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What do we do with Claudia Gadelha?

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In a world where Joanna Jedrzejczyk does not exist, Claudia Gadelha is probably the UFC’s dominant strawweight champion. It is a point that Gadelha made apparent once again in Sao Paulo on Saturday night when she controlled Cortney Casey over three rounds to win a comfortable decision.

Through 16 professional fights, Jedrzejczyk is the only fighter to ever defeat the Brazilian. Unfortunately for Gadelha, it has happened twice.

In truth, their first fight could easily have been scored differently on a different night with different judges. Jedrzejczyk won by split decision, with two judges scoring 29-28 in her favour. Gadelha outlanded her opponent in two of the three rounds, and took Jedrzejczyk down seven times throughout the course of the fight. Of the notable media scores collated on MMA Decisions, 10 out of 12 scored the bout for Gadelha.

It was a win that catapulted Jedrzejczyk into title contention, and would have done the same for Gadelha had she won. That would have meant a title fight against the UFC’s inaugural strawweight champion Carla Esparza. It is a fight that Gadelha would have stood a great chance of winning. What might have been.

By the time Gadelha got her rematch, Jedrzejczyk was the UFC strawweight champion and had been making easy work of everyone she had faced since. Once again Gadelha pressured the Polish warrior in a way that nobody else has been able to. Gadelha dropped Jedrzejczyk early in the fight and comfortably won the first two rounds before Jedrzejczyk mounted a scintillating comeback to retain her title.

That defeat put Gadelha in an unenviable position. Far and away the second best fighter in the division based on record, and ability, another shot at Jedrzejczyk for the title now seems a long way off. Which raises the question. What exactly do they do with Claudia Gadelha next?

Fun Fights and Former Challengers

The fight with Cortney Casey on Saturday in Brazil was a banana skin that she avoided with relative ease. Casey is a natural flyweight who dwarfed Gadelha, and had displayed her power in previous wins over Cristina Stanciu and Randa Markos. Gadelha dispatched her comfortably and answered any questions asked regarding her ability to come back after the five round war with Jedrzejczyk.

Yet that performance was a reminder of the awkward position UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby now finds himself in. Joanna Jedrzejczyk needs a pipeline that produces new challengers. Matching Gadelha against anyone on the verge of a title shot is a risk.

Jessica Aguilar had been considered the number one strawweight in the world before Jedrzejczyk’s emergence. In three long rounds in Rio de Janeiro she saw her title aspirations destroyed by Gadelha. The problem that night was not only that Gadelha beat Aguilar, but that she made her look far worse than she really is. Any excitement surrounding Aguilar’s debut with the company dissipated in a hurry. Nobody talked about Aguilar as a title threat after that fight was done.

The Brazilian would remain a favourite against anyone else in the division, and it is a position the UFC have found themselves in before. It has been rumoured many times that the UFC’s initial plan was to have Jessica Eye challenge Ronda Rousey for the bantamweight title, before Holly Holm was given the shot. They unwisely matched Eye with Miesha Tate in a title eliminator, only for Tate to get the win and ruin their plans. It left the UFC opting to fast-track Holly Holm into a championship fight instead.

That is largely why Gadelha was matched with Casey in the first place. Nobody saw Casey as a future title threat, and Gadelha beating her posed no problem for future matchmaking in the division. That’s not to say that Casey posed no threat to Gadelha. Her size and power is a problem for anyone in the opening stages of a fight, and had she pulled the upset the UFC would have had a surprise contender added to the mix.

Gadelha vs Casey UFC

Gadelha takes Casey down during their bout at UFC Sao Paulo

There remain a bunch of similarly fun rather than relevant fights for her at 115 pounds. Upcoming prospects such as Alexa Grasso, Paige VanZant and Rose Namajunas are likely to be kept well away from Gadelha for the foreseeable future.

Former title challengers with no clear route back, present the most obvious solution. Carla Esparza was beaten so decisively by Jedrzejczyk in their title bout back at UFC 185 that a rematch would be an almost impossible sell. It was the sort of defeat that made people forget that Esparza is one of the top strawweights on the planet, which she is. A fight with Gadelha feels like the most obvious next step in the careers of both fighters.

Karolina Kowalkiewicz was also outclassed against Jedrzejczyk in their recent title bout. That Kowalkiewicz rocked Jedrzejczyk for one brief moment in the fourth round was wildly misinterpreted as the challenger posing the champion her toughest test to date.

In reality Jedrzejczyk won all but a couple of minutes during the five round tussle. The champion outlanded Kowalkiewicz 171 to 50 in significant strikes overall. Bar the fourth round, where Kowalkiewicz briefly made it a contest, the challenger landed no more than eight significant strikes in any one round, with Jedrzejczyk outlanding her 43 to 5 in the final frame.

These are the sort of opponents that lie in Gadelha’s UFC future until she is able to beat enough of them to force another title shot.

Whether an opportunity arises because Jedrzejczyk loses the title, as it did for Miesha Tate when Ronda Rousey lost to Holly Holm, or because the UFC open up a flyweight division and Jedrzejczyk moves up to fight for that title, the possibilities are still there.

Or maybe Gadelha will keep beating fighters so convincingly, as she did Cortney Casey on Saturday night in Sao Paulo, that everyone’s hand is forced and a third fight with Jedrzejczyk is made. Until then fans get to buckle up and enjoy the ride, because fights with the likes of Esparza and Kowalkiewicz are truly mouthwatering prospects.

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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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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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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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