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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Polyana Viana

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

“I said, ‘No, but I want to be.’”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Polyana Viana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Polyana Viana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vídeo: O que esperar de Luke Rockhold x Yoel Romero pelo cinturão do UFC 221?

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Banner oficial do UFC 221 com as lutas principais da noite. Foto: Divulgação

O UFC atraca pela primeira vez em Perth, na Austrália, e quer fazer bonito em seu debute na cidade. Para o UFC 221, que rola neste sábado, dia 10 de fevereiro, a luta principal terá dois dos mais temidos pesos médios do planeta, lutando com todas as suas forças em busca do cinturão interino da divisão. O evento será transmitido ao vivo pelo Combate, a partir das 21h.

Ex-campeão da divisão, após perder o título para o azarão Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold está com pressão total para recuperar o seu trono nos meio médios. Do outro lado, Yoel Romero, cubano com base forte no boxe e wrestling, tem na luta contra Rockhold a sua chance mais clara de se tornar campeão do Ultimate e, aos 40 anos de idade, pode ser seu último tiro em busca do seu maior sonho.

Ainda no card, o local Mark Hunt parte para encarar o novato Curtis Blaydes. Com seu poder de nocaute conhecido e temido por mais de uma década, o “Super Samoan” busca mais uma vez chocar o cenário do MMA com suas mãos. Só que, do outro lado, Blaydes chega embalado na divisão dos pesos pesados, com apresentações poderosas no octógono.

Ficou curioso sobre o que esperar do evento deste sábado? Confira no vídeo abaixo um apanhado geral do cenário para o UFC 221 e deixe suas apostas nos comentários!

UFC 221
Perth, Austrália
10 de fevereiro de 2018

Yoel Romero x Luke Rockhold
Mark Hunt x Curtis Blaydes
Tai Tuivasa x Cyril Asker
Jake Matthews x Li Jingliang
Tyson Pedro x Saparbek Safarov

Card preliminar

Damien Brown x “Maestro” Dong Hyun Kim
Rob Wilkinson x Israel Adesanya
Alex Volkanovski x Jeremy Kennedy
Jussier Formiga x Ben Nguyen
Ross Pearson x Mizuto Hirota
Teruto Ishihara x José Quiñonez
Luke Jumeau x Daichi Abe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that is a pretty decent position, indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) celebrates with family after fight against Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Jose Aldo (blue gloves) enters the arena before the fight during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) before the fight against Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) wife watches the fight against Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) fights Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) celebrates with family after fight against Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports Dec 2, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Max Holloway (red gloves) celebrates with family after fight against Jose Aldo (blue gloves) during UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-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/zafjwopo8yyQsrsuvMkt48/301962", customAnalytics: true, title: "Holloway def. Aldo", feedsrc: 2 } );(typeof _usdpgw == "undefined") ? _usdpgw = new _usdpGalleryWall(window._usmgOptions) : _usdpgw.start();

While the UFC has spread across the globe and hit new locales every year, the schedule has had two noticeable omissions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, we get it now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full UFC 221 weigh-in results include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RelatedJames Gallagher headlines Bellator 196 in April in Hungary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full UFC Fight Night 126 lineup now includes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kendall Grove optimistic about future following Bellator release

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Veteran middleweight Kendall Grove is on the free-agent market after being cut from the Bellator roster.

Grove (23-18 MMA, 3-5 BMMA), who suffered a split-decision loss to A.J. Matthews in the Bellator 193 co-headliner this past month, announced on social media that he’s been released from his Bellator contract following nine appearances with the organization (via Instagram):

“DA Spyder officially cut off the @bellatormma roster. I believe everything happens for a reason god works in mysterious ways some of the greatest things in my life have came from bad times. Gotta thank god for getting me thru all these years in the fight game injury free and blessing me with a beautiful family, my wife my kids my family.. and to all my fans for your support no matter what organization I was in. Moving foward, tough year of losing my brother, my grandpa, my dad, and last night my uncle, so going to use this time to love my kids, and my wife. Stay posted for whats ahead #itiswhatitis #blessingindisguise #freeagent”

Grove, 35, made his name on the MMA scene by winning Season 3 of “The Ultimate Fighter.” He had a 13-fight stint with the promotion that included notable wins over former champion Evan Tanner, Alan Belcher and Ed Herman.

“Da Spyder” parted ways with the UFC in 2012 and has since fought for seven different organizations. He eventually settled with Bellator, where he reached a title-fight opportunity but came up short against Brandon Halsey at Bellator 137 in May 2015.

Prior to the fight with Matthews, which marked his third consecutive Bellator loss, Grove said he would be very interested in fighting on the UFC’s seemingly inevitable debut fight card in his native Hawaii.

For more on Bellator 193, check out the MMA Events section of the site.

Cortney Casey vs. Michelle Waterson booked for UFC on FOX 29 in April

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December 17, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Paige VanZant (red gloves) fights Michelle Waterson (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports December 17, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Paige VanZant (red gloves) fights Michelle Waterson (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports December 17, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Paige VanZant (red gloves) fights Michelle Waterson (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports December 17, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Paige VanZant (red gloves) fights Michelle Waterson (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports December 17, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Paige VanZant (red gloves) fights Michelle Waterson (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports December 17, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Paige VanZant (red gloves) fights Michelle Waterson (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports December 17, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Paige VanZant (red gloves) fights Michelle Waterson (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports December 17, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Paige VanZant (red gloves) fights Michelle Waterson (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports December 17, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Paige VanZant (red gloves) fights Michelle Waterson (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports December 17, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Paige VanZant (red gloves) fights Michelle Waterson (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports December 17, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Paige VanZant (red gloves) fights Michelle Waterson (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports December 17, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Paige VanZant (red gloves) fights Michelle Waterson (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports December 17, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Paige VanZant (red gloves) fights Michelle Waterson (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports December 17, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Paige VanZant (red gloves) fights Michelle Waterson (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports December 17, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Paige VanZant (red gloves) fights Michelle Waterson (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Golden 1 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/GxigBMtDBVizrNEFSmcyud/301932", customAnalytics: true, title: "Waterson def. VanZant", feedsrc: 2 } );(typeof _usdpgw == "undefined") ? _usdpgw = new _usdpGalleryWall(window._usmgOptions) : _usdpgw.start();

A women’s strawweight bout between Cortney Casey and Michelle Waterson is the latest addition to April’s UFC on FOX 29 lineup.

The matchup between Casey (7-5 MMA, 3-4 UFC) and Waterson (14-6 MMA, 2-2 UFC) was first reported by azcentral.com.

UFC on FOX 29 takes place April 14 at Gila Rivera Arena in Glendale, Ariz., near Phoenix. The main card airs on FOX following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass, though the full fight card and bout order haven’t been finalized.

RelatedAfter going 'full Nick Diaz,' Felice Herrig says Cortney Casey threw 'booger blood chunk' at UFC 218

Casey, who fights out of The MMA Lab in Glendale and was born in Mesa, Ariz., will get somewhat of a hometown opportunity. “Cast Iron” is 2-2 in her past four fights, but her losses came in competitive bouts to top-ranked contenders Felice Herrig and Claudia Gadelha.

Waterson is also coming off some losses to name contenders at 115 pounds. After starting her UFC tenure with consecutive victories, the former Invicta FC atomweight champ has stumbled in her past two fights against now-champ Rose Namajunas and Tecia Torres. Now “The Karate Hottie” attempts to avoid seeing her skid fall to three.

In addition to Casey vs. Waterson, azsports.com also confirmed a bantamweight matchup between Luke Sanders (11-2 MMA, 1-2 UFC) and Patrick Williams (8-5 MMA, 1-2 UFC) for UFC on FOX 29.

The latest UFC on FOX 29 card now includes:

  • Dustin Poirier vs. Justin Gaethje
  • Matt Brown vs. Carlos Condit
  • Arjan Bhullar vs. Adam Wieczorek
  • John Moraga vs. Wilson Reis
  • Dhiego Lima vs. Yushin Okami
  • Krzysztof Jotko vs. Brad Tavares
  • Cortney Casey vs. Michelle Waterson
  • Luke Sanders vs. Patrick Williams

For more on UFC on FOX 29, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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'Baby Slice' vs. Devon Brock added to Bellator 197 in Missouri

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“Baby Slice” will return in April at Bellator 197.

The prospect also known as Kevin Ferguson Jr. (2-1 MMA, 2-1 BMMA) is slated to fight Devon Brock (1-0 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) in a 160-pound catchweight fight.

MMAjunkie today confirmed the matchup with Bellator officials following an initial report from MMAFighting.com.

RelatedMichael Chandler, champ Brent Primus to rematch for Bellator title April 13

Bellator 197 takes place April 13 at The Family Arena. in St. Charles, Mo. The main card airs on Paramount following prelim on MMAjunkie, though the full fight card and bout order haven’t been finalized.

Ferguson Jr., the son of the late Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson (who would’ve turned 44 today), suffered an MMA-debut loss to Aaron Hamilton in late 2016. However, the Team Bodyshop MMA member has since rebounded with stoppage victories over D.J. Griffin and Fred Freeman. Both came in the first round.

RelatedKevin 'Baby Slice' Ferguson Jr. shot Bellator 192 as a photographer: Here are the photos

He now meets Brock, who made a successful MMA and Bellator debut this past month with a decision victory over Khonry Gracie at Bellator 192. The 22-year-old, who went 5-0 as an amateur, could now knock off another opponent with a famous last name.

The latest Bellator 197 card includes:

  • Champ Brent Primus vs. Michael Chandler – for lightweight title
  • A.J. McKee vs. Justin Lawrence
  • Devon Brock vs. Kevin Ferguson Jr.

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

Aljamain Sterling vs. Brett Johns set for UFC Fight Night 128 in Atlantic City

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December 9, 2017; Fresno, CA, USA; Marlon Moraes (red gloves) fights Aljamain Sterling (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Save Mart Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports July 29, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; Aljamain Sterling lands a hit against Renan Barao during UFC 214 at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports July 29, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; Aljamain Sterling applies a hold against Renan Barao during UFC 214 at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports July 29, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; Aljamain Sterling and Renan Barao hug following their match during UFC 214 at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Apr 15, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; Aljamain Sterling (Red Gloves) fights Augusto Mendes (Blue Gloves) during UFC Fight Night at the Sprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports Apr 15, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; Aljamain Sterling (Red Gloves) fights Augusto Mendes (Blue Gloves) during UFC Fight Night at the Sprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports Apr 15, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; Aljamain Sterling (red) reacts in the fight against Augusto Mendes (blue) fight during UFC Fight Night at the Sprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports Apr 15, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; Aljamain Sterling (red) and Augusto Mendes (blue) following the fight during UFC Fight Night at the Sprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports Apr 15, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; Aljamain Sterling (red) celebrates the win over Augusto Mendes (not pictured fight during UFC Fight Night at the Sprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports Jan 28, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Raphael Assuncao (red gloves) competes against Aljamain Sterling (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports Jan 28, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Raphael Assuncao (red gloves) competes against Aljamain Sterling (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports Jan 28, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Raphael Assuncao (red gloves) competes against Aljamain Sterling (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports Jan 28, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Raphael Assuncao (red gloves) competes against Aljamain Sterling (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports Jan 28, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Raphael Assuncao (red gloves) and Aljamain Sterling (blue gloves) after their fight during UFC Fight Night at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports Jan 28, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Aljamain Sterling (blue gloves) reacts after being defeated by Raphael Assuncao (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-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/oz45gVzjrV7hKUsggEyt8o/301928", customAnalytics: true, title: "Aljamain Sterling", feedsrc: 2 } );(typeof _usdpgw == "undefined") ? _usdpgw = new _usdpGalleryWall(window._usmgOptions) : _usdpgw.start();

April’s UFC event in New Jersey has a new bout, and it includes a contender from the region.

Aljamain Sterling (14-3 MMA, 6-3 UFC), who’s No. 12 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA bantamweight rankings, is slated to fight undefeated Brett Johns (15-0 MMA, 3-0 UFC) at UFC Fight Night 128.

UFC officials announced the fight via newsday.com.

RelatedAspen Ladd vs. Leslie Smith among additions to UFC Fight Night 128 in Atlantic City

UFC Fight Night 128 takes place April 21 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J. The main card air on FS1 following prelims on FS2 and UFC Fight Pass, though the full fight card and bout order haven’t been finalized.

Sterling, a 28-year-old New Yorker and former CFFC champion, had rebounded from a pair of split-decision losses to contenders Bryan Caraway and Raphael Assuncao with back-to-back wins over Augusto Mendes and ex-champ Renan Barao. However, in his most recent bout, he suffered a scary knockout loss to former WSOF titleholder Marlos Moraes in December.

RelatedAljamain Sterling agrees with Internet: He 'really did do the dab' after scary KO at UFC-Fresno

He now meets Johns, a 25-year-old Welshman who’s defeated Kwan Ho Kwak, Albert Morales and former title challenger Joe Soto since joining the UFC. The former Cage Warriors and Titan FC champ, who has seven stoppages in 15 career wins, could get a major boost up the 135-pound ranking if he defeats Sterling – his highest-profile opponent to date.

The latest UFC Fight Night 128 card includes:

  • Aspen Ladd vs. Leslie Smith
  • Merab Dvalishvili vs. Augusto Mendes
  • Magomed Bibulatov vs. Ulka Sasaki
  • David Branch vs. Thiago “Marreta” Santos
  • Corey Anderson vs. Patrick Cummins
  • Siyar Bahadurzada vs. Luan Chagas
  • Brett Johns vs. Aljamain Sterling

For more on UFC Fight Night 128, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Kajan Johnson says Stevie Ray has stepped in as UFC-London replacement

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Sep 24, 2016; Brasilia, Brazil; Alan Patrick (red gloves) vs. Stevie Ray (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Nilson Nelson Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Sep 24, 2016; Brasilia, Brazil; Alan Patrick (red gloves) vs. Stevie Ray (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Nilson Nelson Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Sep 24, 2016; Brasilia, Brazil; Alan Patrick (red gloves) competes against Stevie Ray (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Nilson Nelson Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Sep 24, 2016; Brasilia, Brazil; Alan Patrick (red gloves) vs. Stevie Ray (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Nilson Nelson Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Sep 24, 2016; Brasilia, Brazil; Alan Patrick (red gloves) vs. Stevie Ray (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Nilson Nelson Gymnasium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports Oct 24, 2015; Dublin, Ireland; Stevie Ray (red gloves) competes against Mickael Lebout (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at 3 Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Oct 24, 2015; Dublin, Ireland; Stevie Ray (red gloves) competes against Mickael Lebout (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at 3 Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Oct 24, 2015; Dublin, Ireland; Stevie Ray (red gloves) competes against Mickael Lebout (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at 3 Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Oct 24, 2015; Dublin, Ireland; Stevie Ray (red gloves) competes against Mickael Lebout (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at 3 Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Oct 24, 2015; Dublin, Ireland; Stevie Ray (red gloves) reacts after his fight against Mickael Lebout (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at 3 Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Jul 18, 2015; Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland; Stevie Ray (Scotland) enters the ring before his Lightweight bout against Leonardo Mafra (Brazil) at The SSE Hydro. Mandatory Credit: Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports Jul 18, 2015; Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland; Stevie Ray (Scotland) line up a punch during his Lightweight bout against Leonardo Mafra (Brazil) at The SSE Hydro. Mandatory Credit: Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports Jul 18, 2015; Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland; Leonardo Mafra (Brazil) line up a knee during his Lightweight bout against Stevie Ray (Scotland) at The SSE Hydro. Mandatory Credit: Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports Jul 18, 2015; Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland; Stevie Ray (Scotland) dives in on Leonardo Mafra (Brazil) with a right hook during his Lightweight bout at The SSE Hydro. Mandatory Credit: Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports Jul 18, 2015; Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland; Stevie Ray (Scotland) celebrates victory in his Lightweight bout against Leonardo Mafra (Brazil) at The SSE Hydro. Mandatory Credit: Steve Flynn-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/bQ5RW3zsvgRsC5GBapzyp3/301925", customAnalytics: true, title: "Stevie Ray", feedsrc: 2 } );(typeof _usdpgw == "undefined") ? _usdpgw = new _usdpGalleryWall(window._usmgOptions) : _usdpgw.start();

Well, that apparently didn’t take very long.

On the same day Rustam Khabilov (22-3 MMA, 8-2 UFC) announced he’s been forced off next month’s UFC Fight Night 127 card, opponent Kajan Johnson (22-11-1 MMA, 3-1 UFC) apparently has a replacement: lightweight Stevie Ray (21-7 MMA, 5-2 UFC).

Johnson today tweeted that he’s simply waiting to sign the contract. Ray retweeted that message (via Twitter):

It’s done guys, I’m fighting @StevenRayMMA in London. Just waiting on the contract now.

— kajan johnson (@IamRagin) February 8, 2018

UFC Fight Night 127 takes place March 17 at The O2 in London. The entire card streams on UFC Fight Pass, though the full fight card and bout order haven’t been finalized.

Ray, a 27-year-old Scottish fighter, was on a 7-1 run that included wins over Joe Lauzon and Ross Pearson before a knockout loss to Paul Felder in his most recent bout. The former Cage Warriors and BAMMA champ fought out his UFC deal with the July 2017 bout and faced an uncertain future after the loss. However, it appears a contract resolution may be in the works due to the Johnson fight.

Johnson, a 33-year-old Canadian who appeared on “The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada vs. Australia” in 2014, is riding a three-fight winning streak following a recent knockout victory over Adriano Martins. That win, which moved him to 5-1 in his past six fights, came after a two-year layoff.

The latest UFC Fight Night 127 card includes:

  • Fabricio Werdum vs. Alexander Volkov
  • Leon Edwards vs. Peter Sobotta
  • Mark Godbeer vs. Dmitry Poberezhets
  • Magomed Ankalaev vs. Paul Craig
  • Nasrat Haqparast vs. Alex Reyes
  • Jan Blachowicz vs. Jimi Manuwa
  • Kajan Johnson vs. Stevie Ray
  • Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos vs. Jack Marshman
  • Oliver Enkamp vs. Danny Roberts
  • Hakeem Dawodu vs. Danny Henry
  • Charles Byrd vs. John Phillips

For more on UFC Fight Night 127, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Rustam Khabilov says he's off London's UFC Fight Night 127 lineup

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Sep 2, 2017; Rotterdam, Netherlands; Rustam Khabilov (red gloves) fights Desmond Green (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ahoy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Sep 2, 2017; Rotterdam, Netherlands; Desmond Green (blue gloves) fights Rustam Khabilov (not pictured) during UFC Fight Night at Ahoy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Sep 2, 2017; Rotterdam, Netherlands; Rustam Khabilov (red gloves) fights Desmond Green (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ahoy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Sep 2, 2017; Rotterdam, Netherlands; Rustam Khabilov (red gloves) fights Desmond Green (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ahoy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Sep 2, 2017; Rotterdam, Netherlands; Rustam Khabilov (red gloves) fights Desmond Green (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ahoy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Sep 2, 2017; Rotterdam, Netherlands; Rustam Khabilov (red gloves) fights Desmond Green (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ahoy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Sep 2, 2017; Rotterdam, Netherlands; Rustam Khabilov (red gloves) fights Desmond Green (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ahoy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Sep 2, 2017; Rotterdam, Netherlands; Rustam Khabilov (red gloves) fights Desmond Green (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ahoy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Sep 2, 2017; Rotterdam, Netherlands; Rustam Khabilov (red gloves) fights Desmond Green (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ahoy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Sep 2, 2017; Rotterdam, Netherlands; Rustam Khabilov (red gloves) fights Desmond Green (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ahoy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Sep 2, 2017; Rotterdam, Netherlands; Rustam Khabilov (red gloves) fights Desmond Green (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ahoy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Sep 2, 2017; Rotterdam, Netherlands; Rustam Khabilov (red gloves) fights Desmond Green (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ahoy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Sep 2, 2017; Rotterdam, Netherlands; Rustam Khabilov (red gloves) fights Desmond Green (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ahoy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Sep 2, 2017; Rotterdam, Netherlands; Rustam Khabilov (red gloves) fights Desmond Green (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ahoy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports Sep 2, 2017; Rotterdam, Netherlands; Rustam Khabilov (red gloves) fights Desmond Green (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Ahoy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-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/7jEBRqfiA82VsvpVraNVbi/301890", customAnalytics: true, title: "Khabilov def. Green", feedsrc: 2 } );(typeof _usdpgw == "undefined") ? _usdpgw = new _usdpGalleryWall(window._usmgOptions) : _usdpgw.start();

Next month’s UFC Fight Night 127 lineup has lost a fighter.

Lightweight contender Rustam Khabilov (22-3 MMA, 8-2 UFC) today announced he’s been forced off the card and out of his bout with Kajan Johnson (22-11-1 MMA, 3-1 UFC).

Khabilov made the announcement via Instagram and cited a knee injury:

From Google Translate:

Unfortunately, my fight is canceled, a sight with a knee injury, as the trouble comes not one comes, I had to remove menisci and Baker cyst! Thanks to Viktor Petrovich for taking on me! @kertibiev

UFC officials haven’t made a formal announcement, though there’s ample time to find a replacement opponent for Johnson.

UFC Fight Night 127 takes place March 17 at The O2 in London. The entire card streams on UFC Fight Pass, though the full fight card and bout order haven’t been finalized.

Khabilov, a 31-year-old Russian fighter from Dagestan, looked to extend his current five-fight winning streak. All of the M-1 and ONE Championship vet’s victories, including recent ones over Jason Saggo and Desmond Green, came via decision.

Johnson, a 33-year-old Canadian, is riding a three-fight winning streak following a recent knockout victory over Adriano Martins. The win came after a two-year layoff.

The latest UFC Fight Night 127 card includes:

  • Fabricio Werdum vs. Alexander Volkov
  • Leon Edwards vs. Peter Sobotta
  • Mark Godbeer vs. Dmitry Poberezhets
  • Magomed Ankalaev vs. Paul Craig
  • Nasrat Haqparast vs. Alex Reyes
  • Jan Blachowicz vs. Jimi Manuwa
  • Kajan Johnson vs. TBA
  • Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos vs. Jack Marshman
  • Oliver Enkamp vs. Danny Roberts
  • Hakeem Dawodu vs. Danny Henry
  • Charles Byrd vs. John Phillips

For more on UFC Fight Night 127, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Twitter Mailbag: Is 2018 turning out to be a critical crossroads for the UFC?

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What’s really going on in the UFC’s welterweight title picture? Matter of fact, what’s going on with the UFC’s whole business in these uncertain times? And who, exactly, should usher “The Count” into retirement?

All that and more in this week’s edition of the Twitter Mailbag. To ask a question of your own, tweet to @BenFowlkesMMA.

* * * *

Does Nate Diaz truly deserve a fight with Tyron for the title? Who would you rather see fight for the WW title if not Nate?

— PapaPugzo (@robpugz) February 7, 2018

Obviously, Nate Diaz does not “deserve” a welterweight title fight. But the fact that Diaz and Tyron Woodley could even talk it up like it’s a realistic proposition is proof that the whole idea of having to prove that you deserve a title shot before you can get one isn’t really in play anymore.

The UFC has shown us that it’s in the business of making the fights that will sell. That’s how the money gets made in this sport, and fighters have learned that lesson. So can you really blame Woodley for trying to make that system work for him?

As for who should get the next welterweight title shot, if we’re playing by the usual rules, it’s got to be Rafael dos Anjos. His three-fight winning streak since moving to welterweight has left him with the strongest case, and I think he’d make for an interesting challenge for Woodley.

Still, you picture Woodley vs. dos Anjos as a pay-per-view headliner, and you don’t exactly hear cash registers going off in your head. Maybe the UFC is fine with that. Seems like Woodley might not be.

If Machida is going to be someone's retirement fight, who would you rather it be: Belfort or Bisping?

— Tom Johnson (@tjohn224) February 7, 2018

Definitely Michael Bisping. If he’s not going to go out on a heated rivalry fight (or so he says, anyway) then I can’t think of anyone better who still fulfills all his requirements.

You want a respectful, old-school martial-artist type? Lyoto Machida is pretty much the poster boy for that. And since he’s just a few months shy of 40, he’s also a peer of Bisping’s, and not some young punk looking to make a name for himself by smashing a veteran of the sport.

Plus, let’s be honest: He’s also just not as scary as some of the other options out there, so we can all watch without feeling too guilty about it. Really, what else do you want out of a retirement fight like this?

Cm punk vs Mayweather?

— TCK_FTW (@HYPE_TCK) February 7, 2018

Divisions are so weak that there are multiple champ vs champ bouts in the making. There is an upcoming PPV that should be a UFC on Fox event. The last few actual UFC on Fox cards have been lackluster to say the least. Can you give a state of the UFC address?

— Jason Gammel (@bigkeg12) February 7, 2018

Well, man, when you put it like that…

These are not the best of times for the UFC. They’re not the worst of times, either. But it does feel like, after hitting a high point in 2016 (just in time to sell the whole thing for $4 billion), we’re settling into a bit of a lull. It’s a crossroads, is what it is.

Ratings are down. PPV sales are down. Enthusiasm is down, or at least that’s how it feels. The current TV deal is almost up, and the future is uncertain. But every time you try to present that version of reality to UFC President Dana White he tells you that things are great, couldn’t be better, coming off the best year in company history and getting bigger every day. Look out, soccer.

In a way, maybe the champion-vs.-champion fights are a good sign. They at least indicate an awareness that marching one faceless contender after another into the cage isn’t going to bring the crowds. Instead, you have to give people something special – especially if you want to suddenly charge $65 for the same product that used to cost $50 just a few years ago.

Over on Deadspin.com today, Patrick Wyman makes several very good points about the UFC’s current struggles, but the one that resonates with me the most is this:

“The UFC fooled itself into thinking that it would always be able to convince a huge number of consumers to buy what it was selling simply because it was branded ‘UFC.’ It has never quite rid itself of that assumption, even as the evidence against it has continued to mount.”

Yep, that’s it in a nutshell. The UFC still has tons of good fighters, many of them with interesting stories. But the company just rolls from one event to the next, churning out content, and hyping the brand instead of the people. It’s all so routine at this point, and nobody gets excited about a routine.

I’m not saying it’s time to panic, but it is time to change. I just wonder to what extent the company brass realizes it and is willing to do what it takes to fix it.

What Are the chances the UFC is already implementing „Contingency plan 200“ And tries to book Brock Lesnar for UFC 222 ?

— Maybe Not (@FatDrunkUseless) February 7, 2018

First of all, we can stop waiting for a UFC 222 savior to descend from the heavens and save the show, because the UFC tapped Cris Cyborg and Yana Kunitskaya for the main event, and did so with all the flourish of an annoyed parent delivering a soggy grilled cheese to a whiny toddler. There, now eat that, and shut up about it.

Second, how long are we going to keep up this fascination with Brock Lesnar? He came back for one payday in a mediocre fight, got busted for steroids, tried to blame it on foot cream and eye drops, then took his suspension and ran back to the WWE without actually sticking around in the USADA testing pool long enough to serve it.

So tell me again, why do we want this guy back so bad? I get that he’s big and scary and fun to talk about, but man, Lesnar is not about that life. He does not want to be a full-time professional fighter. He only wants a quick payday here and there, and seemingly only if he can be all hopped up on foot cream when he does it.

Pro wrestling is the place for a guy like that. I say let him stay there.

Could the UFC benefit from promoting different fighters to different demographics, as opposed to what seems like a “one size fits as many as possible” strategy? Or do you think it’d be a waste of time and resources?

— Mike Vanlieshout (@LCMikeVan) February 7, 2018

Hold up, are you saying that maybe the UFC should actually look to capitalize on the diversity of its roster – a roster with fighters from all over the world, from all different backgrounds and stories to tell, with wildly varying interests and abilities and passions – rather than trying to homogenize everything to the point where every event looks like a bunch of interchangeable Reebok robots attacking each other for no good reason? Huh. Now there’s an idea.

Why can't the UFC find a decent fighter to fight against Cyborg? Holly Holm withstanding.

— Cory Andersen (@corysix6) February 8, 2018

I wrote about this issue this past week, but by now it out to be clear that there’s a problem with the women’s featherweight division in the UFC. Cyborg has already beaten most of the people who matter in the division. Bellator got a big head start on signing talent. The UFC seems content to do one-off title fights without constructing a division, and the result is that Cyborg ends up fighting a bunch of bantamweights who figure it’s the best shot they’re ever going to get.

That doesn’t make for competitive fights, but it does present a lot of opportunities for Cyborg to go smash. If that’s not what you’re here for, too bad. That’s pretty much all the UFC is selling at the women’s 145-pound class for now.

Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @BenFowlkesMMA. Twitter Mailbag appears every Thursday on MMAjunkie.

Dec 30, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Cris Cyborg celebrates her victory by unamimous decision against Holly Holm and her title defense following UFC 219 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Dec 30, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Cris Cyborg is introduced before fighting against Holly Holm during UFC 219 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Dec 30, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Holly Holm moves in with a hit as Cris Cyborg defends during UFC 219 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Dec 30, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Holly Holm moves in with a hit as Cris Cyborg defends during UFC 219 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Dec 30, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Cris Cyborg lands a hit against Holly Holm during UFC 219 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Dec 30, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Holly Holm moves in with a kick as Cris Cyborg defends during UFC 219 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Dec 30, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Cris Cyborg moves in with a hit against Holly Holm during UFC 219 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Dec 30, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Cris Cyborg defends against Holly Holm during UFC 219 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Dec 30, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Cris Cyborg moves in with a hit against Holly Holm during UFC 219 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Dec 30, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Cris Cyborg moves in with a hit against Holly Holm during UFC 219 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Dec 30, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Holly Holm moves in with a kick as Cris Cyborg defends during UFC 219 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Dec 30, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Cris Cyborg fights against Holly Holm during UFC 219 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Dec 30, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Cris Cyborg moves in with a kick as Holly Holm defends during UFC 219 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Dec 30, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Cris Cyborg lands a hit against Holly Holm during UFC 219 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Dec 30, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Cris Cyborg lands a hit against Holly Holm during UFC 219 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Dec 30, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Holly Holm lands a hit against Cris Cyborg during UFC 219 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Dec 30, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Holly Holm lands a hit against Cris Cyborg during UFC 219 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Dec 30, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Cris Cyborg celebrates her victory by unamimous decision against Holly Holm and her title defense following UFC 219 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Dec 30, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Cris Cyborg celebrates her victory by unamimous decision against Holly Holm and her title defense following UFC 219 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Dec 30, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Cris Cyborg is declared the winner by unanimous decision against Holly Holm and retains her title followng UFC 219 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-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/qPrnZ2GMzKchbr2tKPsHvf/301860", customAnalytics: true, title: "Cyborg def. Holm", feedsrc: 2 } );(typeof _usdpgw == "undefined") ? _usdpgw = new _usdpGalleryWall(window._usmgOptions) : _usdpgw.start();

James Gallagher headlines Bellator 196 in April in Hungary

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Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; James Gallagher (red gloves) reacts to fight against Chinzo Machida during (blue gloves) Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; James Gallagher (red gloves) fights Chinzo Machida during (blue gloves) Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; James Gallagher (red gloves) fights Chinzo Machida during (blue gloves) Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; James Gallagher (red gloves) fights Chinzo Machida during (blue gloves) Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; James Gallagher (red gloves) fights Chinzo Machida during (blue gloves) Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; James Gallagher (red gloves) fights Chinzo Machida during (blue gloves) Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; James Gallagher (red gloves) fights Chinzo Machida during (blue gloves) Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; James Gallagher (red gloves) fights Chinzo Machida during (blue gloves) Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; James Gallagher (red gloves) fights Chinzo Machida during (blue gloves) Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; James Gallagher (red gloves) fights Chinzo Machida during (blue gloves) Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; James Gallagher (red gloves) fights Chinzo Machida during (blue gloves) Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; James Gallagher (red gloves) fights Chinzo Machida during (blue gloves) Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; James Gallagher (red gloves) fights Chinzo Machida during (blue gloves) Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; James Gallagher (red gloves) reacts to fight against Chinzo Machida during (blue gloves) Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; James Gallagher (red gloves) reacts to fight against Chinzo Machida during (blue gloves) Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; James Gallagher (red gloves) fights Chinzo Machida during (blue gloves) Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; James Gallagher (red gloves) reacts to fight against Chinzo Machida during (blue gloves) Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; James Gallagher (red gloves) reacts to fight against Chinzo Machida during (blue gloves) Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; James Gallagher (red gloves) reacts to fight against Chinzo Machida during (blue gloves) Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; during Bellator NYC at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Jun 24, 2017; New York, NY, USA; James Gallagher (red gloves) reacts to fight against Chinzo Machida during (blue gloves) 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/mJhNQUJhPHTFqMe8BoGRB5/301862", customAnalytics: true, title: "Gallagher def. Machida", feedsrc: 2 } );(typeof _usdpgw == "undefined") ? _usdpgw = new _usdpGalleryWall(window._usmgOptions) : _usdpgw.start();

James Gallagher will headline Bellator’s return to Hungary.

Officials today confirmed with ESPN.com that Gallagher (7-0 MMA, 4-0 BMMA) will meet fellow unbeaten featherweight and local product Adam Borics (6-0 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) in Bellator 196’s main event.

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

Budapest also hosted Bellator 177 in April 2017, as well as a Bellator Kickboxing card in September 2016.

No other fights are yet official for the card, which is likely to air via same-day delay.

Gallagher, a 21-year-old Irishman, is a perfect 4-0 since joining Bellator and has posted submissions victories in his past three fights. In his most recent appearance, the brash SBG Ireland fighter, who trains alongside UFC champ Conor McGregor, stopped Chinzo Machida with a rear-naked choke at Bellator 180. A subsequent Bellator 187 booking with Jeremiah Labiano fell apart due to an injury.

He now meets Borics, a 24-year-old Hungarian fighter who made his pro debut in 2015. Although his record varies from database to database, Fight Finder lists him as 6-0 with four submission wins. In his lone Bellator appearance – at Bellator 177 in Hungary – he scored a first-round win over Anthony Taylor via rear-naked choke.

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

Burt Watson got a cancer diagnosis, and it wasn't even the worst part of his month

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After a battle with prostate cancer, Burt Watson is proud to say he’s a survivor. But even more so, he’s proud to be a voice spreading awareness so that others take the test that helped save his life.

It was only after Watson left his 14-year job with the UFC, where he held a busy travel schedule as a site coordinator, that he had some time and decided to take what he calls “the old man test.”

“They did all of my vitals, they did blood work, and they did everything,” Watson told MMAjunkie Radio. “And everything was good.”

A year and a half later, Watson had some down time, and since it’d been a while, he figured he’d do another checkup. This time, however, they asked him to come in to discuss his results. His PSA (prostate-specific antigen) levels had gone from less than 1 up to a little more than 5, so they had to conduct a biopsy.

“‘Yuck.’ That was my first thought,’ Watson said. “Because no guy likes do to that biopsy. But I did it. They took the biopsy. They called me back about two weeks later. I went to the office, and he said, ‘OK, here’s what we need to do: There’s chemo, there’s surgery, or there’s radiation.’ And I’m like, ‘For what?’”

RelatedBurt Watson discusses life after UFC and staying relevant in MMA

There’s no good time to receive a cancer diagnosis. But even for the ever-cheerful Watson, the circumstances were tough.

“I don’t want to spring violins here, because I am still Burt Watson, baby, and I am still rollin’,” Watson said. “But at the time, my brother had just kind of out of nowhere died on us. He had COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), had a case and died. My mother had got a stroke and was sick and was in the hospital.

“This was all last December. So my family was dealing with my brother passing away and my mother having a stroke and in a nursing home. And I went to the doctor and found out that I had cancer. My head was like, ‘Wow, prostate cancer – what the hay.’”

Given everything that was going on, Watson put his own problems on the backburner and decided to wait before letting his family know.

“But what I found out with prostate cancer: No. 1, it’s hereditary,” Watson said. “And No. 2, that it’s prevalent in African-American men. So I had to tell my son.”

This, Watson said, was around January 2017. His mother died a few months later. His three daughters, he said, fould out roughly around June or July; considering they have children, he didn’t want them to get the news around Mother’s Day.

“By that time I had already started my treatment,” Watson said. “I didn’t share it with work, with anybody, because I just couldn’t.”

Watson is now “100 percent a cancer survivor.” But, considering the speed of the disease, he knows he would have been in trouble had it not been for his decision to take the test. Now he’s taking it upon himself to spread the message to not only those most likely to get affected, but everyone around them.”

Here’s a post (via Instagram):

“Everybody knows somebody,” Watson said. “And everybody loves somebody. I want to be the person to get the message to them, to touch somebody and let somebody know. Go get tested. Seriously. It takes five minutes – if that.

“Prostate cancer is something that men don’t want to go and get checked or get tested. But you do it once, and once you do it, then every year it’s about blood test. You go back and get a blood test.”

Watson, who took on an executive role with Alliance MMA after his unexpected departure from the UFC, is now happy to use his outreach in the MMA community that embraced him.

“It’s good to say that (I’m cancer-free),” Watson said. “I’m proud to say it. But I’m even more so, now, to share that message. And to share that message with everybody. And to be a voice for it.

“And I can tell you, I’m going to do that. Because I work with all men – athletes and guys. And we’re mature. Everybody’s not as old as me, but you know what? You want to live to get to be that old. So go get tested.”

Watson has teamed up with the organization “Zero Cancer: The End of Prostate Cancer” to not only share his journey, but also help raise funds to increase awareness. (Find out more at zerocancer.org/burt.)

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

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

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