Certain cities have become synonymous with success in Mixed Martial Arts. Albuquerque. Sacramento. San Jose. Montreal. Anywhere in South Florida, and of course, Las Vegas. Yet one city has emerged in the last few years as the place that is producing the next generation of elite MMA fighters — Dallas/Fort Worth.
Anyone needing evidence of that should look no further than UFC 228 tomorrow night at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, where three fighters from DFW will grace the cage, and more are sure to follow behind them.
Long a hotbed of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu thanks for the work of Gracie relative Carlos Machado, Dallas has rebounded from the fall of Team Takedown, the city’s former supercamp, thanks largely to founding of Fortis MMA, to be found on 301 Texas St in the hippest of all Dallas neighborhoods — Deep Ellum.
Founded by lifelong martial artist Sayif Saud and partially funded by former NBA All-Star Deron Williams, the team has field seemingly half of the victorious fighters on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series and fields several fighters on this card. The founding of Contender Series, along with the success of Legacy Fighting Alliance and other local promotions are making Dallas the toast of the MMA World.
Now, three up and coming fighters will be looking to impress their hometown crowds and chart their course up the UFC ladder. Sadly one of the more established DFW fighters who was supposed to fight card, Ryan Benoit, was forced off the card due to injury, but three hungry young men are more than ready to pick up his slack, and they all have very good matchups…
Charles Byrd (10-4, 1-0 UFC) vs. Darren Steward (8-3, 1-3 UFC) — Middleweights
You have to take advantages of opportunities when they came your way, and few fighters have been a better example of that in the past year as have been Dallas’ Byrd, a Fortis product who on the very first episode of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, came in on ten days’ notice and submitted Jaime Pickett in the first round, capping an excellent Spin-A-Roony.
While he made Booker T proud, the performance the night wasn’t enough to get him a UFC contract. Thankfully, Byrd was given another shot five weeks later, submitting Randall Wallace in the second round to get that contract. His official UFC debut was equally impressive, going to London and ripping apart local favorite John Phillips on his way to a first-round submission victory.
It was the culmination of a real transformation for Byrd, who had formerly been a Muay Thai specialist fighting as a welterweight. But after losing to a decision to Bojan Velickovic on an important show (the win got Velickhovic into the UFC), Byrd moved up in a weight and it his been a boon to his career, along with his transformation into a submission specialist.
Coming to spoil Byrd’s homecoming with be England’s Steward, who hasn’t had the best luck in his UFC run. After a making a name for himself in England’s Cage Warriors promotion, Stewart saw a knockout win in his UFC debut overturned due to an accidental foul, then dropped three in a row, including being submitted by Contender Series contract winners Karl Roberson and Julian Marquez. With his UFC career on the line, Stewart pulled a rabbit out of the hat, knocking out TUF 23 veteran Eric Spicely in the first round.
Stewart is a very powerful striker and he will certainly come hard at Byrd, and he is a thicker, probably stronger fighter. But given that Byrd is coming off three straight submission victories and Stewart has been submitted twice in his UFC career, it sees very advantageous for Byrd. He will have to be careful he closes the gap against Stewart, but Byrd should be able to do what he likes-take you down, pound you out, and wait for you to give him his neck. I hope Stewart has worked on his takedown defense.
Geoff Neal (9-2, 1-0 UFC) versus Frank Camacho (21-6, 1-2 UFC) — Welterweights
Fighting directly after his teammate Byrd, Neal comes from the central Texas town of Copperas Cove-he was a high school football team of Robert Griffin III. A recent addition to the Fortis team, Neal is riding a three-fight winning streak since losing to Kevin Holland, who recently made an impressive debut in a losing effort against Thiago Santos at UFC 227. His most important win came on Season One of Contender Series, where moving up in weight on short notice, knocked out Chase Waldon in the first round. Neal took the fight on ten days’ notice, getting the call while at his day job at Texas Roadhouse. He’s a dude who is legitimately fighting to stave off poverty…
He will have a tough man in front of him this night in Camacho, the fighter from Guam who has won Fight of the Night in all three of his UFC bouts. Camacho is a strong grappler with a legitimate Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu background and his goal should be to get Neal to the ground. While Camacho has shown a willingness to brawl and a very good chin, Neal has very smooth hands and he will be at a technical striking disadvantage for sure.
Neal showed his hands to full effect in his official UFC debut, piecing up tough Muay Thai striker Brian Camozzi this February in Austin, setting him up with punches before sneaking behind him and submitting him with a choke. He is unlikely to due that against the man known as “The Crank.” Neal needs good movement, angles, and to get his hands moving. While Neal has not be known as one to shy away from a brawl, he will need to stay disciplined to get the win. Although Neal surely wouldn’t mind getting some of the same Fight of the Night money Camacho has been getting. Maybe then he can quit the Roadhouse…
Abdul Razak Alhassan (9-1, 3-1 UFC) vs. Niko Price (13-1, 4-1 UFC) — Welterweights
The most UFC experienced of the Dallas fighters on this card, Alhassan is originally from Accra, Ghana which has produced some world-class boxers such as Ike Quartey and Joshua Clottey. It’s a place that makes fighters. Alhassan was once an elite judo player, taking part in international competitions for years. But once he came to the United States and switched to MMA, the ripped Alhassan came in knocking people out in the first round, making it very hard for him to get fights.
Formerly of the Genesis Jiu-Jitsu/Reyes Boxing team in Fort Worth, he is a former sparring partner of Jonny Hendricks and I have personally seen him hit pads before. He is fast and he can crack. He is also now at Fortis, meaning he’s probably getting better sparring and work than he ever has.
He showed this in his UFC debut, going to Ireland and knocking out Conor McGregor teammate Charlie Ward down in less than a minute. After losing a strange decision to Omari Akhmedov in Sweden, Alhassan scored a very controversial win of Sabah Homasi at UFC 219 in Detroit in a fight that was stopped way too early. Alhassan jumped at the opportunity to rectify the situation and a month later at UFC 220 in Boston, Alhassan flatlined Homasi with a right uppercut that left him out for several minutes and got him his second Performance of the Night.
He will have a very tough fight this time around as he draws the excting and eccentric Niko Price, who despite being in the UFC less than two years, has already had one hell of a career. He submitted Brandon Thatch out of the UFC in his debut at UFC 207, knocked out Alan Jouban in a huge upset in Mexico City in August 2017, and in his last fight scored one of the craziest knockouts in UFC history, stopping Randy Brown with hammerfists while on his back! Price is very good striker who has shown to also be very trick on the ground, but Alhassan is certainly the most powerful fighter he’s ever fought.
It is one hell of a matchup and given these two men penchant for first round finishes, there’s a good chance that we see fireworks early. Alhassan’s best chance is probably to land something big on Price early, given that Price was hurt early by Vincente Luque. If it gets later into the fight, Price may be the favorite. The most interesting thing about this fight may be what happens if the two end up in close quarters. It wouldn’t be the dumbest thing Price did if he tried to clinch up or take Alhassan down, and if he does, we will see the judo that is Alhassan’s foundation. Or he will simply try to go and knock Price out, either way, these two are bound to kick of the PPV main card with a bang!
God Bless Texas.