The UFC’s return to the Canadian capital kicked off with six bouts televised on ESPN+. It set a fast paced, busy beginning to the card capped with a devastating rise of a women’s bantamweight star.
TUF 28 Women’s Featherweight Champion Macy Chiasson, now fighting at bantamweight
continued her rapid rise up the ranks, dominating Canadian veteran Sarah Moras en route to a second round stoppage.
Moras looked like she was going to be spoiler early on, as she took Louisiana’s Chiasson (5-0, 3-0 UFC) down less than ten seconds into the fight. After stopping some submission attempts, Moras was able to pass to half guard and land some decent GNP, but with about a minute left in the round, Chiasson found room for a half guard sweep and reversed the situation and seemed to hurt Moras (5-5, 2-4 UFC) with first ground strike she threw. The follow up strikes did a lot of damage and encouraged, Chiasson quickly took Moras down to start the second. She quickly landed strikes from half guard and soon passed to mount, unleashing a furry of shots that forced the referee to stop the fight at 2:36 of Round 2.
The win is Chiasson’s third in the past six months and second since dropping down a division to 135 pounds. With female fighters running to 125 pounds over the past two years, she can become a title threat relatively quickly in this depleted division.
Idaho’s Vince Morales finally landed himself in the UFC win column, scoring a mild upset over Canadian Aiemann Zahabi over three rounds. The young bantamweights seemed to have a lot of excess energy in the first round, missing a lot of their strikes early. Morales (9-3, 1-1 UFC) found his rhythm late in the first round, landing several nice strikes. Zahabi (7-2, 1-2 UFC), the younger brother of superstar trainer Firas Zahabi, was more accurate in the second round and a late takedown probably sealed yet another close round for him. But Morales stepped up his attack in the third round, including landing a big uppercut about two minutes into the round. The strikes of Morales was heady enough that Zahabi really tried to force the wrestling late, but Morales was able to stay on his feet and landed enough to convince all three judges to give him the win. The scores were 29-28 across the board.
Canadian welterweight veteran Nordine Taleb out of Montreal got back into the win column after a disastrous 2018, out dueling late replacement Kyle Prepolec over three rounds. Prepolec, a solid veteran fighter who took the fight on just one weeks’ notice, looked at least a weight class smaller than Taleb, who was coming off tough losses to Claudio de Silva and Sean Strickland. Prepolec started slow in the first, eating some hard strikes from Taleb but started to find his rhythm in the second, putting on good pressure and landing some decent combinations. But Taleb’s power kicking game started to take its toll visibly in the third round, with loud shots reverberating throughout the arena. Taleb put a bow on the fight by dropping Prepolec with a leg kick with twenty seconds left in the fight, capping off a successful return. The scores were 30-27 across the board.
It was much better the second time around in the UFC for Alliance MMA top prospect Matt Sayles, who submitted native Ontarian Kyle Nelson with a head and arm choke at 3:16 of the 3rd Round. Sayles (8-2, 1-1 UFC) who appeared on both Dana White: Lookin’ For A Fight and Tuesday Night Contender Series, dropped a close decision to Sheymon Moraes in his UFC debut last summer at UFC 227 in Los Angeles. He came out with a purpose and hurt Nelson (12-3, 0-2 UFC) with right hands early in the first round, but faced real adversity in the second, when Nelson took his back and nearly submitted him twice with a rear naked choke. But Sayles was able to fight and grit it out and get to the third round, where he was able to stop a takedown and sweep into the mount. After some strikes, he applied the submission and while Nelson tried to “Answer the Phone” defense, Sayles’ squeeze was much too much.
In a bout that had a lot of heated trash talk coming in, former Canadian Olympic wrestler Arjan Singh Bhullar outlasted the massive Juan Adams of Texas en route to a close, but well deserved unanimous decision. Adams, who at 6’6 and walking around at close to 300 pounds may legitimately be the biggest man in the UFC, started out strong in the first round, out landing Bhullar and landing some good combinations with his faster hands. Bhullar (9-1, 3-1 UFC) who showed improved boxing and top control, managed to take Adams down with a single leg in the second, setting up some excellent GNP, including an elbow that knocked out Adams’ mouthpiece. Both men were visibly tired going into the third after two very busy rounds and Adams (5-1, 1-1 UFC) seemed to have a slight advantage, but a late takedown from Bhullar seemed to seal the deal. The scores were 30-27 and 29-28, Twice, all for Bhullar.
It was a successful UFC debut for Squamish, British Columbia’s Cole Smith, who outlasted Canadian veteran Mitch Gagnon over three very good rounds. Gagnon, who was coming a two and half-year layoff, made a wrestling match in the first round and managed to eat most of that round, but Smith (6-0, 1-0 UFC) managed to get a waistlock takedown in the second and nearly submitted Ontario’s Gagnon with a rear naked choke. Feeling he needed a big round to win the fight, Gagnon came out and nailed Smith with a big right and nearly seemed to submit him an arm in gullitone, but Smith eventually managed to escape the hold and Gagnon down for the rest of the round. The scores were 30-27 and 29-28 two times over for Smith.
UFC 249 has a long and adventurous story
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.
What Justin Gaethje’s past fights tell us about his chances at UFC 249
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.
UFC to provide a welcome sports fix for hungry fans
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.
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.
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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