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The Weekend Preview for the Weekend of January 26-28, 2018

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The Weekend Preview returns for an absolute monster of a weekend, with UFC and Bellator both featuring cards, WWE and WWE NXT offering their first big shows of the year, and HBO Boxing showcasing their first card of their Spring 2018 season. Let’s GO!

Friday, January 26, 2018

MMA

LFA 32 — Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino — Lake Charles, Louisiana, 9 p.m. ET (AXSTV)

The country’s biggest independent MMA promotion has gotten off to a roaring start so far in 2018, with the two previous cards producing noteworthy events in title fights. The notoriety of Legacy has gone up with many of its fighters being featured on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, as well as many of their recent fighters producing in the UFC. This time, LFA heads to one of their major strongholds in southern Louisiana, closing the fight with a banger of a doubleheader.

The main event will feature two big time middleweight prospects “All In” Brendan Allen (8-2), a local Louisiana boy who now trains at noted Rofusport Academy in Milwaukee, facing undefeated Anthony Hernandez (5-0) of California for the vacant LFA middleweight title. Allen is fighting for the fourth time in the promotion and this is his second crack at the title, having lost a five-round decision to Eryk Anders for the title last June. Anders has gone on to become one of the hottest prospects in the entire UFC. Allen bounced back with a second-round submission over top prospect in Chris Harris in August and now will face Hernandez, who will be making his promotional debut. Hernandez trains out of the MMA Gold team in California and has finished all five of his opponents by first round stoppage, the last four coming by guillotine choke…

While Allen trains at a renowned kickboxing gym, Allen is a talented grappler with five wins by submission, and while Hernandez has finished his last four fights with the guillotine, he tends to like to beat his opponents down before finishing with submissions. It is a very interesting fight and the winner will probably end up in the UFC soon.
The co-main event is equally interesting as DWTNCS vet Ryan “Superman” Spann (12-5) faces UFC veteran Alex Nicholson (9-4) at 205 pounds. Spann was kayoed in just 23 seconds by Karl Robertson on the show but he has bounced back two first round stoppage wins, including knocking TUF 23 veteran Myron Dennis in December. Meanwhile, Nicholson had a disappointing 1-3 run in the UFC and seemed drained fighting at 185 pounds. Nicholson looks rejuvenated at 205, knocking out both of his opponents in the first round. Given they are a starved for talent in the UFC 205 division, the winner getting a call up to the big show is not out of the question, especially since both guys can hit. This one might not last long…

Bellator 193 — Pechanga Resort and Casino — Temecula, California, 9 p.m. ET (Paramount Network)

Bellator presents their second show of the year with an interesting main event, with Lorenz Larkin (18-7, 0-2 Bellator) facing Fernando Gonzales (27-14, 7-1 Bellator) in a battle of seasoned welterweight veterans. It’s an interesting fight from two guys who both having something to prove and for different reasons, both desperately need a win.

Larkin jumped to Bellator last June while on a major roll, having four out of five in the UFC (the loss was a robbery to Albert Tumenov) and was considered to be a serious welterweight title threat before the jump. But since jumping to Bellator he lost a five-round decision to then Bellator welterweight champ Douglas Lima and was knocked out by Paul Daley, so he needs a win badly. Meanwhile Gonzales is coming off a big win over Brennan Ward in August, but his problem has been making weight. He’s missed weight twice before, one of the reasons that this fight was held at a catchweight of 180 pounds, but then Gonzales went and missed weight by .3 pounds…

The desperate nature of this fight makes it hard to predict. Logic tells you that Larkin’s hard leg kicks and good boxing should carry him, but who knows where his head is at after two losses. Gonzales may have an advantage here because of his style. It’s a very unpredictable fight.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

MMA

UFC on Fox 27 — Time Warner Arena — Charlotte, North Carolina, Prelims – 4 p.m. ET, Main Card – 8 p.m ET (UFC Fight Pass/FOX)

You can look at this card and think of it two ways. You can see it as one of the weakest Big Fox cards of the Fox era or look at this an opportunity for young fighters to get over on the biggest platform of their careers. Given the kind of a guy I am, I look at the latter.

The main event is an interesting one as forth ranked middleweight Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (24-5, 7-2 UFC) faces eighth ranked Derek Brunson (18-5, 8-3 UFC) in a rather interesting rematch. The two met in Strikeforce back in 2012 and Jacare flattened the much less experienced Brunson in less than a minute, but there is a lot of water under the bridge since then and the two could not be coming off more different experiences in their last two fights. Jacare was knocked out in the second round by Robert Whitaker last April in Kansas City, while Brunson went down to Brazil and scored the biggest win of his career, knocking out Lyoto Machida in one round.

Given the streak he’s on, the fact that he’s fighting in his home state of North Carolina, and he’s looking to avenge a loss, Brunson has a lot on the line here. One would think that Jacare can shake off the layoff and knockout loss in his last fight, but at thirty-three and with twenty-nine pro fights, one has to wonder if Souza might be a little long in the tooth. It is a fight with a lot of wild cards and that could make this very exciting.
The co -main is a battle of skilled, but flawed featherweights, as eleventh ranked Dennis Bermudez (16-7, 8-5 UFC) faces Team Alpha Male’s Andre Fili (17-5, 5-4 UFC). These are two guys who have massive potential but can’t seem to get a win streak going lately. Bermudez is coming off two losses, a knockout to the Korean Zombie and a close decision to Fili’s teammate Darren Elkins. Fili is coming off a solid win over Artem Lobov but has yet to win two fights in a row in the UFC. But Fili has lost mostly to wild strikers, and Bermudez is basic in that department. That may give Fili the advantage.

The fighter that may benefit the most from this platform is undefeated Gregor Gillespie (10-0, 3-0 UFC) who will be taking a big step up in class against Jordan Rinaldi (13-5, 1-1 UFC). Gillespie is a big-time wrestler who is coming off a Fight of the Night victory in his last fight against Jason Gonzales, who is the biggest lightweight I’ve ever seen. He has the look of a real championship contender and he can launch himself against local boy Rinaldi, who is coming off a submission victory last August in Mexico City. This one should be really fun.

After being shut out last week in Boston, the ladies return full force this week on the undercard. The biggest fight is Kaitlyn Chookagian, dropping down to 125 from 135 for the first time in the UFC, facing Italy’s Mara Romero Borella. whose coming off a big win against Kalinda Faria in October. Chookagian was once one of the top flyweights in the world before jumping up to 135 in the UFC, so it should be interesting to see how she looks here. At 115, Randa Markos (7-5, 3-4 UFC) will look to get back in the win column against Juliana Lima (9-4, 3-3 UFC) and in what should be a barnburner, Justine Kish (6-1, 2-1 UFC) will be moving up to flyweight to face Ji Yeon Kim (6-1-2, 0-1 UFC) who is moving down from 135. Both of these ladies really like to scrap, so this one should be real fun. And hopefully, Kish doesn’t shit on anyone this time.

Pro Wrestling

NXT Takeover Philadelphia — Wells Fargo Center — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 8 p.m. ET (WWE Network)

Oh my what a joy this world be! The first Takeover of the year will launch from Philadelphia and in the main event, Johnny Gargano will challenge Andrade Cien Almas for the NXT Championship. It’s the culmination of an underdog story that has been playing out ever since Gargano’s DIY partner, Tommaso Ciampa, attacked him and abandoned him last May in Chicago. Gargano entered the mini tournament to become number one contender as a late replacement and somehow came out the winner. It’s serendipity that Gargano is challenging Almas, who beat him in Brooklyn to launch his own title run. Almas, formerly known as La Sombra, was one of the best wrestlers in the world before coming to NXT, and he’s finally proved it over the last six months. And it’s been a long time since a female performer had as much influence in male-female package as Celine Vega has had on Almas. They are a dynamite package.

Also on this card, the team formerly known as reDRagon, Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly will face the Authors of Pain for the NXT Tag Team Belts, while their Undisputed Era partner, Adam Cole will face Aleister Black in a No Holds Barred Match that has expectations that may be too damn high. In what should be a highly intriguing match, Ember Moon will defend her hard-fought for Women’s Title against Shayna Baszler, who used Kevin Owens esque bullying tactics to get William Regal to give her a very quick title shot. I haven’t looked forward to a Women’s Title match this much in a while.

Boxing

HBO World Championship Boxing — The Forum — Inglewood, California, 10:30 p.m. ET (HBO)

The first HBO Boxing card of the year will launch two fighters who have been mainstays of the network for many years in separate fights. The main event will be long time junior welterweight contender Lucas Matthysse (38-4, 35 KOs), fighting at welterweight for only the second time, facing completely unknown Thai Fighter Tewa Kiram (38-0, 28 KOs) for a vacant welterweight title.

Matthysse is one of the best fighters in boxing to somehow never win a world title, having lost three times in junior welterweight title shots. The first two were close decisions to Zab Judah and Danny Garcia, but in his title match fifteen months ago, his face was destroyed in a knockout loss to Viktor Postal. After a ten-month layoff, Matthysse moved up in weight and knocked out Emmanuel Taylor in the fifth round. Meanwhile, Kiram has only fought once outside of Thailand and that was years ago. While he has fought some solid foreign competition, he has also fought some softies as well. But he’s a big welterweight and he seems to have some skills. But you can’t say anything about how he will do with Matthysse or how he will stand up to his punch. This is a complete wildcard fight.

The co-feature will be WBC/WBA lightweight champion Jorge Linares (43-3, 27 KOs), one of the best fighters in the world in my eyes, defending his belts for the sixth time against Filipino American Mercito Gesta (31-1-2, 17 KOs). Linares has risen in the last two years from a what-might-have-been to the best lightweight in the world. He is undefeated for the last six years and is coming off one of his toughest wins to date, a close decision over England’s Luke Campbell. Linares is hoping for a big fight with WBO champion Mikey Garcia, but politics look to make that fight impossible.

Gesta is here to keep Linares busy. He too was once one of the best prospects in boxing and despite going 5-0-1 over the past five years, he has never quite recovered for his loss to Miguel Vasquez in 2012 in one of the most boring world title fights in modern boxing history. Much of it seems to be mental, but Gesta does not have the speed and power he seemed to display as a prospect. Anyways, this card is a showcase for two stars HBO wants to push. Hopefully, they do well, and we get a pair of good fights.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Pro Wrestling

WWE Royal Rumble — Wells Fargo Center — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 8 p.m. ET, (WWE Network)

It’s finally here. The Road to WrestleMania begins with the Royal Rumble and we aren’t just making history tonight, we are making Herstory, with the first ever Women’s Royal Rumble. With eighteen women only announced for the match, there is no telling who else is gonna fill those 12 spots, which makes this match highly intriguing, especially with the slim, SLIM prospect of Ronda Rousey (she’s supposed to be in Columbia right now). But anyways, I could not be more excited that match.

The Men’s Rumble is still happening, and really, I have no idea whose gonna win. While I’m going to be safe and say Roman Wins (LOL), who knows what else is gonna happen in that match. Callups? Returns? Surprises? Whatever.

Also, we have a Triple Threat title match as Braun Strowman and Kane will challenge Brock Lesnar for the Universal Title, and with how he’s built over the past few weeks, Braun should win the title, but this is WWE. Whatever, you’ll pay to go see it. F**k you.

Bellator

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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