Author: E. Spencer Kyte

UFC on FOX: Jacare vs. Brunson 2 Punch Drunk Predictions

UFC on FOX: Jacare vs. Brunson 2 Punch Drunk Predictions

Saturday’s event on FOX is another one of those cards everyone says it’s terrible and not worth watching, but as per usual, I beg to differ.

Look, I’m not going to try to convince you that this is some stacked event and you’re a jerk if you aren’t hyped to see Gregor Gillespie do his thing, but I will say that the main event should be compelling and competitive, the co-main will be fun and that there are a handful of intriguing up-and-comers on this show – like Gillespie – that you might want to keep an eye on.

Here’s how I see things shaking out.

These are the UFC on FOX: Jacare vs. Brunson 2 Punch Drunk Predictions.

Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza vs. Derek Brunson

One thing I know for certain is that this is going to last longer than the first time these two met when Jacare iced a green Brunson in 41 seconds thanks largely to a beautiful inside right hand to the chin.

Under normal circumstances, I would probably take Souza – he has a more diverse offensive arsenal and is the savvier fighter, but he’s been off since losing to Robert Whittaker last year, had two different surgeries since then and contemplated walking away. Couple that with Brunson having serious power and I think we see the hometown boy draw level with another knockout win.

Prediction: Derek Brunson

Dennis Bermudez vs. Andre Fili

This one feel pretty straightforward to me: Bermudez by wrestling.

As much as Fili could stick on the outside and snipe with long punches and occasional kicks, I just don’t see Bermudez letting him hang out at range and trading with him. This is going to be a classic “crash forward and grind” performance from the perennial Top 10 fixture Bermudez.

Prediction: Dennis Bermudez

Gregor Gillespie vs. Jordan Rinaldi

Gillespie is a legit lightweight to watch.

I know the division is loaded and he’s 31 and he hasn’t fought anyone of real substance yet, but trust me on this one: “The Gift” is the goods.

He’s a four-time All-American and a perfect 10-0 since transitioning to mixed martial arts. His hands are still a work in progress, but he’s shown flashes there too, like when he blasted Andrew Holbrook in no time flat in his sophomore appearance in the Octagon.

This one is going to be lopsided.

Prediction: Gregor Gillespie

Drew Dober vs. Frank Camacho

Losing Ovince Saint Preux and Ilir Latifi forced this welterweight fight to get moved up to the main card and it should end up being a Fight of the Night contender as Camacho has taken home an additional $50,000 in each of his first two UFC appearances and Dober is down to scrap with anyone.

As much as Camacho’s pressure could make this interesting, Dober is the better overall talent and his technical advantages should carry him to victory. He’s quietly been very good since moving to Colorado to work with what used to be the Elevation Fight Team and should be able to make “Frank the Crank” pay no matter whether he stays outside or crashed forward.

Prediction: Drew Dober

Preliminary Card Picks

Bobby Green def. Erik Koch
Mirsad Bektic def. Godofredo Pepey
Mara Romero Borella def. Katlyn Chookagian
Randa Markos def. Juliana Lima
Justine Kish def. Ji Yeon Kim
Vinc Pichel def. Joaquim Silva
Niko Price def. George Sullivan
Cory Sandhagen def. Austin Arnett

2018 Prediction Record: 14-8-0 (.636)

UFC 220 Aftermath: Experience Matters

UFC 220 Aftermath: Experience Matters

Saturday night at UFC 220, reigning heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic exploited the holes in “one in a million” challenger Francis Ngannou’s skill set to grind out a demoralizing unanimous decision victory, setting the record for the most consecutive successful title defenses in the division in the process.

From the outset, Miocic used his wrestling, putting Ngannou on his back, nullifying his power and sapping his energy. With each passing round and every successful takedown, the challenger got slower and more exhausted. When you’ve got the kind of power Ngannou possesses, you’re always dangerous, which is why Miocic remained cautious whenever they were standing and went back to his wrestling every chance he got.

By the third round, Ngannou looked like he was fighting in quicksand. By the end of the fourth, he struggled to get to his feet and make it back to his corner. Those questions about his takedown defense, skill off his back and conditioning were all answered.

Ngannou was tested and he failed.

It’s not the end of the world, but it was a terrible showing given that the challenger was positioned as a man of destiny and an unstoppable juggernaut heading into the contest.

While the unknowns about Ngannou were made clear in the cage and sharply contradicted the role he was cast in during the build to the fight, it was the things everyone already knew about Miocic that shone through on Saturday night in Boston and should stand out in the aftermath of UFC 220.

He’d been the distance with elite competition and shown he could keep maintain a solid pace for 25 minutes. He’d nullified the power of a knockout artist by utilizing his wrestling. He’d proven that he could absorb punishment and keep coming forward, making adjustments to minimize damage and land big blows of his own.

He’d beaten the only two established talents Ngannou had beaten on his march to Saturday’s championship fight, finishing them inside the opening five minutes, just like the challenger.

He’d proven he was the best heavyweight in the UFC and yet he entered Saturday night’s contest as the underdog; an all-time great expected to get mauled by a guy who made his professional debut two years after Miocic started fighting on the biggest stage in the sport.

As intoxicating as potential can be, there is something to be said about known commodities – fighters with proven skills and abilities and established track records who may not have the look and feel of a titleholder, but have the knockout victories and shiny gold belt that make them the champion nonetheless.

Credentials matter. Experience matters. As Frankie Edgar said after dismantling hyped prospect Yair Rodriguez last year, “There are levels to this.”

Miocic reminded everyone that doubted him on Saturday night of that with his lopsided win over Ngannou. Light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier did the same in stopping challenger Volkan Oezdemir one fight earlier. Demetrious Johnson does it every time he steps into the cage.

It’s okay to get excited about an emerging talent and thinking about what they could do in the future, but there is no way to skip any steps in this sport.

Literally every current champion in the UFC right now has faced some kind of setback along the way and been forced to regroup, make adjustments and get better.

Every single one of them knows what it is like to lose. Some have losses on their resumes that seem unbelievable today, but if you ask them, they’d probably tell you that those are the performances that had the greatest impact on their careers.

Ngannou will be a better fighter because of this loss. He’ll be forced to get in the gym and work on his takedown defense and drill ways to get back to his feet. He will have to assess whether looking like an action hero in the cage is more important than having the conditioning to go more than five minutes at a good clip without becoming exhausted.

He’ll have to develop a Plan B for those times when his opponents don’t simply fall over and stay on the ground when he lands a good shot. And he’ll need to develop a Plan C to have in his back pocket, just in case.

Ngannou remains a ferocious hitter and potentially terrifying force in the heavyweight division and he’ll hopefully learn more from this one setback than he did all 10 of the victories that came before it. He might even still one day be champion, but a “one in a million” addition to the heavyweight ranks he is not and he never should have been positioned as such.

Conversely, it’s time to stop paying so much attention to all the pomp and circumstance and commit a little more time, energy and attention to the established talents who have no interest in singing their own praises, but have proven themselves inside the cage time and again.

There was a way to promote Saturday’s heavyweight championship matchup for what it was – a pairing between a surging prospect with tremendous potential, but a few lingering questions that needed to be answered and a no-flash Midwesterner who likes dumb jokes and shoveling his driveway and just so happens to be the baddest man on the planet, too.

Instead, the reigning champion was positioned as an obstacle standing in the way of destiny; another victim who was likely to fall at the hands of the challenger.

That’s not what happened – not even close – and now a lot of people are scrambling to figure out how to move forward from here.

Here’s an idea: stop over-hyping inexperienced and unproven talent and selling established competitors short, especially champions.

Tell their stories as they are – they’re compelling enough without the over-the-top hyperbole – and focus on outcomes, not expected results.

UFC 220: Miocic vs. Ngannou Punch Drunk Predictions

UFC 220: Miocic vs. Ngannou Punch Drunk Predictions

Before getting to the predictions for this card, I want to jump up on my soapbox for a quick minute.

There has been the usual chatter about how weak this card is beyond the two championship fights and a lot of criticism about the other three bouts that make up the main card and while none of it surprises me because it happens before pretty much every pay-per-view now, they ring particularly hollow to me this time around.

The whole “aside from the championship fights” bit never makes sense to me because those you can’t just pretend like those fights aren’t happening or act like the UFC is somehow asking you to pay for the rest of the card independently. You’re paying for the whole thing and in my opinion, those two title fights are worth the asking price on their own, making everything else that will transpire on PPV a bonus.

Secondly, I’m not buying people thinking the bantamweight fight between Thomas Almeida and Rob Font is a yawn. This time two years ago, most people had Almeida as the next big thing in the 135-pound ranks and now he’s suddenly an also-ran? And Font may not be a contender, but he’s proven himself to be an action fighter who delivers entertaining performances every time he’s in the cage. If a scrap like that doesn’t tickle your fancy, I don’t know if you should be referring to yourself as a fight fan.

Lastly, I get that Calvin Kattar and Shane Burgos aren’t big names, but they’re prospects that people who follow the UFC and cover the sport should know given that (a) Kattar rolled in and beat Andre Fili in his short notice debut (on FS1) and (b) Burgos is 3-0 in the UFC and 10-0 overall with a couple memorable moments in the Octagon to his credit.

Again, if you’re a fan of this sport or someone who gets paid to watch these events, you should know that they’re two quality emerging talents in a stacked division that is going to be front-and-center all year and that their placement on the main card is a way to introduce them to the portion of the audience that only wants to tune in to see the guys that are fighting for the shiny gold belts.

Not all cards can be monsters and if you can’t get behind an event with two terrific title fights, a Top 15 pairing and a bout between a couple solid emerging talents in a deep division, I think you’re in for a long year of hate-watching UFC events.

Thanks for listening.

Here are my picks.

These are the UFC 220: Miocic vs. Ngannou Punch Drunk Predictions.

Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou

Man, I have been wrestling with this one for a while because like everyone else, I recognize the hellacious power Ngannou possesses and that we’ve seen Miocic get clipped a couple times in the past. If that happens here, he won’t have a chance to recover; that’s the kind of power and finishing instincts the challenger brings to the table.

That being said, I think Miocic is the craftier of the two and the more complete of the two and something tells me we’ll see him take a similar approach to the strategy he used against Mark Hunt.

Ngannou is far less powerful when his back is on the fence or the floor and my guess is Miocic will look to keep him in one of those two spots for as long as possible. If he gets him down and can keep him there – which is a big if, I know – I think the champion has the top control and effective offense to do a lot of damage. Think back to that fight with Hunt – it had me wondering if Miocic was the guy that would end up being Cain Velasquez’s greatest rival. Now I think he’s supplanted Velasquez as the best, most complete fighter in the division and I think we see him prove that once again here.

Prediction: Stipe Miocic

Daniel Cormier vs. Volkan Oezdemir

Oezdemir is still underrated and could be someone who is at the start of a long stay in the upper echelon of the light heavyweight division, but I’ve only seen one man defeat Daniel Cormier and since that dude isn’t the one stepping into the Octagon on Saturday night, I’m sticking with “DC” to retain his title.

Look – you can question his title reigns all you want and remind me that he’s 0-2 against Jones, but Cormier has also beaten literally everyone else that has been put in front of him and done so with relative ease. The only other person to test him was Alexander Gustafsson and while Oezdemir might be able to replicate that performance here, Cormier still rightfully came away with the win and will do the same in Boston.

Prediction: Daniel Cormier

Calvin Kattar vs. Shane Burgos

Like I said up top, this is a terrific little fight between a pair of featherweight upstarts looking to take the next step forward in a loaded weight class. Kattar has won nine straight, including his unanimous decision win over Fili at UFC 214, while Burgos is perfect through  his first 10 fights, meaning someone’s lengthy winning streak is coming to an end.

While I was really impressed with Kattar’s ability to roll in and get the better of Fili in Anaheim back in July, I’m siding with Burgos in this one because the New Yorker reminds me a little bit of featherweight champ Max Holloway in that he works behind a quality jab, throws in combinations, recognizes when he gets his opponents hurt and turns up the output accordingly.

As long as he comes out with the kind of steady offense he’s exhibited thus far in his UFC career, “Hurricane Shane” should rain on Kattar’s homecoming.

Prediction: Shane Burgos

Gian Villante vs. Francimar Barroso

Okay, if you want to be critical of any fight on the main card, I’m not going to stop you from questioning why this one made the cut. Both guys are coming off losses, they’re not Top 15 talents and it’s not like they’re faded veterans who can still trade on their names either, so yeah, if we’re doing the whole “one of these things is not like the other,” this is the one that doesn’t belong.

This is another one of those fights that Villante should win because he has more power and – in theory – a little bit of a wrestling game to fall back on if things get rough, but the Serra-Longo product and BFF of the heavyweight champion tends to take more of a “you punch me and I’ll punch you and we’ll see who falls down first” approach to things that can always make it scary to pick him.

That said, he should be able to get through Barroso.

Prediction: Gian Villante

Thomas Almeida vs. Rob Font

The fact that people are suddenly not enthused about seeing Almedia compete this weekend is Exhibit 437 in the case for MMA fans being the most fickle and fair-weather fans in all of sports.

Two years ago, when he was 20-0 with 19 finishes and coming off four straight UFC victories – all of which produced a bonus – the Brazilian standout was considered one of the most can’t miss prospects in the sport. Then he loses to a guy that ends up winning the damn title seven months later (Cody Garbrandt) and a top contender on a 20-fight winning streak (Jimmie Rivera) and he becomes this dude no one cares about any more.

Watch how quickly that will change if he lights up Font and collects another savage finish, which I think he will on Saturday.

Font is a perfect lower third of the rankings resident – too good for scrubs, but not quite good enough to beat guys in the Top 10. He’s good everywhere and might be able to catch Almeida with something because he likes to hang out in the pocket and doesn’t have great defense, but given Almeida’s power, the more likely outcome in my eyes is the former up-and-coming star collecting the kind of blistering knockout that reminds everyone of his upside.

Prediction: Thomas Almeida

Preliminary Card Picks

Brandon Davis def. Kyle Bochniak
Abdul Razak Alhassan def. Sabah Homasi
Alexandre Pantoja def. Dustin Ortiz
Dan Ige def. Julio Arce
Matt Bessette def. Enrique Barzola
Islam Makhachev def. Gleison Tibau

2018 Prediction Record: 9-2-0 (.818)

UFC Fight Night: Stephens vs. Choi Punch Drunk Predictions

UFC Fight Night: Stephens vs. Choi Punch Drunk Predictions

Here we go – once more into the breach for another year for UFC fight predictions.

The 2018 campaign kicks off with a familiar theme hovering overhead as fight week issues forced not one, but two bouts to be pulled from today’s line-up in St. Louis. First it was Zak Cummings slipping in the tub and splitting his head open and then Saturday, Uriah Hall was taken to the hospital without weighing in, scrapping his co-main event assignment and delaying Vitor Belfort’s retirement fight by a couple months.

Nonetheless, this is a solid show for a Sunday afternoon after football and the main card should be exciting.

Here’s who I think will emerge victorious.

These are the Punch Drunk Predictions.

Jeremy Stephens vs. Dooho Choi

As much as Choi is super-entertaining to watch and coming off his 2016 Fight of the Year battle with Cub Swanson, this is a terrible matchup for the talented South Korean featherweight. He doesn’t move particularly well and tends to deploy an “I trust my chin” style of defense in striking exchanges, neither of which are good things when you’re facing a seasoned heavy hitter like Stephens.

While he’s yet to put together the kind of winning streak needed to climb all the way into contention, the 31-year-old Stephens is coming off one of his most complete and professional performances to date – a three-round mauling of Gilbert Melendez at UFC 215 in Edmonton. The Alliance MMA product chopped at Melendez’ lead leg and beat him to the punch in most exchanges, remaining patient throughout even though he had the former Strikeforce champ hobbling around on a bad wheel.

Stephens has only been stopped by strikes once, so while Choi has excellent power, I’m not sure he’s going to be the man to drop and finish the 26-fight UFC veteran. Look for Stephens to press forward, beat up Choi’s lead leg and snipe home big shots similar to the approach he deployed against Melendez. Because he’s got a couple extra rounds to work with, I think he’ll get the stoppage late in the fight.

Prediction: Jeremy Stephens

Paige VanZant vs. Jessica-Rose Clark

It feels like there are a lot of people who are writing off VanZant, which is odd to me because this is the time to be buying up her faded stock.

Look – I think the UFC has pushed her too quickly and spent too much time trying to convince people that she’s a contender when the results just haven’t been there, but the 23-year-old is moving up to a division where she is a much better fit physically and has shown the flashes of talent that justify her being viewed as a solid prospect. At the end of the day, her two UFC losses have come against the reigning strawweight champion and a former Invicta champ with much more experience and savvy.

Clark is a tough Aussie who has shared the cage with some familiar names, but she’s struggled against more skilled opponents and just squeaked by in her biggest wins. She’s gutsy and durable and isn’t going to be overwhelmed by suddenly being in the co-main event, however I’m not sure if she has the all-around skills to get the job done against someone like VanZant.

After a year working with Chael Sonnen’s crew in Portland, I think we see a more grappling-heavy style from VanZant, who has always been a good scrambler and opportunistic in her pursuit of submissions. Look for her to use her speed and movement to get inside, bring this to the mat and work Clark over from there, eventually finding a finish.

Prediction: Paige VanZant

Kamaru Usman vs. Emil Meek

Kamaru Usman is a different type of fighter, man.

You know the guy Colby Covington thinks he is? Kamaru Usman is that guy – a powerhouse wrestler who can also lay you out if the fight stays standing. While Covington talks all kind of junk, Usman simply puts in work and piles up wins, having collected six straight victories in the UFC and 10 consecutive wins overall heading into this one.

Meek is a dangerous brawler who showed he can go the distance in his UFC debut, but this feels like a fight where Usman shows he’s on a different level than the wild Norwegian. As much as I want to see these two stand and slug is out, I fully expect this to be a takedown heavy affair where Usman breaks Meek’s spirit before breaking him down physically and getting the stoppage.

Prediction: Kamaru Usman

Darren Elkins vs. Michael Johnson

I’m not sure what to make of this fight because on paper, Johnson is an intriguing addition to an already loaded division and has the power and hand speed to be a factor at featherweight. But he’s always been a guy with suspect Fight IQ to me and I’m not sure how much better he’s going to be dropping down in weight.

The one thing that I know for sure heading into this one is that Elkins remains criminally underrated and one of the toughest outs in the UFC. You don’t catch a beating like the one he took against Mirsad Bektic only to rally back and get a stoppage of your own in the dying seconds of the fight without having insane resolve, tons of heart and an unbreakable spirit.

Thinking about how this might play out, I keep going back to Johnson’s fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov and while Elkins isn’t the same kind of grappler as the unbeaten lightweight contender, he’s a very good wrestler and tenacious enough to eat some shots in order to get inside and take this to the floor. Plus, he’s a former lightweight as well, so it’s not like Johnson is going to be significantly bigger than him or anything.

As much as Johnson getting a win at home in St. Louis in his divisional debut would be a nice story, I think Elkins keeps his winning streak going by earning the kind of dominant victory that forces everyone to start thinking about him as a potential contender in this division the rest of the year.

Prediction: Darren Elkins

Preliminary Card Picks

James Krause def. Alex White
Matt Frevola def. Marco Polo Reyes
Irene Aldana def. Talita Bernardo
JJ Aldrich def. Danielle Taylor
Jessica Eye def. Kalindra Faria
Mads Burnell def. Mike Santiago
Kyung Ho Kang def. Guido Cannetti

 

UFC 219: 10 Things We Learned Last Night

UFC 219: 10 Things We Learned Last Night

1. And Still

Cris Cyborg retained her featherweight title with a unanimous decision victory over Holly Holm to close out UFC 219. One official scored the fight 49-46 for the Brazilian champion while the two remaining judges – Dave Hagen and Chris Lee – had the fight 48-47, giving Holm the opening two rounds, meaning the former bantamweight queen could have pulled upset with a more effective performance in the final stanza.

This was Cyborg’s most impressive performance to date. As much as some of the times she’s mauled opponents in no time flat has been fun, it was really interesting and captivating to see her pushed for the first time in forever, forced to deal with an opponent who was able to return fire and take the punishment the Brazilian standout was dishing out. Holm fought a very good fight and likely would have gotten the better of most other competitors on Saturday night in Las Vegas, but unfortunately for her, she was in the cage with an unbeatable superstar who took her best shots and responded with even better offense en route to securing her position as the top female fighter, both now and in the history of the sport.

2. Time to give Cyborg a serious push

I know she just headlined a pay-per-view and has been the main event of a couple televised events, but it’s time for the UFC to really see what they have in Cyborg in terms of her drawing power and star power and give her the kind of promotional push that the dominant, tenured champion deserves.

Give her a pay-per-view main event in Brazil and watch how nuts the crowd goes for her. Give her a chance to connect with fans outside of the MMA bubble and see how well the ferocious fighter who also happens to be a genuine, caring, engaging personality outside of the cage can do when provided with a platform to connect with an new audience.

There are always going to be the legion of troglodytes that spew sad, hateful comments at her, but you can’t hold her back because some people are morons. Cyborg is one of the most dominant fighters in the history of the sport and she should be promoted and marketed as such in 2018.

3. Nurmagomedov is next level

I’m not sure there is anyone that can beat Khabib Nurmagomedov.

The undefeated lightweight returned to the Octagon for the first time in 13 months and trounced Edson Barboza, eating hard leg kicks like nothing as he pressed forward into the clinch, where he was able to dragging the Brazilian to the canvas and open up a can of whoop ass. For almost the entire fight, Nurmagomedov pressed forward, putting Barboza on the canvas and roughing him up. While he didn’t get the finish, the result was never in doubt and the performance affirmed that “The Eagle” is the top contender in the deep and talented lightweight division.

In fact, he very well could be the best fighter in the weight class, superior to titleholders Conor McGregor and Tony Ferguson. The only reason we don’t know that for sure yet is because Nurmagomedov has yet to face either one inside the Octagon, but that should change in 2018. Unbeaten in 25 fights, the only thing that has been able to slow Nurmagomedov has been injuries and weight cutting issues, but with the latter seemingly dealt with, it’s seems like the only thing that could stop him from challenging for gold is another injury.

Send up your offerings to the MMA gods now because we’ve been waiting too long to see Nurmagomedov fight for the lightweight title and the opportunity is once again upon us.

4. Hooker finding a home at lightweight

Dan Hooker returned to lightweight for his debut appearance in 2017 and collected a second-round knockout win over Ross Pearson. Saturday night, the New Zealander made it two fights and two finishes (over two Brits) by choking out Marc Diakiese.

Expected to be a back-and-forth striking battle, the first two rounds didn’t feature as much action as everyone anticipated, leading the crowd to rain down boos and social media to shift its attention elsewhere as the fight chugged along. Diakiese came out hot to start the third, pressing forward behind quick, sharp hands and it seemed like business was about to pick up, but just when he started landing, Diakiese opted to dive in on a sloppy takedown and Hooker made him pay, locking in a tight ninja choke that immediately made “The Bonecrusher” tap.

This may be the first time that Hooker has won back-to-back fights in the Octagon, but it seems obvious that the 27-year-old is finding a home at lightweight. He has good size for the division, a bunch of experience and is sneaky-technical, making him an interesting “under the radar” talent to track as we move into the new year.

5. Former champ Esparza halts Calvillo’s climb

Inaugural strawweight champion Carla Esparza bounced back from being dominated in the opening frame to grind out a trio of 29-28 scores to bring an end to Cynthia Calvillo’s perfect start to her career.

After getting taken down early in the first and being controlled there for the majority of the frame, Esparza went on the wrestling offensive herself in the second, mixing in timely takedown attempts with solid striking to keep Calvillo off balance. While she couldn’t keep the Team Alpha Male representative on the canvas for long once she got her there, the former champion did an excellent job of keeping Calvillo guessing and landing the cleaner, heavier shots over the final two rounds to earn the victory.

The victory sets up some interesting options in the division as 2018 draws near as Esparza owns a victory over current champ Rose Namajunas and re-asserted herself as one of the top talents in the 115-pound weight class with this performance.

6. Magny Shines against “The Natural Born Killer”

Neil Magny wanted to get the sour taste from his loss to Rafael dos Anjos out of his mouth before 2017 came to close, so he badgered UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby for another fight. He never expected to be offered a bout with Carlos Condit, but he jumped at the chance to challenge himself against the former interim champion and Saturday night in Las Vegas, he made the most of his opportunity, earning a unanimous decision win to kick off the pay-per-view main card.

The Denver, Colorado-based welterweight fought a smart, tactical fight, catching kicks and completing takedowns, never giving Condit a chance to find his rhythm. He closed the distance and lived in the clinch, and while the offense he offered was never anything too punishing, Magny was able to stay active and grind out a very good victory over one of the most accomplished fighters in welterweight history.

While some might want to put qualifiers on Condit’s performance, noting his lengthy layoff prior to this fight, it would be a disservice to Magny to do so. He fought an excellent fight, sticking to the game plan and playing to his strengths to collect the biggest win of his career.

7. Introducing Michal Oleksiejczuk

If you’re looking for a promising light heavyweight prospect to track in 2018 and beyond, look no further than Michal Oleksiejczuk.

Originally tabbed to make his debut at UFC 217, the 22-year-old was pulled from the card at the 11th hour when his opponent got flagged for a USADA violation, but he jumped at the chance to replace Gohkan Saki opposite Khalil Rountree Jr. here and made the most of it, weathering an early first-round storm to win a unanimous decision over the former TUF finalist.

A training partner of Polish standouts Jan Blachowicz and Marcin Tybura (among others), the UFC neophyte had already logged 14 professional appearances prior to his promotional debut and pushed his overall winning streak to double digits with his victory on Saturday. While there is nothing threatening looking about “Lord Michal,” he’s a patient, technical striker who did a great job mixing in shots to the body and a bunch of kicks to put it on the flagging Rountree over the final 12 minutes of action.

In a weight class where aging veterans dominate the Top 10 and opportunities abound, Oleksiejczuk is one of the few young upstarts competing in the 205-pound rounds who have the potential to climb the ladder and potentially become a factor in the division over the next couple years.

8. Jury back in contention

Following a 16-month hiatus, Myles Jury returned to action in April, dominating Mike de la Torre. Saturday night, the former lightweight prospect showed that he’s all the way back and a contender once again with a solid, professional performance against Rick Glenn.

There were no major highlights moments in the 15-minute affair. Instead, Jury simply offered three rounds of clean, polished offense in all facets to pick up his second win of the year and add his name to the growing list of fighters to watch in the featherweight division.

Having dropped two straight before his time away, it’s easy to forget that Jury was once an unbeaten rising star int he lightweight division; a two-time TUF contestant whose first loss came to Donald Cerrone in a fight where many thought the Michigan native would establish himself as a contender by getting a victory over “Cowboy.” He’s hit the reset button now and returned to training with the elite crew at Alliance MMA in San Diego, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the 29-year-old keep rolling and emerge as a serious contender in 2018.

9. Welcome back, Matheus Nicolau

After winning his UFC debut with a Japanese necktie and beating former title challenger John Moraga by split decision in his sophomore Octagon appearance, Matheus Nicolau returned to action for the first time in 18 months and turned in a dominant effort against stupid-tough Hawaiian Louis Smolka.

The 24-year-old Brazilian was on the sidelines after being flagged for a USADA violation which he pinned on a tainted supplement, but the time away didn’t appear to hinder his performance in his comeback fight as he turned in a blistering first round, knocking down Smolka on multiple occasions before controlling the action over the final 10 minutes to earn a clean sweep of the scorecards.

Now 3-0 in the UFC and 13-1-1 overall, Nicolau’s lopsided decision win over the durable Hawaiian should send him into 2018 in prime position to take part in some big fights at flyweight next year. While his suspension forced him out of the rankings, this performance coupled with his previous victory over Moraga should earn the talented returning fighter a place in the Top 10 and with a couple more quality wins, he could find himself challenging for the flyweight title.

10. Bittersweet Victory

Tim Elliott collected an impressive second-round submission win to kick off Saturday’s fight card, connecting on a deep anaconda choke just over a minute into the second round that forced newcomer Mark De La Rosa to tap, but it was a bittersweet moment for the Lee’s Summit, Missouri native.

Earlier this month, Elliott’s coach Robert Follis took his own life and the former flyweight title challenger dedicated this performance to his departed coach. As soon as De La Rosa tapped, Elliott walked over and sat down in a neutral corner, the emotions starting to wash over him. Following the official decision, Joe Rogan handed him the microphone and all the 31-year-old had a simple message: “Robert Follis, I love you.”

The loss of his coach came on the heals of Elliott opting not to compete two week’s ago in Winnipeg after his short-notice opponent Pietro Menga was unable to make the contracted weight. Elliott passed on a catchweight contest and lobbied to get booked again quickly, which he did, but then returned to Las Vegas to the tragic news about his coach.

On Saturday night, Elliott delivered one of the most impressive and dominant performance of his career, turning the page on a terrible month.

UFC 219: Punch Drunk Predictions

UFC 219: Punch Drunk Predictions

Here we go, fight fans – it’s the last UFC event of the year and it’s a good one!

Featuring a championship main event between the most dominant female fighter of the past decade (Cris Cyborg) and a former champion who has already knocked off an icon once before (Holly Holm), UFC 219 is a terrific blend of big stakes, big names and quality preliminary card fights that should entertain.

Rather than warming you up to it any more, I’m going to assume that if you’re here reading this piece on this site, you’re already stoked and just looking to know who I think will emerge victorious, so I won’t keep you waiting any longer.

Here are my thoughts.

These are the UFC 219 Punch Drunk Predictions.

Cris Cyborg vs. Holly Holm for the UFC women’s featherweight title

I think there is a way for Holm to win this fight – stay outside, pick her spots, stick and move and hope Cyborg gets tired – but I just don’t see her being able to take big shots from the Brazilian standout long enough to edge out a tepid decision.

One of the things I always find interesting when we’re breaking down Cyborg fights is how someone always thinks the next opponent is the one who is going to show that her gas tank is suspect by taking her into the championship rounds and beating her once she gets tired. A big reason that hasn’t happened yet is because Cyborg is an ultra-talented fighter who pressures well and wears you down under a frequently more patient, but powerful approach. It’s hard to take someone into deep water when they’re drowning you in the shallow tides.

I believe Holm will get out of the first round and land some of the clean left hands that she hit Ronda Rousey with in their fight, but overall, I think she’s going to end up getting overwhelmed and put away just like everyone else.

Prediction: Cris Cyborg

Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Edson Barboza

Let me start by saying I stand by my column earlier this week stating that Barboza is being overlooked and that feels really weird to me because he’s a tremendous fighter and a dangerous finisher facing a guy that is kind of hittable in Nurmagomedov.

He could win. He could knock “Nurmy” out and surprise a whole lot of people.

But I don’t think he’ll do it.

Between writing that piece and this piece, I went back and re-watched Nurmagomedov’s win over Michael Johnson and I sat here giggling at how goddamn dominant he is on the ground. This happened just a couple hours after I talked to the unbeaten lightweight standout for a UFC.com feature that includes lines like “wrestling and Khabib are the same” to explain his prodigious acumen on the ground and “my background is to smash opponents,” which is exactly what he did to Johnson at UFC 205.

And I think he’ll end up doing it to Barboza here as well.

Prediction: Khabib Nurmagomedov

Dan Hooker vs. Marc Diakiese

The Marc Diakiese hype train was slowed a little last time out as “The Bonecrusher” dropped a sluggish decision to Drakkar Klose, but he gets a favourable bounce-back opportunity that should be contested exclusively on the feet here against Hooker, a seven-fight UFC veteran who has alternated wins and losses over that stretch and enters off a knockout finish of Ross Pearson in June.

When I say this is a “favourable bounce-back opportunity” for Diakiese, I’m not trying to throw shade at Hooker, but rather just call it like I see it and the way I see it, Diakiese is a very good prospect with excellent striking who is going to continue to improve in big chunks over the next couple years as he keeps working at American Top Team and Hooker is a middle of the pack fighter who has some weapons, has some skills, but isn’t as polished or explosive of his British opponent.

Maybe he proves me wrong and catches Diakiese with the same kind of nastiness he used to put Pearson down back in the summer, but looking at whom he’s beaten and he has gotten the better of him in the cage, I give the edge to Diakiese and I think he wins going away.

Prediction: Marc Diakiese

Cynthia Calvillo vs. Carla Esparza

This is the most interesting fight on the main card to me because Calvillo is still very much a work in progress even though she’s hustled into the Top 10 this year, while Esparza is established and seasoned, but still has glaring holes in her game.

Everything about this fight comes down to who can control the action on the canvas because neither woman is particularly skilled or polished when it comes to throwing hands. Calvillo is the better scrambler, but Esparza has the more robust takedown game and has historically done a good job of working just enough to maintain top position once she gets you to the ground.

As much as I like what Calvillo has been able to do so far this year and believe she still has another level she can reach, this is one of those “you’ve got to show me you can win this fight before I can pick you to win this fight” deals for me. Dragging Joanne Calderwood to the ground and riding out dominant positions is one thing, but doing it to someone like Esparza is  completely different and until I see it happen, I’m siding with the former champion.

Prediction: Carla Esparza

Carlos Condit vs. Neil Magny

On pedigree and skill set, Condit wins this fight in a route. He’s a high output striker who is dangerous off his back as well, can pressure Magny to get inside his long jab and rough him up in the same way Lorenz Larkin roughed him up last year at UFC 202.

But here’s the thing: I was at Condit’s last fight and he got trucked.

He got trucked after coming back from a lengthy layoff where he was considering retirement and saying all the right things about having the hunger back and being ready for what Demian Maia had to offer and he still got trucked. So it’s hard for me to sit here 16 months after that – after Condit has gone away again and started working on other things and gotten another year older – and hear him saying all the right things and not be reminded of last August in Vancouver.

Magny is a competent welterweight – a very solid Top 10, Top 15 guy with a good jab, great motor and no glaring deficiencies. He’s only lost to really good fighters in the last couple years and while Condit was a really good fighter, I’m not sure he still is. I need to see it before I can believe it again, so I’m picking Magny.

Prediction: Neil Magny

Preliminary Card Predictions

Khalil Rountree def. Michal Oleksiejczuk
Rick Glenn def. Myles Jury
Marvin Vettori def. Omari Akhmedov
Matheus Nicolau def. Louis Smolka
Tim Elliott def. Mark De La Rosa

UFC 219: Overlooking Edson Barboza feels like a mistake

UFC 219: Overlooking Edson Barboza feels like a mistake

Khabib Nurmagomedov is a terrific fighter.

The undefeated Dagestani lightweight has been hovering around the top of the division for years and is universally regarded as a potential champion. Truth be told, if not for a series of injuries and a weight cut gone sideways back in March, the 29-year-old standout might already have UFC gold wrapped around his waist.

Likeable and talented, Nurmagomedov is a critical darling with the potential to be a crossover star in North America and an international superstar given his growing popularity around the globe and superstar status in Russia. It feels like it is only a matter of time before he reaches his full potential both inside and outside of the cage.

But it has felt that way for well over three years now and it still hasn’t happened and while most seem to view his matchup this weekend with Edson Barboza as a formality – the next step in Nurmagomedov’s journey to fighting for the lightweight title – I can’t help but feel like the Brazilian is being overlooked at a time when his skills are at an all-time high and all the pressure is on his opponent.

Barboza is 13-4 in the UFC and riding a three-fight winning streak. He’s ranked No. 3 in the deepest, most talented division in the sport and coming off arguably the best knockout of the year – a second-round flying knee finish of Beneil Dariush in March that illustrates how “blink and you missed it” dangerous the 31-year-old contender is at all times.

After coming up short in high profile matchups with Donald Cerrone, Michael Johnson and Tony Ferguson earlier in his career, Barboza stopped shuttling to New Jersey from his home in Florida for his training camps and convinced his wife to move to the Garden State permanently following his loss to Ferguson in December 2015.

He hasn’t lost since, earning unanimous decision victories over former champions Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez prior to turning out Dariush’s lights in Forteleza, Brazil earlier this year.

His already solid boxing has become even crisper and his stiff jab makes for a nice 1-2 punch when paired with his incomparably fast and punishing kicks. He moves well and has continued to hone his takedown defense, denying every attempt made by Dariush, Melendez and Pettis in those three fights combined. While none is anywhere near as proficient and effective a wrestler as Nurmagomedov, the fact that Barboza was 9-for-9 when it comes to defending takedown attempts against those three elite competitors cannot be ignored, nor can his 86% takedown defense over the course of his 17 UFC appearances.

Additionally, it’s not like Nurmagomedov has had an easy year in 2018 and he heads into this one with a bunch of questions and concerns hovering overhead.

He was forced out of an interim title fight with Ferguson in March after experiencing serious health issues during his weight cut and then had hernia surgery in the summer. He’s fought just twice since April 2014 and while he looked terrific last time out, mauling Michael Johnson at UFC 205 in New York City, he’s been on the shelf for over a year and dealt with two more health issues since then. When he’s active, Nurmagomedov is one of the best fighters on the planet, but over the last several years, the times when he has been healthy and able to compete have been significantly less than the times he’s been unable to make it to the cage.

Barboza carries none of those concerns. He’s never missed weight in his 23-fight career, looks healthy and energetic when he steps on the scale and has fought eight times in the same time that Nurmagomedov has competed twice. He comes from an elite camp, is in the best form of his career and has the striking skills and footwork needed to work from the outside and frustrate someone who needs to close the distance and get inside to really get his offense going.

I don’t know whether he’s going to beat Nurmagomedov or not, but I do believe Barboza merits far more attention heading into this fight than he has been receiving thus far.

He’s not quite an afterthought because he’s featured in the Embedded series and his picture is on the poster for Saturday’s year-end event at T-Mobile Arena, but it certainly feels like a lot of people see this weekend’s contest as a tune up for Nurmagomedov while looking ahead to potential bouts between the currently unbeaten lightweight and one or both of the division’s two champions.

That could very well be how things play out, but I also wouldn’t be all that surprised if Barboza came out and handed “The Eagle” his first career loss.

This feels like one of those times where people are so caught up in the narrative and what could come next for one particular fighter that they’re overlooking the sizable task in front of them. I felt the same way heading into Cody Garbrandt’s title defense against TJ Dillashaw at UFC 217, where tons of people, including Garbrandt, were talking about his potential as a draw and setting up a fight with Demetrious Johnson as if Dillashaw was some stiff who didn’t have a chance.

While “No Love” had his moments in the first, he got stopped in the second, lost his title and all those grand plans and lofty projections disappeared into the ether.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think it wise to discount a competitor as talented and dangerous as Barboza in any fight and especially heading into a pivotal matchup like this where the winner will most likely be fighting for a title next time out.

Yes, Nurmagomedov is the betting favourite, the more popular of the two and the one who has been projected to be a title contender and potential champion since he arrived in the UFC almost six years ago, but Barboza is an elite lightweight as well and shouldn’t be treated as an afterthought in this matchup.

UFC on FOX: Lawler vs. dos Anjos 10 Things We Learned Last Night

UFC on FOX: Lawler vs. dos Anjos 10 Things We Learned Last Night

RDA Deserves Next

Rafael dos Anjos deserves the next welterweight title shot.

Saturday night, the former lightweight kingpin marched into the Octagon and put it on former champ Robbie Lawler for 25 minutes, distancing himself from the vaunted veteran with each successive five-minute round until the final results read 50-45 across the board. It was a third straight victory over a Top 10 opponent (at the time of their fight) for dos Anjos in his new weight class and the kind of drubbing that should land him opposite Tyron Woodley the next time “The Chosen One” defends his title.

While Colby Covington has been talking a blue streak and put up a couple quality wins (and five straight overall) to enter the conversation, dos Anjos’ pressure style is tailor-made to draw an exciting performance out of the champion and there is a difference between grinding out a win over Demian Maia and laying the wood to Robbie Lawler.

Performance, results and reputations need to carry more weight than trash talk and social media campaigns and by those measures, RDA is the clear choice to be the next challenger for the welterweight title.

Upheaval at Featherweight Continues

Josh Emmett made an emphatic contribution to the changing complexion of the featherweight division this weekend, planting a beautiful check left hook on the chin of Ricardo Lamas as the two were exchanging punches in the pocket that left “The Bully” rigid on the canvas as the Team Alpha Male staple celebrated.

In the last couple weeks, long-time champion Jose Aldo was handed a second consecutive loss at the hands of Max Holloway and perennial contender Cub Swanson was choked out by Brian Ortega, shifting the focus at the top of the 145-pound weight class from the established names to the new talent climbing the ladder.

Emmett’s performance on Saturday adds to that as the once-beaten 31-year-old is less than two years into his UFC career and now finds himself in the thick of the title chase. While he still has more work to do before fighting for the belt, Emmett should get the opportunity to face another established contender next time out.

Quality Performance from Santiago Ponzinibbio

There have been a number of fighters who had excellent campaigns inside the Octagon in 2017 and Santiago Ponzinibbio is one of them. The American Top Team product collected his third win of the year with a hard-earned 29-28 sweep of the scorecards against Mike Perry in “The People’s Main Event” in Winnipeg.

Now riding a six-fight winning streak, it has been a slow burn for the former Ultimate Fighter: Brazil contestant who began his UFC career with a loss to Ryan LaFlare and was 2-2 after his first four outings. He hasn’t lost since and has continued to show improvements each time out, displaying more grit and toughness than we’d seen in the past in this back-and-forth battle with Perry.

He’s a man on the rise in the always competitive and freakishly deep welterweight division and someone we should been talking about far more heading into this one and definitely cannot leave out of conversations about the top contenders in the future.

Very few people manage to string together six straight wins and even fewer do it in a shark-infested division like welterweight, so it’s time to start giving “The Ponz” his due and treating him like the contender he is going forward.

Pump the Breaks on Mike Perry Hype

Perry turned in a good effort against Ponzinibbio on Saturday night in “The Peg,” but ultimately, “Platinum” came out on the wrong side of the scorecards and it should bring the hype of the middle-of-the-pack welterweight to an end.

I get that he has a weird magnetism and talks all kinds of junk, but he’s now been in the cage with two quality opponents (sorry Jake Ellenberger) and come away with losses both times. He’s fun to watch and capable of blistering anyone in the division, but he’s also largely unproven, so how about we hold off an treating him like a contender before he’s actually cracked the Top 15?

Far more people were talking about Perry heading into this fight than Ponzinibbio even though the latter was coming off a 90-second knockout win over Gunnar Nelson and sporting a five-fight winning streak.

If you’re wondering why the UFC struggles to create stars and quality fighters fail to connect with the larger audience, that’s why – we spend too much time hyping guys who don’t necessarily deserve it because they’re flamboyant personalities and overlook proven, polished, more deserving talent in the process.

Still Sharp, Still a Contender

Glover Teixeira’s matchup with Misha Cirkunov could have been a passing of the torch situation – a fight where the veteran contender gave way to the younger, more athletic upstart – and early on, that’s how it looked like things were going to play out.

Cirkunov started quick and looked to be finding a rhythm on the feet when a small mistake gave Teixeira a chance to clinch up and quickly bring the fight to the floor. From there, the Brazilian veteran went to work, attacking submissions before transitioning to back mount and unleashing a torrent of strikes that brought the contest to a halt.

This was a savvy veteran effort from Teixeira, who proved he’s still very much one of the elite contenders in the light heavyweight division. Though the might not be in line for the title shot he chatted wit Daniel Cormier about at cageside following the finish, the 38-year-old proved that he’s far from finished and still a tremendously tough out near the top of the 205-pound weight class.

Great Performance, Good Dude

Julian Marquez made an instant impression Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contenders Series this summer, icing former prospect Phil Hawes with a head kick. Saturday night, he made his debut in the Octagon and after playing some Rock’em Sock’em Robots with Darren Stewart early, the affable Las Vegas-based fighter finished things in the second with a slick guillotine choke.

Afterwards, “The Cuban Missile Crisis” had some fun on the microphone, challenging Tyron Woodley to a “Best Beard in the UFC” contest, lobbying to fight alongside his teammates James Krause and Zak Cummings in St. Louis and giving a shout out to his mom after saying he’s open to fighting the winner of the upcoming middleweight title bout between Robert Whittaker and Luke Rockhold.

While it wasn’t quite a star-making performance, it was a great start for the likable middleweight who delivered a wildly entertaining performance in the cage before showing you don’t have to talk trash and be an asshole to get noticed in this sport.

No Substitute for Experience

A sharp right hand dropped Chad Laprise early in his bout with Galore Bofando, but as soon as the Chatham-Kent, Ontario native got back to his feet, he showed why experience is so crucial inside the cage.

A foot sweep brought the fight to the ground, with Laprise landing in side control. A minute of ground-and-pound and control gave him the space to move to mount and from there, “The Disciple” was able to pound out a third-straight stoppage win.

Bofando is fun to watch when he’s upright and offering flashy, powerful strikes, but he was completely out of his element once Laprise initiated the clinch and brought the fight to the floor. The Canadian veteran talked about his edge in the other facets of the game before the bout and wisely played to his strengths after getting stung out of the gate.

As we talk about all the time, there are levels to this stuff and Laprise showed that again on Saturday.

Good Lord!

When a guy partially blocks a headkick and still needs to grab a handful of cage to keep himself upright, you know there was some serious force on the strike.

That’s what happened in the welterweight clash between Nordine Taleb and Danny Roberts, with the former causing the latter to snatch up two hands of cage after catching a kick early in the first. Unfortunately for Roberts, the follow-up right hand down the pipe was something fierce and landed flush, bringing the fight to a sudden halt.

Roberts complained about the stoppage after he was done trying to takedown referee Jerin Valel, but this was a clean finish and impressive performance for the long-time Tristar Gym representative Taleb.

Nasty Knee

Things were moving at a snail’s pace in the middleweight scrap between Alessio Di Chirico and Oluwale Bamgbose more than a minute into the second round. The first five minutes featured little action and the action resumed in the middle stanza, it seemed like it would be more of the same as Bamgbose continued to hang out on the outside, hesitant to engage.

As soon as Di Chirico was able to get his hands on his opponent, however, the Italian brought the crowd to their feet and sent Bamgbose collapsing to the canvas face-first, a well-placed knee knocking him out cold.

There have been a number of impressive finishes off nasty knees this year in the Octagon and this one is right up there.

Big Victory for Jordan Mein

Five years ago, Jordan Mein seemed destined to be a Top 10 fixture in the welterweight division. He was young, aggressive and seasoned, having started his career at age 16 and worked his way to the UFC by facing tough regional vets before a three-fight stint in Strikeforce, where his only setback came by split decision to current UFC titleholder Tyron Woodley.

But injuries and apathy sent Mein into an early retirement a couple years back and the results hadn’t been great since he returned last year at UFC 206. He looked like a hesitant, faded version of his former self.

Saturday night, Mein got back in the win column by getting back to what got him to the big leagues in the first place, coming out aggressively against Erick Silva before taking what the Brazilian gave him en route to a unanimous decision victory. It was the 30th win of Mein’s career, his first since August 2014 and his most complete performance in years.

After a bunch of ups, downs and even a brief departure from the sport, perhaps this is the start of a second chapter for the 28-year-old Canadian.

UFC on FOX: Lawler vs. dos Anjos Punch Drunk Predictions

UFC on FOX: Lawler vs. dos Anjos Punch Drunk Predictions

As I said in my column this week for The Province, I think this weekend’s FOX event in Winnipeg is going to be an avalanche of awesomeness that sends people into the Christmas break before UFC 219 on a high.

From start to finish, this event is loaded with combustible matchups that should produce explosive results and add to what has been a really entertaining final couple months in the Octagon.

But who will leave Winter-peg with their hand raised in victory?

Here are my thoughts.

These are the UFC on FOX: Lawler vs. dos Anjos Punch Drunk Predictions.

Robbie Lawler vs. Rafael dos Anjos

This is such a compelling fight to me because Lawler isn’t far removed from being champion, still has tremendous takedown defense and can take apart pretty much anyone in the division in a striking battle on any given night, while dos Anjos put on a clinic against Neil Magny back in Edmonton and has the kind of pressure style with strong grappling at his disposal that could be problematic from “Brutal Bob” Lawler.

People are going to think this is weird when I say it, but I’m picking dos Anjos based on current/recent form, even though he’s 2-2 over his last four and Lawler is 3-1 with a couple successful title defenses in there. But please, hear me out.

I think the Rory MacDonald fight took a toll on Lawler the same way it did MacDonald and after another brawl with Carlos Condit, he got caught by Tyron Woodley. While he rebounded with a good win over Cowboy Cerrone, he wasn’t the same menacing force we’re used to seeing, especially when you consider how good Darren Till looked dispatching Cowboy in the first round three months later.

While dos Anjos dropped back-to-back outings to end his time at lightweight, we’e since heard the horror stories about his weight cut prior to his bout with Eddie Alvarez and going the distance with Tony Ferguson is no easy feat. After a good, not great debut at welterweight against Tarec Saffiedine, he looked scary-good opposite Magny at UFC 215.

I think the likelihood of seeing a similarly strong performance from him here is greater than the potential of Lawler putting it on him early and putting him away. I have a feeling dos Anjos shines here and makes the UFC strongly consider awarding him a title shot in the first half of 2018.

Prediction: Rafael dos Anjos

Ricardo Lamas vs. Josh Emmett

Normally, I would give this a lot of thought and break it down in detail because Emmett is tough and durable, but homeboy missed weight by a couple pounds on Friday and Lamas was already salty about having his original opponent (Jose Aldo) pulled so he could fight for the title, which is the second time that has happened to the Top 5 fixture in four years.

Lamas is out to prove that he’s deserving of another title opportunity and a second bout with Max Holloway and I think he delivers a dominant performance here.

Prediction: Ricardo Lamas

Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Mike Perry

I get that Perry is slightly unhinged and completely unfiltered, which makes him an interesting interview and general curiosity, and that he carries a bunch of dynamite around in his hands, which always makes him a threat. That being said, I’m not sold on “Platinum” being anything more than a middle of the pack wild card in the welterweight division – a guy that collects some highlight reel wins and talks a bunch of nonsense, but ultimately fails to crack the Top 10.

Ponzinibbio is far from unstoppable, but he’s proven himself against quality competition and is the more seasoned, complete fighter of the two. While Perry is always capable of landing that one blow that brings the proceedings to a sudden halt, “Gente Boa” has power in his hands as well and has shown far more poise and patience in the Octagon to date.

As always, Perry will come out of the gate fast and throw smoke the entire time he’s in there, but look for Ponzinibbio to frustrate him with movement and counters until he connects with something stiff and settles things inside the distance.

Prediction: Santiago Ponzinibbio

Glover Teixeira vs. Misha Cirkunov

This is the fight I have had the most trouble with because despite his advanced age and slowly diminishing skills, Teixeira a tough old cuss and capable of putting Cirkunov down with one of his patented clubbing hooks.

Youth and athleticism are on the side of the Latvian-Canadian grappler, but Teixeira is no slouch on the canvas either, so it’s not like Cirkunov can rush in, blast a double and grind out the win from top position. The usual path to beating Teixeira has been to out-work him on the feet and avoid his big punches and I’m not completely sold on Cirkunov’s ability to do that yet.

But I’m gonna roll the dice on the younger, fresher, more mobile fighter and see what happens.

Prediction: Misha Cirkunov

Preliminary Card Picks

Jan Blachowicz def. Jared Cannonier
Julian Marquez def. Darren Stewart
Chad Laprise def. Galore Bofando
Nordine Taleb def. Danny Roberts
Abel Trujillo def. John Makdessi
Alessio Di Chirico def. Oluwale Bamgbose
Jordan Mein def. Erick Silva

A Change in Approach is Needed: Thoughts on Rankings and Prospects

A Change in Approach is Needed: Thoughts on Rankings and Prospects

This one has been percolating in my head for a while now and instead of crafting it all smooth and trying to lay everything out crisp and clean, I want to just get my thoughts on the subject out there as they run through my head.

We talk a lot about rankings in this sport – how they currently feel fraudulent and fictitious, how they could be very important and influential and what needs to happen in order to make the shift from the former to the latter. It’s all legit too; rankings don’t really carry that much weight right now and they do feel like a missed opportunity in many ways, at least to me.

But when I think about rankings and how I would lay them out, how I would make use of them, it goes beyond just the divisional hierarchies and a Top 10 list that lays out the top contenders in each weight class. It’s not just a matter of throwing the most familiar names and the “of the moment” fighters into some kind of order. I think about things like strength of schedule and try not to get caught up in who just had an electric performance and has everyone buzzing right now because those names change every week and I don’t think rankings should be a revolving door, even if we’re only talking about the bottom few spots.

It’s a difficult process because prior success plays a huge factor in trying to figure out where to position these athletes and try as we might, our impressions about their level of talent and star power undoubtedly creep into our minds as we’re debating positions as well. Competitors we know and like and respect and appreciate get the benefit of the doubt while lesser known athletes who haven’t put in as much time or don’t have the same resonance with fans get the short end of the stick.

It sucks, but it happens.

If we want rankings to really have value, we have to do our best to set aside those biases and influences and just focus exclusively on performances, accepting that some wins are going to look better with time and others will become less impressive.

For example: Dong Hyun Kim currently sits at No. 14 in the latest edition of the UFC Fighter Rankings. I know they’re not great, but they’re the easiest example to use.

The 36-year-old hasn’t won a fight since last December when he edged out Tarec Saffiedine, who is currently on a three-fight skid and is 2-4 since moving to the UFC. While he’s 13-4 with 1 NC inside the Octagon, he’s 4-2 in the last three years, losing to Colby Covington and Tyron Woodley while getting the better of Saffiedine, Dom Waters, Joshua Burkman and John Hathaway.

All of his losses in the UFC have come against legit competition and he’s beaten a few familiar names over the years as well – Matt Brown, Nate Diaz, Paulo Thiago, Erick Silva – but at what point do we stop looking at the whole of his resume and focus in on the here and now when determining if Kim is still a Top 15 welterweight?

What has Kim done in the last couple years that earned him that position while someone like Leon “Rocky Edwards is on the outside looking in? While Kim has been so-so, Edwards has collected four straight victories, starting with a win over Waters, followed by victories over Albert Tumenov, Vicente Luque (who has been really good of late as well) and Bryan Barberena.

For me, Edwards is far more deserving of a place in the rankings, but gets bumped in favour of Kim because the South Korean veteran is a more familiar name with more name-brand opponents on his resume and a longer history in the Octagon, though very little of that matters in the moment. Right now, Edwards in the better fighter to me and we should be ranking the best fighters right now because if we’re not, we’re stuck playing catch-up when guys like Edwards keep winning and start knocking off bigger names.

That leads me to the next piece of this, which is that we need to widen our focus and broaden our horizons when it comes to discussing up-and-coming fighters.

Edwards remains a perfect example.

Here’s a 26-year-old who is 6-2 overall in the UFC, on a four-fight winning streak and won six of his last seven after dropping his debut, with his lone setback coming against Kamaru Usman, who is on a 10-fight winning streak with a 6-0 mark in the Octagon and is on the come-up in the 170-pound ranks.

He’s beaten solid competition, including a guy who was once a critical darling (Tumenov), an emerging finisher (Luque) and a perennial tough out (Barberena), and yet no one is talking about him.

On the flip side, Mike Perry gets more press than most in the welterweight division because he’s a combustible, outrageous personality who has collected a few highlight reel wins over middling competition. His finish of Jake Ellenberger in April was violent, but beating Ellenberger in 2017 doesn’t mean nearly as much as it did between 2010 and 2013 or 2014.

Perry is 4-1 in the UFC with a pair of finishes on either side of a decision loss to Alan Jouban, the one proven, steady opponent he’s faced in the Octagon thus far. He’s facing surging Argentine Santiago Ponzinibbio Saturday night in Winnipeg on FOX and talked about like a potential player in the welterweight division when for me, he’s nothing more than a slightly unhinged brawler who still hasn’t proven to me that he can beat anyone of real substance, unlike the soft-spoken, more tested Edwards.

For me, this extends to debuts and emerging prospects as well.

When someone from a big camp that we’ve heard good things about from reliable sources debuts in the UFC, we’re often quick to turn a spotlight on them and tell everyone to pay attention.

Everyone from the “Iron Army” was raving about Zabit Magomedsharipov (rightfully so) and so we were quick to make sure everyone knew to check for this dude even though his debut and sophomore efforts came on Fight Pass cards that usually get panned and left for dead.

But Volkan Oezdemir somehow still caught people off guard when he trucked Misha Cirkunov and Jimi Manuwa even though he edged out a legit Top 10 talent in Ovince Saint Preux in his debut.

Or they had issue with Kevin Lee being slotted into the main event against Michael Chiesa in Oklahoma City even though “The MoTown Phenom” had won four straight and looked really damn good in the process.

Or they still haven’t said much about Shane Burgos or Gregor Gillespie or Cody Stamann or countless others.

It’s why a year before they ascended to the throne in the their respective divisions, Max Holloway and Robert Whittaker were fringe considerations in the title discussions even though they’d been putting in work and putting up strong performances.

To me, it should be like Major League Baseball where the diehards are talking about the Top 100 prospects every year and are tracking the progression of their favourite team’s top youngsters through every level.

I knew about Mike Trout and Byron Buxton and Paul Goldschmidt and Cody Bellinger before they hit the majors and turned into superstars because baseball people talk about emerging talent long before they reach the highest levels. Sure, some guys still sneak through and come out of nowhere every year, but for the most part, you can look two, three, four years down the road and pick out 10, 12, 15 guys with elite potential to watch knowing there is a pretty good chance a half dozen of them are going to come through.

We don’t do that in MMA – at least not to the same degree.

There are certainly some journalists who invest a lot of time and energy talking with and spotlighting prospects and regional talent, but we don’t have the same kind of “keep your eyes on this guy” conversations about fighters as they’re working their way to the highest levels in the sport or even beginning their careers in places like the UFC or Bellator or ONE as they do in many other sports and I think MMA suffers as a result.

Yes, the sheer volume of fight cards makes it difficult to pay attention to everyone, but there are 162 MLB games a season and multiple tiers in the minor league system and just about everyone who identifies themselves as a moderate Yankees fan or above can tell you how terrific it was that they didn’t have to give up one of their Top 3 prospects in the deal that landed them Giancarlo Stanton last week.

But how many MMA heads could tell you much about Andre Harrison right now or were aware of Aspen Ladd before she landed in the Octagon?

If we’re going to hype the hell out of Mackenzie Dern (understandably), we should also be hyping Aga Niedzwiedz, who lost a close fight for the flyweight title in the main event of the same Invicta FC event Dern was on last weekend.

Rather than picking and choosing a few prospect to talk about at select times, we need to be checking for the next wave of talent destined to land on the biggest stages well in advance of their arrival because that’s the only way they can potentially hit the ground running and start getting the attention they deserve right out of the chute.

And that folds back into the rankings idea because if we’re talking about more than just the established names and newcomers are getting air time and acknowledgement, guys like Edwards or Oezdemir or Gillespie or Burgos aren’t stuck needing to win three, four, five fights or more before they even become a blip on the radar and start getting a little shine.

I know it’s hard for everyone to pay attention to everything at all times – there are far too many events and we all have lives outside of our MMA fandom – but these are the steps we need to take in order for the sport to progress to that next level.

Everyone seems to want to get to a point where rankings matter, where champions defend against top contenders and you can easily chart and track a competitor’s rise up the division ladder.

Well, this is how we get there.