The recent months have seen a lot of UFC fans begin to pick up what has been true for a long time — often times it is the most nondescript looking cards that produce the craziest action. So as the Octagon heads to Utica, New York — of all places — for the first time for a rare Friday night offering, fight fans should pay attention to what is going on the cage, because it while it may not look like a barn burner on paper-we have the ingredients from some crazy shit that might just burn Utica to the ground.
1) Sam Alvey (32-10, 9-5 UFC) vs Gian Villante (16-9, 6-6 UFC) — 3 Rounds — Light Heavyweights
Well, what the hell do you say about this matchup, between Alvey, who I am convinced is either a genius or the craziest son of a bitch alive and Villante, one of the most frustrating fighters in the entire UFC?
Alvey says a lot of weird things, has a smokin’ hot wife who always seems to be with him, and seems to have more kids than Heath Slater and more fights than Russell Crowe. But the guy also wins a lot, including six of his last eight, and has beaten the likes of Daniel Kelley, Cezar Ferreira, Nate Marquardt, and Rashad Evans. That’s a pretty enviable resume.
Meanwhile, Villante is one of the most athletic guys in this division, a former college football star with huge power in both hands. He has had some excellent wins, including knocking out Corey Anderson with one shot, and has left a few big ones on the table, none bigger than when he was ahead in a fight against Shogun Rua and stood in front of him and let the Brazilian legend knock him out. You get the sense that Villante should be a serious threat in this division, but he’s his own worst enemy most of the time.
On paper, Alvey’s counterpunching style seems will suited to handle the gaps that Villante has in his defense, as he tends to throw a combination and just stay there to be hit. But while Alvey starched newcomer Marcin Prachnio with a single right hook in his first fight at 205 in year in February, Villante is a big dude with his heavy hands and Alvey might not be able to take his punch. Plus, Villante does seem to fight better closer to home, and Utica should qualify. No matter what happens here, this one should be something of a spectacle.
2) Julio Arce (14-2, 2-0 UFC) vs Daniel Teymur (6-1, 0-1 UFC) — 3 Rounds — Featherweights
If you’re looking for a sleeper for Fight of the Night, look no further than this battle between featherweights as Queens’ Arce, out of Team Tiger Shulman, who has a big night this night, facing one of the Syriac-Swedish kickboxing brothers, Daniel, not to be confused with his brother David, who will be fighting on the undercard, who notably beat Lando Vanatta in the co-main event of UFC 209.
Arce came to the UFC through last summer’s excellent Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, as one of the most experienced fighters on the show that season. He had only lost twice in fourteen fights, to current UFC bantamweight Brian Kelleher, and that night he handled an explosive striker named Peter Petties, stopping him in the second round. Then he made his official UFC debut, out striking another DWTNCS product, Dan Ige, over three highly competitive rounds. Meanwhile, Teymur made his UFC debut last July in Scotland, a decorated kickboxer who actually has pretty good ground skills. He lost a close decision to hometown fighter Danny Henry, but walked a with 50G Fight of the Night bonus that night.
Both these men are excellent strikers, with Arce being more boxing heavy while Teymur is a world-class kickboxer. If those two men stand and bang, we are going to have some fun stuff. But if one person chooses to grapple and take it to the ground, they might have the advantage. IF one chooses to do that, it might be Teymur, who is coming down for lightweight and has three wins by submission. But let’s just hope they stand, and swing away…
3) Jake Ellenberger (31-13, 11-8 UFC) vs Ben Saunders (21-9-2, 9-6 UFC) — 3 Rounds — Welterweights
Two welterweights who badly need a win clash here as Ellenberger ends a year-long layoff against Saunders, who is coming in on short notice, replacing Bryan Barberena. Frankly, that makes it a much better fight and a much more even fight.
Ellenberger was once of the best welterweights in the world, but somewhere along the way he started to freeze up in his biggest fights, most notably against Robbie Lawler and Kelvin Gastelum. He is 2-7 in his last nine fights, the last one being a brutal one-elbow knockout to Mike Perry last April. Meanwhile, Saunders returned to the UFC in 2014 and was on a pretty nice run, winning five out of six, but then he was knocked out by Peter Sobotta last May, then again, a brutal fight against Alan Joubin last February. It is about survival for both of these guys.
Normally, this might be a simple fight to pick-bigger, strong, faster in the favor of Saunders. But Killa B got done real dirty by Jouban. He was kayoed with a big punch, but he was getting hurt badly with strikes before the final blow. In all honesty, he should not be fighting this soon. And then you have Ellenberger, who has taken a year off, a break that is most likely long overdue. He should be fresher, faster, and more ready than he has been in years, and it might be just what he needs to beat Saunders.
4) Walt Harris (10-7, 3-6 UFC) vs Daniel Spitz (6-1, 1-1 UFC) — 3 Rounds — Heavyweights
There’s gonna be a lot of height in that cage when this battle of former college athletes kicks off as surprising veteran and former basketballs star Harris faces Spitz, a former college offensive lineman who’s just finishing his first cup of coffee in the Octagon.
After a rough start in the UFC, the 6’5 Harris was starting to put things together, winning three of four before taking a no risk fight against Fabricio Werdum on about twelve hours’ notice last October. He got submitted in less than a minute, but he locked worlds better (getting the rub, as Daniel Cormier would say) against Mark Godbeer, before taking a dodgy disqualification loss in a fight that he was dominating. Entering his tenth UFC fight, Harris looks to finally reach his potential. Meanwhile, we still don’t know what we have in the 6’7 Spitz, who gassed out in his UFC debut against Godbeer last March and then caught Anthony Hamilton with a right to temple and finished him in twenty-four seconds.
At his core, however, Spitz is a tall dude with pretty good hands. But Harris has finally developed a full MMA game and is more versatile on both the feet and the ground. He will be forced to use his head movement to get inside the taller guy, but in actuality, Spitz is probably just what “The Big Ticket” ordered.
5) Gregor Gillespie (11-0, 4-0 UFC) vs Vinc Pichel (11-1, 4-1 UFC) — 3 Rounds — Lightweights
The UFC’s lightweight division is so full that it seems like there are ten guys that you could look at and say, “why is no one talking about this guy!” Of all those dudes, none may be more dangerous than Gregor Gillespie, a four-time NCAA All American in wrestling and 2007 National Champion who comes from Long Island and slowly climbing his way up the ladder.
Gillespie has been matched very well in the UFC. He had one of the best fights of 2017 that no one talked about, a war with the 6’2 Jason Gonzales that saw him survive some hellacious strikes before submitting Gonzales in the second round. He followed that up with a dominant performance over Jordan Rinaldi this February in Charlotte, smashing the hometown boy in less than a round. Also on that Charlotte card, was Pichel the former TUF semifinalist who took a two-and-a-half-year break before returning to stop Damien Brown in New Zealand last July before he outdueled Joachim Silva in Charlotte. Now he gets the big fight he called for.
It’s an interesting matchup mostly because you’re not quite sure when Pichel is going to bring after his layoff. He has looked really good in his last two fights, but he is taking a huge step up in class and despite being such a strong wrestler, Gillespie has also taken the time to sharpen the other parts of his game. Other than him getting caught early, its hard to imagine Gillespie losing.
6) Jimmie Rivera (21-1, 5-0 UFC) vs Marlon Moraes (20-5-1, 2-1 UFC) — 5 Rounds —Bantamweights
A battle that has been brewing for a long time finally comes to ahead between two bantamweights who may be one win away from title contention. There was talk of the fifth ranked Moraes stepping in to face the fourth ranked Rivera when Dominick Cruz fell out of their scheduled fight at UFC 219. But he had just scored a first round knockout over Aljamin Sterling and couldn’t make the weight. There was talk of even doing it at featherweight, but for whatever reason, Moraes decided not to take the fight, and Rivera, normally a very respectful dude, has been pissed off ever since.
So now we get this battle between two men who was as decorated as any before coming into the UFC. Rivera was the 135-pound champion in King of the Cage, Ring of Combat, and Cage Fury, and has won all five fights in the UFC, including huge wins over Urijah Faber and Thomas Almedia, while building a ridiculous twenty fight winning streak. Meanwhile, Moraes was the WSOF bantamweight champion, successfully defending the title five times, amassing a twelve-fight winning streak of his own. He lost a close decision to Rafael Assuncao (who just can’t get any fucking respect in this division, what the hell), but bounced back with wins over John Dodson and Sterling. This is as elite of a non-title fight as you will get in the lower weight classes.
It’s also a tough one to call. No one has been able to figure out Rivera’s style, as he stays light on his feet and moves very well, timing big strikes and takedowns very well. But Moraes has shown some skill at cutting off and nailing movers and has shown an ability to slow things down. Also coming into factor is that Moraes has a superior ground game as a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt and you have to wonder if Rivera will look to take him down. Then there’s the five rounds, Rivera has done it before, but Moraes has done it more and more lately.
That being said, Rivera has twenty freaking fights in a row. Yes, Moraes seems to come out better on paper but he’s facing a guy who functions and believes like an undefeated fighter. It’s one of those you just can’t call.
Was Max Holloway Robbed at UFC 251?
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:
211 someone called the police @BlessedMMA won
— Ali Abdelaziz (@AliAbdelaziz00) July 12, 2020
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.
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.
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