MMA Junkie News

Stream or download MMAjunkie Radio #2610 with Dustin Poirier, Eric Nicksick

Stream or download Monday’s episode of MMAjunkie Radio with guests Dustin Poirier and Eric Nicksick.

Poirier headlines UFC on FOX 29 in Glendale, Ariz., against former WSOF lightweight champion Justin Gaethje on April 14. He called in to discuss the fight. Nicksick, the gym manager at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, co-hosted the show in the studio.

You can stream the entire episode on AudioBoom.com.

Stream or download MMAjunkie Radio #2610 with Dustin Poirier, Eric Nicksick

Stream or download Monday’s episode of MMAjunkie Radio with guests Dustin Poirier and Eric Nicksick.

Poirier headlines UFC on FOX 29 in Glendale, Ariz., against former WSOF lightweight champion Justin Gaethje on April 14. He called in to discuss the fight. Nicksick, the gym manager at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, co-hosted the show in the studio.

You can stream the entire episode on AudioBoom.com.

Marlon Vera ready for UFC-Belem bout with Douglas de Andrade, the 'generic John Lineker'

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Marlon Vera is fighting Douglas de Andrade on Saturday in Brazil … not John Lineker in a rematch.

But that’s not going to stop him from making the comparison. It also helps that he does Spanish-language broadcast work as an analyst – so breaking things down is part of his nature.

“That’s actually my job – I work for the Spanish broadcast, so I most likely know every single guy on the roster,” Vera told MMAjunkie Radio. “… I know the guy – I saw him fight before. He’s like a generic version of (Lineker: He comes forward and throws big punches. But they’re different – he’s not Lineker, and I’m ready to go.”

Vera (10-4-1 MMA, 4-3 UFC) fights de Andrade (24-2 MMA, 2-2 UFC) in a bantamweight bout on the UFC Fight Night 125 preliminary card Saturday at Mangueirinho Gymnasium in Belem, Para, Brazil. The card airs on FS1 following early prelims on UFC Fight Pass.

Vera will be trying to rebound from a unanimous decision loss to Lineker, also from Brazil, and also in Brazil, this past October. The setback snapped a three-fight winning streak that included a bonus-winning TKO of Brad Pickett and a submission of Brian Kelleher.

The 25-year-old Ecuadorian said he believes de Andrade will want to get into a slugfest.

“I know the guy will punch hard – I’m not dumb,” Vera said. “If I go in cocky and dumb, he’ll knock me out with a big punch. But that’s not me. I’ll be smart.

“They fight similar. Lineker’s a bad mother(expletive) – don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of the guy. … Douglas has a similar style. He’ll try to knock my head off, and if he tries to do something different, I’ll be glad because no one wants to get punched in the face.”

If Vera can keep from getting punched in the face, or at least punched in the face few enough times to come out on top, himself, and get back on track, he’ll have four wins in his past five fights.

And he doesn’t see why that should be an issue on Saturday.

“I think if I put together everything, I can beat Douglas no problem.”

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

For more on UFC Fight Night 125, 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.

Oct 28, 2017; Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil; John Lineker (red gloves) reacts after defeating Marlon Vera (not pictured) during UFC Fight Night at Ibirapuera Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Oct 28, 2017; Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil; Marlon Vera (blue gloves) makes his way to the octagon before his bout against John Lineker (not pictured) during UFC Fight Night at Ibirapuera Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Oct 28, 2017; Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil; John Lineker (red gloves) makes his way to the octagon before his bout against Marlon Vera (not pictured) during UFC Fight Night at Ibirapuera Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Oct 28, 2017; Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil; John Lineker (red gloves) makes his way to the octagon before his bout against Marlon Vera (not pictured) during UFC Fight Night at Ibirapuera Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Oct 28, 2017; Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil; John Lineker (red gloves) fights Marlon Vera (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ibirapuera Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Oct 28, 2017; Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil; John Lineker (red gloves) fights Marlon Vera (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ibirapuera Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Oct 28, 2017; Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil; John Lineker (red gloves) fights Marlon Vera (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ibirapuera Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Oct 28, 2017; Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil; John Lineker (red gloves) fights Marlon Vera (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ibirapuera Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Oct 28, 2017; Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil; John Lineker (red gloves) fights Marlon Vera (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ibirapuera Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Oct 28, 2017; Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil; John Lineker (red gloves) fights Marlon Vera (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ibirapuera Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Oct 28, 2017; Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil; John Lineker (red gloves) fights Marlon Vera (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ibirapuera Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Oct 28, 2017; Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil; John Lineker (red gloves) fights Marlon Vera (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ibirapuera Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Oct 28, 2017; Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil; John Lineker (red gloves) fights Marlon Vera (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ibirapuera Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Oct 28, 2017; Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil; John Lineker (red gloves) fights Marlon Vera (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ibirapuera Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Oct 28, 2017; Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil; John Lineker (red gloves) fights Marlon Vera (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ibirapuera Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Oct 28, 2017; Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil; John Lineker (red gloves) fights Marlon Vera (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ibirapuera Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Oct 28, 2017; Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil; John Lineker (red gloves) fights Marlon Vera (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ibirapuera Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Oct 28, 2017; Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil; John Lineker (red gloves) fights Marlon Vera (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ibirapuera Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Oct 28, 2017; Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil; John Lineker (red gloves) fights Marlon Vera (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ibirapuera Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Oct 28, 2017; Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil; John Lineker (red gloves) reacts after defeating Marlon Vera (not pictured) during UFC Fight Night at Ibirapuera Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Oct 28, 2017; Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil; John Lineker (red gloves) fights Marlon Vera (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ibirapuera Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Oct 28, 2017; Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil; John Lineker (red gloves) reacts after defeating Marlon Vera (not pictured) during UFC Fight Night at Ibirapuera Gymnasium. 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/ZJGatdsp6pxfukFh9dAxLQ/300098", customAnalytics: true, title: "Lineker def. Vera", feedsrc: 2 } );(typeof _usdpgw == "undefined") ? _usdpgw = new _usdpGalleryWall(window._usmgOptions) : _usdpgw.start();

Video: Watch Lyoto Machida fight Mark Munoz in his memorable 2013 middleweight debut

A little more than four years ago, former UFC light-heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida made quite the arrival in the middleweight division.

It came at UFC Fight Night 30 in England, where Machida headlined against perennial contender and fan favorite Mark Munoz. It also added a major addition to Machida’s karate-centric highlight reel.

Check out the full fight above.

RelatedWith added drive for UFC-Belem, ex-champ Lyoto Machida isn't thinking about retirement

And catch Machida (22-8 MMA, 14-8 UFC) back in action on Saturday, when he headlines UFC Fight Night 125 opposite undefeated up-and-comer Eryk Anders (10-0 MMA, 2-0 UFC).

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

For more on UFC Fight Night 125, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Apr 18, 2015; Newark, NJ, USA; Lyoto Machida (red) leaves the arena after being defeated by Luke Rockhold (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; Lyoto Machida (red) is announced for his bout against Luke Rockhold (not pictured) 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; Lyoto Machida (red) enters the arena to face Luke Rockhold (not pictured) for a 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; Lyoto Machida (red) enters the arena to face Luke Rockhold (not pictured) for a middleweight bout during UFC Fight Night at Prudential Center. Rockhold won via second round tap out. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports Dec 20, 2014; Barueri, SP, Brazil; Lyoto Machida (red gloves) before his fight against C.B. Dollaway (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Jose Correa Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Dec 20, 2014; Barueri, SP, Brazil; UFC fans during the fight between Lyoto Machida (red gloves) and C.B. Dollaway (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Jose Correa Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Dec 20, 2014; Barueri, SP, Brazil; Lyoto Machida (red gloves) celebrates after defeating C.B. Dollaway (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Jose Correa Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Dec 20, 2014; Barueri, SP, Brazil; Lyoto Machida (red gloves) celebrates after defeating C.B. Dollaway (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Jose Correa Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Dec 20, 2014; Barueri, SP, Brazil; Lyoto Machida (red gloves) celebrates after defeating C.B. Dollaway (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Jose Correa Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Dec 20, 2014; Barueri, SP, Brazil; Lyoto Machida (red gloves) knocks out C.B. Dollaway (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Jose Correa Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Dec 20, 2014; Barueri, SP, Brazil; Lyoto Machida (red gloves) fights against C.B. Dollaway (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Jose Correa Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Dec 20, 2014; Barueri, SP, Brazil; Lyoto Machida (red gloves) before his fight against C.B. Dollaway (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Jose Correa Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Jul 5, 2014; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Chris Weidman (red gloves) attempts to grab Lyoto Machida (blue gloves) during a middleweight title fight at Mandalay Bay Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Jul 5, 2014; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Lyoto Machida (blue gloves) lands a blow to Chris Weidman (red gloves) during a middleweight title fight at Mandalay Bay Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Jul 5, 2014; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Lyoto Machida gets ready for a middleweight title fight against Chris Weidman at Mandalay Bay Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Feb 15, 2014; Jaragua do Sul, SC, Brazil; Lyoto Machida during the press conference after the UFC Fight Night Machida vs Mousasi at Arena Jaragua. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Feb 15, 2014; Jaragua do Sul, SC, Brazil; Lyoto Machida (red gloves) after defeating Gegard Mousasi (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night Machida vs Mousasi at Arena Jaragua. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Feb 15, 2014; Jaragua do Sul, SC, Brazil; Lyoto Machida (red gloves) after defeating Gegard Mousasi (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night Machida vs Mousasi at Arena Jaragua. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Feb 15, 2014; Jaragua do Sul, SC, Brazil; Lyoto Machida (red gloves) fights against Gegard Mousasi (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night Machida vs Mousasi at Arena Jaragua. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Feb 15, 2014; Jaragua do Sul, SC, Brazil; Lyoto Machida (red gloves) before his fight against Gegard Mousasi (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night Machida vs Mousasi at Arena Jaragua. 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/AK2bqyPbd7nqGJAw3airBV/300121", customAnalytics: true, title: "Lyoto Machida", feedsrc: 2 } );(typeof _usdpgw == "undefined") ? _usdpgw = new _usdpGalleryWall(window._usmgOptions) : _usdpgw.start();

Video: Watch Lyoto Machida fight Mark Munoz in his memorable 2013 middleweight debut

A little more than four years ago, former UFC light-heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida made quite the arrival in the middleweight division.

It came at UFC Fight Night 30 in England, where Machida headlined against perennial contender and fan favorite Mark Munoz. It also added a major addition to Machida’s karate-centric highlight reel.

Check out the full fight above.

RelatedWith added drive for UFC-Belem, ex-champ Lyoto Machida isn't thinking about retirement

And catch Machida (22-8 MMA, 14-8 UFC) back in action on Saturday, when he headlines UFC Fight Night 125 opposite undefeated up-and-comer Eryk Anders (10-0 MMA, 2-0 UFC).

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

For more on UFC Fight Night 125, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Apr 18, 2015; Newark, NJ, USA; Lyoto Machida (red) leaves the arena after being defeated by Luke Rockhold (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; Lyoto Machida (red) is announced for his bout against Luke Rockhold (not pictured) 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; Lyoto Machida (red) enters the arena to face Luke Rockhold (not pictured) for a 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; Lyoto Machida (red) enters the arena to face Luke Rockhold (not pictured) for a middleweight bout during UFC Fight Night at Prudential Center. Rockhold won via second round tap out. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports Dec 20, 2014; Barueri, SP, Brazil; Lyoto Machida (red gloves) before his fight against C.B. Dollaway (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Jose Correa Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Dec 20, 2014; Barueri, SP, Brazil; UFC fans during the fight between Lyoto Machida (red gloves) and C.B. Dollaway (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Jose Correa Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Dec 20, 2014; Barueri, SP, Brazil; Lyoto Machida (red gloves) celebrates after defeating C.B. Dollaway (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Jose Correa Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Dec 20, 2014; Barueri, SP, Brazil; Lyoto Machida (red gloves) celebrates after defeating C.B. Dollaway (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Jose Correa Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Dec 20, 2014; Barueri, SP, Brazil; Lyoto Machida (red gloves) celebrates after defeating C.B. Dollaway (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Jose Correa Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Dec 20, 2014; Barueri, SP, Brazil; Lyoto Machida (red gloves) knocks out C.B. Dollaway (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Jose Correa Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Dec 20, 2014; Barueri, SP, Brazil; Lyoto Machida (red gloves) fights against C.B. Dollaway (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Jose Correa Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Dec 20, 2014; Barueri, SP, Brazil; Lyoto Machida (red gloves) before his fight against C.B. Dollaway (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Jose Correa Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Jul 5, 2014; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Chris Weidman (red gloves) attempts to grab Lyoto Machida (blue gloves) during a middleweight title fight at Mandalay Bay Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Jul 5, 2014; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Lyoto Machida (blue gloves) lands a blow to Chris Weidman (red gloves) during a middleweight title fight at Mandalay Bay Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Jul 5, 2014; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Lyoto Machida gets ready for a middleweight title fight against Chris Weidman at Mandalay Bay Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Feb 15, 2014; Jaragua do Sul, SC, Brazil; Lyoto Machida during the press conference after the UFC Fight Night Machida vs Mousasi at Arena Jaragua. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Feb 15, 2014; Jaragua do Sul, SC, Brazil; Lyoto Machida (red gloves) after defeating Gegard Mousasi (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night Machida vs Mousasi at Arena Jaragua. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Feb 15, 2014; Jaragua do Sul, SC, Brazil; Lyoto Machida (red gloves) after defeating Gegard Mousasi (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night Machida vs Mousasi at Arena Jaragua. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Feb 15, 2014; Jaragua do Sul, SC, Brazil; Lyoto Machida (red gloves) fights against Gegard Mousasi (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night Machida vs Mousasi at Arena Jaragua. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Feb 15, 2014; Jaragua do Sul, SC, Brazil; Lyoto Machida (red gloves) before his fight against Gegard Mousasi (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night Machida vs Mousasi at Arena Jaragua. 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/AK2bqyPbd7nqGJAw3airBV/300121", customAnalytics: true, title: "Lyoto Machida", feedsrc: 2 } );(typeof _usdpgw == "undefined") ? _usdpgw = new _usdpGalleryWall(window._usmgOptions) : _usdpgw.start();

What excites Fedor Emelianenko about Bellator's heavyweight tournament? Staying in shape

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TEMECULA – Former PRIDE heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko has seen a few tournaments. He doesn’t get too excited over a bracket.

Then again, Emelianenko doesn’t get excited about much. The stone-cold legend struggles when asked about the upside of his participation in the Bellator heavyweight grand prix.

“Now I’m going to stay in shape for a whole year, which is exciting,” Emelianenko told MMAjunkie through a translator during fight week for this past Friday’s Bellator 193.

The immediate task ahead is what drives Emelianenko (36-5 MMA, 0-1 BMMA) as he nears a showdown with ex-UFC champ Frank Mir (18-11 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) in the tourney’s quarterfinal round, which takes place at Bellator 197. The event takes place April 28 at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., near Chicago. The main card will air on Paramount following prelims on MMAjunkie.

It’s a chance for Emelianenko to get back on track after his Bellator debut nearly ended in a double knockout. He’s well aware of Mir’s accomplishments despite the ex-champ’s long layoff heading into the bout.

“(Mir has) beaten a lot of top guys,” Emelianenko said. “Of course, I’ve always had my sights set on fighting Frank, and I’m excited to do it in the first round.”

Mir spent almost two years in limbo after being notified of a potential anti-doping violation by UFC anti-doping partner USADA. He was granted his release from the promotion after receiving a two-year suspension.

Although Mir hasn’t fought since March 2016, Emelianenko dismissed any advantage that might come from cage rust.

“I don’t think the layoff will affect Frank,” he said. “Frank is a professional, and he will approach it as a professional. He’ll come to fight.”

Mir is just one of three remaining opponents in the tournament. With a win, Emelianenko will advance to the semifinals, where he’ll face Chael Sonnen, who’s stepping up in weight for the challenge.

Emelianenko is the sentimental favorite of the tournament being one of the most accomplished MMA heavyweights of all time. But he takes the attention with a shrug of the shoulders, like most of the competitions he’s entered.

Asked where a win in the grand prix would rank in his career to date, he was as always a man of few words.

“I would be very happy,” he said.

For more on Bellator 197, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Matt Mitrione (blue gloves) reacts to fight against Fedor Emelianenko (red gloves) during Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Fedor Emelianenko (red gloves) fights Matt Mitrione (blue gloves) during Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Fedor Emelianenko (red gloves) fights Matt Mitrione (blue gloves) during Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Fedor Emelianenko (red gloves) fights Matt Mitrione (blue gloves) during Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Fedor Emelianenko (red gloves) fights Matt Mitrione (blue gloves) during Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Fedor Emelianenko (red gloves) fights Matt Mitrione (blue gloves) during Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Fedor Emelianenko (red gloves) fights Matt Mitrione (blue gloves) during Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Fedor Emelianenko (red gloves) fights Matt Mitrione (blue gloves) during Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Fedor Emelianenko (red gloves) fights Matt Mitrione (blue gloves) during Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Fedor Emelianenko (red gloves) fights Matt Mitrione (blue gloves) during Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Fedor Emelianenko (red gloves) fights Matt Mitrione (blue gloves) during Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Fedor Emelianenko (red gloves) reacts to fight against Matt Mitrione (blue gloves) during Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-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/WZHF6K7DJurzpQRHaLaVP3/300041", customAnalytics: true, title: "Mitrione def. Emelianenko", feedsrc: 2 } );(typeof _usdpgw == "undefined") ? _usdpgw = new _usdpGalleryWall(window._usmgOptions) : _usdpgw.start();

If he beats Tony Ferguson, Khabib Nurmagomedov plans to make Conor McGregor wait

Khabib Nurmagomedov plans to win the UFC lightweight title and be a different kind of champion.

That means if he beats Tony Ferguson (23-3 MMA, 13-1 UFC) at UFC 223, Nurmagomedov (25-0 MMA, 9-0 UFC) will make Conor McGregor (21-3 MMA, 9-1 UFC) wait for a crack at his belt.

“(McGregor) can fight Diaz, and he can fight in boxing,” Nurmagomedov told RT Sport. “But, God willing, when I beat Tony Ferguson, I’m going to make him humble, and he has to sit in line.

“Everyone who wants to fight for the title at 155, (he says) no way. When I become UFC lightweight champ, I’m going to say, ‘Who is the real contender? Who has a five-, six-, seven-fight win streak?’ They have to fight for the title – not (McGregor).”

The UFC has kept the stakes of UFC 223’s headliner murky, with President Dana White refusing to say whether he’ll strip McGregor of the belt, and yet promising the winner of Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson the “real belt.”

McGregor hasn’t defended the lightweight belt since capturing it at UFC 205 to become the first concurrent two-weight champion in the promotion’s history. White has said the Irish champ has targeted September for a return to the octagon and added the promotion couldn’t abide the wait.

It’s been a confusing situation for MMA fans, but Nurmagomedov has clear expectations of what will happen for the winner of the April 7 bout at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“I spoke with Dana and everybody about this situation,” he said. “They say we’re going to fight for the belt. What kind? Undisputed belt.

“This is not Conor’s belt. This is not the interim Tony Ferguson belt. After we fight, on April 8, they’re going to make it official who will become the real champ. Now, Tony Ferguson’s still the champion, and Conor, they call him the champion, but he isn’t the champion. Who wins, they’re going to become the real champ.”

Nurmagomedov repeatedly has pushed for a fight with McGregor, only to see the Irish champ pursue a mega-fight with Floyd Mayweather. But now, he has resolved himself to the idea that he might never stand across from McGregor in the octagon.

“I don’t think he’ll ever fight with me,” Nurmagomedov said. “I think they understand what will happen.”

In the meantime, “The Eagle” is only looking in Ferguson’s direction. The two have thrice been booked to fight each other. Finally, they have a chance to settle the score.

“When the cage door closes, I’m going to show that me and Tony are on a different level,” Nurmagomedov said.

For more on UFC 223, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Sep 21, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Khabib Nurmagomedov celebrates his victory over Pat Healy (not pictured) during their Lightweight bout at UFC 165 at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports Apr 19, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Rafael dos Anjos (red gloves) fights Khabib Nurmagomedov (blue gloves) in their lightweight fight during UFC on FOX 11 at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports Apr 19, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Rafael dos Anjos (red gloves) fights Khabib Nurmagomedov (blue gloves) in their lightweight fight during UFC on FOX 11 at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports Apr 19, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Rafael dos Anjos (red gloves) fights Khabib Nurmagomedov (blue gloves) in their lightweight fight during UFC on FOX 11 at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports Apr 18, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Khabib Nurmagomedov poses during a weigh-in for UFC on FOX 11 at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports Sep 21, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Khabib Nurmagomedov celebrates his victory over Pat Healy (not pictured) during their Lightweight bout at UFC 165 at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports Sep 21, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Khabib Nurmagomedov (right) kicks Pat Healy during their Lightweight bout at UFC 165 at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports Sep 21, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Khabib Nurmagomedov (right) fights Pat Healy during their Lightweight bout at UFC 165 at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports May 25, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov is taken down by Abel Trujillo during UFC 160 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports May 25, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Khabib Nurmagomedov reacts to his victory during UFC 160 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports May 25, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Khabib Nurmagomedov sits over Abel Trujillo at the end of round three during UFC 160 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports May 25, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Khabib Nurmagomedov strains to lift Abel Trujillo during UFC 160 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports May 25, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Khabib Nurmagomedov holds down Abel Trujillo during UFC 160 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports May 25, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Khabib Nurmagomedov during UFC 160 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports May 24, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov (left) squares off with Abel Trujillo during the weight-in for UFC 160 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports May 24, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov (left) squares off with Abel Trujillo during the weight-in for UFC 160 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports Jul. 7, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov (left) hugs his trainer after defeating Gleison Tibau during a middleweight bout in UFC 148 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Jul. 7, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov (right) hits Gleison Tibau in the face during a middleweight bout in UFC 148 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Jan, 20 2012; Nashville, TN, USA; UFC lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov celebrates after defeating Kamal Shalorus during a bout in the UFC on FX 1 event. Nurmagomedov beat Shalorus. Mandatory Credit: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports Jan, 20 2012; Nashville, TN, USA; UFC lightweight Kamal Shalorus boxes with Khabib Nurmagomedov during a bout in the UFC on FX 1 event. Nurmagomedov beat Shalorus. Mandatory Credit: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports Oct 7, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Tony Ferguson (red gloves) reacts after defeating Kevin Lee (blue gloves) in the third round during UFC 216 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports Oct 7, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Tony Ferguson (red gloves) reacts after defeating Kevin Lee (blue gloves) in the third round during UFC 216 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports Oct 7, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Tony Ferguson (red gloves) reacts after defeating Kevin Lee (blue gloves) in the third round during UFC 216 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports Oct 7, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Tony Ferguson (red gloves) and Kevin Lee (blue gloves) are seen after Ferguson defeated Lee during UFC 216 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports Oct 7, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Tony Ferguson (red gloves) and Kevin Lee (blue gloves) are seen after Ferguson defeated Lee during UFC 216 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports Oct 7, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Tony Ferguson (red gloves) reacts after defeating Kevin Lee (blue gloves) in the third round during UFC 216 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports Oct 7, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Tony Ferguson (red gloves) reacts after defeating Kevin Lee (blue gloves) in the third round during UFC 216 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports Oct 7, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Tony Ferguson (red gloves) reacts after defeating Kevin Lee (blue gloves) in the third round during UFC 216 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports Oct 7, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Tony Ferguson (red gloves) reacts after defeating Kevin Lee (blue gloves) in the third round during UFC 216 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports Oct 7, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Tony Ferguson (red gloves) reacts after defeating Kevin Lee (blue gloves) in the third round during UFC 216 at T-Mobile Arena. 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MMAjunkie reader predictions: Make your picks for UFC Fight Night 125 in Brazil

We want your predictions for Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 125 event in Brazil.

Our staff picks feature includes the consensus picks from MMAjunkie readers. Simply cast your vote for each bout below, and we’ll use the official tallies that are registered by Thursday at midnight ET (9 p.m. PT).

Those MMAjunkie MMA reader consensus picks will be part of the UFC Fight Night 125 staff picks we release on Friday ahead of the event. UFC Fight Night 125 takes place at Mangueirinho Gymnasium in Belem, Para, Brazil, and te card airs on FS1 following early prelims on UFC Fight Pass.

* * * *

Lyoto Machida vs. Eryk Anders

Records: Lyoto Machida (22-8 MMA, 14-8 UFC), Eryk Anders (10-0 MMA, 2-0 UFC)
Past five: Machida 1-4, Anders 5-0
Division: Middleweight
Rankings: Machida No. 13
Odds (as of 1/30/18): Anders -300, Machida +220

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')); John Dodson vs. Pedro Munhoz

Records: John Dodson (19-9 MMA, 8-4 UFC), Pedro Munhoz (15-2-1 MMA, 5-2-1 UFC)
Past five: Dodson 2-3, Munhoz 4-1
Division: Bantamweight
Rankings: Munhoz No. 13, Dodson honorable mention
Odds (as of 1/30/18): Dodson -165, Munhoz +125

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')); Priscila Cachoeira vs. Valentina Shevchenko

Records: Priscila Cachoeira (8-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC), Valentina Shevchenko (14-3 MMA, 3-2 UFC)
Past five: Cachoeira 5-0, Shevchenko 3-2
Division: Women’s flyweight
Rankings: n/a
Odds (as of 1/30/18): Shevchenko -705, Cachoeira +435

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')); Desmond Green vs. Michel Prazeres

Records: Desmond Green (20-6 MMA, 1-1 UFC), Michel Prazeres (23-2 MMA, 7-2 UFC)
Past five: Green 4-1, Prazeres 5-0
Division: Lightweight
Rankings: None
Odds (as of 1/30/18): Prazeres -170, Green +130

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')); Marcelo Golm vs. Timothy Johnson

Records: Marcelo Golm (6-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC), Timothy Johnson (11-4 MMA, 3-3 UFC)
Past five: Golm 5-0, Johnson 2-3
Division: Heavyweight
Rankings: None
Odds (as of 1/30/18): Golm -195, Johnson +155

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')); Thiago ‘Marreta’ Santos vs. Anthony Smith

Records: Thiago “Marreta” Santos (16-5 MMA, 8-4 UFC), Anthony Smith (28-12 MMA, 4-2 UFC)
Past five: Santos 3-2, Smith 4-1
Division: Middleweight
Rankings: None
Odds (as of 1/30/18): Santos -275, Smith +195

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For more on UFC Fight Night 125, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Jul 22, 2017; Long Island, NY, USA; Eryk Anders (blue gloves) reacts to fight against Rafael Natal (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Nassau Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports Nov 21, 2009; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Eryk Anders (32) during the game against the Chattanooga Mocs at Bryant Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports Nov 29, 2008; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA: Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Eryk Anders (32) reacts after sacking Auburn Tigers quarterback Kodi Burns (18) during the first half of the Iron Bowl at Bryant Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports Oct 24, 2009; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Eryk Anders (32) attempts to block the pass of Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Jonathan Crompton (8) at Bryant Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports Jan 7, 2010; Pasadena, CA, USA; Texas Longhorns quarterback Garrett Gilbert (3) fumbles as he is sacked by Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Eryk Anders (32) during the fourth quarter of the 2010 BCS national championship game at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Jul 22, 2017; Long Island, NY, USA; Rafael Natal (red gloves) fights Eryk Anders (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Nassau Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports Jul 22, 2017; Long Island, NY, USA; Rafael Natal (red gloves) fights Eryk Anders (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Nassau Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports Jul 22, 2017; Long Island, NY, USA; Rafael Natal (red gloves) fights Eryk Anders (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Nassau Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports Jul 22, 2017; Long Island, NY, USA; Rafael Natal (red gloves) fights Eryk Anders (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Nassau Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports Jul 22, 2017; Long Island, NY, USA; Eryk Anders (blue gloves) reacts to fight against Rafael Natal (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Nassau Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports December 9, 2017; Fresno, CA, USA; Eryk Anders (red gloves) fights Markus Perez (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Save Mart Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports December 9, 2017; Fresno, CA, USA; Eryk Anders (red gloves) fights Markus Perez (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Save Mart Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports December 9, 2017; Fresno, CA, USA; Eryk Anders (red gloves) fights Markus Perez (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Save Mart Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports December 9, 2017; Fresno, CA, USA; Eryk Anders (red gloves) fights Markus Perez (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Save Mart Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports December 9, 2017; Fresno, CA, USA; Eryk Anders (red gloves) fights Markus Perez (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Save Mart Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-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/XeoSw22FriqHk66aooWmSD/299811", customAnalytics: true, title: "Eryk Anders", feedsrc: 2 } );(typeof _usdpgw == "undefined") ? _usdpgw = new _usdpGalleryWall(window._usmgOptions) : _usdpgw.start();

Co-Main Event Podcast: Download episode No. 291 with Ben Fowlkes, Chad Dundas

Episode No. 291 of the Co-Main Event Podcast now is available for streaming and download.

MMAjunkie/USA TODAY columnist Ben Fowlkes and Bleacher Report lead MMA writer Chad Dundas host the weekly show (also dubbed the “CME,” if you nasty). This week, the WWE’s newest tag team partners talk about Ronda Rousey’s move to fake wrestling, Miocic vs. Cormier and “Jacare” Souza’s big KO of Derek Brunson.

Check it out at comainevent.com, or download the podcast directly.

MMAjunkie's 'Knockout of the Month' for January: Aaron Pico's ridiculous rib-rattler

With another action-packed month of MMA in the books, MMAjunkie looks at the best knockouts from January. Here are the five nominees, listed in chronological order, and winner of MMAjunkie’s “Knockout of the Month” award for January.

At the bottom of the post, let us know if we got it right by voting for your choice.

* * * *

The nominees

Curtis Millender def. Nick Barnes at LFA 30

Nick Barnes (12-3) was effective with inside leg kicks throughout his welterweight bout with Curtis Millender (14-3), who responded on several occasions with immediate high kicks, though he could never put everything behind them.

They didn’t work – until one finally did. In Round 2, Barnes kicked the inside of Millender’s left leg, and when it planted on the way down, Millender threw the perfect high kick that landed flush on Barnes’ face to score the vicious knockout.

Jeremy Stephens def. Dooho Choi at UFC Fight Night 124

He was forced to come from behind, but Jeremy Stephens (27-14 MMA, 14-13 UFC) got his first UFC main-event victory when he defeated hard-headed Dooho Choi (14-3 MMA, 3-2 UFC).

After dropping the first round, Stephens added another win to his lengthy UFC resume when stunned “The Korean Superboy” with a shot and followed up with a series of diving punches and hard elbows to force the second-round TKO stoppage.

Abdul Razak Alhassan def. Sabah Homasi at UFC 220

It’s not often that an MMA fight lands the No. 1 spot on the famous “SportsCenter Top 10” list. However, Abdul Razak Alhassan’s (9-1 MMA, 3-1 UFC) first-round knockout victory was just that good.

Alhassan starched Sabah Homasi (11-8 MMA, 0-3 UFC) in a welterweight rematch from a controversial ending in December. He scored a clean finish with a near-perfect uppercut, and the result was a highlight that couldn’t go unrecognized.

Aaron Pico def. Shane Kruchten at Bellator 192

Aaron Pico (2-1 MMA, 2-1 BMMA) showed another tool  in his skill set when he crushed Shane Kruchten (12-4 MMA, 0-1 BMMA) with an absolutely nasty body shot in the opening round of their featherweight fight.

Pico followed up his “Knockout of the Year” candidate in his previous bout with a crushing body-shot finish just 37 seconds into the opening round of his fight against Kruchten.

Edward Kelly def. Mean Meu at ONE Championship 68

Edward Kelly (10-4) entered the ONE Championship record books when his 21-second knockout of Meas Meu (5-1) became the new fastest finish in the company’s featherweight division.

Kelly wasted no time putting away Meu. He capitalized on the first opening and sprung at his opponent with a combination of punches that set up a high kick. The kick hit Meu at full force, briefly taking him off his feet before he slammed face-first into the canvas for the highlight finish.

* * * *

The winner: Aaron Pico

MMA super prospect Pico showed again that his debut loss was nothing more than a stumble when he scored another devastating knockout at Bellator 192.

Pico followed up his “Knockout of the Year” candidate in his previous bout with a crushing body-shot finish just 37 seconds into the opening round of his fight against Kruchten.

Pico wasted no time inflicting damage on his opponent. He applied the pressure with hard shots before going to the body for the first time to drop his opponent.

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Kruchten showed his toughness by getting back to his feet, but that just allowed Pico another chance to wind up with another huge left hand that folded his foe to the canvas.

With more hype building behind the 21-year-old following highlight-reel wins in consecutive fights, Pico chose to stay humble.

“I’m not the one to talk (expletive) and do all that stuff; that’s petty,” Pico said. “I’m a professional. I show up. I fight guys with winning records. I do my talking with my fists.”

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Amanda Nunes unsure why Cris Cyborg champ-vs.-champ negotiations are dragging

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Amanda Nunes is preparing to become the first female to simultaneously hold multiple UFC titles. She said it’s now on Cris Cyborg to close the deal.

Following Cyborg’s (18-1 MMA, 3-0 UFC) featherweight title defense against Holly Holm at UFC 219 in December, talk of a champion-vs.-champion showdown with bantamweight champ Nunes (15-4 MMA, 8-1 UFC) started to emerge. UFC President Dana White has expressed interest, but Cyborg has postured over certain aspects of the fight.

RelatedUFC champ Cris Cyborg could generate PPV buys 'in a parking lot,' but unsure about Amanda Nunes

Nunes said she’s ready to go as soon as possible, and that’s why she specifically requested the bout. However, she said negotiations are not moving along as quickly as anticipated.

“I wanted that fight; (Cyborg) didn’t even think about that when I decided to do it,” Nunes told MMAjunkie. “I texted Dana White, and I said I wanted that fight. I’m ready to go up. I wanted something big for my career, and I decided the next step would be Cyborg. But the negotiations have been so slow. I don’t know what is wrong, but I didn’t even see my contract yet. Nothing is official.”

UFC officials reportedly are interested in hosting Nunes vs. Cyborg at a June pay-per-view event in Rio de Janeiro. Cyborg said she thinks the fight would better be suited for one of the UFC’s marquee yearly events, such as UFC 226 in July, which now features a champion-vs.-champion main event between heavyweight kingpin Stipe Miocic and light heavyweight champ Daniel Cormier.

Nunes said the date and location of the fight is of no concern to her because “the UFC knows (what) they want to do.”

RelatedDana White says UFC working on Cris Cyborg vs. Amanda Nunes: 'The fight everybody wants to see'

In anticipation of the bout, “The Lioness” said she’s raised her out-of-competition weight almost 15 pounds heavier than usual, which she said is a welcomed lifestyle change. The 29-year-old started her career at featherweight, and though she hasn’t competed there since January 2011, she feels comfortable at the weight.

“(I didn’t want a) catchweight at all; I’m going up to 145,” Nunes said. “I don’t want to make this so long – already it’s long. … I’ve fought there before. My first fight in Strikeforce at 145 was against Julia Budd. Things worked very well for me. I’m a little bit over losing weight as well. I have to get on the diet and go down. I want to take a little break from that and go up. I think this is the best choice for me right now. And they don’t have nobody in my division.”

RelatedAmanda Nunes: Cris Cyborg and I should fight to 'leave our marks on the sport'

Finding competition for Cyborg hasn’t always been an easy task, but Nunes is chomping at the bit to fight her countrywoman. She said it’s nothing personal but that she can be the one to halt Cyborg’s 20-fight unbeaten streak.

“I know she’s powerful, I know she’s a great fighter, but when it comes to a fighter, I am as well,” Nunes said. “I’m not scared to step in front of her at all. … Why am I going to be afraid of her? I respect her as a fighter, but I know I have a huge chance to take this belt, for sure.”

Should Nunes get her wish and fight Cyborg sooner than later, she could join Conor McGregor as the only fighters to hold UFC titles in two divisions at the same time. The possibility of making history thrills Nunes, she said, and though it might throw the 135-pound division into disarray, she’s willing to make the sacrifices.

“I did so much for the 135 division, and it’s going to be heartbreaking to let that belt go and not keep defending, but we’ll see (if I would have to vacate),” Nunes said. “I’m going to sit down with Dana White and see what he can do. I would love to defend both if I have to. But I know it’s hard, but I might have to pick one for sure.

“In general it’s going to be huge for women’s MMA. That’s why I’m very excited. It’s never happened, a girl trying to get two belts. I’m going to be the first one. And if it happens, I’m going to be the only one. And I want to be that. This makes me excited.”

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

Sep 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Valentina Shevchenko (blue gloves) reacts after losing her fight against Amanda Nunes (red gloves) during UFC 215 at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports Sep 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Amanda Nunes (red gloves) fights Valentina Shevchenko (blue gloves) during UFC 215 at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports Sep 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Amanda Nunes (red gloves) fights Valentina Shevchenko (blue gloves) during UFC 215 at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports Sep 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Amanda Nunes (red gloves) fights Valentina Shevchenko (blue gloves) during UFC 215 at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports Sep 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Amanda Nunes (red gloves) fights Valentina Shevchenko (blue gloves) during UFC 215 at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports Sep 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Amanda Nunes (red gloves) fights Valentina Shevchenko (blue gloves) during UFC 215 at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports Sep 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Amanda Nunes (red gloves) fights Valentina Shevchenko (blue gloves) during UFC 215 at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports Sep 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Amanda Nunes (red gloves) fights Valentina Shevchenko (blue gloves) during UFC 215 at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports Sep 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Amanda Nunes (red gloves) fights Valentina Shevchenko (blue gloves) during UFC 215 at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports Sep 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Amanda Nunes (red gloves) fights Valentina Shevchenko (blue gloves) during UFC 215 at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports Sep 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Amanda Nunes (red gloves) fights Valentina Shevchenko (blue gloves) during UFC 215 at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports Sep 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Amanda Nunes (red gloves) fights Valentina Shevchenko (blue gloves) during UFC 215 at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports Sep 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Amanda Nunes (red gloves) fights Valentina Shevchenko (blue gloves) during UFC 215 at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports Sep 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Amanda Nunes (red gloves) celebrates with the championship belt after defeating Valentina Shevchenko (blue gloves) during UFC 215 at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports Sep 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Amanda Nunes (red gloves) celebrates with the championship belt after defeating Valentina Shevchenko (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/VmdxYzNRQCwFjN3cFenG9g/299752", customAnalytics: true, title: "Nunes def. Shevchenko", feedsrc: 2 } );(typeof _usdpgw == "undefined") ? _usdpgw = new _usdpGalleryWall(window._usmgOptions) : _usdpgw.start();

Why Eryk Anders isn't 'like all giddy or excited' about UFC headliner with Lyoto Machida

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When Eryk Anders had his first professional MMA bout back in 2015, Lyoto Machida had already won and lost the UFC’s light-heavyweight belt and fought for UFC titles another two times.

Cut to early 2018. Anders (10-0 MMA, 2-0 UFC), who’s beaten every opponent who’s come his way since, is now booked to fight Machida. It’s a headliner – and on Machida’s (22-8 MMA, 14-8 UFC) home turf. Which means that, in what will only be his third UFC fight, Anders already has his face on posters, next to a former champion.

RelatedOfficial poster and latest card for 'UFC Fight Night 125: Machida vs. Anders'

But if Anders is in any way fazed by the instant raise in profile, he’s not letting it show.

“This is what I want,” Anders told MMAjunkie Radio. “This is the next step – the next rung on the ladder in my career. So I really don’t put a whole bunch of thought and a whole bunch of stock into it.

“He’s just the next guy that I’m fighting. I’m not like all giddy or excited or anything like that. I’ve got to go out there, take care of business, and try to climb that middleweight ladder.”

The 185-pound bout headlines Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 125 event, which airs on FS1 from Mangueirinho Gymnasium in Belem, Para, Brazil. While that isn’t where Machida was born, it is where he was raised and spent most of his life, before moving to the U.S.

It makes sense that Anders doesn’t seem particularly intimidated. After all, the surging middleweight was the one who asked to be paired with Machida. The somewhat contained callout came shortly after Anders’ second UFC win, over Markus Perez, in a battle of unbeatens at Dec. 9’s UFC Fight Night 123 event.

RelatedUFC Fight Night 123 results: Eryk Anders dominates Markus Perez, calls out Lyoto Machida

Quick turnarounds clearly aren’t that big of a deal for Anders, who won LFA’s middleweight title less than a month before kicking off his his UFC run with the dismantlement of veteran Rafael Natal.

This time, though, he has to deal with a notoriously tricky counter-attacker who’s made a career out of eluding and misleading his opponents with his karate-based movement.

Anders, however, isn’t at all worried about the short preparation time to meet Machida. In fact, he thinks it’s his 39-year-old opponent, who looks to break the first three-fight skid of his career, who has cause for concern on Saturday.

“I think I’m the one that he needs to prep for,” Anders said. “I think my pressure is what beats Lyoto – not giving him space to throw all those things and front kicks. And, you know, to explode with that left hand of his. I think I’m the problem in this fight.”

To hear from Anders, check out the video above.

And for more on UFC Fight Night 125, 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.

Jul 22, 2017; Long Island, NY, USA; Eryk Anders (blue gloves) reacts to fight against Rafael Natal (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Nassau Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports Nov 21, 2009; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Eryk Anders (32) during the game against the Chattanooga Mocs at Bryant Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports Nov 29, 2008; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA: Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Eryk Anders (32) reacts after sacking Auburn Tigers quarterback Kodi Burns (18) during the first half of the Iron Bowl at Bryant Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports Oct 24, 2009; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Eryk Anders (32) attempts to block the pass of Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Jonathan Crompton (8) at Bryant Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports Jan 7, 2010; Pasadena, CA, USA; Texas Longhorns quarterback Garrett Gilbert (3) fumbles as he is sacked by Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Eryk Anders (32) during the fourth quarter of the 2010 BCS national championship game at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Jul 22, 2017; Long Island, NY, USA; Rafael Natal (red gloves) fights Eryk Anders (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Nassau Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports Jul 22, 2017; Long Island, NY, USA; Rafael Natal (red gloves) fights Eryk Anders (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Nassau Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports Jul 22, 2017; Long Island, NY, USA; Rafael Natal (red gloves) fights Eryk Anders (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Nassau Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports Jul 22, 2017; Long Island, NY, USA; Rafael Natal (red gloves) fights Eryk Anders (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Nassau Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports Jul 22, 2017; Long Island, NY, USA; Eryk Anders (blue gloves) reacts to fight against Rafael Natal (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Nassau Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports December 9, 2017; Fresno, CA, USA; Eryk Anders (red gloves) fights Markus Perez (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Save Mart Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports December 9, 2017; Fresno, CA, USA; Eryk Anders (red gloves) fights Markus Perez (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Save Mart Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports December 9, 2017; Fresno, CA, USA; Eryk Anders (red gloves) fights Markus Perez (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Save Mart Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports December 9, 2017; Fresno, CA, USA; Eryk Anders (red gloves) fights Markus Perez (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Save Mart Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports December 9, 2017; Fresno, CA, USA; Eryk Anders (red gloves) fights Markus Perez (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Save Mart Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-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/XeoSw22FriqHk66aooWmSD/299963", customAnalytics: true, title: "Eryk Anders", feedsrc: 2 } );(typeof _usdpgw == "undefined") ? _usdpgw = new _usdpGalleryWall(window._usmgOptions) : _usdpgw.start();

Roy Jones Jr. would un-retire quickly to fight ex-UFC champ Anderson Silva

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LAS VEGAS – Former boxing champ and pound-for-pound great Roy Jones Jr. is set to retire after he faces Scott Sigmon on Feb. 8 in his hometown of Pensacola, Fla.

But Jones gladly would step back into the ring if he could put together a fight with former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva.

“Of course (I would), because it’s not a fight – it’s an event,” said Jones, who was at the UFC’s Performance Institute in Las Vegas today to promote his final bout, which streams live on UFC Fight Pass. “And events always interest me. It’s a huge event that interests both of us.”

Silva (34-8 MMA, 17-4 UFC) and Jones (65-9 boxing) repeatedly pushed to fight each other in the square circle during Silva’s reign as UFC middleweight champ. The bout never materialized, however, and the idea died down as they moved on to other challenges.

Jones tried to make the fight happen on several occasions, pushing UFC President Dana White in 2009 and 2013. He expected the bout to do huge business at the box office, but he said White always had “other plans” for Silva.

As it turned out, the idea of a crossover boxing fight was simply before its time. Three years after Jones and White last talked about the possibility, UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor (21-3 MMA, 9-1 UFC) and undefeated boxing kingpin Floyd Mayweather (50-0) fought in the second biggest domestic pay-per-view event of all time.

Jones’ passion for a meeting with Silva hasn’t waned through all the years. Seeing the success of “The Money Fight” only fed it.

“I was so interested (in the fight with Silva), because I knew that, just like the Conor McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather fight turned out to be one of the best events of all time, I knew that the Roy Jones vs. Anderson Silva event would have been one of the best events of all time,” he said. “So when you talk boxing, it’s one thing, when you talk MMA fighting, it’s another thing, but when you talk events, it’s a whole other light.

“It’s still something people would want to see. I definitely would watch it, even if I wasn’t even Roy Jones. I would still want to watch it, because I want to see how good he is pulling off Roy’s tricks, and could he use those tricks against him. Yet I’d also want to see what Roy came up with new and different because he’s confident about the old stuff. You’ve got to come up with something different. It’s more of an event than a boxing match, and events always outweigh boxing matches.”

Jones recently told TMZ Sports that Silva hasn’t lost interest in the fight. The only problem is, White still hasn’t given his blessing. Silva’s temporary suspension by UFC anti-doping partner USADA can’t be helping matters; the ex-champ was scheduled to headline UFC Fight Night 122 opposite Kelvin Gastelum (13-3 MMA, 8-3 UFC) this past November before the unfortunate news.

If the fight did happen, though, Jones said he would take it as seriously as any previous matchup.

“I would get in top shape and be ready to win it, because I’m not planning on losing nothing,” he said. “Only thing I’m going to lose is weight.”

Now that the blueprint has been established by McGregor and Mayweather, Jones said it only benefits both sports to start thinking creatively about how to pair boxing and MMA for big events.

“When you see two guys come together and make over $100 million, do you think it’s good for each other? You’d be a fool if you didn’t support UFC and boxing, because look what you all can do together,” he said.

For more from Jones, check out the video above of his full meeting with the media in Las Vegas.

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

Feb 27, 2016; London, United Kingdom; Anderson Silva (red gloves) competes against Michael Bisping (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at O2 Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Feb 27, 2016; London, United Kingdom; Anderson Silva (red gloves) competes against Michael Bisping (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at O2 Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Feb 27, 2016; London, United Kingdom; Anderson Silva (red gloves) competes against Michael Bisping (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at O2 Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Feb 27, 2016; London, United Kingdom; Anderson Silva (red gloves) competes against Michael Bisping (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at O2 Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Feb 27, 2016; London, United Kingdom; Anderson Silva (red gloves) competes against Michael Bisping (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at O2 Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Feb 27, 2016; London, United Kingdom; Anderson Silva (red gloves) reacts during his fight against Michael Bisping (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at O2 Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Feb 27, 2016; London, United Kingdom; Anderson Silva (red gloves) competes against Michael Bisping (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at O2 Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Feb 27, 2016; London, United Kingdom; Anderson Silva (red gloves) competes against Michael Bisping (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at O2 Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Feb 27, 2016; London, United Kingdom; Anderson Silva (red gloves) during his fight against Michael Bisping (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at O2 Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Feb 27, 2016; London, United Kingdom; Anderson Silva (red gloves) before his fight against Michael Bisping (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at O2 Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Feb 27, 2016; London, United Kingdom; Anderson Silva (red gloves) before his fight against Michael Bisping (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at O2 Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Jul 11, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; UFC mixed martial artist Anderson Silva throws out the ceremonial first pitch before the MLB game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports Jan 31, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Anderson Silva (red gloves) exits the ring after defeating Nick Diaz (blue gloves) in a middleweight bout during UFC 183 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Jan 31, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Anderson Silva (red gloves) reacts after defeating Nick Diaz (not pictured) following their middleweight bout during UFC 183 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Jan 31, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Anderson Silva (red gloves) reacts after defeating Nick Diaz (blue gloves) during their middleweight bout at UFC 183 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Jan 31, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Anderson Silva (red gloves) punches at Nick Diaz (blue gloves) during their middleweight bout during UFC 183 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Jan 31, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Anderson Silva (red gloves) prepares to fight Nick Diaz (not pictured) in a middleweight bout during UFC 183 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Jan 30, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Anderson Silva at the weigh in for his middleweight bout agains Nick Diaz (not pictured) at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Dec 27, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Anderson Silva on stage during the weigh-in for his UFC Middleweight Title Fight against Chris Weidman (not pictured) at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Jul 6, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Anderson Silva after losing to Chris Weidman in their Middleweight Chamionship Bout in the second round with a TKO at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Jul 6, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Anderson Silva (yellow shorts) is introduced for his Middleweight Chamionship Bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Chris Weidman defeated Anderson in a TKO in the second round. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Jul 6, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Anderson Silva (yellow shorts) is introduced for his Middleweight Chamionship Bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Chris Weidman defeated Anderson in a TKO in the second round. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Jul 6, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Anderson Silva (yellow shorts) gets ready to go into the cage for his Middleweight Chamionship Bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Chris Weidman defeated Anderson in a TKO in the second round. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Jul 6, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Anderson Silva enters the arena for his Middleweight Chamionship Bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Chirs Weidman defeated Anderson in a TKO in the second round. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Nov 17, 2012; Montreal, QC, Canada; Anderson Silva gives a press conference to members of the media prior to UFC 154 at the Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports Jul. 7, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC fighter Anderson Silva celebrates after defeating Chael Sonnen during a middleweight bout in UFC 148 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Jul. 7, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC fighter Anderson Silva prior to a middleweight bout in UFC 148 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Jul. 7, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC fighter Anderson Silva celebrates after defeating Chael Sonnen (not pictured) during a middleweight bout in UFC 148 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Jul. 7, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC fighter Anderson Silva celebrates after defeating Chael Sonnen (not pictured) during a middleweight bout in UFC 148 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. 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Navajo Nation honors UFC women's flyweight champ Nicco Montano

Inaugural UFC women’s flyweight champion Nicco Montano was the feel-good story of “The Ultimate Fighter 26.”

Now, her community is recognizing her accomplishments.

Montano (4-2 MMA, 1-0 UFC), a Navajo Nation member from the community of Lukachukai, was given a special mention and honorary plaque at the 23rd Navajo Nation Council.

“In the midst of all of our challenges, there are always special people who find a way to inspire and uplift us,” said council delegate Tom Chee. “It is an honor to have the UFC champion with us today and it warms our hearts to know that you come from Lukachukai – from the Navajo Nation.”

Montano, 29, thanked her supporters and family for the special honor. She also received a gift from council speaker LoRenzo Bates.

A last-minute opponent shift threw a curveball to Montano after three wins on the show. Finalist Sijara Eubanks (2-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC) was scratched after a bad weight cut and replaced by veteran Roxanne Modafferi (21-14 MMA, 0-2 UFC).

Montano endured a broken foot in the bout, but battled her way to a unanimous decision for the inaugural UFC women’s flyweight title. After the fight, she vowed to use her win purse to rent a new apartment and buy her cats some special treats.

Awaiting her next fight, Montano now has a nice plaque for her new apartment.

For complete coverage of The Ultimate Fighter 26 Finale, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

Dec 1, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Nicco Montano (red gloves) celebrates after defeating Roxanne Modafferi (blue gloves) during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Dec 1, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Nicco Montano (red gloves) fights Roxanne Modafferi (blue gloves) during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Dec 1, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Nicco Montano (red gloves) fights Roxanne Modafferi (blue gloves) during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Dec 1, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Nicco Montano (red gloves) fights Roxanne Modafferi (blue gloves) during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Dec 1, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Nicco Montano (red gloves) fights Roxanne Modafferi (blue gloves) during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Dec 1, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Nicco Montano (red gloves) fights Roxanne Modafferi (blue gloves) during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Dec 1, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Nicco Montano (red gloves) fights Roxanne Modafferi (blue gloves) during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Dec 1, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Nicco Montano (red gloves) fights Roxanne Modafferi (blue gloves) during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Dec 1, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Nicco Montano (red gloves) fights Roxanne Modafferi (blue gloves) during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Dec 1, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Nicco Montano (red gloves) fights Roxanne Modafferi (blue gloves) during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Dec 1, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Nicco Montano (red gloves) fights Roxanne Modafferi (blue gloves) during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Dec 1, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Nicco Montano (red gloves) fights Roxanne Modafferi (blue gloves) during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Dec 1, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Nicco Montano (red gloves) fights Roxanne Modafferi (blue gloves) during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Dec 1, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Nicco Montano (red gloves) fights Roxanne Modafferi (blue gloves) during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Dec 1, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Nicco Montano (red gloves) fights Roxanne Modafferi (blue gloves) during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Dec 1, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Nicco Montano (red gloves) fights Roxanne Modafferi (blue gloves) during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Dec 1, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Nicco Montano (red gloves) fights Roxanne Modafferi (blue gloves) during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Dec 1, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Nicco Montano (red gloves) fights Roxanne Modafferi (blue gloves) during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Dec 1, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Nicco Montano (red gloves) fights Roxanne Modafferi (blue gloves) during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Dec 1, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Nicco Montano (red gloves) fights Roxanne Modafferi (blue gloves) during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Dec 1, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Nicco Montano (red gloves) fights Roxanne Modafferi (blue gloves) during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Dec 1, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Nicco Montano (red gloves) fights Roxanne Modafferi (blue gloves) during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Dec 1, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Nicco Montano (red gloves) celebrates after defeating Roxanne Modafferi (not pictured) during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Dec 1, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Nicco Montano (red gloves) celebrates after defeating Roxanne Modafferi (not pictured) during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Dec 1, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Nicco Montano (red gloves) celebrates after defeating Roxanne Modafferi (blue gloves) during The Ultimate Fighter Finale at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-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/QdfxWVJgx5bKd3v9a2FafU/300013", customAnalytics: true, title: "Montano def. Modafferi", feedsrc: 2 } );(typeof _usdpgw == "undefined") ? _usdpgw = new _usdpGalleryWall(window._usmgOptions) : _usdpgw.start();

Triple H explains how the WWE signed former UFC champ Ronda Rousey

(This story first was published at For The Win.)

Stephanie McMahon, Ronda Rousey, Triple H

The WWE introduced one of the biggest free-agent signings in the history of the company Sunday night in Philadelphia when “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey made a surprise appearance at the end of the inaugural Women’s Royal Rumble match.

It had been speculated for months that the former UFC women’s bantamweight champion could be making the jump to professional wrestling, but Rousey is intent on a making a full-on career change, and has signed a full-time deal with WWE with a little more than two months until WrestleMania 34.

On the day after her electrifying debut, Paul “Triple H” Levesque, the WWE’s executive vice president of talent, live events and creative, spoke to For The Win about the story behind the signing of Rousey, one of the most influential stars in all of sports.

When did you first start having conversations about trying to bring in Ronda?

Triple H: It’s one of those things that happened organically. I had heard about her being a big fan. There were a few things we sort of inadvertently connected with each other on without actually meeting. She came and did the Ice Bucket Challenge with Steph [McMahon] when we were in L.A., and even then she kind of floated it out how much she loved [WWE].

And just her knowledge of what we do was so deep. She would mention at the time, ‘Oh, I’d love to do this. When I get done, this is what I want to do.’ She would always say that: ‘This is what I want to do,’ you know, but you hear that a lot. But over the years it slowly morphed into things. She did the stuff with us at (Wrestle)Mania, and we’ve just had conversations over and over.

And then this year it really escalated. We had not been in contact other than a little text here and there… She called to ask about coming to the Performance Center, if she could come in there and be with a few of her friends for a bachelorette party. And we had a discussion about it, and during that discussion, boy, it really started to come up that this is something she was not just throwing out there or suggesting – it was something that she really wanted to do.

It’s something that she’s really wanted to do the whole time. She was dead serious every time she mentioned it to me. On our end, you hear that a lot, it’s usually just people saying something. She was dead serious the whole time.

With the Rumble approaching and WrestleMania a couple of months away, was there pressure to get a deal done so the timing would be perfect?

It’s funny, there wasn’t pressure on the timing of this at all of necessarily the Rumble part. It really just came together. There wasn’t a lot of back-and-forth or like intense negotiations. It kept coming up in the media, and to be honest we had had conversations but we just hadn’t – between her schedule and my schedule – we just hadn’t sat down and said ‘what do we want to do here?’

And she’s been training this whole time, specifically for WWE. She’s been training intensely this whole time, and I knew that and I knew what her intent was, but we had yet to sit down and have that deep conversation about it. Once we did, the timing just worked out. Once we did, it went extremely quick from there.

… She was sending me bits and pieces of training footage along the way, so I knew she was serious. It was just a matter of getting time to sit and talk. Once we did it was really quick, and it was a thing like, ‘Hey, I’m ready to go now if you want me to do something right away.’ So that changed our thinking, and we went from there.

Now that she’s signed, in your perspective, how big of a get is Ronda Rousey for WWE? Do you expect her to bring a new audience?

Well I think that it’s a huge set of eyeballs, but the thing that I’m most excited about is just the talent. I get it, from a PR standpoint. I get that she’s going to bring in a different level of awareness of WWE on every level, and especially with the Women’s Evolution going on right now in WWE – the Women’s Rumble, the Hell in a Cell match and all the things that are coming down the pike. … The timing is perfect.

But the thing I’m really excited about is the fact that this is not a one-off. It’s not a, ‘Oh, I’m going to teach you to do this, you’re going to do it one time and you’re going to go away.’ She’s here. She’s a talent, and she’s a remarkable athlete, obviously, and a remarkable person.

She just picks this up. She gets it, she understands it. She’s all in, and that’s a really cool thing. To me, that’s what I’m the most excited about, because to me it’s for delivering for our fans that we already have, let alone showing those new ones. The [fans] we already have, I know there’s a couple of them questioning and all that stuff. They’re going to be thrilled. I’m telling you, she is going to win them over because she is just like them. She’s been a fan since she was a little kid. I think it was probably one of her first things that she loved, was WWE.

She’s so into it that her passion boils over when you talk to her about it, and she’s going to knock this out of the park.

How much planning goes in to keeping Ronda’s entrance at the Royal Rumble a surprise for fans?

It’s harder than you think in this world of social media. As it was coming down to making the decision we wanted to do this, there were a lot of last-minute things. She was in Colombia doing the movie. Trying to get somebody on a flight that is as famous as Ronda is, and as visible as she is – and internationally she’s almost bigger than she is in he U.S. – on a flight, into the country, through customs, clear security, on another flight to Philly, shuttle to a hotel, into the service entry, brought to a bus, hidden in the arena the whole day, and not until right before she walks out there does anybody see her.

It was a monumental task – it took a large team. But it’s all for trying to create a moment for our fans, and trying to create a moment for the world where you just have … while people expect it, they don’t know. And it’s so difficult now because the second somebody is seen somewhere, social media is all over it. The world cannot wait to be the person to say ‘I was the one who saw her,’ or ‘I broke this.’ So when you’re able to pull off something that’s a big surprise like that, it’s great. Trust me, we all kept it very, very quiet on all fronts. Very few people knew … there was only a handful at best that knew.

Last week TMZ snapped a photo of you after having a secret dinner with Rousey in Los Angeles. When you’re trying to plan a big surprise, does that kind of stuff drive you nuts?

Part of it is great because it fuels speculation, fuels conversation which fuels excitement. You just don’t want it to ruin the moment. It’s like trying to pull off a surprise party for your kids or something like that. They might suspect, but they don’t know. You just want it to be a surprise, you want it to be fun.

The dinner thing in LA, people made such a huge deal out of it…. I was in LA for a totally different reason. Was coming back, I had a series of meetings and my last meeting ended close to LAX. I was taking a red-eye, and I had a couple of hours. I just reached out and said, ‘Hey if you’re free, I’m going to be there, we can have dinner and chat and catch up on some stuff and see if we can get closer.’

We were able to make it happen, that’s all it was. I got a private room, and right before we were about to leave the restaurant people came in and said, ‘Wow, there’s a ton of paparazzi and film crews outside.’ So we all tried to go out different doors and I three-quarters made it out unscathed before they caught a distant shot of me getting in a car. But it was all good. Speculation creates things. It’s funny, people try to say, ‘Oh they lied to us,’ or something … we’re trying to create excitement and surprise you! Go with it.

What are the next steps for her development?

She’ll finish up this movie, and then she’s in. She’ll be at the Performance Center, she’ll be training and working with us every day. And we’ll see where it goes. It is not for lack of desire or motivation, if anything. The two times she has been at the Performance Center training, we’ve had to try to get her to back off because she will train all day and all night if we let her.

What kind of reactions have you been getting from the rest of the roster?

I think they’re thrilled.

It’s funny, when Ronda came back, all she wanted to do was see those other girls in the Rumble and tell them how great it was. Before we brought her out I was with her watching the tail end of the Women’s Rumble … and she is such a fan of the talent and everybody that’s working that it’s hard for them when they’re around her, like she’s almost in awe of them, in some ways, as much as they look at her because she’s from outside.

She fits right in. It’s a funny thing: Very few people come into something like this – and I’ve seen a lot of them over 25 years – they come in and there’s a difference. There’s a difference in their mentality and they way they are, and it takes a little while to fit in.

Any time she’s ever been around us, it’s like this is where she should have been her whole life. She’s just like everybody else who is in our locker room. There’s no pretenses, there’s no ego, there’s no anything. She just fits right into them. I think, from that standpoint, they can’t wait to rub up against her and kind of get that opportunity. It’s going to put a lot of eyes on them and it’s going to elevate their careers and it’s going to elevate what we do.

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

December 30, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Ronda Rousey fights against Amanda Nunes during UFC 207 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports December 30, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Amanda Nunes (right) against Ronda Rousey during UFC 207 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports December 30, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Amanda Nunes lands punches while Ronda Rousey is against the cage during UFC 207 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports December 30, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Ronda Rousey reacts against the cage after being hit in the face during UFC 207 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports December 30, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Ronda Rousey leaves with her mother AnnMaria DeMars follwing her loss against Amanda Nunes during UFC 207 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Nov 15, 2015; Melbourne, Australia; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) competes against Holly Holm (blue gloves) during UFC 193 at Etihad Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports Nov 15, 2015; Melbourne, Australia; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) competes against Holly Holm (blue gloves) during UFC 193 at Etihad Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports Nov 15, 2015; Melbourne, Australia; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) competes against Holly Holm (blue gloves) during UFC 193 at Etihad Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports Sep 4, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC Women's Bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey answers questions for fans before the weigh-ins for UFC 191 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Sep 4, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC Women's Bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey answers questions for fans before the weigh-ins for UFC 191 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Sep 4, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC Champion Ronda Rousey holds her championship belt before the weigh-in at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) celebrates after defeating Bethe Correia (not pictured) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) celebrates after defeating Bethe Correia (not pictured) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) reacts after knocking out Bethe Correia (not pictured) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) fights Bethe Correia (blue gloves) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) reacts after knocking out Bethe Correia (blue gloves) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) looks on prior to her fight against Bethe Correia (not pictured) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) vs. Bethe Correia (blue gloves) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) looks on prior to her fight against Bethe Correia (not pictured) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rowdy Rousey (red gloves) looks on prior to her fight against Bethe Pitbull Correia (not pictured) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Jul 31, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey during weigh-ins for UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Jul 15, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; UFC champion Ronda Rousey arrives for the 2015 ESPY's award show at Nokia Theater. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Feb 28, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) reacts after defeating Cat Zingano (not pictured) during their women's bantamweight title bout at UFC 184 at Staples Center. Rousey won in 14 seconds of the first round. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Feb 28, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) and Cat Zingano (blue gloves) during their women's bantamweight title bout at UFC 184 at Staples Center. Rousey won in 14 seconds of the first round. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Feb 28, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Ronda Rousey arrives in the arena to defend her women's bantamweight title against Cat Zingano (not pictured) at UFC 184 at Staples Center. Rousey won in 14 seconds of the first round. 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Will the WWE give Ronda Rousey what MMA no longer could?

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Ronda Rousey is a pro wrestler now. A real one, she insists. A full-time, year-round, totally committed one, to hear her tell it.

“This is my life now,” Rousey told ESPN.com. “First priority on my timeline for the next several years. This is not a smash-and-grab; this is not a publicity stunt.”

In other words, it’s her new career, or so she hopes. There’s ample reason for her to be optimistic about it, too.

RelatedWWE's Ronda Rousey won't talk about UFC losses, says she's not retired

For one thing, there’s historical precedence. Talent has always moved relatively easily between pro wrestling and MMA, where there’s a hefty crossover audience and some similar job requirements. And while Rousey’s acting chops might not have been good enough for Hollywood, the theatrical expectations in the WWE are a little different. (Although it’s still telling that in her appearance at Sunday’s Royal Rumble, she did more posing and pointing than talking.)

Wrestling fans are already excited about her, which is a good sign. Just like the UFC was happy to embrace Brock Lesnar and Phil “CM Punk” Brooks for the pay-per-view buys they’d coax out of fans on the other side of the aisle, the WWE will obviously be happy to leverage Rousey’s MMA fame the same way.

But this new beginning also feels like an ending. Rousey to the WWE really closes the book on Rousey in the UFC, at least for the foreseeable future. It’s kind of like opening Facebook one day and seeing that your ex got married: Even if you never wanted them back, and even if you know it’s for the best, now it’s finally for real.

Rousey leaves behind a complicated legacy in MMA. Without question, she was a pioneer, the lone female star who could convince UFC President Dana White to give women’s MMA the shot it deserved. She brought a different kind of spotlight to the sport, and with it came new fans, some of whom probably even stuck around after she was gone.

But truth be told, she didn’t always like it here. She was the sorest of losers, often a less-than gracious winner, and she took criticism the way a wild horse takes a rider. At times she seemed to think she was doing the MMA world a great big favor by continuing to fight, as if she weren’t cashing huge checks every time she stepped in the cage.

RelatedTwitter reacts to Ronda Rousey's WWE debut at Royal Rumble

She was, without question, a transformative figure in the sport. Then she lost two fights, the latter of which she seemed particularly unprepared and unenthusiastic for, and she disappeared almost overnight.

In that sense, she was the exact opposite of many of the stars who came before. Fighters like Chuck Liddell and Matt Hughes had to be dragged out of the sport, kicking and screaming. After five years and 14 pro fights, Rousey seemed perfectly content to take her fame and her money and seek her happiness elsewhere.

First it was movies, then reality TV. Now it’s the WWE, where image is everything and you never have to lose except for when it’s part of the storyline.

Maybe Rousey will like it better there, where she’ll get to play the role of herself, only this time with someone else supplying the script. Maybe she can blaze a new trail through that industry the way she did with this one. It should help that she gets to start out as a star.

But you have to wonder how long someone as competitive as Rousey will be satisfied with a “sport” where the wins are worked out ahead of time. You also have to wonder if someone so sensitive to slights both real and perceived will still like that world a year from now.

For the time being, Rousey to the WWE is a marriage that makes a lot of sense. Then again, both parties know their way around a breakup.

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

December 30, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Ronda Rousey fights against Amanda Nunes during UFC 207 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports December 30, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Amanda Nunes (right) against Ronda Rousey during UFC 207 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports December 30, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Amanda Nunes lands punches while Ronda Rousey is against the cage during UFC 207 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports December 30, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Ronda Rousey reacts against the cage after being hit in the face during UFC 207 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports December 30, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Ronda Rousey leaves with her mother AnnMaria DeMars follwing her loss against Amanda Nunes during UFC 207 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Nov 15, 2015; Melbourne, Australia; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) competes against Holly Holm (blue gloves) during UFC 193 at Etihad Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports Nov 15, 2015; Melbourne, Australia; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) competes against Holly Holm (blue gloves) during UFC 193 at Etihad Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports Nov 15, 2015; Melbourne, Australia; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) competes against Holly Holm (blue gloves) during UFC 193 at Etihad Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports Sep 4, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC Women's Bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey answers questions for fans before the weigh-ins for UFC 191 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Sep 4, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC Women's Bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey answers questions for fans before the weigh-ins for UFC 191 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Sep 4, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC Champion Ronda Rousey holds her championship belt before the weigh-in at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) celebrates after defeating Bethe Correia (not pictured) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) celebrates after defeating Bethe Correia (not pictured) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) reacts after knocking out Bethe Correia (not pictured) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) fights Bethe Correia (blue gloves) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) reacts after knocking out Bethe Correia (blue gloves) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) looks on prior to her fight against Bethe Correia (not pictured) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) vs. Bethe Correia (blue gloves) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) looks on prior to her fight against Bethe Correia (not pictured) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rowdy Rousey (red gloves) looks on prior to her fight against Bethe Pitbull Correia (not pictured) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Jul 31, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey during weigh-ins for UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Jul 15, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; UFC champion Ronda Rousey arrives for the 2015 ESPY's award show at Nokia Theater. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Feb 28, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) reacts after defeating Cat Zingano (not pictured) during their women's bantamweight title bout at UFC 184 at Staples Center. Rousey won in 14 seconds of the first round. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Feb 28, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) and Cat Zingano (blue gloves) during their women's bantamweight title bout at UFC 184 at Staples Center. Rousey won in 14 seconds of the first round. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Feb 28, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Ronda Rousey arrives in the arena to defend her women's bantamweight title against Cat Zingano (not pictured) at UFC 184 at Staples Center. Rousey won in 14 seconds of the first round. 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Ex-WWE champ Jinder Mahal's advice to Ronda Rousey: Have passion, or you won't last

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PHILADELPHIA – Jinder Mahal had left the arena and was driving home after Sunday’s WWE Royal Rumble when his phone started to ping; Ronda Rousey had showed up.

The former WWE champ and pro wrestling vet knew nothing of his promotion’s plans to sign the former UFC women’s bantamweight champion to a contract. So like everyone else, he was a bit surprised when this happened:

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Being in the business of selling storylines, Mahal also was impressed at Rousey’s headfake. Three days before the event, she dismissed the possibility of a Royal Rumble appearance and said she’d instead be filming “Mile 22” in Colombia.

“She did a good job, too,” Mahal told MMAjunkie. “So it’s amazing, and I can’t wait until Wrestlemania.”

Rousey (12-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC) called her shot at Sunday’s pay-per-view event in Philadelphia, pointing to a WrestleMania graphic and beefing with wrestlers Asuka and WWE women’s champions Alexa Bliss and Charlotte Flair. Then she shared an awkward handshake with WWE exec Stephanie McMahon and made her exit.

RelatedTwitter reacts to Ronda Rousey's WWE debut at Royal Rumble

Rousey’s turn reminds Mahal of Mike Tyson’s brief flirtation with professional wrestling. But he’s also encouraged by the fact that the former UFC champ seems to be taking her new endeavor seriously by signing a long-term deal.

“That speaks volumes for her,” he said. “I know she’s a big wrestling fan growing up, and her name comes from ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper. She’s a wrestling fan, and I know she has a passion for the business, which is sometimes the hardest thing, because sometimes people come from the outside and they don’t have the passion for it. It’s just a one-time deal – oh, Wrestlemania – and it’s big paycheck.

“That’s awesome that she’s signed fulltime. Just like she dominated the UFC, she’s going to dominate pro wrestling.”

RelatedWWE's Ronda Rousey won't talk about UFC losses, says she's not retired

Mahal also has some advice for Rousey if she wants to stay successful in the WWE.

“You’ve got to have passion for it,” he said. “Other than that, it’s way too hard to survive. We’re in so many cities, the amount of traveling we do, the wear and tear on our bodies – if you’re not passionate about it, you won’t last.

“Just have fun. That’s what it’s about.”

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

December 30, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Ronda Rousey fights against Amanda Nunes during UFC 207 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports December 30, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Amanda Nunes (right) against Ronda Rousey during UFC 207 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports December 30, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Amanda Nunes lands punches while Ronda Rousey is against the cage during UFC 207 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports December 30, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Ronda Rousey reacts against the cage after being hit in the face during UFC 207 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports December 30, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Ronda Rousey leaves with her mother AnnMaria DeMars follwing her loss against Amanda Nunes during UFC 207 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Nov 15, 2015; Melbourne, Australia; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) competes against Holly Holm (blue gloves) during UFC 193 at Etihad Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports Nov 15, 2015; Melbourne, Australia; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) competes against Holly Holm (blue gloves) during UFC 193 at Etihad Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports Nov 15, 2015; Melbourne, Australia; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) competes against Holly Holm (blue gloves) during UFC 193 at Etihad Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports Sep 4, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC Women's Bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey answers questions for fans before the weigh-ins for UFC 191 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Sep 4, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC Women's Bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey answers questions for fans before the weigh-ins for UFC 191 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Sep 4, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC Champion Ronda Rousey holds her championship belt before the weigh-in at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) celebrates after defeating Bethe Correia (not pictured) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) celebrates after defeating Bethe Correia (not pictured) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) reacts after knocking out Bethe Correia (not pictured) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) fights Bethe Correia (blue gloves) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) reacts after knocking out Bethe Correia (blue gloves) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) looks on prior to her fight against Bethe Correia (not pictured) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) vs. Bethe Correia (blue gloves) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) looks on prior to her fight against Bethe Correia (not pictured) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rowdy Rousey (red gloves) looks on prior to her fight against Bethe Pitbull Correia (not pictured) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Jul 31, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey during weigh-ins for UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Jul 15, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; UFC champion Ronda Rousey arrives for the 2015 ESPY's award show at Nokia Theater. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Feb 28, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) reacts after defeating Cat Zingano (not pictured) during their women's bantamweight title bout at UFC 184 at Staples Center. Rousey won in 14 seconds of the first round. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Feb 28, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) and Cat Zingano (blue gloves) during their women's bantamweight title bout at UFC 184 at Staples Center. Rousey won in 14 seconds of the first round. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Feb 28, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Ronda Rousey arrives in the arena to defend her women's bantamweight title against Cat Zingano (not pictured) at UFC 184 at Staples Center. Rousey won in 14 seconds of the first round. 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Ex-WWE champ Jinder Mahal's advice to Ronda Rousey: Have passion, or you won't last

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PHILADELPHIA – Jinder Mahal had left the arena and was driving home after Sunday’s WWE Royal Rumble when his phone started to ping; Ronda Rousey had showed up.

The former WWE champ and pro wrestling vet knew nothing of his promotion’s plans to sign the former UFC women’s bantamweight champion to a contract. So like everyone else, he was a bit surprised when this happened:

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Being in the business of selling storylines, Mahal also was impressed at Rousey’s headfake. Three days before the event, she dismissed the possibility of a Royal Rumble appearance and said she’d instead be filming “Mile 22” in Colombia.

“She did a good job, too,” Mahal told MMAjunkie. “So it’s amazing, and I can’t wait until Wrestlemania.”

Rousey (12-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC) called her shot at Sunday’s pay-per-view event in Philadelphia, pointing to a WrestleMania graphic and beefing with wrestlers Asuka and WWE women’s champions Alexa Bliss and Charlotte Flair. Then she shared an awkward handshake with WWE exec Stephanie McMahon and made her exit.

RelatedTwitter reacts to Ronda Rousey's WWE debut at Royal Rumble

Rousey’s turn reminds Mahal of Mike Tyson’s brief flirtation with professional wrestling. But he’s also encouraged by the fact that the former UFC champ seems to be taking her new endeavor seriously by signing a long-term deal.

“That speaks volumes for her,” he said. “I know she’s a big wrestling fan growing up, and her name comes from ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper. She’s a wrestling fan, and I know she has a passion for the business, which is sometimes the hardest thing, because sometimes people come from the outside and they don’t have the passion for it. It’s just a one-time deal – oh, Wrestlemania – and it’s big paycheck.

“That’s awesome that she’s signed fulltime. Just like she dominated the UFC, she’s going to dominate pro wrestling.”

RelatedWWE's Ronda Rousey won't talk about UFC losses, says she's not retired

Mahal also has some advice for Rousey if she wants to stay successful in the WWE.

“You’ve got to have passion for it,” he said. “Other than that, it’s way too hard to survive. We’re in so many cities, the amount of traveling we do, the wear and tear on our bodies – if you’re not passionate about it, you won’t last.

“Just have fun. That’s what it’s about.”

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

December 30, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Ronda Rousey fights against Amanda Nunes during UFC 207 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports December 30, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Amanda Nunes (right) against Ronda Rousey during UFC 207 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports December 30, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Amanda Nunes lands punches while Ronda Rousey is against the cage during UFC 207 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports December 30, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Ronda Rousey reacts against the cage after being hit in the face during UFC 207 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports December 30, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Ronda Rousey leaves with her mother AnnMaria DeMars follwing her loss against Amanda Nunes during UFC 207 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Nov 15, 2015; Melbourne, Australia; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) competes against Holly Holm (blue gloves) during UFC 193 at Etihad Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports Nov 15, 2015; Melbourne, Australia; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) competes against Holly Holm (blue gloves) during UFC 193 at Etihad Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports Nov 15, 2015; Melbourne, Australia; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) competes against Holly Holm (blue gloves) during UFC 193 at Etihad Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports Sep 4, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC Women's Bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey answers questions for fans before the weigh-ins for UFC 191 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Sep 4, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC Women's Bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey answers questions for fans before the weigh-ins for UFC 191 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Sep 4, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC Champion Ronda Rousey holds her championship belt before the weigh-in at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) celebrates after defeating Bethe Correia (not pictured) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) celebrates after defeating Bethe Correia (not pictured) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) reacts after knocking out Bethe Correia (not pictured) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) fights Bethe Correia (blue gloves) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) reacts after knocking out Bethe Correia (blue gloves) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) looks on prior to her fight against Bethe Correia (not pictured) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) vs. Bethe Correia (blue gloves) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) looks on prior to her fight against Bethe Correia (not pictured) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rowdy Rousey (red gloves) looks on prior to her fight against Bethe Pitbull Correia (not pictured) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Jul 31, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey during weigh-ins for UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Jul 15, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; UFC champion Ronda Rousey arrives for the 2015 ESPY's award show at Nokia Theater. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Feb 28, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) reacts after defeating Cat Zingano (not pictured) during their women's bantamweight title bout at UFC 184 at Staples Center. Rousey won in 14 seconds of the first round. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Feb 28, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) and Cat Zingano (blue gloves) during their women's bantamweight title bout at UFC 184 at Staples Center. Rousey won in 14 seconds of the first round. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Feb 28, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Ronda Rousey arrives in the arena to defend her women's bantamweight title against Cat Zingano (not pictured) at UFC 184 at Staples Center. Rousey won in 14 seconds of the first round. 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UFC contender Darren Elkins doesn't give a damn what you think about his 'Damage' tattoo

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Fourth wall break: I’ve been around Darren Elkins, one way or another, for more than 15 years.

When I was an assistant sports editor at “The Times” newspaper in Munster, Ind., Elkins won a state wrestling title. He took part in a showcase wrestling event the paper sponsored that pitted Indiana state champs against their counterparts from across the border in Chicago’s South Suburbs on the Illinois side.

Once Elkins moved on to MMA, I was there when he fought eventual Bellator featherweight champion Pat Curran at the Hammond (Ind.) Civic Center – a fight in which they tumbled through the ring ropes onto a table and had to be reset. I was there when he had a weird and fluke 13-second TKO loss at an outdoor event at a fairgrounds, when the humidity turned the cage surface into a near ice rink.

And, of course, I’ve been covering him in the UFC since he arrived.

Because of all this, I can say with reasonable certainty that if you’d have asked me back in in the early 2000s if I could imagine this soft-spoken, blue-collar kid getting a giant “DAMAGE” tattoo across his chest, for his nickname, I’d have said no way.

And as long as we’re being honest, if Elkins asked me to my face if I thought the tattoo looked good, I’d say, “Dude! Of course, man! I mean, it looks fantastic!” And privately, I’d have to say, “I mean … yeah … no … uhhhh … it’s growing on me … a little? Maybe?”

But here’s the great thing. The 2018 Darren Elkins, and largely the 2017 and 2016 Darren Elkins, is a lot different than the one from way earlier in his career. It’s a version that these days is brimming with confidence, largely thanks to a six-fight featherweight winning streak and a move a couple years ago to Team Alpha Male.

RelatedA record number of attempts later, Darren Elkins finally got his first UFC submission

And the 2018 Darren Elkins seriously does not care if I, or anyone else, thinks that tattoo is … well, whatever.

“If you see my fights, I’m always stitched up, cut up, bleeding – I’m embracing who I am,” Elkins recently told MMAjunkie Radio. “I’m not afraid to be who I am. I know people are saying good things and bad things about the tattoo. But I’m comfortable in my own skin. You don’t have to like my tattoo – that’s fine. You can say whatever you want about it. It’s on my body.

“I really don’t give a (expletive) what anyone else thinks, thank you. I’m comfortable with who I am, and that’s all that matters. And my wife likes it – so that kind of helps, too.”

Elkins (24-5 MMA, 14-4 UFC) has put himself squarely into the title picture at 145 pounds. His straight six wins include two pretty insane comebacks in the past three fights, and those may have left him a little damaged, appropriately. But they’ve also started to really endear him to fight fans.

Against Mirsad Bektic, Eklins, who’s who’s No. 8 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA feather rankings, got lit up for 12 minutes before he mounted a miraculous rally past the midway point of the third round to win with a head kick. It got him his first $50,000 bonus. And against Michael Johnson earlier this month, he got beat up in the first round, then took Johnson down in the second and eventually finished him with a rear-naked choke for another bonus.

RelatedMMAjunkie's '2017 Comeback of the Year': Darren Elkins lives up to 'The Damage' nickname

“Right now, I feel like I’m at my peak,” Elkins said. “I’m reaching my peak right now, and I’m getting better later in my career. I feel like I’m at at the best, and I’m only getting better every fight.”

So now, Elkins said he’ll stay ready – just in case there’s a shot he can get into the featherweight title picture quicker. Champ Max Holloway (19-3 MMA, 15-3 UFC) has been booked to defend his belt against Frankie Edgar (22-5-1 MMA, 16-5-1 UFC) in UFC 222’s main event in March in Las Vegas.

In the meantime, there’s been talk that Elkins, on his big run, might match up well with Brian Ortega (13-0 MMA, 5-0 UFC) – who has said he’d like to sit back and wait for the Holloway-Edgar winner, presuming himself to be next in line for a shot.

“I always stay in shape,” Elkins said. “It’s in my mind, obviously. I’d like to think I’m right there. I’ve got the second (biggest) winning streak in the division right now. I’m going to be ready. You never know what’s going to happen. I know Ortega. I’ve watched him fight quite a few times.

“If they want to do (Ortega vs. me), I’m in.”

For more from Elkins, check out the video above.

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

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

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.

Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) celebrates after winning by submission against Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Michael Johnson (blue gloves) fights Darren Elkins (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Michael Johnson (blue gloves) fights Darren Elkins (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Michael Johnson (blue gloves) fights Darren Elkins (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) fights Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Michael Johnson (blue gloves) fights Darren Elkins (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Michael Johnson (blue gloves) fights Darren Elkins (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) fights Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) fights Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Michael Johnson (blue gloves) fights Darren Elkins (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) fights Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Michael Johnson (blue gloves) fights Darren Elkins (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Michael Johnson (blue gloves) fights Darren Elkins (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) fights Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) fights Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Michael Johnson (blue gloves) fights Darren Elkins (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Michael Johnson (blue gloves) fights Darren Elkins (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) fights Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) fights Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) fights Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) fights Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) fights Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) celebrates after winning by submission against Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) celebrates after winning by submission against Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. 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UFC contender Darren Elkins doesn't give a damn what you think about his 'Damage' tattoo

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Fourth wall break: I’ve been around Darren Elkins, one way or another, for more than 15 years.

When I was an assistant sports editor at “The Times” newspaper in Munster, Ind., Elkins won a state wrestling title. He took part in a showcase wrestling event the paper sponsored that pitted Indiana state champs against their counterparts from across the border in Chicago’s South Suburbs on the Illinois side.

Once Elkins moved on to MMA, I was there when he fought eventual Bellator featherweight champion Pat Curran at the Hammond (Ind.) Civic Center – a fight in which they tumbled through the ring ropes onto a table and had to be reset. I was there when he had a weird and fluke 13-second TKO loss at an outdoor event at a fairgrounds, when the humidity turned the cage surface into a near ice rink.

And, of course, I’ve been covering him in the UFC since he arrived.

Because of all this, I can say with reasonable certainty that if you’d have asked me back in in the early 2000s if I could imagine this soft-spoken, blue-collar kid getting a giant “DAMAGE” tattoo across his chest, for his nickname, I’d have said no way.

And as long as we’re being honest, if Elkins asked me to my face if I thought the tattoo looked good, I’d say, “Dude! Of course, man! I mean, it looks fantastic!” And privately, I’d have to say, “I mean … yeah … no … uhhhh … it’s growing on me … a little? Maybe?”

But here’s the great thing. The 2018 Darren Elkins, and largely the 2017 and 2016 Darren Elkins, is a lot different than the one from way earlier in his career. It’s a version that these days is brimming with confidence, largely thanks to a six-fight featherweight winning streak and a move a couple years ago to Team Alpha Male.

RelatedA record number of attempts later, Darren Elkins finally got his first UFC submission

And the 2018 Darren Elkins seriously does not care if I, or anyone else, thinks that tattoo is … well, whatever.

“If you see my fights, I’m always stitched up, cut up, bleeding – I’m embracing who I am,” Elkins recently told MMAjunkie Radio. “I’m not afraid to be who I am. I know people are saying good things and bad things about the tattoo. But I’m comfortable in my own skin. You don’t have to like my tattoo – that’s fine. You can say whatever you want about it. It’s on my body.

“I really don’t give a (expletive) what anyone else thinks, thank you. I’m comfortable with who I am, and that’s all that matters. And my wife likes it – so that kind of helps, too.”

Elkins (24-5 MMA, 14-4 UFC) has put himself squarely into the title picture at 145 pounds. His straight six wins include two pretty insane comebacks in the past three fights, and those may have left him a little damaged, appropriately. But they’ve also started to really endear him to fight fans.

Against Mirsad Bektic, Eklins, who’s who’s No. 8 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA feather rankings, got lit up for 12 minutes before he mounted a miraculous rally past the midway point of the third round to win with a head kick. It got him his first $50,000 bonus. And against Michael Johnson earlier this month, he got beat up in the first round, then took Johnson down in the second and eventually finished him with a rear-naked choke for another bonus.

RelatedMMAjunkie's '2017 Comeback of the Year': Darren Elkins lives up to 'The Damage' nickname

“Right now, I feel like I’m at my peak,” Elkins said. “I’m reaching my peak right now, and I’m getting better later in my career. I feel like I’m at at the best, and I’m only getting better every fight.”

So now, Elkins said he’ll stay ready – just in case there’s a shot he can get into the featherweight title picture quicker. Champ Max Holloway (19-3 MMA, 15-3 UFC) has been booked to defend his belt against Frankie Edgar (22-5-1 MMA, 16-5-1 UFC) in UFC 222’s main event in March in Las Vegas.

In the meantime, there’s been talk that Elkins, on his big run, might match up well with Brian Ortega (13-0 MMA, 5-0 UFC) – who has said he’d like to sit back and wait for the Holloway-Edgar winner, presuming himself to be next in line for a shot.

“I always stay in shape,” Elkins said. “It’s in my mind, obviously. I’d like to think I’m right there. I’ve got the second (biggest) winning streak in the division right now. I’m going to be ready. You never know what’s going to happen. I know Ortega. I’ve watched him fight quite a few times.

“If they want to do (Ortega vs. me), I’m in.”

For more from Elkins, check out the video above.

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

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

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.

Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) celebrates after winning by submission against Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Michael Johnson (blue gloves) fights Darren Elkins (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Michael Johnson (blue gloves) fights Darren Elkins (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Michael Johnson (blue gloves) fights Darren Elkins (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) fights Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Michael Johnson (blue gloves) fights Darren Elkins (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Michael Johnson (blue gloves) fights Darren Elkins (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) fights Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) fights Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Michael Johnson (blue gloves) fights Darren Elkins (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) fights Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Michael Johnson (blue gloves) fights Darren Elkins (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Michael Johnson (blue gloves) fights Darren Elkins (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) fights Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) fights Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Michael Johnson (blue gloves) fights Darren Elkins (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Michael Johnson (blue gloves) fights Darren Elkins (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) fights Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) fights Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) fights Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) fights Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) fights Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) celebrates after winning by submission against Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports Jan 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Darren Elkins (red gloves) celebrates after winning by submission against Michael Johnson (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Scottrade Center. 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