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UFC: Which titles change hands this year?

Derek Bowe

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The UFC World Title carries the stamp as the best fighter in the world at each weight class, being that the UFC is the premier mixed martial arts organization in the world. Eight men’s weight classes, two women’s weight classes cover the course of the organization. Along with winning the belt comes forth even a greater challenge, defending the belt. A feat which theoretically establishes, or validates the champion as far as followers of the sport are concerned.

With three belts already having already been contested in 2015, two of those three have since changed hands, subsequent bouts to challenge for the belt are on the horizon, we take a look at the aptitude for those belts to be worn by new champions or stay with the current holder at the top of their respective divisions.

Demetrious Johnson, the current Flyweight champion of the world looks to defend his belt for a seventh time Saturday, April 25th in Montreal, Québec, Canada against a surging fighter in Kyoji Horiguchi. Horiguchi is a very talented martial artist who possesses a well rounded game, but tends to flourish on the feet. Intense pressure, with knockout power is where Horiguchi overwhelms his opponents. He has the speed and athleticism to match any opponent in the division, with the exception of probably, Demetrious Johnson. Johnson has a skill set which is largely unmatched, not simply in his division, but over the scale of mixed martial arts in its entirety. He is technically sound everywhere, his timing, range management, offensive and defensive submission game, offensive and defensive takedown ability, and those are his technical skills. He is simply faster, and more athletically gifted than any of his counterparts. The unknown is why the sport is so appealing, anything can happen at any time, however in this matchup, it would be hard pressed to imagine it going the way of the challenger Horiguchi.

Chance of a new champion: 10%

Jon Jones is the reigning pound-for-pound king, and rightfully so. His resume boasts the most challenging of threats to his belt, and he has dispatched of all. His most recent defense against the Olympian Daniel Cormier, who many thought was his most dangerous challenger. Insert Anthony Johnson, the fighter who dismantled Alexander Gustafsson. Gustafsson was eying a rematch with Jones after their first bout took the champion into the deepest waters he had been. Anthony Johnson made his way into Gustafsson’s backyard and stole his lunch essentially, eviscerating the Swede within the first round, securing his own shot at the Light Heavyweight strap. Johnson is a terrifying striker with power in both hands and legs, and a strong wrestling base. Of recent Jones has been a chameleon of sorts, beating his opponents at their own strengths. This is a fight where Jones needs to be the Jones of the past, impose his will on Johnson, keep his range and work his superior grappling acumen. Jones has every tool to win this fight, decisively even, however Johnson has the ability to end any man’s night with one carefully placed strike.

Chance of a new champion: 45%

Fighting on the same card as Jones, Memorial weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada is the Middleweight champion, Chris Weidman. Weidman notably defeated former pound-for-pound number one, and arguably the greatest of all time, Anderson Silva. Not once, but twice. Weidman has two title defenses to his credit and has an ever growing set of abilities which he seems to exemplify in each fight. A powerful wrestler with high level jiu jitsu, as well as finishing ability in both hands. Chris Weidman looks every but like a long reigning champion. Vitor Belfort, the old lion who is still every bit as ferocious, if not more, than he has ever been. Alongside his fast and devastating hands, he has added a kicking game which has seen him finish multiple opponents via head kick. Belfort has the striking to end anyone’s night early, yet he also owns a ground game which nearly ended the reign of Jon Jones up at light heavyweight when he seemingly had an armbar locked up for good until the champ willed his way to safety. Belfort has a puncher’s chance in this fight, but that puncher’s chance is no ordinary one, seeing Weidman’s propensity to absorb strikes, it’s a legitimate threat.

Chance of a new champion: 60%

Arguably the most intriguing and anticipated matchup comes in the Featherweight division this upcoming July 11th in Las Vegas, Nevada during UFC International Fight Week. The first of which Reebok officially takes over as the uniform sponsor to the UFC. Defending Featherweight champion Jose Aldo takes on the polarizing mega star Conor McGregor. Aldo has been dominant atop the 145 pound division, and has not looked to slow down any time soon, however his smooth ride on the tracks might be derailed by a supreme talent, a fighter who is able to match Aldo physically and technically. This fight has entertainment written all over it, and that is aside from the apparent bad blood between the two. During their world media tour, multiple times, it nearly became physical. Aldo has been better everywhere than every other challenger, McGregor does not fear the mystique, one cannot help but feel that this is reminiscent of Weidman’s ultimate belief in his triumph over Silva. To speak on their styles, Aldo has a very linear Muay Thai approach to striking, McGregor quite the opposite, as he manages range by cutting off angles with superior footwork, seemingly a linear approach plays right into exactly what Conor desires. Conor McGregor might just be the one to dethrone the current title holder, Aldo.

Chance of a new champion: 75%

Joining Aldo vs McGregor as the Co-main event during fight week, the Welterweights have a go at it to decide the 170 pound title. Robbie Lawler takes on Rory MacDonald. For Robbie Lawler winning the belt was a validation to a whole career which showed promise, yet did not quite live up lofty expectations placed upon him by those in the mixed martial arts world. Lawler has the striking ability like few in that division, as he displayed in his first victory over Rory MacDonald back in 2013. Rory has since secured his rematch with dominant victories over Damian Maia, Tyrone Woodley, and Tarec Saffiedine in that order. With MacDonald, it has been mental for a large part of his approach. He seemed almost not quite there in their last matchup, this time, MacDonald seems to have closed that gap between the two and is poised to execute his technical sound boxing and wrestling ability in this matchup. Lawler has the ability to beat MacDonald, as he has previously done. Although, this may very well be Rory’s time to shine.

Chance of a new champion: 55%

Then there is the women’s Bantamweight title holder, Ronda Rousey. Rousey has defended her title in 2015, yet has another date set, this time with Brazilian Bethe Correia in the challenger’s backyard, taking place August 1st Rio de Janeiro. Rousey has hardly broken a sweat while tossing aside opponents as if they don’t belong in the same Octagon as her. Her recent defense over Cat Zingano, possibly her most impressive, as Cat looked every bit the part to give Rousey a real challenge. Fourteen seconds later it was decided and Rousey still had her belt, her defense coming by way of her signature armbar, secured after a missed flying knee from the challenger and a scramble where she secured it. Correia has gone through all challenges placed in front of her, most notably three of the “Four Horsewomen”, better described as Rousey’s personal friends, and training partners. While Correia has looked impressive over them, actually imagining a scenario where Correia wins this fight is difficult. She uses her pressure with strikes as her main attribute, yet does not have huge one-punch knockout power. She is a blue belt in jiu jitsu, so that likely does not bode well for her on the ground against  Olympian Judoka, Rousey. Paired with the champion’s confident mentality and mental edge over all her opponents, Rousey holds every advantage in this matchup. She likely will not lose her belt.
Chance of a new champion: 5%

Scratched off of UFC 186 was a rematch for the title of the Bantamweight division between 135 pound stars, TJ Dillashaw and Renan Barao. Dillashaw reportedly fractured a rib, the second such setback to this matchup as the first time it was Barao who had to be replaced last minute due to sickness. Dillashaw dominated their first bout from a huge overhand right in the opening minutes, to the fifth round where he ultimately finished the former champion Barao with strikes. Barao did not look like he could keep up with the speedy Dillashaw who danced in and out of range, while landing powerful strikes in the process. Barao needed to make some serious adjustments if he hopes to hold any type of advantages in this rematch. As dominant as the first fight went, a similar result would not be a farfetched prediction.

Chance of a new champion: 35%

Newly crowned champions, Lightweight Rafael Dos Anjos, and Women’s Strawweight Joanna Jedrzejczyk respectively, have yet to be given a date to dance. Potential opponents are Khabib Nurmagomedov to duel with Dos Anjos, and possibly a rematch with Claudia Gadelha for Jedrzejczyk. The first of the new champions, there may potentially be a few more joining them atop the heap. One thing which cannot be dismissed is the appeal of all upcoming title matchups, barring injury, this year is filled with excitement for the world’s best fighters.

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UFC 219: Cyborg vs Holm recap

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In yearly tradition , the UFC hosted a pay per view fight card at the T-Mobile Arena  in Las Vegas once again and for the second year in a row, the card was headlined by two females fighting for the title of the baddest woman on earth. Cristine Cyborg Santos was looking to defend her featherweight title for the first time since capturing the title last summer in a tko victory over Tonya Evinger.  Her opponent would be Holly Holm, the woman who shot into stardom after knocking out Ronda Rousey to become the bantamweight champion in 2015 and was fighting for the featherweight title for the second time after being unsuccessful in a controversial loss to Germaine De Radamie in Brooklyn.

In the co main event, The UFC welcomed one of the most feared lightweights and beloved contender Khabib Nurmagomedov who returned to the cage after a year layoff after failing to make weight earlier this year in a title eliminator with Tony Ferguson . Welcoming Nurmagomedov to the cage was exciting Brazilian striker Edson Barboza who was on a 3 fight win streak after losing to interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson in 2015. The winner would guarantee a title shot for themselves against either Tony Ferguson or the winner of the title unification fight between Conor McGregor and Tony Ferguson if it happens.

The rest of the card had other stories that intrigued the fans with the return of former UFC interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit taking on Neil Magny, Cynthia Carvillo looking to go 5-0 in 2017 with a win over Carla Esparza and an exciting lightweight fight between Marc Diakiese and Daniel Hooker.

 

The Main Event

UFC Women’s Featherweight championship

Christine ” Cyborg” Santos vs Holly ” The Preachers Daughter” Holm

When the UFC announced it’s intentions to start a featherweight division for females in the UFC, a fight between Cris Cyborg and Holly Holm was the most logical fight to start the division. It took almost a year to come into fruition but on Saturday night, we finally had the answer of who would be the most feared female fighter in the world.

The fight started off with Holm tripping Cyborg after a kick and started the clinch game for Holly , who overpowered Cyborg against the cage. A move that would slow down Cyborg’s attacks in the later rounds but this was not the case tonight. Cyborg, who was known as a devastating berserker like striker in her earlier has become a more patient striker under the guidance of Jason Parillo. Cyborg caught Holly with a variation of counter strikes throughout the fight which swelled Holm’s left eye. Holm had her moments in the fight and gave Cyborg her toughest fight to date.

As we moved into the later rounds, the counter strikes were landing more often for Cyborg and started to dictate to fight. The final bell rang and although many scores were thrown around on twitter all in favor for Cyborg. Cris Cyborg won a unanimous decision with one judge scoring the fight 49-46 which had Cyborg winning four rounds and the other two judges scoring the fight a lot closer 48-47.

What’s next for Cyborg? She asked for Meagan Anderson in Australia , the last Invicta featherweight champion who has yet to make her debut for UFC after signing last summer. With the card in 6 weeks, its unlikely she will get her wish but Cyborg vs Anderson should be next in the shallow and confusing 145 division for females.

 

The Co-main event

Khabib ” The Eagle ” Nurmagomedov vs Edson Barboza

A fight that in many people’s eyes was the true main event with fan favorite Khabib Nurmagomedov putting his unbeaten 24 fight win streak on the line against fellow top contender Edson Barboza.

What can you say about Nurmagomedov that hasn’t been said already. He was nothing short of perfection.

Implementing his game early, Nurmagomedov took the fight to the ground early in round 1 after failing on the first attempted takedown on Barboza. Once the takedown was secured, the Russian posture to his feet and landed devastating ground and pound on Barboza. It took a minute to see Barboza would be in for a rough night as by the sound of the bell ending for the first round, Barboza was bloodied up and looked defeated.

The second round was even more devastating when Khabib had Barboza on the ground for the entire round. The commentators in awe of Khabib’s abilities began to sound concerned that Barboza took too much damage as no matter who much punishment Nurmagomedov would deliver to Barboza, Barboza continued to be in the fight and looked for the knockout whenever the fight would go back to standing which ultimately ended in the brazilian being taken down again.

Barboza had a chance to end the fight in the third when he landed a head kick on Nurmagomedov who showed a granite chin and walked through the shot like T-1000.

The fight went to the judges and the judges scored the fight in favor of Khabib Nurmagomedov ( 30- 25, 30-25,30-4) which just highlights the one-sided victory for the Russian who moves to 25-0 and will likely take on Tony Ferguson next year.

The rest of the card

Although not the most exciting run of fights in the lead up to the main and co main. The main card hosted the return of Carlos Condit who after returning to the cage following a 16 month hiatus only to suffer a decision loss to an impressive Neil Magny who used his wrestling to take down the former champ on numerous occasions.

Speaking of former champs, former strawweight champion Carla Esparza scored a big win beating undefeated Cynthia Carvillo, who impressed in round 1 before Esparza turned the tides and finished the fight with a flurry of strikes to secure the victory.

Daniel Hooker used the ” McKenzietine” guillotine choke to submit the Brit Marc Diakiese in the third round after winning the first two rounds with his ground game. In what many anticipated to be a stand up war, the fight was quite the opposite and Hooker sinked in the choke after an attempted takedown by Diakiese.

Preliminary cards

We won’t be ringing in the new year celebrating the prelims this year as every fight on the FS1 portion of the card went to a decision.

Michal Oleksiejczuk got the biggest underdog win on the night upsetting Khalil Rountree Jr in a decision in which both fighters gassed early after Rountree held on the a guillotine which gassed the American when he failed to get the submission. The other decision victories went to Myles Jury looking impressive at featherweight against Rick Glenn and  Matheus Nicolau who knocked down Louis Smolka three times in the first round to win a one-sided decision.

Omari Ahkmedov and Marvin Vettori went to a majority draw in what seemed like the longest fight in history and finally Tim Elliot scored a submission victory over Mark  De La Rosa and dedicated the victory to the late great Robert Follis who sadly took his own life this month.

Overall UFC 219 wasn’t a great card but a masterclass by Khabib Nurmagomedov was worth every penny.

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Forget Cormier vs. Jones – Cyborg vs. Megan Anderson Should Headline UFC 214

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Cris Cyborg UFC

Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones II is all but confirmed for UFC 214 in Anaheim, California on July 29. Despite the magnitude of the light-heavyweight championship rematch, the UFC would do well to look elsewhere for their UFC 214 main event — namely in the direction of Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino and Megan Anderson.

The UFC’s schedule for the first half of 2017 is largely booked as of now. Fight announcements for July are coming in daily but there is still no clue as to who might headline UFC 213, the promotion’s International Fight Week pay-per-view offering. Jon Jones is expected to make his long-awaited return in July however not for 213.

UFC President Dana White has stated that Jones will not be eligible to compete during International Fight Week due to his suspension, making UFC 214 in late July the most likely option. White also insisted that Jones cannot be trusted to headline an event due to his past transgressions.

If White holds true to his word it’ll be a bizarre and unfortunate set of circumstances to promote the most important rematch in the history of the UFC. Many titleholders are booked for the moment, so the Cormier vs. Jones rerun would seem the most logical choice. However, as has been the norm in the past two years of UFC promotion an interim title can be slapped on to any semi-interesting match.

Countless arguments are made about how interim titles are senseless and harmful to the actual titleholder but those arguments although valid, are not much more than gripes.

The absence of sanctioning bodies in mixed martial arts are a contentious point of debate in the MMA community and combat sports in general but sanctioning bodies in regard to titles are almost always a nuisance in the world of boxing.

Any educated fan knows who the real champion is. Even in the rare instance where the interim titleholder is held in higher regard or more popular than the actual champion as was the case with Conor McGregor and Jose Aldo, nothing was done to diminish the value of the featherweight belt.

The notion that a title fight must headline a card may be antiquated but it seems that is the manner that the UFC will continue to handle business for the foreseeable future. Five rounds are seldom a negative in high-level MMA and an interim belt would be most justified if a match is made between former Invicta featherweight champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino and current champion Megan Anderson.

If Cormier vs. Jones will play second fiddle to another fight, an interim featherweight title fight between “Cyborg” and Anderson would be a sensible headliner for UFC 214. Given the lack of options and the current featherweight champion’s fighting future in doubt, the fight would merit its headlining spot.

Jones in a co-headliner may seem strange business wise. It is rare for Dana White to put morale ahead of dollar signs but if it is the case it may be for the better. An alpha male like Jones doesn’t want to be second to anyone. The very fact that the marquee will say Cormier vs. Jones instead of Jones vs. Cormier most likely rankles with the superstar.

Yet the promotion of Jones is more intriguing now than it ever has been. Jones reportedly pulled in right under 500,000 buys for UFC 197. Not too shabby for a 15-month layoff with a lukewarm undercard.

Moreover, a fight with the magnitude of Cormier Vs. Jones will be heavily promoted under any circumstance. ESPN, TMZ, Deadspin, will all be pulled towards covering the event, so the co-main event placing may not be that big of a deal. The benefits that the Cormier/Jones rematch can provide for the women’s featherweight division are substantial.

..that the fight itself was between a 135 pounder who had lost her last two and a fringe top 10 bantamweight didn’t make matters any better.

UFC 208 was the official introduction of the featherweight division in the Ultimate Fighting Championship and it wasn’t loved by many spectators. Germaine de Randamie outpointed Holly Holm in a 25-minute striking affair.

Technically, the fight was brilliant but provided not a single awe-inspiring moment. The fact that there was controversy regarding some illegal blows, a contested decision, and that the fight itself was between a 135 pounder who had lost her last two and a fringe top 10 bantamweight didn’t make matters any better.

The great thing about a Cyborg/Anderson fight is that both women really want the fight and also happen to be great kickboxers that have genuine horsepower. “Cyborg” trounced Leslie Smith in less than a round and utterly pummeled Lina Lansberg in just over five minutes. Anderson is young and still relatively raw but has some exceptional power at featherweight.

The desire to improve is also not lost on the talented Aussie. Her Invicta FC debut was an embarrassingly one-sided loss to notorious overachieving veteran Cindy Dandois.

Grappling is an aspect of MMA that Anderson hasn’t fully grasped as of yet but is miles ahead of where she was in 2015. Anderson’s 2016 was outstanding with three knockouts in a row and she showed her artistic side as she used Charmaine Tweet’s blood to splatter the canvas red like a deranged college activist student.

There was a USADA flagging for “Cyborg” after her last win that was retroactively cleared. Unfortunate and badly timed, it ended up rekindling an old hatred that some in the MMA community have had for the Brazilian since her first positive test in 2011.

“Cyborg” is a respectful competitor and her fighting style is barbaric but her past with PEDs rubs some fans the wrong way, making her a lightning rod for controversy. More often than not, controversy sells.

In the skills and experience department “Cyborg” will hold a distinct advantage, however, Anderson is not lacking in confidence and may be the first fighter that can match “Cyborg’s” power. Anderson also happens to be a fan favourite in Invicta and isn’t shy about trash talking when the opportunity calls for it.

Justino vs. Anderson would not only be a well-matched and entertaining scrap, it would possess something many women’s MMA fights are too commonly missing, intrigue.

Ronda Rousey is unlikely to come back and that leaves the UFC looking for ways to create a new female star. This bout would seem like the most probable one to do that.

Rousey had a great home backing in Southern California from early on in her career and it might be time for “Cyborg” to take some of those fans as she has been a SoCal native for years. Anaheim is only a few miles from “Cyborg’s” hometown of Huntington Beach and it shares an ocean with The Land Down Under.

If a sacrifice is made by the UFC to prove a point, then let it be one that carries some positive possibilities for other athletes who are hungry and deserving of the spotlight. Step aside Jones, and let the ladies handle this one.

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Reports: Vitor Belfort to step in against Anderson Silva at UFC 212

Matthew Wells

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UFC 212 may have a new co-main event featuring two legends from Brazil.

Ag.Fight has reported Vitor Belfort has offered to fill in for Kelvin Gastelum to face Anderson Silva at UFC 212 in Rio on June 3.

Gastelum was originally scheduled to face Silva, but due to a potential USADA anti-doping violation which saw Gastelum flagged for marijuana metabolites stemming from an in-competition sample collected on March 11, 2017, a provisional suspension was levied and he was removed from the card.

Silva, who celebrates his 42nd birthday on April 14, will remain on the UFC 212 card which is headlined by a featherweight title fight between Max Holloway and Jose Aldo. Silva found his way back into the win column at UFC 208 where he won a unanimous decision over Derek Brunson, notching the 34th professional victory for the former UFC Middleweight Champion. The win over Brunson is the first official victory on Silva’s record since UFC 153 over Stephan Bonnar since the win over Nick Diaz at UFC 183 has since been overturned to a No Contest.

Due to Gastelum’s USADA issues, we may have a rematch of a title bout that took place at UFC 126 that saw Silva defend his middleweight strap against Belfort in devastating fashion.

Belfort, who turned 40 on April 1, has one more fight remaining on his UFC contract and expressed his desires to fulfill his contract after suffering a loss in his last outing to the aforementioned Gastelum at UFC Fight Night 106 in March. The loss was the third straight TKO loss for the former champion, whose last win came over Dan Henderson at UFC Fight Night 77 in November 2015. Belfort always wants the biggest fight available, and name-wise, they don’t come much bigger than Anderson Silva.

While both men have had their bumps in the road in the recent final chapters of their careers, fighting on their home soil in Brazil is something both men always look forward to.

UFC 212 takes place at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janerio, Brazil on June 3, 2017.

Confirmed bouts include:

  • Jose Aldo vs. Max Holloway
  • Claudia Gadelha vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz
  • Antonio Carlos Junior vs. Eric Spicely
  • Johnny Eduardo vs. Matthew Lopez
  • Marco Antonio Beltran vs. Delveson Alcantra
  • Yancy Medeiros vs. Erick Silva
  • Paulo Henrique Costa vs. Oluwale Bamgbose
  • Leonardo Santos vs. Olivier Aubin-Mercier
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