The Ultimate Fighter 22 Finale took place from the Chelsea at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, Nevada, and was headlined by a featherweight clash between former title challengers Chad Mendes (17-4) and Frankie Edgar (20-4-1).
It had been rightly hyped as a clash between two of the best fighters in the UFC without a world title. Understandably fans expected a classic five round war but were instead presented with one crushing moment of brilliance that ended the fight in a hurry. After a tentative opening that saw both men pick their shots, Edgar stayed in the pocket and dropped Mendes with a perfectly timed left hook. As Mendes flopped, referee John McCarthy was quick to stop the action with Edgar landing another punch on the mat to ensure the fight was finished with only two minutes and 28 seconds on the clock.
The win was Edgar’s fifth straight, the culmination of a stunning run that has seen him defeat Charles Oliveira, B.J. Penn, Cub Swanson and Urijah Faber. Adding Chad Mendes to that list moves Edgar ahead of the chasing pack at 145 pounds and he was quick to call for a title shot in the post fight interview. Whoever wins Saturday night’s title bout between Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor could be squaring off with Edgar in the not too distant future.
With the aforementioned Edgar vs Mendes main event and fights such as Ferguson vs Barboza and Dunham vs Lauzon on the card, it would have been easy to forget that this show was the culmination of the 22nd season of The Ultimate Fighter. Artem Lobov (11-11-1) and Ryan Hall (5-1) met in the co-main event and it was Hall who became the next Ultimate Fighter winner. In a grapple-heavy contest, Hall bought all the offense whether he was on top, on his back, or as he was for much of the third round, on his opponent’s back. The judges all scored in favor of Hall who improved his official record to 5-1.
In a much anticipated lightweight clash, Tony Ferguson (20-3) and Edson Barboza (16-4) did not disappoint. The two came out pushing a frantic pace, trading heavy strikes and exciting the Chelsea audience from the opening bell. An illegal kick when both fighters were on the ground gave a brief respite, and saw Ferguson deducted a point, but it made little difference. With both fighters bringing the violence, Barboza impressed even in defeat, eventually giving up a d’arce choke in the second round which extended Ferguson’s winning streak to seven and made him a serious title contender at 155 pounds.
When Evan Dunham (17-6) and Joe Lauzon (25-11) stepped into the octagon they had 57 professional MMA fights between them. It was Dunham, two years Lauzon’s senior, who completed a resurgence in 2015 by making it 3-0 for the year. Over three rounds Dunham outworked and outpaced his opponent, landing the better strikes and putting together impressive combinations that saw him win a unanimous decision. Prior to 2015 Dunham had lost three straight, but can now look towards even bigger fights in the new year.
Veteran featherweight Tatsuya Kawajiri (35-8-2) made it eight wins from his last nine fights, as he stifled late replacement Jason Knight (13-2) over three tough rounds. Kawajiri spent the majority of the fight on top of his opponent, landing from within Knight’s active guard and getting the decision on all three judges scorecards. Knight had taken the fight on just two weeks notice, and the defeated 23-year-old showed enough to suggest he can be competitive in the UFC’s 145-pound division.
In the main card opener, TUF 22 competitors Julian Erosa (15-2) and Marcin Wrzosek (10-3) met in a back and forth contest that split the judges. Wrzosek landed the better strikes early, but it was Erosa who worked hard for a couple of submissions in the first round. With the fight in the balance going into the third, it was Erosa who came on strong again to edge it on two of the judges scorecards.
December 11, 2015 | The Chelsea at the Cosmopolitan | Las Vegas, Nevada
MAIN CARD – Fox Sports 1, 7 p.m. ET
Frankie Edgar def. Chad Mendes via KO (Punch) Round 1, 2:28
Ryan Hall def. Artem Lobov via unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-27)
Tony Ferguson def. Edson Barboza via submission (d’arce choke) Round 2, 2:54
Evan Dunham def. Joe Lauzon via unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-27)
Tatsuya Kawajiri def. Jason Knight via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Julian Erosa def. Marcin Wrzosek via split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29)
PRELIMINARY CARD – Fox Sports 1, 3.45 p.m. ET
Gabriel Gonzaga def. Konstantin Erokhin via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-28)
Ryan LaFlare def. Mike Pierce via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
Geane Herrera def. Joby Sanchez via KO (punches) Round 2, 4:28
Chris Gruetzemacher def. Abner Lloveras via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Jacare Souza vs. Kelvin Gastelum Official for UFC 224
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
Exclusive: Mike Ekundayo, “He could come with anything, I don’t care”
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”.
UFC 222 Re-Worked with Cris Cyborg vs. Yana Kunitskaya, and Frankie Edgar vs. Brian Ortega
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.
— UFC (@ufc) February 8, 2018
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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