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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.