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State of the UFC’s Flyweight Division

Vinny Craig

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Per the usual after a UFC title fight, I discuss the state of the division. This week it’s the Flyweight division following UFC 191 on Saturday. Long-time champion, Demetrius Johnson, showed his dominance with his seventh straight title defense. The division is pretty tight without setting up rematches, but the time is now to set up new contenders.

Champ: Demetrius Johnson

Mighty Mouse showed why he is the champion at UFC 191. He once again out landed John Dodson with 163 total strikes (compared to108 for Dodson) before getting his wrestling game going. You’re looking at rematches immediately if a contender doesn’t show himself soon, with future stars budding up.

Next In Line:

Joseph Benavidez- The only other Flyweight to challenge Johnson twice is making another serious title run. He has won three straight since their UFC on Fox 9 showing in December 2013 and has not lost to an opponent not named Demetrius Johnson while in the UFC. He has a tough match up in Ali Bagautinov at UFC 192 which sets the time table up nicely. If another title challenger appears in the time being, a match up between him and the next guy on my list is certainly going to happen.

Henry Cejudo-The former Olympian is back at 125 and looks primed for a title run. After missing weight in his last fight under Legacy FC, the UFC placed him in the Bantamweight division. He would return to the 125-pound division in his next fight where he has won his last two. He has a fight scheduled with Jussier Formiga at Fight Night Monterrey in November. A win there would put him right in the thick of things, most likely a title shot or title eliminator with Joseph Benavidez if he wins his fight as well.

The Present:

Zach Makovsky: The former Bellator Bantamweight champion starts off the few fighters that could get title shots quickly. Yes, he has lost 2 of his last 3 and is only 2-2 in the UFC, but he could make that run right now. His showing against John Dodson at UFC 187 was pretty good and showed he can compete with the divisions elite. He should look for a top 10 opponent and then a top 5 opponent to fast track him to the title shot.

Ian McCall: Another guy who is coming off a loss on the list? A Johnson-McCall III could be a thing in the future after the sorting of the elite. A win over John Lineker at UFC 183 would have for sure done him good with three straight wins. But now he sits having won 2 of his last 3 and could make a run with an impressive win or two. A match up with Makovsky would be ideal in sorting the bottom-of-the-top.

Jussier Formiga: One of the original Flyweights is finally making his mark. He’s a winner of 3 straight over tough competition and has been rewarded (or reaping the consequences) of a title-eliminator against Henry Cejudo. After this fight, we will see a clear contender between Formiga, Cejudo, Benavidez and Ali Bagautinov. He was in a title-eliminator in 2012 where he lost by TKO to John Dodson. Since that fight, he is 4-1 with the lone loss coming to Benavidez.

John Dodson: Can you see what kind of division this is? All three guys that are future title challengers are coming off a loss. Dodson was a winner of 3 straight before losing his second title fight to the champ. DJ’s supposed ‘toughest test to date’ once again came up short in a decision call and walked off with the loss. It will take at least 4 more wins for the Ultimate Fighter Season 14 winner to make another run for his chance at UFC gold.

The Future:

Dustin Ortiz: The division is rich in guys that could potentially fight for a title. Ortiz is one of them being just 26 years old. He is a winner of 3 of his last 4 with the lone loss to Joseph Benavidez. He could be catapulted with a win, just like Chris Cariaso was. An opponent with name value and rankings would be his best bet in getting the title shot as quickly as possible, while the division is still under construction.

Kyoji Horiguchi: Horiguchi just fought for the belt in April and was dominated before finally being finished with one second left. He was a winner of 4 straight in the UFC before that and was given his title shot out of necessity. A win at Fight Night 75 would keep his name right here, but the 24-year-old has almost no name recognition and would need some big wins before stepping into the Octagon for a title fight again.

Ray Borg: The true meaning to the word future comes in play with this 22-year-old. Borg is a winner of 3 straight and looks better each time. He just recently cracked the top 15 and has a ton of name recognition ahead of him to set up with. He would be a great addition to any fight night card and will look to climb the latter ahead of the others.

Paddy Holohan: The Irish sensation is just 27 years old with low mileage on him. After starting out his career 10-0 with 1 draw, a tough Fight of the Night battle with Chris Kelades in Nova Scotia derailed his undefeated record. He has won his last two by decision and looks to make it three straight in Dublin when he faces Louis Smolka. The former Cage Contender fighter is still young in age and in fights with a tremendous up side to him. He is teammates with Interim Featherweight champion Conor McGregor and see first-hand what it’s like to be a champ.

Long Shot:

John Lineker: A talented fighter with three straight wins over ranked opponents, Lineker is very impressive with his hands. He has 7 of his last 8 fights, so why is he a long shot for the title? He is a long shot to ever fight at 125 again after having one of the craziest 2 minutes I’ve ever seen with Francisco Rivera. He missed weight 3 times while in the Flyweight division while racking up win after win. He was a title contender before moving up, but if he ever figures out how to make the weight he would be one of the best Flyweights again.

Ali Bagautinov: The former title challenger has been out over a year for testing positive for PED’s. His last fight was the title loss to Johnson where he was dominated for five rounds. He had 3 straight wins in the UFC before that and 11 overall. He is still a top fighter but has fallen out of contention while others have passed him up. If he wins the fight with Benavidez he has next month, he could be on the quick path to success.

Chris Cariaso: A winner of 3 straight to gain a title fight at UFC 178, the former Bantamweight has fallen to two straight foes in Mighty Mouse and Henry Cejudo. The UFC has taken a step back on the aging Flyweight as they give him Sergio Pettis at UFC 192. He has faced the divisions best and hasn’t fared so well in tough fights going 0-4 against the division’s top 10.

The Breakdown

The dominating win for Johnson over Dodson for his seventh straight title defense makes DJ seem invincible. With only two clear contenders, the division is wide open with a champion who likes to stay busy. We have seen title shots go to guys that no one expected (Cariaso and Bagautinov) and the outcome is the same. Look for the young guys to make strides towards the top, but the original six of Johnson, Benavidez, McCall, Moraga, Formiga and Dodson are all guys they should be facing to get title shots first. The news guys like Cejudo, Borg, Makovsky and Horiguchi are still making names for themselves. Final thought is that Demetrius Johnson is one great fighter, with a very shallow division and two guys that can beat everyone else but him.

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Aldo vs. Lamas 2 and Ponzinibbio vs. Perry Added to UFC Winnipeg

Harry Davies

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The UFC has added Jose Aldo vs. Ricardo Lamas 2, and Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Mike Perry to their UFC Winnipeg card on December 16th.

The two fights were announced as official today on the UFC’s Twitter account.

Aldo (26-3) last fought at UFC 212 in June, where he lost by third round TKO to Max Holloway. After being promoted to the undisputed 145-pound champion last November, he was looking to make the first defence of the title against Holloway.

Lamas first faced Aldo back in 2014 at UFC 169. Aldo, who was again featherweight champion at the time, defeated Lamas with ease winning by unanimous decision (49-46) on all scorecards. Lamas is on a two-fight winning streak after defeating both Charles Oliveira and Jason Knight with impressive finishes.

Since his last UFC loss to Lorenz Larkin back in 2015, Ponzinnibio (25-3) has won five consecutive fights. His most recent victory was a upset win over Gunnar Nelson in July at UFC Glasgow. There was some controversy after the fight, as replays seemed to show a short grab and several eyes pokes from Ponzinnibio before knocking out Nelson in the first round.

Mike Perry has taken the UFC by storm since making his debut for the promotion last August. Picking up four wins all by knockout, the only loss ‘Platinum’ suffered was too Alan Jouban by decision. Ranked at #9 in the welterweight division, a win over Ponzinnibio could definitely propel Perry into the top ten at 170-pounds.

With the additon of these two fantastic fights, the lineup for UFC Winnipeg is as follows:

  • Robbie Lawler vs. Rafael dos Anjos – Welterweight bout
  • Glover Teixeira vs. Misha Cirkunov – Light heavyweight bout
  • Antônio Rogério Nogueira vs. Jared Cannonier – Light heavyweight bout
  • Tim Elliott vs. Justin Scoggins – Flyweight bout
  • Chad Laprise vs. Galore Bafondo – Welterweight bout
  • Alessio Di Chirico vs. Oluwale Bamgbose – Middleweight bout
  • Vitor Miranda vs. Julian Marquez – Middleweight bout
  • John Makdessi vs. Abel Trujillo – Lightweight bout
  • Nordine Taleb vs. Sultan Aliev – Welterweight bout
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Why the UFC Needs to Introduce 165 and 175-pound Weight Divisions

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  • The debacle that were the UFC 216 weigh-in last Friday further highlighted current weight cutting problems in mixed martial arts.

More specifically in this case it was in the UFC’s lightweight division. A fight between Nik Lentz and Will Brooks was pulled due to Lentz having ‘medical issues’ according to a UFC statement, hours before he was due to weigh-in.

Title challenger Kevin Lee then took to the scale seconds before the deadline and was over the limit by a pound. Fortunately he made weight after being given an extra hour. But these are not isolated cases, especially at 155-pounds.

There isn’t necessarily a solution to this problem but there may be a short term fix in the form of new weight classes approved by the ABC (Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports) in July 2017. These include 165 and 175-pound divisions.

While not specific to the lightweight division, the problems with weight commonly occur there. In March this year, Khabib Nurmagomedov was rushed to hospital during fight week when cutting down for his title contest with Tony Ferguson. Subsequently the UFC 209 main event was cancelled. Khabib has been regularly discussed as a title challenger but he’s often struggled to make weight and failed on numerous occasions.

With drastic dehydration it is still unknown what health implications may effect him and other mixed martial artists in the future.

Some top ranked fighters such as Donald Cerrone, Jorge Masvidal and Rafael Dos Anjos have moved up to the welterweight division to preserve their health from these strenuous cuts, and have all been relatively successful.

Former UFC lightweight Donald Cerrone has looked spectacular since making the move up to 170-pounds.

However, many fighters are still reluctant and insist on dropping 10-20% of their bodyweight in the hours and days leading up to a bout. For example, Kevin Lee was rumoured to be 19 pounds over the day before he stepped on the scales.

At 170 pounds, welterweight is fifteen pounds more than lightweight which is a noticeable difference between relatively low weight classes. Especially when you consider that the divisions increase ten pounds from as low as 115 up to 155. There are many fighters who find themselves too big to be a lightweight, yet too small to compete at welterweight.

The incidents last Friday should hopefully be a wakeup call to the UFC, who can also set an example for other organisations such as Bellator, One FC, and Cage Warriors.

So far in 2017 the UFC has lost 14 fights in 48 hours or less before they were due to take place. That is one fight every two cards. While weight cutting is not always to blame, more often than not it plays a big role. These situations leave the UFC at a loss, fighters without opponents and a pay check, and fans disgruntled. Not to mention the health implications for the athlete involved.

The UFC must recognise these common patterns, remove the 170 pound welterweight division and create 165 and 175 pound rosters instead. Some may see an additional weight class as devaluing UFC titles even further but this would not be the case.

The UFC’s official website only lists four fighters in the women’s featherweight division.

Recently the women’s featherweight title was created without having a roster of women to fill it. However, the difference with lightweight and welterweight is that they are comfortably the two deepest, most talent stacked divisions in the organisation.

Admittedly, there is a lot of history attached to the welterweight title since Pat Miletich first won it back in 1998. The likes of Matt Hughes and Georges St Pierre have also added prestige to the belt over the years.

Even so, the sport has changed since then and it’s in a transitional phase. We are in the era of USADA, the era of banned IV drips and certain commissions tightening their regulations on how much they allow fighters to safely cut. Everyone is accountable and aware of the dangers, yet steps still need to be taken.

The athletic commissions and the UFC in particular must act by introducing super lightweight (165lbs) and super welterweight (175lbs) divisions. Perhaps from a fighter’s perspective it seems like a no-brainer that their health should be the main priority.

From a fans point of view there is plenty of talent that could be used in those two divisions. The novelty of fighters blending into these classes would also have the feeling of a superfight. The likes of Nurmagomedov, Lee, Masvidal, Cerrone and Dos Anjos would certainly fit well into a 165 pound division.

Similarly, at 175 pounds, Tyron Woodley could transition from welterweight champion to super welterweight champion. Top talents such as Robert Whittaker, Stephen Thompson, Demian Maia and Robbie Lawler would be perfect matches for this weight.

Could we see the current welterweight champion Tyron Woodley compete at 175-pounds in the future?

If this was a success then super middleweight (195lbs) and cruiserweight (225lbs) divisions could be an option in future too.

As previously mentioned this won’t necessarily fix the issues of weight cutting but it gives martial artists another option and is a positive step towards fighter’s safety. Currently there has been no mention by the UFC about introducing these new divisions.

However, with fighter safety being of upmost importance these new divisions must be given serious consideration.

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James Gallagher out of Bellator 187 in Dublin due to injury

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Irish fans will have to wait a little longer to see James Gallagher fighting on home soil after Gallagher suffered a knee injury in preparation for his main event fight with Jeremiah Labiano in Dublin next month. This bad news was first reported by MMAFighting.com.

The 20-year-old from Strabane co. Tyrone who trains in the famous SBG gym with Conor McGregor and Gunnar Nelson among others has set the featherweight division alight since joining Bellator in 2016.  James “The Strabanimal” Gallagher has gone 3-0 with all three of his wins coming by rear naked choke.

After submitting Chinzo Machida, the brother of former UFC light heavyweight champion, Lyoto Machida in Madison Square Garden Gallagher has become a budding star for Bellator.

Due to the youngster’s attitude and potential, many comparisons between Gallagher and UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor have been made by the fans and media which has made Gallagher one of Bellator’s most recognizable names. This notoriety has ultimately led to the young Irishman getting a chance to headline in Dublin this November but this injury has delayed his rise for the time being.

Gallagher on social media Thursday stated that he has suffered an injury to his PCL and LCL in his knee and would be out for the remainder of the year. He has assured fans we would return next year and carry on where he started with “The Jimmy show.”

His longtime rival AJ McKee, who has engaged in a Twitter war with Gallagher after his last fight, will now headline Bellator 187 in the 3 Arena in Dublin on November 10th against Gallagher’s SBG teammate Brian Moore. Moore will be making his third appearance for Bellator in this featherweight clash.

 

 

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