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McGregor-Cerrone = De La Hoya vs Mayorga 2?

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2005 was a very important year for my development as a combat sports fan. I had grown up watching boxing with my father but the year I turned eighteen, I started to explore the history of the sport for my own and was watching every card I could get my eyes on, whether it was HBO, ESPN, Fox Sports, or whatever. But 2005 was conspicuous at the time for the absence of my favorite boxer at the time as well as the sports biggest star, Oscar De La Hoya.

“The Golden Boy” took 2005 off after a difficult 2004, which had seen the five division world champion move way too far up the scale to the middleweight division, where he struggled to a twelve round decision over an unheralded German named Felix Sturm and was knocked out for the first time in his career by a single body-shot from the then undisputed middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins. But finally it was announced that on May 4, 2006, De La Hoya would make his return against former unified welterweight champion and reigning WBC junior middleweight champion Ricardo Mayorga.

The build up to that fight, nearly fourteen years ago now, brings memories that inspire some strong similarities to this weekend’s fight between former UFC featherweight and lightweight champion Conor McGregor and longtime fan favorite Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. Just as we saw fourteen years ago, the biggest star in the business is returning from a long layoff for a fight that will determine his future and is doing so against a fighter than many believe he should beat, but is still very, very dangerous.

To be fair to Cowboy, the comparison to Ricardo Mayorga is somewhat insulting, but not totally out of place. Like the beer drinking, somewhat vulgar, extreme sports loving Cowboy, Mayorga was a character and half.

He smoked cigarettes in the ring after victories, he was absolutely brazen in his insults, and one boxing writer said that he could speak English (Mayorga came from dirt poor conditions in Nicaragua) he would be as big a star as Mike Tyson. But as a fighter he was crude as they could come. He had a great chin and bone crunching power, but he swung wide, looped almost everything, hardly had any jab, and was easier to hit then some heavy bags.

But like Cowboy, Mayorga made for exciting fights and situations, and in the mid 2000s, he became the guy to call if you wanted an exciting comeback fight. When Puerto Rican icon Felix Trinidad came back from a two and half year layoff, Mayorga swung with him for eight years in incredible fight in Madison Square Garden. When Miguel Cotto was looking to rebuild his career after losing to Manny Pacquiao some years later, Mayorga got the call. Shane Mosley rang his name twice. But this fight with De La Hoya was something else.

De La Hoya and Mayorga nearly fought at press conferences, commercial shots, and weigh-ins. Mayorga referred to Oscar as a Mama’s Boy, a bitch, and a word we don’t say anymore. He even went after Oscar’s wife and newborn son, crossing lines even Conor hasn’t crossed in the past. In short, it went like the build up to a common Conor fight, the exact opposite of how the buildup to this fight has gone. Indeed Conor has shown Cowboy a whole lot of respect, and many expect Conor to the better for it.

Maybe someone should have suggested that to Mayorga, because he paid for all of the night of May 4, 2006, as Oscar dropped him with a perfect left hook in the first round, beat him up a little before finally dropping him again in the sixth before De La Hoya swarmed him on the ropes and overwhelmed him until Jay Nady stopped the fight. Mayorga, the much bigger man, walked straight to Oscar swinging wide, and while he landed a few shots in rounds four and five, he didn’t have much for the much better boxer.

It’s not too far from how some people think this fight could go. Cowboy seems poised to come forward with his usual Thaiesque style, straight at Conor, which seems ideal for Conor’s fast hands, angles, and big left. We are hoping Cowboy brings nuance and cage smarts, but much like Ricardo Mayorga was for most of his career, Cowboy is often his own worst enemy. Many seem to believe we are going down that road this Saturday night.

And while Oscar beat a ready-made opponent all those years ago, the fallout was Oscar faced Floyd Mayweather a year later in what was at that point the Biggest Fight in the History of Combat Sports, drawing 2.4 million pay per view buys. Conor McGregor hopes for a similar windfall with a win this Saturday.

And Cowboy is hoping like hell he can stop history from repeating itself…

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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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