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UFC Fight Night 83: Cowboy vs Cowboy Breakdown

Dan Tom

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Cerrone1

Donald Cerrone (28-7)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’11” Age: 32 Weight: 170 lbs Reach: 73″
  • Last Fight: TKO loss / Rafael Dos Anjos (12-19-15)
  • Camp: Jackson-Wink MMA (New Mexico)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Muay Thai
  • Risk Management: Moderate

Supplemental info:
+   Multiple Muay Thai Accolades
+   28-0 as a Pro Kickboxer
+   5 KO victories
+   12 first round finishes
+   15 Submission wins
+   KO power / heavy hands
+/-Sometimes starts slow
+   Accurate & intercepting knees
+   Devastating leg & head kicks
^   Dangerous from both sides
+   Intelligent strike setups
^   Reads & reacts to tendencies
–    Head often upright
^   Counter/right hand availabilities
–    Body shot vulnerabilities
+   Underrated wrestling ability
+   Active guard game
^   Favors triangle chokes
+   Excellent in transition

Howboy4

Alex Oliveira (13-3-1)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’11” Age: 29 Weight: 170 lbs Reach: 77″
  • Last Fight: KO win / Piotr Hallmann (11-7-15)
  • Camp: TATA Fight Team (Brazil)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Muay Thai
  • Risk Management: Moderate

Supplemental info:
+   Pro Muay Thai experience
+   BJJ Blue Belt
+   9 KO victories
+   9 first round finishes
+   2 Submission wins
+   KO Power
+   Fast starter
+   Manages distance well
^   Moves laterally/angles out
+   Natural slip & roll ability
+/-Heavily reliant on head movement
+   Accurate left hook-right hand
–    Will sometimes throw self out of position
+   Physically strong inside clinch
^   Favors body lock takedowns
+   Active back taker
–    Lacks technics in transition
–    Struggles from bottom
+   Good chin / never stopped

Summary:

Headlining the main card on FOX Sports 1 is a literal showdown of Cowboys. Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, who was originally slated to fight Tim Means(pulled for USADA violations), will now face Brazil’s Alex “Cowboy” Oliviera. With 3 out of his 4 UFC bouts being on short notice, this should be old hat for Alex Oliveira. Cerrone is no stranger to fighting last minute stand-ins either, and is looking to get back on the horse after coming up short in his recent title attempt.

As familiar as the MMA mainstream is with Cowboy Cerrone, the charismatic Cowboy Oliveira’s 2015 run has made him appear on the radar of many. From his fan friendly style to his unmistakable smile, there is a lot to like about the former bull rider. Although knockout power and aggression often speak louder than technique, it is the quiet traits of Alex that are most impressive. Primarily his ability to deceptively dictate the striking range, as the Brazilian will utilize his length & lateral movement to set up attack angles. Even though his arsenal is borderline basic(favoring left hook-right hand/uppercut combinations), Oliveira displays instinctive head movement off entries and in between punches. This style has kept him above water thus far in his career, but he won’t be carrying his usual advantages into this gun fight.

Similar in size, Donald will also be a big step up in skill for Oliveira. Despite a 4-inch reach advantage for Alex, I feel Cerrone’s kicking game will give him an edge in weapons range. With low hands and little kick offerings of his own, Oliveira will be relying on his footwork should he not show adjustments in this fight. In particular, I feel the way in which Alex applies head movement may cost him when exchanging with Donald. Showing a natural ability to slip punches or roll underneath, Oliveira does so with his head largely unprotected. This type of movement will make Alex available for knees & head kicks, which is troubling when you consider his opponent’s strengths.

From dangerously disguised head kicks to accurately intercepting his opposition with knees, Cerrone’s ability to read openings should give him the edge standing. Alex could try and disrupt Cerrone’s striking rhythm by implementing his strong clinch game against the fence. Although showing improvements in this area of his game, Oliveira still may lack the proper takedown techniques to contest with Cerrone. Wielding a highly underrated wrestling game himself, I feel Donald can negate any “plan B” for Alex or even employ his own. If Oliveira is successful in grounding Cerrone, he may get more than he bargained for given Donald’s notorious guard game.

Alex’s best chances in this fight will certainly be in the opening frame. With Donald being suspect to slow starts, Oliveira’s quick & aggressive establishments could pay off early if he pours it on with a heavy hand. His right hand, in particular, will serve him best given Cerrone’s often upright head position. Though Donald’s body vulnerabilities have shown to be more apparent, Alex’s attack arsenal seems completely devoid of any body shots. It is hard not to be a fan of Cowboy Oliveira, but unless he makes big style adjustments he could find himself out-gunned here. I do however recommend caution as the off-paper intangibles make this shoot out a lot closer than it appears.

Official Pick: Cerrone – Decision

Brunson2

Derek Brunson (14-3)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’1″ Age: 32 Weight: 185 lbs Reach: 78″
  • Last Fight: TKO win / Sam Alvey (8-8-15)
  • Camp: Jackson-Wink MMA (New Mexico)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Southpaw / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Moderate

Supplemental info:
+   3x Div.2 All-American Wrestler
+   BJJ Blue Belt
+   7 KO victories
+   10 first round finishes
+   3 Submission wins
+   KO power
+   Good power double takedown
+   Strong pressure against fence
^   Takedowns & strikes off the break
+   Solid top/positional control
^   Consistent pressure & strikes
+   Manages distance well
+   Subtle shuffle step entries
^   Closes distance & sets up strikes
+   Deadly left head kick

Roan3

Roan Carneiro (20-9)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’11” Age: 37 Weight: 185 lbs Reach: 75″
  • Last Fight: Submission win / Mark Munoz (2-28-15)
  • Camp: American Top Team (Atlanta)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Muay Thai
  • Risk Management: Good

Supplemental info:
+   Regional MMA Titles
+   Multiple Grappling Accolades
+   BJJ Black Belt
+   9 first round finishes
+   3 KO victories
+   9 Submission wins
+   Strong inside clinch
^   Sticky body lock controls
+   Excellent transitional grappler
^   Active & technical back taker
+   Underrated wrestling ability
^   Div. 1 in Brazil
+   Has not been taken down in 5 yrs.
+   Solid striking fundamentals
^   Good defensive technics

Summary:

Pittsburgh’s co-main event features a battle of Top 15 middleweights as Derek Brunson takes on Roan Carneiro. Making a quiet but stern ascension, Brunson has been fighting his way up the Zuffa ranks for quite some time. He will now face one of his most experienced opponents in the veteran Carneiro. With a seemingly late career resurgence at 37 years old, Roan has shown an improved grasp and execution of his overall game. Needless to say, both men will be looking to crack the Top 10 and mainstream audiences radar with a win here.

Carrying more weapons on the feet, I give a slight edge to Brunson in the stand up. Although he wields heavy hands & kicks, it’s his ability to close the distance that is most impressive. Using his own amalgamation of a Thai March & “shuffle-step”, Derek will deceptively move forward and set up strikes. Feinting and fakes will be a must against the technically and defensively sound Carneiro. Rarely throwing himself out of position, Roan displays basic but effective offense. His counter right hand, in particular, could be effective if Derek gets careless. Brunson should have the edge in firepower but his aggression sometimes leads him out of position.

With both fighters durability and styles, I expect much of this fight to take place in close quarters. Given that, neither man has succeeded a takedown in over five years, the clinch battle should be a key factor in this fight. Since both men are largely “top players”, I believe whoever scores a takedown should have an advantage. Although Derek’s athleticism & skill may make him harder to hold down, he will need to be very cautious if put in a position where he needs to stand. Like many wrestlers, their get-up methods are habitually based on turtling out to stand.

Despite being a very effective escape in MMA, it is also a risky one in that it will briefly open the back to be taken. These openings can be devastating against a back-take specialist like Carneiro, who displayed this exact scenario in his last bout with Mark Munoz. However, Brunson demonstrates a solid positional and defensive game that should keep him above water. I am a huge fan of late-career resurgences, and would love to see Roan get the win here. But it is hard to go against the fight-to-fight improvements of Derek and the quality of opposition he has faced. Although he is a justified favorite, I feel this fight is a lot closer than the odds have it. Proceed with caution.

Official Pick: Brunson – Decision

Cody2

Cody Garbrandt (7-0)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’6″ Age: 24 Weight: 135 lbs Reach: 65.5″
  • Last Fight: Dec win / Enrique Briones (7-11-15)
  • Camp: Team Alpha Male (Sacramento, CA)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   Wrestling Titles & Accolades
+   32-1 as an Amateur Boxer
+   6 KO victories
+   4 first round finishes
+   KO Power
+   Accurate check hook
+   Deadly right hand
^   Counters / Intercepts
+   Underrated kicks
+   Fast hand speed & footwork
+   Explosive double-leg takedown
+   Excellent scramble ability
^   Gets back to feet
+/-Willingness to brawl
^   Engages emotionally

Augusto1

Augusto Mendes(5-0)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’6″ Age: 32 Weight: 135 lbs Reach: 66.5″
  • Last Fight: Sub win / Donald Williams (2-17-15)
  • Camp: MMA Lab (Arizona)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthdox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   BJJ World Champion
+   Black Belt BJJ
+   1 TKO victory
+   2 first round finishes
+   4 Submission wins
+   Excellent ground control
^   Solid submission set ups
+   Shows good takedowns
+   Displays competent striking
+   Hard right body kicks
–    Left hand slightly low
–    Head upright in exchanges
–    Fighting on 7 days notice

Summary:

With John Lineker stepping out due to illness, Cody Garbrandt will now face the undefeated Augusto Mendes. The MMA Lab once again saves the day with it’s short notice stable, as Mendes will certainly have his work cut out for him in fighting Cody “No Love“. Seeming undeterred from this new challenge, the confident Team Alpha Male prospect will look to use this stage to make a statement.

Aside from the seven-day notice, I feel the standing exchanges will present the most problems for Mendes. Despite competing at Bantamweight, Augusto shows a more plotting approach that could play into the hands of Garbrandt. Possessing excellent foot speed & movement, Cody’s footwork should dictate the angles and overall terms of offense. Mendes also shows to keep his left-hand low with his head upright in exchanges. I feel this will make him wide open for Garbrandt’s deadly right-hand.

Augusto looks to have strong kicks standing, but I suspect those will only lead to takedown and counter opportunities. Though I am sure Mendes would not mind making this a ground fight, I doubt Cody’s wrestling will allow him much say. With extended mat time not looking to be on the menu, Augusto’s best chances to catch Garbrandt will likely be in transition. But with Cody training with some of the best transitional finishers in MMA, it’s difficult to see things materializing for the Brazilian here.

Official Pick: Garbrandt – Inside the distance

Dennis3

Dennis Bermudez (14-5)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’6″ Age: 29 Weight: 145 lbs Reach: 66″
  • Last Fight: TKO loss / Jeremy Stephens (7-11-15)
  • Camp: Long Island MMA (NY)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   TUF 14 Finalist
+   NCAA Div. 1 All-American
+   4 KO victories
+   4 first round finishes
+   4 Submission wins
+   Consistent pace & pressure
^   Athletic / well conditioned
+   Good fundamental footwork
+   Hard leg kicks & knees
+/-Aggressive entries
+   Excellent takedown defense
^   Solid balance & base
+   Strong inside clinch
+   Great scrambling & positional awareness

Kawajiri2

Tatsuya Kawajiri (35-8-2)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’7″ Age: 37 Weight: 145 lbs Reach: 69″
  • Last Fight: Decision win / Jason Knight (12-11-15)
  • Camp: T-Blood (Japan)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Moderate

Supplemental info:
+   Shooto Lightweight Title
+   Shooto Rookie of the Year
+   12 KO victories
+   16 first round finishes
+   10 Submission wins
+   Heavy hands
+   Will switch stances
^   Kicks & shots from southpaw
+   Manages distance well
–    Wild / low-handed entries
+   Strong pressure against cage
^   Favors double-leg takedowns
+   Excellent top game
^   Suffocating head & shoulder pressure

Summary:

In a fun featherweight matchup, Dennis Bermudez looks to get back on track against the crafty Tatsuya Kawajiri. Despite being the veteran fighter, Kawajiri will be the one carrying a win streak into the octagon. Getting caught by two of the division’s best, Bermudez will surely be setting his sights on another winning streak.

Starting off on the feet, is where I feel the New York native will have his biggest advantage. Demonstrating technically aggressive footwork, Bermudez’ consistent pressure may give fits to Kawajiri and possibly force bad shots. When not pressuring for the takedown, Tatsuya will shuffle along the outside switching his stance. This distance disruption will usually buy him enough time to engage. From southpaw, he offers decent enough kicks and takedown entries. However, he will often fancy ineffective spinning back-fists that may cost him against Bermudez.

Wielding an excellent reactive-shot of his own, Dennis packs an accurate counter right hand that could find it’s home should Tatsuya get wild. With that said, Dennis has also shown susceptibilities to right hands. Carrying his left hand slightly low and coming in aggressive is how Bermudez was caught in his last two fights. Although Kawajiri has the skills to tangibly time Dennis, I suspect the Japanese fighter to continue his trend of offensive wrestling. Suffocating his opposition into the cage or onto the mat, Tatsuya has been able to dominate most at featherweight with strength and fundamental positioning.

Where the rubber may fail to hit the road is that he is facing a better wrestler with superior athleticism & conditioning. With an active clinch game of his own, the key factor for Bermudez will be his ability to out-scramble Kawajiri. I have always been a big fan of Kawajiri’s role in Japanese MMA, but with Bermudez holding the best takedown defense in UFC featherweight history(92%), it’s hard to see Tatsuya gaining his necessary momentum here.

Official Pick: Bermudez – Decision

Riggs4

Joe Riggs (41-16)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’0″ Age: 33 Weight: 185 lbs Reach: 71.5″
  • Last Fight: DQ win / Ron Stallings (9-5-15)
  • Camp: MMA Lab (Arizona)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Southpaw / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Moderate

Supplemental info:
+   Former WEC Middleweight Champ
+   Strikeforce Interim WW Title
+   Brown Belt BJJ
+   29 KO victories
+   27 first round finishes
+   7 Submission wins
+   KO Power
+   Dangerous left hand
+   Crafty check right hook
+   Strong in clinch
^   Favors body lock takedowns
+   Solid transitional grappler
^   Underrated back taker
+   Hard elbows / ground strikes
–    Shown cut & injury vulnerabilities
–    Reluctant kick defense

Camozzi2

Chris Camozzi (22-10)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’3″ Age: 29 Weight: 185 lbs Reach: 75.5″
  • Last Fight: Decision win / Tom Watson (8-8-15)
  • Camp: Factory X Muay Thai (Denver, CO)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Southpaw / Muay Thai
  • Risk Management: Moderate

Supplemental info:
+   TUF 11 Alum
+   Multiple Regional MMA Titles
+   Brown Belt BJJ
+   7 KO victories
+   7 first round finishes
+   6 Submission wins
+   Accurate distance striker
^   2nd most strikes in UFC MW history
+   Excellent leg kicks
^   Most landed in UFC MW history
+   Active long jab
+   Underrated Guillotine
+   Improved takedown defense
^   Good under-hook awareness
–    Struggles when pressure fought
+   Solid chin / never stopped

Summary:

In a middleweight scrap of two UFC veterans, Joe Riggs will take on Chris Camozzi. With both men having a knack for making fights close, I can understand if this match is hard to get a beat on. Starting off on the feet, I feel Camozzi will have an inherent advantage in the southpaw vs southpaw matchup. From an active long jab, to hard leg kicks, Camozzi’s overall arsenal should translate effectively.

Joe Riggs has made strides in his striking in regards to his head/offensive movement. However, he shows a reluctance to checking and defending leg kicks. This could be very troublesome considering Chris has landed the most leg kicks in UFC middleweight history. I feel Camozzi’s length and distance striking will give Joe fits should he not find his way inside.

Despite both men holding Brown Belts in Jiu-Jitsu, I feel Riggs should be the more technically skilled MMA grappler. Riggs has a very underrated transition game and ability to take backs in scrambles, but it’s floating on top delivering elbows where Joe makes his money. I feel that taking this fight to the ground will be Riggs strongest recipe for success. However, Joe favors his takedowns from the clinch, which is a place where Camozzi is strong.

Demonstrating solid under-hook awareness, Chris has steadily improved his takedown defense over the years. This has also helped Camozzi incorporate offense into his clinch via hard knees & elbows. Although Riggs is more than capable of taking Chris to the ground, I feel Camozzi should be able to shut a large amount of attempts down. I hate to come off as discounting Joe Riggs as he is a true veteran of the sport. But after repeated injuries, cuts, and mental lulls, it’s hard to pick him confidently here.

Official Pick: Camozzi – Inside the distance

Krause2

James Krause (22-7)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’2″ Age: 29 Weight: 155 lbs Reach: 75″
  • Last Fight: Sub win / Daron Cruickshank (7-25-15)
  • Camp: Glory MMA & Fitness (Missouri)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Moderate

Supplemental info:
+   TUF 15 Alum
+   Amateur MMA Titles
+   Brown Belt BJJ
+   6 KO victories
+   16 first round finishes
+   14 Submission wins
+   Accurate long jab
+   Deceptive front & head kicks
+   Will switch stances
^   Hard kicks from southpaw
+   Sneaky speed changes
–    Struggles with volume
–    Shown body shot availabilities
+   Dangerous submission game
^   Competent from all positions
+/-5/26 in takedowns (last 8 fights)

Shane1

Shane Campbell (12-3)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’0″ Age: 28 Weight: 155 lbs Reach: 71″
  • Last Fight: Dec win / Elias Silverio (8-23-15)
  • Camp: Toshido MMA (Canada)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Muay Thai
  • Risk Management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+   North American Muay Thai Title
+   Kickboxing Accolades
+   Purple Belt BJJ
+   5 KO victories
+   3 first round finishes
+   2 Submission wins
+   KO power / heavy kicks
+   Aggressive pace & pressure
+   Will switch stances
^   Deadly liver kicks from southpaw
+   Devastating leg kicks
+   Improved wrestling ability
^   Good takedown defense
+   Active transition & submission game
+/-Will fight from bottom
+/-Willingness to exchange

Summary:

Kicking off the main card on FOX Sports 1 the UFC will once again turn to it’s Lightweight division as James Krause battles Shane Campbell. Having mixed showings since his arrival, Krause will be looking to score his first win streak in the organization. A well-rounded & exciting fighter, James is the slightly favored and more experienced on paper. However, the Canadian kickboxer may be much more live than the numbers show.

Known primarily for his dangerous striking, Shane Campbell possesses an underrated submission & wrestling game. Working with David Lee at Toshido MMA, Shane has steadily been rounding out these aspects of his game. In watching his previous fights, it’s clear that Campbell has been conditioned to counter wrestle. With few opponents willing to strike for extended periods of time, most of Shane’s matches involve him thwarting grappling efforts.

With Krause not possessing the most aggressive nor effective takedown game(25% UFC success rate), I expect most of this fight to contest and likely be decided on the feet. However, I do feel James carries a slight advantage in his overall ground game. Although Shane displays solid submission defense, he will have to mind his position in scrambles given Krause’s back taking ability. That said, it’s standing where I see the scales shifting toward Shane.

Both men are offensively minded strikers who like to use their hands to set up kicks. Carrying a natural reach advantage, James wields a nice long jab that he can use to disrupt Campbell’s aggressiveness. As seen in his fight with John Makdessi, Shane will not shy from a gun fight if engaged. However, James will have to commit to giving & taking as Makdessi did if he means to follow that path.

Often referred to as “tall-guy defense”, both fighters show a natural tendency to keep their head upright and even lead-off movements with it. Although this will keep head kicks in play, I see body kicks being the key factor in this fight. Being hit and hurt to the body in 3 of his last 6 fights, I’m not sure I like Krause’s chances against one of the best body kickers in the game. With uncanny liver accuracy, Campbell only needs the tips of his toes to steal your soul. James is super tough and technically well-rounded but looks to struggle in what Shane carries in spades.

Official Pick: Campbell – Inside the distance

Preliminary Card Predictions

  • Strickland def. Garcia
  • Sarafian def. Bamgbose
  • Webb def. Coy
  • Smith def. Leleco
  • Reneau def. Evans-Smith
  • Murphy def. Faszholz
  • Hamilton def. Abdurakhimov

Recommended Plays

Pieces for your parlay:

-Chris Camozzi
-Cody Garbrandt
-Dennis Bermudez

Props worth looking at:

-Shane Campbell – Inside the distance
-Cody Garbrandt- by KO/TKO
-Dennis Bermudez – by Decision

Fights to avoid:

-Derek Brunson vs Roan Carneiro
-Daniel Sarafian vs Oluwale Bamgbose
-Alex Garcia vs Sean Strickland

Fantasy MMA Picks

High Tier Picks:

-Donald Cerrone
-Cody Garbrandt
-Chris Camozzi

Low Tier Picks:

-Alex Oliveira
-Shane Campbell
-Roan Carneiro

For the complete analysis of future & past UFC events visit MixedMartialAnalyst.com and for future breakdowns & your latest in world-wide MMA news, stay tuned & follow @MMALatestnws MMALatestNews.com

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Fight Announcements

Jacare Souza vs. Kelvin Gastelum Official for UFC 224

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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

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Fighter to Watch

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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