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  1. 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 Carla Esparza vs Marina Rodriguez 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 Umar Nurmagomedov vs Nathaniel Wood Ramazan Emeev vs Niklas Stolze Paul Craig vs Gadzhimurad Antigulov Francisco Trinaldo vs Jai Herbert 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. 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. 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. 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?
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