For the sixth week in a row, UFC fans can enjoy the greatest sport on earth. The seventh pay-per-view (PPV) of the year is a Heavyweight match-up that’s been almost a year in the making. After 19 months off due to injury, Heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez returns to try and defend his belt yet again. This is the second time the UFC has gone to Mexico, with the first scheduled to be the headliner from this card. This time around, the Mexican pride is deeper and the crowd will be crazier. Let’s see what’s in store
Teccia Torres vs. Angela Hill
A fight between two TUF (and tough) competitors starts off your PPV. Teccia Torres (5-0 MMA; 1-0 UFC)* and Angela Hill (2-0; 1-0) will meet after being on The Ultimate Fighter season 20 together. Both lost to the #1 seed on the show in Carla Esparza with Torres getting two shots to move on in the show. Both won their debuts at the finale in December of last year.
Torres is a former Invicta star who came with a group of others with the newly formed UFC Strawweight division. She started her career 4-0 with wins over Paige VanZant, Rose Namajunas and Felice Herrig. Her first UFC fight was a decision win over the heel of the season in Angela Magana. ‘The Tiny Tornado’ landed 96 Significant Strikes** with a knockdown in her fight with Magana, while stopping 2 takedown attempts.
Hill had her only career fight in 2014, before joining the UFC in USFFC. She won her only fight by TKO in the second round. She won her fight against Emily Kagan at the finale where she scratched out a decision win. She attempted 159 Significant Strikes while hitting her opponent with 67% of those. She would stop 10 of Kagan’s 12 takedown attempts in the fight.
Yair Rodriguez vs. Charles Rosa
A Featherweight matchup sees the Mexican-born Yair Rodriguez (4-1; 1-0) against Charles Rosa (10-1; 1-1). This is a fight between two inexperienced guys with only 16 professional bouts between them. Both will look to make a statement and move up in the Featherweight rankings.
Rodriguez won the first season of TUF: Latin America for the Featherweight division. He got two submission wins to put him in the finals against Leonardo Morales. He would get the win by decision in the Finale and win the Featherweight division. That was the last time he fought and he hasn’t been in action since. In his last fight, he would only land 40% of his Significant Strikes thrown, but got the nod with his 2 takedowns and five submission attempts.
Rosa started his UFC career off with a decision loss to Denis Siver at UFC Fight Night: Nelson vs. Story. This would earn Fight of the Night honors with a tightly contested bout that saw him get hit over 100 times. He would get back to the winning column with a D’Arce choke win over Sean Soriano at UFC Fight Night: McGregor vs. Siver. He would do much better, but still got hit more than he hit his opponent (37 total strikes for Rosa compared to 72 for his opponent). He was always searching the submission attempt with 4 of them on the night and finally caught his opponent in the third round.
Kelvin Gastelum vs. Nate Marquardt
In a Middleweight bout many are looking forward to, Kelvin Gastelum (10-1; 5-1) makes his return to Middleweight against the veteran Nate Marquardt (33-14-2; 12-8). Gastelum is seeing the Middleweight division for the first time since TUF 17 while Marquardt has been a lifelong 185 pounder for the UFC (two Welterweight fights in Strikeforce)
Gastelum was The Ultimate Fighter Season 17 winner when he beat Uriah Hall by decision. Gastelum was the heavy underdog and overcame the odds to win. He won his next four straight with two finishes over Brian Melancon and Jake Ellenberger. He would get his toughest test to date with a co-main event slot against Tyron Woodley. The entire experience was a bad one as Gastelum came in 10 pounds overweight and was almost pulled from his fight. Gastelum would lose the fight by split decision for his first career loss. Gastelum comes into the contest with 3.26 Significant Strikes Landed per Minute (SLpM) and only 2.51 Significant Strikes Absorbed per Minute (SApM). His 71.7% Striking Defense is good for third all-time in the Welterweight division.
Marquardt is a former UFC Middleweight title challenger and Strikeforce Middleweight champion. He beat now UFC contender Tyron Woodley in 2012 for the title. He has also been in multiple title eliminator fights in his career. He started his UFC career with four straight wins to earn his shot at then Middleweight champion Anderson Silva. His title shot was short lived as he was TKO’d in the first round. ‘The Great’ has struggled as of late, losing 4 of his last 5. His stats are impressive as his 1.54 SApM is good for third lowest in the active division. He has the second most knockdowns of any Middleweight ever with 9 (behind Anderson Silva with 12).
Gilbert Melendez vs. Eddie Alvarez
A matchup that’s been years in the making will finally happen when Gilbert Melendez (22-4; 1-2) and Eddie Alvarez (25-4; 0-1) face off. Both have seen championships and different organizations through the years before their paths crossed in the UFC. This is an event that Melendez wanted to be on badly due to his Mexican heritage.
Melendez is the former Strikeforce Lightweight champion and the inaugural WEC Lightweight champion. He started his professional career with 13 straight wins before losing his first fight. He would win the Strikeforce Lightweight belt in his next bout but lose it immediately to Josh Thomson. After that loss, he rattled off seven straight wins which included winning and defending the interim belt and unifying and defending the belt some more. His first UFC fight was for the belt against Benson Henderson where he lost a split decision. He has gone 1-1 since then with a Fight of the Night with Diego Sanchez and another title fight loss to Anthony Pettis. ‘El Nino’ has a Striking Differential of +1.57, which would be good for third in the division if he was eligible.
Alvarez is the former champion for multiple organizations with Bellator being the most recent. He was on a seven fight win streak stretching from 2009 to 2011 when he saw his best competition yet in Michael Chandler. The Fight of the Year would be victorious for Chandler as he gave Alvarez his first loss in over two years. Alvarez would start another win streak as he entered the Octagon for the first time with three straight wins. He would lose his UFC debut to the next Lightweight title challenger in Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone. He was very inaccurate in his fight with Cowboy, only landing on 34% of his Significant Strikes and landing 0 of 5 takedowns.
Cain Velasquez (c) vs. Fabricio Werdum (ic)
In a title unification bout, Undisputed Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez (13-1; 11-1) will try and keep his belt against interim champion Fabricio Werdum (19-5-1; 7-2). The two were scheduled to fight at UFC 180 before Velasquez injured his knee and an interim title fight was scheduled between Werdum and Mark Hunt. Werdum won the fight by second round KO and was awarded the Interim title.
Velasquez has been the champion since UFC 155 where he beat then champion Junior dos Santos by decision. That avenged his only loss as dos Santos had beaten Velasquez by knockout at UFC on Fox 1 just thirteen months prior. Since then he has defended his belt against Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva and dos Santos. Velasquez is top 5 in most categories for the division, and #1 with 6.21 SLpM and +4.52 Striking Differential. He takes down his opponents at 5.28 per 15 min. while having 88% Takedown Defense (TDD)
Werdum is a champion for the first time in his career. He has won five straight fights to get to this point including a five round destruction of Travis Browne in a title eliminator fight. His most impressive win came over legend Fedor Emilianenko after he had a 28 fight unbeaten streak. ‘Vai Cavalo’ is a ju-jitsu world champion who has transitioned into MMA very nicely. He comes in with only 1.90 SApM to go along with his 3.05 SLpM
*All records from Sherdog.com
**All stats from FightMetric.com
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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