Well, where to begin? UFC 199 last night was one of the greatest events in recent history, with incredible fights, finishes and moments throughout. Let’s take a look back at some of the talking points from the night’s action.
Why are there so many empty seats at the start of a card?
One thing that always baffles me when it comes to MMA events is the sheer number of empty seats that are clearly visible in the early knockings of fight night. Considering how expensive tickets can be, it makes little sense to not take in all of the action and get your money’s worth. Maybe that is me coming from a European perspective where every fight night is close to full capacity from start to finish, but it still has always been a source of mystery for me. Fans who arrived late to UFC 199 missed the clear Fight of the Night in an event littered with bouts that, on any other night, would have taken that honour themselves. Polo Reyes and Dong Hyun Kim put on an absolute war in one of the craziest fights I can remember. The two lightweights threw everything they had at each other from the opening bell, with both men rocking their opponent on multiple occasions. In the end, Kim could not absorb any more punishment and Reyes left California with his 5th knockout win, but both deservedly walked away $50,000 richer.
Is Jessica Andrade a genuine contender at strawweight?
At just 5’2, Brazil’s Jessica Andrade always appeared to be a little undersized in the women’s bantamweight division, so when she announced late last year that she was dropping down to the women’s strawweight division, it initially seemed to be a good move. Those thoughts were definitively proven to be true at UFC 199, as Andrade put on a phenomenal performance against former women’s strawweight title challenger, Jessica Penne. The California native could not live with the speed and punching power of Andrade and she eventually succumbed to a TKO loss in the second round. The question is: how big a factor is Andrade at 115 pounds? In her brutalisation of Penne, who herself fought for the title last year, the signs point that she very well could be. It is easy to forget, also, that Andrade is just 24-years-old. In her post-fight interview, Andrade called out former UFC women’s strawweight champion, Carla Esparza and, should that fight be made, the answer to Andrade’s title credentials could lie within the bout.
Was this the perfect way for Dan Henderson to end his competitive MMA career?
What more can be said about Dan Henderson at this stage? “Hendo” will turn 46 later this year and he has been written off time and time again since 2013. However, seemingly every time he is in a fight considered ‘do or die’, Henderson rises to the challenge and overcomes it. At UFC 199, Henderson faced a fighter in Hector Lombard who not only has power, but also the added bonus of a speed advantage over the American. After a tough first round in which a Lombard flurry had him in trouble, Henderson rallied in the second with devastating effect. Sensing that Lombard had slowed down, Henderson uncorked a head kick which was caught by his opponent. With his leg still in the grasp of Lombard, Henderson threw a vicious elbow to the side of Lombard’s head, knocking him out cold. The ensuing ground and pound elbows were academic and UFC 199 had a true feel-good moment. Henderson was non-committal on whether or not it would be the last time we see him inside the octagon, but if it is, this serves as a fitting finale for one of MMA’s all-time greats.
How high up the pound for pound rankings does Dominick Cruz Belong?
Dominick Cruz completed his trilogy with Urijah Faber at UFC 199, coming out on top by unanimous decision. In truth, the fight was never close, with Cruz showcasing his superior striking, enhanced by his expert footwork which surely ranks as the best in MMA. Now 2 – 0 since returning from his second lengthy injury layoff, how far away from being considered the pound for pound best is Cruz? Prior to UFC 199, he was ranked at #4 in those rankings by the UFC, but with the man who occupied #3 on that list, Luke Rockhold, losing (more about that later), Cruz is likely going to move into that spot. That would leave only Demetrious Johnson and Jon Jones above “The Dominator”. Cruz does hold a win over Johnson at bantamweight from 2011, and a potential rematch between the two should Johnson decide to move up in weight for a superfight is a mouth-watering prospect. For now though, Cruz absolutely merits mention alongside those two in the debate of the pound for pound great.
Michael Bisping – UFC champion.
Just 17 days before UFC 199, Chris Weidman was forced to withdraw from the middleweight title shot with Luke Rockhold and in stepped Michael “The Count” Bisping. Based on the previous meeting between the two and the fashion in which Rockhold had been dispatching opponents since 2014, few gave Bisping much of a chance. The fight was seen by many as nothing more than a tune up fight to tide Rockhold over until the Weidman rematch should be made. Bisping had other ideas, claiming that winning the UFC middleweight title was his ‘destiny’. After last night’s events, who could argue with him? At 37-years-old, in his 26th UFC appearance, Bisping knocked Rockhold out cold, thus not only avenging his loss to the now former champion, but capturing UFC gold. Bisping has been one of the most polarising fighters in MMA for years now, but love him or hate him, you have to admire his achievement and give respect where it is due. There were many who doubted whether this moment would ever come for “The Count”, and Bisping said in the post-fight press conference that he envisions “the mother of all hangovers” coming his way and, after what he did last night, who could blame him?
An unfortunate end to an incredible night.
After the main event, the MMA world was on a high with what they had just witnessed, as well as news that broke during the event that Brock Lesnar, yes, The Beast Incarnate himself, was to make his return to MMA at UFC 200 against an as yet un-named opponent. However, news of his potential return was reported by Ariel Helwani before the official announcement by the UFC – which, seemingly, was something that did not sit well with the promotion. Prior to the Rockhold vs Bisping main event, Helwani, along with his long-time colleagues Esther Lin and Casey Leydon, were escorted from The Forum arena and had their credentials revoked. Helwani went on to say that he was informed that he was banned for life from UFC events. Now, personally I have an enormous amount of respect and admiration for Helwani and his colleagues and it saddens me that this happened. There is very little that I could say on the matter that has not already been said, but I echo the hopes of Helwani himself, and the entire MMA community, in hoping that “cooler heads prevail” and we see Ariel, Esther and Casey doing what they do best in the very near future.
What are your opinions on the talking points raised here? Get in touch with us @MMALatestNws and let us know.
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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