It seemed that last week could get no busier for combat sports fans, but this weekend is a MONSTER for combat sports fans, and multiplied that we have a little bit of EVERYTHING. From the return of Invicta to UFC’s debut in Fresno; from the return of Evolve to the last WWE PPV of the year; to the return of kickboxing’s biggest star and boxing going head to head on HBO and ESPN — get your popcorn-and DVR’s ready.
Friday, December 8, 2017
Invicta FC 26 — Scottish Rite Temple — Kansas City, Missouri — 8 p.m. ET (UFC Fight Pass)
Everyone’s favorite all female MMA promotion makes its return to its home arena this Friday night for the culmination of ‘Women’s Week’ on UFC Fight Pass. While female flyweights have become all the rage lately, with both UFC and Bellator crowning champions in the past month, Invicta has showcased the 125-pound women for years now, and in the main event of this show will see the Invicta FC flyweight champion Brazilian Jennifer Maia (14-4-1, 2-2 Invicta) return from a fifteen-month layoff to face undefeated Polish contender Aga Niedzwiedz (10-0, 2-0 Invicta).
Niedzwiedz has fought all over the world and has looked excellent in Invicta with wins over Christine Stanley and Vanessa Porto. Maia, out of the famed Chute Box gym in Brazil, is on a five-fight winning streak, but you have to wonder if that long layoff has killed her momentum and how she will handle an aggressive young challenger like Niedzwiedz.
The co-feature will be an equally interesting fight as multiple time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion, Mackenzie Dern (4-0), will make her Invicta debut against veteran Kaline Medeiros (8-5, 2-1 Invicta). Due to her combination of pedigree and looks, Dern has emerged as maybe the top prospect of all of women’s MMA, but she has had trouble making the 115-pound weight limit in both Jiu-Jitsu and MMA. While her height and reach probably make this the weight class for her, her battle with the scale is sure to make fans as anxious as the fight. Medeiros is a tough veteran who hasn’t fought since losing a five-round battle to then Invicta FC Strawweight Champion Angela Hill thirteen months ago. She certainly represents the toughest opponent of Dern’s MMA career.
The rest of the card has some interesting matchups as well. Also at 125 lbs, Brazilian veteran Vanessa Porto (18-8, 3-4 Invicta) will try to rebound from two straight losses against Russian UFC vet Milana Dudieva (11-6, 0-1 Invicta), who has lost three in a row. At 115 lbs , Brazilian standout Virna Jandiroba (11-0) will make her US debut versus the tough Amy Montenegro (8-2, 2-1 Invicta) and at 105 lbs, Texan Tessa Simpson (5-2, 1-1 Invicta) will met Amber Brown (6-4, 3-3 Invicta), who is attempting to rebound of three tough losses. Invicta usually delivers no matter who is on the card and expect them to do so again to close out the year.
Saturday, December 9, 2017
Bellator 190 Saturday — Nelson Mandela Hall — Florence, Italy — 9 p.m ET (Spike TV)
Bellator MMA will head to their fourth different country in the last month, this time landing in Italy, a market that have been cultivating for several years now. The main event will see Bellator Middleweight Champion Rafael Carvalho (14-1, 5-0 Bellator) defending his title for the third time against Italian fighting pioneer and UFC veteran Alessio Sakara (19-11 1 NC, 2-0 Bellator).
Carvalho is one of the best kept secrets in MMA, a tall middleweight at 6’3 who hasn’t lost his since being submitted in his pro debut in December 2011 and has knocked out eleven of his fourteen opponents. He overcame being dominated in the first round and enduring one of the tightest arm triangles you will ever see from the undefeated Brandon Halsey, only to stop Halsey with a single body kick in the second round to win the vacant Bellator title in October 2015. Carvalho was gifted one of the most fortunate decisions you’ll ever see against Melvin Manhoef in May 2016, but bounced back to stop Manhoef with a headkick in their rematch in April.
Sakara, who went 6-8 with 1 NC in a UFC run then stretched from 2005 to 2013, has had his validity as a title challenger questioned by several, but is 2-0 with a pair of knockout wins since joining the promotion in 2016. Honestly, he is in this fight probably because the promotion wants a full house in Florence and who came blame them. If anything, it’s a big opportunity for Carvalho to get a good win and build some momentum, as some big fights could be awaiting the winner. One has to think that recent signee Gegard Mousasi will be fighting for this title and if he can get by Douglas Lima on January 20, Rory McDonald will also be gunning for the champion. It’s a valuable fight to win for both men.
In the co-feature, Ukrainian kickboxer Lena Ovchynnikova (12-4, 2-1 Bellator) will face promotional newcomer Alejandra Lara of Columbia (6-1) in a very interesting fight that may put the winner in line for a flyweight title shot. Also that night, Bellator vet Brandon Girtz (14-7, 6-5 Bellator) will try to rebound from three straight losses and a war with Derek Campos against debuting Croatian Luka Jelcic (10-2) who comes from the SGB camp in Ireland. Hopefully, Conor doesn’t come running into the cage this time.
Glory 49: Redemption — Rotterdam Ahoy-Rotterdam, The Netherlands — 10 a.m. ET/3p.m. ET (UFC Fight Pass/UFC PPV)
The premier kickboxing organization in the world presents their biggest card of the year, a monster of an event featuring a lightweight tournament and a middleweight title fight, among other marquee bouts, all culminated by their biggest star fighting in the main event.
Glory heavyweight Champion Rico Verhoeven (52-10, 15-1 Glory), amid a career year will defend his title for the sixth time against Jamal Ben Siddik (32-6, 7-4 Glory), a 6’9 monster who is one of two men to have stopped Verhoeven. Rico has emerged as the face of Glory, going on an eight-fight winning streak and losing once in only four years, including stopping rival Badi Hari last December and flattening former UFC heavyweight title challenger Bigfoot Silva in October. Siddik stopped the Dutchman in his home country six years ago and has won four fights in a row. It’s about as a big of a fight as can be made in kickboxing right now. There is a reason that the UFC is putting on PPV. It’s big, and it should produce fireworks.
UFC Fresno — Save Mart Center — Fresno, California — Prelims, 6:30 PM/10 PM ET (UFC Fight Pass/FS1)
The UFC makes its debut at the Save Mart Center is Fresno, an old Strikeforce stronghold which has gained prominence recently in combat sports as the home of upcoming junior welterweight contender Jose Ramirez. While the UFC won’t bring as strong of a card as usual, they will bring an excellent main event as top featherweight contender Cub Swanson (25-7, 10-3 UFC) faces the surging Brian Ortega (12-0, 5-0 UFC).
Swanson has been an excellent run, winning four fights in a row after back to back stoppage losses to Frankie Edgar and Max Holloway, including the 2016 Fight of the Year against Doo Ho Choi and a record-setting performance against Artem Lobov in April. Cub looks to be one win away from a title shot and many hoped that he would get the shot at Holloway that went to Jose Aldo when Edgar dropped out. But it appears he will have to bear Ortega first. Ortega is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu ace and former RFA featherweight champion who is one of the best kept secrets in the UFC, and is coming off an excellent win over Renato Moicano in July at UFC 214. Ortega owns one of the most mind-boggling stats in sports right now — his last four wins come by third round stoppage.
This is Ortega’s first main event; he has gone five rounds before, but it does remain to be seen how he will handle the moment. Swanson has been there before, and he is undoubtedly the better striker. But if Ortega gets Swanson on the ground, it will get interesting real fast.
The rest of the card is a little weak on marquee fighters. The co-main will be Jason Knight, who has emerged as one of the best young action fighters in the sport, facing Gabriel Benítez. A big bantamweight bout will pit seventh ranked Aljamain Sterling against ninth ranked Marlon Maraes in what could be a great fight. The prelims will be headlined by two former bantamweight title challengers dropping down to flyweight, as Liz Carmouche will be facing Alexis Davis. The two will be very evenly matched, but you have to wonder how the muscled Carmouche will handle that weight cut.
Also at bantamweight, Luke Sanders tries to rebound against late replacement Andre Soukhamthath in what could be a fun fight, while Serra Longo product Merab Dvalishvili makes his UFC debut against Frankie Saenz. Merab is the latest product from Dana White: Looking For A Fight. The UFC Fight Pass portion of the card will be headlined TUF Latin America winner Alejandro Perez trying to overtake veteran Iuri Alcantara.
Top Rank Boxing on ESPN — The Theatre at Madison Square Garden — 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
There are some fights that you rejoice when they are made, because they guarantee to be a good, exciting fight to watch. Then there’s another fight you are happy gets made simply because that means people will shut the hell up about it. The main event of this card is one of the latter.
Top Rank’s latest offering on the Worldwide Leader will feature Vasyl Lomachenko (9-1, 7 KOs), one of the best fighters pound for pound in the world today, defending his WBO junior lightweight title versus WBA junior featherweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux (17-0, 11 KOs) in what has been talked about by some (HUGE emphasis on some) as dream match for years, and when you look at on paper, it’s very understandable.
After all, this fight is unprecedented in all of combat sports as for the very first time, we will see two two-time Olympic Gold Medalists face against each other. These two men have a combined eight hundred amateur fights with only a handful of losses between them. For so-called boxing purists, this fight has been desired since the Lomachenko turned pro.
But Rigondeaux has the most boring style of boxing imaginable and has been persona non grate’ on HBO since he literally cleared the arena with his fight with Joseph Agbeko in December 2013. This is one of the reasons that Rigondeaux has fought only four times in the ensuing four years. One of those fights saw him get dropped twice by the unheralded Hisashi Amagasa before Rigondeaux rallied in the eleventh. The Cuban has only fought one round in the past eighteen months, is now thirty-seven years old, and will be moving up two weight classes for this fight.
Meanwhile, Lomachenko has been one of the busiest world-class fighters in boxing. He has won eight fights in a row, the last six fights by stoppage. He has scarcely been touched in his last three fights, all against world-class competition, and is adding harder punching to his excellent footwork and upper body movement.
For whatever reasons, many fight writers are picking Rigondeaux, which is totally asinine to me. Lomachenko is bigger, stronger, faster, fresher, young, and more active. This fight feels totally unnecessary, but at least everyone will shut up about this.
The undercard, as is becoming a trend for Top Rank on ESPN, is not strong. But it does have some of Top Rank’s exciting up-and-coming stars. Ireland’s 2012 Olympic Bronze Medalist Michael Conlan (4-0, 4 KOs) faces Argentinean Luis Fernando Molina (7-3-1, 2 KOs). 2016 Olympic Silver Medalist Shakur Stevenson of the United States (3-0, 1 KO) will face Oscar Mendoza (4-2, 2 KOs). And Mikayla Mayer (2-0, 2 KOs), another 2016 US Olympian, will face Nydia Feliciano.
HBO Boxing After Dark — Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino— Las Vegas, Nevada — 10:20 p.m. ET (HBO)
This is the second time that HBO has gone head to head with Top Rank on ESPN and given that this card of full of fights in the 130-pound division — and Loma/Rigo is in the same weight division — this feels like deliberate counter programming.
The main event pits three-time world champion Orlando Salido (44-13-4, 31 KOs), the only man to defeat Lomachenko, against Micky Roman (57-12, 44 KOs) in a battle of Mexican brawlers. There isn’t a lot of analysis needed for this fight. Both guys are classic Mexican brawlers who are going to come straight each other and brawl. Salido has more top-level experience and power, but Roman is a little bulldozer and Salido has proven vulnerable, especially early in the fight. Roman has won nineteen out of twenty, but has yet to win on the top level. The winner of this fight will get a title fight against the excellent WBC titleholder Miguel Bercholt, so there is a lot of a line.
We will get something completely different in the co-feature, as Philadelphia’s Tevin Farmer (25-4-1, 5 KOs) will be facing unheralded Japanese star Kenichi Ogawa (22-1, 17 KOs) for the IBF junior lightweight title that was vacated by Gervonta Davis. After a rough start to his career, Farmer has won eighteen in a row, and is the rare fighter who is entertaining with his defense skills. He also seems to be punching harder in recent fights and though he is rebounding from getting shot in July (not kidding), he is a great position to win his first world title. This is Ogawa’s first fight outside of Japan and he has won fourteen fights in a row, but he is taking a big step up and competition and has never faced anyone with Farmer’s style.
The opener will be another brawl as former WBC junior lightweight champion Francisco Vargas (23-1, 17 KOs) fighting for the first time since losing his title to Bercholt in January against Stephen Smith Jr. (25-3, 15 KOs) of England, one of England’s fighting Smith family. Vargas has been off for ten months, but definitely needed the time off to heal his face, as he has garnered so much scar tissue around his eyes in the wars he fought that he needed the time off. Smith is the better boxer, but he may not be able to handle the relentless pressure that Vargas brings. Should be a solid fight to start the show.
Evolve 96 — Elmcor Youth Center — Corona, New York — 8 p.m. ET (WWNLive.com)
Evolve returns this Saturday for the first night of a doubleheader and their final shows of the year. This show will be headlined with a monster of a matchup as Keith Lee makes his first defense of the WWN Title against Walter, a 6’4, 300-pound monster from Austria who has astonished Europe in the past few years. These two had a great match at PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles this summer and this one could be even better. Also on this night, the Evolve Tag Belts are on the line, as champions Tracy Williams and Jaka will face off with former champions James Drake and Anthony Henry, who briefly held the belts this spring. Another interesting bout pits former WWN Champion Matt Riddle against Fred Yehi, who has had a breakout year, in a match where there will be no rope breaks, which is very significant in a battle of submissions specialists.
This will also be the Evolve return of DJZ as he draws Evolve Champion Zack Sabre Jr, it would should be a crazy matchup. Wow.
Sunday, December 10, 2017
Evolve 97 — Melrose Memorial Hall — Melrose, Massachusetts — 7 p.m. ET (WWNLive.com)
The final Evolve card looks to be a great one, as the main event sees Evolve Champion Zack Sabre Jr face Jaka, the third match in a great series these two have had throughout the year. Sabre pinned Jaka at Evolve 87, but Jaka came back to pin Sabre Jr at Evolve 94 in a non-title match. Now they look to settle the score here. Jaka is one of the more underrated guys in America right now and its interesting to see what he can do here.
The co-main will see Matt Riddle face Walter for the first time in the United States, although these two have feuded over of the This Is Progress Atlas Title throughout Europe. Also, the high-flying AR Fox will return to face DJZ, and Keith Lee will face Tracy Williams and Darby Allan in a non-title three-way match that will allow the winner to make any match they want. It’s a great card to end the year for Evolve, who will need all the momentum they can get after a rough 2017.
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