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  1. Saturday 9th February (Sunday 10th if you’re Down Under) the UFC returns to Melbourne, Australia with UFC 234. PPV MAIN CARD Robert Whittaker vs Kelvin Gastelum - Middleweight Title Israel Adesanya vs Anderson Silva Rani Yahya vs Ricky Simon Montana De La Rosa vs Nadia Kassem Sam Alvey vs Jim Crute ESPN PRELIMS Devonte Smith vs Dong Hyun Ma Austin Arnett vs Shane Young Kai Kara-France vs Raulian Paiva Teruto Ishihara vs Kyung Ho Kang FIGHT PASS PRELIMS Lando Vannata vs Marcos Rosa Mariano Jalin Turner vs Callan Potter Wuliji Buren vs Jonathan Martinez OK. Top two fights aside, Michael Bisping might describe this as “weak as piss”. It’s not the strongest PPV lineup, is it? Take the main event off and that’s a Fight Night in Brazil or China or wherever. There’s some stuff worth your time if you dig deeper though, and maybe there’ll be something added still yet. Although it’s getting late in the day for that now. Robert Whittaker vs Kelvin Gastelum then. Feels like a fucking lifetime since this fight was first announced but we’re nearly there now. Hopefully Whittaker actually makes it through camp safe and sound this time. He’s had a shitter with injuries and illnesses the last couple of years. Awful timing and it’s really hurt his title reign. Whittaker was the welterweight winner of TUF: The Smashes back in 2012. But he had an up and down initial run in the UFC post-TUF. He went 3-2 as a welterweight before moving up to 185 in 2014. Turned out to be a wise move as he hasn’t lost since. He’s gone 8-0 as a middleweight and in 2017 he really upped his game, knocking out Jacare Souza in a fight nobody expected him to win. Then he beat Yoel Romero to become interim champ. The title was then upgraded from interim to undisputed status when GSP won the belt from Bisping and swiftly vacated it. Robert Whittaker was now officially the undisputed middleweight champion. Kelvin Gastelum also won TUF, just 4 months after Whittaker, in April 2013. He also bounced between 170 and 185 but had a series of weight misses at 170 and a couple of close decision losses so in 2016 he jumped to middleweight and has stayed there since. He battered Tim Kennedy and Vitor Belfort, had a loss to Chris Weidman in there which briefly halted his progress. Then in November 2017 he scored his most impressive win to date. Brutally knocking out Michael Bisping in a round in Shanghai. Unfortunately, due to injuries and other commitments, both men only fought once in 2018. Gastelum took on Jacare at UFC 224 in May. It was a great fight and a close one. Both hurt each other and had success but Gastelum walked away with a decision. In June at UFC 225, Whittaker rematched Yoel Romero. One of the best fights of 2018 for me. They broke the record for most significant strikes landed in a middleweight title fight. Whittaker took some hellacious punishment here and gutted it out to take another hard fought and razor close points victory. He broke his hand in the first round and continued to throw it for the next four. Hard as nails. And here’s them “other commitments” I was on about. This fight probably would’ve happened a few months ago but they were tied up with coaching TUF for a big chunk of the second half of the year. I’m a big fan of both of these as fighters but as TUF coaches, the pairing did nothing for me and it might’ve been the first season of TUF where I never saw even a single second of it. This is what we want though. Fuck TUF. Get them in there and let them loose. Should be a brilliant fight this. Whittaker has gone further than I ever expected him to and he’s earned every bit of it. I’ll be rooting for him here. But Gastelum is an animal. Especially at 185. Whittaker vs Gastelum promo; Don’t have a clue how this one goes. Like, not even a gut feeling. The only thing I’m pretty certain of is that it’s going to be an amazing fight. Israel Adesanya vs Anderson Silva is a strange one. I can’t even really picture it in my head. It’s got that new breed vs old school thing plus Dana White has confirmed that they’ve offered Anderson a title shot if he wins this. The whole thing seems a bit barmy but I’m looking forward to it all the same. Obviously, Anderson Silva is one of the greatest of all time. It’s all gone sour the last few years when USADA came knocking and caught him unawares. Twice. But that was just dick pills. As Anderson says, “Is normal”. He was fucking phenomenal to watch in his prime though. Mostly. We’ll forget the Patrick Cote and Thales Leites snoozers, shall we? And definitely the Demian Maia farce in Abu Dhabi. The good far outweighed the bad when Andy was at his best. He had a style and swagger unlike anyone else when he first walked through the Octagon doors back in 2006 and obliterated Chris Leben. His run after that was ridiculous. Took the title from Rich Franklin and kneed his nose off. Then it was Lutter, Marquardt, Franklin again. Unified the UFC and Pride belts by submitting Hendo. Then it was Irvin, Cote, Leites. Then he took Forrest Griffin’s soul. Then it was Maia, the epic comeback vs Sonnen. Kicked Belfort’s face into the bleachers. Then Okami, Sonnen 2, Bonnar. Just a mental run of performances. For years he had the record for most title defences before Mighty Mouse snapped it. But like anything else, the ride has to stop somewhere. The two Chris Weidman fights in 2013 were where it all came crumbling down. Knocked out in the first fight, noodle leg in the rematch. Then USADA got him after the Diaz fight. Losses to Bisping in a great fight and Cormier in a shite one. A questionable points win over Derek Brunson was his last fight. That was a year ago now. Anderson will be 44 in April and he’s now 1-4-1 in his last 6 fights. The prime is over. And Dana’s already got a younger model lined up. Israel Adesanya is 29 years old, he’s Nigerian/Kiwi and has an absolute shitload of fights already. In Kickboxing alone he was 75-5-1 as a pro, 32-0 as an amateur. Then he has a 5-1 Boxing record and is 15-0 in MMA. So 134 fights combined! He went 11-0 with 11 knockouts in his first 11 MMA fights. Most notably a first round stoppage over ex UFC vet Melvin Guillard. The UFC came calling and he made his debut on last February’s UFC 221 card. He had a busy 2018, fighting 4 times. He finished Rob Wilkinson in his debut and decisioned Marvin Vettori in April. In June he was put in his first 5 round UFC main event against Brad Tavares. Adesanya handled it and won comfortably. Didn’t seem to feel any type of pressure from being thrust into the spotlight so quickly. Guess the experience of 100+ fights will do that for you. I think I’ve said before but I wasn’t really on the Adesanya hype train at this point. He’d looked good but I wasn’t losing my shit like nearly everyone else seemed to be. He was booked against Derek Brunson on November’s UFC 230 PPV at Madison Square Garden. Undoubtedly the toughest test of his MMA career so far. Brunson had been in with the likes of Anderson Silva, Yoel Romero, Lyoto Machida, Robert Whittaker, Jacare, Uriah Hall and Lorenz Larkin. And as a good wrestler, I really thought he might be kryptonite for a striker like Adesanya. Both talked shit in the buildup. Especially Brunson. He kept saying Adesanya was too skinny and “built like a senior citizen”. Adesanya wrecked him in a round. His toughest test and he made it his easiest night’s work in the UFC yet. I’m still not ready to say he’s going to be the champ or anything. There’s a lot of beasts at 185. But I’m much more of a believer than I was that’s for sure. The Stylebender vs The Spider promo; Not sure what this will look like. I expect Adesanya to win but what kind of fight it’ll be is anyone’s guess. Depends what Anderson shows up, I guess. If he’s up for this and motivated, which he should be given the title shot carrot, then you never know. He’s crafty and still not someone you want to fuck about with. If Adesanya tries to do his showboating here he could get tagged. But the same is true in reverse. Weird one. And this is where the card drops off massively... Wuliji Buren vs Jonathan Martinez is just there. Maybe this won’t end up on the main card, maybe it will. MMAJunkie has it listed third from top so I’ll roll with that. Could be decent but I’m not going to blag you that I’m excited about this one. Buren is Chinese, 28 years old, nicknamed ‘The Beastmaster’, 9-5 record and has lost his last 2. Martinez is 24 with a 9-2 record and lost his last fight against Andre Soukhamthath. Surely this will end up on Fight Pass? Both coming off losses, neither are names, both nowhere near being contenders, neither are what you’d call a prospect. I could maybe see the logic if one of them was Australian just to whack a local on there but they’re not. No reason a fight like this should be on a PPV main card in 2018. Especially when real prospects like Curtis Millender and Aleksandar Rakic are usually on Fight Pass. I know it’s slim pickings but Kai Kara-France vs Raulian Paiva is my ***WAND’S ONE TO WATCH*** on this card. I am looking forward to this. I think Kai Kara-France looks promising. He’s 25, from New Zealand, 18-7-1 record. Really good striking. Beat Elias Garcia in his UFC debut. Paiva is Brazilian, 23 years old with a 17-1 record. Mostly decisions. Paiva has a really sad story. He fought on Dana’s Contender Series and signed with the UFC in August. But in October he and his girlfriend were at a party in Brazil and they left after some cunts were harassing his girlfriend and trying to fight him. They left on Paiva’s motorcycle and the men chased them in a car and hit them. Paiva got away with minor injuries, his girlfriend was left in a coma and died 6 days later. Proper sad story. Can’t root against him after reading about it. As much as Kara-France was what initially drew me to this fight, Paiva’s story makes me want him to win now. Can’t imagine the horrible few months he’s had. Montana De La Rosa vs Nadia Kassem is a fight between two women who I could see possibly being contenders in a couple of years. De La Rosa was on TUF, she’s 23 years old, 9-4 with 7 submissions. She submitted Rachael Ostovich at the TUF finale. Not the best of records but when you look at who she’s lost to you see Nicco Montano, Cynthia Calvillo and Mackenzie Dern who have all done well in the UFC. She’s got some skills on the ground from what I’ve seen and at 23 she’s got some time. Kassem is also 23, she’s Australian and unbeaten at 5-0 with 4 KO/TKOs. Her first 4 fights lasted just over 2 minutes combined. Her first 3 all ended in 26 seconds or less! She went to points in her UFC debut in November 2017 against Alex Chambers. I haven’t actually seen her fight yet but I’m intrigued. Regardless of the opposition, there aren’t many 115lb women who are scoring sub-30 second knockouts. Austin Arnett vs Shane Young...yeah, not arsed. Arnett is American, 16-5. Hasn’t beat anyone that good and has lost anytime he’s gone in with someone decent. Young is Kiwi, 12-4. Nothing remarkable on his record, although he did go the distance with Volkanovski. Teruto Ishihara vs Kyung Ho Kang should be an entertaining one for what it is. I quite like Ishihara. He’s never going to climb far up the ladder, probably won’t ever get off the prelims, but he’s fun to watch in his little spot on the undercards. Bit of a Japanese Bruce Leroy. He’s not much use though. He’s lost 4 of his last 5 including defeats to a shot Gray Maynard and Artem Fucking Lobov! Not good. In his last fight, Petr Yan smashed him. Another loss here will probably be it for him, I reckon. And Kang will likely beat him and send him packing. Rani Yahya vs Ricky Simon is one I’ll be keeping an eye on. Actually I’m hoping this gets on the main card and they fuck Buren vs Martinez down to Fight Pass instead. Yahya deserves a higher spot on the card. Really underrated fighter and a tremendous grappler. He’s won 7 of his last 8 and submitted his last 3 opponents. He’s been around forever and fought everyone from KID Yamamoto to Gesias Cavalcante to Mark Hominick to Mike Brown. Really good fighter. Not sure if I’ve seen Ricky Simon, don’t recall it, but he’s a solid 14-1 and won his last 7. Decent fight. Hope it at least makes the televised middle prelims. That’s your lot, sheilas. Harold Bishop with the rear naked choke...