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TUF 23 Finale Preview

Vinny Craig

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The Ultimate Fighter has been a staple of the UFC since it was first introduced in 2005 with its first season. 12 years and 23 seasons later, we get our first ever title fight between coaches at the finale. The biggest weekend in MMA continues along with TUF 23 Finale on Friday night July 8 with the Strawweight title fight headlining the event.

This season of TUF saw 8 Women’s Strawweight and 8 Light Heavyweight competitors in the same house. Wrestlers, boxers, Muay-Thai, and submission grapplers alike made the season very enjoyable to watch. The fierce rivalry between coaches Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Claudia Gadelha as they tried to get into each other’s head made this one of my favourite seasons to watch as a viewer.

Main Card- Fox Sports 1 (10 PM EDT, 7 PM PDT, 3 AM GMT)

Strawweight: (c)Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Claudia Gadelha- for the UFC Strawweight title

Light Heavyweight: Andrew Sanchez vs. TBD- TUF 23 Light Heavyweight tournament finale

Strawweight: Amanda Cooper vs TBD- TUF 23 Strawweight tournament finale

Lightweight: Ross Pearson vs. Will Brooks

Featherweight: Doo Ho Choi vs. Thiago Tavares

Lightweight: Joachim Silva vs. Andrew Holbrook

 

Preliminary Card- Fox Sports 1(8 PM EDT, 5 PM PDT, 1 AM GMT)

Featherweight: Gray Maynard vs. Fernando Bruno

Flyweight: John Moraga vs. Mattheus Nicolai

Middleweight: Cezar Ferreira vs. Anthony Smith

 

Early Preliminary Card- UFC Fight Pass (7 PM EDT, 4 PM PDT, 12 AM GMT)

Lightweight: Jake Matthews vs. Kevin Lee

Welterweight: Li Jianliang vs. Anton Zafir

 

Jake Matthews vs. Kevin Lee

The UFC Fight Pass feature fight has been a big spot for veterans and prospects alike to get exposure on the UFC’s platform. The feature fight for this card is Australia’s own Jake Matthews (10-1 MMA; 4-1 UFC) against Michigan’s own Kevin Lee (12-2; 5-2).

Matthews was on TUF: Nations as part of the Australia team against the Canadian side in the Welterweight bracket. He made his UFC debut at Lightweight in his home country of Australia where he beat Dashon Johnson by Triangle choke. After a Rear-Naked choke over Vagner Rocha, he suffered the first loss of his career in one of the year’s best cards in Australia when he was finished by James Vick in the first round by a Guillotine choke. He has come back with two straight finishes at UFC 193 and UFC Fight Night 85, both in Australia. Matthews has really rounded out his game with the addition of better striking while in the UFC. He steps in the cage with 3.78 Significant Strikes Landed per Minute (SLpM), 2.11 Takedowns per 15 min. and 1.2 Submission Attempts per 15 min.

Lee steps in on short notice as Stevie Ray pulled out of the fight due to visa issues. The ‘Motown Phenom’ is one of just a handful fighters to be successful in the Octagon from my home state of Michigan where MMA is not as popular as it could be. He joins fellow Michigan native Amanda Cooper on the card to represent our state. He is a winner of five of his last six with the lone loss coming at UFC 194 against Leonardo Santos. He then bounced back in his last fight with a decision win over Efrain Escudero at UFC 197. The stats are very similar as Lee comes in with 3.77 SLpM, 2.77 Takedowns per 15 min. and 1.3 Submission Attempts per 15 min.

Ross Pearson vs. Will Brooks

Former Bellator Lightweight Champion Will Brooks (18-1, 0-0) takes on UFC vet Ross Pearson (19-10, 1 NC; 11-7, 1 NC). Brooks replaces James Krause who was pulled from the fight for undisclosed reasons.

Pearson will be making his 20th UFC appearance when he steps into the Octagon. He has alternated wins for losses over his last eight fights with the last one being a win over Chad Laprise in January. The winner of TUF season 9 started out his UFC career 3-0 with wins over Andre Winner, Aaron Riley, and Dennis Siver. Since that start, he is 8-7 with a no-contest against Melvin Guillard when an illegal knee rendered Pearson unable to continue. Pearson is top ten all-time in the Lightweight division in Knockdowns Landed (6), Significant Strikes Landed (693), Significant Strike Defense (68.6%), and Total Fight Time (3:12.37)

We finally get to see Brooks make his long-awaited UFC debut after spending the majority of his career in Bellator. Brooks was unhappy with his contract and wanted to be released from the company despite being the champion. He was granted his release and signed by the UFC to step in against Pearson. ‘Ill Will’ is a winner of his last eight including the interim title belt, the vacant belt and two title defences in Bellator

(c)Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Claudia Gadelha

Dominant Strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk (11-0; 5-0) takes on number-one contender Claudia Gadelha (13-1; 2-1) in a rematch of their December 2014 fight. It’s the first time coaches on TUF will fight for the belt on the finale.

Jedrzejczyk joined the newly formed Strawweight division in the second ever UFC Strawweight fight when she beat Julianna Lima by decision. She went on to face Gadelha at UFC on Fox 13 in a closely contested fight. In a controversial decision, Jedrzejczyk was the winner by split-decision to earn a title shot at then-champion Carla Esparza. They fought at UFC 185 in the co-main event where Jedrzejczyk dominated the fight for the round and a half it lasted and finished the fight in the second. After winning the belt, she has defended it twice over Jessica Penne (TKO win at UFC Fight Night 69) and Valerie Letourneau (Unanimous Decision at UFC 193). Joanna is tied for fifth all-time in SLpM with Sean O’Connell (6.14) and second all-time in Striking Differential (+3.89).

Gadelha was a part of the first UFC Strawweight fight when she beat Tina Lahdemaki at UFC Fight Night 45. Her next fight was the fight against Jedrzejczyk at UFC on Fox 13 where a claim that she won that fight can be made. She landed 7 of 16 Takedowns and landed a better percentage of her Significant Strikes in the fight. She was expected to return at UFC Fight Night 64 against Aisling Daly, but an injury was a blessing as she got a number-one contender fight against top Strawweight Jessica Aguilar at UFC 190 in Brazil. She dominated the fight with a better all-around game as she out-struck and out-grappled her opponent.

 

 

 

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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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Announcement

UFC Middleweight Champion, Robert Whittaker Announces Birth of Third Child

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Times seem dull and dreary for the UFC’s Middleweight Champion, Robert Whittaker. The New Zealand born fighter withdrew from the promotions event debut in the eastern region of his residence, Australia. UFC 221, which takes place this Saturday, booked Whittaker to defend his title for the first time against former division champion, Luke Rockhold. His withdrawal was due to mistreatment of a serious staph infection inside of the Australians stomach.

It couldn’t get much worse, having to disappoint fans, and missing the first UFC event in eastern Australia. As it turns out, it could not get worse for Whittaker. Life only got better, as he had the pleasure of announcing the birth of his third child.

His new child is the champions third and first girl. Information regarding his child is limited as this moment is a tender and special time for the Whittaker family.

UFC 221 takes place in Perth, Australia at Perth Arena on February 11th. The cards main event features Whittakers short notice replacement, Yoel Romero taking on Luke Rockhold. Much to the satiety of fans, an interim belt is not in the equation in this instance.

Thank God. Excuse me, thank Dana White.

UFC 221 also features the ‘Super Samoan’ Mark Hunt vs. Curtis Blaydes, Tai Tuivasa faces Cyril Asker, Alexander Volkanovski vs. Jeremy Kennedy and more.

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