By Dave Madden @DMaddenMMA
On January 23, 2016, West Coast Fighting (WFC) took role for its first honors class of MMA. Although bubbles of hope popped in the absence of Dana White, President of the UFC, the fans and fighters in attendance of WFC 16: King of Sacramento checked-in as present, attentive, and more than ready. Prior to the start of the show, people filed into the heart of the McClellan Conference Center like army ants, and combatants were scattered throughout the venue, preparing to offer patrons something to feast their eyes on. From the amateur ranks to the crowning of the evening’s elite, WFC 16 delivered everything it promised: highly touted talent at the regional level.
It’s uncommon when the skillsets in a local event compare to the MMA stars broadcasted on a worldwide stage, but WFC 16 proved to be an exception. Layering the card with individuals who have competed in top-tier promotions, such as Bellator MMA and the UFC, the executives at WFC provided the perfect assessment tool for their athletes, differentiating a stay in the status quo or passing with flying colors onto the next phase of their careers.
Max Griffin def. David Mitchell in round 1 (:43) by way of KO.
The call for the main event quickly parted attendees into either the red corner of Max “Pain” Griffin or the blue corner of David “Bulletproof” Mitchell. Unlike the red and blue affiliation of politicians, these current WFC champions followed through on all the things they said they would do in their debates before meeting in front of their constituents at a catchweight of 175 pounds.
Mitchell, WFC’s middleweight champion, muted any chance of dragging the fight to the canvas, arguably his bread and butter, as a means of highlighting the development of his stand-up game under the watchful eye of Team Alpha Male’s boxing coach, Joey Rodriguez. Unfortunaltely, Griffin, WFC’s welterweight champion, discovered a way to puncture Mitchell’s armor. A visit to the ground never registered into Griffin’s attack, and he uncorked several shots to Mitchell’s jawline that would have crumpled others after only one, evidencing the “Bulletproff” nature of Mitchell.
Three strikes and you’re out; the same rang true in Griffin’s offensive onslaught. At the forty-three second mark of round one, a severely dazed Mitchell couldn’t nullify the arsenal of speed and power infused into Griffin’s training at Marinobles Martial Arts and MMA Gold. Even if the pre-fight montage lasted five times longer than the fight itself, the conclusion lived up to the hype. Griffin’s final right hand was punctuated by both reaching for the stars and walking off in victory; Sacramento’s King was crowned.
Josh Emmett def. Christos Giagos in round 3 (2:21) by way of KO.
Leading into WFC 16, Giagos, freshly removed from the UFC, had been described as a gatekeeper out of the regional circuit; Emmett, the hometown hero and reigning WFC lightweight title holder, understood the immensity of the task at hand, and the Team Alpha Male standout believed he possessed the key. Not only were demands placed on each fighter’s ability to apply their craft, but their grit and tenacity were also run through a gauntlet.
Emmett versus Giagos morphed into a clash of speed and brute strength opposing accuracy and veteran savvy. The lighting in Emmett’s movement coupled with the thunder in his punches lifted any dangling question marks as to which style faired better. A crushing right hand from Emmett swept Giagos’ eyes into the back of his head.
In his post-fight interview, the, still, undefeated WFC champ encouraged anyone within earshot to visit his Instagram (link here) to assist in spreading the word to Dana White that he’s a necessary cog in the wheel of the UFC’s lightweight division.
Josh Appelt def. Roy Boughton in round 2 (4:58) by way of TKO.
Once Appelt and Boughton entered the WFC cage, it immediately became cramped. These heavyweights occupied the cage with intentions to light up the ‘no’ next to the WFC heavyweight belt’s vacancy. Appelt wore his confidence with a calm demeanor, even when met with adversity early on: a couple inadvertent shots to the groin or being taken down. Nearing the close of the second round, Appelt’s sniper-like striking dramatically shifted power in his favor. Smelling the finish, Appelt sprinted toward the finish line, pumping a barrage of unanswered shots and forcing the referee to wave off the punishment.
Justin Baesman def. Scott Smith in round 2 (:57) by way of TKO.
Smith and Baesman, stapled and storied veterans in the sport, was a matchup that pulsed a rich red on everyone’s radar, and they were eager to carve a new path in their careers, using one another’s resume as a springboard. Smith, formerly of the UFC and Strikeforce, loaded up all of Elk Grove to make the travel with him. After a three-year layoff, Smith vanquished his personal demons and felt ready to return to the sport he loves; his entrance and introduction was deafening. In fact, Smith’s supporters also rained down boos on Baesman, formerly featured in Bellator MMA, though the heckles read on Doppler Radar as another method to cheer for Smith, instead of actually disliking Baesman. The first round ran its course as a feeling out process, and, in the second round, Smith tried to turn up the pressure. Baesman quickly halted the forward movement of Smith with a hard right hand, and he secured the win with several follow up punches when Smith toppled to the ground.
Other Bouts Included:
Lewis Gonzalez def. Ty Freeman by way of unanimous decision.
Michael Gonzalez def. Kito Andrews in round 1 by way of rear-naked choke.
Tyler Diamond def. Jimmy Jones in round 3 (:30) by way of TKO.
Jason Powell def. Sergio Quinones in round 2 (3:00) by way of TKO.
Luis Jauregui def. Danny Ramirez by way of unanimous decision.
Albert Morales def. Kurt Weinrich in round 1 (2:31) by way of triangle choke.
Isaiah Wright def. Josiah McHale by way of split decision.
Arlene Culbreth def. Gabriela Rios by way of unanimous decision.
Joseph Cardoso def. Shawn Birkley in round 1 (:40) by way of KO.
In conclusion, WFC 16 unfurled a parchment with a roster of potential superstars from the Northern California area and demonstrated why they are royalty in the region’s MMA landscape. Stay connected with WFC to witness how large the kingdom will grow:
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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