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It’s the beginning of a new era. On Saturday 19th January the UFC returns to Brooklyn for its debut show under the ESPN banner. ESPN+ MAIN CARD Henry Cejudo vs TJ Dillashaw - Flyweight Title Greg Hardy vs Allen Crowder Yancy Medeiros vs Gregor Gillespie Joseph Benavidez vs Dustin Ortiz Paige VanZant vs Rachael Ostovich Glover Teixeira vs Karl Roberson ESPN PRELIMS Donald Cerrone vs Alexander Hernandez Joanne Calderwood vs Ariane Lipski Alonzo Menifield vs Vinicius Moreira Cory Sandhagen vs Mario Bautista ESPN+ PRELIMS Dennis Bermudez vs Te Edwards Belal Muhammad vs Geoff Neal Chance Rencountre vs TBA I like this card a lot. Not mega stacked in terms of big names or anything but a champ vs champ main event plus Cowboy plus the booby fight...not bad. Henry Cejudo vs TJ Dillashaw. Champion vs Champion. This should be an excellent technical fight. Two champions at the top of their game, at the peak of their confidence, coming off arguably the biggest wins of their careers where they solidified themselves as ‘the man’ in their respective divisions. This was originally supposed to go down at UFC 233 but they moved it to this to kick off the ESPN deal with a bang. The backstories are well documented so I won’t go into too much detail. For those who might be newish to these two...Cejudo is an Olympic gold medalist, he won the gold in freestyle wrestling at the 2008 Games in Beijing and is the current flyweight champion. He’s 31 years old, 13-2 in MMA. Dillashaw is 32 with a 16-3 MMA record and is the reigning bantamweight champion. UFC 227 on August 4th this year is where the seeds for this one were really planted though. In the co-main event that night, Cejudo shocked the MMA world by dethroning flyweight king Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson. It was a ridiculously close fight and Cejudo just about squeaked a split decision but it was still an incredible accomplishment. DJ was such a dominant champion. He’d held the UFC flyweight title since its creation back in 2012 and had broken the record for the most successful title defences in UFC history. A 2016 first round stoppage over Cejudo included in there. So for Cejudo to not only avenge that loss but to knock off the most successful champion in the history of the UFC was quite the achievement. With the win, Cejudo made history of his own, becoming the first fighter to win Olympic and UFC gold. An accolade that’s probably not likely to be matched anytime soon. In the main event, Dillashaw knocked out former teammate turned bitter rival Cody Garbrandt for the second time in their rematch. Putting their series to bed and making it clear beyond all doubt that he is the top dog at 135lbs. After UFC 227, as with any big show, the question was ‘what’s next?’ The natural choice seemed to be a Cejudo vs Johnson rubber match given DJ’s previous reign of terror, how close the fight was and the fact they were tied at 1-1. But Cejudo had also called to fight the TJ-Cody winner in his post-fight interview. It was up in the air until the MMA news sites dropped this bombshell; Demetrious Johnson was leaving the UFC and heading to ONE FC, reportedly on a sweet deal and as part of an unofficial trade for Ben Askren. It was also heavily rumoured that the UFC were strongly considering binning the entire flyweight division. In turn this lead to talk of Cejudo just moving up to 135 to challenge Dillashaw, which seemed to be the obvious thing to do. But the UFC threw us a curveball when the fight was announced and that it’d be taking place at flyweight with Cejudo’s gold at stake. Dillashaw’s logic for doing the fight at 125 was understandable. With a win here he gets to add a second title to his collection and becomes only the third man to hold 2 UFC belts simultaneously (the previous 2 being McGregor and Cormier). Makes sense if you’re TJ. He also speculated that this was the UFC’s way to try to kill off the 125 division by having TJ kind of merge the 125 and 135 belts, effectively dissolving the flyweight division. “The UFC wants to get rid of the division and they hired me to go down and close it and get another belt in the process. It’s a win-win for me. They’re paying me a fuckload of money to move down and kill the 125lb division and collect a second belt. So it’s game time.” - TJ Dillashaw For Cejudo it’s a bit of a weird situation. If he wins it’s a huge win but then what becomes of his division? Does it still close? We still haven’t had any official word from the top. If he does win we’ll most definitely get an immediate rematch up at 135 for TJ’s strap. If he loses though, you have to think the flyweight division is gone there and then. Cejudo seems to feel it as well and appears to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder going into this one. “It’s a superfight to a lot of people but I’m gonna smash this guy. You can have a thousand belts. There is only one athlete in this world who has been a two sport world champion and his name his Henry Cejudo. The Messenger. Youngest Olympic champion in history. I’m telling you this because a lot of people are counting me out of this fight with TJ, just like they did with DJ. I’m gonna stop him. I’m gonna stop this man. You underestimate me, you wanna come down to my weight, you wanna take my division out? I’m gonna make an example of you. I’m gonna truly, truly, make an example of you.” - Henry Cejudo Cejudo vs Dillashaw promo; This is going to be some fight. Not a fan of either, to be honest. This is heel vs heel for me. But as fighters they’re undeniably two of the most skilled on the roster right now. A lot at stake. Maybe a Cejudo win keeps flyweight alive a bit longer? Fuck knows? Cejudo has also hinted at possible free agency after this fight if they scrap the flyweight division because apparently his contract specifies that he’s signed to fight at ‘125lbs’. Don’t know if that is a loophole that’ll work but it could get interesting as I could see him using ONE and the DJ rubber match as a bit of a bargaining chip in negotiations. I fancy TJ to win this myself, I just think he’s got more tools and he’ll be too slick but we’ll see what happens. Donald Cerrone vs Alexander Hernandez is a very solid fight. This is Cowboy’s return to lightweight after a decent, if somewhat patchy, run at welter. When news of this fight broke I think a lot of people were a bit underwhelmed. Cowboy had been hinting at something big being lined up for his return to 155 and the rumour mill was throwing up names like McGregor, Gaethje, Poirier etc. So when Hernandez was named as the opponent it left some scratching their heads. I definitely think this wasn’t the initial plan. The way Cerrone was talking after the Mike Perry win, it seemed like the UFC had offered him a name that really excited him. McGregor was the name that picked up the most steam on the MMA sites but Dana shot it down. I reckon it was talked about but must’ve fallen through. Regardless, this is actually a very good fight. Hernandez isn’t the name the others are but he’s shown real potential so far in the UFC. He’s 26 years old, 10-1 with 6 finishes, BJJ brown belt. He knocked out the usually durable Beneil Dariush in just 42 seconds in his UFC debut and outpointed Olivier Aubin-Mercier last time out. This is undoubtedly a big step up though. Cerrone will be the biggest name, highest level, most experienced guy he’ll have been in with by quite a distance. And Cerrone seems to be in a really good place mentally right now. He’s just become a dad and it seems to have lit a fire under him and given him a motivation and focus that didn’t always appear to be there at other points in his career. Yancy Medeiros vs Gregor Gillespie is the newest addition to this card and it’s a cracking fight on paper. This is ***WAND’S ONE TO WATCH*** now. Great fight. Medeiros is a really fun fighter to watch but he’s been sidelined since February unfortunately, and he’s coming off a loss to Cerrone. Before that though he was on a solid 3 fight win streak with 3 finishes, one being that forgotten late 2017 FOTY contender against Alex Oliveira. Typical Hawaiian fighter. Tough, likes a scrap and he’s always aggressive in there. Gillespie is undefeated at 12-0 with 10 finishes. He’s 5-0 in the UFC and has stopped his last 4. He’s a New Yorker, 31 years old, NCAA Division I wrestler but he likes to strike and can pull out submissions, seems he can take a dig too. And he’s really likeable. I like both of these two actually. But Gillespie has got something IMO. There’s legit potential there. But this is undoubtedly his toughest test to date. Should be a good one. Paige VanZant vs Rachael Ostovich...brought to you by Pornhub. Seriously, when this fight was announced... Twitter was full of this type of thing. I don’t really know what this fight is. Besides their obvious physical attributes, they do actually have some skills in the cage. But I don’t know if this fight is happening at the right time. VanZant seems to have taken her eye off the ball big time to me as far as MMA is concerned. After a really promising start to her career she’s hit a wall and I just don’t get the impression her heart is in it anymore. She’s only fought twice in the last 2 years and went 0-2. Got choked out by Michelle Waterson in December 2016, sat out all of 2017, moved up to make a fresh start at flyweight, lost to Jessica-Rose Clark in January and sat out again for the rest of 2018. On top of that, she got married and has recently been making noises about following in Ronda Rousey’s footsteps and making a jump to WWE. Her getting that boob job makes sense now! So yeah, I don’t think she’s long for this MMA shit. And Ostovich, I liked her on TUF, thought she looked good at the Finale, but she got subbed last time out and she’s 4-4 now. And is fresh off being at the centre of a horrible story about her husband battering her which almost took her out of this fight completely. The timing for this just seems all wrong. One fighter who’s not arsed anymore and another who’s probably, and understandably, shaken up and distracted by personal stuff. It’s getting hyped because they’re both lookers but in reality it’s a bit of a nothing fight. Glover Teixeira vs Ion Cutelaba is going to be chaos. Love this fight. Glover isn’t quite the animal he was a few years back but he’s still a fucking handful. Hits really hard and has a tight grappling game, especially if he gets on top. And Cutelaba is a guy I’ve been talking about forever on here. So exciting to watch. Stupidly aggressive and intense as fuck. Like Mickey said in Rocky, this guy ‘eats thunder and craps lightning’. He’s not a world beater, he’s got flaws and he’s lost before. But he’s one of those guys who you can tell it’s no fun to be locked in a cage with. Even if you win, you’re getting hurt on the journey to victory. Greg Hardy vs Allen Crowder has been a bit of a controversial one. Greg Hardy is a former NFL player. I know fuck all about American football so I’m not going to pretend to know what his stats mean or if he was any good. All I know is he’s a woman beating piece of shit. Got suspended by the NFL for beating, strangling and threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend. There are pictures of the woman’s injuries online, I won’t share them here. From what I can tell he was basically shunned and ultimately shut out of the NFL as a result of this case. He’s also had an arrest for cocaine use and had a rep in football for generally being a bit of a shithouse with a habit of tweeting inappropriately as well as reports of him being a bad locker room influence to younger players. But the domestic violence stuff was obviously the main thing. And from what I’ve seen he’s been unremorseful and unapologetic about the whole thing. Which is what baffled the MMA community when he was not only signed by the UFC, but slated to make his promotional debut on the same card as Rachael Ostovich who has just recently been the victim of domestic abuse. Dana’s tried to justify it with the defence of ‘well Rachael is cool with it’ which obviously makes it all OK. His MMA record, if anyone cares, is 3-0 with 3 knockouts and he was on Dana’s Contender thingy. I’d love to see Crowder knock this prick spark out. Joseph Benavidez vs Dustin Ortiz is another fight in the lame duck flyweight division but should be a good one. Apparently, Benavidez is the backup on this card incase Cejudo or Dillashaw get injured. That would be a letdown but they could certainly have chosen a worse backup. At least Benavidez has background with both men. He holds a controversial decision win over Cejudo and is a former Alpha Male teammate of Dillashaw. And I’m a fan of Ortiz actually. He’s a proper unsung quality fighter IMO. He’s had some really good fights that have been buried on the prelims and holds the record for the fastest finish in flyweight history for his 15 second KO of Hector Sandoval last year. Expecting an action-packed fight out of these two. Joanne Calderwood vs Ariane Lipski is actually the more interesting women’s fight on the card for me. Calderwood has been a favourite of mine for a few years. Insanely likeable and genuinely seems like one of the nicest people in the sport. But she’s had a rough go of it in the UFC. She showed real promise early in her career. Really solid Muay Thai and had successful stints in the UK and Invicta. Came into TUF in 2014 with an undefeated record but whether it was big show nerves or she’s not at the level or what, she hasn’t been as effective on the big stage. She’s had her moments but her losses are what stick out in the memory unfortunately. She’s gone 4-3 in the UFC, she’s 12-3 overall. But she did snap a two fight losing streak in August, returning to flyweight and submitting Kalindra Faria. She also stopped Valérie Létourneau at flyweight so maybe that’s the weight class for her. She’s fighting UFC newcomer Ariane Lipski. She’s Brazilian, 24 years old. 11-3 and on a 9 fight win streak with a nice mix of submissions and knockouts fitting of a woman nicknamed ‘The Violence Queen’. She was also the KSW flyweight champion. Exactly the kind of signing the 125 division needed. Alonzo Menifield vs Vinicius Moreira is a fight I’m going in blind on. Both these guys are from Dana White’s Contender Series (really got to start checking that out). Menifield is unbeaten at 7-0 and scored a quick 8 second KO on his second go on DWCS earlier this year. Seems a good dude; Moreira is Brazilian, 9-1 with 9 finishes, mostly submissions. Interested in this now. Two more for the new blood at 205. Say what you want about the UFC but they do appear to be really trying to build up the light heavyweight division. So many new prospects and fresh faces have emerged over the last 18 months or so. They’re clearly thinking of the future where 205’s concerned. Belal Muhammad vs Geoff Neal could be the sleeper FOTN to be honest. Muhammad is a tough scrapper. 14-2 with wins over Tim Means, Jordan Mein and Randy Brown and went to war with Alan Jouban. He fights Geoff Neal, 10-2. Neal got on my radar in his last fight with his crushing headkick KO on Frank Camacho at UFC 228. It was up there for Knockout Of The Year until Yair Rodriguez matrixed the Zombie into unconsciousness last month. Should be a fun one though. Dennis Bermudez vs Te Edwards could be a good one. Bermudez at one time was considered one of the brightest prospects in MMA. Came up short in the TUF 14 final against Diego Brandão but showed real potential and won his next 7 fights in the UFC. Among them a crazy FOTY contender with Matt Grice, a submission over Clay Guida and a decision over Max Holloway (I scored it to Holloway but whatever). Don’t know what happened but he dropped off a cliff after that little streak. He’s gone 2-6 in his last 8. He’s coming into this fight off the back of 4 consecutive losses (although his last 3 were split decisions). Doesn’t look good. There have been bright spots in there. He beat Kawajiri and would’ve had another FOTY with Jeremy Stephens if it wasn’t overshadowed by fucking Lawler vs MacDonald 2 happening on the same night! But he’s definitely struggled the last few years. Mad to think him and Holloway were so closely matched when they fought in 2013. Now look at the difference in where they are. Anyway, Te Edwards is 28 with a 6-2 record, all TKO finishes. Got knocked out by Don Madge in his UFC debut. So yeah.