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UFC 201 Preview

Vinny Craig

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Atlanta, Georgia has not seen a UFC event since UFC 145 in 2012 when Jon Jones beat Rashad Evans for his third title defense. Future stars like Rory MacDonald, Matt Brown, Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson, and Travis Browne all fought at that event. But UFC 201 is not just a return to Atlanta, but a start of something of new. It’s the first PPV event since the sale of the UFC. It’s the first ‘numbered’ event after the famed UFC 200 where we get to see if the new fans that were brought on by the big event will stick around.

Main Card- PPV (10 PM EDT. 7 PM PDT, 3 AM BST)

Welterweight: (c)Robbie Lawler vs. Tyron Woodley- for the UFC Welterweight title

Strawweight: Rose Namajunas vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz

Welterweight: Matt Brown vs. Jake Ellenberger

Bantamweight: Frankie Rivera vs. Erick Perez

Flyweight: Ian McCall vs. Justin Scoggins

 

Preliminary Card- Fox Sports 2 (8 PM EDT, 5 PM PDT, 1 AM BST)

Light Heavyweight: Ed Herman vs. Nikita Krylov

Welterweight: Ross Pearson vs. Jorge Masvidal

Heavyweight: Anthony Hamilton vs. Damien Grabowski

Flyweight: Wilson Reis vs. Hector Sandoval

 

Early Prelim Card- UFC Fight Pass (6:30 PM EDT, 3:30 PM PDT, 11:30 PM BST)

Welterweight: Michael Graves vs. Bjoan Velickovic

Flyweight: Ryan Benoit vs. Fredy Serano

Lightweight: Cesar Arzemedia vs. Damien Brown

 

Ian McCall vs. Justin Scoggins

Top ten Flyweights Ian McCall (13-5-1 MMA; 2-3-1 UFC) and Justin Scoggins (11-2; 4-2) start off the main card for UFC 201. Scoggins was originally expected to face Ben Nguyen back in March before an injury sidelined him.

McCall hasn’t fought since January of 2015 after being sidelined by a series of nerve related injuries. McCall fought in the inaugural Flyweight tournament to crown their first champion. He went three rounds with current P4P #1 Demetrious Johnson at UFC on FX 2 to a draw. The two rematched in a headliner bout on UFC on FX 3 where Johnson took the decision. ‘Uncle Creepy’ has won two of his last three with wins over Illiarde Santos and Brad Pickett after consecutive losses to Johnson and Joseph Benavidez. He last fought at UFC 183 losing by decision to now Bantamweight contender John Lineker.

Scoggins is a winner of his last two over Josh Sampo and Ray Borg. After defending his Warfare FC title twice, the UFC came calling for a fight at UFC Fight Night 33. He picked up a win over Richie Vaculik and followed that up with a win over Will Campuzano. After two losses to Dustin Ortiz and John Moraga, ‘Tank’ took some time off to rethink his game. He returned at UFC 187 with the win over Sampo and followed that up with the win over Borg. Scoggins is the all-time Flyweight leader in Significant Strikes Absorbed per Minute (SApM) with 1.48.

Matt Brown vs. Jake Ellenberger

With a Welterweight title main event, two other top Welterweights get a main card slot in Matt Brown (20-14; 13-8) and Jake Ellenberger (30-11; 9-7).

Brown hasn’t been on the sideline long as he just fought in May at UFC 198. After starting off his career as a middle-of-the-pack fighter following TUF, he found his groove starting at UFC 143 with a TKO of Chris Camozzi. That started a streak of seven straight wins with six coming by TKO/KO in that span. A title eliminator bout with now champion Robbie Lawler was set for Fox in the main event slot in July 2014. Lawler beat and battered Brown for five rounds for a decision win, the first loss for Brown in almost three years. Since his streak ended, he is 1-3 with losses to Lawler, Johny Hendricks, and Demain Maia. Brown has had a successful Welterweight career coming in sixth in the active division in Knockdowns (7) and Significant Strikes Landed (734) while being second in Striking Accuracy (54.1%).

Ellenberger had his own run with six straight wins starting in 2010 which included a TKO over Jake Shields and a decision over Diego Sanchez. His hype was slowed down by a TKO loss to Martin Kampmann but came right back with wins over Jay Hieron and Nate Marquardt. After proving himself as a threat to the division’s elite, he has been put through the ringer of opponents with four of his last six coming against top ten guys. He is 0-4 against them and 1-5 in his last six. With his great run and career, Ellenberger checks in at second all-time in the division with nine Knockdowns and fifth in Takedown Defense with 85.7%.

 

Rose Namajunas vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz

With Strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s win at The Ultimate Fighter 23 Finale, this Strawweight co-main event between Rose Namajunas (5-2; 3-1) and Karolina Kowalkiewicz (9-0; 2-0) is likely a title-eliminator bout.

Namajunas made her UFC debut on the TUF 20: Finale along with the majority of the Strawweight division. After entering the TUF house on a loss to fellow competitor Tecia Torres, she went on a tear in the house with three consecutive submission wins to meet Carla Esparza in the final. Despite the loss in the final, ‘Thug Rose’ has impressed since the show with three straight wins, two by submission. Rose has used her grappling while in the UFC, despite having great standup credentials to show for. She steps in with 3.49 Takedowns per 15 min. and 1.4 Submission Attempts per 15 min., both rank among the top in her division.

Kowalkiewicz is undefeated in her young career at 9-0. She was the KSW Flyweight champion with one title defence and two non-title bouts with submission finishes in both of her title bouts. She joined the UFC at UFC on Fox 17 with a decision win over Randa Markos. Her next fight was closer to her home country of Poland as she fought Heather Jo Clark at UFC Rotterdam. She showed off her striking skills as a Krav Maga and Muay-Thai practitioner as she landed 119 Significant Strikes in her decision win.

 

(c)Robbie Lawler vs. Tyron Woodley

The main event is for the Welterweight belt as champion Robbie Lawler (27-10, 1 NC; 12-4) takes on Tyron Woodley (15-3; 5-2). It will be the 35th UFC Welterweight title bout and fourth straight involving Lawler.

Lawler fought for the title at UFC 171 for the vacant belt when Georges St. Pierre retired. The fight against Johny Hendricks was a five-round back-and-forth battle that ended with Hendricks the winner. Lawler got right back at it, winning two straight fights to earn a rematch against Hendricks at UFC 181 nine months later. Another five-round Fight of the Night decision ensued, but this time, Lawler being the winner. He has since defended his belt twice more in two Fight of the Night, and one  Fight of the Year, victories over Rory MacDonald and Carlos Condit. ‘Ruthless’ is second all-time in the division with 9 Knockdowns, and combining his time at Welterweight and Middleweight has the highest Takedown Accuracy in UFC history (80%). He has absorbed a lot of punishment in the past two years as he’s absorbed 642 Significant Strikes in his last six fights.

Woodley has not fought in over a year since his Split-decision win over Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 183. The former collegiate wrestler was a standout in Strikeforce, going 8-1 in his three-year tenure. He joined the UFC officially at UFC 156 with a knockout of Jay Hieron just 36 seconds into the fight. ‘T-Wood’ has won four of his last five to earn the title shot with wins over Josh Koscheck, Carlos Condit, Dong Hyun Kim, and then Gastelum. He was scheduled to face Johny Hendricks at UFC 192 in Houston before Hendricks was pulled due to weight cut issues. Woodley has the highest Takedown Defense of anyone in the division (95%) only being taken down once by Rory MacDonald. Despite great wrestling credentials, Woodley doesn’t use his wrestling as a main offensive weapon, instead using his powerful strikes and speed.

 

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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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