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RIZIN FF Signs Daron Cruickshank and Huggy Bear, Announces Five More Fights

Jim Edwards

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RIZIN FF, the combat sports promotion led by former PRIDE FC head Nobuyuki Sakakibara, announced during a press conference today, that it has inked five new, star-studded Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) bouts for its much-anticipated mega-event in Nagoya, Japan on Sunday, April 17, including a lightweight (155 pounds) contest between newly signed striking sensation Daron Cruickshank (16-8, 1 NC) and submission expert Shinji “Torao Supernova” Sasaki (16-8-3), as well as a heavyweight matchup between fellow knockout artists Chris “Huggy Bear” Barnett (14-2) and Kirill Sidelnikov (8-4)

In women’s open weight action, decorated Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion and women’s MMA heavyweight prospect Gabi Garcia (1-0) will collide with two-time Pankration champion Anna Malyukova (1-0).

Recent RIZIN FF Grand Prix tournament semifinalist Teodoras Aukstuolis (8-3) will square off with former K-1 champion Jaideep “Heart” Singh (2-1 MMA; 40-10, 13 KO’s kickboxing) in a 216- pound catchweight fight.

Sambo world champion Vadim Nemkov (5-1) will take on undefeated, aggressive-minded striker and top Nordic prospect “King” Karl Albrektsson (4-0) in a light heavyweight (205 pounds) tilt.

Daron Cruickshank vs. Shinji Sasaki

Cruickshank of Wayne, Mich. will set foot in the RIZIN FF ring for the first time, following a 4-year, 13-fight stint with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) that included wins over rival stars Yves Edwards, Erik Koch and Anthony Njokuani.

A two-time NCAA Division III wrestling national qualifier for Olivet College and a second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, the 5-foot-8, 30-year-old Cruickshank has gained admiration from fans worldwide with his set of explosive striking skills.

Sasaki of Hiroshima, Japan is a former Shooto Pacific Rim champion in the midst of a three-fight win streak. In his last start on March 12, the 5-foot-9, 35-year-old who has earned 10 of his 16 career wins by way of submission, scored a thunderous, 40-second TKO on Won Sik Park with a storm of punches.

(Above: Chris “Huggy Bear” Barnett, clad in his signature, full-body bear suit, stands behind MMA legends Fedor Emelianenko (left) and Wanderlei Silva (right) at a press conference in Japan before Barnett’s first round TKO victory over Shinichi Suzukawa on New Year’s Eve 2014)

Chris Barnett vs. Kirill Sidelnikov

With heavy hands, incredible agility for his massive physique and an eccentric personality that spawned his “Huggy Bear” moniker, Barnett of Tampa, Fla., has been making noise in the MMA world of late.

The 5-foot-9, 29-year-old who makes his ring entrances wearing a full-body bear suit and celebrates his victories by performing breakdance moves and cartwheels in the ring, has earned 12 of his 14 career wins to date by way of (T)KO. In his last start, he scored a first round TKO (punches) on Shinichi Suzukawa, in Tokyo on December 31

Sidelnikov of Stary Oskol, Russia is a 5-foot-11, 27-year-old former protégé of all-time MMA great Fedor Emelianenko. On December 29, he made his return to the ring after a five-year hiatus, scoring a devastating, first round (2:23) TKO (punches) on Carlos Toyota at the inaugural RIZIN FF event in Saitama, Japan.

Gabi Garcia vs. Anna Malyukova

A six-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion and ninth degree black belt, the 6-foot-2, 30-year-old Garcia of Los Angeles, Calif. via Sao Paulo, Brazil will return to the RIZIN FF ring for the second time after scoring a first round (2:36) TKO (punches) on Lei’d Tapa on December 31.

Malyukova of Penza, Penza Oblast, Russia is a former collegiate basketball star turned Russian MMA Championship and World Cup of MMA winner. After amassing a near unblemished, amateur career record of 7-1, Malyukova made her professional debut on September 26, 2015, earning a unanimous decision over Tatiana Portova.

Teodoras Aukstuolis vs. Jaideep “Heart” Singh

The 6-foot, 24-year-old Aukstuolis of Ukmerge, Lithuania is a national Judo champion who has been dubbed the “Lithuanian Werewolf” by Japanese fans who witnessed the young fighter use his aggressive style to knock out (punch) Bruno Henrique Cappelozza in the first round (3:32) of the RIZIN FF Grand Prix tournament’s quarterfinal stage of battle on December 29, 2015, before being ousted by eventual tournament champion “King Mo” Lawal in the semifinal round

All but one of Aukstuolis’ wins, thus far, have come by way of (T)KO or submission.

Singh of Punjab, India is a 6-foot-6, 28-year-old, former K-1 and RISE heavyweight kickboxing tournament champion who took his biggest risk to date when he stepped in the ring with Emelianenko in the main event of the RIZIN FF kick-off event on December 31, losing to the iconic Russian fighter by way of first round (3:02) TKO (punches).

Singh’s highest profile win to date came at the K-1 World Grand Prix 2010 Final event in Tokyo, Japan when he scored a first round (2:58) KO on Russian superstar Sergei Kharitonov with a right hook.

Vadim Nemkov vs. Karl “King” Albrektsson

Another protégé of Emelianenko and the younger brother of M-1 Global light heavyweight kingpin Viktor Nemkov, the 23-year-old Vadim of Stary Oskol is a three-time national and 2014 world combat Sambo champion.

Nemkov reached the semifinal stage of the RIZIN FF Grand Prix tournament on December 29, finishing Goran Reljic by way of first round (2:58) TKO (punches) before being ousted from the eight-man playoff by Jiri Prochazka.

The 6-foot-2, 22-year-old Abrektsson of Sweden will make his RIZIN FF promotional debut as one of the hottest emerging forces in Europe. With a fearless, straightforward style of offense, the Pancrase Gym team member has finished all four of his professional opponents inside of two rounds, via (T)KO or submission.

Priced from 100,000 yen, tickets for “Top Presents RIZIN Fighting Federation I,” which takes place at Nippon Gaishi Hall, are on sale and can be purchased online at Ticketbis.com.

In the main event, former PRIDE FC middleweight champion and prolific superstar Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva (35-12-1, 1 NC) will team up with a fighter to be announced soon, in a special grappling “tag match,” and battle a duo consisting of fellow legend, Kazushi Sakuraba, (26-17-1, 2 NC) and Hideo Tokoro (33-28-2).

In a 180-pound MMA rules catchweight contest, devastating power puncher Hisaki Kato (5-2) will take on fellow finisher Yuta “Andre” Watanabe (19-6-4).

Returning to action for the first time in five years, beloved heavyweight Kazuyuki “Ol’ Ironhead” Fujita (15-10), will face recent RIZIN FF Grand Prix tournament runner-up and dangerous knockout artist Jiri “Denisa” Prochazka (16-3-1).

In flyweight (125 pounds) action, submission ace Allan “Puro Osso” Nascimento (14-3) will lock horns with red-hot champion Yuki Motoya (15-4, 1 NC).

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Announcement

Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz in the works for UFC 223

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UFC 223 looks to add a variety of intriguing bouts. With Paul Felder vs. Al Iaquinta reportedly set for the unannounced UFC 223 card, the promotion looks to add a high stakes female flyweight match-up. According to MMANYTT.com, sources confirmed a bout between Felice Herrig and Karolina Kowalkiewicz, is in the works for the pay-per-view card.

 

Assuming the match-up does come to be, both women have much to gain from a victory. For Herrig, she currently sits on a four-fight win streak. A streak in which the strawweight contender defeated Kailin Curran, Alexa Grasso, Justine Kish, and Cortney Casey. The MMA veteran, Herrig, began fighting professionally in 2009. As of late, her issues with the marketing machine that is the UFC have intensified.

After demonstrating her technical prowess over Justine Kish at UFC Fight Night 122: Chiesa vs. Lee, Herrig put her emotions on display. She stated at the post-fight media scrum, “Sometimes, I feel like, I’m not young and beautiful enough for the UFC to want to promote me. And it’s sad because I’ve really worked so hard to be here and it’s hard to see these people who’ve not been through what I’ve been through. Who just got into the UFC at the right time. They’re getting all these opportunities and I see how hard I work to get here and it’s just like, it doesn’t matter. I just feel like, ‘I’m not pretty enough and I’m not getting any younger'”.

A frustrated Felice Herrig then spoke to MMAJunkie.com in December. She claimed, “Aside from (former UFC women’s strawweight champ) Joanna (Jedrzejczyk), I’m the only strawweight who’s gone on a four-fight winning streak. That’s a fact. At this point, I want to fight someone in the top 10. It doesn’t really make sense for me to keep fighting girls that are ranked below me. That’s the whole point. If I want to keep working my way up. I fight the most dangerous girls outside the top 10”. The #9 ranked women’s flyweight has a point. In her UFC career, she recorded one loss in six appearances. Yet, she has one co-main event booking, while fighters like Michelle Waterson, booked the main event in her second UFC bout. In Waterson’s third bout, she received a co-main event scheduling. Understandably, Felice Herrig is upset with her situation.

Later in her interview, Herrig brought up Kowalkiewicz as a potential next opponent. “For whatever reason, I really want to fight Karolina. I just think that would be an exciting fight… Stylistically, I really like that fight. She’s ranked above (me), and it may be a good gauge for me,” she stated. Right now, it looks like Herrig is close to getting what she wants.

Kowalkiewicz last fought in her native country of Poland on the UFC Fight Pass card, UFC Fight Night 118: Cowboy vs. Till, in October. The Polish star defeated Jody Esquibel, after losing consecutive contests to former UFC female strawweight champion, Joanna Jedrzejcyk and Claudia Gadelha, respectively.

A win for either makes a good case for the next or an eventual title challenger. Kowalkiewicz holds a victory over current division champion, Rose Namajunas. While a win for Herrig would further establish her impressive win streak and undoubtedly give her the boost in the rankings she deserves.

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Douglas Lima found out about change to co-main event at Bellator 192 from the internet

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Bellator 192 fight card has gone through a shake-up over the past week. Bellator president Scott Coker revealed last week that the scheduled welterweight title fight between Rory MacDonald and champion Douglas Lima will now be serving as the co-main event and the heavyweight matchup between Chael Sonnen and Rampage Jackson would instead take top billing. At the time no explanation was made for the change. Monday Douglas Lima was a guest on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani to discuss this change.

“I was little bummed, but it is what it is, it’s business you know. I was pretty excited you know? Being the main event, having Rampage fight as the co-main event, I was happy there. Then I was bummed out that they changed it back to the co-main event. It’s not going to change a thing for me, I’m just focusing on the fight.”

Lima has been notoriously looked over in the eyes of fight fans. A longtime member of Bellator and a two-time champion has not gotten the notice he deserves and hopes to get.

“I found out through the internet, nobody tells me anything, I didn’t know. the same thing happened in New York, I thought my fight would be before the two main events there, but it ended up being the first fight of the night on Pay-Per-View. Hopefully, it doesn’t take anything away from the fight, you know spotlight and stuff.”

Lima is looking to make all the naysayers take notice at Bellator 192 that takes place at The Forum in Inglewood, Califonia on January 20th.

“This is the fight I’ve been waiting for for a long time. To get my name out there, to get people to know who I am. I’ve been delivering a lot of good fights, fights fans like to watch but no attention yet. I’m hoping though that after a win over Rory this week it will really put my name out there and show all these welterweights out there that I am for real.”

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Al Iaquinta vs. Paul Felder rescheduled for UFC 223 in April

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MMA fans around the world wept in deep sorrow when Al Iaquinta withdrew from a bout scheduled for UFC 218 against Paul Felder. Weep no more, for Paul Felder faces Al Iaquinta at UFC 223. Rumblings behind the match-up, first reported by FloCombat.com, came Sunday night before MMAFighting.com confirmed the bout scheduled for unannounced pay-per-view card, later in the evening.

 

The original bout fell through due to a severe knee injury to Iaquinta. He spoke to BJ Penn Radio about the injury nearly a week before the December 2nd, PPV event in Detriot. The Long Island real estate agent claimed, “I tore my PCL and my MCL maybe three or four months ago… for me to really put in a full training camp and do what I need to do, I would’ve had to just focus on fighting and physical therapy… it was the kind of thing where all roads led to me not kind of taking a risk and fighting on December 2nd”.

Iaquinta went on to say, “I kind of accepted the fight, but I never signed a bout agreement… I was kind of told I had to give them an answer pretty quick. It was a fight I thought I really wanted. I thought it was a good stylistic match-up for me, so I accepted the fight, and then thinking about it over the course of a day, we realized it probably wasn’t a smart decision for my health, for everything”.

An outspoken lightweight, he is not the first of his kind. Al Iaquinta is no stranger to idly waiting on the sideline for the UFC to make a move. Contract disputes and other bad strokes of luck left the Serra-Longo with three octagon appearances since 2015. The feud between Iaquinta and the promotion comes as a surprise when looking at the credentials of the aforementioned fighter. With an octagon record of 8-2, he earned notoriety as one of the best lightweights in the world. During his time in the UFC, he defeated Kevin Lee, Ross Pearson, Joe Lauzon, Jorge Masvidal, and most recently Diego Sanchez.

His opponent, “The Irish Dragon”, Paul Felder, holds an impressive UFC record of his own. At 7-3, Felder defeated tough competition as well. His record notes wins over Daron Cruickshank, Jason Saggo, Stevie Ray, and Charles Oliveira. Even more impressive than his record, his knockout ratio. At this stage of his career, Felder knockouts 55% of his opponents (10 knockouts in 18 career pro bouts).

Like his opponent Iaquinta, Paul Felder has a separate career outside of fighting. As many should notice, Felder found a role as a color commentator with the promotion he fights for. Following the footsteps in a long line of fighters before him, Felder announced multiple events alongside another new addition to the UFC broadcast team, Brendan Fitzgerald.

PPV card, UFC 223 and its location are not official yet. Despite a lack of an announcement, the event takes place in Brooklyn, New York at the Barclays Centre, according to multiple reports. Currently, the card features no official bouts. Reports state Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz (per Jim Edwards), and Evan Dunham vs. Mairbek Taisumov (per Farah Hannoun) are both in the works for UFC 223.

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