A battle of top-ranked Welterweights took center stage at UFC Fight Night 89 in Ottawa on Saturday night. Rory “The Red King” Macdonald (18-3) returned to the octagon for the first time since his epic war with champion Robbie Lawler almost one year ago at UFC 189. While there had been talks among fans and media about a rematch with Robbie Lawler, it appeared that the UFC wanted at least one fight in between in order for Macdonald to secure another shot at the belt. Standing in his way would be Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson (12-1). Thompson is easily one of the biggest rising stars in the 170 lb weight class, riding a six-fight win streak, including an incredible first round knockout of former champion Johny Hendricks in February at UFC Fight Night 82. With a diverse striking attack and great movement, many saw a “Wonderboy” title shot as an inevitability, but he’d have to get past Rory Macdonald first.
Both men touch gloves in the center of the octagon and begin sizing each other up, looking for openings. Side kick from Thompson that Macdonald stays away from before also dodging a leg kick. Macdonald goes for a rolling heel hook but can’t secure it and gets back to his feet as Thompson steps away. Thompson throws a 1-2 combo but gets grazed by a head kick from Macdonald in the middle. Macdonald goes for the roll again but Thompson easily dodges it. Thompson snaps off a front kick to the body and follows it with a leg kick. Macdonald counters with a kick of his own. A spinning kick from Thompson just misses and they return to circling. Thompson lands a side kick to the body and then they clinch and exchange punches. Thompson pushes Macdonald against the cage and they exchange on the break. Macdonald goes for a head kick and it’s blocked as the round comes to an end.
They touch gloves once again and then Macdonald throws a side kick to the body. Thompson counters with a jumping head kick that is blocked and they exchange punches. Macdonald seems to want to get in close while Thompson is utilizing distance to open up his striking. They exchange kicks and punches but nothing significant lands. Macdonald briefly gets the clinch and lands a knee from the thai clinch before Thompson pushes him away. They exchange punches again. Macdonald again attempts the roll but Thompson steps to the side and avoids it. Thompson just misses with a hook kick to the head of Macdonald. Macdonald shoots for a takedown and gets Thompson against the cage and lands a big elbow off of the break. Thompson has his hands very low and is darting in and out with a jab. Macdonald throws a head kick that is blocked. Thompson lands another side kick to the body and another. They circle again as the round comes to a close and the crowd seems to be getting restless.
A lot of respect being shown by both men as they touch gloves again to start the round. Macdonald eats a kick to the body but presses forward, trying to close the distance and lands a right hand. Thompson lands a body kick and a quick left hand before dodging a right from Macdonald. Macdonald lands a left and is doing a better job of closing the distance. They clinch and Thompson takes Macdonald down with a trip and briefly has a mount. Macdonald tries to sink in a heel hook but Thompson escapes and they’re back to the feet. Thompson lands a left hand and Macdonald answers with a right. They circle and exchange again as Macdonald lands a few clean right hands. They trade kicks to the body and Thompson lands a short right hand. They exchange strikes as Macdonald attempts to close the distance again but Thompson keeps him at bay. Thompson lands a short right and both men miss with kicks as the bell sounds and they touch gloves with a smile as they go to their corners.
The now standard glove touch starts the round and Macdonald throws a combination but Thompson strafed to the side. A side kick from Thompson and then dodges some shots from Macdonald before landing two clean punches. The clinch and exchange with Macdonald landing a knee before they break. Macdonald is able to get close in but can’t seem to maintain that distance. Thompson is bouncing on his toes and throwing well but he gets caught with a solid kick. Thompson responds with a few jabs and an uppercut. Thompson is still keeping his hands very low, landing clean shots every time Macdonald attempts to step in. A solid kick to the body from Thompson and they resume circling. Thompson misses with a punch but lands a body kick. Macdonald lands a big jab but Thompson responds with a right hand. Thompson lands two counterpunches as Macdonald steps in and then immediately moves away. A brief exchange of strikes closes out the round.
A little bit of blood is coming from the nose of Macdonald at the start of the round as they touch gloves again. Macdonald continues to try and close the distance but Thompson lands a side kick to push him away. They exchange big shots but neither fighter seems fazed. Thompson is never still, always moving and Macdonald catches him with a big right hand. Both fighters start swinging for the fences and land some big shots. Thompson throws a spinning wheel kick that catches Macdonald with a glancing shot. Macdonald goes for another takedown but Thompson ends up on top and in side control. Thompson throws a couple of short elbows to the face of Macdonald before getting to his feet. They exchange and it looks like Macdonald might be hurt. Thompson is picking his shots now and making them count. Macdonald is constantly moving forward, egging Thompson on and trying to brawl. Thompson is consistently staying just out of range, darting in and out with jabs and kicks. Both fighters miss with head kicks as the final round ends.
Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson def. Rory MacDonald via Unanimous Decision (50-45, 50-45, 48-47)
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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.
UFC Middleweight Champion, Robert Whittaker Announces Birth of Third Child
Times seem dull and dreary for the UFC’s Middleweight Champion, Robert Whittaker. The New Zealand born fighter withdrew from the promotions event debut in the eastern region of his residence, Australia. UFC 221, which takes place this Saturday, booked Whittaker to defend his title for the first time against former division champion, Luke Rockhold. His withdrawal was due to mistreatment of a serious staph infection inside of the Australians stomach.
It couldn’t get much worse, having to disappoint fans, and missing the first UFC event in eastern Australia. As it turns out, it could not get worse for Whittaker. Life only got better, as he had the pleasure of announcing the birth of his third child.
His new child is the champions third and first girl. Information regarding his child is limited as this moment is a tender and special time for the Whittaker family.
UFC 221 takes place in Perth, Australia at Perth Arena on February 11th. The cards main event features Whittakers short notice replacement, Yoel Romero taking on Luke Rockhold. Much to the satiety of fans, an interim belt is not in the equation in this instance.
Thank God. Excuse me, thank Dana White.
UFC 221 also features the ‘Super Samoan’ Mark Hunt vs. Curtis Blaydes, Tai Tuivasa faces Cyril Asker, Alexander Volkanovski vs. Jeremy Kennedy and more.
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