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Dallas On The Rise: UFC 228’s Hometown Fighters

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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.

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UFC 249 has a long and adventurous story

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UFC 249 was originally planned to take place on April 18th in New York but, due to the ongoing pandemic, governor Cuomo restricted mass gatherings and sports events, confining everyone to their homes, leaving them with little more to watch than reruns of old fights and perhaps Game Changers. UFC president Dana White then announced that the event was still on but the location will change. Later, it was announced that it will take place at the Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino in Lemoore, California. ESPN and its parent company Disney didn’t like this, though, pressuring White to suspend the event for the time being – which he did. Finally, the event was rescheduled for May 9

Meanwhile, interesting news started circulating about a potential location for future UFC fight nights that, if it becomes a reality, might put an interesting spin on the world of mixed martial arts.

UFC Fight Island

Even before the issues with the event, White planned to arrange a brand new location where fight nights could be organized: a private island where athletes could train and fight.

“All the infrastructure is being built right now and getting put in place,” he told the press back in April. “As we get closer to that, then I’ll start figuring out booking fights, getting guys ready. Plus, I can ship guys over there earlier, and they can start training over there, on the island. So, once that’s all in place – we’re looking at like a month – I’ll have that all put together, and guys can start training and can go there.”

The UFC is serious about it: it has already registered several trademarks around the “UFC Fight Island” brand, covering several types of goods, services, even jewelry. 

When, and Where?

The “where” is still a mystery. Although he spoke repeatedly about the arrangements being made for athletes to be able to train and stay on the island, White has not revealed its location yet. Some theorize that it may be somewhere in international waters so it could serve as a place where international athletes could stay without restrictions, perhaps off the coast of California. But this is just a theory – all will probably be revealed in due time.

The “when” is a bit less vague: White told the press that UFC Fight Island will be operational by June. It will have amenities like an Octagon on the beach, and hotels for the fighters to be lodged at. And most importantly, it will allow international fighters to participate in fights, even with the pandemic-related travel restrictions still in place.

The idea of an island dedicated to fighting may sound familiar – it was the topic of the 2006 martial arts movie “DOA – Dead or Alive” and 2007’s “The Condemned”, among others. Let’s hope this one will have a happier ending.

As for UFC 249 ‘Ferguson vs. Gaethje’, that event will now take place at Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. 

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What Justin Gaethje’s past fights tell us about his chances at UFC 249

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It’s fair to say that Justin Gaethje has firmly taken up the role of underdog ahead of his clash with Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 on May 9th. The latest Tony Ferguson v Justin Gaethje betting offers present Ferguson as the clear favourite, after his opponent was drafted in at the last minute to replace Khabib Nurmagomedov, who is on lockdown in his home country of Russia. 

Gaethje is relatively inexperienced in the world of UFC, having fought just six times in the competition in the past. But his calibre from prior ventures in MMA, notably the World Series of Fighting, means that he is a fighter not to be trifled with, and while he won’t represent as formidable a challenge for Ferguson as Khabib would have, there is much to admire about the 31-year-old.

To understand fully Gaethje’s chances ahead of UFC 249, it’s important to analyse his performances in recent fights. Indeed, his past three bouts have resulted in impressive victories, with Gaethje winning Performance of the Night awards in two of those fights — against James Vick and Donald Cerrone respectively. 

But his UFC started off in disappointing fashion, with just one win from his first three fights. That victory came against Michael Johnson in the reality show The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption Finale, but from there he failed to gain a strong foothold in the championship. He suffered back-to-back defeats against Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, including a knockout at the hands of the former, as he struggled to adapt to the competitive nature of the UFC.

Those defeats obviously shook Gaethje into life, because he has come roaring back in his last three fights, mustering up a trio of impressive performances to bring him to the level he finds himself at today, where UFC chief Dana White is drafting him to replace someone of the calibre of Khabib. 

The first of this trio of victories was a win over James Vick in August 2018, where Gaethje produced a fine display which silenced some of the doubters who had perhaps questioned his ability at the highest level. He won Performance of the Night for that one, and was then involved in the Fight of the Night the following March as he defeated Edson Barboza by knockout in Philadelphia. His most recent victory was a TKO triumph over UFC veteran Donald Cerrone in October last year, where Gaethje once again walked away with the Performance of the Night accolade. 

All three of his most recent wins have come via first round knockout or technical knockout, proof that Gaethje has the ability to overpower opponents in the opening stages of a fight. Of course, to do this against Ferguson will be a whole different ball game, as he is the most high-profile fighter Gaethje has faced so far, but perhaps the key lies in ensuring he comes out all guns blazing early on.

Gaethje’s Performance of the Night wins indicate that he is capable of producing a show-stopping performance on any given night. He is undoubtedly the underdog going into the fight against Ferguson, but with a few good wins now under his belt, who’s to say he can’t spring a surprise on May 9th and truly announce himself in the UFC. 

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UFC to provide a welcome sports fix for hungry fans

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UFC 249 had promised to be a rare occasion of a sports event going ahead, but the April 18th showpiece ultimately fell victim to the coronavirus outbreak, and was cancelled. However, UFC chief Dana White is not one to be put out, and so came the recent announcement that there would be a series of UFC fight nights in May.

It’s a great chance for fans to see some sporting action, for fighters to keep in shape and perhaps make a name for themselves in these strange circumstances, and for people stuck in lockdown to have some alternative entertainment, something a bit different from Joe Wicks workouts or Zoom quizzes! Here, we look at why these UFC fight nights will be welcomed by so many people.

Live action

The sporting world has basically been at a standstill since the coronavirus pandemic has swept across the globe. It feels like an eternity ago that we were watching horse racing’s Cheltenham Festival and Liverpool’s exit from the Champions League, but the measures put in place by the government to protect the public meant that most events had to be cancelled. 

And so, the news that there will be some live sporting entertainment in the form of several UFC fight nights will give sports fans that much needed fix of live action. Sports nuts all over the world have been forced to make do with virtual championships and races, or with trawling the archives to reminisce on past sporting occasions, but now White and co. have brought some welcome live sporting action back to our screens.

Mouth-watering match-ups

Of course, these are not just any old fighters going head to head. Some of the best in the business will be battling it out, not least Tony Ferguson who takes on Justin Gaethje on May 9th. The Tony Ferguson odds have him as hot favourite for the bout, but Gaethje will be a man on a mission on fight night to prove he has what it takes to cause a stir at the highest level of the sport. 

May 9th sees two other interesting clashes, as Henry Cejudo takes on Dominick Cruz for the Bantamweight Championship, and Francis Ngannou meets Jairzinho Rozenstruik. The Cejudo vs Cruz fight features two men with similar records, and will therefore be an intriguing clash as both try and prove themselves on the big stage. Meanwhile, Rozenstruik will be trying to defend his 10-fight unbeaten record as he takes on Ngannou, and so there will be plenty on the line in that one.

A welcome distraction

Perhaps one of the key benefits of these fight nights is that they will provide a welcome distraction from the sad news and gloomy headlines we’ve all been reading in recent weeks. Sport has the power to unite people and spark a feel-good factor among the public.

Although the UFC may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s a chance for a lot of people to get to know a sport they perhaps wouldn’t have considered watching before, and few sports have to power to grip and entertain like mixed martial arts. Many people are craving a dose of live sporting action, and thanks to the UFC, that sporting fix is not too far away.

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