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The Debate: Johny Hendricks vs Stephen Thompson

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The second instalment of The Debate is here and this week, the fight to be discussed is Johny “Big Rigg” Hendricks vs Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. In the blue corner, representing Thompson we have Chase Carle and, in the red corner, arguing the case for Hendricks is Muhammad Hazwady.

To start things off, the topic of discussion was quite simple: Who wins and why?

Chase Carle: Wonderboy is 11-1, riding a 5 fight win streak and his only loss came via decision to Matt Brown, so it’s not like he lost to some no name fighter. He’s arguably the best pure striker in the Welterweight division and possibly the UFC as a whole. He has made huge strides in his ground game/wrestling and his last 3 wins are over Jake Ellenberger, Patrick Cote and Robert Whittaker, 2 of which were 1st round knockouts. He gets better every time he steps into the Octagon and I think he’ll look the best we’ve ever seen him on Saturday.

Muhammad Hazwady: Hendricks is the uncrowned champion. Arguably he won the fights with GSP who was the king of 170, and then the current champion Robbie Lawler, which was a split decision. He is now undoubtedly the best wrestler in the division with a very underrated stand up game, toughest chin and stupid power in his left hand. He might have some problems with the weight cut but recent pictures of him show he has no problems with cutting this time round. Johnny can beat anyone in the division in any given day and Wonderboy is no exception.

CC: You call Hendricks the uncrowned champion, but just as much as people say the challenger has to “take” the belt from the champion, the champion can’t lean into a guy trying for a takedown for over half the fight and expect to keep his belt (looking at the Lawler fight). His power has shown itself in the past but he hasn’t finished a fight since 2012 and he has trouble finding a home for that left hand against guys with great movement, which Wonderboy definitely has. He’s fought against some of the best in the division but I still don’t think he’s fought someone who fights the way Wonderboy does. And I’d argue the toughest chin fact simply because whenever he’s been tagged he goes into panic mode and shoots for the takedown immediately so his chin hasn’t held up so much as he doesn’t like to get hit.

MH: Sure I’d give to Wonderboy for being the best pure striker in the division and he has improved his grappling game, but we are talking Johny Hendricks’s wrestling here. If he needs to lay on you until you get pregnant, he will. He has taken down everyone has fought, win or lose. Remove the entertainment aspect, he gets the job done. I see Wonderboy trying to go for his trademark high kick and Hendricks will take him down in an instant. No one has ever finished him, not even Condit, who arguably has better movement than Wonderboy. And fact: Hendricks was getting the better of Lawler in the stand up in the earlier rounds of their last encounter. He threw combos like he was the pure striker. I see no problems for Hendricks in this fight in all departments. No one has ever finished him and Wonderboy will not do so either.

Two strong debaters here, I think you will agree. The talk then moved to what key attribute each fighter has that would enhance their chances of victory, which began with a light-hearted moment.

MH: His beard that protects his chin.

CC: Can confirm. Source: I have a beard.

MH: (laughs) Seriously, he has eaten every God damn punch and shaken it off; nobody at 170 can finish him.

CC: For Wonderboy, I think it’s going to be his takedown defense. Obviously Hendricks is an elite calibre wrestler, but I think Wonderboy is severely underrated in that aspect. He hasn’t been taken down since the Matt Brown fight and that was in 2012. I also think that even if he gets taken down, he’s got the ability to get it back to the feet fairly quickly.

MH: Yeah, he’s gonna get up and get taken down again.

Arguably the most important aspect of winning a fight is successfully exploiting your opponent’s weaknesses. With that in mind, I asked both men how their chosen fighter would do just that.

CC: I think the obvious answer is Hendricks’s gas tank. He says he’s changed a lot for this camp and that he’s in better condition than before, but he’s got to prove that. I think if Wonderboy can keep up constant movement and set the pace that he wants to, he’ll be able to wear Hendricks down so that, if he doesn’t end up catching him in the 1st round with a KO, he’ll be able to do it in the later rounds.

MH: Wonderboy’s weakness for this fight is obviously wrestling. As I said before, I’ve seen he has made improvements in his takedown defense, but Hendricks is a different animal. And I truly believe that bad weight cuts resulted in his poor gas tank of late and he will prove it against Wonderboy. He will be the one wearing down Wonderboy with his grappling.

Another much talked about area of MMA currently is the mental side. While there has not been any trash talk of note going into this fight, the guys discussed how much of a role the mental side would play in this fight.

CC: I think it’ll more be one of them getting into his own head rather than letting the other guy into his head. I think Hendricks will feel pressured to prove that he’s still got that finishing ability and that the weight cut issues are behind him. If he thinks about that too much then I think it’ll throw him off his game a little bit.

MH: I disagree. Hendricks has always been focused regardless. He has always had to prove himself ever since the GSP fight and even when he had the belt. This is no different for him. Just another day in the office.

CC: I don’t disagree with that necessarily, I just think that the mental game won’t play a big role in this fight but if it does, then that will be how it comes into play in my opinion, but I really don’t think either fighter is going to let the mental aspect get to them too much.

MH: Agreed.

That amicable moment did not last for long, however, as discussion turned to whether or not the fact that the fight had been changed from a 3 rounder to a 5 rounder had any significance.

CC: I think it changes Wonderboy’s approach in the sense that he’s never been in a 5 round fight and, even though I don’t think this fight goes all 5 rounds, he still has to pace himself as if it will. He’s gone 3 rounds before but he needs to factor in the possibility that this fight may end up being 10 minutes longer than any fight he’s been in before.

MH: I remember Hendricks was the one calling out for it. Obviously it is to his advantage as he has been in 5 rounders. I don’t think he will be changing his approach much. It is just another factor that will lead to better chances of him winning.

Each fighter will also need to find a way to counter the other’s strengths as well as implementing their own. Both men were confident that their chosen fighter would do just that and followed up with their final fight predictions.

 CC: I’m incredibly confident that Wonderboy will be able to overcome Hendricks’s wrestling, which is his greatest strength, and I think he’ll do it by keeping distance, using his striking effectively and most importantly, knocking him out before he gets the chance to use it.

MH: Hendricks will trade whenever he pleases and will bring it to the ground whenever he pleases. Hendricks can afford to eat shots to get a takedown, which is where he will reign supreme. Distance is obviously key in this fight and Hendricks will use it to his victory.

CC: I know I said 1st round knockout earlier, but I think that Wonderboy will use the 1st round to get a feel for what Hendricks wants to do and, once he gets a feel for it, he’ll strike. 2nd round knockout, head kick.

MH: Hendricks via 3rd round TKO, ground and pound.

That wraps up the debate for this week, I think you will agree that it was a fun one. Who do you think argued the better point for their fighter and has either man made you reconsider your own prediction? Get in touch and let us know!

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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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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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