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On Saturday 6th July, the UFC is back in Vegas for International Fight Week. I know this is a way off but we should probably be paying some more attention to this. Just look at it... PPV MAIN CARD Jon Jones vs Thiago Santos - Light Heavyweight Title Amanda Nunes vs Holly Holm - Bantamweight Title Ben Askren vs Jorge Masvidal Jan Blachowicz vs Luke Rockhold Diego Sanchez vs Michael Chiesa ESPN PRELIMS Gilbert Melendez vs Arnold Allen Marlon Vera vs Nohelin Hernandez Randa Markos vs Claudia Gadelha Alejandro Pérez vs Song Yadong ESPN+ PRELIMS Jack Marshman vs Edmen Shahbazyan Ismail Naurdiev vs Chance Rencountre Pannie Kianzad vs Julia Avila That’s a fucking monster of a card, isn’t it? They’ve always traditionally loaded up the July PPV and, while the main event is a mismatch, this is overall one of my favourite lineups in ages. I love the mix here, it’s like a violent stir fry, it’s got a little bit of everything I like in my MMA. Jon Jones vs Thiago Santos tops this one then. Well, it should. It’s scheduled, signed etc. But you know the drill with Jones by now. Don’t count your chickens and always expect some fuckery and controversy. We’ll assume it goes ahead though. We’re on a good little run now. We’ve had 2 Jon Jones fights since December, which had become almost unheard of given all his spells of inactivity and suspensions over the last few years. But this will be the 3rd Jones fight within about 7 months. Hopefully he can crack on now and stay active. His last fight was at UFC 235 in March. He successfully defended the title against Anthony Smith with a clear cut and one-sided unanimous decision. Smith fought courageously but the long and short of it was he just wasn’t good enough. And with Jones having already beaten his 2 biggest rivals and threats in Daniel Cormier and Alexander Gustafsson, twice, obvious challengers were thin on the ground. Especially with the 205 division currently going through a transitional period where the old guard like Shogun Rua and Little Nog are fading out and the new breed like Johnny Walker and Dominick Reyes are still establishing themselves and maybe not quite ready. One man stood out to me though, and obviously to the UFC’s matchmakers as well. Thiago Santos has been in the UFC since 2013. He had an up and down career as a middleweight. Mostly ups but there was a time when the down moments were a little bit more frequent. I enjoyed watching him early in his UFC run but I can pinpoint the exact moment when his fights really became must-see TV for me... That’s Santos murdering Steve Bosse with a headkick back in 2015. Thankfully Bosse was alright...but fucking hell! He still had his hot and cold spells after that though. He beat Nate Marquardt and Elias Theodorou but then dropped losses to Gegard Mousasi and Eric Spicely, which halted his progress. He bounced back and rattled off 4 impressive wins on the trot, including stoppages over Jack Hermansson and Anthony Smith. But again, hit a roadblock in the form of David Branch, who TKO’d him inside a round in April last year. He outpointed Kevin Holland after that and decided to give 205 a try. He’s gone 3-0 as a light heavy since. Battered a game Eryk Anders in September then he went to war with Jimi Manuwa in December and won by KO in one of the best fights of 2018. His next fight was against Poland’s Jan Blachowicz. A tricky and well rounded customer who was coming off 4 wins himself. I didn’t fancy Santos’ chances too much in this one. But I was pleasantly surprised. Santos knocked him out with a counter left hook right on the chin in the third round. I thought it was one of Santos’ best career performances overall as well. He was aggressive but not recklessly like he was at times earlier in his career. He showed he’s capable of fighting with intelligence and patience and when Blachowicz left him an opening, he capitalised. Santos is 35 years old now. He’s 21-6 in his MMA career and he’s won 8 of his last 9 fights, 7 by KO or TKO. I don’t like his chances at all here but if he was ever going to get a title shot, now is surely the absolute best time for him. And he does have that power. His nickname is Marreta, which is Portuguese for Sledgehammer. Hence the hideous tattoo on his chest. He’s got a slim puncher’s chance, it’s better than nothing but against Jones...nah, I can’t see him being the one. Even moreso when I read quotes like this... ”If there was a formula, or a secret, someone would have figured it out already. We’re working on it, my coaches are studying him, but I think he’s a very intelligent guy. He adapts. If the fight is bad on the feet, he goes to the ground. If it’s bad on the ground, he goes to the feet. If it’s bad at the center of the cage, he takes it to the fence. If it gets bad on the fence, he takes it to the center. He’s a very intelligent guy, so I need to be ready for everything.” - Thiago Santos He knows, doesn’t he? He just knows. All he can really do is get himself in the best possible shape he can and go for it. Nobody expects him to win anyway. It’s good that he is realistic about how good Jones is and not just giving the delusional ‘he’s never fought someone like me’ speech. But he knows he’s really up against it here. Anthony Smith was on Dan Hardy’s podcast after UFC 235, and just listen to the way he talks about what it’s like to fight Jon Jones here... The stuff about Jones’ timing of his attacks is fascinating coming from a guy who shared the Octagon with him for 25 minutes. ”It’s so frustrating. You’re just screaming FUUUUCK in your head.” 😂 This Jones vs Santos promo gets the nips erect; I don’t see the outcome being a mystery. I mean, you never know but I very much doubt Santos pulls this off. But as mismatch title fights go, I think this is going to be a good one while it lasts. Amanda Nunes vs Holly Holm feels like it’s been a long time coming. Seems like these 2 should’ve met before but they’ve just never crossed paths until now. Everyone knows the story on Nunes by now surely? She’s the baddest woman to ever do it. At this point she’s the GOAT as far as the relatively young women’s side of MMA goes. It’s not even up for debate anymore. This woman has destroyed Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate in a round apiece, she has 2 wins over Valentina Shevchenko and in her last fight in December... She went up in weight and obliterated the scariest and most dominant woman in the sport, knocking the fuck out of Cyborg in less than a minute. With that win she joined the small but constantly growing group of ‘champ champs’. Titles at 135 and 145 over her shoulders. She’s the first female double champion, the first woman to knock out Cyborg, she’s retired Ronda, she’s main evented UFC 200, she was the first openly gay champion. She’s achieved a lot, done a few ‘firsts’ and created history. And she did all this without the UFC machine behind her. The story about the UFC execs thinking she was “cannon fodder” for Ronda is well known and has been told to death. And Dana has even criticised and slagged her publicly in the past. She’s done so much in spite of what the company wanted or were planning that I was chuffed to see her holding those 2 belts in December. Holly Holm has obviously had her own big moments in the UFC. Her kicking Ronda’s head off in 2015 and ending the reign was colossal at the time. A proper end of an era moment that would be talked about and replayed endlessly. That was the end of Ronda Rousey really. And weirdly, Holm too. Her career should’ve been exploding after that win but she went on to lose her next 3 fights in a row. She’s gone 2-3 since knocking Rousey out. She’s 37 now and she’s had so many fights between MMA, Boxing and Kickboxing. You have to expect she’d start to slow down a bit now. But she did go 5 hard rounds with Cyborg and beat Megan Anderson in her most recent fight last year. The thing I don’t get though is that Megan Anderson fight was at featherweight. It surely would’ve made more sense if this was for Nunes’ 145 belt? But it’s for the bantamweight strap. Whatever. Style-wise this should be a hell of a fight. People will probably think ‘well Nunes KO’d Cyborg, she’ll kill Holm’. But Holm is a totally different style to Cyborg. The last time we saw Nunes fight someone as technical as Holm was when she faced Shevchenko and Shev took her the distance twice in competitive decisions. I’d fancy Nunes to retain here, but I wouldn’t expect a blowout. If she can knock Holm out though, it’s yet another accomplishment that’ll be a ‘first’ in MMA. I’m really looking forward to this one the more I think about it. It’s a great fight. It’s kind of mad that the fight everyone always wanted to see was Rousey vs Cyborg and here we’ve got the 2 women who stopped them facing off. Ben Askren vs Jorge Masvidal is ***WAND’S ONE TO WATCH*** this time. Not even that I expect it to be the best actual fight on the card or anything. It probably won’t be. But it’s the fight I find myself drawn to the most. And it’s not just because of their contrast in personalities, although that definitely adds to the whole appeal of this fight. But the way they match up on paper and their fighting styles makes for a proper fascinating clash. Masvidal is pretty awkward and tricky in the way he moves and he does have decent takedown defence. I don’t see him stopping Askren’s takedown but there’s enough about his overall box of tricks that could cause Funky Ben some grief, I think. If he can find a way to keep it on the feet a bit then Askren won’t like that. I do think Askren’s wrestling will be too much in the end though. Unless Jorge can land the perfect shot and KO him coming in, I just see Askren scoring enough takedowns and controlling enough of the action to take a decision. It’ll be edge of the seat though because Masvidal’s knockout on Darren Till is still fresh in the memory and if he lands a clean shot like that it could be curtains. Jan Blachowicz vs Luke Rockhold is an interesting matchup. Rockhold is moving up to light heavyweight for this. Talk about going from the frying pan to the fire. I can’t stomach the smug twat but fair play, he’s not exactly looking for a warm up fight. Blachowicz is a very tough fight for a guy making his debut at 205. Especially when you factor in that Rockhold got brutally knocked out by Yoel Romero in his last fight and hasn’t fought in the well over a year since. Blachowicz is coming off the loss to Thiago Santos but he’d won a bunch of fights before that and is obviously settled in at 205. Not sure what to make of this really. On the one hand I think it might be a great move for Rockhold as he was massive for 185 and the weight cut must’ve been rough. But on the other side of the coin, he got badly knocked out a few times at middleweight. Taking shots off some of the beasts at the bigger end of 205 could get ugly for him and fast. Very intriguing fight. Diego Sanchez vs Michael Chiesa opens up the PPV. This might be sad to watch. In fairness to Diego, he’s looked good in his last couple of fights and he really schooled Mickey Gall last time out. But I just don’t think he has it against anyone above that level anymore. And Chiesa looked fantastic in his welterweight debut in December. Submitted Carlos Condit with that nasty inverted kimura thingy. He looked huge as well. Don’t know how he made 155 for so long. I can’t see this ending well for Diego. I hope I’m wrong but I don’t think he really has any advantages here. Gilbert Melendez vs Arnold Allen is a real old school vs new school collision. Don’t really know what we’re getting here where old Giblert’s concerned. He was one of the top lightweights in the world for about a decade but he’s undeniably past his prime now. I wouldn’t completely write him off just yet but he’s a far cry from the man who went to war with Josh Thomson and battered Tatsuya Kawajiri. He’s lost his last 4 fights. They were all to good fighters but losses are losses. He also had that USADA failure a while back as well. I could be wrong but I don’t think he’s one of those guys who’s been dirty his whole career. I get the feeling he dabbled because he was desperate and struggling to keep up with the new breed. And speaking of the new breed, Arnold Allen doesn’t get talked about enough really. He’s only 25 with a 14-1 record and some decent wins over Makwan Amirkhani and Jordan Rinaldi. He’s not really wowing anyone just yet but I think he might be one to keep an eye on. This is a huge opportunity for him. If he can beat a name like Melendez, on one of the biggest cards of the year, he won’t be going under the radar much longer. Sean O’Malley vs Marlon Vera...just look at O’Malley there, the little div. We haven’t seen O’Malley since March 2018. He beat Andre Soukhamthath that night but injured his foot. His post-fight interview was memorable as he did it lying down because he couldn’t stand up. He was meant to fight again in October but got popped by USADA for something. He’s unbeaten at 10-0 and was getting hyped up because he’s a lanky oddball with an afro and smokes loads of weed. I just can’t take to him though. He’s got some skills but I think he’s always going to be one of those fighters I root against. Vera’s a tough guy, decent fighter and should be a bit of a test for old Will Spliff here. He’s 13-5-1 and has stopped his last 3 opponents. He’s finished Brad Pickett, Frankie Saenz and survived 3 rounds of John Lineker. That’s a tough man. I’d love to see him derail this nob before he even gets going. Randa Markos vs Claudia Gadelha could be decent. Gadelha’s stock has really plummeted the last couple of years though. She was pretty much considered the consensus #2 strawweight in the world back when Joanna Jedrzejczyk was the 115lb Queen. And she ran Joanna close twice. She’s sort of floundering now though. 3-2 in her last 5 but I think I had her losing to Carla Esparza. She lost to Nina Ansaroff last time out. Randa is supposed to be a step down for Gadelha but I don’t know anymore. Gadelha is only 30 but she seems to have lost something for me. Gadelha should be winning this. Randa’s been wildly inconsistent in the UFC. But I’d love to see Red Randa get the win here Alejandro Perez vs Song Yadong is just there really. It’s the fight I’m least arsed about on the entire card but that’s mostly because the rest is so good. It still might be decent. Perez is 21-7-1 and has wins over some solid guys like Eddie Wineland and Iuri Alcantara. Song is only 21 years old and has a 13-3-2 record. I know Song trains at Team Alpha Male and Faber raves about him, so there’s that. Nothing wrong with this fight, it’s just surrounded by better ones. Jack Marshman vs Edmen Shahbazyan should be lively however long it lasts. You know what you’re getting with Marshman. He’s no world beater but he’s one of those guys who just brings it and is consistently in fun scraps as a result. Like a modern day Chris Lytle, Paul Taylor or Marcus Davis type. Not everyone can be a title contender but there’s always room on the roster for these undercard warriors. He’s in with Edmen Shahbazyan, who’s managed by Ronda Rousey and is currently undefeated at 9-0. And not just that, he’s got a very ‘early Ronda’ style record. Of his 9 wins he’s got 8 finishes. All in the first round. 5 of them in under a minute! Darren Stewart took him to a decision in his Octagon debut and his conditioning looked suspect but he’s only 21 years old. It was no doubt a learning experience and he’s got plenty of time and potential to improve. Ismail Naurdiev vs Chance Rencountre is a fight where I’m not up on either. Can’t say I’ve seen either fight yet but my interest is certainly piqued now I’ve read a bit on Naurdiev. He’s nicknamed ‘The Austrian Wonderboy’, he’s only 22 and he already has a 18-2 MMA record with 16 finishes. He beat Michel Prazeres in his UFC debut in February, which is impressive as Prazeres is a tricky vet who’d won 8 in a row previously. Could be a real prospect, this guy. Rencountre I’m not really bothered about. He’s 13-3, might be alright. It’s Naurdiev I’m intrigued by here. So that’s 239.