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Tai Tuivasa plans to do 'bare minimum' at UFC 221: 'Then I'm off to the bar'

Tai Tuivasa needed less than a round to get the job done in his UFC debut in November. In his sophomore octagon appearance at UFC 221, he hopes to need even less.

Tuivasa (6-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC) isn’t big on racking up cage time. His six first-round finishes – four of which have come in less than a minute – prove as much. He wants to keep the trend going on Saturday when he meets Cyril Asker (9-3 MMA, 2-2 UFC) in a heavyweight bout on the UFC 221 pay-per-view main card, which takes place at Perth Arena in Perth, Western Australia, following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass.

“I’m going to try to keep it bare minimum,” Tuivasa told MMAjunkie. “Get in there, get out of there. As soon as I get it done, then I’m off to the bar.”

Related10 reasons to watch UFC 221, from an intriguing interim title to a 'can't miss' debut

Tuivasa, 24, is regarded as one of the top prospects in the heavyweight division. He might not be the most physically defined athlete, but he can certainly fight, as he showed by delivering a flying-knee knockout in his promotional debut against Rashad Coulter at UFC Fight Night 121.

After making waves with his first UFC fight, “Bam Bam” believes matchmakers have handled him properly for his second contest. Naturally, Tuivasa has aspirations of holding UFC heavyweight gold, and given the thin nature of the division it only takes a handful of impressive wins to get a title shot.

Tuivasa is realistic about his progression, though. He said it’s pivotal to move to the top at a comfortable pace, and in his mind, a four-fight UFC veteran such as Asker is an appropriate next foe.

“Of course (the title is) in my mind, but at the moment I only have one fight,” Tuivasa said. “Everyone is on me saying, ‘You should fight these guys.’ Right now I just want to keep fighting the best guys and sooner or later I will be up there. But for now I’m just taking the fights as they come, and I want to get paid.

RelatedUFC 221 pre-event facts: Can 43-year-old Mark Hunt become one of UFC's oldest winners?

“I have a family I have to look after. Right now, I’m just going to knock the first few guys out that I’m up against and at the end of this year I’m going to be knocking on the door for the top-15, top-10 guys.”

Tuivasa said his popularity has gone up since his UFC debut and more people have begun to notice his “ugly head.” He relishes the spotlight, but Tuivasa is intelligent enough to know that it only continues to shine bright when things are going well. Because of that, he said there was no reason to not prepare for UFC 221 with a maximum effort.

“For me, as long as I’m fit and I feel good and I’m on point, then I’m sweet,” Tuivasa said. “We’re going in there to punch on. Anything can happen.”

For more on UFC 221, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Nov 18, 2017; Sydney, Australia; Tai Tuivasa reacts following his match against Rashad Coulter during UFC Fight Night at Qudos Bank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hyde-USA TODAY Sports Nov 18, 2017; Sydney, Australia; Tai Tuivasa fights against Rashad Coulter during UFC Fight Night at Qudos Bank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hyde-USA TODAY Sports Nov 18, 2017; Sydney, Australia; Tai Tuivasa lands a hit against Rashad Coulter during UFC Fight Night at Qudos Bank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hyde-USA TODAY Sports Nov 18, 2017; Sydney, Australia; Tai Tuivasa brings down Rashad Coulter during UFC Fight Night at Qudos Bank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hyde-USA TODAY Sports Nov 18, 2017; Sydney, Australia; Tai Tuivasa moves in with a punch as Rashad Coulter defends during UFC Fight Night at Qudos Bank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hyde-USA TODAY Sports Nov 18, 2017; Sydney, Australia; Tai Tuivasa defends against Rashad Coulter during UFC Fight Night at Qudos Bank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hyde-USA TODAY Sports Nov 18, 2017; Sydney, Australia; Rashad Coulter moves in with a hold against Tai Tuivasa during UFC Fight Night at Qudos Bank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hyde-USA TODAY Sports Nov 18, 2017; Sydney, Australia; Rashad Coulter brings down Tai Tuivasa during UFC Fight Night at Qudos Bank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hyde-USA TODAY Sports Nov 18, 2017; Sydney, Australia; Tai Tuivasa lands a knee hit against Rashad Coulter during UFC Fight Night at Qudos Bank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hyde-USA TODAY Sports jQuery.extend( window._usmgOptions,{ scriptUrl: "https://s2.wp.com/wp-content/themes/vip/usatoday-plugins/api-galleries/assets", analyticsCallback: "galleryAnalytics", fullscreenUrl: "http://mmajunkie.com/sigallery/xwApzZynWWrS2tunUffqBb/301997", customAnalytics: true, title: "Tuivasa def. Coulter", feedsrc: 2 } );(typeof _usdpgw == "undefined") ? _usdpgw = new _usdpGalleryWall(window._usmgOptions) : _usdpgw.start();

UFC 221's Tyson Pedro: 'I don't take life seriously, but I take fighting seriously'

Tyron Pedro is an easy-going, fun-loving member of the UFC light heavyweight division who has a smile on his face more often than not. He embraces that side of his personality but also knows when to switch gears into fight mode.

Pedro (6-1 MMA, 2-1 UFC), who meets Saparbek Safarov (8-1 MMA, 0-1 UFC) in Saturday’s UFC 221 main-card opener, will enter the event following the first defeat of his career. He admits his decision loss to Ilir Latifi at UFC 215 in September was the first time he couldn’t find that switch, and it cost him.

The Australian said he doesn’t foresee himself encountering the same problem again in his next outing against Safarov.

“People would be highly surprised at how seriously I take it,” Pedro told MMAjunkie. “I don’t take life seriously, but I take fighting seriously. When I’m joking, laughing and walking into the cage, that’s pretty much how I take life: Just a joke. As soon as I step in it’s game on; it’s kill mode. I think that’s one of the things I (expletive) up in my last fight. For some reason I didn’t switch on.”

Related10 reasons to watch UFC 221, from an intriguing interim title to a 'can't miss' debut

UFC 221 takes place at Perth Arena in Perth, Western Australia. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass.

What allows Pedro to remain so upbeat were the lessons learned from his loss. He said avoiding the flaws which allowed Latifi to get the better of him would have been a fatal mistake, so instead he dug in and searched for answers.

“People think when I say I’m not dwelling on it that I haven’t learned from my mistakes,” Pedro said. “I’ve watched that fight probably about 15, 20 times, just to see why I messed up my strategy and what were the things (I did wrong). There’s a couple things I needed to figure out.”

One of Pedro’s biggest discoveries in recent months is that his potential hasn’t fully translated into his performances. All of Pedro’s wins may be by first-round stoppage, but he’s yet to produce such a result against a top-tier opponent. He said that’s a goal going into UFC 221, and all his bouts beyond.

RelatedUFC 221 pre-event facts: Can 43-year-old Mark Hunt become one of UFC's oldest winners?

“For some reason I’m only bringing out like 60 percent of what I’m doing in training,” Pedro said. “My striking, the way my grappling to striking flows in training and wrestling. It’s not coming out in the cage, and I know that’s because I haven’t had many fights. Once what I’m doing in training comes out in that octagon, I’ll break out. I’m trying to do that every fight.”

Pedro believes he’s in a strong position to rebound at UFC 221. His opponent, Safarov, has been out of action for more than 14 months due to injury, and the Russian hasn’t won a fight in nearly two years. Safarov is dangerous, no doubt, but Pedro said the style matchup plays in his favor.

“I have a feeling he’s going to try to take my head off in the first,” Pedro said. “He takes a lot of punishment to give a lot of punishment, but I plan on giving out a lot of punishment. So, it’s not going to be a good night at the office for him.”

For more on UFC 221, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Sep 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Ilir Latifi (red gloves) fights against Tyson Pedro (blue gloves) during UFC 215 at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports Sep 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Ilir Latifi (red gloves) fights against Tyson Pedro (blue gloves) during UFC 215 at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports Sep 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Ilir Latifi (red gloves) fights against Tyson Pedro (blue gloves) during UFC 215 at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports Sep 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Ilir Latifi (red gloves) fights against Tyson Pedro (blue gloves) during UFC 215 at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports Sep 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Ilir Latifi (red gloves) fights against Tyson Pedro (blue gloves) during UFC 215 at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports Sep 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Ilir Latifi (red gloves) fights against Tyson Pedro (blue gloves) during UFC 215 at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports Sep 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Ilir Latifi (red gloves) fights against Tyson Pedro (blue gloves) during UFC 215 at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports Sep 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Ilir Latifi (red gloves) fights against Tyson Pedro (blue gloves) during UFC 215 at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports Sep 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Ilir Latifi (red gloves) fights against Tyson Pedro (blue gloves) during UFC 215 at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports Sep 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Ilir Latifi (red gloves) defeats Tyson Pedro (blue gloves) during UFC 215 at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports jQuery.extend( window._usmgOptions,{ scriptUrl: "https://s2.wp.com/wp-content/themes/vip/usatoday-plugins/api-galleries/assets", analyticsCallback: "galleryAnalytics", fullscreenUrl: "http://mmajunkie.com/sigallery/ZYqgoXGUMQXLCJPvWc9Xn8/302012", customAnalytics: true, title: "Latifi def. Pedro", feedsrc: 2 } );(typeof _usdpgw == "undefined") ? _usdpgw = new _usdpGalleryWall(window._usmgOptions) : _usdpgw.start();

Free fight: Ahead of his UFC debut, see why they call Israel Adesanya 'The Stylebender'

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This weekend’s UFC 221 event features the octagon debut of an undefeated middleweight who has obvious star potential.

Israel Adesanya (11-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) takes on Rob Wilkinson (11-1 MMA, 0-1 UFC) on the FS1-televised prelims of this weekend’s event. The Nigerian-born Adesanya now lives and trains in New Zealand. With extensive professional experience as a kickboxer – not to mention a handful of boxing contests, as well – Adesanya is a flashy and dangerous striker who has earned all 11 of his pro MMA wins by knockout.

RelatedHow UFC newcomer Israel Adesanya went from bullied kid to human highlight reel

This past July, Adesanya faced UFC veteran Melvin Guillard at an Australian Fighting Championship event in Melbourne. Now, ahead of Adesanya’s UFC debut, you can check out that fight courtesy of UFC Fight Pass in the video above.

UFC 221 takes place Sunday (but airs live in North America on Saturday due to the time difference) at Perth Arena in Perth, Western Australia. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass.

For more on UFC 221, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Fight footage courtesy of UFC Fight Pass, the UFC’s official digital subscription service, which is currently offering a seven-day free trial. UFC Fight Pass gives fans access to exclusive live UFC events and fights, exclusive live MMA and combat sports events from around the world, exclusive original and behind the scenes content and unprecedented 24-7 access to the world’s biggest fight library.

UFC 221's Mark Hunt to leave UFC after finishing contract: 'I haven't had a good run'

Mark Hunt has a tentative retirement plan in place, and it doesn’t include hanging up his gloves as a member of the UFC roster.

Hunt (13-11-1 MMA, 8-5-1 UFC), who meets Curtis Blaydes (9-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC) in the UFC 221 co-main event this weekend, has been locked in a legal battle with the UFC for more than a year. The heavyweight pursued action when he felt the organization knowingly allowed Brock Lesnar to compete with banned substances in his system during their match at UFC 200 in July 2016.

“The Super Samoan” has been on an anti-performance-enhancing-drug march for several years, so much so that he feels he’s effectively torpedoed his relationship with the UFC brass. Hunt, 43, said he’s fine with that, though, because once the final three fights on his current contract are complete, he plans on finishing his career elsewhere.

“I get reminded all the time I am the oldest fighter in the universe,” Hunt told MMAjunkie. “I’ve got three fights left with the UFC, because I haven’t had a good run with a lot of things that’s happened with them. Everyone knows I’m in court about having to get an even playing field. They called me a whiny bitch, but they can all get (expletive). I survived the era of PRIDE, where everyone knowingly juices. I’m here now and they’re trying to make it even.

RelatedUFC 221 co-main-event breakdown: Is Mark Hunt too much, too soon for Curtis Blaydes?

“After the three fights with the UFC, I’d like to fight globally three more times and then retire. Hang it up. I want to go out there in my best shape ever and compete. I feel like I can compete still with these young guys, even though they’re half my age.”

Hunt has been pouring resources into his legal fight with the UFC for months, and currently, there’s no end in sight for his case. Hunt is determined to keep pushing, though, because he believes it’s an important issue for the sport which shouldn’t be dismissed.

For Hunt, he said the push to uncover any foul play with the Lesnar situation is very important to him. It remains to be seen how long his case drags out, but Hunt said for the betterment of the sport, he’s not going to give up on his pursuit of justice.

“It probably won’t do anything (for me), but at the end of the day, it will do something for the people coming through, the boys and the girls that come to this level,” Hunt said. “The message we’re sending nowadays is it’s OK to cheat. The message we should be sending is like with (UFC heavyweight champion) Stipe (Miocic), hard work gets to the top. You can’t get to the top without hard work. We’re sending out the wrong message now that all these cheating bums can take the shortcuts. They don’t deserve to be here. They shouldn’t get money or endorsements or anything because they’re taking shortcuts.”

RelatedUFC 221 pre-event facts: Can 43-year-old Mark Hunt become one of UFC's oldest winners?

Given the fact he’s the oldest fighter on the UFC roster, Hunt has perhaps more reason than anyone to attempt to find a way to create an advantage for himself. He refuses to do that, though, because he wants to set a positive example of what a clean athlete can accomplish.

Hunt, No. 10 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA heavyweight rankings, is still among the top-ranked fighters in the world. He will attempt to extent that position when he meets No. 14-ranked Blaydes in Saturday’s pay-per-view co-headliner at Perth Arena in Perth, Western Australia, following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass.

Although he admits he knew nothing about Blaydes when the matchup was offered, Hunt gladly accepted. After a solid training camp, he said he’s prepared for action.

“I didn’t know anything about Curtis,” Hunt said. “I have no disrespect for Curtis. All I ask if that he be an honest, clean fighter. That’s all I ask. That’s all I ever ask. … Of course you can’t look past Curtis. This is the heavyweight division. He’s looking to wrestle me and put me down and grind me out. I’m looking to punch his head into the universe.”

RelatedCurtis Blaydes feels 'recognized' thanks to Mark Hunt matchup at UFC 221

Hunt said if he beats Blaydes he will ask for someone ranked higher than him in the heavyweight division. Hunt said he would be keen on a rematch with current champ Stipe Miocic (18-2 MMA, 12-2 UFC), who handed him a one-sided loss at UFC Fight Night 65 in May 2015.

With only two fights remaining on his UFC deal after UFC 221, though, a title shot could be beyond Hunt’s reach unless he overcomes his dispute with the company and signs a new deal.

“Of course I’d like a rematch with Stipe,” Hunt said. “He got me at a (expletive) time, but nonetheless, he’s a well-deserved champion. I know he’s a public servant, but the best thing about Stipe, is he doesn’t take steroids. He’s clean. Good on him. He’s a great champion. I’d love to dance with him again.”

For more on UFC 221, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Mar 4, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Mark Hunt (blue gloves) and Alistair Overeem (red gloves) fight during their bout at UFC 209 at T-Mobile Arena. Overeem won via third round KO. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports Mar 4, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Mark Hunt (blue gloves) and Alistair Overeem (red gloves) fight during their bout at UFC 209 at T-Mobile Arena. Overeem won via third round KO. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports Mar 4, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Mark Hunt (blue gloves) looks on against Alistair Overeem (not pictured) during their bout at UFC 209 at T-Mobile Arena. Overeem won via third round KO. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports Jul 9, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Mark Hunt (blue gloves) fights Brock Lesnar (red gloves) during UFC 200 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports Jul 9, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Mark Hunt (blue gloves) fights Brock Lesnar (red gloves) during UFC 200 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports Jul 9, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Mark Hunt (blue gloves) dodges a punch from Brock Lesnar (red gloves) during UFC 200 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports Jul 9, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Brock Lesnar (red gloves) reacts to his win against Mark Hunt (blue gloves) during UFC 200 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports Mar 20, 2016; Brisbane, Australia; Mark Hunt (red gloves) walks into the arena before his bout against Frank Mir (not pictured) during UFC Fight Night at Brisbane Entertainment Centre. Mandatory Credit: Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports Mar 20, 2016; Brisbane, Australia; Mark Hunt (red gloves) prepares for his bout against Frank Mir (not pictured) during UFC Fight Night at Brisbane Entertainment Centre. Mandatory Credit: Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports Mar 20, 2016; Brisbane, Australia; Mark Hunt (red gloves) acknowledges the crowd in his bout against Frank Mir (not pictured) during UFC Fight Night at Brisbane Entertainment Centre. Mandatory Credit: Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports Mar 20, 2016; Brisbane, Australia; Mark Hunt (red gloves) competes against Frank Mir (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Brisbane Entertainment Centre. Mandatory Credit: Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports Mar 20, 2015; Brisbane, Australia; Mark Hunt (red gloves) walks to his corner after knocking out Frank Mir (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Brisbane Entertainment Centre. Mandatory Credit: Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports Mar 20, 2016; Brisbane, Australia; Mark Hunt (red gloves) looks on in his bout against Frank Mir (not pictured) during UFC Fight Night at Brisbane Entertainment Centre. Mandatory Credit: Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports Mar 20, 2016; Brisbane, Australia; Mark Hunt (red gloves) celebrates after defeating Frank Mir (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Brisbane Entertainment Centre. Mandatory Credit: Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports Nov 15, 2015; Melbourne, Australia; Mark Hunt (red gloves) celebrates after defeating Antonio "Bigfoot' Silva (blue gloves) during UFC 193 at Etihad Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports jQuery.extend( window._usmgOptions,{ scriptUrl: "https://s2.wp.com/wp-content/themes/vip/usatoday-plugins/api-galleries/assets", analyticsCallback: "galleryAnalytics", fullscreenUrl: "http://mmajunkie.com/sigallery/H3ZJdpafTPEB3ZDXn6CqcQ/301980", customAnalytics: true, title: "Mark Hunt", feedsrc: 2 } );(typeof _usdpgw == "undefined") ? _usdpgw = new _usdpGalleryWall(window._usmgOptions) : _usdpgw.start();

UFC 221 main-card breakdown: 'The demeanor of a guy you pissed off in the parking lot'

MMAjunkie Radio co-host and MMAjunkie contributor Dan Tom provides an in-depth breakdown of all of UFC Fight Night 125’s top bouts. Today, we look at the rest of the main.

UFC Fight Night 125 takes place today at Mangueirinho Gymnasium in Belem, Para, Brazil, and the card airs on FS1 following early prelims on UFC Fight Pass.

Also see:

 

Tai Tuivasa (6-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC)

Tai Tuivasa

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’2″ Age: 24 Weight: 265 lbs. Reach: 75″
  • Last fight: Knockout win over Rashad Coulter (Nov. 18, 2017)
  • Camp: Lions High Performance Centre (Australia)
  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/kickboxing
  • Risk management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+ Regional MMA titles
+ Pro boxing experience
+ 6 KO victories
+ 6 first-round finishes
+ KO power
+ Deceptively athletic and agile
+ Accurate shot selection
+ Strong inside of the clinch
+ Shows improved grappling/getups
^ Postional and underhook awareness
+/- Never been out of the first round

Cyril Asker (9-3 MMA, 2-2 UFC)

Cyril Asker

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’0″ Age: 32 Weight: 244 lbs. Reach: 74″
  • Last fight: Submission win over Yaozong Hu (Nov. 25, 2017)
  • Camp: Bushido Acadmie (France)
  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/kickboxing
  • Risk management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+ Regional MMA titles
+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt
+ 4 KO victories
+ 3 submission win
+ 6 first-round finishes
+ Deceptively heavy hands
^ Puts together punches well
+ Underrated wrestling ability
^ Chains takedowns from the fence
+ Solid transitional grappler
^ Works and rides well from topside

Summary:

In a heavyweight showdown, Tai Tuivasa will square off with Cyril Asker.

A heavy-handed Australian who hit the UFC scene in the promotion’s last trip to Sydney, Tuivasa has garnered a lot of excitement in a short amount of time. Making it onto the main card in just his sophomore appearance, the stage his set for Tuivasa to further make a statement to his division.

Looking to spoil those plans is Asker, a French heavyweight who has traded wins and losses since entering the organization. Attempting to establish some consistency, Asker will first need to find success behind enemy lines.

Starting off standing, we have a pairing two heavyweights that move their frames deceptively well.

Asker, the smaller man, stays light on his feet while bouncing in and out of range. Like many lighter heavyweights, Asker works at a slightly above average pace, piecing his punches together off of prodding jabs.

When feeling in stride, Asker will usually let his shots rip freely, but has opted more for takedowns against the fence in recent outings. Considering the dynamic threat before him, Asker will need to be mindful of not telegraphing his level changes.

From flying knees to crushing elbows, Tuivasa bears all the tools to keep his counterparts up at night. A former boxer and longtime training partner to Mark Hunt, Tuivasa carries a bit more experience than meets the eye.

Despite still having to cut to make the weight class, Tuivasa moves very well for a man of his size. The former Rugby stud’s athleticism especially shines through with his ability to quickly close the distance, going from flicking jabs to blitzing combinations at the drop of a dime.

Although Tuivasa shows improved counter grappling skills to go with his healthy awareness for underhooks, his admitted wildness often leaves him out of position. Should Tuivasa put himself in any precarious positions here, he will probably pay for it in some measure given the likely gameplan of Asker.

Considering that Tuivasa is a dynamo on his feet, I assume Asker will look to test the 24-year-old’s grappling chops sooner rather than later.

Asker has a surprisingly serviceable game against the fence, chaining off from double to single-leg takedowns according to how his opposition defends. If the Frenchman can ground Tuivasa, then we may see more of his transitional grappling skills.

Asker displays a competent ability to float or advance position, and is not afraid to put a hook in and work for submissions when he needs to. On-paper advantages aside, Asker will still need to remain on point when attempting to control Tuivasa.

The Australian native has shown steady but practical improvements on the ground. Though he sometimes ends up on the floor to his own doing, Tuivasa is typically quick to correct his mistakes by swimming for an underhook and looking to get up. Whether he is using his legs for an assist or trying to establish a single-leg to stand, the six-year pro will need to be urgent in his efforts.

The oddsmakers and public seem to be set on their opinions, listing Tuivasa -310 and Asker +255 as of this writing.

At first glance, this has the feel of a “smash match,” and can see why the public has bought into a line that you could argue as being wide. Tuivasa is the deserved favorite, but his small sample-size of fights that haven’t gone past the first round is not a reliable one.

Furthermore, Tuivasa has shown a propensity to fade within those one-round affairs, making me suspect of his gas tank going forward. If Asker can survive early and turn this into an ugly, in-close contest, then I could see Asker eek out a semi-surprising upset.

However, I feel that the more likely outcome here is for Tuivasa to find his shots early. Although I would like to see the 24-year-old’s skills audited more thoroughly, I just don’t see it happening here. The pick is Tuivasa to score a corralling knockout near the fence in the opening frame.

Official pick: Tuivasa inside the distance

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Grade the new 'UFC 222: Cyborg vs. Kunitskaya' poster

The makeover to the top of the next month’s UFC 222 fight card has forced the UFC graphics department to redo promotional materials for the event.

Officials today revealed the updated poster design for “UFC 222: Cyborg vs. Kunitskaya.”

UFC 222 takes place March 3 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, and the main card airs on PPV following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass.

RelatedDespite UFC 222, Cris Cyborg still eyes fight with fellow UFC champ Amanda Nunes

In the replacement main event, UFC women’s featherweight champion Cris Cyborg (19-1 MMA, 4-0 UFC) puts her title on the line against promotional newcomer Yana Kunitskaya (10-3 MMA, 0-0 UFC). And in the co-headliner, ex-lightweight champ Frankie Edgar (22-5-1 MMA, 16-5-1 UFC) meets surging featherweight contender Brian Ortega (13-0 MMA, 5-0 UFC), who agreed to step in for injured 145-pound champ Max Holloway (19-3 MMA, 15-3 UFC).

Here’s the official poster, featuring both fights (via Twitter):

New faces, new poster.

The #UFC222 poster remix has dropped, pic.twitter.com/mbowetiBdi

— UFC (@ufc) February 9, 2018

Check out the latest UFC 222 lineup:

  • Champ Cris Cyborg vs. Yana Kunitskaya – for women’s featherweight title
  • Frankie Edgar vs. Brian Ortega
  • Sean O’Malley vs. Andre Soukhamthath
  • Andrei Arlovski vs. Stefan Struve
  • Ketlen Vieira vs. Cat Zingano
  • Mackenzie Dern vs. Ashley Yoder
  • Beneil Dariush vs. Bobby Green
  • John Dodson vs. Pedro Munhoz
  • C.B. Dollaway vs. Hector Lombard
  • Zak Ottow vs. Mike Pyle
  • Bryan Caraway vs. Cody Stamann
  • Jordan Johnson vs. Adam Milstead

For more on UFC 222, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

The Blue Corner is MMAjunkie‘s official blog and is edited by Mike Bohn.

Take Our Poll (function(d,c,j){if(!d.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src='http://s1.wp.com/wp-content/mu-plugins/shortcodes/js/polldaddy-shortcode.js';s=d.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);} else if(typeof jQuery !=='undefined')jQuery(d.body).trigger('pd-script-load');}(document,'script','pd-polldaddy-loader')); July 29, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; Cris Cyborg is declared the winner by TKO and champion against Tonya Evinger during UFC 214 at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports July 29, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; Cris Cyborg pins Tonya Evinger to the cage during UFC 214 at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports July 29, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; Cris Cyborg lands a kick against Tonya Evinger during UFC 214 at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports July 29, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; Cris Cyborg reacts following her victory against Tonya Evinger during UFC 214 at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports July 29, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; Cris Cyborg reacts following her victory against Tonya Evinger during UFC 214 at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports May 14, 2016; Curitiba, Brazil; Cris Justino (red) awaits the start of her fight against Leslie Smith during UFC Fight Night at Arena Atletico Paranaense. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports May 14, 2016; Curitiba, Brazil; Cris Justino (red) lands a punch to the face of Leslie Smith (blue) during UFC Fight Night at Arena Atletico Paranaense. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports May 14, 2016; Curitiba, Brazil; Cris Justino (red) throws a kick defended by Leslie Smith (blue) during UFC Fight Night at Arena Atletico Paranaense. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports May 14, 2016; Curitiba, Brazil; Cris Justino (red) fights against Leslie Smith (blue) during UFC Fight Night at Arena Atletico Paranaense. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports May 14, 2016; Curitiba, Brazil; Cris Justino (red) reacts after defending Leslie Smith (not pictured) during UFC Fight Night at Arena Atletico Paranaense. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports May 14, 2016; Curitiba, Brazil; Cris Justino (red) reacts for the fans and cameras after defending Leslie Smith (not pictured) during UFC Fight Night at Arena Atletico Paranaense. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports May 14, 2016; Curitiba, Brazil; Cris Justino (red) reacts for the fans and cameras after defending Leslie Smith (not pictured) during UFC Fight Night at Arena Atletico Paranaense. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports May 14, 2016; Curitiba, Brazil; Cris Justino (red) reacts after defending Leslie Smith (not pictured) during UFC Fight Night at Arena Atletico Paranaense. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports May 14, 2016; Curitiba, Brazil; Cris Justino (red) reacts after defending Leslie Smith (not pictured) during UFC Fight Night at Arena Atletico Paranaense. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports May 14, 2016; Curitiba, Brazil; Cris Justino (red) reacts after defending Leslie Smith (not pictured) during UFC Fight Night at Arena Atletico Paranaense. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Sep 24, 2016; Brasilia, Brazil; Cris Cyborg (red gloves) before her fight against Lina Lansberg (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Nilson Nelson Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Sep 24, 2016; Brasilia, Brazil; Cris Cyborg (red gloves) fights Lina Lansberg (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Nilson Nelson Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Sep 24, 2016; Brasilia, Brazil; Cris Cyborg (red gloves) fights Lina Lansberg (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Nilson Nelson Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Sep 24, 2016; Brasilia, Brazil; Cris Cyborg (red gloves) fights Lina Lansberg (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Nilson Nelson Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Sep 24, 2016; Brasilia, Brazil; Cris Cyborg (red gloves) fights Lina Lansberg (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Nilson Nelson Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Sep 24, 2016; Brasilia, Brazil; Cris Cyborg (red gloves) celebrates defeating Lina Lansberg (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Nilson Nelson Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Sep 24, 2016; Brasilia, Brazil; Cris Cyborg (red gloves) celebrates defeating Lina Lansberg (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Nilson Nelson Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Sep 24, 2016; Brasilia, Brazil; Cris Cyborg (red gloves) celebrates defeating Lina Lansberg (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Nilson Nelson Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Sep 24, 2016; Brasilia, Brazil; Cris Cyborg (red gloves) celebrates defeating Lina Lansberg (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Nilson Nelson Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Sep 24, 2016; Brasilia, Brazil; Cris Cyborg (red gloves) celebrates defeating Lina Lansberg (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Nilson Nelson Gymnasium. 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'Bellator 194 Countdown,' No. 1: Who knew Matt Mitrione was so OCD?

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Bellator MMA’s heavyweight grand prix continues this month, and the promotion is rolling out a special two-part series previewing the matchup between Roy Nelson and Matt Mitrione.

Nelson (23-14 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) and Mitrione (12-5 MMA, 3-0 BMMA) meet at Bellator 194, which takes place on Feb. 16 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. The night’s main card airs on Paramount following prelims on MMAjunkie.

In the first edition of “Bellator Countdown,” Nelson and Mitrione each discuss their preparations for the rematch of a December 2012 affair, which saw “Big Country” prevail via first-round TKO. Both have very different feelings on how things will go the second time around.

Check out the video above and take a look behind the scenes at how both of these athletes are preparing for their quarterfinal matchup.

For more on Bellator 194, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

UFC 221 staff picks: Two unanimous picks, but is Luke Rockhold one of them vs. Yoel Romero?

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Romero
vs.
Rockhold Blaydes
vs.
Hunt Asker
vs.
Tuivasa Jingliang
vs.
Matthews Pedro
vs.
Safarov MMAjunkie readers’
consensus picks
2018: 13-9
Rockhold
(60%)
Hunt
(67%)
Tuivasa
(77%)
Jingliang
(60%)
Pedro
(78%) Dan Tom
@DanTomMMA
2018: 15-7
Rockhold
Hunt
Tuivasa
Jingliang
Pedro Mike Bohn
@MikeBohnMMA
2018: 13-9
2014 Champion
Rockhold
Blaydes
Tuivasa
Matthews
Pedro Trent Reinsmith
@TrentReinsmith
2018: 13-9
Rockhold
Hunt
Tuivasa
Jingliang
Pedro Matt Erickson
@MMAjunkieMatt
2018: 13-9
Rockhold
Blaydes
Tuivasa
Matthews
Pedro Simon Samano
@SJSamano
2018: 13-9
Rockhold
Blaydes
Tuivasa
Matthews
Pedro Ben Fowlkes
@BenFowlkesMMA
2018: 12-10
2016 Champion
Rockhold
Hunt
Tuivasa
Jingliang
Pedro Dann Stupp
@DannStupp
2018: 12-10
2015 Champion
Rockhold
Blaydes
Tuivasa
Jingliang
Pedro Ken Hathaway
@kenshathaway
2018: 12-10
Rockhold
Hunt
Tuivasa
Jingliang
Pedro Fernanda Prates
@nandaprates_
2018: 11-11
Rockhold
Hunt
Tuivasa
Jingliang
Pedro John Morgan
@MMAjunkieJohn
2018: 11-11
Rockhold
Blaydes
Tuivasa
Jingliang
Pedro Brian Garcia
@thegoze
2018: 11-11
2017 Champion
Rockhold
Hunt
Tuivasa
Jingliang
Pedro Steven Marrocco
@MMAjunkieSteven
2018: 11-11
Romero
Blaydes
Tuivasa
Jingliang
Pedro George Garcia
@MMAjunkieGeorge
2018: 11-11
Rockhold
Hunt
Tuivasa
Matthews
Pedro Abbey Subhan
@kammakaze
2018: 10-12
Rockhold
Hunt
Tuivasa
Jingliang
Pedro

The UFC is back in Australia this week, and a former champion will try to get a belt wrapped around his waist again.

UFC 221 takes place Sunday (but airs live in North America on Saturday due to the time difference) at Perth Arena in Perth, Western Australia. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass.

(Click here to open a PDF of the staff picks grid in a separate window.)

In the main event, former middleweight champion Luke Rockhold (16-3 MMA, 6-2 UFC) takes on Yoel Romero (12-2 MMA, 8-1 UFC) for the interim 185-pound title. Rockhold is a slight favorite in the fight, but he’s a massive favorite among our 14 MMAjunkie editors, writers, radio hosts and videographers. Of them, 13 of 14 are picking the former champ.

In the co-feature, Curtis Blaydes (9-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC) takes on Mark Hunt (13-11-1 MMA, 8-5-1 UFC) in a heavyweight bout. Blaydes is the favorite, but it’s Hunt with an ever-so-slight 8-6 edge in the picks from our staff members.

There are two unanimous picks on the main card. Cyril Asker (9-3 MMA, 2-2 UFC) meets Tai Tuivasa (6-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC) in a heavyweight bout, and Tuivasa is the card’s biggest favorite at 3-1. He’s a perfect 14 for 14 in our picks. And Tyson Pedro (6-1 MMA, 2-1 UFC), nearly a 3-1 favorite himself, fights Saparbek Safarov (8-1 MMA, 0-1 UFC) at light heavyweight. Pedro, too, has a 14-0 shutout.

Also on the main card, Li Jingliang (14-4 MMA, 6-2 UFC) takes on Australia’s Jake Matthews (11-3 MMA, 5-3 UFC) at welterweight, and as a bout a 2-1 favorite, Jingliang has a heft 11-3 edge in our picks.

In the MMAjunkie reader consensus picks, Rockhold, Hunt, Tuivasa, Jingliang and Pedro are the choices.

Check out all the picks above.

For more on UFC 221, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Jun 4, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Michael Bisping (blue) fights Luke Rockhold (red) during UFC 199 at The Forum. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports Jun 4, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Michael Bisping (blue) fights Luke Rockhold (red) during UFC 199 at The Forum. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports Jun 4, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Michael Bisping (blue) fights Luke Rockhold (red) during UFC 199 at The Forum. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports Jun 4, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Michael Bisping (blue) fights Luke Rockhold (red) during UFC 199 at The Forum. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports Jun 4, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Michael Bisping (blue) fights Luke Rockhold (red) during UFC 199 at The Forum. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports March 5, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold in attendance as Tom Lawlor fights against Corey Anderson during UFC 196 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports January 4, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; UFC champion Luke Rockhold waves to the crowd during the second quarter between the Golden State Warriors and the Charlotte Hornets at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports December 12, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Luke Rockhold exits following his championship victory against Chris Weidman during UFC 194 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports December 12, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Luke Rockhold is declared the winner and wins the championship against Chris Weidman during UFC 194 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports December 12, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Luke Rockhold reacts following his championship victory against Chris Weidman during UFC 194 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports December 12, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Luke Rockhold reacts following the third round against Chris Weidman during UFC 194 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports December 12, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Luke Rockhold lands punches against Chris Weidman during UFC 194 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports December 12, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Luke Rockhold fights against Chris Weidman during UFC 194 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports December 12, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Luke Rockhold speaks to media following his championship victor against Chris Weidman at UFC 194 press conference at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Apr 18, 2015; Newark, NJ, USA; Luke Rockhold (blue) celebrates with his corner after defeating Lyoto Machida (not pictured) in their middleweight bout during UFC Fight Night at Prudential Center. Rockhold won via second round tap out. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports Apr 18, 2015; Newark, NJ, USA; Luke Rockhold (blue) enters the arena against Lyoto Machida (not pictured) for their middleweight bout during UFC Fight Night at Prudential Center. Rockhold won via second round tap out. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports Jan 15, 2014; Duluth, GA, USA; Luke Rockhold (second left) celebrates his win against Costas Philippou (not pictured) at Gwinnett Center. Rockhold wins. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports Jan 15, 2014; Duluth, GA, USA; Luke Rockhold is interviewed after his win against Costas Philippou (not pictured) at Gwinnett Center. Rockhold wins. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports July 14, 2012; Portland, OR, USA; Luke Rockhold celebrates his win over Tim Kennedy in the middleweight championship fight at MMA Strikeforce at the Rose Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports July 14, 2012; Portland, OR, USA; Luke Rockhold (blue shorts) fights Tim Kennedy (white shorts) for the middleweight title at MMA Strikeforce at the Rose Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports December 12, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Luke Rockhold lands punches against Chris Weidman during UFC 194 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 18: Luke Rockhold celebrates defeating Lyoto Machida of Brazil by tap out in their middleweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Prudential Center on April 18, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images) NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 18: Luke Rockhold celebrates defeating Lyoto Machida of Brazil by tap out in their middleweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Prudential Center on April 18, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images) NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 18: Luke Rockhold celebrates defeating Lyoto Machida of Brazil by tap out in their middleweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Prudential Center on April 18, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images) NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 18: Luke Rockhold prepares to fight against Lyoto Machida of Brazil in their middleweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Prudential Center on April 18, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. 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Watch MMAjunkie Radio here (1 p.m. ET) with Ben Askren

MMAjunkie Radio kicks off today at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT) with guest Ben Askren.

Former Bellator and ONE Championship title holder Askren is currently retired but has left open the possibility of returning to the sport for a superfight with Georges St-Pierre. He calls in to discuss the latest happenings in his life.

MMAjunkie Radio airs from 1 to 3 p.m. ET (10 a.m. to noon PT), live from Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. You can watch and listen live on MMAjunkie’s Facebook and YouTube pages. Additionally, SiriusXM Rush (Ch. 93) carries a replay later in the day (8-10 p.m. ET) and the following morning (7-9 a.m. ET), or catch a replay on demand.

MMAjunkie Radio listener guide:

  • HOW TO WATCH (ON WEB): Watch a live stream on MMAjunkie’s Facebook or YouTube pages.
  • HOW TO CALL: MMAjunkie Radio takes phone calls from listeners throughout the show. Call into the MMAjunkie Radio hotline at (866) 522-2846.
  • HOW TO DISCUSS: The MMAjunkie MMA Forums has a section devoted solely to MMAjunkie Radio. Stop by the MMAjunkie Radio forum to discuss the show, interact with the hosts, suggest future guests and catch up on the latest MMAjunkie Radio news.
  • HOW TO VISIT THE SHOW: You can watch MMAjunkie Radio live and in person at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino on the world-famous Las Vegas Strip. The booth is located in the resort’s Race & Sports Book next to the Mandalay Bay poker room. To plan a trip to Sin City and MMAjunkie Radio, go to www.mandalaybay.com.

'UFC 221 Embedded,' No. 3: Is this kid talking sh*t to Luke Rockhold?

The UFC returns to pay-per-view this week, and the promotion has rolled out its “Embedded” treatment to preview UFC 221.

The event takes place Sunday (but airs live in North America on Saturday due to the time difference) at Perth Arena in Perth, Western Australia. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass.

In the headliner, former 185-pound champion Luke Rockhold (16-3 MMA, 6-2 UFC), who’s No. 3 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA middleweight rankings, takes on No. 4-ranked Yoel Romero (12-2 MMA, 8-1 UFC). And in the co-main event, No. 10-ranked heavyweight and fan favorite Mark Hunt (13-11-1 MMA, 8-5-1 UFC) meets No. 14 Curtis Blaydes (9-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC).

Here’s the UFC’s description of the third “Embedded” episode:

On Episode 3 of UFC 221 Embedded, middleweight title contender Luke Rockhold rehearses for the intense battle in front of him, and opponent Yoel Romero reflects on a camp spent training at 100%. Heavyweight teammates Mark Hunt and Tai Tuivasa visit an Aboriginial cultural center. Rockhold whets his appetite for competition with a game of mini golf, and Hunt does media with help from a special guest during a radio hit. UFC 221 Embedded is an all-access, behind-the-scenes video blog leading up to the interim middleweight championship bout at UFC 221: Romero vs. Rockhold on Saturday, February 10th on Pay-Per-View.

Check out the full episode in the video above.

Also see:

For more on UFC 221, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Nov 12, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Yoel Romero (blue gloves) celebrates after defeating Chris Weidman (red gloves) during UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports Nov 12, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Yoel Romero (blue gloves) takes down and defeats Chris Weidman (red gloves) during UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports Nov 12, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Yoel Romero (blue gloves) takes down and defeats Chris Weidman (red gloves) during UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports Nov 12, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Yoel Romero (blue gloves) takes down and defeats Chris Weidman (red gloves) during UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports Nov 12, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Yoel Romero (blue gloves) celebrates after defeating Chris Weidman (red gloves) during UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports December 12, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Yoel Romero celebrates his victory against Ronaldo Souza during UFC 194 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports December 12, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Yoel Romero before fighting against Ronaldo Souza during UFC 194 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports December 12, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Yoel Romero fights against Ronaldo Souza during UFC 194 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports December 12, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Yoel Romero fights against Ronaldo Souza during UFC 194 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports December 12, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Yoel Romero lands punches against Ronaldo Souza during UFC 194 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports December 12, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Yoel Romero lands punches against Ronaldo Souza during UFC 194 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports December 12, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Yoel Romero lands punches against Ronaldo Souza during UFC 194 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports December 12, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Yoel Romero lands a kick against Ronaldo Souza during UFC 194 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Apr 19, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Yoel Romero celebrates a victory after his middleweight fight against Brad Tavares (not pictured) during UFC on FOX 11 at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports Sep 27, 2014; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Yoel Romero (blue gloves) fights Tim Kennedy (red gloves) during a middleweight fight during UFC 178 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Sep 27, 2014; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Yoel Romero (blue gloves) fights Tim Kennedy (red gloves) during a middleweight fight during UFC 178 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Sep 27, 2014; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Yoel Romero celebrates his knockout victory over Tim Kennedy during a middleweight fight during UFC 178 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Sep 27, 2014; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Yoel Romero celebrates his knockout victory over Tim Kennedy during a middleweight fight during UFC 178 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Jan 15, 2014; Duluth, GA, USA; Yoel Romero ( red gloves) fights Derek Brunson during UFC Fight Night at Gwinnett Center. Romero wons. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports Jan 15, 2014; Duluth, GA, USA; Yoel Romero (red gloves) reacts during his fight against Derek Brunson during UFC Fight Night at Gwinnett Center. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports jQuery.extend( window._usmgOptions,{ scriptUrl: "https://s2.wp.com/wp-content/themes/vip/usatoday-plugins/api-galleries/assets", analyticsCallback: "galleryAnalytics", fullscreenUrl: "http://mmajunkie.com/sigallery/TjTgRbYRZNpq5FRg5jHkUd/301986", customAnalytics: true, title: "Yoel Romero", feedsrc: 2 } );(typeof _usdpgw == "undefined") ? _usdpgw = new _usdpGalleryWall(window._usmgOptions) : _usdpgw.start();

UFC's Polyana Viana might've quit fighting if not for Facebook message exchange

Feb 3, 2018; Belem, PA, Brazil; Maia Stevenson (red gloves) is defeated by Polyana Viana (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Mangueirinho Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Feb 3, 2018; Belem, PA, Brazil; Maia Stevenson (red gloves) fights Polyana Viana (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Mangueirinho Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Feb 3, 2018; Belem, PA, Brazil; Maia Stevenson (red gloves) fights Polyana Viana (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Mangueirinho Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Feb 3, 2018; Belem, PA, Brazil; Maia Stevenson (red gloves) fights Polyana Viana (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Mangueirinho Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Feb 3, 2018; Belem, PA, Brazil; Maia Stevenson (red gloves) fights Polyana Viana (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Mangueirinho Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Feb 3, 2018; Belem, PA, Brazil; Maia Stevenson (red gloves) fights Polyana Viana (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Mangueirinho Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Feb 3, 2018; Belem, PA, Brazil; Maia Stevenson (red gloves) fights Polyana Viana (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Mangueirinho Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Feb 3, 2018; Belem, PA, Brazil; Maia Stevenson (red gloves) fights Polyana Viana (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Mangueirinho Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Feb 3, 2018; Belem, PA, Brazil; Maia Stevenson (red gloves) fights Polyana Viana (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Mangueirinho Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Feb 3, 2018; Belem, PA, Brazil; Maia Stevenson (red gloves) fights Polyana Viana (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Mangueirinho Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Feb 3, 2018; Belem, PA, Brazil; Maia Stevenson (red gloves) fights Polyana Viana (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Mangueirinho Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Feb 3, 2018; Belem, PA, Brazil; Maia Stevenson (red gloves) fights Polyana Viana (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Mangueirinho Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Feb 3, 2018; Belem, PA, Brazil; Maia Stevenson (red gloves) fights Polyana Viana (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Mangueirinho Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Feb 3, 2018; Belem, PA, Brazil; Maia Stevenson (red gloves) is defeated by Polyana Viana (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Mangueirinho Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Feb 3, 2018; Belem, PA, Brazil; Maia Stevenson (red gloves) is defeated by Polyana Viana (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Mangueirinho Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Feb 3, 2018; Belem, PA, Brazil; Maia Stevenson (red gloves) is defeated by Polyana Viana (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Mangueirinho Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Feb 3, 2018; Belem, PA, Brazil; Maia Stevenson (red gloves) is defeated by Polyana Viana (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Mangueirinho Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Feb 3, 2018; Belem, PA, Brazil; Maia Stevenson (red gloves) is defeated by Polyana Viana (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Mangueirinho Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports jQuery.extend( window._usmgOptions,{ scriptUrl: "https://s2.wp.com/wp-content/themes/vip/usatoday-plugins/api-galleries/assets", analyticsCallback: "galleryAnalytics", fullscreenUrl: "http://mmajunkie.com/sigallery/trP8MsVHjz3ed6NhxGJwqX/301687", customAnalytics: true, title: "Viana def. Stevenson", feedsrc: 2 } );(typeof _usdpgw == "undefined") ? _usdpgw = new _usdpGalleryWall(window._usmgOptions) : _usdpgw.start();

Polyana Viana’s UFC debut was impressive enough to not only earn her a quick submission win but also a rare shoutout from Dana White to his 2.8 million Instagram followers.

To think that, if it wasn’t for a Facebook message, the UFC president may not have ever even had a chance to see her in action at all.

Viana (10-1 MMA, 1-0 UFC), 26, has been a professional MMA fighter for four years. Of the 11 fights on her record, only one of them ended in a decision – it also happens to be her sole loss. Her first big-stage experience came in 2015, with Jungle Fight, where Viana went on to conquer the vacant strawweight belt and defend it once.

What was supposed to be the first big push of her professional MMA career, however, almost spelled the end of it.

“I defended the belt in 2015, and then (Jungle Fight promoter Wallid Ismail) said, ‘You’re going to defend it again,’” Viana told MMAjunkie. “He scheduled the defense and. When it was very close, he postponed it. Then he scheduled it again, postponed it again. He did that like five times. So I said I didn’t want to fight anymore.

“I was only losing weight, away from my family, spending money to train in a different city. So I decided to stop. I went back home and said I wasn’t going to fight anymore. It was decided.”

Viana, who’d left college, a job at a gas station and had moved twice from her small town in her pursuit to be a full-time fighter, had even started looking for jobs. But then she heard about Alex Davis, a longtime MMA manager, and figured she’d try her luck.

Polyana Viana

“I sent him a message on Facebook, but I wasn’t really expecting anything to come from it,” Viana said. “And he replied right away. ‘Aren’t you the Polyana who’s in the UFC?’

“I said, ‘No, but I want to be.’”

Davis, at first, thought she was Poliana Botelho – a bantamweight from Rio’s Nova Uniao team who’d already made it into the UFC by then. But then he realized who it was: the same girl who’d earned a knockout win over Amanda Ribas, whom he also manages, to earn Jungle Fight’s vacant belt (Ribas is also in the UFC, but has been given a two-year suspension before her debut).

“I started talking to her and noticed she was a very nice person,” Davis told MMAjunkie. “She needed help. And she lived very far. I saw her fights – which is something I know how to do – and I saw she had great potential. Not only that, she was a good person.”

Davis saw in the bubbly Viana a full package. When she fought, Viana not only had great jiu-jitsu but seemed like an intelligent fighter who remained calm and collected even in bad spots. Outside the cage, he saw a charismatic and charming presence. But Davis also knew that, in her small town of Sao Geraldo do Araguaia, Para, she wouldn’t get the support that she needed.

Viana says Davis’ first suggestion was to get her to the U.S. But that step, given her 7-year-old son, wouldn’t be possible just yet. So he sent her to Rio de Janeiro instead, to train under his friend Tata Duarte at the ever-welcoming Tata Fight Team (TFT).

Viana was no stranger to moving – she’s lived in the cities of Belem and Maranhao before her decision to give up fighting brought her back home. Still, packing up and leaving again for yet another big city took some serious consideration and planning.

“It was hard,” Viana said. “I stalled Tata for like two or three months after talking to Alex. I had to look for sponsors. At that point I had stopped fighting. I didn’t want that for myself. So when I decided it, I had to look for sponsorship again. I waited for the mayo; he told me he’d help me.

“A friend of mine bought a ticket for me, a date was set, and I went with nothing but determination. When I first got there, the only one who helped me was my mom. When I arrived, Tata got me a sponsor. And then more sponsors started coming along, a few of them from my city. And things started working out, you know.”

Viana says she went to Rio with a planned bout at surging promotion Fight2Night, but her team believed it was a bit too soon for her. So they kept working. Viana would only return to the cage in October 2017, 18 months after her Jungle Fight title defense, when she met – and choked out – Pamela Ferreira at WOCS 47.

Polyana Viana

Davis, in the meantime, already had been working on getting her to the UFC. In fact, Viana said, that could have happened the day she had her WOCS fight – which, judging by the date, would have to have been UFC 216. But Viana decided to honor her original commitment.

There are, of course, some risks that come with that – say, losing and perhaps closing that UFC window. Still, Viana decided to wait.

“It would have been a risky fight at flyweight,” Viana said. “She would have been a lot bigger. And I wasn’t in a rush.”

After her WOCS win, though, Viana hurt her shoulder. So when yet another octagon possibility came, this time to fight at UFC Fight Night 121 in Australia, she had to turn it down, too. Things, however, ended up working out for the best. Not only did Viana end up getting her UFC debut after all, she got to do it in her home state of Para.

Viana had been in somewhat big televised cards before at Jungle Fight. But there was an added factor to this particular debut.

“I’d never had everyone rooting for me,” Viana said. “Everyone shouting my name. That’s what made me nervous. I’m very shy. When they put a camera on my face, I don’t really like it.”

That certainly didn’t come across in her performance at Belem’s Mangueirinho Gymnasium. After drawing some blood from Maia Stevenson in a quick exchange, Viana did her work on the ground to earn her first UFC win.

The display didn’t come with a $50,000 post-fight bonus, but it did come with a to-the-point “very impressive,” accompanied by a shot of her, on the UFC president’s Instagram account:

To the media at the arena, Viana said she was going to get a screen grab of the compliment and show it around. A few days later, Viana was still processing the unexpected attention.

“I’m happy and surprised,” Viana said. “I don’t know. Because he noticed me very fast. Right on my debut, and he already saw me and posted a picture of me on his Instagram? Sometimes I get goosebumps. I can barely believe yet, you know?”

In fact, the entire experience is a bit of a blur.

“I don’t even remember the post-fight interview, because I haven’t been able to watch the fight yet,” Viana said. “I was so nervous, I couldn’t believe it. I did exactly what I said I would. I told Tata I would take her down like that, and I would submit her just like that.

Polyana Viana

“Absolutely nothing changed from what I said. When the fight was over. I started jumping – I’d never celebrated like that before, I’ve always been quiet. I was so happy. I truly can’t even believe it.”

Someone who could believe it, however, was Davis. As someone who’s known to trust his instincts, he knew Viana was the right fit for the promotion. She just needed a chance to make sure they saw it.

“She’s everything the UFC wants,” Davis said. “I’m very very happy. I’m even happier because she has a son, she’s not rich, her mom owns a bar. And it’s my biggest pleasure in life to help people with more humble beginnings to make a living with fighting.”

Viana is both ambitious and down-to-Earth in assessing what could lie ahead. While she’s confident in her jiu-jitsu and physical strength for the division, she also knows there’s a lot of room for improvement in her skill set. While she knows that it will all depend on the matchups – and how well she fares in them, she also thinks “until mid-2019, I might have had the opportunity to fight for the title.”

Whatever happens, it seems like that Facebook message to Davis was worth it. Sure, the UFC contract was quite nice. But she may have gained something even more valuable in the process.

“It’s a family (at TFT). It’s so much different than any gym I’ve ever been to,” Viana said. “When Alex asked me if I wanted to go to Vegas, I said I wanted to stay – and Tata said he wouldn’t let me leave me, too.

“I didn’t have a dad. I was raised by my mom. Now I have someone looking after me. To me, he’s a dad. The best part of going to Rio was meeting him and master Philip (Lima).”

For complete coverage of UFC Fight Night 125, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

Luke Rockhold arrives on camel, Yoel Romero teaches salsa dancing at UFC 221 open workouts

There were some rather unique sights going on during today’s UFC 221 open workout, especially when it came to the entrance of event headliner Luke Rockhold.

Rockhold (16-3 MMA, 6-2 UFC), who meets Yoel Romero (12-2 MMA, 8-1 UFC) for the interim middleweight title in Saturday’s UFC 221 main event at Perth Arena in Perth, Western Australia, made a grand arrival to the open workouts via camel back – yes – camel back.

The former champ Rockhold has never been hesitant to explore his adventurous side. Ahead of his pay-per-view clash with Romero, which follows prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass, he did just that with the memorable entrance

After open workouts, Rockhold explained why he came in on a camel.

“These things just come to me,” Rockhold said. “Some people arrive on cherriots, some people pick white horses. Here in Perth, I choose camels.”

Romero, No. 4 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA middleweight rankings, was not to be totally outdone by No. 3-ranked Rockhold, though. “The Solider of God” got creative during his open workout, inviting several fans on stage for an impromptu salsa dancing lesson.

For complete coverage of UFC 221, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

The Blue Corner is MMAjunkie‘s official blog and is edited by Mike Bohn.

Jun 4, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Michael Bisping (blue) fights Luke Rockhold (red) during UFC 199 at The Forum. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports Jun 4, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Michael Bisping (blue) fights Luke Rockhold (red) during UFC 199 at The Forum. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports Jun 4, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Michael Bisping (blue) fights Luke Rockhold (red) during UFC 199 at The Forum. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports Jun 4, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Michael Bisping (blue) fights Luke Rockhold (red) during UFC 199 at The Forum. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports Jun 4, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Michael Bisping (blue) fights Luke Rockhold (red) during UFC 199 at The Forum. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports March 5, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold in attendance as Tom Lawlor fights against Corey Anderson during UFC 196 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. 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Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Apr 18, 2015; Newark, NJ, USA; Luke Rockhold (blue) celebrates with his corner after defeating Lyoto Machida (not pictured) in their middleweight bout during UFC Fight Night at Prudential Center. Rockhold won via second round tap out. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports Apr 18, 2015; Newark, NJ, USA; Luke Rockhold (blue) enters the arena against Lyoto Machida (not pictured) for their middleweight bout during UFC Fight Night at Prudential Center. Rockhold won via second round tap out. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports Jan 15, 2014; Duluth, GA, USA; Luke Rockhold (second left) celebrates his win against Costas Philippou (not pictured) at Gwinnett Center. Rockhold wins. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports Jan 15, 2014; Duluth, GA, USA; Luke Rockhold is interviewed after his win against Costas Philippou (not pictured) at Gwinnett Center. Rockhold wins. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports July 14, 2012; Portland, OR, USA; Luke Rockhold celebrates his win over Tim Kennedy in the middleweight championship fight at MMA Strikeforce at the Rose Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports July 14, 2012; Portland, OR, USA; Luke Rockhold (blue shorts) fights Tim Kennedy (white shorts) for the middleweight title at MMA Strikeforce at the Rose Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports December 12, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Luke Rockhold lands punches against Chris Weidman during UFC 194 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 18: Luke Rockhold celebrates defeating Lyoto Machida of Brazil by tap out in their middleweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Prudential Center on April 18, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images) NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 18: Luke Rockhold celebrates defeating Lyoto Machida of Brazil by tap out in their middleweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Prudential Center on April 18, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images) NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 18: Luke Rockhold celebrates defeating Lyoto Machida of Brazil by tap out in their middleweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Prudential Center on April 18, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images) NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 18: Luke Rockhold prepares to fight against Lyoto Machida of Brazil in their middleweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Prudential Center on April 18, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. 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Upset of Ricardo Lamas – a confidence-builder? Josh Emmett doesn't see it that way

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When Josh Emmett took a short-notice call to meet former title challenger Ricardo Lamas at UFC on FOX 26, he was aware of the general consensus of his odds to pull off an upset.

“I knew what they were saying,” Emmett told MMAjunkie Radio. “I was a big underdog, and I had no chance. Like you said, Lamas has beat everybody. The only people he lost to were close fights with the current and former champion and stuff like that.”

But, at the same time, the featherweight vet was aware that his teammates, coaches and family knew that he could pull it off. And most importantly? Emmett knew he could do it.

“That’s why I took it and I was the only one who took it,” Emmett said. “I’m fortunate that no one in front of me said yes, because I would not be in the position that I am right now.”

And that is a pretty decent position, indeed.

Emmett, of course, upset Lamas with a first-round knockout victory. While he did catch some flack for missing weight for the co-headliner, which he took on a month’s notice, it undeniably gave him some leverage. Leverage enough, anyway, to both impress the division’s current champ and land himself his first UFC main event spot.

RelatedTwitter reacts to Josh Emmett's stunning upset KO of Ricardo Lamas at UFC on FOX 26

Emmett (13-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC) is now set to meet fellow contender Jeremy Stephens (27-14 MMA, 14-13 UFC), who’s fresh off a big win of his own, at UFC on FOX 28.

The FOX-televised Emmett-Stephens headliner takes place Feb. 28 at Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., and airs on network television.

It’s not like Emmett, who’s now ranked No. 12 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA featherweight rankings, was in a bad spot before meeting No. 4 Lamas (18-6 MMA, 9-4 UFC). He had won three of his four UFC bouts. The only loss, which came via split decision to Desmond Green, remains the lone blemish of his entire pro MMA career.

RelatedOfficial poster and latest card for 'UFC on FOX 28: Emmett vs. Stephens'

Sure, as far as the spotlight goes, Emmett’s name hadn’t exactly been there. But that doesn’t mean the 145-pound title hopeful simply came up overnight. What we got to see at UFC on FOX 26 was, in fact, the result of more than a decade of hard work alongside some of the best in the world at the renowned Team Alpha Male.

“I’ve been main training partners with all these guys,” Emmett said. “When (Chad) Mendes was fighting (then-champ Jose Aldo) for the two fights, when I was Urijah’s (Faber) training partner for (Frankie) Edgar – the list goes on with the teammates. And I’ve been there competing.

“I know fights are different, but I know where I kind of stack up with the people who have come through a gym – the teammates that have become champions, title challengers, No. 1 contenders.”

Clearly, Emmett had his reasons to feel confident in himself. But then there was the short-notice factor. There were the odds. And there was the fact that Lamas, then on a two-fight winning streak, had lost only to three men in the UFC: current champ Max Holloway, ex-champ Aldo and two-time title challenger Mendes.

RelatedUFC champ Max Holloway impressed with new contenders Brian Ortega, Josh Emmett

So, all things considered, a win like this has got to be a confident boost heading into the next one, right?

Well, maybe if Emmett needed that in the first place.

“I don’t even think it really built my confidence at all,” Emmett said. “I just – I know what I’m capable of. It felt like any other fight. It was either I fight the third-best guy in the world or say I fight the guy that’s ranked last in the division. It doesn’t matter. A fight is a fight. Anything can happen. They’re still the best fighters in the world in that weight class.

“So why not gun for the best? That’s what I did. Everything is the same to me. No difference. Nothing’s changed. I’m just back to practicing, all that. I’m still ongoing. I’m not going to stop until I get that belt. And once I get that, I have new goals. And I want to defend it and go on from there. It’s now or never, for me.”

Emmett is not off-base in talking title ambitions. While the UFC 222 co-headliner between Edgar and Brian Ortega will be the one to identify the challenger to the currently injured champ, the Emmett-Stephens winner will certainly be right up there too.

Having watched “pioneer” Stephens’ more than decade-long UFC run, Emmett likes what he sees as a matchup between two similar styles. But while he stresses that there’s only one way to find out which one will prevail, he said he might hold a slight edge there.

“I want those people that just keep coming forward, keep coming forward, like to stand and throw in the pocket,” Emmett said. “I just think I’m going to be faster than him. I think we’re both explosive and hit hard. But I also think my movement is going to be a little tricky for him.”

For more on UFC on FOX 28, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

MMAjunkie Radio broadcasts Monday-Friday at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT) live from Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino’s Race & Sports Book. The show is hosted by “Gorgeous” George Garcia, Brian “Goze” Garcia and Dan Tom. For more information or to download past episodes, go to www.mmajunkie.com/radio.

Dec 16, 2017; Winnipeg, Manitoba, USA; Josh Emmett reacts after defeating Ricardo Lamas during UFC Fight Night at Bell MTS Place. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports Dec 16, 2017; Winnipeg, Manitoba, USA; Ricardo Lamas fights Josh Emmett during UFC Fight Night at Bell MTS Place. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports Dec 16, 2017; Winnipeg, Manitoba, USA; Ricardo Lamas fights Josh Emmett during UFC Fight Night at Bell MTS Place. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports Dec 16, 2017; Winnipeg, Manitoba, USA; Ricardo Lamas fights Josh Emmett during UFC Fight Night at Bell MTS Place. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports Dec 16, 2017; Winnipeg, Manitoba, USA; Ricardo Lamas fights Josh Emmett during UFC Fight Night at Bell MTS Place. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports Dec 16, 2017; Winnipeg, Manitoba, USA; Ricardo Lamas fights Josh Emmett during UFC Fight Night at Bell MTS Place. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports Dec 16, 2017; Winnipeg, Manitoba, USA; Ricardo Lamas fights Josh Emmett during UFC Fight Night at Bell MTS Place. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports Dec 16, 2017; Winnipeg, Manitoba, USA; Ricardo Lamas is attended to on the mat after fighting Josh Emmett during UFC Fight Night at Bell MTS Place. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports Dec 16, 2017; Winnipeg, Manitoba, USA; Josh Emmett reacts after defeating Ricardo Lamas during UFC Fight Night at Bell MTS Place. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports Dec 16, 2017; Winnipeg, Manitoba, USA; Josh Emmett defeats Ricardo Lamas during UFC Fight Night at Bell MTS Place. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports jQuery.extend( window._usmgOptions,{ scriptUrl: "https://s2.wp.com/wp-content/themes/vip/usatoday-plugins/api-galleries/assets", analyticsCallback: "galleryAnalytics", fullscreenUrl: "http://mmajunkie.com/sigallery/tM6KCmG8vhpDgvRzUapp5S/301892", customAnalytics: true, title: "Emmett def. Lamas", feedsrc: 2 } );(typeof _usdpgw == "undefined") ? _usdpgw = new _usdpGalleryWall(window._usmgOptions) : _usdpgw.start();

UFC in Russia? Hawaii? Nothing set, but there's reason for optimism

Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) celebrates with family after fight against Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Jose Aldo (blue gloves) enters the arena before the fight during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) before the fight against Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) wife watches the fight against Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. 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Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) celebrates with family after fight against Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. 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While the UFC has spread across the globe and hit new locales every year, the schedule has had two noticeable omissions.

Domestically? There’s Hawaii. Internationally? There’s Russia.

But during a recent appearance on “UFC Tonight,” UFC President Dana White suggested the octagon could soon touch down in both locales, where MMA has some built-in and rather large fan bases.

“We’re going to both,” White said. “The question is which one first. My whole team is over in London right now working on a Russia deal. They will come home with a deal in Russia. Which one will we fight in first? I don’t know. That remains to be seen.”

Yet, he’s getting plenty of support internally for a show in the Aloha State.

“Obviously everyone’s on board to go work UFC-Hawaii,” he said.

RelatedHere's the latest on CM Punk, Brock Lesnar, Jon Jones, and D.J. vs. T.J.

Although Hawaii has some solid MMA roots (MMA legend B.J. Penn is a proud Hawaiian, and current UFC featherweight champion and fan favorite Max Holloway flies the flag proudly), the UFC has never ventured to the state. Although tax and regulatory issues have played a factor, White often cites another one: the lack of a suitable venue.

“They don’t have an arena,” he said after Holloway won he belt in 2017. “They have the outside bowl. I’m terrified to do anything outside with fighting.

“I used to spend a lot of time in Hawaii early on when we bought the company because there were a lot of good fights out there. But it rains every 10 minutes. It’s raining, and then it’s beautiful out. It’s raining, and then it’s beautiful out. It’s scary, man.”

As for Russia, the UFC would have a number of the country’s top fighters to help bolster a lineup. One of the most obvious ones is Khabib Nurmagomedov (25-0 MMA, 9-0 UFC), who fights Tony Ferguson (23-3 MMA, 13-1 UFC) for a lightweight title (but the undisputed one?) in April at UFC 223. If Nurmagomedov wins the belt, he could help the company do big business in Russia.

Earlier this year, White suggested reports of a Sept. 15 event in Moscow could be true.

“I’ve been telling you guys for a long time that Russia is an important market to us,” White said. “I want it. I want it to happen. So we’re goofing around out there trying to figure out what we can do.”

For more on the UFC’s upcoming schedule, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Ahead of UFC-Austin, peak Sage Northcutt's training – and glee-spreading – at Team Alpha Male

Remember when Urijah Faber said recent Team Alpha Male arrival Sage Northcutt was like “Santa with abs“?

Well, we get it now.

(Warning: the footage below, via YouTube, may prompt uncontrollable urges to smile, spread glee and, in extreme cases, high-five strangers on the street.)

In this video produced by Northcutt’s sponsor Labrada, we catch a glimpse of “Super” during practice at Sacrament-based Team Alpha Male, where he’s been spending time since late last year. It seems Faber is not the only one impressed by Northcutt’s infectious cheer.

“Sage is always happy, even when it’s sparring day,” former UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt says. “Usually everyone is in here, like mean-mugging, ready to fight. And Sage is like, ‘What’s up? Let’s get in there.”

To which Northcutt, apparently smiling through his head gear and mouth piece, amicably touches gloves with Garbrandt and replies: “Cody always pumps me up.”

Of course cheer is not all we get to see. We also get to watch some of the work Northcutt (9-2 MMA, 4-2 UFC) has been putting in ahead of his scheduled UFC Fight Night 126 meeting with lightweight Thibault Gouti (12-3 MMA, 1-3 UFC.) The main-card bout takes place at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas, on Feb. 18 and airs live on FS1.

Northcutt, who started his path in combat sports through karate and kickboxing, praised the knowledge he’s been getting from UFC Hall of Famer “Mr. Faber” and said that his transitions are probably the part of his game that he’s seen evolve the most since joining the team.

We even get to see Northcutt landing a nasty slam – and, perhaps more impressively, he manages to keep both his hair intact afterward.

Northcutt is now looking to get another UFC streak going, after a recent 2-2 patch. In his latest octagon appearance, at UFC Fight Night 120 in November, he scored unanimous-decision win over Michel Quinones – thus recovering from a submission loss to Mickey Gall.

Northcutt’s next opponent is in a more delicate position than “Super:” Before a recovery knockout win over Andrew Holbrook in September, Gouti was on a three-fight skid.

“My prediction, I guess, is to go out there, put on a great show, be victorious,” Northcutt said. “And I’m always going to go for the finish, so – an interesting finish.”

To watch some “Super” Northcutt’s preparation, and possibly get oddly pumped in the process, check out the video above.

And for more on UFC Fight Night 126, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

The Blue Corner is MMAjunkie‘s official blog and is edited by Mike Bohn.

Nov 11, 2017; Virginia, VA, USA; Sage Northcutt (red gloves) celebrates beating Michel Quinones (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports Nov 11, 2017; Virginia, VA, USA; Sage Northcutt (red gloves) fights Michel Quinones (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports Nov 11, 2017; Virginia, VA, USA; Sage Northcutt (red gloves) fights Michel Quinones (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports Nov 11, 2017; Virginia, VA, USA; Sage Northcutt (red gloves) fights Michel Quinones (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports Nov 11, 2017; Virginia, VA, USA; Sage Northcutt (red gloves) fights Michel Quinones (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports Nov 11, 2017; Virginia, VA, USA; Sage Northcutt (red gloves) fights Michel Quinones (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports Nov 11, 2017; Virginia, VA, USA; Sage Northcutt (red gloves) fights Michel Quinones (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports Nov 11, 2017; Virginia, VA, USA; Sage Northcutt (red gloves) fights Michel Quinones (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports Nov 11, 2017; Virginia, VA, USA; Sage Northcutt (red gloves) fights Michel Quinones (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports Nov 11, 2017; Virginia, VA, USA; Sage Northcutt (red gloves) fights Michel Quinones (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports Nov 11, 2017; Virginia, VA, USA; Sage Northcutt (red gloves) fights Michel Quinones (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports Nov 11, 2017; Virginia, VA, USA; Sage Northcutt (red gloves) fights Michel Quinones (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports Nov 11, 2017; Virginia, VA, USA; Sage Northcutt (red gloves) fights Michel Quinones (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports Nov 11, 2017; Virginia, VA, USA; Sage Northcutt (red gloves) fights Michel Quinones (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports jQuery.extend( window._usmgOptions,{ scriptUrl: "https://s2.wp.com/wp-content/themes/vip/usatoday-plugins/api-galleries/assets", analyticsCallback: "galleryAnalytics", fullscreenUrl: "http://mmajunkie.com/sigallery/fTHEXUGswpn6n5W4DMKpr5/301836", customAnalytics: true, title: "Northcutt def. Quinones", feedsrc: 2 } );(typeof _usdpgw == "undefined") ? _usdpgw = new _usdpGalleryWall(window._usmgOptions) : _usdpgw.start();

UFC 221 weigh-in results and live video stream (7 p.m. ET)

The official UFC 221 fighter weigh-ins and live video stream kick off at 7 p.m. ET (4 p.m. PT).

The weigh-ins take place at the UFC host hotel in Perth, Western Australia. Saturday’s event takes place at Perth Arena. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass.

Among those weighing in are former middleweight champion Luke Rockhold (16-3 MMA, 6-2 UFC) and Yoel Romero (12-2 MMA, 8-1 UFC), who meet in the main event for the interim 185-pound title.

The full UFC 221 weigh-in results include:

MAIN CARD (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)

  • Luke Rockhold vs. Yoel Romero () – for interim middleweight title
  • Curtis Blaydes vs. Mark Hunt ()
  • Cyril Asker vs. Tai Tuivasa ()
  • Li Jingliang vs. Jake Matthews ()
  • Tyson Pedro vs. Saparbek Safarov ()

PRELIMINARY CARD (FS1, 8 p.m. ET)

  • Damien Brown vs. “Maestro” Dong Hyun Kim ()
  • Israel Adesanya () vs. Rob Wilkinson ()
  • Jeremy Kennedy () vs. Alex Volkanovski ()
  • Jussier Formiga () vs. Ben Nguyen ()

PRELIMINARY CARD (UFC Fight Pass, 6:30 p.m. ET)

  • Mizuto Hirota () vs. Ross Pearson ()
  • Teruto Ishihara () vs. Jose Quinonez ()
  • Daichi Abe () vs. Luke Jumeau ()

For more on UFC 221, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Jun 4, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Michael Bisping (blue) fights Luke Rockhold (red) during UFC 199 at The Forum. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports Jun 4, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Michael Bisping (blue) fights Luke Rockhold (red) during UFC 199 at The Forum. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports Jun 4, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Michael Bisping (blue) fights Luke Rockhold (red) during UFC 199 at The Forum. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports Jun 4, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Michael Bisping (blue) fights Luke Rockhold (red) during UFC 199 at The Forum. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports Jun 4, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Michael Bisping (blue) fights Luke Rockhold (red) during UFC 199 at The Forum. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports March 5, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold in attendance as Tom Lawlor fights against Corey Anderson during UFC 196 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports January 4, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; UFC champion Luke Rockhold waves to the crowd during the second quarter between the Golden State Warriors and the Charlotte Hornets at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports December 12, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Luke Rockhold exits following his championship victory against Chris Weidman during UFC 194 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports December 12, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Luke Rockhold is declared the winner and wins the championship against Chris Weidman during UFC 194 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports December 12, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Luke Rockhold reacts following his championship victory against Chris Weidman during UFC 194 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports December 12, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Luke Rockhold reacts following the third round against Chris Weidman during UFC 194 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports December 12, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Luke Rockhold lands punches against Chris Weidman during UFC 194 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports December 12, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Luke Rockhold fights against Chris Weidman during UFC 194 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports December 12, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Luke Rockhold speaks to media following his championship victor against Chris Weidman at UFC 194 press conference at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Apr 18, 2015; Newark, NJ, USA; Luke Rockhold (blue) celebrates with his corner after defeating Lyoto Machida (not pictured) in their middleweight bout during UFC Fight Night at Prudential Center. Rockhold won via second round tap out. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports Apr 18, 2015; Newark, NJ, USA; Luke Rockhold (blue) enters the arena against Lyoto Machida (not pictured) for their middleweight bout during UFC Fight Night at Prudential Center. Rockhold won via second round tap out. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports Jan 15, 2014; Duluth, GA, USA; Luke Rockhold (second left) celebrates his win against Costas Philippou (not pictured) at Gwinnett Center. Rockhold wins. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports Jan 15, 2014; Duluth, GA, USA; Luke Rockhold is interviewed after his win against Costas Philippou (not pictured) at Gwinnett Center. Rockhold wins. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports July 14, 2012; Portland, OR, USA; Luke Rockhold celebrates his win over Tim Kennedy in the middleweight championship fight at MMA Strikeforce at the Rose Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports July 14, 2012; Portland, OR, USA; Luke Rockhold (blue shorts) fights Tim Kennedy (white shorts) for the middleweight title at MMA Strikeforce at the Rose Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports December 12, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Luke Rockhold lands punches against Chris Weidman during UFC 194 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 18: Luke Rockhold celebrates defeating Lyoto Machida of Brazil by tap out in their middleweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Prudential Center on April 18, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images) NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 18: Luke Rockhold celebrates defeating Lyoto Machida of Brazil by tap out in their middleweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Prudential Center on April 18, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images) NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 18: Luke Rockhold celebrates defeating Lyoto Machida of Brazil by tap out in their middleweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Prudential Center on April 18, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images) NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 18: Luke Rockhold prepares to fight against Lyoto Machida of Brazil in their middleweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Prudential Center on April 18, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. 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Roy Nelson discusses most exciting aspect of Bellator grand prix rematch with Matt Mitrione

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When you’ve been a professional MMA fighter for almost 14 years, there aren’t that many career firsts to experience.

But when he meets Matt Mitrione (12-5 MMA, 3-0 BMMA) on Feb. 16 in Bellator 194’s main event, Roy Nelson (23-14 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) will find himself in a new situation.

“This will be actually my very first rematch, in my whole entire fighting career,” Nelson told MMAjunkie Radio. “I’ve tried to get rematches on the losses that I’ve had on my career, (but) any time I would offer that up, to get a rematch, nobody would ever take me up on that offer. So I guess now I’ve got to go off of the fights that I’ve already won.”

Nelson first met Mitrione in December 2012, at The Ultimate Fighter 16 Finale, three years after they were both on Season 10 of “TUF” (which Nelson won). The headlining heavyweight bout was scheduled for five rounds, but Nelson didn’t need them; in a little less than three minutes, he knocked out Mitrione.

RelatedMatt Mitrione on status as Bellator grand prix frontrunner: I should be

The circumstances have changed quite a bit since then. Mitrione, then a timid 5-1 in his pro MMA career, went on to close out his UFC tenure at 9-5 and has been undefeated in his three fights under the Bellator banner – all of which, including a meeting with legend Fedor Emelianenko, Mitrione finished via knockout.

Nelson ended his lengthy UFC run at 9-10 and has since had a successful Bellator debut in September against Javy Ayala. Given his track record, a unanimous-decision win isn’t exactly what most would expect from Nelson. But in his first promotional outing, it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing; the 41-year-old veteran put on a well-rounded display that showed he still has tricks up his sleeve.

“I think the biggest thing I got was just like, ‘Great wrestling,’ like, ’Where did that come from?’” Nelson said. “I’ve always had it. I just never used it.

“What I try to do is from camp to camp is just to keep getting better and better. I think it’s been like full circle. It’s like, when you first start out, all you do is submit people. Then you knock people out. Then you got back to submitting people, knocking people out on a consistent basis.”

Nelson and Mitrione’s Paramount-televised meeting at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., also carries different implications than their original booking. The winner will advance in Bellator’s heavyweight grand prix for a chance to take the division’s vacant crown.

Given what we’ve seen from both knockout artists in the past five years, and what’s at stake, there are a few reasons this opening-round matchup in the eight-man tournament is exciting. But for Nelson, one aspect stands out.

“You know what gets me excited? The grand prix,” Nelson said. “That’s what gets me excited. You see the light at the end of the tunnel. It makes everything easier. So there’s no, ‘Hey, if you win this next one, we’ll get you a title shot.’ OK, I did that. ‘Oh, well, you’ve got to do this too.’ There’s just too many games.

“But when it’s a tournament format, it takes the politics out of the game. It’s just like with Super Bowl, it’s like the NBA Finals, the World Series. It takes the politics out of the game.”

To hear more from Nelson, check out the video above.

And for more on Bellator 194, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

MMAjunkie Radio broadcasts Monday-Friday at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT) live from Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino’s Race & Sports Book. The show is hosted by “Gorgeous” George Garcia, Brian “Goze” Garcia and Dan Tom. For more information or to download past episodes, go to www.mmajunkie.com/radio.

Sep 23, 2017; San Jose, CA, USA; Roy Nelson vs Javy Ayala during Bellator 183 at SAP Center. Mandatory Credit: Dave Mandel-USA TODAY Sports Sep 23, 2017; San Jose, CA, USA; Roy Nelson vs Javy Ayala during Bellator 183 at SAP Center. Mandatory Credit: Dave Mandel-USA TODAY Sports Sep 23, 2017; San Jose, CA, USA; Roy Nelson vs Javy Ayala during Bellator 183 at SAP Center. Mandatory Credit: Dave Mandel-USA TODAY Sports Sep 23, 2017; San Jose, CA, USA; Roy Nelson vs Javy Ayala during Bellator 183 at SAP Center. Mandatory Credit: Dave Mandel-USA TODAY Sports Sep 23, 2017; San Jose, CA, USA; Roy Nelson vs Javy Ayala during Bellator 183 at SAP Center. Mandatory Credit: Dave Mandel-USA TODAY Sports Sep 23, 2017; San Jose, CA, USA; Roy Nelson vs Javy Ayala during Bellator 183 at SAP Center. Mandatory Credit: Dave Mandel-USA TODAY Sports Sep 23, 2017; San Jose, CA, USA; Roy Nelson vs Javy Ayala during Bellator 183 at SAP Center. Mandatory Credit: Dave Mandel-USA TODAY Sports Sep 23, 2017; San Jose, CA, USA; Roy Nelson vs Javy Ayala during Bellator 183 at SAP Center. Mandatory Credit: Dave Mandel-USA TODAY Sports Sep 23, 2017; San Jose, CA, USA; Roy Nelson vs Javy Ayala during Bellator 183 at SAP Center. Mandatory Credit: Dave Mandel-USA TODAY Sports Sep 23, 2017; San Jose, CA, USA; Roy Nelson vs Javy Ayala during Bellator 183 at SAP Center. Mandatory Credit: Dave Mandel-USA TODAY Sports Sep 23, 2017; San Jose, CA, USA; Roy Nelson vs Javy Ayala during Bellator 183 at SAP Center. Mandatory Credit: Dave Mandel-USA TODAY Sports Sep 23, 2017; San Jose, CA, USA; Roy Nelson vs Javy Ayala during Bellator 183 at SAP Center. Mandatory Credit: Dave Mandel-USA TODAY Sports jQuery.extend( window._usmgOptions,{ scriptUrl: "https://s2.wp.com/wp-content/themes/vip/usatoday-plugins/api-galleries/assets", analyticsCallback: "galleryAnalytics", fullscreenUrl: "http://mmajunkie.com/sigallery/ZfXvZvE4iXYD3vAXhjnrXa/301816", customAnalytics: true, title: "Nelson def. Ayala", feedsrc: 2 } );(typeof _usdpgw == "undefined") ? _usdpgw = new _usdpGalleryWall(window._usmgOptions) : _usdpgw.start();

Lena Ovchynnikova vs. Denise Kielholtz co-headlines Bellator 196 in Budapest

After announcing a headliner, Bellator 196 now has a co-headliner.

As reported earlier today, James Gallagher (7-0 MMA, 4-0 BMMA) will meet fellow unbeaten featherweight and local product Adam Borics (6-0 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) in Bellator 196’s featured bout.

RelatedJames Gallagher headlines Bellator 196 in April in Hungary

Officials have also confirmed the co-headliner: Lena Ovchynnikova (12-5 MMA, 2-2 BMMA) vs. Denise Kielholtz (1-1 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) in a flyweight matchup.

Bellator 196, which will also feature kickboxing bouts, takes place April 6 at Budapest Sports Arena in Budapest, and the main card airs on Paramount via same-day delay.

Ovchynnikova, a 30-year-old Ukrainian kickboxer and 12-year pro MMA fighter, looks to mover her Bellator record over .500. After back-to-back wins over Karla Benitez and Helen Harper, she suffered a submission loss to Alejandra Lara at Bellator 190 in her most recent bout and dropped to 2-2 in the promotion.

She now meets Kielholtz, a kickboxing champ who fights for the second time under the Bellator banner. In her most recent bout, the 28-year-old Dutch fighter picked up her first MMA victory after submitting Jessica Middleton at Bellator 188.

For more on Bellator 196, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

Due to Humberto Bandenay's visa issues, Brandon Davis steps in at UFC-Austin

Jan 20, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Kyle Bochniak (red gloves) fights Brandon Davis (blue gloves) during UFC 220 at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports Jan 20, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Kyle Bochniak (red gloves) fights Brandon Davis (blue gloves) during UFC 220 at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports Jan 20, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Kyle Bochniak (red gloves) fights Brandon Davis (blue gloves) during UFC 220 at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports Jan 20, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Kyle Bochniak (red gloves) fights Brandon Davis (blue gloves) during UFC 220 at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports Jan 20, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Kyle Bochniak (red gloves) fights Brandon Davis (blue gloves) during UFC 220 at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports Jan 20, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Kyle Bochniak (red gloves) fights Brandon Davis (blue gloves) during UFC 220 at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports Jan 20, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Kyle Bochniak (red gloves) fights Brandon Davis (blue gloves) during UFC 220 at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports Jan 20, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Kyle Bochniak (red gloves) fights Brandon Davis (blue gloves) during UFC 220 at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports Jan 20, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Kyle Bochniak (red gloves) fights Brandon Davis (blue gloves) during UFC 220 at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports Jan 20, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Kyle Bochniak (red gloves) fights Brandon Davis (blue gloves) during UFC 220 at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports Jan 20, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Kyle Bochniak (red gloves) fights Brandon Davis (blue gloves) during UFC 220 at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports Jan 20, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Kyle Bochniak (red gloves) fights Brandon Davis (blue gloves) during UFC 220 at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports Jan 20, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Kyle Bochniak (red gloves) fights Brandon Davis (blue gloves) during UFC 220 at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports Jan 20, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Kyle Bochniak (red gloves) fights Brandon Davis (blue gloves) during UFC 220 at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports Jan 20, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Kyle Bochniak (red gloves) fights Brandon Davis (blue gloves) during UFC 220 at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports jQuery.extend( window._usmgOptions,{ scriptUrl: "https://s2.wp.com/wp-content/themes/vip/usatoday-plugins/api-galleries/assets", analyticsCallback: "galleryAnalytics", fullscreenUrl: "http://mmajunkie.com/sigallery/eDNWAhzFSDLspGQ65H2jkV/301948", customAnalytics: true, title: "Bochniak def. Davis", feedsrc: 2 } );(typeof _usdpgw == "undefined") ? _usdpgw = new _usdpGalleryWall(window._usmgOptions) : _usdpgw.start();

Brandon Davis apparently isn’t wasting any time trying to rebound from a UFC-debut loss a few weeks ago.

Davis (8-3 MMA, 0-1 UFC) today announced via social media that he’s replaced Humberto Bandenay (14-4 MMA, 1-0 UFC) and now fights featherweight Steven Peterson (16-6 MMA, 0-0 UFC) at UFC Fight Night 126 (via Instagram):

A rep for Bandenay told MMAjunkie the fighter couldn’t travel to the event due to visa issues. MMA reporter Nolan King first reported Davis as a replacement.

UFC Fight Night 126 takes place Feb. 18 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas. It airs on FS1 following early prelims on UFC Fight Pass, though the full fight card and bout order haven’t been finalized.

Davis, who got a UFC deal after defeating Austin Arnett at an August 2017 Dana White’s Contender Series event, was riding a seven-fight winning streak into his UFC 220 bout with Kyle Bochniak. But the 27-year-old suffered a unanimous-decision loss to Kyle Bochniak in the featured FS1 prelim on the pay-per-view event.

Peterson, a UFC newcomer, arrives to the octagon after an unsuccessful turn at a Dana White’s Contender Series event, where he dropped a split decision to Benito Lopez. The 27-year-old, who’s a Bellator and Legacy FC vet, rebounded in December with a second-round TKO win over Dustin Winter at LFA 28. He’s won eight of his past 10 fights – six via stoppage.

The full UFC Fight Night 126 lineup now includes:

MAIN CARD (FS1, 9 p.m. ET)

  • Donald Cerrone vs. Yancy Medeiros
  • Derrick Lewis vs. Marcin Tybura
  • Francisco Trinaldo vs. James Vick
  • Thiago Alves vs. Curtis Millender
  • Jessica Aguilar vs. Livia Renata Souza
  • Sage Northcutt vs. Thibault Gouti

PRELIMINARY CARD (FS1, 7 p.m. ET)

  • Diego Ferreira vs. Jared Gordon
  • Brian Camozzi vs. Geoff Neal
  • Joby Sanchez vs. Roberto Sanchez
  • Sarah Moras vs. Lucie Pudilova

PRELIMINARY CARD (UFC Fight Pass, 6 p.m. ET)

  • Josh Burkman vs. Alex Morono
  • Brandon Davis vs. Steven Peterson

For more on UFC Fight Night 126, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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