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The Chopping Block: UFC Fight Night 68

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Welcome fight fans to the first installment of what I hope is a running theme for big fight cards. Introducing what I like to refer to as The Chopping Block.

This article, as well as articles to follow, will basically consist my opinion regarding which fighters may be on thin ice with a loss or poor performance in their upcoming fights. I will also give my opinion on a potential game plan for said fighter to potentially avoid the pink slip.

Let’s dive into it!

Justin “Fast Eddy” Edwards (8-4-0, 2-4-0 UFC)

First fighter we’ll be looking at is TUF 13 alum Justin Edwards. Edwards was brought in as an injury replacement when Keon Caldwell was unable to continue. He had the misfortune of getting matched up with eventual season winner Tony Ferguson for his first bout, in which he lost via upkick KO. He went on to alternate wins & losses in his next five UFC bouts, defeating Jorge Lopez & Josh Neer, while losing to Clay Harvison, John Maguire, & Brandon Thatch. Edwards then tested the waters at lightweight for his next fight, again coming up short against Ramsey Nijem. Riding a two fight losing streak, as well as having only fought once per year since 2012 due to injuries, “Fast Eddy” may be on rocky terrain here.

In order to keep his UFC career alive, I think Edwards must come into his bout with Joe Proctor aggressively searching for the takedown. Six of eight wins via submission, five of those by guillotine choke, it is simple to say his strengths lie in the grappling. Search for that trademark guillotine, & wrench it every time the neck of his opponent is in range. Make this a grappling match, & I think Edwards can live to step foot in the octagon again.

Francisco “Cisco” Rivera (10-4-1, 3-3-1)

“Cisco” Rivera is next up on the possible Chopping Block. Rivera started is Zuffa career in the now-defunct WEC promotion, where he lost his first & only fight to Erik Koch. The UFC then consolidated the promotions, bringing Rivera over to the UFC. He went on to lose his first fight to Reuben Duran & was released after the bout. “Cisco” had a brief two-fight stint in Tachi Palace Fights, winning both bouts by first-round KO. Rivera then began his second stint with the UFC defeating Alex Soto by Unanimous Decision. He looked off to yet another good start, finishing Roland Delorme in his next fight, but failed the post-fight drug test, having the loss overturned. Rivera rallied off two back-to-back stoppage wins before again hitting another series of bumps in the road in the forms of Takeya Mizugaki & Urijah Faber. The latter loss came not without controversy after Faber unintentionally poked Rivera in the eye & sinking in a rear naked choke after the referee did not acknowledge the mishap. With a loss here, I honestly don’t think that Rivera should be released, based solely on the performance against Faber, & I don’t think it will happen. That said, three losses in a row usually mean doom in this business, so I feel inclined to add him here.

What’s he do to avoid that dreaded third loss? Rivera simply needed to fight like Francisco Rivera. He needs to work his ever-improving footwork & leg kicks, while in turn looking to set up his powerful hand combinations up top. Rivera can show us here that he belongs & he has more to offer in this division.

Alex “Bruce Leeroy” Caceres (10-7-1, 5-5-1)

Very much similar to the case of his opponent Francisco Rivera, TUF 12 alum Caceres finds himself on the verge of three straight losses. After winning the preliminary fight to gain entry to the TUF house, Caceres defeated Jeff Lentz by triangle to make it to the quarter-finals, but lost in the next round to eventual finalist Michael Johnson. “Bruce Leeroy” didn’t attain his first UFC win until his third bout, losing his first two by submission. After his first win over Cole Escovedo, Caceres again struck rough times, losing his next fight to Edwin Figureoa. After this loss, Alex seemed to find his rhythm in the cage, going 4-0-1 in his next five bouts, the only blemish being a win over Kyung Ho-Kang that was overturned due to Caceres failing the post-fight drug test for marijuana. Nowadays Caceres is riding a two fight losing streak like his foe, losing his last two to Urijah Faber & Masanori Kanehara respectively.

The keys to winning this fight in my opinion would have to be the movement, reach, & kicks of Caceres. Caceres should look to continuously circle away from Rivera’s power hand, land kicks at all levels, as well as pump a strong jab out. If he sees the opportunity to take it to the ground, do so. Even though, five of his seven losses have been via submission, Caceres’ offensive jiu jitsu is very slick, he could very well catch Rivera sleeping.

Dan Henderson (30-13-0, 7-7-0 UFC)

*Activates Fire Retardant Shields*

I know, I know, NOT HENDO! Believe me, I completely agree, & honestly if Dan loses here, I really don’t seem him being cut, more so I see retirement on the horizon.

Hendo, Hendo, Hendo. One could go on for hours trying to list a mere portion of the accomplishments of this legend so I won’t even begin to go there. If you don’t know who Dan Henderson is, you must live under a rock. Henderson is definitely a future hall of fame inductee, no question about it.

That said, Dan is 2-5 in his last 7 UFC bouts. Each fight has just been rougher & rougher to watch. The fight Shogun fight was absolutely brutal, but he gutted it out. He went on to lose his next two fights, but both were closely contested, though thoroughly uneventful, split decisions to Lyoto Machida & Rashad Evans.

Dan then faced Vitor Belfort. This is where things get hard to watch, as Dan only lasted a little over a minute before succumbing to a Vitor high kick. The sequel to the Shogun fight was not much easier for us to see. Dan was hurt early & often in the opening two rounds, in & out of consciousness for the majority of the rounds. Then Dan did what he does, landed his patented “H-Bomb” to rally back for the win. His next fight we saw something we had never seen prior, someone manhandle the former PRIDE champion. That someone was now current Light-Heavyweight Champion, Daniel Cormier. Henderson lost the fight via third round submission.

Dan then decided to drop back down for another run at middleweight, squaring off against Gegard Mousasi. Again, we saw a punch that the Henderson from five years ago would have ate for breakfast, lunch, & dinner, hurt Henderson about a minute into the opening round. See the pattern? It’s just seeming to take less & less to send him to queer street, & in facing a heavy hitter like Tim Boetsch next, it’s definitely a scary fight for the fans.

All of this said, at 44 years of age, if anyone can do it, it’s Dan Henderson. He’s a legend in the sport, he still packs dynamite in his fists, & can lay any man on the planet out with one shot. The only question is “Will he be able to land first?”. We’re going to find out at UFC Fight Night 68!

Well ladies & gentlemen, fight fans alike, this has been The Chopping Block. I hoped you’ve enjoyed it, & I hope you tune in next week for the next installment for UFC 188: Velasquez vs. Werdum!

 

 

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Fight Announcements

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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Fighter to Watch

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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Announcement

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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