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Hager, Agazarm Set to Debut for Bellator MMA

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When Bellator MMA makes its first start of 2019 this Saturday at the Forum in Los Angeles, much of the attention will be either than the Heavyweight Grand Prix Final between MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko and Bellator light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader or the latest bout of MMA’s best prospect, Aaron Pico. But two very interesting entrees into the Bellator world will come along this Saturday in the form of a former WWE Superstar and a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace.

The more talked about debut is that of Jake Hager, better known to pro wrestling fans as Jack Swagger, who won the World Heavyweight title in 2010 and best known for his “We The People” gimmick the WWE introduced during the heart of the Tea Party movement in 2013. Swagger had decent runs as both a heel and a babyface in the company, but despite 6’5, 265 pounds with a legitimate athletic background, he never reached the heights that some expected for him in the company.

When Hager signed with Bellator a year ago, many fans were quick to compare him to former WWE Champion CM Punk, who made two high-profile starts for the UFC and lost both in rather embarrassing fashion. The difference is that Hager has a legitimate, top flight amateur wrestling background on which he can draw, a background that eclipses that many of many fighters currently in the sport.

From 2003-2006 Hager wrestled at the University of Oklahoma, also playing football as a freshman. In his senior year, Hager set a school record for most pins in a season with 30, and was named an All-American. If not for then-WWE Talent Relations Head Jim Ross being die-hard OU fan and recruiting him for the WWE, Hager may have turned to fighting years ago. Yet even though he is 36 years old, Hager is still a ridiculous athlete and has been out of WWE for several years, so many of his leftover injuries should be healed. With that legit wrestling background, Hager could realistically make waves in the Bellator heavyweight division.

Bellator is also not taking chances with Hager, matching him for his debut with JW Kiser, a 40-year-old fighter from Kansas, who was knocked out in twenty-four seconds in his MMA debut last May. Mickey Gall he is not. Bellator is gonna move Hager at the right pace and try to get the most out of their investment in him. Wrestling fans will be tuning to see Hager beat some dude down, and they should get their wish this Saturday-and Bellator’s main card.

Debuting surprisingly low on the card will be controversial jiu-jitsu ace AJ Agazarm, who will be making his pro MMA debut after nearly a decade of competing on the highest levels of submission only circuit. He is just the latest grappling ace to come into the MMA world over the last few years, and by joining Bellator, he will be in the same promotion as some of his old grappling foes, including Benson Henderson and Dilan Danis.

What makes Agazram unique among the grappling aces is that he also wrestled for two years at the Ohio States University. While he wasn’t star there, he probably had better wrestling sessions in practice there than most wrestlers will ever have. While still wrestling he also had some amateur MMA bouts, which is what led him into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, also while he was still at Ohio State.

He won the IBJJF World Championship as a blue belt in 2007, which was the beginning an extensive career as an elite jiu-jitsu competitor at both the brown and belt levels. Competing for the flagship Gracie Barra team in California, he peaked in 2013 and 2014 when he won three of the top four competitions within a year-the Brazilian nationals, the European Championships, and the World Championship as No-Gi competitor.

He has had some high-profile losses since then, to the likes of Danis, Henderson, and Garry Tonon, but he has still been successful on the mat, including coming in second at No Gi Pan Ams last year. So many were surprised when he announced on Ariel Helwani’s show just two months ago that he had signed with Bellator. But really, the move was inevitable.

Here’s the thing about Agazarm, he loves to trash talk. His bout with Henderson in Polaris in England last year became very heated due to Agazarm’s words. He even poked the bear that is Joe Rogan, Eddie Bravo, and the elite 10th Planet team last year, saying that “they don’t know shit about jiu-jitsu.” He isn’t afraid to be controversial, which has won him a lot of enemies in still often very traditional world of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. But he should fit in very well in the world of MMA.

Another thing to interest MMA fans, in addition to training at Freddie Roach’s famous Wild Card gym, Agazarm has been training with the uber popular Diaz Brothers (homeboy actually lives with Nick in Los Angeles) for his MMA. With that camp, he has a chance to pick up a lot of striking and MMA skills quicker than others, but he still has a lot to make up with his hands and feet. The major criticism for Agazarm at this point is that in interviews, he has been dismissive of striking as to how hard it is. It’s going to take him years to be effective on his feet, but his grappling is so good that for a while, that should not matter.

It certainly won’t matter this Saturday, as he fighting a fighter named Jesse Roberts out of Louisiana who also making his pro debut. The fight will be taking place at some kind of catchweight, probably a 160 pounds but Agazram has been surprisingly cryptic about what weight class he will compete in.

These are just two more interesting debuts for a company that keeps giving unique athletes to platform to come into MMA and develop properly from their pro debuts. Bellator isn’t ahead of the UFC in a lot of areas, but this one is sure it. Hager and Agazarm on this card certainly makes Saturday in The Forum a lot more interesting.

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Cyborg’s Bellator Invasion Begins

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Bellator MMA will kick of their year and their decade this Saturday night for the third year in a row at the Forum in Inglewood, California, and as has often been the case with Bellator, they do not waste time.

The main event will feature Bellator’s latest big name acquisition-former Strikeforce, Invicta, and UFC featherweight champion Cris Cyborg, trying to make some massive history against the best opponent the promotion can offer, current Bellator featherweight champion Julia Budd, the only titleholder in the promotion’s history who will be defending her title for the fourth time.

The matchup was formally announced back at Bellator 228, in the cage itself and signaled to everyone that Bellator would not be playing when around when it comes to showcasing the star power of Cris Cyborg. She represents a rare commodity to Bellator, an acquisition who has proven she can actually move the needle when it comes to ratings and pay per view buys, someone who has headlined and sold tickets for three different promotions.

Yet Bellator has something to offer Cyborg that she has long craved-a legitimate featherweight division. Whereas the UFC has done next to nothing to bolster their 145 pound weight class, Bellator has worked to go out, look for, and sign fighters for their 145 pound weight class, one of the two women’s weight classes that are fully active in the promotion. Until Cyborg signed with the promotion-that has been to find opponents for Julia Budd.

For many MMA fans, the enduring image of Julia Budd comes from over eight years ago, when she was in short order, taken down, mounted, and arm-barred by some chick named Ronda Rousey. Budd was submitted in November 2011 by Rousey, her elbow trashed in just thirty-nine seconds. The image of Budd’s dislocated elbow just hanging from its socket is not something you forget easily.

Since then, however, Budd has completely transformed herself into a 5’8 145 pound female tank, a ripped kickboxing machine who hasn’t lost a fight since being submitted by Rousey all those years ago. She has won eleven fights in a row since then, beating some big names, including retiring women’s MMA pioneer Marloes Coenen to become Bellator’s first featherweight champion in March 2017.

Budd has defended her title three times and is coming her most impressive win yet, stopping Olga Rubin with a body kick in the first round last July. With her size, confidence, and kickboxing skills, she represents a legitimate challenge to Cyborg-hopefully one of many the women’s MMA legend faces in the promotion.

Of course, the Cyborg that Budd is facing is not the invincible Cyborg who tore through the women’s divisions for ten years. This is a Cyborg who has had the hell knocked out of her in one round by Amanda Nunes in December 2018, one of the biggest upsets in MMA history. Then Cyborg had a much more difficult fight than expected with the much less experienced Felicia Spencer last July in Winnipeg at UFC 240. Spencer, a very good grappler, managed to win a lot of exchanges with Cyborg and give her a lot of trouble for the first two rounds, before Cyborg’s class began to show in the third.

It feels that if there was ever a time for Julia Budd to fight Cris Cyborg, this would be the time. Cyborg is still formidable, but not the invincible killer who had most women beaten before the caged door was even locked. Amanda Nunes proved that she was human, that you can go right at her, and it would be smart for Julia Budd to come forward, back Cyborg up and try to put real hurt on her. Cyborg has looked to develop real boxing skills in recent years, and it would be smart for her to use those skills, box, and look to set up her grappling, one place she should have a huge advantage.

That’s how it should go. But the biggest question may be how does Julia Budd handle the spotlight, which will be on her more than it ever has before, in front a big crowd at the Forum, on the biggest stage of her career. Cyborg has been there many times before. Even if Budd can have a good round or two, when it gets into the championship rounds, with the bright lights on, can Julia Budd deliver? Its question that will determine how long Cyborg’s invasion of Bellator goes from here…

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The Monday Wrap-Up: Shakur Rises, MacDonald Falls, Jiu-Jitsu Rules

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With our combat sports weekends getting busier and busier, every Monday, FightBooth’s Frank Anguiano will come to you with his weekly report, telling you what have you have missed, and what might deserves a second look…

Shakur Is Special

Special is a word that may be used to liberally in combat sports, an arena where special things are happening all the time. But this Saturday Night on ESPN+, New Jersey featherweight star and former Olympic Silver Medalist Shakur Stevenson proved he was truly special.

At only twenty-two-years-old and in just his thirteenth professional fight, Stevenson dominated undefeated twenty-six-year-old Joet Gonzales of Los Angeles over twelve rounds in front of a nice crowd in Reno, Nevada, bringing championship boxing back to a once great fight town.

Stevenson was excellent, slowly breaking down Gonzales and for the first six rounds, he barely got touched. Gonzales picked it up a little in the middle rounds, but Stevenson just picked up the pace and with a steady right jab, a stabling straight left to the body, and a little bit everything else, controlled nearly every round. Gonzales, thought by most to be a very good prospect himself, only landed eleven percent of punches throughout the fight.

This fight was given extra fuel due to the fact that Stevenson is remarkably the boyfriend of Joet’s sister Zamora, a former amateur boxer herself. That being said, Stevenson never lost his cool and was calm and classy after the bout, and why not? He’s the new WBO featherweight champion and now has his sights on IBF title holder Josh Warrington (30-0, 7 KOs) of England, who has already made three successful title defense. That should be a very interesting fight.

The co-main event saw female 130-pound prospect Mikaela Mayer of Los Angeles advanced to 12-0 with a sixth round TKO of Argentina’s Alejandra Zamora (7-4, 1 KO).

Mayer was sharp, landing good punches to the head and body, and landing hard left hooks over and over. It was Mayer’s fifth win by knockout. Mayer has everything needed to be a star. She can fight, she has a great social media presence, she’s hot, and as Muhammad Ali once said, she has the right complexion and the right connections. Most of all, she’s in the weight range of a lot of prominent female fighters at 130. She will do some business in the near future.

Lima Bests McDonald to win the Bellator Welterweight Grand Prix

The final of the year-long Bellator Welterweight Grand Prix Tournament ended a bit of an anticlimax, as Douglas Lima won the Bellator welterweight title for the third time, besting Rory MacDonald over five rounds at the Mohegan Sun Casino.

Needing little more than the occasional well timed jabs and leg kicks Lima managed to keep MacDonald in a mostly defensive stance for much of the fight. MacDonald, try as he might, was unable to take Lima down for most of the fight, even when he did get into with good shots. Lima simply refused to go down! MacDonald finally managed to get on top in the fifth round, but by that time the fight had been decided.

Welterweight remains Bellator’s busiest division and Lima will have plenty of options going forward in defending his title. But part of me can’t help but wonder what Douglas Lima could do in the UFC! He’s a big welterweight with great striking and wonderful takedown defense, and against the breed of power wrestlers that currently dominates the 170-pound division, he would be a great matchup for many of them. It probably won’t happen, but it’s a damn good dream.

Other Bellator Thoughts

Nick Newell dropped his second Bellator fight on Saturday, getting smothered by Oklahoma’s Manny Muro for much of the last two rounds. It’s the way most guys are going to fight him from now on, and that’s a bad thing for Newell, and fans who like exciting fights.

Jake Hager’s third pro fight ended a no contest, as an accidental knee to the groin was enough for Kansas City’s Anthony Garrett to pack it in. When two guys are as inexperienced as these two, with only a combined eight pro fights, this stuff happens.

Welterweights Ed Ruth and Jonathan Jackson tore it up on a Friday in a three round war that could have gone either way. I would love to see those two guys in the cage again.

I don’t really need to see Roy Nelson in the cage anymore, or Frank Mir for that matter…

Maia Submits Askren

The battle for grappling supremacy lived up to its hype as Demian Maia submitted Ben Askren late in the third round, once again using his patented rear naked choke. While most of this fight took place on this feet (and actually wasn’t bad, except Askren’s atrocious footwork), the grappling exchanges were hella fun, mostly because Maia was dedicated constantly attacking with submissions. The heel hook sweep he used to finally gain the advantage was a thing of beauty, as he was the squeeze he used to get the finish. Maia didn’t even have to grab his bicep or wrist to complete the hold. He’s that strong.

Other UFC Thoughts

Heavyweights finishing with heel hooks, as undefeated Frenchman Ciryl Gane against American Don‘tale Mayes in third round, is the kind of energy I need in my life. Even though Beneil Dariush got his third win in a row and second Performance of the Night in a row, I can’t see him became a huge threat again a lightweight. Didn’t catch much of the undercard this week, since it was on in the AM on Saturday.

Final Punches

Have heard great things about the Josh Taylor-Regis Prograis fight this Saturday in England, where Taylor won by decision to unify two 140 pound titles. We now have two guys with four belts, lets have Taylor versus Jose Ramirez as soon as Ramirez gets healthy. It was good to see Showtime Championship Boxing running again, as they have been quiet for most of the second half of the year.

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Fedor vs. Rampage to headline Bellator Japan on Dec 29

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LOS ANGELES – For the first time in the organization’s history, Bellator travels to Japan and the iconic Saitama Super Arena for an historic event, as Fedor Emelianenko (38-6, 1 NC) and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (38-13) square off in a long-awaited heavyweight showdown. Bellator Japan: Fedor vs. Rampage, powered by RIZIN, takes place Sunday, December 29 and will air LIVE on Paramount Network.

Tickets for Bellator Japan: Fedor vs. Rampage go on sale November 3. Additional bouts are expected to be announced in the coming days.

“For Bellator’s debut in Japan, we wanted to bring a massive event and fighters that the Japanese fans really connect with,” said Bellator President Scott Coker. “Given the vast history of martial arts and MMA in Japan, and especially at Saitama Super Arena, this will be a very special show that no one will want to miss. This will, unquestionably, be a monumental event for Bellator and I am looking forward to the moment that Fedor and ‘Rampage’ walk out to a crowd that has known them since their careers began. I would also like to thank RIZIN for their help in making this event a possibility and we look forward to working together in the near future to showcase the best talent each organization has to offer.”

Fighting out of Stary Oskol, Belgorod Oblast, Russia, Fedor Emelianenko returns to Japan following a successful run in the Bellator Heavyweight World Grand Prix earlier this year, where he earned consecutive first-round knockouts over Chael Sonnen and Frank Mir. A former PRIDE FC Heavyweight Champion and PRIDE 2004 Heavyweight World Grand Prix Champion, “The Last Emperor” returns to where his career started. Often referred to as “The GOAT” by fans around the world, his career resume stands as one of the most impressive in the history of the sport with victories over Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko Cro Cop, Mark Hunt, Mark Coleman and Andrei Arlovski, to name a few. With 29 career victories ending via finish, the punching power and world-class Sambo of the stoic Russian could result in yet another defining moment in his illustrious career.

An eight-fight veteran of Bellator, “Rampage” Jackson’s legendary career has seen him compete against some of the top names in the sport, generating a loyal army of fans along the way. The former PRIDE and UFC champion is the proud owner of many epic highlight reel slams and knockouts that he has racked up throughout his epic battles with the likes of Chuck Liddell, Dan Henderson, “King Mo” Lawal, Kevin Randleman and, perhaps most-notably, his four-fight series with Wanderlei Silva. The Memphis, Tennessee-native has long been seen as an icon to MMA fans around the globe and has openly voiced a desire to face Fedor in front of a Japanese crowd before his career comes to an end. Now, the two legends will finally meet inside the Bellator cage on December 29 at the famed Saitama Super Arena.

Updated Bellator Japan: Fedor vs. Rampage Fight Card:
Heavyweight Main Event: Fedor Emelianenko (38-6, 1 NC) vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (38-13)

*Card subject to change.

Please visit Bellator.com for more information.

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