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UFC 226 ‘Miocic vs. Cormier’ preliminary card preview

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International Fight Week is upon us and with that comes some of the best fights of the year coming to us from the fight capital of the world-Las Vegas, Nevada. Of course, the main card of UFC 226 has two of the best title fights we’ve seen in years, with UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier moving up to challenge UFC heavyweight Champion Stipe Miocic and undefeated jiu jitsu ace Brian Ortega facing UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway in one of the best fights that can be made in any division. But before the PPV even kicks off, this show boasts a STACKED undercard with some fights almost guaranteed to be crowd pleasers, with many having significant impact on their respective divisions.

UFC Fight Pass (7 pm Eastern/6 pm Central)

1) Jamie Moyle (4-2, 1-1 UFC) vs Emily Whitmire (2-2, 0-1 UFC) (115 lbs)

Two young women firmly on the UFC bubble kick off the Fight Pass portion of the card, and strangely enough, make up the entire female representation of this card. You start off with Moyle, the former amateur standout who looked great in Invicta FC before coming to the big show. She looked great against Kailan Curran in his first UFC bout in December 2016, but she was outeverythinged in Brazil against the then-undefeated Viviane Perelta. She had to pull out a bout at UFC 220 against Maryna Muroz, but she managed to land another spot on a big card.

Meanwhile Emily Whitmire battled a rib injury all throughout TUF 26. She managed to shine in her first bout, submitting the vastly more experienced Christina Marks in the first round, but she got caught under the much more experienced Roxanne Modaferri in the quarterfinals. She drew teammate Gillian Anderson at the TUF 26 finale, but the superior grappler submitted her with an armbar in about a minute.

Both women need a win badly here in they wanna stay in the UFC, especially in a staked strawweight division. Whitmire will come in with a size advantage, coming down from 125 and she will need it. Whitmire needs to stay on her feet and strike, as she has had most of her problems in her career when she is on the ground, where Moyle will undoubtedly be looking to put her. Also, both women are now at top camps, with Whitmire at Xtreme Couture and Moyle at Team Alpha Male. So, we should get the best of these two in what I feel will be a really good scrap.

2) Dan Hooker (16-7, 5-3 UFC) vs Gilbert Burns (14-2, 6-2 UFC) (155 lbs)

Two lightweights on the verge of the top fifteen will close out the Fight Pass portion of the card with a fascinating clash that has the looks on paper of being an old-fashioned striker versus grappler matchup. New Zealand’s Hooker has looked awesome moving up to lightweight with three straight wins, all by stoppage. That being said, his opponents have been a past their best Ross Pearson and Jim Miller, whom he both kayoed and Diakiese, whom Hooker has severely overmatched once the fight went to the ground.

That surely won’t happen with Burns, a second-degree black belt who is one of the most well versed Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners in the sport. He came into the UFC taking arms left and right, but his last two wins have both come by knockout. His striking has come a long way since he first came into the UFC and has main issues have been with strong wrestlers. Hooker, who was recently, a featherweight and doesn’t have near the grappling skill, won’t be able to give Burns the trouble that Rashid Magomedov and Michel Prazeres did.

Hooker instead will be looking to keep his distance and strike, and hopefully catch Burns coming into something. It is an excellent test for Burns in his ability to close the distance, either to use his much-improved hands or to take it into his world. Hooker will see his movement, ability to withstand pressure, and countering skills tested. It’s the perfect fight for both men to test their weaknesses. An impressive win for either may make them a legit lightweight contender.

FS1 (8 pm Eastern/7 pm Central)

3) Curtis Millender (15-3, 1-0 UFC) vs Max Griffin (14-4, 2-2 UFC) (170 lbs)

Yo, so unless you’re one of those people who happens to have FS2, you are going to want to hope that this card starts on time as this battle of two young welterweights has all the makings of an excellent scrap. The 6’3 Millender was one of the most unheralded prospects outside of the UFC when the year started, but he stepped up on short notice and had a highlight reel head kick KO of former title challenger Thiago Alves. It certainly got everyone looking at “Courteous” Curtis for sure.

Meanwhile, Sacramento’s Griffin was much in the same boat, even after coming into the UFC. He went 1-2 his first thee UFC fights but fought very well and was very exciting in all three fights. Then he got the good luck of facing Mike Perry on a big Fox card in February and gave the popular Perry the most lopsided loss of his career. Griffin seems to be peaking at the right time and he’s in another good spot here.

What jumps off the page in this fight in his Millender’s height and reach advantage and Griffin has to find a way to counter that if he wants any chance of winning. Griffin may be the better wrestler and you can’t blame him if he chose to try to Millender down. But the Texan is also very strong in the clinch, so Griffin may be best off trying to use angles and get in out, using his hands to try and get Millender off-balance. It’s tough go for Griffin either way, especially if Millender is as dangerous as he appeared in his debut.

4) Lando Vannata (9-2-1, 1-2-1 UFC) vs Drakkar Klose (6-1-1, 2-1 UFC) (155 lbs)

This is a very interesting fight between two of the most unorthodox fighters in the entire lightweight division. For having a 1-2-1 record, few fighters in recent UFC history have made as much an impression on fans as ‘Groovy’ Lando. He became a favorite overnight when he almost knocked out Tony Ferguson on less than two weeks’ notice in July 2016, then followed that up with one of the best knockouts of that year-a spinning heel kick KO of John Makdessi. But Vannata has sputtered since losing to the excellent David Teymur and a draw against Bobby Green. Then again, both of those were Fight of the Nights. Yet, Vannata gives off the vibe of a guy who sacrifices wins for the sake of making exciting fights, and its hard to know how to feel about that.

Meanwhile, he’s facing a very tough, very aggressive dude in the Michigan native Klose. Klose was a great wrestler at the junior college level, but he much less flat-footed that most wrestlers you see in MMA, which makes him not only a better striker than most wrestlers, but makes his double leg even more powerful than usual. He schooled Dana White: Looking for a Fight standout Devin Powell in his debut last January, then upset the highly regarded Mark Diakese mostly on the strength of leg kicks. His unbeaten run was halted by the same Teymur who beat Vannata, in a strange fight last December, where Klose was visibly frustrated throughout the fight by Teymur’s foot movement and ability to get up to his feet after takedowns. It showed Klose has a lot of maturing to do as a fighter.

So this fight comes down to what Vanatta chooses to do. Lando is definitely capable of the same type of movement and skilled kickboxing that allowed Teymur to beat Klose. But this guy loves to stand and fight, which is EXACTLY what Klose wants! Vannata can still win that battle, but his percentage goes way down, especially if Klose can take him down. My hunch is that sooner or later, Vannata will stand in front of Klose and bang. Part of me feels bad about it, and part of me can’t wait.

5) Raphael Assuncao (26-5, 10-2 UFC) vs Rob Font (15-3, 5-2 UFC) (135 lbs)

If you were going to make a list of the most underrated fighters in the UFC and you choose to put Raphael Assuncao on top of it, you would have a damn good case. All this guy seems to do is win. Since dropping down to bantamweight in 2011, he has won ten out of eleven, including beating some dude named TJ Dillashaw. Since dropping a decision in their rematch two-year ago, Asscuncao has done nothing but face young guns trying to take his spot, and any other fighter who has beaten Aljamin Sterling, Marlon Moraes, and Matthew Lopez in succession would be looking at a title shot. Instead, they’ve lined up the next young gun-Rob Font.

Font, the former CES featherweight champion, has certainly looked very good in the UFC, especially in his upset knockout win over Thomas Almedia in UFC 220, and he has a very exciting kickboxing based style. But he has done little to prove he’s at the level Assuncao is. Yes, Font has the crowd-pleasing style that Assuncao has always lacked, but he is taking a huge step up in class here. Font will have to find a way to do what Moraes and Sterling couldn’t do, and that’s push the pace against a fighter who has become near masterful at making you fight when he wants. Is Font ready for that? Is anyone not named Cruz, Dillashaw, or Garbrandt ready for that. We should get the answer here.

One thing is for sure, if Assuncao flattens Font the way he did Matthew Lopez, get this guy a money fight. Anyone else with his resume would have gotten one title shot at least. I know he ain’t the most exciting guy in the world, but he deserves a damn opportunity.

6) Paulo Costa (11-0, 3-0 UFC) vs Uriah Hall (13-8, 6-6 UFC) (185 lbs)

At a time where they have not had a male UFC Champion in over a year, many are looking for the next male Brazilian star and Paulo Costa fka Paulo Borrachinha figures to be that guy for many Brazilian fans, and why? He looks like superhero, hits like a truck, he’s undefeated and has looked great In every one of his UFC wins, including his last performance last November, where he effectively retired former UFC welterweight champion Johnny Hendricks. As long as he can past the drug test, why not?

He gets a very interesting test in his forth UFC fight, as for the first time, he faces a very dangerous, experienced striker in Uriah “Primetime” Hall.

Ever since he came into the UFC, Hall has been the picture of inconsistency. He had some of the most chilling knockouts in the history of the UFC but has also come up very short in big fights. His two-fight series with Gegard Mousasi is the best example of this. But he shook off three straight losses to score an excellent come from behind stoppage against Krzysztof Jotko. A bad weight cut cost Hall the chance to retire Borrachinha’s mentor, Vitor Belfort, but now he gets the heir apparent.

It’s a very unpredictable fight simply because the power that both men posses and Hall’s inconsistent nature. We never know what Hall we are getting-the guy who separates men from their senses for minutes at a time, or the average, coasting fighter. At the same time, we don’t know what happens if can touch Costa with his power. Hall’s chin has always been questionable as well. We don’t know what the hell is going on here or how long it’s going to last, but it sure feels like it’s going to be fun while it lasts.

MMA

Was Max Holloway Robbed at UFC 251?

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Last weekend, Max Holloway earned his featherweight title rematch against Alexander Volkanovski – but was he robbed in the decision? Many fighters and fans think so.

Here’s what legendary MMA fight manager Ali Abdelaziz had to say after the fight:

Nate Diaz was quick to chime in with his thoughts on Holloway’s loss at the hands of the judges as well:

The bottom line is this was a back and forth fight that could have gone either way. Yes, we would have scored it for Holloway too, but this is what happens when fighters leave bouts to the judges to decide.

Professional fighter Joe Schilling mentioned on a recent Joe Rogan podcast that he thought the UFC should add additional measures to keep judges more accountable. Some sort of tracking system that helps identify and remove judges who consistently score fights against the grain would be a great way to keep both fighters and fans appeased during tough decisions like this one.

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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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