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The Mental Edge

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The Mental Edge

In the lead-up to perhaps the biggest weekend of fights in MMA history, Psychology Professor and martial artist David Klonsky, PhD, takes a look at some key match-ups and tells us: who has the mental edge?

Key Matchup #1 – Rafael dos Anjos vs. Eddie Alvarez (Thurday July 7)

Rafel dos Anjos looks to defend his the lightweight title against challenger Eddie Alvarez.

RDA is on an absolute tear, defeating the best of the best in the lightweight division, including Donald Cerrone, Anthony Pettis, Nate Diaz, and Benson Henderson. He has not only beaten these monsters but made it look easy. Alvarez has also beaten some impressive names, including Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez, although in close decisions.

Mentally, I give Alvarez the edge. RDA has been champion for over a year now which can make even a hungry fighter a little less hungry than when they were striving to become champion and defending for the first time. Also, RDA is by almost any metric a better fighter than Alvarez, and this will also make it harder for RDA to approach this fight with the highest level of urgency. In contrast, Alvarez has nothing to lose and everything to gain. Plus, he is also a fighter who enjoys risk (as detailed in this epic breakdown by Robin Black). Finally, Alvarez’s championship experience in another large promotion (Bellator) will help him feel focused rather than nervous when the fight begins. All this said, RDA is so much better than Alvarez that I think he overcomes any mental disadvantage.

– Mental Edge: Eddie Alvarez

– Forecast: RDA by Submission (after battering Alvarez with strikes on the feet and ground)

 

Key Matchup #2 — Joanna Jędrzejczyk vs. Cláudia Gadelha (Friday July 8)

Strawweight champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk is used to intimidating opponents and gaining the mental advantage. In the lead-up to her fight against former champion “Cookie Monster” Carla Esparza, JJ was so effective with her mental intimidation that Esparza appeared to have accepted her loss before even stepping into the cage.

However, the broadcast of The Ultimate Fighter 23 has changed things in two ways. First, it has given JJ and Gadelha an unusually large number of interactions leading up to their fight. Second, it has provided an unusually large amount of psychologically relevant footage to enjoy and evaluate. A few things seem clear to me. Gadelha is not in the least bit intimidated or rattled by JJ. In contrast, she seems thoughtful, focused, at peace, and ready. It is JJ who seems consistently bothered by her fighters’ lack of success and by her inability to rattle Gadelha. In addition, Gadelha has already fought JJ and lost a very competitive (and controversial) decision. Thus, Gadelha has no reason to feel overwhelmed by the moment, and every reason to feel that she knows exactly how to approach her re-match with JJ. This is exactly how Gadelha appears to feel in TUF 23 footage.

To be sure, JJ is a fierce competitor and will not back down. But I think Gadelha has shown she has the better understanding of and approach to this particular fight.

– Mental Edge: Claudia Gadelha

– Forecast: Gadelha by Decision

  

Key Matchup #3 – Miesha Tate vs. Amanda Nunes (Saturday July 9)

After her stunning and well-deserved come-from-behind victory against Holly Holm, Miesha Tate is the new bantamweight champion and defends her title against Amanda Nunes.

I give Tate the mental edge for a few reasons. First, she has extensive experience in high-stakes, championship fights, both in Strikeforce and the UFC. In contrast, this is Nunes’ first championship fight; nerves will not be her friend. Second, Tate has had 8 fights against the best opposition the women’s Bantamweight division has to offer (Ronda Rousey twice, Holm, Jessica Eye, Sara McMann, Marloes Coenen, Cat Zingano, Sarah Kaufman), whereas Nunes has had 3 such fights (Zingano, McMann, and Alexis Davis).  Tate has seen it all, Nunes has not.

Third, Tate has continued to evolve her skill-set, and now brings increased punching power and an enhanced submission game compared to her younger self. Such evolution should not be taken for granted; in fact, many women fighters who three years ago looked poised to make UFC title runs (Sarah Kaufman, Sara McMann, Jessica Eye) have stalled in their progress. Miesha’s continued evolution not only provides her with more skills, but more confidence.

Fourth, Nunes tends to start fast and fade. She looked predictably unimpressive in the third round of her most recent fight. It is arguable whether her performance was deserving of a title shot, and Nunes has not yet shown that she can can perform at an elite level beyond round 1.  She could give Tate trouble in Round 1, but if Tate survives (and she has shown the ability to weather punching storms, e.g., Holm), Tate will be able to break Nunes down. Tate is smart and knows this.

– Mental Edge: Miesha Tate

– Forecast: Tate by Submission in the championship rounds

  

Key Matchup #4 – Mark Hunt vs. Brock Lesnar (Saturday July 9)

 In a very (very) fan-friendly fight, former WWE and UFC star Brock Lesnar returns from a 4+ year lay-off to fight KO specialist Mark Hunt. For three reasons Hunt has the clear mental edge. The first is ring-rust. Ring-rust is real (unless you are Dominick Cruz). Lesnar has been away since 2011, Mark Hunt has been active against high-level competition. Mark Hunt’s timing, rhythm, and focus will be sharp; Lesnar will be re-figuring out his timing, rhythm, and focus while avoiding Hunt’s one-punch KO power. A tall order.

The second is experience and knowledge. Hunt has been around forever. He does not simply understand angles, timing, and distance, they are second nature to him. In contrast, Lesnar has very little MMA experience and likes to come straight forward. Hunt knows what to expect and how to counter.

The third reason for Hunt’s mental advantage is desire, or lack thereof on Brock’s part. It is not at all clear that Brock’s heart is in MMA. He gives uncertain answers to questions about whether he plans to continue fighting after Saturday. He has prepared for only a relatively short amount of time for the current fight. And when he approached Dana White about his return it was specifically to return for UFC 200. In other words, Lesnar’s return was motivated in large part by the spectacle and pay-day, rather than a pure and genuine re-commitment to high-level martial arts competition. This is a recipe for disaster when facing a martial artist like Hunt.

– Mental Edge: Mark Hunt

– Forecast: Hunt by TKO in Round 1

 

Key Matchup #5 – Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier (Saturday July 9)

Arguably the best ever, Jon Jones hopes to get back the belt he never truly lost against current light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier.

Normally, in a rematch, I think the mental edge goes to the winner of the first meeting if the outcome was lopsided, but to the loser of the first meeting if the fight was competitive. After a competitive fight, the loser can feel that he had positive moments to build on and that adjustments can be made to address and overcome the not-so-good moments.  In contrast, the way forward is more challenging for the winner: on the one hand, he won, so it can feel wrong or counterproductive to change, but on the other hand, not changing means not evolving, and in turn, allows the opponent to know exactly what to expect and prepare for.

The first meeting between Jones and Cormier was close enough to be called competitive. Even though he lost the decision, Cormier had his moments, including an emphatic takedown of Jones later in the fight. In addition, Cormier felt his nerves impeded his performance, and this may very well be true. It was Cormier’s first UFC title fight, and Jones’ 9th. It would be natural for nerves to affect Cormier more than Jones. So, when the re-match was announced, my instinct was that Cormier had the mental advantage. This time he would know what to expect mentally and physically and be ready for it. But…

… in the interviews leading up to the fight Jones appears to be the one who is poised, level-headed, mentally prepared, and focused. In contrast, Cormier looks rattled, angry, and overly desperate to win (“I’m willing to die to beat you”). Jones, despite his history of immature behavior, seems to have the mental advantage. He also happens to be the better fighter. I think we are headed for a repeat of the first meeting.

– Mental Edge: Jon Jones

– Forecast: Jon Jones by unanimous decision

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Fight Announcements

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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