The date was August 13, 2013, when Max “Blessed” Holloway took to the octagon for a prospected featherweight battle with current division champion Conor McGregor.
In the bout, which ended up lasting all of the three scheduled rounds (unlike any fight including “The Notorious One”), Holloway lost by the scores of 30-26, 30-27, and 30-27. Though, on a positive note, he left the octagon healthier than his well-known opponent, for McGregor tore his ACL in the act.
Oh, and different than the Irishman, the Hawaiian is undefeated since the loss.
Could a rematch soon be in order?
This weekend’s UFC 199 battle versus Ricardo Lamas could answer such an inquiry.
Holloway (15-3, 11-3 in UFC), is not an unranked fighter anymore like he was less than three years ago. In fact, he currently holds the 4th rank in his division with back-to-back-to-back victories over men who are ranked 6th, 7th, and 8th (Cub Swanson, Charles Oliveira, and Jeremy Stephens).
The 24-year old has transformed himself into a true martial artist, who is not just dangerous in stand-up but on the ground with submissions and strikes in top position. Furthermore, he fights intelligently by keeping himself out of danger (thanks to elusive movement), not inserting himself into tough spots, and ignoring the temptation to move the action to the ground.
For instance, in Holloway’s first fight of 2015, Cole Miller attempted to transition the battle by laying on the ground in full guard. Logically, the Hawaiian backed away, forcing his opponent to stand back up. Also during this match, a deadly ground and pound element was on display as, when he was on the canvas, he dominated the ground game.
Another big element of Holloway’s attack is his kicks. So fluent in transitions from southpaw stance to orthodox, the 4th ranked featherweight can fire off strikes to the body as well as the head. A concern, though, comes with his kick quantity at the end of rounds. To elaborate, he seems to recklessly ramp up the number of kicks with no variety of offering punches. Holloway must not focus just on one strike, for an opponent, in this case, Ricardo Lamas could catch a kick and then finish the five-minute segment strong, possibly swaying the judges.
It would be blasphemous not to mention Max Holloway’s takedown defense when analyzing his strengths. Against McGregor, he was taken down 4 times in 5 attempts for a clear cut 20% takedown defense. But, he has not been taken to the mat unwillingly since August 23, 2014, when Clay Collard landed one. During the 8-fight span following his loss, Holloway has a 90% takedown defense (45-of-50 defended). He spurns most by quickly putting his back to the cage and fighting off the hand control of the opposition. Other times, the fighter with the longest active win streak in the featherweight division will sprawl and actually take the top position! In such a spot of complete control, Holloway mixes strikes with the possibility of obtaining a submission victory.
The previous was seen at its best against Southern California’s finest Cub Swanson. Additionally, during this bout, Holloway showed great calculation picking his spots and the ability to avoid damage when coming forward with strikes.
On Saturday, Max Holloway shall be tested unlike any opponent before upon stepping into the octagon versus 5th ranked Ricardo Lamas (16-4, 7-2 in UFC).
Lamas, who has one less loss to his name than Holloway, was defeated in a title fight versus José Aldo a little over two years ago and knocked out in the 1st round against Chad Mendes last year.
The 34-year old is similar to Holloway in a few ways. For one, he evades dangerous spots, even with the center of the octagon occupied by his opponent. Also, he displays a tactical approach even when there is “blood in the water.”
Lamas is different than the Hawaiian in the fact that he is a kick oriented fighter, who tries to damage the front leg of opponents early and often. Moreover, he clinches for the purpose of ultimately getting submissions. The Illinois native utilizes low knees in the clinch to soften the legs of the opposition before landing a monster takedown.
To ensure success, Holloway simply has to stay within himself. Specifically, he must continue stuffing takedown attempts and keep great movement when moving in and out of the pocket. A spot of emphasis for the Hawaiian lies with staying calculated if his opponent is hurt. Lamas is a hard-nosed fighter (just look at how long he survived when Mendes had him on the ropes); thus, Holloway can not throw all his preparation and game planning to the wind, even if he is on the brink of victory.
UFC 199 takes place at The Forum in Los Angeles, California on June 4th, headlined by a UFC Middleweight Title fight between champion Luke Rockhold and challenger, #4 Michael Bisping.
Other bouts scheduled on the main card include:
- C Dominick Cruz vs. #2 Urijah Faber
- #4 Max Holloway vs. #5 Ricardo Lamas
- #15 Dan Henderson vs. Hector Lombard
- #11 Dustin Poirier vs. #13 Bobby Green
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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