Wednesday night brings us the inaugural episode of “The Ultimate Fighter” season 21, which pits Dan Lambert’s American Top Team, against Glenn Robinson’s Blackzilians. The introductory scene of the show gives us the brief (but tenuous) background of the two owners. Lambert educates us to the beginnings of ATT and the origins of the feud between Robinson and himself. It’s really not that interesting, we’ll concentrate on the fighters and the fights.
One huge change to the format (aside from the team aspect), is that a points system will dictate the winner of the “regular season” of the show. The 12 fights leading up to the finale will be broken down into 3 groups of 4 fights. The first 4 fights will net the winning team 25 points each. The second 4 fights will net 50 points each. The last 4 fights will be worth 100 points each. This system adds an entirely new layer of strategy to the hit reality show. Each fighter may compete up to 3 times during the 12 fight season. Not every fighter is, therefore, guaranteed a fight. The team with the most points after the 12 fights, will win $200,000. The winner of the finale, will win his team $300,000. The fights themselves will also take place at the winning team’s gym. A coin toss will determine the first fight’s location. Another major change in format is that each team will not know the opposing team’s fighter selection until the day of the weigh-ins.
EPISODE RECAP *SPOILERS AHEAD*
After our initial introduction to the Team’s owners, we are taken inside each camp’s office to watch their fighter selection process. After we are given a quick background and skill assessment of each team’s picks, we are given the first “iconic” scene that accompanies nearly all reality shows. As the fighters from the two camps arrive (via boats, BALLER) at their home for the next few months, they are all visibly thrilled to be living in a house that looks like it should belong to Vinny Chase in the upcoming Entourage movie. Both teams will live in the house together, but train at their respective gyms, so we likely won’t have any of the gym crossover time confrontations. We get a look inside the house of Robinson, as the Blackzilians gather at his house to watch teammate Anthony Johnson dispatch Alexander Gustaffson. It’s cool to see Rumble’s teammates watch his big victory as a group. Back in the gyms, each team is contemplating who to select as their first fighter. ATT selects Michael Graves (4-0) as their lead off combatant. Coaches gush about Graves’s well rounded abilities, and Graves himself describes himself as a wrestler who likes to strike. Before heading to the Blackzilians selection, we are treated to the TUF obligatory “THIS IS OUR FOOD” scene, where we overhear some ATT fighters complaining because the Blackzilians have started to write their names on different food items around the kitchen. After our brief stop in the TUF kitchen, we are taken to the Blackzilian’s “war room” where they are debating who their first fighter should be. They bring in Kamaru Usman and ask if he will be ready to fight first. He accepts their offer and we now have our first fight of the season. ATT’s Michael Graves (4-0) takes on the Blackzilians’ Kamaru Usman (5-1). Usman, born in Nigeria, is a wrestler who spent time training at the US Olympic Training Facility in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Dana labels the fight as a “traditional striker vs. grappler match up. At the weigh ins, both fighters easily made weight and face off. No real fireworks here. As the fighter’s make their way into the octagon, we take note that the crowd is much different from that of past TUF seasons. Since both camps are in South Florida rather than nestled away in Las Vegas, we see a very raucous crowd full of fighters who train at these gyms. The atmosphere is electric, and much louder than a regular TUF bout.
Now, I will be live tweeting my pick for the upcoming fights, since they will apparently not be revealed on the previous week’s episode. This week I picked Usman via UD.
Michael Graves (ATT) vs. Kamaru Usman (Blackzilians)
The first round starts and both fighters trade “range finder” punches. Graves throws a kick that is caught by Usman, who takes Graves to the ground. Graves fights his way to the cage, where Usman maintains control until Graves is finally able to gain head control and escape, tossing Usman to one knee in the process. Once back in the center of the cage Usman lands a good two punch combo, a looping left hook followed by a straight right. Both connect, but neither seem to faze Graves. Graves responds with two well-placed front kicks, one to Usman’s knee and one to Usman’s face. The latter provokes a jolt from the crowd, but doesn’t seem to affect the wrestler. Usman lands another takedown, but Graves fights to his feet along the octagon. wall. Eventually Graves is able to break free of the clinch along the cage without taking much damage. Back in the center of the octagon, Usman lands another looping left hook, Graves is having trouble blocking that. The first round comes to an end.
MMA Latest scores the round 10-9 Usman.
Round two begins with Graves taking the center of the octagon first, but being met with a left hook for his trouble. Usman feints the hook and shoots in on a deeeeeeeep double leg. Graves sprawls beautifully, but is pushed against the cage. Graves escapes the clinch and takes the center. Graves seems frustrated that the stand up isn’t as one-sided as his coach had predicted, he’s throwing sloppy high kicks that are not effective. Usman shoots again, and again Graves defends but is pressed against the cage. After clinching for a few seconds, Graves is free and to the center again. Usman lands a straight left and a big take down. Graves rolls well with the momentum and takes Usman’s back while he tries to secure the takedown. Graves searching for a choke, or a neck crank. Usman doing well to defend, he stands with Graves on his back, controlling one of his opponents hands. Graves starts to lose position and Usman slams him to the ground, landing in side control. The last 30 second of round two is Usman landing knees to the body and soft punches to Graves’ head.
MMA Latest scores the round 10-9 Usman.
It seems that both camps believe the fight will go to a third “sudden victory” round. However, the cards are collected and we learn that Kamaru Usman is declared the winner via Majority Decision. 20-18 20-18 19-19. With the win, the Blackzilians maintain home gym advantage and the next fight will take place at their gym. The episode ends without telling us who the next matchup will be, so I have no room to speculate on the next matchup. But, if I had to bet, I think the Blackzilians will either put out, Luiz “Buscape” or Jason Jackson. Urgent to get a win, I think ATT will put forth either Nathan Coy, or Steve Carl.
OFFICIAL DECISON – Kamaru Usman wins via Majority Decision (20-18 20-18 19-19)
MMA Latest scored the fight 20-18 Kamaru Usman.
Current prediction record 1-0
UFC Announces Liverpool Event, Darren Till Main Event
Scousers are drowning in celebration this evening. Earlier today, UFC officials announced the addition of a Liverpool show to their 2018 event calendar. Liverpool’s, Echo Arena, plays host for the event, which takes place on May 27th.
Liverpool’s own, Darren Till made the announcement this afternoon with Dan Hardy at the UFC Fight Night: Werdum vs. Volkov, ceremonial weigh-in. When asked by Hardy what it means to have the UFC in Liverpool, he had this to day, “Words can’t describe it. It doesn’t do it justice, words. So, it’s coming and I’m going to be the first Scousers to ever have done it. In 200 years they’re going to remember my name in combat sports in Liverpool. I’m gonna take someones chin off in Liverpool, that’s what’s happening”.
He was also quoted in an release from the promotion saying, “I can’t believe UFC is finally coming to Liverpool and I’m going to be headlining Echo Arena. My name is going to be remembered in 200 years time for being part of this historical event and I can’t even describe how much that means to me”. Till will headline the card, his opponent is yet to be announced.
In the official release, it quotes David Shaw, Senior Vice President International and Content, claiming, “The stars really aligned for the Octagon to touch down in Liverpool. We have seen such phenomenal demand from fans in the region for a live event. Pair that with having such a rising, local star in Darren Till it made absolute sense to bring our first live event to this historical combat sports city in 2018”.
UFC Liverpool lands on a date speculated for a different venue, in a different country. Reports swirled last month, specifically one from MMAFighting.com, which claimed the May 27th date belonged to the UFCs return to Dublin. A return to Dublin doesn’t seem to fall completely out of the realm of possibility. For now, it remains to be seen.
The UFC also announced two bouts, both in the Middleweight division, booked for the event. Elias Therodorou takes on Trevor Smith, and Daniel Kelly goes up against England’s Tom Breese.
Marco Reyes Flagged for Potential Anti-Doping Policy Violation
Earlier today, UFC officials announced that Lightweight, Marco Reyes was flagged for a potential UFC Anti-Doping Policy violation. The potential violation hails from a sample collected on March 8th, 2018, in an out-of-competition test.
Reyes made his way into the UFC through The Ultimate Fighter Latin America, season 2. Competing in the lightweight bracket, Reyes defeated Christhian Soto by 2nd rd. TKO of a preliminary round bout. He then went onto to face Horacio Gutiérrez, in the semifinals of the tournament. Gutiérrez defeated Reyes in the opening round by TKO.
Following his elimination from the tournament, the Mexican fighter met Cezar Arzamendia on the series finale, The Ultimate Fighter Latin America 2 Finale. Reyes impressively defeated Arzamendia, whom was the first overall pick for Team Gastelum, by 1st round KO.
From there, Reyes defeated Dong Hung Kim (rd. 1, KO), and Jason Novelli (Split Decision) respectively, before falling to rising contender James Vick. Most recently, the Lightweight fighter dispatched Matt Frevola in the opening round, ruining the Long Islanders promotional debut. His bout against Frevola took place at UFC Fight Night: Stephens vs. Choi, on January 14th of this year.
The UFC statement on the matter reads as follows:
The UFC organization was notified today that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has informed Marco Reyes of a potential Anti-Doping Policy violation stemming from an out-of-competition sample collected on March 8, 2018.
USADA, the independent administrator of the UFC Anti-Doping Policy, will handle the results management and appropriate adjudication of this case involving Reyes. Under the UFC Anti-Doping Policy, there is a full and fair legal process that is afforded to all athletes before any sanctions are imposed. Additional information will be provided at the appropriate time as the process moves forward.
Dillon Danis to make Pro debut against Kyle Walker at Bellator 198
Mixed Martial Arts officially adopted another incredibly talented jiu-jitsu practioner today. Bellator officials announced today the long-awaited debut of Dillon Danis, whom the promotion had signed in the year previous. After zero amateur and countless jiu-jitsu matches, Danis makes his debut at Bellator 198: Mir vs. Emelianenko, against Kyle Walker.
Kyle Walker enters the match up also making his Bellator debut. Walker recently made a resurgence in 2016 after taking off, almost exactly, 3 years. Since returning to the professional scene his record is 0-3, losing each fight by stoppage (2 Sub, 1 KO).
Walker looks to snap his streak yet, his opponent could provide a major challenge. In terms of advantages for Walker, he has a massive and obvious one. His experience. Walkers opponent fights for the first time in the sport of MMA. While Danis competed in many top-level jiu-jitsu tournaments and matches, comparing the competition would stop and end upon examining the rule sets. It is quite obvious, the difference. Danis will have a bit of adversity to overcome, in that respect.
In spite of this, Danis’ team, he trains out of the highly regarded SBG Ireland. Even before his MMA training, he trained under Marcelo Garcia. He earned his black belt in April of 2015, following an incredible 2014. In that year, Danis became UAEJJF World Champion, winning gold in the 82 kg (181 lb.) Brown belt category.
The prospect of what that could look like inside the cage is exciting. He may have developed some striking techniques but, the lack of time dedicated to that training in undeniable. Experience and time is required to develop skills of any kind.
Bellator 198: Mir vs. Emelianenko, takes place on Saturday, April 28th from the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois. Bellator 198 features the third of four preliminary bouts in the promotions Heavyweight Grand Prix, Fedor Emelianenko takes on Frank Mir. It serves as the nights main event. Other bouts on the card feature; Emmanuel Sanchez against Sam Sicilia, Neiman Gracie faces Javier Torres, Rafael Lavato Jr. vs. John Salter, and more.
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