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In the Trenches with Rodney James: International Fight Week

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To be a great writer, one must adhere to a certain rule set that is usually engrained at the university level, if not earlier. One such cardinal rule is: never write in the first person. For this particular series – from here to eternity, I will write in the first person.

Call it a blog if you want, but this series of articles (which I have titled “In the Trenches”) is much more than that. I must get my hands dirty, or even my face bloodied to bring to you something worthwhile.

The stories contained within are not second-hand experiences, generated by vicariously following another’s journey; instead I provide a more candid view …from the trenches. Now that you’ve skimmed through the lengthy preamble, let’s talk UFC International Fight Week!

My hike began 1,286 miles ago from my home in San Antonio, Texas. With a Uhaul trailer, a toddler and a pregnant wife in tow, we set sail like some modern day frontier pioneers.

For three grueling days we ventured west across the arid grassland and deserts of west Texas, New Mexico and Arizona before making a safe landing at our temporary Las Vegas home on the eve of Independence Day.

Along the way we visited the infamous Roswell, New Mexico; the location of an alien spacecraft crash landing in 1947 (allegedly). There appeared to be many aliens in that town, or maybe just tweakers.

Speaking of tweakers, Albuquerque was another mandatory stop – home to the massive hit TV show Breaking Bad and the spin-off Better Call Saul.

Inside and outside view of “Los Pollos Hermanos”

Waking up in Vegas on the 4th of July meant the Edgar clan arrived just in time to enjoy the holiday and FIGHT WEEEEEK! Our condo is literally walking distance to the world famous Las Vegas strip, or a 5 minute drive to UFC’s premiere venue, the T-Mobile arena.

The first stop was my new proving grounds, Xtreme Couture. After all, I have a fight to stay ready for in Las Vegas on 21 July. When I arrived to hop into Ryan Couture’s MMA class, I was surprised to find that the gym was closed. Expecting to accomplish little more than venting frustrations – I tweeted the gym and quickly received a reply from the manager, Eric Nicksick, who invited me to come spar with the pro and amateur fight team.

Be careful what you wish for. Ray Sefo led the pack of wolves through 5 rounds of sparring at 5 minutes each. I took my lumps and hung in for all 5 rounds. It hurt, in a good way, and was much needed.

That evening was a typical 4th of July on the Vegas strip: equal parts fireworks and drunken tourists. I’ve seen this movie many times, but I was glad to be home.

And finally, July 5-8 promised an International Fight Week experience to make the summer trek worthwhile for the fans. I must be frank and give you the bottom line up front: this was NOT the fan expo that we all know and love. This was much different. It was low energy, somewhat depressing and devoid of many events that usually accompany fight week.

But I played the game. First up were the open workouts. Perhaps the fans who travelled to the UFC mecca enjoyed themselves, and I hope they did. That said, it was a much different experience than expected and was largely uneventful. Hence, I have included no photos from open workouts.

My fight week rhythm became routine very quickly. The mornings were devoted to training with the best team in town and the rest of the day was spent in the UFC experience. So, the afternoon of the 6th started with the TUF 25 Finale weigh-ins, followed by a few cold beverages with old pals Jim Edwards and Dan Tom, as well as new pals Dave Madden and James Lynch.

July 7th was more of the same, only after the weigh-ins for UFC 213 there was a fight card to enjoy. I spent the prelims with Dave Madden at the Vdara and saw a few people you may know; including Michael Bisping, Don Frye, Big Nog, and Rumble Johnson, who all came through during that time.

I migrated to Fremont street for the main card, where I discovered a wonderful hidden gem, the Nerd Bar, where Miesha Tate was holding a viewing party. This place is amazing! Free video games! Free pool! And…free bowling! It’s now my favorite bar in Las Vegas.

Former UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion, Miesha Tate

Ultimate Fighter: Redemption winner, Jesse Taylor

 

Of course, in the TUF Finale Jesse Taylor truly earned his redemption after a disastrous exile from the UFC in his original run. It was a great fight, but nothing in all of 2017 outshined the barnburner main event, bah gawd! If you missed Michael Johnson taking on Justin Gaethje, stop what you are doing and watch it…several times!

MMA writer, analyst and podcaster, Derek Bowe

Saturday night I caught up with another old MMA Latest alum, and frequent podcast collaborator, Derek Bowe. And who showed up shortly after we sat down? It was none other than Miesha Tate, yet again. I’m pretty sure she was stalking me. UFC legends Phil Baroni and Stephan Bonnar also made an appearance. With the wife and kids along for family UFC night – we had a blast watching the co-main event turned main event between Yoel Romero and new Interim Middleweight Champion Robert Whitaker.

Rodney James, Adam Hunter and Dave Madden

Lastly, no UFC experience in Las Vegas is complete without a trip to the Stratosphere to catch MMA Roasted host, Adam Hunter performing his signature stand-up comedy. For $20, you can purchase a wristband for unlimited drinks, which is far and away the best deal you can find at a Vegas bar, or maybe any bar! 6 double Jack and Cokes later, I got my fill of whiskey and laughs. Despite waking up to a massive headache – I was in the gym training bright and early!

Standing ready for my victory on 21 July

Now I am at the end of the road for most, McCarren International Airport. For me it’s just a quick round trip for some military training and by this time next week, I’ll be basking in the desert sun of this magical oasis called Paradise, Nevada.

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Announcement

Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz in the works for UFC 223

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UFC 223 looks to add a variety of intriguing bouts. With Paul Felder vs. Al Iaquinta reportedly set for the unannounced UFC 223 card, the promotion looks to add a high stakes female flyweight match-up. According to MMANYTT.com, sources confirmed a bout between Felice Herrig and Karolina Kowalkiewicz, is in the works for the pay-per-view card.

 

Assuming the match-up does come to be, both women have much to gain from a victory. For Herrig, she currently sits on a four-fight win streak. A streak in which the strawweight contender defeated Kailin Curran, Alexa Grasso, Justine Kish, and Cortney Casey. The MMA veteran, Herrig, began fighting professionally in 2009. As of late, her issues with the marketing machine that is the UFC have intensified.

After demonstrating her technical prowess over Justine Kish at UFC Fight Night 122: Chiesa vs. Lee, Herrig put her emotions on display. She stated at the post-fight media scrum, “Sometimes, I feel like, I’m not young and beautiful enough for the UFC to want to promote me. And it’s sad because I’ve really worked so hard to be here and it’s hard to see these people who’ve not been through what I’ve been through. Who just got into the UFC at the right time. They’re getting all these opportunities and I see how hard I work to get here and it’s just like, it doesn’t matter. I just feel like, ‘I’m not pretty enough and I’m not getting any younger'”.

A frustrated Felice Herrig then spoke to MMAJunkie.com in December. She claimed, “Aside from (former UFC women’s strawweight champ) Joanna (Jedrzejczyk), I’m the only strawweight who’s gone on a four-fight winning streak. That’s a fact. At this point, I want to fight someone in the top 10. It doesn’t really make sense for me to keep fighting girls that are ranked below me. That’s the whole point. If I want to keep working my way up. I fight the most dangerous girls outside the top 10”. The #9 ranked women’s flyweight has a point. In her UFC career, she recorded one loss in six appearances. Yet, she has one co-main event booking, while fighters like Michelle Waterson, booked the main event in her second UFC bout. In Waterson’s third bout, she received a co-main event scheduling. Understandably, Felice Herrig is upset with her situation.

Later in her interview, Herrig brought up Kowalkiewicz as a potential next opponent. “For whatever reason, I really want to fight Karolina. I just think that would be an exciting fight… Stylistically, I really like that fight. She’s ranked above (me), and it may be a good gauge for me,” she stated. Right now, it looks like Herrig is close to getting what she wants.

Kowalkiewicz last fought in her native country of Poland on the UFC Fight Pass card, UFC Fight Night 118: Cowboy vs. Till, in October. The Polish star defeated Jody Esquibel, after losing consecutive contests to former UFC female strawweight champion, Joanna Jedrzejcyk and Claudia Gadelha, respectively.

A win for either makes a good case for the next or an eventual title challenger. Kowalkiewicz holds a victory over current division champion, Rose Namajunas. While a win for Herrig would further establish her impressive win streak and undoubtedly give her the boost in the rankings she deserves.

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Bellator

Douglas Lima found out about change to co-main event at Bellator 192 from the internet

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Bellator 192 fight card has gone through a shake-up over the past week. Bellator president Scott Coker revealed last week that the scheduled welterweight title fight between Rory MacDonald and champion Douglas Lima will now be serving as the co-main event and the heavyweight matchup between Chael Sonnen and Rampage Jackson would instead take top billing. At the time no explanation was made for the change. Monday Douglas Lima was a guest on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani to discuss this change.

“I was little bummed, but it is what it is, it’s business you know. I was pretty excited you know? Being the main event, having Rampage fight as the co-main event, I was happy there. Then I was bummed out that they changed it back to the co-main event. It’s not going to change a thing for me, I’m just focusing on the fight.”

Lima has been notoriously looked over in the eyes of fight fans. A longtime member of Bellator and a two-time champion has not gotten the notice he deserves and hopes to get.

“I found out through the internet, nobody tells me anything, I didn’t know. the same thing happened in New York, I thought my fight would be before the two main events there, but it ended up being the first fight of the night on Pay-Per-View. Hopefully, it doesn’t take anything away from the fight, you know spotlight and stuff.”

Lima is looking to make all the naysayers take notice at Bellator 192 that takes place at The Forum in Inglewood, Califonia on January 20th.

“This is the fight I’ve been waiting for for a long time. To get my name out there, to get people to know who I am. I’ve been delivering a lot of good fights, fights fans like to watch but no attention yet. I’m hoping though that after a win over Rory this week it will really put my name out there and show all these welterweights out there that I am for real.”

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Fight Announcements

Al Iaquinta vs. Paul Felder rescheduled for UFC 223 in April

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MMA fans around the world wept in deep sorrow when Al Iaquinta withdrew from a bout scheduled for UFC 218 against Paul Felder. Weep no more, for Paul Felder faces Al Iaquinta at UFC 223. Rumblings behind the match-up, first reported by FloCombat.com, came Sunday night before MMAFighting.com confirmed the bout scheduled for unannounced pay-per-view card, later in the evening.

 

The original bout fell through due to a severe knee injury to Iaquinta. He spoke to BJ Penn Radio about the injury nearly a week before the December 2nd, PPV event in Detriot. The Long Island real estate agent claimed, “I tore my PCL and my MCL maybe three or four months ago… for me to really put in a full training camp and do what I need to do, I would’ve had to just focus on fighting and physical therapy… it was the kind of thing where all roads led to me not kind of taking a risk and fighting on December 2nd”.

Iaquinta went on to say, “I kind of accepted the fight, but I never signed a bout agreement… I was kind of told I had to give them an answer pretty quick. It was a fight I thought I really wanted. I thought it was a good stylistic match-up for me, so I accepted the fight, and then thinking about it over the course of a day, we realized it probably wasn’t a smart decision for my health, for everything”.

An outspoken lightweight, he is not the first of his kind. Al Iaquinta is no stranger to idly waiting on the sideline for the UFC to make a move. Contract disputes and other bad strokes of luck left the Serra-Longo with three octagon appearances since 2015. The feud between Iaquinta and the promotion comes as a surprise when looking at the credentials of the aforementioned fighter. With an octagon record of 8-2, he earned notoriety as one of the best lightweights in the world. During his time in the UFC, he defeated Kevin Lee, Ross Pearson, Joe Lauzon, Jorge Masvidal, and most recently Diego Sanchez.

His opponent, “The Irish Dragon”, Paul Felder, holds an impressive UFC record of his own. At 7-3, Felder defeated tough competition as well. His record notes wins over Daron Cruickshank, Jason Saggo, Stevie Ray, and Charles Oliveira. Even more impressive than his record, his knockout ratio. At this stage of his career, Felder knockouts 55% of his opponents (10 knockouts in 18 career pro bouts).

Like his opponent Iaquinta, Paul Felder has a separate career outside of fighting. As many should notice, Felder found a role as a color commentator with the promotion he fights for. Following the footsteps in a long line of fighters before him, Felder announced multiple events alongside another new addition to the UFC broadcast team, Brendan Fitzgerald.

PPV card, UFC 223 and its location are not official yet. Despite a lack of an announcement, the event takes place in Brooklyn, New York at the Barclays Centre, according to multiple reports. Currently, the card features no official bouts. Reports state Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz (per Jim Edwards), and Evan Dunham vs. Mairbek Taisumov (per Farah Hannoun) are both in the works for UFC 223.

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