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OK, Saturday 11th July. Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. It’s FIGHT ISLAND! And this is a bit of a monster card. PPV MAIN CARD Kamaru Usman vs Jorge Masvidal - Welterweight Title Alexander Volkanovski vs Max Holloway - Featherweight Title Petr Yan vs Jose Aldo - Vacant Bantamweight Title Jessica Andrade vs Rose Namajunas Paige VanZant vs Amanda Ribas ESPN+/FIGHT PASS PRELIMS Volkan Oezdemir vs Jiri Prochazka Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos vs Muslim Salikhov Makwan Amirkhani vs Danny Henry Leonardo Santos vs Roman Bogatov Marcin Tybura vs Maxim Grishin Raulian Paiva vs Zhalgas Zhumagulov Vanessa Melo vs Karol Rosa Davey Grant vs Martin Day Love that poster. SummerSlam vibes. Tremendous card pretty much top to bottom. And this lineup looks fresher than what we’ve been getting lately because with Fight Island kicking off, they can finally get more international fighters back in there rather than making the best of what they had in the US. Now there’s a bigger mix of talent to play with we should start getting more consistency with the upcoming shows. I was listening to Dana talk about Fight Island the other day and it sounds pretty fucking cool. Should hopefully be better for limiting the possibly of COVID related issues as well because, as far as I can tell, the UFC crew will be the only people on the island. Kamaru Usman vs Jorge Masvidal. We’re in a time when it seems like I’m saying this for every fucking card now but what a mad journey it’s been getting here. This was the fight that was always the UFC’s Plan A. After 2019 saw Usman’s rise to the gold and Masvidal’s career resurgence, it felt like these two were on a collision course. And this little run-in back in January seemed to all but confirm that an Usman vs Masvidal title fight was the direction we were heading. Dana was saying that the fight was being targeted for the big July PPV but then this thing called COVID hit and threw the whole planet out of whack. Nothing was certain, least of all some poxy fight in a cage. Usman vs Masvidal was always the plan though. We just took a bit of a detour getting back here. Kamaru Usman is at the peak of his powers right now. 33 years old, 16-1 record, on a 15 fight win streak. NCAA Division II wrestler, Ultimate Fighter winner, UFC Welterweight champion. The ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ is a force to be reckoned with. He beat the likes of Leon Edwards, Demian Maia and Rafael Dos Anjos on his way up the ladder. Completely dominated Tyron Woodley to win the belt last year. Then in December he took on the Trump supporting, cheap suit wearing, Sid from Toy Story looking shithouse known as Colby Covington... Maybe the most satisfying outcome of a fight since Lesnar vs Mir 2 for me, that. There’s not many things more enjoyable as a MMA fan than seeing a proper dickhead get their comeuppance and this was up there with the best of them. Even more poetic was the fact that Covington, known for being a fucking gobshite, got his jaw broken. Usman had already won me around by this point but him temporarily retiring Covington’s mouth took it to another level. Jorge Masvidal’s road to 251 was a little bit different. From the days of fighting in backyards on the Kimbo Slice videos in the early days of YouTube to challenging for the world championship in the biggest MMA organisation on the planet is pretty crazy when you really sit back and think about it. Turned pro in 2003, came up on the smaller shows, had his ups and downs and scratched and clawed his way onto the big stage. In the days of Dana’s Contender Series and fighters getting fast-tracked to the UFC, there aren’t many guys like that left. Masvidal’s journey predates TUF, Griffin vs Bonnar and all that. It’s been a long and bumpy ride. And by the end of 2017, it seemed to be petering out. He had a respectable record of 32-13 but it just wasn’t happening for him in the UFC. He was coming off back-to-back decision losses to Wonderboy Thompson and Demian Maia and his run as a whole had been very stop-start and littered with frustrating split decisions where it felt like he’d let it slip away. He disappeared and sat out all of 2018 and nobody even noticed. Nobody really cared. Everyone claims to be a longtime Masvidal fan now but back in 2018, he was the forgotten man and not one of these keyboard Scarfaces were professing their love for him in his absence. Not a fuck was given. In 2019, for whatever reason, things changed. He emerged from the wilderness with long hair and a big beard, sparked Darren Till in London then gave Leon Edwards a slap backstage. Overnight, everyone you spoke to or read online was a Gamebred fan ‘since before you were even born bro’. Then almost a year ago to the day... He damn near murdered Ben Askren in cold blood, in 5 seconds. And taunted him as rigamortis set in. In November, he capped off a spectacular year by battering Nate Diaz to a doctor stoppage at Madison Square Garden. Becoming the first, and hopefully only, Bad Mother Fucking champion. The Rock strapped the belt on his candyass. And his childhood hero and Boxing all time great Roberto Duran stood next to him and endorsed him during his post-fight interview. As cartoonish as the silly belt was, it was pretty fucking cool seeing ‘The Great One’ and ‘Hands Of Stone’ in the Octagon. So after that and Usman temporarily shutting Covington’s gob, Usman vs Masvidal seemed like a no brainer. But then Masvidal spat the dummy about his pay and Gilbert Burns was rightfully slotted in for the title shot after a hell of a run himself. COVID put paid to that this week though and Burns went from the top of the MMA world to living that quarantine life in a matter of days. I really thought they’d just hold off and reschedule it for a later date but... Whatever hurdles were in the way of Masvidal signing to fight Usman before, I guess they’ve been cleared. Because it’s on. Whether they’ve sweetened the deal with a $$$ figure closer to what he was after or it’s the lure of the title shot, or both, it’s happening. As Ted DiBiase used to say, “everybody’s got a price”. I guess they found Jorgey’s. I know everyone wants to live their inner ‘gangsta’ through Masvidal but I can’t be doing with the nob. All credit due, he’s done a grand job reviving his career over the last 18 months. Both in his in cage performances and in promoting himself. After 15/16 years being just another jabroni on the card, he’s found a way to click with the audience. But bollocks to him and his Primark Tony Montana act. I’m hoping Usman keeps his run going a bit longer yet. I said it the other day but I’m gutted Burns is out, to be honest. I feel like Burns would’ve given Usman a better test than Jorge. But in fairness, I was kind of indifferent on who I actually wanted to win that one. So at least here, I have a dog in the race. I don’t think it’ll be as competitive as the Burns fight would’ve been, or as most fans seem to be expecting, but I’m more invested in the result and that always makes it that little bit more fun as a spectator. Alexander Volkanovski vs Max Holloway 2 is the co-main event. Very interesting rematch here. Like the two guys in the main event, Volkanovski’s rise to the top was kind of unexpected. Not that people didn’t rate him but I just don’t think many had him pegged as being on that very top tier. Especially in a division as talent rich as Featherweight. Also, with Max Holloway as champion at the time and looking every bit of a pound-for-pound player, I just don’t think many fancied this little Aussie midget to be the man to put an end to that. But Volk kept plugging away and by December 2019, he was 20-1, on a 17 fight win streak and had just beat Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes back-to-back. At UFC 245, he was granted a crack at Holloway, “for all the marbles” as Gorilla Monsoon used to say. Holloway was fresh off a one sided points win over Frankie Edgar and in previous defences he’d butchered Brian Ortega and stopped Jose Aldo twice. Volk seemed a solid enough opponent but I think most felt like it’d be a fairly run of the mill title defence for Holloway. But after 5 high pace rounds, Volkanovski had pulled it off. He was the new UFC Featherweight champion. Dethroning Holloway was impressive enough on its own but, more than that, it was the way he did it. He didn’t squeak by and barely win a controversial decision. This was clear cut. The thinking going in had been that if Volk had any chance against Max, it’d most likely be by landing the perfect KO shot, otherwise known as the ‘puncher’s chance’, or he’d have to get the takedowns going. And neither of those paths seemed likely. But Volkanovski went a different route and managed to get the better of Max over 25 minutes, in what was almost purely a standup battle. It was quite a brilliant performance. The biggest factor was his use of leg kicks, the low calf kick in particular, which Max seemed to not be expecting and had no answer for. It was a stroke of genius really because it hindered Holloway’s movement and footwork, which is usually one of his biggest assets, and in turn that allowed Volkanovski to open up more with his hands. Think I had him winning the rounds 4-1 on the night, which I’d never have called going in. One judge even scored it 50-45. It’s an intriguing one to say the least. Not sure how it goes. Was it more a case of Volk just getting his tactics spot on and Max being taken by surprise by a gameplan he didn’t expect? Or has Volk exposed a weakness in Holloway’s armour? Maybe Volkanovski switches it up again this time and mixes in more wrestling. There’s a bunch of ways this could go and I’m really up in the air on it. If Volkanovski can go 2-0 it’ll be massive for him. If Holloway can even things up, it opens up the trilogy. Petr Yan vs Jose Aldo is ***WAND’S ONE TO WATCH*** on this bad boy. We’re finally going to clear up the mess that has become the Bantamweight title picture. Happy about that as 135 has become such an incredible division. It deserves better than for the title to be on ice and all the top contenders being in limbo indefinitely. With Legohead Cejudo out of the way, at least for the time being, we can finally crack on. What I’m even more chuffed with though, is that we’re getting this fight out of it. Two killer strikers going at it with little 4oz MMA gloves on. This is my shit. I love a good ground battle and these two can certainly do that too, but I just want to see these vicious little bastards Tong Po each other. Yan’s become one of my favourite newer breed guys over the last couple of years. Just something about him that I instantly liked. He’s got that silent assassin vibe, like you shrunk Cro Cop in the wash or something. Beautiful striking and he seems to have a proper mean streak in there. ‘No Mercy’ is an appropriate nickname. He’s still only 27 years old, from Russia, 14-1 record, has won his last 9 on the trot and, it hasn’t been confirmed but he probably put Urijah Faber back in the retirement home in his last fight. Hard little sod. Not sure what level he truly is in MMA though. He’s looked the part so far but he’s yet to really face a truly elite fighter who’s still in or close to top form. Which is why this fight is perfect. Jose Aldo is a fucking legend. Say what you want about his losses to McGregor and Holloway, for me he’s still the GOAT at Featherweight. Nobody has quite matched his resume at 145 for me, including the guys who beat him. And despite the miles on him, the man’s still only 33 years old. There’s a misconception that he’s some old man because he’s been around a long time and twats like Paulie Malignaggi kept saying he was 115 years old and stuff in an attempt to discredit McGregor’s record. But he’s 33 and far from shot. People keep trying to declare him done but I’m not seeing it. He’s not as dominant as he once was, but I’m not sure that’s indicative of him declining or just the overall level of the rest of the division improving. You look back at his fights with Stephens and Moicano and he looked as devastating as ever. And even in his last fight, where we all thought he was going to crumble into dust on the scale trying to make 135, he looked pretty fucking sharp against Marlon Moraes the next night. He’s got some ammo left. Like Usman-Burns, the little twist here is that Yan actually trained a bit with Aldo at Nova União a while back. So who knows how that sparring went or if one feels like they’ve got the mental edge now from those training sessions or whatever. Quality fight. If Yan wins then he arrives as the new King Of 135. If Aldo can turn back a young lion like Yan he silences a lot of doubters and becomes a 2 weight champion in one night. And whoever comes out on top, there’s a bunch of contenders lining up and waiting in the wings for their shot. Bantamweight is boss. Jessica Andrade vs Rose Namajunas 2. This one’s been booked a couple of times, I think. I know it was meant to take place at UFC 249 in May but Rose pulled out when 2 of her family members sadly died as a result of COVID-19. I won’t even get started on the cretins giving her shit for pulling out but the whole thing was awful. I just hope she’s mentally well enough and up for this, and not just doing it to get back in there and get paid. That’d be understandable, of course, but she’s had her ups and downs out of the cage and it’d be a real shame, and dangerous to boot, if she’s rushing her comeback. Hopefully I’m chatting shite and she’s good to go. If she is then this could be a brilliant fight. They first met at UFC 237 in May 2019. Rose was the Strawweight champ going in and she looked great for a round or so. Maybe the sharpest she’s ever looked, IMO. Then it all went tits up in the second round and Andrade launched her with a monster of a slam, knocking her out and taking her title in one fell swoop. One of the more brutal finishes I can remember in recent memory. Rose came right down on her head and neck. It was scary as fuck and she was fortunate not to suffer serious injuries. No title on the line this time. That gold is sat on Zhang Weili’s fireplace in China somewhere. It’s a chance for redemption for Rose though and a chance for Andrade to get back in the convo at 115. The first fight was shaping up to be a corker before the gruesome finish so I’m expecting more of the same here. Paige VanZant vs Amanda Ribas opens up the PPV. A fight that was supposed to happen on the Brazil card in March but VanZant suffered an arm injury and pulled out. Here we are. I expect this to be an entertaining one. Just not sure what to make of PVZ at this point. She’s never been championship level in my eyes but she’s always been pretty exciting to watch. But I’ve long felt like she’s not that arsed about fighting anymore. She’s still only 26, she’s got time if she wants to keep at it. But she’s 8-4 now and she’s barely fought the last few years. She fought quite regularly early in her career. But after 2016, that changed. She sat out all of 2017, fought in January 2018 then sat out a whole year again. Then she beat Rachael Ostovich in January 2019 and, again, hasn’t fought since. In the meantime she’s got married, got a boob job and seems to spend most of her time catering to creepy fans asking for feet pics and stuff. It’s all a bit weird. Hey, if she can make dough going the OnlyFans route exploiting pervy MMA fans, more power to her. I don’t begrudge it at all. But it does make me think her heart isn’t in fighting anymore and that gives me doubts on her chances whenever she steps back in there. Doesn’t help that she’s coming right back against Ribas, who I’ve been quite impressed by so far. She’s 9-1, trains at ATT, has black-belts in BJJ and Judo. And she’s been active. While Paige was pissing about dancing about with her hubby on Instagram, Ribas was beating Randa Markos and handing Mackenzie Dern her first loss. Just got a feeling this might be it for Paige in the Octagon. I sense a beating coming her way. Volkan Oezdemir vs Jiri Prochazka sounds like an absolute banger on paper. Switzerland’s Oezdemir will be the more well known of the two. He’s fought 8 times in the UFC already, fought for the title against Daniel Cormier etc. He’s a heavy handed fucker, fittingly nicknamed ‘No Time’ due to his habit of knocking sods out cold early. But he comes into this one off a points win in December over Aleksandar Rakic. This is the UFC debut for Prochazka though. He’s Czech, 27 years old with a record of 26-3-1, 25 finishes, 23 inside a round. Among his victims - Vadim Nemkov, King Mo, Kazuyuki Fujita, Fabio Maldonado and CB Dollaway. He was also the RIZIN Light Heavyweight champ and many thought he’d end up facing Ryan Bader in a RIZIN vs Bellator clash of champions, but then the UFC swooped in and nabbed Jiri. Love this pairing. If I could’ve chosen Prochazka’s debut opponent myself I think I’d have said Oezdemir. It just sounds like total chaos. Would’ve been ideal as the PPV opener actually but I guess it makes more sense as the ‘main event of the prelims’. Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos vs Muslim Salikhov is going to get lost in the shuffle on a card like this but this is the real dark horse of the card for me. Dos Santos is a bit of a Poundland RDA but he’s always good for a fun prelim scrap. Besides the blip against Li Jingliang last summer, he’s gone 8-1 in his last 9 and put together some real highlight reel finishes. Flying knee knockouts, spinning wheel kick knockouts, breezed through and submitted Curtis Millender. He can be a right handful. And Salikhov is a striking savage. A Russian bloke nicknamed ‘King Of Kung Fu’. How much more badass can you get? He’s got a bunch of gold medals in Wushu Sanda, a Kickboxing record of 185-13-1 and in MMA he’s 16-2. All together, he’s knocked out 88 men officially. Fuck knows how many more in the Kumite. Even on a card as loaded as this, I genuinely think this fight has a decent shot at stealing the show. Makwan Amirkhani vs Danny Henry could be alright. Not particularly feeling it but it’s an OK fight. Amirkhani is 15-4. Burst into the UFC back in 2015 with a spectacular 8 second flying knee KO over Andy Ogle. I remember people really buzzing about it at the time. Not just for the knockout itself but Amirkhani’s personality and interviews following the win made him instantly likeable. He had a few more wins but the hype fizzled quickly due to a mixture of injury layoffs and a couple of losses. Shame because he could’ve really caught on if he’d been able to keep that momentum going. He started getting back on track with a couple of wins but then he ran into Shane Burgos in November and got TKO’d. He’s up against Scotland’s Danny Henry here. Can’t recall much of Henry. My main memory is the cracking fight with Daniel Teymur in 2017. Drawing a blank beyond that though. He does have a quick submission over Hakeem Dawodu, which I don’t recall. Could be decent. Leonardo Santos vs Roman Bogatov. Going in half blind on this. Santos is one of the more overlooked guys on the roster for me. Mostly because he’s been so inactive. Out of sight, out of mind etc. He’s 40 years old now as well. Don’t know why he’s had so many gaps in his career but it feels like such a wasted opportunity. He’s a 4th degree BJJ black-belt, TUF Brazil winner, 17-3-1, has gone unbeaten in his last 12. He also battered Kevin Lee before it became cool. He should be higher up than he is but he just hasn’t fought enough. He did return on the Sweden show last June and one punched Stevie Ray out cold in 2 minutes. Hopefully we see more of him now. At 40, it’s now or never if he’s going to make a proper run. Bogatov is making his first trip to the Octagon. He’s Russian, undefeated at 10-0 with 6 finishes and was M-1 Global’s Lightweight champion. Pretty intriguing fight actually. Marcin Tybura vs Maxim Grishin. Don’t know. Never really got into Tybura. He’s not terrible or anything. 18-6 record, beat Arlovski, went 5 rounds with Werdum. There are worse Heavyweights on the roster. Just never been that arsed about his fights. Grishin is a UFC newcomer and a late replacement, stepping in for Alexander Romanov. To be fair, he sounds a decent signing. He’s Russian and 36 years old, so no spring chicken. But he’s got a record of 30-7-2 with 21 finishes. In his last 21 fights he’s only lost once (to Magomed Ankalaev), he’s won his last 9, fought in PFL and has a 2010 submission win over Alexander Volkov. Granted that was a decade ago but there’s enough there to have piqued my interest. Raulian Paiva vs Zhalgas Zhumagulov, again, not familiar with these two. Pretty sure I’ve seen Paiva at least once in the UFC. He’s 19-3, took Kai Kara-France to a split decision, which I’m guessing is where I saw him. He also knocked out Mark De La Rosa in his last fight. Zhumagulov though? Never heard of him. Looking him up now, he’s from Kazakhstan, 33 years old, 13-3 in MMA. Just had a quick glance at his record and he’s got wins over Tyson Nam and former UFC Flyweight title contender Ali Bagautinov. Vanessa Melo vs Karol Rosa means nothing to me. Never seen either fight before, I don’t think. They’re both Brazilian. Melo is 32 years old, trains at Chute Boxe (they’re still going?) and has a record of 10-7. Rosa is 25 with a 12-3 record. She was linked to a fight with Julia Avila a bunch of times but it kept falling through for whatever reason. Probably the only fight on the card where I can’t muster up a single fuck to give. Hopefully it surpasses my low expectations. Davey Grant vs Martin Day will jerk the curtain as the bout order stands currently. Always liked Grant ever since his stint on the Rousey vs Tate season of TUF back in 2013. Thought he came off as one of the soundest cast members in the show’s history. Just a genuine, down to earth, normal bloke. He’s had a nightmare with injuries since then unfortunately and has only fought 4 times in the last 6+ years! He beat Grigorii Popov on the Moscow card in November though so hopefully he stays healthy and can put some fights together before it’s too late. Don’t really recall Martin Day although I’ve definitely seen him. He’s Hawaiian, 8-3 with 5 finishes. That’s about it on him. See you on the island.
Saturday 18th July. Fight Island. Can we finally get this Flyweight shit sorted? MAIN CARD Deiveson Figueiredo vs Joseph Benavidez - Vacant Flyweight Title Jack Hermansson vs Kelvin Gastelum Marc Diakiese vs Rafael Fiziev Ariane Lipski vs Luana Carolina Alexandre Pantoja vs Askar Askarov PRELIMS Khadis Ibragimov vs Roman Dolidze Grant Dawson vs Nad Narimani Joseph Duffy vs Joel Alvarez Brett Johns vs Montel Jackson Malcolm Gordon vs Amir Albazi Davi Ramos vs Arman Tsarukyan Sergey Spivak vs Carlos Felipe I like this a lot. Of all the cards coming up this is one I didn’t really pay attention to but it’s pretty fucking sweet actually. I love the top two fights but there are a few lower down the card I have high expectations for as well. Deiveson Figueiredo vs Joseph Benavidez 2 then. We’re running it back. First fight was in February in Norfolk, Virginia. Just before everything went completely haywire due to COVID. It was a fight that was supposed to clean up the mess that had become the UFC Flyweight title picture once and for all. Cejudo finally relinquished the belt in December, after months of parading it around and what seemed like endless uncertainty about when or if he’d ever defend it. Finally it was vacant. So the UFC set up a fight between the top two contenders to determine a new champ. Benavidez vs Figueiredo. One would leave with the gold. All straight forward right? Wrong. Figueiredo missed weight. Came in 2.5lbs over the 125lb limit. As a result, he had to forfeit 30% of his purse to Benavidez and he’d also rendered himself ineligible to win the title. So if Benavidez won, he’d be the new champion. But if Figueiredo won...you get fuck all fatty. So of course, 2020 being 2020... Figgy Smalls knocked the fuck out of him and the Flyweight belt remained on ice without an owner. The fight itself was fantastic while it lasted but even that wasn’t without its own controversy. Not only had Figueiredo came in heavy, which may have given him the edge on the night, there’d also been a clash of heads. I felt like Fig was on his way to handing him his arse anyway but it just left too many questions and overall, the whole situation just felt like a mess. It should be a hell of a rematch. Hopefully there’ll be no controversy this time. If something happens again, maybe it’s time for the UFC to just pull the plug on Flyweight altogether. Shit’s jinxed. No seriously, I hope this goes smoothly and the division can start building some momentum. There are some really good fighters at 125, they’ve just had nothing to aim for over the last year or so thanks to Lego bollocks. This could hopefully be the fight that kickstarts a new era for the 125ers. I’m leaning towards Figueiredo decking him again, to be honest. But you never know. If Benavidez can drag it into the later rounds then it could be a different story because explosive fighters like Fig tend to fade late and I can’t see him maintaining that pace and power over 25 minutes. Can Joey survive the early blitz is the question though. I’ve just got a feeling the answer is no. Jack Hermansson vs Kelvin Gastelum. What a great fight this is. Completely forgot it was even happening until I looked up this card just now. Hermansson kind of snuck up on everyone over the last couple of years, didn’t he? He’s always been a bit of a handful but I think he‘s surpassed what many felt he was capable of. His wins over David Branch and Jacare Souza in 2019 were real eye openers. His performance in the Jacare fight especially was so impressive. I rated him going in but I didn’t think he had that type of gear he could move up to. He was 20-4 after that, and riding a 4 fight win streak. But it all came crashing down on the Copenhagen show in September, when Jared Cannonier stopped him in 2 rounds. Now the ‘Joker’ is looking to rebuild. Kind of rough matchmaking though. I mean, getting Gastelum as your rebound opponent? Cheers Sean Shelby. I guess it’s the same in reverse though. I’m sure Hermansson wasn’t first on Gastelum’s list either. He’s coming off a loss Darren Till in November himself. He had that FOTY with Adesanya before that but still, that was another loss so he could really do with a strong win here. And Hermansson is no easy win. Love this fight. Not sure how it goes but it’s a bit of a shit or bust fight really. Another loss for either man at this point would be devastating, but a win here against such a tough opponent puts either guy immediately back in the hunt. Marc Diakiese vs Rafael Fiziev is one of the highlights of this whole card for me. This could be a striking masterclass. Diakiese has a wicked standup game that seems to blend a few different styles. He hasn’t been a massive knockout artist so far but his style is so fan friendly to watch that you don’t really want it to end quickly anyway. He did score some big KOs earlier in his career too. But he comes into this one off back-to-back decisions over Joseph Duffy and Lando Vannata. Fiziev will meet him head on in the standup though. He’s 27 years old from Kazakhstan. 7-1 in MMA with 6 finishes and has 40-odd wins in Muay Thai. Should be fun. Ariane Lipski vs Luana Carolina is just making up the numbers really. Don’t hate it, just not fussed. Lipski is Polish, 26 years old, former KSW Flyweight champion and has a 12-5 record. She came into the UFC last year and immediately lost decisions to Joanne Calderwood and Molly McCann but snapped that losing streak against Isabela De Padua in November. When she initially signed with the UFC I was hoping she’d do well just because 125 badly needed new blood. And a former KSW champ with a pretty face could’ve given the weight class a little boost if she had the goods bell-to-bell. But honestly, I haven’t been that impressed so far. She’s still got time to turn it around but so far I’m not seeing it. Carolina is 26 with a 6-1 record, 3 finishes. She’s on a 5 fight win streak though, hasn’t lost since her MMA debut, and even that was a split decision. Beat Priscila Cachoeira in her UFC debut. Can’t recall seeing her fight but it’s a solid start. Alexandre Pantoja vs Askar Askarov is a good little fight on paper. Pantoja is actually a tad underrated, IMO. 22-4 with wins over Wilson Reis, Brandon Moreno, knocked out Matt Schnell in his last fight in December. His losses are pretty much all to really good fighters and he’s never been stopped. He’s one of very few men to see the final bell against Figueiredo as well. I’m less up on Askarov but what I have seen I’ve enjoyed. He’s 11-0-1 with 10 finishes. That lone blemish on his record was a draw in an absolute belter with Brandon Moreno on the Mexico City card in September. If you haven’t watched it, watch it. Looking forward to seeing more of him here, especially against a tricky little fuck like Pantoja. Khadis Ibragimov vs Roman Dolidze is a pure shot in the dark for me. Don’t recall seeing Ibragimov fight before. He has fought twice in the UFC though so maybe I did see him. He’s 8-2 and coming off a loss to Ed Herman. Dolidze is where the interest lies here. He’s Georgian, 6-0, 6 finishes. ADCC grappler who’s also developed a habit of knocking fuckers out cold recently. I like the look/sound of this guy. Exactly the type of new blood the UFC’s 205 division could do with more of right about now. Grant Dawson vs Nad Narimani. Filler really but it’s not a bad fight at all. Dawson is actually on a very good run. He’s 15-1 and has won his last 6 in a row. Subbed Darrick Minner and TUF winner Mike Trizano in his last couple. Narimani is 12-3. He’s from the UK but fights out of Team Alpha Male now. Former Cage Warriors 145lbs champ and actually took the strap from Paddy Pimblett. Ha! For that reason alone, I’m a fan of Narimani. Joseph Duffy vs Joel Alvarez. I don’t know with Duffy anymore. What happened? I know he had that hype on him because he submitted Conor McGregor way back. But even beyond that, he seemed to have so much potential at one point and it’s just fizzled out to fuck all. I know it’s not over but at 32 years old, coming off a couple of losses and seemingly always having layoffs, I don’t think he’ll ever reach the expectations many had for him a few years back. He’s 16-4 now, hasn’t won a fight in well over 3 years. Alvarez is Spanish, 27 years old with a record of 16-2 with 16 finishes. He’s actually 1-1 in the UFC too, don’t remember him at all. He knocked out Danilo Belluardo on the Sweden show last year. At this point, Duffy’s got to get a W. By any means. Alvarez sounds a handful though. Brett Johns vs Montel Jackson could easily steal the show. Just screams FOTN to me, this does. Johns is 28 from Swansea. Record of 16-2. He’s already had a couple of belters in the fairly short time he’s been on the UFC roster. The Pedro Munhoz fight was class as was his most recent fight with Tony Gravely in January. Then there was that calf slicer against Joe Soto. He’s been great value. And Jackson, for me, is tailor-made for a tremendous fight with Johns. He’s 9-1 with 6 finishes, always aggressive. Subbed Brian Kelleher with a D’Arce. He put a right beating on Felipe Colares in his last fight as well. I’d favour Johns here. I think he’s a step ahead in all areas. Should be a lively one whatever happens. Aleksander Doskalchuk vs Malcolm Gordon. Me neither. To be honest, when I first saw this fight listed, I wondered why someone had plonked their router password in the middle of the fight card. Apparently, Doskalchuk is Ukrainian, 30 years old with a record of 10-1. He was meant to fight Khabib’s teammate Tagir Ulanbekov but he dropped out when Khabib’s dad died this week. Don’t know if that’s linked but in steps fellow UFC newcomer Malcolm ‘X’ Gordon. Odd looking little fucker. Looks like 2 Cold Scorpio had a one night stand with an alien back in the 80s and Gordon was the result. He’s Canadian, 12-3 with 10 finishes and the TKO Flyweight champion. Davi Ramos vs Arman Tsarukyan is ***WAND’S ONE TO WATCH*** this time. A fight that will probably get overlooked so I wanted to shine some light on it because I think it could be quality. Ramos is 33 years old from Rio de Janeiro. A world class grappler and BJJ black-belt nicknamed ‘The Tasmanian Devil’. Won gold at the ADCCs in 2015. A real physical specimen. A proper tank. In MMA he’s 10-3 and lost a decision to Islam Makhachev last time out. He’d won 4 in a row prior to that though. Tsarukyan is Russian, only 23 years old and currently 14-2 with 10 finishes. He’s also fought Makhachev. It was his UFC debut last April and he lost on points but they had a hell of a fight. One of the better grappling heavy UFC fights in a long time and a forgotten gem from 2019. Give it a look if you get chance. It got hardly any discussion at the time because it was tucked away on a card not many seemed to watch but it’s worth tracking down. Tsarukyan got back in the win column by beating Olivier Aubin-Mercier in his next fight. This could be a really fun and engrossing battle. You’d have to favour Ramos if it becomes a ground war but Tsarukyan is no slouch there himself. And Tsarukyan might be the slightly more well rounded in MMA skills and he’s a decade younger. Interesting one. Sergey Spivak vs Carlos Felipe. The big boys. Bet these bastards can put a few Rustlers burgers away. Spivak is only 25 years old. He’s 10-2 so far with none of his wins going to the scorecards. His losses were to Walt Harris and Marcin Tybura. Probably won’t amount to much but there are worse Heavies about. At least he’s not boring. Felipe is also 25. Man, he looks rough. That fucker’s 15 years younger than Urijah Faber! It’s so far, so good though. He’s 8-0 with 6 knockouts. Could be a fun sloppy fat bloke scrap. So there you have it. Like I said, the main and co-main are both brilliant fights. Can’t go wrong there. But Ramos/Tsarukyan, Diakiese/Fiziev and Johns/Jackson are fucking great too. If you’re familiar at all with those guys and their styles you’ll be into them too. Chuck in the Dolidze debut and Khabib’s teammate vs the other guy whose name I can’t be arsed to type again. Obviously, you never know for sure how a card will play out on the night but genuinely, I think this is low-key one of the better Fight Night cards so far this year.
Midweek Fight Night is back. Wednesday 15th July on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi. MAIN CARD Calvin Kattar vs Dan Ige Frankie Edgar vs TBA Jimmie Rivera vs Cody Stamann Abdul Razak Alhassan vs Mounir Lazzez Jared Gordon vs Chris Fishgold PRELIMS Modestas Bukauskas vs Andreas Michailidis Molly McCann vs Taila Santos Ricardo Ramos vs Lerone Murphy John Phillips vs Khamzat Chimaev Tim Elliott vs Ryan Benoit Liana Jojua vs Diana Belbita Jack Shore vs Aaron Phillips Jorge Gonzalez vs Kenneth Bergh Another nice card pretty much top to bottom. If they keep pumping out shows like this, I might even forgive them for serving up that Eye vs Calvillo shit sandwich the other week. Maybe. Seriously, this looks good. I think that’s the right bout order too. No doubt there’ll be a bunch of card changes between now and the 15th though. Calvin Kattar vs Dan Ige is a cracking fight. Happy to see these two getting some spotlight and the opportunity to headline over 5 rounds. Two guys who’ve shown a lot of potential but up until recently they were both relatively unknown. Kattar is out of the Boston area, 21-4 with 13 finishes. Tough dude with a strong striking game. Think the first time I saw him was the Shane Burgos fight in January 2018 and he caught my eye by gutting through a rough start to come back and stop Burgos. And as we’ve come to find out recently, knocking Burgos out is no easy task. Since then, Kattar has gone from strength to strength. Despite points losses to Renato Moicano and Zabit Magomedsharipov, he’s been looking sharper to me with each fight. And in April he got his big chance when he was booked against Jeremy Stephens on the main card of UFC 249. Being the first MMA event, well first major sporting event full stop, since COVID locked the world down, all eyes were on that card. And Kattar rose to the occasion big time. It didn’t get FOTN but it probably should’ve. After a wild round and a half... ...Kattar closed the show emphatically. Loved the fight but the finish was even better. That elbow was a beauty. Stephens is a cock as well which made it all the sweeter. Big fan of Kattar. I love his fighting style and he seems a good guy too. Dan Ige also seems a likeable sort. Just comes off as a typical laid back Hawaiian. Not so laid back in the cage though. He’s 14-2 with 8 finishes and he comes into this fight off the back of 6 straight wins. Like Kattar, he mostly went under the radar for a long time but slowly but surely he’s been racking up the wins. And this year he’s gone up a level in opposition and still come out in the win column. He beat Mirsad Bektic in February. Then in May, he beat Edson Barboza. By far the biggest scalp of his career to date. There were some asterisks though. It was Barboza’s debut at 145 and many felt Barboza should’ve got the decision. I thought Barboza just shaded it myself but it could’ve gone either way really. Whatever the case, it was a step up and Ige did just fine. If this goes long, it should hopefully answer some questions on both men. 5 rounds can really separate the men from the boys when it comes to gauging where a fighter stands in the title picture. It’s also why I’m holding fire on a lot of the Zabit hype. Great fight, this. Genuinely think these are probably the two biggest dark horses in the Featherweight division right now. Everyone talks about Zombie, Ortega, Zabit, Yair etc. But I honestly think these two can mix it with any of that lot and do well for themselves. Throw Barboza in there as well now. And best of all, everyone in that group is exciting as fuck to watch. There’s not a dullard in the bunch at the top end of 145. Providing everyone stays healthy, you can mix and match that lot for years and almost any combination you come up with from a matchmaking perspective is must see. I know 155 gets all the plaudits as the deepest division in MMA, and understandably so, but 145 and 135 are nipping at its heels these days. If not just as stacked. Frankie Edgar vs Pedro Munhoz co-headlines. Was originally set to go down at UFC 251 but I’m happier with it here. 251 doesn’t really need this fight, it’s loaded as it is. But this card really gets a boost with this as chief support. Very intrigued by this one as it’s Frankie’s long talked about Bantamweight debut. He was actually supposed to face Cory Sandhagen in his 135 debut in January but things got fucked up and he ended up jumping in on short notice against Korean Zombie in a Featherweight bout in December. The gamble didn’t pan out and Zombie annihilated him in a round. Love Frankie. He’s been a favourite of mine forever, ever since I saw his classic with Tyson Griffin back in 2007. One of the most universally respected fighters in the game and a surefire future Hall Of Famer. Not sure what to think about this drop to 135 though. Granted he’s shut out of the title picture at 145 now. And at 155, I think he’s just too small for the current crop of beasts there today. So I get it from that angle. But he’s also 38 years old and he’s been in some wars over the years. It’s late in the day to be dropping weight classes. It’s usually the other way around. As a fighter gets older, they typically move up through the weight classes. I’d love nothing more than for Frankie to succeed at 135 though. He’s not a stupid guy and with his wrestling background and experience, you’d hope he’s doing it the right way. And hey, if he does well, it only strengthens an already bursting at the seams Bantamweight division. Pedro Munhoz is no soft debut opponent though. He’s 5 years Edgar’s junior and has a record of 18-4-1 with finishes over Cody Garbrandt, Bryan Caraway and Rob Font. He also beat Brett Johns in a awesome forgotten war a couple of years ago. Assuming Frankie’s got the weight cut down, this has all the ingredients of a fantastic fight. Abdul Razak Alhassan vs Mounir Lazzez. Fuck knows. Alhassan is 34 years old, originally from Ghana, fights out of Texas. 10-1 record with all his wins coming by first round knockout. His last fight was at UFC 228 in September 2018 and he put Niko Price away in 43 seconds. An explosive and exciting fighter to watch for sure. BUT...shortly after that fight with Price, Alhassan was indicted for the rape of two women on the same night months earlier. The trial took place in March this year and he was found not guilty. But fucking hell. I remember starting to really like Alhassan before that story came out. I admit I haven’t looked into the story enough since to really speak on it but it still makes me feel uncomfortable even typing this. Lazzez is making his UFC debut here. He’s 24 years old from Tunisia. 9-1 with 8 knockouts. Sounds like a solid signing. Jared Gordon vs Chris Fishgold might be decent. Don’t have a strong opinion on it one way or another but it’s an OK piece of matchmaking. Gordon is a New Yorker, 31 years old, BJJ brown-belt under John Danaher. He’s 15-4 and coming off a first round KO loss to Charles Oliveira. In truth, his record isn’t all that impressive at all. Pretty much any time he’s fought anyone of note, he’s been outclassed. But he’s got an inspirational story and if you’ve got any kind of heart, you can’t help but root for the guy to do well. He’s come back from heroin addiction, being homeless, nearly dying a bunch of times. The fact he’s where he is now in life is bigger than any victory he could have in the cage. Fishgold is 28. Allegedly. I’m going to need to see the birth certificate. He’s from Liverpool and has a record of 18-3-1. He was the Cage Warriors Lightweight champion, defending it 3 times and he’s primarily a grappler. Haven’t been blown away by him but he’s alright. Modestas Bukauskas vs Andreas Michailidis is a fight where I’ll be seeing both for the first time. Don’t know what to expect. Was meant to be Bukauskas vs Vinicius Moreira but Moreira fell out injured. So we’re left with two UFC newbies facing off. Bukauskas is 26 years old, Lithuanian born, fights out of London. He’s mostly fought in Cage Warriors and is 10-2 with 9 finishes. He’s actually trained a bit in Albuquerque with Jon Jones and Andrei Arlovski as well. And even appeared on that Take Me Out bollocks on ITV! He’s got about a bit, old Modestas. It’s done the trick on me though. My attention has been got. Michailidis ‘The Spartan’ is Greek, 31 years old, 12-3 with 11 finishes. Molly McCann vs Taila Santos is alright. Quite enjoy watching Meatball Molly actually. She didn’t get off to the best of starts in the UFC. Came in with a bit of buzz after winning the Cage Warriors Flyweight belt, made her Octagon debut on the UFC’s first ever card in Liverpool...and got submitted by Gillian Robertson, in her hometown, in her UFC debut. Not ideal. She’s done a good job bouncing back though, rattling off 3 consecutive points wins. Hasn’t exactly blown anyone away but she’s looked a bit more comfortable each time out and I thought her performance in her last fight against Diana Belbita was her most dominant yet. Belbita seemed way out of her depth though and I remember thinking McCann needed a step up in opposition next time. I think she’s got it here. Santos is 27 years old with a 15-1 record, 12 finishes, 10 knockouts. She doesn’t play. Headkicks, elbows, body shots. She’s ended fights with all of these. Her only loss is a split decision in her UFC debut against Mara Romero Borella. So maybe there’s an argument she should still be undefeated. Definitely feels like a stiffer test for McCann to me. Ricardo Ramos vs Lerone Murphy. Bit of a sleeper, I think. Ramos has been flying under the radar for a bit now but he’s a good fighter. 14-2 record, submitted Eduardo Garagorri with ease on the São Paulo card in November. Knocked out Aiemann Zahabi (younger brother of Firas) on one of the MSG cards a while back. He’s legit and he doesn’t fuck about, he comes to finish fights. And Lerone Murphy is a prospect nobody talks about. 28 years old out of Stockport. Unbeaten at 8-0-1 with 5 knockouts. He made his UFC debut on the Khabib vs Poirier undercard in September and went to a split draw with Zubaira Tukhugov. Seem to remember a lot of people felt Murphy won and one judge did score it for him 29-28 which is what made it a split draw as the other two had it even. Looking forward to seeing how these two match up. John Phillips vs Dusko Todorovic is ***WAND’S ONE TO WATCH*** and might just steal the show. It was supposed to go down back in March on that London card that never materialised. Glad they’ve got it back on. Phillips is a real banger. He’s nicknamed ‘The Welsh Wrecking Machine’ according to his Wikipedia page and with good reason because he can definitely crack. He’s currently 22-9-1 in MMA. With 20 of those 22 wins coming by knockout. Don’t expect him to be in the title picture but he’ll probably be one of those undercard guys who banks a fair old chunk of bonus money however long he sticks around. Todorovic is making his UFC debut here. He was on Dana White’s Contender Series. He’s 25 years old from Serbia, undefeated at 9-0 with 8 finishes and he has a first round TKO over Michel Pereira on his record from 2018. He sounds like someone well worth keeping an eye on. It’s got the feel of a chaotic 2 minute bombfest, this one. Tim Elliott vs Ryan Benoit sounds like an all-action affair. Elliott isn’t on the best form at the moment. He’s 15-11-1 and coming in off 3 losses on the trot. Most recently, UFC newbie Brandon Royval subbed him on the May 30th card. But it got FOTN and I can’t recall Elliott ever being in a boring fight. Which I guess is why they keep having him back. He has had his moments too. People forget but before Cejudo dethroned Mighty Mouse, Elliott was the first guy in forever who actually gave DJ a bit of a scare in their fight with the submission attempts. Benoit was meant to face Tyson Nam on the June 13th show but pulled out late in the day. He’s been very inconsistent over the years but he’s got some skills and I can see this being one of those mad fast paced sprints. Elliott should be winning this though, IMO. Another loss here really won’t look good for him. Liana Jojua vs Diana Belbita. Meh. I’m probably being harsh and it is early to write them off. But my first impressions with both of these two was that they just don’t cut it in the UFC. Jojua is Russian, 25 years old, 7-3 with 5 submission wins. Belbita is Romanian, 23 years old, 13-5 with 10 finishes. Not the worst records and they are both young. I probably am being harsh. But I just thought they both looked woeful in their Octagon debuts. Jojua got bashed by Sarah Moras in September. I mean, Moras isn’t much good so getting stopped by her doesn’t bode well. And Belbita got crushed by Molly McCann in October and the early wins in her career seem to be over shit opposition. Just feels like they were both hired because they look nice but there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of actual substance in terms of fighting skill or potential. Jack Shore vs Aaron Phillips is another last minute switch up. Shore was booked against Anderson Dos Santos for about 2 days before Dos Santos pulled out. Doesn’t really matter. Shore was where the interest lay anyway. I’m looking forward to seeing him back in there. The most promising UFC fighter to come out of Wales to date, IMO. 25 years old, 12-0 with 11 finishes, former Cage Warriors Bantamweight champ. Made his UFC debut back in September and looked fantastic submitting Nohelin Hernandez. He looks the business so far. Dana seemed impressed as well, describing Shore as ‘the hottest prospect in the UK’ or something. Phillips is 30 with a 12-3 record and, for my money, one of the more punchable faces on the roster. Look at it. He’s even nicknamed ‘The Model’. I almost hope he is a cocky prick now. It’ll justify my instant dislike plus the lighter weight classes could do with more heels anyway. Apparently he did fight in the UFC before, a short stint in 2014 where he went 0-2. No recollection of that. Can’t see Shore having too much hassle with him, to be honest. Not if he’s going to be as good as everyone thinks he is. I don’t like it quite as much as the Figueiredo vs Benavidez 2 card on the 18th but it’s a nifty little card. Few good fights on the undercard and then Kattar vs Ige and Edgar vs Munhoz on top will do nicely. Now they’re getting Fight Island rolling and they can use more of the roster, hopefully the days of Eye vs Calvillo level main events will be a thing of the past. Pretty much all the shows coming up at least have strong main and co-mains.
Saturday 25th July. Fight Island. Yas Island. Abu Dhabi. Look at this lot... MAIN CARD Robert Whittaker vs Darren Till Shogun Rua vs Antonio Rogerio Nogueira Alex Oliveira vs Peter Sobotta Fabricio Werdum vs Alexander Gustafsson Nicolas Dalby vs Jesse Ronson PRELIMS Jake Collier vs Tom Aspinall Justin Tafa vs Raphael Pessoa Movsar Evloev vs Mike Grundy Bethe Correia vs Pannie Kianzad Nathaniel Wood vs John Castaneda Ramazan Emeev vs Niklas Stolze Paul Craig vs Gadzhimurad Antigulov Francisco Trinaldo vs Jai Herbert Carla Esparza vs Marina Rodriguez I love this. Can’t knock that card, can you? One of the best Fight Nights in years that I can remember. Shogun vs Nogueira and Werdum vs Gustafsson could’ve easily headlined Fight Nights in their own right or been used to beef up a PPV main card. At this point, yeah, I’ll let that Eye vs Calvillo bollocks slide. July is more than making up for that mess. Robert Whittaker vs Darren Till. Great main event. I almost don’t want to get too hyped for it though given Whittaker’s track record of injuries and medical conditions taking him out of fights. We last saw him in October, losing the Middleweight strap to Israel Adesanya in Melbourne. Since then he was linked to a fight with Jared Cannonier at UFC 248 in March but ended up withdrawing for personal reasons. There was all sorts of talk at the time about his daughter needing a bone marrow transplant and stuff. Whittaker has since come out and said it was nothing like that but he was dealing with some mental health issues and needed to step away from fighting for a bit. Obviously that’s enough but I still think there was more to it. Dana even got a bit choked up talking about Whittaker and how “selfless” he was. It’s none of our business but, whatever was going on, hopefully Whittaker is doing good now. There’s no questioning his heart and toughness. The man went a total of 10 rounds with Yoel Romero, for fuck’s sake. 50 minutes locked in a cage with Yoel Romero! Hopefully he can stay healthy now and regain some of that momentum. Till’s hoping to continue to build on his fresh start at 185. He had a nightmare late 2018/early 2019 with those losses to Woodley and Masvidal, took him right out of the title mix at 170 for the foreseeable future. Made his Middleweight debut in November at MSG and beat Kelvin Gastelum on points. And here we are. This has actually been kind of brewing since early this year when Till was trying to insert himself into the Whittaker vs Cannonier thing. Till just started stalking Whittaker on social media and randomly popping up on almost anything he posted. One of the most unusual beginnings of a fight build ever. Till on social media in general is odd. His current thing seems to be terrorising Mike Perry and photoshopping his own face onto different fighters. This is how his Twitter is looking these days... Some of it is actually amusing in a childish way but it’s been weird. He seems to be pissing about on Twitter, photoshop and in Mike Perry’s head 24/7 these days. So much that I’m starting to think he’s forgot that he’s fighting Bobby Knuckles in a few weeks. Not sure what to think about this fight. I’m definitely looking forward to it but I don’t really have an idea how I see it playing out. I’d probably have picked Whittaker fairly easily a year ago but with his time out and going through personal shit, who knows where he’s at with that now? And the jury is kind of out on Till at 185. It might actually be a much better fit for him because that cut to 170 must’ve been a cunt. His performance against Gastelum was kind of conservative but I thought he looked good considering it was his MW debut and who he was in with. Definitely a confidence booster. But judging by how he’s carried on the last few months, I think it might’ve inflated his confidence a bit TOO much. It’s almost a shame we’re not able to have the full on media and press conferences because these two are so polar opposite in personality that it probably would’ve been quite an entertaining buildup. Team Whittaker for me. I don’t care about the ‘tit stars’ (ColinBollocks ™️) or that he’s supposedly ‘boring’. I hope he irons Till out. Shogun Rua vs Antonio Rogerio Nogueira 3 is ***WAND’S ONE TO WATCH*** and that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. I don’t care that It’s 2020 and they’re all battered and haggard. It’s Shogun vs Little Nog. This all started 15 years ago when the two met in the Quarterfinals of the 2005 Pride Grand Prix. June 26th 2005. Saitama, Japan. To this day, one of my favourite fights. Easily in the Top 5 Pride fights ever as well. 2005 was the year The Ultimate Fighter was born and Forrest Griffin vs Stephan Bonnar was talked about as the ‘BEST FIGHT OF ALL TIME’ forever but it wasn’t even the best fight of 2005. Shogun vs Nog pissed all over it. Just a tremendous back and forth war. I honestly think they took the 205 division to another level that night. Shogun got the nod but I wouldn’t have been upset if they gave it to Nogueira. It was one of those fights. An all time classic. Fast forward a decade and they would meet again. This time in the UFC. August 1st 2015. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. And once again, Shogun won a competitive decision. Wasn’t anywhere near as good as the first one but it was still a pretty good fight. By this point though, they’d both been through the ringer of hard battles and injuries and both had clocked a lot of miles in the 10 years since the first match. They’ve both fought sporadically since that second clash. Shogun’s fought 5 times and gone 3-1-1. He’s so far gone from his prime. People who play that down obviously never saw him at his peak. But in fairness, he still seems to get the job done for the most part despite having no knees. He’s just done as a top guy. Stick him in against other fading legends or mid level fighters and he’ll still knock a lot of them dead. Nog’s looked the worse of the two to me. He’s gone 2-2 since that last Shogun fight and he just looks like he’s moving in quicksand half the time. He’s coming off a KO loss to Ryan Spann last May. He just turned 44 years old, it’s the last fight on his contract and he’s confirmed that he’s retiring after this. “This will probably be the last fight of my career, my farewell fight. So being able to have this rematch with Shogun is both challenging and motivating. I thank Shogun for giving me this opportunity. I’m sure we will put on a great fight again. It’s been a great career.” - Antonio Rogerio Nogueira When this fight was first reported a few months ago (originally for UFC 250), I was a bit cold towards it. I thought it was pointless with Shogun already leading 2-0 and I felt like trotting them out there again would just kind of diminish the memory of the first fight. But with the story of it being Nog’s retirement match, I’ve come around to it and it’s a fitting way for him to go out. I’d much rather this be his farewell than seeing him murdered by a Walker or Rakic or some other young beast. This is the way to do it. Let him go out against the guy he had his best fight with. Hopefully the retirement sticks regardless of the result here. At 44, I can’t see him getting a better chance to leave his gloves on the canvas than this. Alex Oliveira vs Peter Sobotta. This has kind of been positioned as the piss break match on the main card but don’t sleep on it. I’ve never warmed to Cowboy Oliveira, he’s always seemed a bit of a dick, but you’ll very rarely see a dull fight out of him. I’ll give him that. Never going to be a contender but he’s perfect for a spot like this, where they just chuck him in the middle of the card in a fun scrap. He beat Max Griffin last time out, snapping a 3 fight losing streak. Sobotta is still only 33 but it seems like he’s been knocking about forever. He’s had a couple of UFC stints and a bunch of layoffs so I guess that’s what’s dragged it out. Decent fighter with wins over Ben Saunders and Nicolas Dalby. He got beat by Leon Edwards back in 2018 and has been out of action ever since for whatever reason. He pulled out of a couple of fights last year with injuries. If he makes it to the cage this time, I’d expect Oliveira to come out on top. Fabrício Werdum vs Alexander Gustafsson. I don’t think anyone even thought about this one. A proper fight you thought you’d never see. This would’ve been a bit of a dream match back in 2015 when Werdum was throttling Cain and Gus was taking Cormier to the limit. It’s not quite the same thing in 2020 but it’s still a very interesting fight for different reasons. Werdum’s had a dodgy few years since losing the belt to Stipe. He went 3-2 in his next few fights then got himself suspended by USADA. He finally returned at UFC 249 in May, looking all sluggish and doughy, and dropped a decision to Alexey Oleynik. It was a weirdly entertaining fight though, in a way only Heavyweight fights can be. I really enjoyed it. Werdum definitely looked a bit rusty and considering he turns 43 a few days after this fight, that’s to be expected. But if he’s got one last run in him, he’s going to have to step it up here. Gustafsson is an even more intriguing case. I think everyone was a bit taken aback when he announced his retirement last June after the Anthony Smith loss. He was only 32 years old and still thought of as a top contender. I don’t know what to expect out of him here. Especially with him moving up to Heavyweight. He didn’t always look amazing physically at 205, so I wonder how he’ll look at Heavyweight. No doubt he has the height and range and I think his speed and movement could serve him well against the big lugs at HW. But I don’t know. I just can’t picture it. Nicolas Dalby vs Jesse Ronson opens up the main card. Another card change. It was supposed to be Dalby vs Danny Roberts. A fight that had already been rescheduled twice after being booked originally for the London card in March that got cancelled. Then it got put on this card. And it’s off again. Shame, I was well up for that. This could still be alright but it’s not the same for me. Dalby got back in the UFC last year after his bloodbath with Ross Houston in Cage Warriors gained him some attention. He returned to the Octagon in September, on home soil in Copenhagen, and beat Alex Oliveira. He’s a good fighter. He also took Darren Till to a draw in a great fight back in 2015. Ronson returns to the UFC after a 6 year absence. It didn’t go well last time, he went 0-3 in the Octagon. He did take Kevin Lee to a split decision during that run though. After the UFC let him go in 2014, he went away and regrouped. He’s gone 8-5 since the UFC release, mostly fighting on the Canadian circuit where he won the Welterweight and Lightweight titles in the TKO promotion. He’s 21-10 overall now. I wouldn’t expect Dalby to lose this one but stranger things have happened. Especially with late fill-ins. Jake Collier vs Tom Aspinall is another fight that was originally booked for that London show. Can’t say I’m familiar with either man myself. Collier has been inactive since 2017. He’s 11-4 and, apparently, he’s fought in the UFC six times. Six! I don’t recall ever seeing him. If I did then he can’t have left much of an impression. Aspinall is from Wigan and is making his UFC debut. 7-2, all finishes. That’s all I’ve got. Hey, it’s low level Heavyweight MMA. It’s either going to be so bad it’s perversely entertaining or it’s just going to be pure, unredeemable shite. There isn’t much grey area when it comes to the Heavies. Just a big brown one. Justin Tafa vs Raphael Pessoa. More Heavyweight goodness. I kind of like this one actually. It’s two nobodies who are most likely going nowhere but it’s probably ending with a bang. Tafa is a weathered 26 years old, from New Zealand, 4-1 record and just knocked Juan Adams out (of the fight and the UFC) in 2 minutes in February. Pessoa is Brazilian, 31 years old, 10-1 with 7 finishes. His only loss so far is to Ciryl Gane. Should be a fun bomb slinging exhibition. Movsar Evloev vs Mike Grundy is one of the standouts on this card for me. Pretty sure this was scheduled at some point last year but never ended up happening for whatever reason. I’ve only seen a handful of both guys’ fights but it was enough that I want to see more. Evloev is Russian, 26 with a perfect record of 12-0 with 7 finishes. 2-0 so far in the UFC. Beat Enrique Barzola last time out. Seem to remember him looking a bit of a beast grappler. And Grundy is no pushover there himself. He was an amateur wrestler out of Wigan who got bronze at the Commonwealth Games in 2014. In MMA he’s 12-1 and on a 9 fight win streak. He made his UFC debut in March 2019 and stopped Nad Narimani in a really good fight where he had to weather a storm and got the TKO in the second round. Really looking forward to seeing this. Hopefully they grapple a lot because that could be good shit. If it becomes a dogfight then fuck knows. Bethe Correia vs Pannie Kianzad. No fucks given really, are there? I was actually a tad surprised Correia is still on the roster, to be honest. She’s been cack forever. She’s gone 2-3-1 since Ronda Rousey squashed her in 2015. She’s coming off a ‘big’ win over Sijara Eubanks now so I guess we’re stuck with her for a little while longer yet. She’s 37 now and doesn’t seem to be improving at all. In fact, she’s regressed. But she’ll probably be shitting up the prelims for a couple more years yet. Kianzad is Iranian/Swedish, 28 years old with a 12-5 record. She was also a TUF finalist and former Cage Warriors champ. Hadn’t noticed before but she’s a bit of a cutie as well. Not the best in the cage, although she’s not as bad as Correira. I don’t think. I guess we’re about to find out. Umar Nurmagomedov vs Nathaniel Wood would’ve been my ‘one to watch’ if it wasn’t for the Shogun vs Nog old man battle. But taking out my sentimental feelings for the co-main, purely as a fight this is probably the one that most interests me on the entire card. Nurmagomedov is Khabib’s cousin. Like Khabib he trains out of Dagestan at Eagles MMA. And also like Khabib, he’s yet to taste defeat. He’s 12-0 so far with 6 finishes, mostly submissions. This is his UFC debut and they’re throwing him right in with another top prospect. Wood is even nicknamed ‘The Prospect’. He’s 27 years old, from London, 16-4 record, former Cage Warriors Bantamweight champion. He’s actually coming off a February TKO loss to John Dodson here but he’d won 8 in a row before that and finished all 8 opponents. Despite the loss to Dodson, I feel like Wood probably has the brightest future out of all the UK fighters coming up through the ranks. But Nurmagomedov could be catching him on the rebound. And we don’t know how good he is yet. You have to hand it to Wood here. I can’t imagine there’d be many 135ers queueing up to fight an unbeaten guy like Nurmagomedov who doesn’t yet have any hype. This is a real risk for Wood, especially coming off a loss, because Nurmagomedov is a bit of an unknown quantity. He could be about to be derailed or maybe he’s just at the start of a monster run like his cousin. Very much into this matchup. Hopefully it makes the televised bit. It deserves better than the Fight Pass stream. Ramazan Emeev vs Niklas Stolze. Little bit of a comedown for me this. It was supposed to be Emeev against Shavkat Rakhmonov and I was really looking forward to seeing Rakhmonov’s debut. But he’s out and we’re going to have to wait a bit longer for that. Stolze has been drafted in as his replacement and he’s also making his UFC debut. He’s German, 27 years old with a record of 12-3 with 9 finishes. He has trained at SBG in Ireland in the past, not sure if he does anymore. Doesn’t sound a bad signing, just disappointed Rakhmonov’s out. Emeev is 33 years old, 18-4 and had won 7 straight before losing to Rocco Martin in November. He’s nothing amazing but he’s a tough journeyman kind of fighter who should theoretically be able to ask questions of a less experienced opponent. Paul Craig vs Gadzhimurad Antigulov. Yet another late addition. OK fight. Always quite enjoyed watching Craig. Seems a good guy and his ability to pull submissions out from the very brink of defeat makes him exciting to watch. Seriously, his last second sub against Ankalaev on one of the London shows a while back still amazes me. He was losing the whole fight and pulled a triangle off and got the tap at 4:59 of the third. Ridiculous. He’s had his setbacks though and he comes into this one off a split draw against Shogun in November. Antigulov is a Russian roughhouse with a solid 20-6 record. 19 of his 20 wins came inside the distance. Hasn’t beat anyone that good but he’s always game and dangerous. He’s hit a slump of late though, he’s been stopped early by Ion Cutelaba and Michal Oleksiejczuk in his last 2 outings. So Craig could be catching him a good time here. Francisco Trinaldo vs Jai Herbert just got added. I’ll be checking this one out. It’s Herbert’s UFC debut. He’s from Wolverhampton, 10-1 with 8 knockouts and won the vacant Cage Warriors Lightweight belt last year. Trains with Leon and Fabian Edwards. He was supposed to debut on that London card in March against Marc Diakiese but obviously that one went down the shitter. I’ve never actually seen him fight but I’ve heard his name around the Midlands, he looks decent from the little clips I’ve seen. He’s not exactly getting the welcome mat rolled out though. Trinaldo has never been a guy who’s been in the contender mix but he’s been a solid test for many a fighter on the way up the ladder. He’s got a bit of an underrated resume actually. He’s 25-7 and over the years he’s racked up wins over the likes of Jim Miller, Paul Felder, Ross Pearson, Yancy Medeiros and Evan Dunham. He’s 41 years old now so he’s not quite as effective a gatekeeper as he once was. But he’s still looking decent and he beat John Makdessi and Bobby Green in his last couple of fights. Should give us an idea what Herbert’s got because Trinaldo doesn’t come to play. Carla Esparza vs Marina Rodriguez just got moved to this card. It was meant to go down on the Kattar vs Ige undercard on July 15th but one of Esparza’s cornermen tested positive for COVID so they yanked the fight and postponed it a couple of weeks. It’s an OK fight but I struggle to get up for Esparza fights. Generally, anything she’s involved with, I just feel apathy towards. I can’t knock her success. She’s had a pretty solid career. She was the first ever Strawweight champ in both Invicta and the UFC, won TUF, has wins over the likes of Rose Namajunas, Michelle Waterson, Cynthia Calvillo etc. She just bores me shitless most of the time. She did have an unexpected corker with Alexa Grasso on the Mexico card in September but I put that more down to Grasso being a little whirlwind and forcing the action. Needless to say, I’m rooting for Rodriguez here. Haven’t seen too much of her but she’s looked decent in the footage I have watched. She’s Brazilian, 33 years old, unbeaten at 12-0-2 and has UFC wins over Tecia Torres and Jessica Aguilar. That’s some card, isn’t it? I think it’s being overlooked because it’s getting lost in all these back-to-back cards the UFC have been banging out lately. But this is on another level for me when it comes to Fight Nights. Great main event, legends trilogy bout and Nog’s farewell in the co-main, Gus’ debut at Heavyweight. Then you’ve got some real potential barnburners like Nurmagomedov vs Wood and Dalby vs Roberts. Evloev and Grundy could put on a grappling clinic. The Rakhmonov debut. There really is a bit of everything on this one. Rob? ROB?