This Saturday, the UFC returns to Brazil in the from of UFC Fight Night 77. The event will be the first in Brazil since that star-studded night in August when Ronda Rousey defended her belt against Bethe Correia.
Here’s the schedule and lineup for Saturday’s event.
Early Prelims- UFC Fight Pass (6:30 PM EST/ 3:30 PST/ 11:30 BST)
Flyweight: Bruno Rodrigues vs. Matteus Nicolau Pereira
Bantamweight: Pedro Munhoz vs. Jimmie Rivera
Welterweight: Viscardi Andrade vs. Gasan Umalatov
Preliminary Card- Fox Sports 1 (8 PM EST/ 5 PM PST/ 1 AM on 11/8 BST)
Featherweight: Kevin Souza vs. Chas Skelly
Featherweight: Clay Guida vs. Thiago Tavares
Lightweight: Yan Cabral vs. Johnny Case
Lightweight: Gleison Tibau vs. Abel Trujillo
Main Card- Fox Sports 1 (10 PM EST/ 7 PM PST/ 3 AM on 11/8 BST)
Light Heavyweight: Fabio Maldonado vs. Corey Anderson
Two Light Heavyweights start the main card when Fabio Maldonado (22-8 MMA; 5-5 UFC)* and Corey Anderson (6-1; 3-1) take the Octagon. The original matchup was scheduled for Maldonado against Tom Lawlor, but Lawlor was forced out with an injury and replaced by Anderson last minute.
Maldonado is a winner of four of his last six. He went on a three fight win streak in 2013 that saw him earn decision wins over Roger Hollett, Joey Beltran and Gian Villante. His last three have not been as successful as he was TKO’d by Stipe Miocic at Heavyweight, then beat Hans Stringer by TKO. His last fight saw a decision loss to Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson at UFC 186 in Montreal. Maldonado is first in many striking categories among active Light Heavyweights including Significant Strikes Landed **(622), Significant Strike Accuracy (60.9 %), Significant Strikes Lander per Minute (SLpM) (5.93) and Total Strikes Landed (946).
Anderson is The Ultimate Fighter Season 19 Light Heavyweight winner. He beat Matt Van Buren in 61 seconds in the finale. After that, he has gone 2-1 since then with decision wins over Justin Jones and Jan Blachowicz. His lone UFC loss came to Gian Villante at UFC on Fox 15 in a Fight of the Night. He last fought at UFC 191 in his victory over Blachowicz. ‘Beastin 25/8’ has had some impressive stats over his time in the UFC with his 2.65 Significant Strikes Absorbed per Minute (SApM) and a Striking Differential of +3.18. His wrestling in MMA has done him well with 4.30 Takedowns per 15 min. and 56% Takedown Accuracy.
Lightweight: Gilbert Burns vs. Rashid Magomedov
Lightweights Gilbert Burns (10-0; 3-0) and Rashid Magomedov (19-1; 3-0) will face off in the second bout. The two haven’t tasted defeat since 2010.
Burns is a former Jiu-Jitsu world champion. He won gold in 2010, 2011 and 2013. He transitioned into MMA in 2012 where he rattled off four wins in his first year. Since joining the UFC, he is undefeated with two Armbar Performance of the Night bonuses. His last fight was closely contested between him and Alex Oliveira. The fight took to the ground in the third round and Burns outclassed ‘Cowboy’ with an Armbar finish. His grappling prowess is shown in his 100% Takedown Defense (TDD) and 1.8 Submission Attempts per 15 min.
Magomedov is one of many in the Dagestan uprising in MMA. Along with guys like Khabib Nurmagomedov, Rustam Khabilov and Ruslan Magomedov, the Lightweight has helped bring this small portion of Russia into MMA prominence over the last five years. He is unbeaten in his last 11 fights, the last three in the UFC. He has decision wins over Tony Martin and Rodrigo Damm to go along with a TKO win over Elias Silverio. Magomedov is a better striker than his opponent with 4.45 SLpM and only 2.47 SApM, good for a +1.98 Striking Differential.
Lightweight: Alex Oliveria vs. Piotr Hamilton
In another Lightweight bout, the Brazilian Alex Oliveira (12-2-1, 1 NC; 2-1) faces Piotr Hallman (15-4; 2-3). Both last saw action in June before this event.
Oliveira goes back home to fight in Brazil for the 17th time in his career (all but one fight). He recorded a submission victory over KJ Noons in his last fight in his home country with a first round Rear-Naked Choke. His last fight was in June where he picked up a decision win over Joe Merritt at UFC Fight Night 70. He will fight for the fifth time in 2015, four of which will be in the UFC. His striking has yet to come through for him, but he is a grappler by trade. He comes in with 3.74 Takedowns per 15 min. and 1.4 Submissions per 15 min.
Hallman is fighting in Brazil for the third time. His last Brazil appearance ended in a Split-Decision loss to Gleison Tibau. The former CG Lightweight champion is just 1-3 in his last four fights. He has two post-fight bonuses with a Submission of the Night over Francisco Trinaldo at UFC Fight Night 28 and a Performance of the Night over Yves Edwards. The Poland native has turned himself into an all-around fighter with 4.10 SLpM, 58% Striking Defense, 2.76 Takedowns per 15 min. and 66% TDD.
Bantamweight: Thomas Almeida vs. Anthony Birchak
Bantamweights Thomas Almeida (20-0; 3-0) and Anthony Birchak (12-2; 1-1) are right in the middle of the card in this exciting fight.
Almeida is a rising star in the Bantamweight division. He has started his MMA career with 20 straight wins with all but one coming by finish. He has a performance bonus in all of his UFC fights with two Performance of the Night and a Fight of the Night. His last fight ended with a Knockout of the Year candidate when he hit a flying knee against Brad Pickett at UFC 189. The young Brazilian has taken the UFC by storm from his first fight. He comes in with 7.06 SLpM and 64% Striking Defense.
Birchak is a former MFC competitor. In just under three minutes, Birchak has put together two UFC fights. He made his debut at UFC on Fox 13 where he was submitted by a heel hook. ‘El Toro’ came back in his next and finished Joe Soto in just over a minute. Birchak has accumulated 20 Significant Strikes, while only being hit by one, in his 2:41 of cage time.
Light Heavyweight: Glover Teixeira vs. Patrick Cummins
The co-main event comes in the Light Heavyweight division as former title challenger Glover Teixeira (23-4; 6-2) and former barista Patrick Cummins (8-2; 4-2).
Teixeira last fought in the main event slot at UFC Fight Night 73. This will be his fifth straight main/co-main event. He beat Ovince St. Preux by Rear-Naked Choke in the third round in Nashville, his first win in his last three tries. After winning his 20th straight fight, fifth in the UFC, Teixeira was rewarded with a title shot at then Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones. He would lose the bout by decision and his next fight to Phil Davis as well. The Brazilian has 20 career finishes, including an Arm-Triangle choke in his UFC debut against Kyle Kingsbury.
Teixeira has evolved his game into more of an all-around style with 4.13 SLpM, 57% Striking Defense, 2.81 Takedowns per 15 min. and 51% Takedown Accuracy.
Cummins is a former collegiate wrestler at Penn State. He transitioned to MMA in 2010 and went 4-0 in almost four years of fighting. He was brought into the UFC when a former Olympic faux Daniel Cormier needed an opponent for UFC 170. Cummins was beaten in just over a minute, but would win his next three fights to show that he belonged with the company. In his last fight at UFC 190, him and ‘Feijao’ would have a very entertaining fight ending with a third round TKO. Cummins has used his wrestling in MMA quite well as he boasts 7.16 Takedowns per 15 min. and 52% Accuracy.
Middleweight: Vitor Belfort vs. Dan Henderson
The main event is a rubber match between Vitor Belfort (24-11; 13-7) and Dan Henderson (31-13; 8-7). The first match ended with Henderson the victor while in Pride with the second happening just two years ago with Belfort stopping Henderson with a head kick.
Belfort last fought for the Middleweight belt at UFC 187. That was his fifth UFC title fight, with him being the victor in just one. Belfort has had a long, illustrious career filled with ups and downs. There is no denying his talent and legend status though, the things that get him main events. Before his loss to Chris Weidman in May, Belfort was on a three-fight KO streak. He beat Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold and Dan Henderson. Belfort is most known for his power instead and speed, but he doesn’t land a ton of strikes. He comes in with 1.57 SLpM and 2.37 SApM to go along with his 60% Takedown Accuracy.
Henderson is another legend of the sport. He is the former Pride Welterweight and Middleweight champion along with the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight champion. Has career wins over legends of the sport like Wanderlei Silva, Fedor Emelianenko, Vitor Belfort, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Rich Franklin. His legendary MMA career has come with a new name for his signature overhand right, the ‘H-Bomb’. ‘Hendo’ doesn’t land often, much like his counterpart, but he does land the big shot.
*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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