve had a lot of success over the last few years. I’m focused on my own battles though, I don’t really look at the UK heavyweight scene in general. I’m really pleased that James Mulheron, someone who I respect a lot is matched up now and will get to show what he’s got on the big stage one way or another.

Is it true you were offered a fight with Fedor Emelianenko earlier this year?

OT: Yeah, I’ve been offered three fights this year, I’ve accepted all three of them. I’ve been offered Fedor Emelianenko, I accepted but he said no and took what he thought would be an easier fight. After that I was offered Vitaly Minakov as a replacement, he wanted an easier fight as well. Earlier in the year I accepted a fight with Alexander Volkov but there were some issues with the promotion out there.

Was the Fedor offer for Rizin or for Eurasia Fight Nights (EFN)?

OT: The Fedor and the Minakov fights would have been on the Fight Nights show.

Seeing what happened at that event, how Fedor looked against Maldonado, do you feel like there was a missed opportunity for you to get a really big win?

OT: Yeah, it would be nice to be sitting here now on a 6 fight win streak, Fedor as the latest name and 50 grand in the bank.

How do you see your fight with Mitrione ending?

OT: I see it ending very similarly to what happened to Matt a few weeks ago but with a more physical guy on top of him.

Has that been an extra motivation for you, seeing how he was dropped, albeit by a huge right hand but really it was the first real shot that landed and Matt was really close to being finished, maybe if Seumanutafa had followed up a little better he could have finished that fight, has that been a boost for your confidence?

OT: Yeah, I mean I wouldn’t say it’s boosted my confidence because I’m confident in what I can do to him but it just reaffirms what I already know.

Oli Thompson faces Matt Mitrione at Bellator 158 in the O2 Arena London, July 16th

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Jacare Souza vs. Kelvin Gastelum Official for UFC 224

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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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Exclusive: Mike Ekundayo, “He could come with anything, I don’t care”

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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”.

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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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