Author: E. Spencer Kyte

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.

Time to talk about UFC’s ‘Next Generation’ as the ‘Now Generation’

Time to talk about UFC’s ‘Next Generation’ as the ‘Now Generation’

How will the UFC’s 2017 campaign be remembered?

As the end of the year draws closer by the day, year-end retrospectives and summations will start to appear and it will be interesting to see how folks who follow the sport religiously choose to remember the previous 11 months and change.

For me, 2017 has been the year where youth was served – where a handful of talented young fighters made it clear that they were no longer content being a part of the next generation, but instead staked their claim to being the now generation.

Robert Whittaker claimed the interim middleweight title before getting promoted to being the undisputed champion last week.

Max Holloway unified the two halves of the featherweight crown and then cemented his place atop the division with an equally impressive encore performance against Jose Aldo in Detroit.

Darren Till stormed through Donald Cerrone to become a player in the welterweight ranks and just this past weekend, Brian Ortega showed he could finish before the third round by choking out perennial contender Cub Swanson in his first main event assignment.

Add in Rose Namajunas ascending to the top of the women’s bantamweight division, Volkan Oezdemir going from unknown to No. 1 contender in the span of six months and young in the sport (and young for heavyweight) monster Francis Ngannou further proving his legitimacy by nearly decapitating Alistair Overeem and you have an impressive collection of emerging stars across a number of divisions who seem poised to be factors in their respective division for years to come and the potential to become cornerstone figures for the company going forward.

What’s interesting about this collective (at least to me) is that it’s a mix of competitors who came out of nowhere and fighters everyone should have seen coming.

Last August, I put together a Top 5 list of the best UFC fighters under 25 – four of them have since won titles (Namajunas, Holloway, Whittaker and Cody Garbrandt) while the remaining member of the bunch (Yair Rodriguez) is still highly regarded.

I don’t include that reference to toot my own horn, but rather to point out that picking out the young talent with superstar potential in the UFC isn’t as difficult a process as we often let on and if we’re willing to commit energy to spotlighting emerging fighters as they work their way up the ladder, fans and consumers won’t be playing catch-up when someone like Holloway or Whittaker stakes their claim as the top fighter in their division.

While guys like Oezdemir and Till used 2017 to quickly make a name for themselves by collecting three victories in rapid succession and were long shots to be contenders when the year began, Namajunas was pegged for greatness upon arrival and Whittaker and Holloway very making steady gains in their respective divisions for a couple years; all that was missing was the backing of the company and more than passing attention from the media.

On last week’s edition of The MMA Beat, host Ariel Helwani had this to say about Holloway:

“He is just so much fun to talk to and be around and witness and observe since he became champion of the UFC’s featherweight division.”

I would posit that Holloway has always been fun to talk to and be around and witness and that the wider audience is only catching on now because he’s been afforded time in the spotlight.

The 26-year-old Hawaiian has been the same guy throughout his rise – engaging and awkwardly charismatic; passionate about his craft, his family and Hawaii and committed to taking on all challengers in order to prove his greatness.

The guy that went back-to-back against Jose Aldo in 2017 is the same guy who stepped up on short notice to fly to Sweden and starch Akira Corassani; people just weren’t paying attention.

Ortega is the connector between the two camps – an undefeated talent many have viewed as a potential contender in the future who capitalized on his first opportunity to climb into the title picture, probably a little sooner than most expected. He didn’t exactly come out of nowhere because he had earned four straight finishes in the UFC over the last two years, but few would have pegged him as a Top 5 featherweight when the year began either.

As much as I understand and recognize the importance of committing time, attention and column inches to the select handful of names that drive traffic on websites and get people to click links on social media, we also need to spend a good deal of time shining a spotlight on the up-and-coming set, especially given that we frequently talk about the UFC’s need to create new stars and build up fighters.

Rather than just outlining why they need to do it and how it could possibly be done, we can help lead the charge by instructing fans to pay attention to fighters like Holloway and Whittaker before they’re booked into championship fights and get as excited about the likes of Ortega and Till and Oezdemir as soon as they get a couple good wins under their belt like we’ve done for several others of varying degrees of skill who just so happen to help drive traffic.

We have to start taking a more long-range view of things and committing more time and energy to spotlighting up-and-coming talent when they first arrive in the UFC and start making headway.

The true “next generation” of potential UFC stars are the men and women who have already impressed in their first couple outings – Aspen Ladd, Brett Johns, Zabit Magomedshapirov – not the mid-20s talents who have already cracked the Top 10 in their respective divisions.

Those men and women are the now generation that we should be talking about already because even if you haven’t been paying attention, they’ve been kicking ass and taking names for a couple years now and have already established themselves as contenders or champions.

Talking about them as the future and finally give fans a chance to familiarize themselves with them once they’ve already reached the top of their division feels like a mistake since they’re not just the future, they are the present and in most cases, we’ve had plenty of time to get to know them already.

UFC Fresno: Punch Drunk Predictions

UFC Fresno: Punch Drunk Predictions

As per usual when it’s fight week, but not pay-per-view fight week, there have been lots of cracks about “UFC Fresno” being an actual thing and how all these Fight Night events are problematic.

As per always, I think it’s mostly a bunch of noise from people who want every show to be the best show ever and prefer to complain about just about everything rather than accepting there are five different types of UFC events.

When we’re headed into a Level 2-type show like we are this weekend in Fresno, it’s about enjoying the opportunity to see more from a few solid prospects (Hello Eryk Anders! Greetings Merab Dvalishvili!) with a couple really good fights tossed in there too.

Seriously – there are two Top 10 pairings, plus a Top 15 matchup and the return of “Hick Diaz.”

That’s a nice little Level 2 Saturday night fight card if you ask me.

Here are my thoughts on who will emerge victorious.

These are the UFC Fight Night: Swanson vs. Ortega Punch Drunk Predictions.

Cub Swanson vs. Brian Ortega

This is a classic “veteran vs. upstart” battle similar to the one we got in Gdansk, Poland earlier this year between Darren Till and Donald Cerrone, but while the young Scouser got the better of “Cowboy,” I think we see the veteran get the best of it in this one.

Ortega has looked pretty good throughout his five-fight UFC run and earning four straight fights by third-round stoppage is crazy and speaks to the way he’s always working to get the finish, rather than happily coasting to the cards. But in his last two bouts – wins over Clay Guida and Renato Moicano – he’s needed those finishes in order to avoid going to the cards in a close fight that could produce his first career loss.

Given the way Moicano was able to have success on the feet against him, I just don’t see how Ortega manages to survive the offensive onslaught Swanson will bring from the jump. “Killer Cub” has more power, better movement and more creativity than Moicana and while I remain high on Ortega’s overall potential, I’m still leaning towards this being the wrong matchup at the wrong time for the laid back prospect from Torrence.

Prediction: Cub Swanson

 Jason Knight vs. Gabriel Benitez

First and foremost, I love that Knight is completely down with the “Hick Diaz” moniker; it makes me feel comfortable using it knowing that he self-identifies as a hick.

Secondly, I think he rolls here and shows that he should be considered alongside guys like Ortega, Yair Rodriguez and Mirsad Bektic as one of the top twenty-something talents in the featherweight division. He had his “face a veteran” fight last time out, lost to Ricardo Lamas and pulled out a bunch of positives from that performance, all of which will help him a great deal going forward.

It won’t necessarily show here because I think he’s head-and-shoulders better than Benitez and should handle him with relative ease, but still. Knight will be a Top 10 fixture pretty soon.

Prediction: Jason Knight

Marlon Moraes vs. Aljamain Sterling

This is a terrific fight between the No. 7 and No. 8-ranked fighters in the bantamweight division and if you can’t get hyped for that, I’m not sure you can honestly identify yourself as a fight fan.

Seriously.

Moraes just collected a win over John Dodson on November 11 and jumped the opportunity to get right back in the cage when Sterling’s original opponent, Rani Yahya, was forced to the sidelines. That was a good matchup for “Aljo,” but this one isn’t so favourable.

Listen – I like Sterling, but I still haven’t seen enough from his standup to think he’s able to hang on the feet with a dangerous striker like Moraes. While the possibility is there for him to take the “Human Jansport” approach and wrestle Moraes, the former WSOF champ trains with dudes like Frankie Edgar and Eddie Alvarez, so I’m not sure he’s going to just get completely controlled in the grappling department.

My guess is that Moraes keeps this in kicking range, beats up Sterling’s lead leg and out-strikes him over the course of 15 minutes.

Prediction: Marlon Moraes

As for the rest of the card… 

Scott Holtzman def. Darrell Horcher
Eryk Anders def. Markus Perez
Benito Lopez def. Albert Morales

Alexis Davis def. Liz Carmouche
Luke Sanders def. Andre Soukhamthath
Alex Perez def. Carls John de Tomas
Merab Dvalishvili def. Frankie Saenz

Iuri Alcantara def. Alejandro Perez
Davi Ramos def. Chris Gruetzemacher
Trevin Giles def. Antonio Braga Neto

UFC Fresno: A Friendly Reminder about Event Tiers

UFC Fresno: A Friendly Reminder about Event Tiers

A few years ago, I wrote a column offering my thoughts on how the UFC should lay out its fight calendar, inserting a week off following every pay-per-view event.

At the time, my argument was that the shockwaves from PPV shows always run into the following week and when there is another fight card the very next Saturday, the competitors on that card are automatically going to get overshadowed and the event as a whole is going to get unfairly judges because of its proximity to the pay-per-view event that just happened and the depth of talent on that card.

It has been happening again all this week as we deal with the fallout from an outstanding show at UFC 218 and prepare for the Saturday’s event in Fresno as folks are just dismissing the card even though it actually features a couple excellent fights and a few quality prospects.

Seeing all the “UFC Fresno is actually a thing?” tweets and how this solid card is stuck under the radar has made me want to remind everyone that just as Frankie Edgar showed Yair Rodriguez that there are levels inside the Octagon, there are tiers to fight cards as well.

Here’s a handy reference guide you can add to your bookmarks and consult whenever you feel the need to get extra salty about there not being enough major stars on the latest FS1 event or UFC on FOX show.

Tier One: International Events on Fight Pass

Let’s start with the fact that it will probably start at an odd time because its taking place overseas, so if that one is going to get you upset, you should probably calm down already.

The main event is going to be pretty good, but pretty much everything else is going to be tailored to the country/region, the same way every Canadian fight card is guaranteed to feature a ton of Canadians. Given that it will start in the early morning hours in North America, expecting anything different – or complaining about the composition at all – feels like a “you’re trying too hard” situation for me.

And when you get an event like this year’s card in Singapore with a main card that fits in a different tier, cherish it, relish it, enjoy it – just don’t expect it to be the norm.

Tier Two: Cable Events

This weekend’s card in Fresno is exactly what fans should expect from an event that airs on FS1 or wherever you get your fighting fix:

Cub Swanson vs. Brian Ortega – a very good main event
Jason Knight vs. Gabriel Benitez – a chance to see a cult figure maul someone
Marlon Moraes vs. Aljamain Sterling – an underrated Top 10 battle
Alexis Davis vs. Liz Carmouche – a deep cut, completely overlooked quality fight
Eryk Anders, Benito Lopez, Merab Dvalishvili – early looks at a few solid prospects

If you’re expecting more from the standard Saturday night fight card, I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe that’s not enough to get you excited, which is fine, but to expect the UFC to load up these events when they have two or three of them every month is misguided.

There have been times in the past (and there will be more instances in the future) where the quality of the card dips below this weekend’s level and trends closer to being a Tier One card that just happens to be on television and that sucks, but there are also times where the lineup is better than the baseline (like the March 11 event in Fortaleza, Brazil), so it all balances out.

Tier Three: FOX Shows

Here’s the general framework for the four main card fights on the “Big FOX” show:

Opening Bout: An action fight that kicks things off on the right foot and gets everybody excited for the next three bouts
Second Fight: Usually a showcase of some emerging talent, occasionally a “guaranteed action” fight
Co-Main Event: Contenders who aren’t quite next in line, but could be with a great performance on FOX
Main Event: Title fight with a champion who doesn’t draw on PPV or top contenders bout

As always, nothing is set in stone and sometimes you end up with Paige VanZant headlining against Michelle Waterson with Mickey Gall and Sage Northcutt in the penultimate bout of the night, but for the most part, the FOX cards follow the above guidelines. They’re designed to introduce the casual fans that aren’t buying pay-per-views and those who don’t watch every Tier Two event to a handful of top names in one sitting so that if they’re intrigued by any particular fighter, perhaps they’ll follow that person to PPV.

Three athletes who earned victories on FOX in the first half of the year – Valentina Shevchenko, Rose Namajunas and Robert Whittaker – have already gone on to fight for titles. Francis Ngannou is poised to do so in 2018 and the winner of next week’s main event in Winnipeg has been “guaranteed” a title shot as well.

The best way I can describe the UFC on FOX lineups is that they’re pay-per-view quality if you took away the pay-per-view main event. Look at the cards over the last couple years and tell me you wouldn’t pay $60 for most of them if you tossed a quality title fight in there to top it all off?

Tier Four: Standard PPV Event

These are your standard $60 affairs capped by a title fight backed by a strong supporting act, a solid swing fight in the middle and two more bouts that can range anywhere from okay to outstanding and play a big role in determining the level of excitement and anticipation there is for the event.

Exhibit A: the first two fights of the UFC 218 PPV were outstanding and helped contribute to the overall “this is an amazing card” feeling everyone had heading into last weekend’s event.

Exhibit B: UFC 210 opened with Charles Oliveira and Will Brooks followed by Thiago Alves taking on Patrick Cote. Very few people were counting down the days until the company’s return to Buffalo back in April.

Shows like this can also be goosed a little with the addition of a second championship bout, though that doesn’t always as much of an impact as having strong matchups book the rest of the way. Sometimes you can have a stacked card and there just isn’t any real buzz (see UFC 211).

For the most part, these are the baseline pay-per-views that we see 7-10 times a year that generate mediocre pay-per-view buys, but quite often exceed expectations.

Tier Five: The Blockbuster Shows

While they’re becoming a more regular feature on the annual calendar, these are the ginormous events with two or three title fights and a supporting cast consisting of fights that could headline Tier Two or Tier Three events without anyone blinking an eye.

These are the shows that your friends who never ask you about MMA ask you about and the ones where mainstream sports media suddenly develop an opinion about the names on top of the marquee. These are the events everyone gets hyped for well in advance and the ones that turn the lunatics (like me) that watch every single event into little kids on Christmas morning once Fight Day finally arrives.

UFC 205 is the ultimate example of this type of show and featured a lineup where each of the final seven fights was main event caliber. Although most will agree that three title fights on one show and a bushel of big fights behind them is often overkill and leaves the company thin a month or two or three down the line, that’s a price the UFC and its fans seem very much willing to pay in order to have an event that tops 750,000 buys and earns a place in the pantheon of the greatest shows in the company’s history.

These events cannot be compared to any other tier and if you’re hoping for Tier Two shows to be anywhere near as compelling and stacked as these occasional monster cards, I can’t help you. Hell every pay-per-view event can be as loaded as these shows, which is why they’re special and everyone gets all goofy and excited when they finally come around.

Besides, if they were all like this, I have a feeling fans would still find a way to get complacent and suggest that three title fights and a stacked card from top to bottom still wasn’t good enough.

At that point, the only thing left to do is electrify the cage or use Rorion Gracie’s original idea for the UFC and put an alligator-filled moat around the Octagon.

UFC 218: Punch Drunk Predictions

UFC 218: Punch Drunk Predictions

Everything old is new again; that’s the saying, right?

For the first time on this site, but the 487th time since I first started writing on any site emblazoned with the name Keyboard Kimura, it’s time to dive into my picks for a UFC event.

Saturday’s UFC 218 pay-per-view in Detroit is one of the best cards from top-to-bottom that the company has delivered in years, excluding the over-the-top attractions that dotted the calendar over the last couple years. All five main card fights feature competitors ranked in the Top 10 (the Top 6 if you want to be hyper-specific) and we could have a couple new title contenders emerge depending on how things shake out.

On a way more basic level, they’re all great fights that should be exciting and action-packed, so sit back, buckle up and keep reading.

These are the UFC 218 Punch Drunk Predictions.

Max Holloway vs. Jose Aldo (for the UFC featherweight title)

I never thought I would get to a point where I was picking Jose Aldo to get blown out of the water, but I’m picking Jose Aldo to get blown out of the water here. Max Holloway is that good.

Coming off a third-round stoppage win over Aldo in Rio earlier this year, the rematch tilts things in Holloway’s favour even more because he’s already been able to get his read on what Aldo brings to the table and as we saw in their first meeting, once “Blessed” felt comfortable, the Brazilian got trucked.

The champion still needs to be careful, but I fully expect him to start pressuring forward behind combinations and hurting Aldo to the body in the late stages of the first, making it clear that the belt isn’t going anywhere. If the challenger makes it out of the opening round, I don’t think he’ll get through the second.

Prediction: Max Holloway

Alistair Overeem vs. Francis Ngannou

Ngannou is a scary proposition, man – a massive physical specimen who has shown both devastating power and an incredible ability to learn and improve at a rapid rate. Four years after starting his professional career, he’s favoured against one of the most decorated heavyweights of all-time… and I’m pretty sure he’s going to beat him handily.

This is one of those fights where my pick is dictated by the thing I know, instead of the thing that remains a question mark.

We don’t know how well Ngannou can take a big shot because no one has really anything too serious on him to this point in his UFC career, but we do know that Overeem has a suspect chin and I’m positive that “The Predator” is going to find it, probably before the first round is over.

Prediction: Francis Ngannou

Henry Cejudo vs. Sergio Pettis

This is a great fight and I’m glad Pettis was afforded the chance to develop over a couple years instead of getting hustled up the ladder like a few previous flyweight prospects. That said, this fight feels a little like the fight between Frankie Edgar and Yair Rodriguez to me, with Cejudo playing the Edgar role, showing he’s still a level or two above the young upstart.

Here’s the thing: Cejudo hasn’t even been fighting for five years yet and he’s already one of the best flyweights in the world. Not only is his wrestling game excellent, but his hands are quick and dangerous too; ask Wilson Reis.

Pettis likes to control the distance and win technical fights from range, but I don’t think Cejudo will give him the space to operate. We’ve seen Pettis get clipped and finished before and I think Cejudo will continue to showcase his hands and get another stoppage here.

Prediction: Henry Cejudo

Eddie Alvarez vs. Justin Gaethje

Making a pick here is tough because it basically comes down to trying to figure out which of these two savages will be able to endure more punishment and land the blow that brings this Fight of the Year contender to a close?

I think both guys will catch some big shots, but my money is on Gaethje pulling off something similar to what we saw in his debut against Michael Johnson, where he eats some doozies, but still manages to respond and ultimate finish Alvarez.

All I really hope is that this fight is 80% of what I’ve built it up to be in my mind. If we get that, we’ll get an instant classic.

Prediction: Justin Gaethje

Tecia Torres vs. Michelle Waterson

This feels like one of those fights where once it’s done, a lot of people will kick themselves for getting sucked into the Michelle Waterson hype again, kind of like after she got trounced by Rose Namajunas.

The UFC has been pushing the Jackson-Wink staple since she returned to action a year ago and while she’s a solid depth piece in the strawweight division, I don’t think she’s as good as Torres or anyone else in the Top 5.

Torres keeps a quick pace, is better on the ground than people ever give her credit for and is coming off a very good performance against Julianna Lima. Plus, the only person to beat her to date is the new champion and if you don’t think that adds an extra dose of motivation heading into this one, you’re crazy.

I thick the constant pressure and pace of Torres eventually gets to Waterson and the TUF 20 alum gets a third-round finish.

Prediction: Tecia Torres

Preliminary Card Picks

Paul Felder def. Charles Oliveira
Alex Oliveira def. Yancy Medeiros
Drakkar Klose def. David Teymur
Cortney Casey def. Felice Herrig
Abdul Razak Alhassan def. Sabah Homasi
Dominick Reyes def. Jeremy Kimball
Allen Crowder def. Justin Willis
Amanda Cooper def. Angela Magana

The Rundown: The Ultimate Fighter 26 Finale

The Rundown: The Ultimate Fighter 26 Finale

Nicco Montano, UFC Women’s Flyweight Champion

From the No. 14 seed to the inaugural UFC women’s flyweight champion – it’s quite a run for Nicco Montano.

After navigating the most dangerous road possible in her half of the bracket on Season 26 of The Ultimate Fighter – beating three of the top six seeds – the proud Navajo woman dealt with a Fight Week change in opponents and still managed to come out on top, besting Roxanne Modafferi to claim UFC gold.

It was a close, scrappy battle where both women had their moments, but Montano managed to find small advantages within those tight frames to come away with a unanimous decision win.

There was a ton of pre-fight criticism about crowning a new champion through TUF and mid-fight comments about how these competitors would fare against someone like Valentina Shevchenko, the former bantamweight title challenger who is expected to drop to flyweight in 2018. They’re both valid comments and criticisms, but neither should take away from the gutsy effort turned in by both women on Friday and the entertaining Cinderella story Montano crafted throughout the season, culminating in her championship win.

Don’t Rush The Suga Show

Sean O’Malley collected an impressive win this summer on the Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contenders series and landed a spot in the co-main event of Friday’s TUF 26 Finale in Las Vegas. Heading into his fight, the UFC fans the hard sell on the unbeaten 23-year-old and after a quick start, the MMA Lab product showed a ton of resiliency by gutting out the third round to claim a unanimous decision victory.

Now the UFC needs to be smart and pump the breaks on “The Suga Show” and let the bantamweight neophyte get a little more seasoning before throwing him into the deep end of the 135-pound weight division.

O’Malley has lots of potential and is already fun to watch, but he’s still green and needs time to plug some of the holes in his game. It’s perfectly acceptable if the UFC wants to keep showcasing him, giving him television exposure every time out, however it would be a mistake to rush him up the ladder too quickly.

Odds, Ends & Observations

Lauren Murphy and Barb Honchak delivered the best fight of the night, combining for a fun, back-and-forth 15-minuite affair that ended with Murphy picking up a split decision win over the former Invicta FC flyweight champ. It’s a massive victory for Murphy who was upset in the opening round of the competition by finalist Nicco Montano and has dropped several close fights in the UFC, but this time, she came out on the happy side of the split and should be an early contender once the division gets going in earnest in 2018.

Gerald Meerschaert got back into the win column and pushed his record to 3-1 in the UFC by folding up Eric Spicely with a thudding body kick midway through the second round. The midwest veteran hand success on the feet early and went back to it out of the chute in the second and working from the southpaw stance, he crashed home the kick across the midsection that stopped Spicely cold.

Welsh bantamweight Brett Johns maintained his unbeaten record and earned the biggest win of his career in impressive fashion Friday, tapping former Bellator champ Joe Soto with a calf slicer in just 30 seconds. The 25-year-old has now won three straight in the UFC and is someone to keep an eye on in the 135-pound ranks in 2018.

Canadian Ryan Janes pulled off one of the craziest comebacks wins in recent memory on Friday night against Andrew Sanchez. The ZUMA product got rocked and looked dead to rights in the first, but he managed to survive and even started having success to end the round. By then, Sanchez was spent and in the third, Janes put him away to cap the ridiculous reversal of fortune.

Gillian Robertson, Shana Dobson and Rachel Ostovich all looked very good in collecting stoppage wins in their first official appearances in the Octagon. Of the group, Ostovich is the most seasoned, while Dobson (to me) has the most upside.

For all the criticism of having a title decided via The Ultimate Fighter, the piece a lot of people seem to be missing is that Season 26 provides the flyweight division with solid depth right out of the gate. Between the cast members that stick around, the fighters outside the organization who will matriculate to the UFC and the rostered fighters who will transition to 125, the division should be more than 20 fighters deep from the jump, which is a great starting point.

Additionally, Shannon Knapp and her crew at Invicta FC should be really proud tonight (and always) because they gave a lot of these women a platform before they got a chance to compete in the Octagon. They have done a tremendous job from the start and will continue to graduate quality talent to the UFC in the years to come.

UFC 218: A killer card that deserves more attention

UFC 218: A killer card that deserves more attention

Outside of the mega-cards that have dotted the landscape over the last couple years, this weekend’s pay-per-view event in Detroit stands as one of the best main card offerings the UFC has put together in recent memory.

Headlined by a featherweight title fight between Max Holloway and former titleholder Jose Aldo and boasting four outstanding secondary contests, UFC 218 is a card that hardcore fans have had circled on their calendars for months and that has the potential to be wildly entertaining while having a serious impact on the landscape of several divisions heading into next year.

Obviously the outcome of the championship main event will dictate where the 145-pound weight class goes next, but the co-main event between Alistair Overeem and Francis Ngannou could very well determine who is next in line to challenge for the heavyweight title and the same could be said of the clash between flyweights Henry Cejudo and Sergio Pettis. Add in a sure-fire barnburner between Top 5 lightweights Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje plus a pivotal contest in the strawweight division between standouts Michelle Waterson and Tecia Torres and you have just the second pay-per-view event of the year where all 10 main card competitors are currently in the Top 15 of their respective divisions according to the UFC Rankings.

Because of the potential impact and the impressive depth of talent on the card, UFC 218 should have a ton of buzz, but beyond the diehard set, it doesn’t feel that way.

There are no major names, no real rivalries and none of the pre-fight drama that usual accompanies these events and entices casual fans that weren’t already planning on ordering the fights to open up their wallets. It’s simply a throwback classic and it will be interesting to see what kind of business it does and how that affects Saturday’s winners in the New Year.

Earlier this year I called UFC 211 – the loaded dual title fight event in Dallas – “the blockbuster card without much buzz” because even though it featured Stipe Miocic and Joanna Jedrzejczyk defending their titles, plus a bunch of other exciting, important matchups, it didn’t carry the kind of anticipation that accompanies the marquee events of the year. That show garnered roughly 300,000 buys and although it was thoroughly entertaining, it didn’t really do too much to help elevate the status of the fighters who emerged victorious.

Personally, that feels like a missed opportunity because the only way fighters like Miocic or Jedrzejczyk or Holloway are going to take the next step forward in their careers and have a chance at being legitimate superstars and top draws for the UFC is if they get treated as such heading into and coming out of events like this.

This week on Sporting News, I asked why Holloway isn’t receiving the same kind of hype that accompanied Cody Garbrandt into his matchup with T.J. Dillashaw at UFC 217 in New York City. They’re roughly the same age and both were facing former champions in their first title defenses, yet while myriad stories were being written about how “No Love” could be the next big thing in the UFC, I haven’t seen very much written about his Hawaiian counterpart who could earn his 12th straight victory this weekend, has never been in a boring fight and is beloved by analysts for his ever-improving, constantly evolving offensive approach.

“Blessed” is exactly the kind of fighter that anyone who identifies themselves as a fight fan should be amped up to see every single time he steps into the cage and this event is a callback to the stacked pay-per-view events of yesteryear that everyone seems clamor for whenever a middling event is coming down the pike, but here were are just a couple days away from things jumping off and it just kind of feels like another random fight week.

And that shouldn’t be the case.

It’s easy to get everyone fired up for events like UFC 217 when Georges St-Pierre is coming back and there are three title fights that make buying the pay-per-view a no-brainer, but these are the events that should be getting even more attention because while the names aren’t as big, the stakes are just as high and the action will be no less thrilling.

In a way, this feels a lot like Holloway’s headlining turn in Toronto last winter against Anthony Pettis.

Like this weekend’s fight card at Little Caesars Arena, UFC 206 featured a late main event change and a main card that was short on transcendent names, but stocked with quality fights that had those in the know licking their chops. The event ended up delivering the best knockout of the year – Lando Vannata’s wheel kick finish of John Makdessi – and the best fight of the year – Cub Swanson’s victory over Doo Ho Choi – plus some violence between Donald Cerrone and Matt Brown and Holloway stopping Pettis to claim the interim featherweight title.

That show only did 150,000 pay-per-view buys, which feels like a travesty in hindsight and is part of what makes me nervous about this weekend’s event.

If an event like that or UFC 212, where Holloway ventured to Rio de Janeiro to defeat Aldo and unify the titles, fails to make an impact beyond the diehard audience, the chances of this card doing so are slim, which doesn’t bod well for the future because it becomes a vicious cycle where each subsequent fight is marred by the low numbers his previous fights did.

Because no one seems to be giving Holloway the “you can’t miss this guy; he’s the future” treatment and the last fight didn’t do big numbers, this fight probably won’t do big numbers and on down the line until next thing you know, we’re several fights into his title reign wondering why the champion isn’t a bigger draw?

Demetrious… is that you?
And it’s not like there aren’t ways to get that momentum building behind him or anyone for that matter. After all, we managed to turn Conor McGregor fighting Diego freakin’ Brandao on Fight Pass in Dublin into a massive event that launched “The Notorious” one to the next level of stardom.

I don’t know how many people actually tuned in to watch that event, but it was treated like a big deal and stands as the point where McGregor went from being an intriguing prospect that hardcore fans clamored to watch to the next big thing in the UFC.

For the record, Holloway has an entire island with a rich fighting culture behind him too and has already proven himself inside the Octagon far more than McGregor had up to that point, but for whatever reason, no one seems to want to give Holloway the same kind of push or commit anywhere near the amount of effort and attention that gets put towards select marquee talents and monster fight cards behind these outstanding, but somewhat unheralded fight cards, even though they’re the events that need it the most.

These are the cards and fighters that people need to be hearing about, learning about and familiarizing themselves with now because chances are several major fights for 2018 will start taking shape on Saturday night in Detroit and there is no reason for anyone to feel like the athletes involved in those matchups “came out of nowhere” or aren’t big enough stars to be worth their time.

Treat these athlete and events like they’re crucial and important and more people will start paying attention.