Cris Cyborg: UFC 219 title fight vs. Holly Holm could go beyond just stand-up

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On paper, the UFC 219 headliner between Cris Cyborg and Holly Holm offers a clear stylistic narrative.

Champ Cyborg (18-1 MMA, 3-0 UFC), who was most recently seen conquering the UFC’s women’s featherweight belt at UFC 214, has used her notorious, hyper-aggressive muay Thai to knock out her three UFC opponents and 13 of the 16 that came before.

Former 135-pound champ Holm’s (11-3 MMA, 4-3 UFC) knockout rate in MMA is slightly more modest – eight in total. But Holm, who’s also an ex-kickboxer, conquered multiple titles in boxing throughout a decade-long career in which she lost just twice.

What is apparently a striker vs. striker battle, though, might just be the chance for Cyborg to shine in lesser-known aspects of her game.

“She’s had a lot of experience in boxing. She had more than 300 rounds,” Cyborg told MMAjunkie ahead of the Dec. 30 headliner, which airs on pay-per-view from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. “And she had a lot of sparring time. I think it’s going to be a great fight. I think she’s gonna have a lot of things to challenge myself. And it’s MMA.

“Maybe this fight, I can show (another) Cyborg, too. Not just in the stand-up, (but on) the ground, and then takedown and submit. Let’s see.”

A submission win would be the first for Cyborg. The only time one of her fights ended that way was, incidentally, her first and sole MMA loss. That was over 12 years ago. Holm, too, never has won a fight via submission – though it was a choke, by Miesha Tate, that ended Holm’s short 135-pound reign.

In any case, this could always just be a decoy. Cyborg, who’s recruited some high-level assistance in multiple-time boxing champion Cecilia Braekhus, has talked about her desire to try her hand at boxing. Outworking someone with Holm’s credentials on the feet would certainly be a nice way of setting that in motion.

Few would disagree this was the match to make. Amid Cyborg’s somewhat slim pickings in the UFC, a former champion who permanently left her mark as the first person to defeat Ronda Rousey – via knockout, no less – is certainly a good call.

There’s also the fact that, this time, Cyborg won’t be carrying a considerable size advantage as she goes up against a highly technical striker who narrowly lost to Germaine de Randamie in a bid for the UFC’s inaugural 145-pound belt (de Randamie was stripped of the title shortly after, due to her refusal to fight Cyborg).

Will that translate to numbers, though?

Cyborg, who’s fought tooth and nail to claim her place among the UFC’s hot commodities, is optimistic.

“I think I’ve already proven I can be a draw,” Cyborg said. “I think people have really (been following me) for a long time. And, after the opportunity I had to fight at 140 in Brazil. I think people who didn’t know Cyborg just met me there.

“Let’s see. December, I think, will be an amazing time, an amazing match. I think people are going to be very excited to buy the pay-per-view and watch me and Holly.”

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

And for more on UFC 219, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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UFC's Joseph Benavidez on initial pain, isolation, helplessness of injury recovery: 'I cried every day'

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Scrolling through Joseph Benavidez’s Instagram account, you’ll see a few things: pictures of him with wife Megan Olivi, snapshots of movies, and cute selfies with their dog, Benny.

What you won’t see are too many pictures of his recovering knee.

That doesn’t mean that the two-time UFC flyweight title challenger isn’t going to the UFC Performance Institute every day. Or that he isn’t training. Or that he isn’t powering through every rough stage of rehabilitation after surgically repairing a torn ACL.

In the more than six months that have passed since Benavidez announced that an injury had forced him out of a scheduled bout with Ben Nguyen, he’s done all those things.

We just haven’t since much of it.

“It was only me going through it, and that’s the way I thought about it,” Benavidez told MMAjunkie Radio. “Like, no one else is going to care. That’s why I’m not like, ‘Hey guys, I’ll be back soon. Check it out. I just bent my leg to 30 degrees or whatever.’ In this sport, there’s such a short memory. There’s always something happening. Someone getting injured, a fight that weekend.

“I’m just like, ‘People are not even going to know I’m injured by the time nine or 10 months comes. And I’m going to win, and I’m going to fight. So they’re not even going to remember that, anyway. So I’m not going to start with everybody else, so I’m going through it myself.’”

For those interested in updates of his recovery, though, Benavidez will gladly give them.

“It’s coming along,” Benavidez said. “You can get places faster banding and lateral and stuff. But it takes a certain amount of time for the tendons and everything to heal properly. I’m like at a six-, six-and-a-half-month mark right now. I’m training and stuff. Nothing live – anything where an injury can happen.

“Just like you would a week before a fight or something. Something you would do where you couldn’t get injured? That’s kind what I’m doing. Going through the mitts, the motions, the drills and stuff.

“I’m getting there. Hopefully shooting for a March, April return next year.”

Benavidez has been “good” for months now. But that’s after what often felt like a very slow process that had him relying heavily on others for basic things. For two months, he had to use at least one crutch. He was stuck with an ankle-to-hip cast. His wife, who’s also a host and reporter for the UFC, had to skip trips to help him.

For the first week, Benavidez had to sleep in the couch because couldn’t even go up the stairs in his home. After that, he could go up slowly, with Olivi’s help, to do basic things like taking showers.

“It was miserable, of course,” Benavidez said. “And I know Megan wouldn’t be doing anything else, but she was in there helping me shower, you know. I cried every day. On my couch, like – it was just terrible to have something taken away from you like that.

“I would cry all the time, and Megan would go down and sleep with me on the couch because I couldn’t go up the stairs. And I’d have to wake her up because I was just crying. Just breaking down and just kind of – I don’t know. It was just a long road. And then the pain and everything as well. There were times when I was crying naked with my dog on my lap.”

With time, it got better. Eventually, Benavidez could walk. Then he could drive. And now, possibly three or four months away from an octagon return, the flyweight is looking ahead to what’s currently an interesting division.

Since Benavidez had to withdraw from his UFC Fight Night 110 meeting with Nguyen, 125-pound kingpin Demetrious Johnson has cruised past yet another challenger at UFC 216, pulling off a crazy submission win over Ray Borg to break Anderson Silva’s previous record of 10 consecutive title defenses.

Benavidez, who’s suffered two losses to Johnson in the past, has made no secret of his desire for a third stab at the belt. And, considering he’s coming off six straight victories, the No. 2 fighter in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA flyweight rankings isn’t exactly crazy to feel that way.

If it does come to fruition, however, that shot might involve peculiar circumstances. While nothing’s been officially announced, there’s a strong push to make Johnson’s (27-2-1 MMA, 15-1-1 UFC) next fight against bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw (15-3 MMA, 11-3 UFC) – a matchup that Benavidez thinks is “awesome.”

The specifics of that are also up in the air. Would it be at flyweight? Bantamweight? Somewhere in between? But if it ends up being Dillashaw going down to the 125-pound division, and becoming a two-division champ in the process, that could lead to Benavidez going up against a former Team Alpha Male stablemate and friend.

When talks of a Johnson-Dillashaw fight first started, Benavidez figured he’d have time to see the whole thing unfold. But Johnson had other plans. And Benavidez was always aware, as small as it was, as much as he knew both ex-teammates would tried to get around it, of the possibility of fighting Dillashaw.

Now that it seems more real than never?

“I’ll fight the best guy in my weight,” Benavidez said.

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

And for more on the UFC’s upcoming schedule, 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.

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Today in MMA history: Conor McGregor knocks out Jose Aldo, going from jester to king in 13 seconds

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Months of buildup. Dozens of interviews. Thousands of miles traveled and multiple countries visited on a press tour that seemed to go on forever. Then 13 seconds in the cage.

That was how the saga of Conor McGregor and Jose Aldo finally ended on Dec. 12, 2015. You couldn’t have missed the months of pre-fight hype if you tried. But the fight itself came and went in less time than it would take you to run to the kitchen and get a fresh beer out of the fridge.

Just like that, one era ended and another began. The jester had become king, and the king had become the past. After that, the featherweight division – and arguably the UFC itself – would never be quite the same.

Somehow, this all started with Dennis Siver. In January 2015, McGregor traveled to Boston to meet the stoically inoffensive German featherweight in the main event of UFC Fight Night 59.

Did this seem like it was even intended to be a serious challenge to the streaking McGregor, who’d stormed into the UFC two years prior and reeled off four straight wins while his fame snowballed into an unstoppable force? Not really.

What it seemed like was a setup. Especially after the Irishman had proven his drawing power in a win over Diego Brandao at a UFC Fight Pass-only event from Dublin, the UFC clearly wanted to be all the way in the McGregor business. So it booked him opposite Siver, a good-but-not-great featherweight who seemed to be slowing down in his mid-30s.

“This fight in Boston,” UFC President Dana White said a couple weeks prior, “if (McGregor) wins, he’s going to fight for the title.”

Of course he won. That was the whole point. But a second-round TKO of Siver didn’t make quite enough noise to please McGregor, so after the fight he leapt over the octagon fence and made a beeline for UFC featherweight champion Aldo, who was sitting at cageside.

The confrontation was brief, but tense. With beefy security types quickly intervening between the two men, McGregor leaned toward Aldo’s face with the wide-eyed stare of a madman. Aldo couldn’t stop grinning. The whole thing was just so funny, he explained later.

“He is a fool, and just kept opening his mouth,” Aldo said. “It just made me laugh.”

This would become Aldo’s standard response to McGregor’s many provocations.

At the event, he showed off a poster depicting McGregor as a court jester. “Go Joker, Go…” it read. “Make me laugh.”

Jose Aldo

After four years as the only featherweight champion the UFC had ever known, it hardly even needed to be said that, at least for the purposes of this metaphor, Aldo was the king.

The fight was set for UFC 189 in July. To promote what it expected to be a blockbuster affair, the UFC took both fighters on a two-week media tour that traveled from Brazil to the U.S. to Ireland, all so fans could work themselves into a frenzy as the two men jawed at one another from opposite sides of a dais.

Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor

Aldo may have started out trying to dismiss McGregor’s antics as harmlessly idiotic, but by the end, he was nearly boiling over. In Dublin, McGregor reached over the podium and seized Aldo’s UFC title belt, holding it over his head as the Irish fans cheered and Dana White tried to restrain the enraged Aldo.

With that image alone, the media tour seemed to have served its purpose.

White later claimed the UFC had spent more money promoting that fight than any other in UFC history. That made it sting all the more when, a few weeks before UFC 189, Aldo withdrew with a rib injury.

The UFC president didn’t take the news well. He accused Aldo and his camp of overplaying the injury, making a bruised rib sound like a broken one. He appeared on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” alongside McGregor to criticize Aldo’s record of pulling out of title fights. Instead, White said, former title challenger Chad Mendes would step in on short notice to fight McGregor for the interim featherweight title.

As for Aldo?

“If a man is scared for his life, we cannot force him to step in and face me,” McGregor said on ESPN. “I feel he is afraid. The doctors have cleared him to fight. It’s a (rib) bruise, but he has still pulled out.”

Even with the late change of opponents, UFC 189 was an unqualified success. The UFC pulled out all the stops with its production, both on pay-per-view and in the arena, with Sinead O’Connor singing McGregor’s entrance music live inside MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Conor Mcgregor and Chad Mendes at UFC 189. (USA TODAY Sports)

And, after a shaky first round in which he was easily taken down by Mendes and bloodied on the mat, McGregor rebounded to knock out an exhausted Mendes in the final seconds of Round 2.

Now the Irishman was the interim champ, and to the tune of more than 800,000 pay-per-view buys, according to reports. The live-gate figures also broke a U.S. record for MMA, according to UFC officials, with just north of $7 million flowing in through ticket sales.

But the fight with Mendes left some doubts. Yes, McGregor had finally defeated a strong wrestler, but one who took the fight on short notice. Plus, his takedown defense was clearly lacking. After being given such a well-manicured path to the title, was McGregor really ready for a focused and prepared champion like Aldo?

We finally got the chance to find out that December. Atop a star-studded fight card that featured Chris Weidman defending his middleweight title against Luke Rockhold (while Yoel Romero and Ronaldo Souza battled beneath them to see who had next), Aldo-McGregor was the unquestioned headliner.

Before the event, White predicted another record-breaker, saying that UFC 194 was on track to be “the biggest thing we’ve ever done.” Sure enough, live gate figures topped $10 million, according to UFC officials, breaking the U.S. record set by McGregor’s previous fight.

At the weigh-ins, a grinning Aldo and a skeletal McGregor had to be separated by White. The arena practically shook with the raucous cheers of the Irish fans, and all with still a day to go before the fight itself.

Asked for prediction before the fight, McGregor explained that he saw himself slipping Aldo’s right hand and coming back with his own powerful left.

“I see him KO’d inside one (round),” McGregor said.

More than 16,000 fans packed MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas that night. More than a million more watched on pay-per-view.

McGregor entered first, grinning his madman’s grin as he draped himself the Irish flag. A tense and serious Aldo followed a few moments later. The longtime champion looked especially nervous as he waited in his corner, head down, swaying from side to side.

Only referee John McCarthy, standing quietly with his arms crossed, seemed capable of underplaying the magnitude of the moment. When McCarthy gave the pre-fight instructions and offered the fighters the chance to tough gloves, neither man moved.

“Conor looks extremely loose,” UFC commentator Joe Rogan said, as McGregor crouched in his corner, mouthing words that were immediately lost in the din of the crowd. “And Aldo looks like he’s feeling the pressure of this moment.”

At the signal to fight, McGregor bounded out to the center of the cage, his lead right hand extended as Aldo stalked forward. McGregor fired a straight left, and Aldo replied with a counter left hook that came up short. McGregor stabbed a kick at Aldo’s thigh, forcing him back, but only for a moment.

Then it was if Aldo had had enough. He came forward pumping his left, missing with his right and landing his left – just as he walked directly into McGregor’s stiff left hand.

The instant the punch landed, it was as if Aldo’s feet stopped working, while his forward momentum carried his upper body on ahead. He crashed to the mat, rolling onto his side as McGregor stood over him and pounded at his unguarded head with two straight left-hand hammerfists.

Conor McGregor and Jose Aldo

By the time McCarthy shoved him off to stop it, only 13 seconds had gone by.

“Unbelievable,” Rogan said. “The first punch he threw. Slept him.”

As Aldo was being helped to his feet, McGregor celebrated atop the cage before jumping down and jogging around the perimeter, once again draped in his flag.

“The first man to beat Aldo in over a decade,” UFC commentator Mike Goldberg said. “The fastest title fight finish ever, bettering Ronda Rousey’s 14-second armbar.”

Aldo could only stalk the cage, covering his face with a towel as he shook his head. When he came to the center of the cage for the official announcement, he traded a few words with McGregor before standing with his hands on his hips, staring at the mat while blood leaked from a cut on the bridge of his nose.

“He’s powerful, and he’s fast,” McGregor said of Aldo in the post-fight interview. “But precision beats power, and timing beats speed. And that’s what you saw there.”

By the time the post-fight press conference rolled around, McGregor was already talking about his next goal – the UFC lightweight title. His coaches later admitted that the cut to featherweight was a brutal one for him, and one they might prefer him never to make again. But in the immediate aftermath, McGregor was adamant about becoming – and staying – a two-division champion.

“I’ll tell you one thing that won’t be happening,” McGregor said. “If I got up to that lightweight division, there is no way in hell that I am vacating my belt. That is not happening. There will be a belt on one shoulder and a belt on the other shoulder.”

And there was, at least for a time. By then, no one was laughing at the joker anymore.

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

“Today in MMA History” is an MMAjunkie series created in association with MMA History Today, the social media outlet dedicated to reliving “a daily journey through our sport’s history.”

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Source: MMA Junkie

UFC on FOX 26 main-event breakdown: Can Rafael dos Anjos survive Robbie Lawler's initial storm?

MMAjunkie Radio cohost and MMAjunkie contributor Dan Tom provides an in-depth breakdown of all of UFC on FOX 26’s main-card bouts. Today, we look at the main event.

UFC on FOX 26 takes place Saturday at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and the main card airs on FOX following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass.

* * * *

Robbie Lawler (28-11 MMA, 13-5 UFC)

Robbie Lawler

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’11” Age: 35 Weight: 170 lbs. Reach: 74″
  • Last fight: Decision win over Donald Cerrone (July 29, 2017)
  • Camp: Combat Club (Florida)
  • Stance/striking style: Southpaw/kickboxing
  • Risk management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+ Former UFC welterweight champion
+ EliteXC middleweight title
+ 20 KO victories
+ 1 submission win
+ 12 first-round finishes
+ KO power
+ Solid footwork
+ Dangerous left hand
+ Deceptively accurate right hook
+ Hard left Thai kicks
^ Variates well from the body to head
+ Strong inside of the clinch
+ Underrated wrestling
^ Good getup ability
+ Effective butterfly guard
+ Deceptive ground striker
– Someitmes subject to acitvity lulls
+/- 2-2 against UFC southpaws

Rafael dos Anjos (27-9 MMA, 16-7 UFC)

Rafael dos Anjos

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’8″ Age: 33 Weight: 170 lbs. Reach: 70″
  • Last fight: Submission win over Neil Magny (Sept. 9, 2017)
  • Camp: RVCA/Gracie Barra (California)
  • Stance/striking style: Southpaw/muay Thai
  • Risk management: Good

Supplemental info:
+ Former UFC lightweight champion
+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt
+ Multiple Brazilian jiu-jitsu accolades
+ 5 KO victories
+ 9 submission wins
+ 9 first-round finishes
+ Disciplined pace and pressure
^ Aggressive but intelligent stalker
+ Hard and accurate Thai kicks
^ Variates well to the body
+ Good takedowns against the fence
^ 10-2 when scoring at least one
+ Strong postional grappler
^ Smashes and pashes effectively
+ Improved getup ability
+/- 4-1 against UFC southpaws

Summary:

The main event in Winnipeg features a battle between two former champions when Robbie Lawler and Rafael dos Anjos collide.

Lawler, a former welterweight champion, is attempting to reassert his position as the division’s warlord with a potential win under the spotlight.

Dos Anjos, a former lightweight champion, looks to continue his successful campaign at 170 pounds en route to his desired goal of another gold belt.

Starting off on the feet, we have a rare pairing of southpaw strikers.

Although this type of matchup typically presents some problems in the form of discomfort and defense (given that most southpaws predicate their games against orthodox opposition), I don’t suspect it will be a sizeable factor for either fighter considering their style and experience.

What I do suspect to be a factor is the fact that both men are pressure-based fighters by trade.

A more traditional pressure fighter, dos Anjos steadily stalks his opponents, working behind feints until finding an opportunity to unleash. Whether dos Anjos is throwing his hard left hands or Thai kicks, the Brazilian usually counterbalanced his attack with a dangerous right hook.

Despite moving up a weight class, dos Anjos is accustomed to having to slip-and-rip on taller opposition. And considering that dos Anjos likes to follow his opponents retractions into the pocket, the Brazilian’s power will be most potent inside of these spaces.

Still, dos Anjos has some tendencies of his own that may make him vulnerable when looking to strike inside. Often planting his heels to hold his ground, dos Anjos tends to get wide on his strike retractions as he wings his shots from left to right.

And although dos Anjos usually has the upper hand in these equations (being that he is bombing from below), he will still need to be mindful of the potential brutality coming back at him.

Lawler, one of the heavier-handed fighters in the division, has steadily sharpened his craft over the years.

Similar to Anthony Johnson (a former pupil of Lawler’s newfound striking coach, Henri Hooft), Lawler will steadily march down his opposition, cutting off the octagon while shifting his weight from left to right.

Fueled by an excellent awareness of angles, Lawler symbiotically moves his head defensively as his feet set up offensive onslaughts. This approach allows Lawler to stay on balance when attacking, while seemingly encouraging head movement as well.

Known for his devastating left hands and power kicks, Lawler’s right hook is usually the quiet killer in exchanges.

Whether he’s coming forward with it or throwing it as a check, Lawler’s right hook is a deceptively accurate weapon. And whenever he can get his opposition to back up in between the cage and inner-black octagon lines, you can throw all activity-lulling accusations out the window since Lawler attacks with impunity here.

In fact both men do their best work when able to get their opponents into this zone. Conversely, each fighter has also suffered his worst defeat when being the one who is pressured toward the fence, making this matchup’s dynamic a clear one.

Should dos Anjos get his pressure game going, expect takedown attempts to accompany his strikes anytime he can corral Lawler near the cage. Despite Lawler being the bigger man with underrated takedown defense to boot, I suspect these stanzas to remain competitive from both sides.

If the former lightweight can ground the former middleweight, then we could see a few different developments.

A strong positional player, dos Anjos could surprise some by ceasing control via his high-percentage pressure game and passes. Although Lawler has long possessed a serviceable butterfly guard from the bottom, his last fight was a reminder that he is not beyond being outmaneuvered by a lighter man.

I am not sure if I can see dos Anjos submitting a sober Lawler in these scenarios, but I do see him having his chances whenever Lawler tries to get back to his feet. Typically electing to tripod or turtle to stand, Lawler can sometimes make himself vulnerable to back takes or front headlocks.

Coupled with the recent trend of dos Anjos getting back to his Brazilian jiu-jitsu roots, this could spell potential trouble for the former welterweight champ. That said, if dos Anjos ends up on bottom or against the fence, then he could ultimately be subjected to the harsher weather.

The oddsmakers and public do not seem to feel too strongly one way or the other, and the betting lines are still at a near pick’em as of this writing.

I am somewhat surprised to not see Lawler listed as the slight favorite, given that he is the bigger, stronger and more experienced pressure fighter in a five-round affair. Nevertheless, it can be hard to overlook Lawler’s propensity for activity lulls and lackadaisical kick defense in this particular matchup.

Ultimately, if dos Anjos can survive Lawler’s initial storm and power shots, then I can see his consistent arsenal of attack stacking up points and momentum en route to a competitive decision win.

Official pick: Dos Anjos by decision

For more on UFC on FOX 26, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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Champ Robert Whittaker and UFC 221 opponent Luke Rockhold discuss GSP's departure

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Georges St-Pierre is out of the UFC middleweight title picture, and UFC 221’s headliners are ready to move on without him.

After St-Pierre, a longtime welterweight titleholder, returned to the UFC after a four-year layoff, he scored a submission win to dethrone middleweight champion Michael Bisping (30-8 MMA, 20-8 UFC) in November. However, St-Pierre (26-2 MMA, 20-2 UFC) recently vacated the belt after facing an uncertain future due to his diagnosis of ulcerative colitis.

That opened the door for interim titleholder Robert Whittaker (19-4 MMA, 10-2 UFC) to be promoted to undisputed champion, and he now meets former titleholder Luke Rockhold (16-3 MMA, 6-2 UFC) in UFC 221’s pay-per-view headliner, which takes place Feb. 10 at Perth Arena in Perth and marks the UFC’s debut in Western Australia.

Whittaker initially was targeted for a title-unification bout with St-Pierre, but the 26-year-old New Zealand-born Australian never really counted on the fight.

“With the UFC, anything can happen, really,” Whittaker, who won the vacant belt with a July victory over Yoel Romero, today said. “There was no clear-cut matchup for me at any point in the last six months. So I’m just happy to have closure.

“I’m just happy to know Georges has stepped down, I’ve taken the title, and I’m going to defend it come February against Luke. So yeah, it’s just good to know what we’re doing. I’m a very objective-drive bloke, so to have a goal in mind and to have something to do is very important to me.”

Whittaker, who was part of today’s UFC 221 kickoff press conference, got a look at his upcoming opponent. He even squared off with Rockhold, which showed the size difference between the two (via Twitter):

Rockhold, a 33-year-old former UFC and Strikeforce champ, rebounded from his title loss to Bisping with a recent submission win over David Branch.

Rockhold, who’s No. 3 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA middleweight rankings, said he always considered No. 2-ranked Whittaker the real champ – even after No. 1-ranked St-Pierre’s return.

“It sucks to see what they’ve done with everything, but I’m just glad we’re back on track,” said Rockhold, who had been critical of Bisping’s title reign, which lasted 17 months and consisted of just one title defense – over Dan Henderson. “Like I said, I said Whittaker has been the true champion for some time now, and I’m excited to get in there and mix it up.

“It’s going to be a fight, man.”

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

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Source: MMA Junkie

McGregor vs. Pacquiao is a terrible idea. Wouldn't it be nice if that alone were enough to stop it?

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Let’s start with something we all (hopefully) agree on: A boxing match between Conor McGregor and Manny Pacquiao is a terrible idea.

It’s a bad idea not just because it’s bad, but also because it’s dumb and hackneyed, stripped of all novelty, like a ripoff of a parody.

Remember earlier this year when Olympic swimming great Michael Phelps “raced” a computer-generated shark on the Discovery channel? Booking McGregor vs. Pacquiao now would be like trying to run that one back, except this time with a CGI dolphin.

But here’s the problem with the current age of combat sports: As dumb and awful as a fight like that would be right now, how certain can you be that it won’t actually happen?

Personally, I’m hovering at right around 80 percent sure. I’m encouraged by recent developments, such as UFC President Dana White threatening a lawsuit over the reported negotiations between Team McGregor and Team Pacquiao, but I still can’t get all the way to 100 percent positive, or even comfortably into the 90s.

A lot of that is due to what you might call plausibility creep. The last several years have seen a shift in our perception of what’s possible in combat sports. McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather? That didn’t seem realistic until suddenly there it was. A pro wrestler jumping straight into the UFC with zero relevant experience to recommend him for the job? It was laughable until it was real.

It’s not just the UFC, either. Everything about Bellator’s stubbornly popular seniors tour feels like a bad joke that was repeated once too often, until it was finally conjured into being by the dulling force of repetition.

All this has consequences. Professional fighting is an imitative business. The best indicator of what will work is what already has worked in the recent past. This is true for both promoters and fighters.

Witness the shift in UFC fighter attitudes caused by the success of McGregor. Before he came along, the typical goal was to become a champion, then defend the belt again and again. Now it’s to win the belt and immediately go hunting for a huge payday in another division.

For promoters, it’s a constant battle for our attention. If it’s only the outlandish possibilities that get us talking, then those must be the ones worth considering.

And since we accept and even expect that promoters will have no guiding principles that extend beyond the race for the next one-off cash grab, they’re free to live down to our standards. The only excuse they need in order to sell us a certain fight is the possibility that we’ll buy it.

Which brings us back to McGregor-Pacquiao, the combat sports version of the lazy action-movie sequel.

There’s nothing to recommend this fight. We’ve already seen McGregor as a boxer, so that curiosity is satisfied. The longer he stays away from the UFC, the more it seems like he’s holding the lightweight title hostage, and at a time when the division itself is as interesting as ever.

Even the bulb of Pacquiao’s celebrity doesn’t shine as brightly as it used to, making him seem like the copycat kid who shows up at school in whatever he saw the cool kids wearing yesterday.

Still, you can’t say that nobody would watch this fight, which means you can’t say that the powers that be wouldn’t consider making it. Even with all the obstacles, ranging from personal to professional, we’ve reached a point where you can’t just write it off as impossible.

In a bizarre way, the fact that it seems so farfetched now actually makes it slightly more likely, since at least it would qualify as a surprise.

That’s a strange place for the sport to be, and it doesn’t seem like we’ve seen the end of it yet. It seems more like we’re still searching out the new boundaries, waiting to see how far those borders can be pushed until something – whether it’s anger, revulsion, or just indifference – finally pushes back.

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

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Dana White: 'Unbelievable' Brian Ortega won't get UFC title shot before Frankie Edgar

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FRESNO, Calif. – UFC President Dana White is very high on Brian Ortega’s potential following a submission win over Cub Swanson in UFC Fight Night 123’s main event – just not high enough to give him a title shot.

Ortega (13-0 MMA, 5-0 UFC) earned his biggest win to date on Saturday when he submitted Swanson (25-8 MMA, 10-4 UFC) with a second-round guillotine of their featherweight headliner, which took place at Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif., and aired on FS1 following early prelims on UFC Fight Pass. With five straight UFC wins, all by stoppage, “T-City” got himself noticed by the UFC boss.

“Without a doubt, this kid’s obviously the future,” White told MMAjunkie following UFC Fight Night 123. “Cub Swanson looked incredible tonight. … The problem is, this Ortega kid, if he even puts his hands on you man – and he had him in the first round, and I’ve never seen a guy up in a guillotine choke like that and lets go, repositions his hands, and gets the choke. Against a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt too. Unbelievable. Incredible performance that definitely puts this kid on the map.”

Ortega is on the map, but he won’t be fighting for the belt next, White confirmed. That honor goes to former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar (22-5-1 MMA, 16-5-1 UFC), who was forced to pull out of a scheduled UFC 218 title fight with champ Max Holloway (19-3 MMA, 15-3 UFC) earlier this month.

Edgar was also in attendance at UFC Fight Night 123 and told MMAjunkie he’s on the verge of being cleared for competition and could fight Holloway as soon as March. A number of things could happen to alter those plans, but as of now, White said Holloway vs. Edgar is the next 145-pound title fight.

“There’s no way that Ortega jumps over Frankie,” White said. “Definitely not. … It all depends on timing. When do we fight again? Who’s ready? Who’s not?

“But yeah, Frankie definitely seems like the No. 1 contender.”

For complete coverage of UFC Fight Night 123, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

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Trading Shots: Dana White isn't mad at Georges St-Pierre, but what about fans?

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Did Georges St-Pierre do a disservice to fans, fellow fighters, or the UFC when he relinquished his middleweight title without a fight? Would the answer change if a less popular fighter pulled the same maneuver? MMAjunkie columnist Ben Fowlkes and retired UFC and WEC fighter Danny Downes discuss in this week’s Trading Shots.

* * * *

Fowlkes: Georges St-Pierre is no longer the UFC middleweight champion after a little more than a month with the belt, Danny. And UFC President Dana White? He’s not mad at all. No way. In fact, he knew this would happen.

So when he said just a couple weeks ago that he’d be “super pissed” if it happened? Nah, he didn’t mean it.

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I have a couple questions here. For one, if this was indeed the outcome White expected, that GSP would not even attempt to defend the middleweight title upon winning it, does he deserve some criticism for making the fight in the first place, since this very foreseeable outcome has now disrupted the lineage of the 185-pound championship?

But more importantly, what should fans make of GSP now? He’s got an out in the form of his ulcerative colitis diagnosis, but even before that he didn’t seem thrilled about defending this belt. And if he wanted to wait, get healthy, and then defend, you know the UFC would let him.

Sure seems like he picked the easiest path he could find (which is not to say it was an easy fight) to a second UFC title and a big payday, and then he bolted once he got what he wanted.

If this were almost anyone else who skipped the line, nabbed a belt, and then fled like a thief in the night before the actual contenders could get a crack, seems like MMA fans would be all over them. Why isn’t that happening here? And should it?

Downes: The holidays must have you frazzled, Ben. You’re all over the place today. Let’s try to unpack all these questions one at a time.

As usual, you make an assertion with little evidence. Who says GSP played anyone (other than fans)? I believe White when he says that he saw this coming. As for why he said he’d be “super pissed” in the lead up to the fight, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but promoters lie.

By saying that he’d put the pressure on GSP to defend the middleweight title if he beat Michael Bisping, he avoided a PR problem that would hurt his pay-per-view buys. Even though most of us were skeptical that GSP would defend the belt, there was still the possibility. If White admitted he thought this was going to happen in the build up, it would have overshadowed the entire fight.

As far as the “lineage of the 185-pound championship” is concerned, I think a lot of this relates to our discussion last week. Sanctity might be too strong of a word, but UFC titles don’t have the same weight they once did. They’re thrown around haphazardly like the term “for a limited time only.”

Even the idea of a two-division champion seems blasé now. GSP may not have had his titles in as close succession as Conor McGregor, but his win was still a major accomplishment, even though fans and media welcomed this feat with indifference. Part of that has to do with the disrespect people have for Bisping, but the response was still tepid.

Having said that, I do think fans should be mad at the UFC and GSP. They were sold a bunch of wolf tickets. GSP had no intention of defending the middleweight title, and the UFC knew it. They colluded together to sell PPVs. Even though this is a regular occurrence in the combat-sports world, we should still be outraged when it happens.

What about you? I know you always have room in your heart to hate on the UFC brass, but can you find some room for some GSP anger? A conspiracy to defraud requires two parties. Do you find GSP guilty, or is he too “classy” to be mad at?

Fowlkes: So your theory is that White and GSP had this planned all along, but lied to us about in order to sell PPVs, and now that the money’s all in the bank, the final phase of the plan is to admit that it was all a ruse? Brilliant. Right up there with the villain explaining his whole evil scheme before leaving the hero alone to die in a cave that’s slowly filling up with water.

Here’s the rare instance in which I almost believe White. You know, to an extent. Like, when he says he put Robert Whittaker in GSP’s contract because he knew St-Pierre wouldn’t want to defend the belt after winning it? That I believe. When he says he knew it would go down this way from the very start and now he doesn’t even mind? That I don’t.

If he’d known all that, there would have been no point in trying to pressure GSP with the threat of his rage just a couple weeks ago. And if the plan is to promote him in another one-off money fight whenever he’s healthy enough, it would be pointless to de-promote him now by making him sound like a hit-and-run mercenary who’s scared of the actual middleweights.

What I think is the UFC really wanted GSP to defend this belt but feared he wouldn’t, which is why it tried, in whatever ways available, to ensure that he would. But even if White suspected that St-Pierre might find a way out of it, he didn’t much care because he was too focused on the short-term gain to think about the longterm repercussions. And honestly, that’s been the UFC in a nutshell for the last several years.

As for GSP, the goodwill he’s built up with fans is one reason they’re not coming down hard on him. The colitis excuse is another, since who’s going to tell a fighter that he’s obligated to risk his health any more than he already has for the sake of our entertainment?

There’s also the fact that his win is still so fresh. Contrary to your claims about it being “tepid,” GSP’s win over Bisping might have cemented him as the consensus GOAT of his era, especially when you factor in Anderson Silva’s second doping fail and Fedor Emelianenko’s continued descent into cautionary tale.

St-Pierre came back after four years and choked out the champion in a weight class above his. Now he’s acting like he wants to ride off into the sunset, which is something we can never seem to convince our heroes to do in this sport, so who’s going to demand that he stay and get beat up some more?

Plus, promoters have been getting over on fighters since the dawn of combat sports. There’s something satisfying about seeing it go the other way. And if the UFC doesn’t care about guarding the legitimacy of its titles, why should the fighters feel obligated to do it?

I mean, sure, now Whittaker will never get the chance to truly unify that title. But why is that GSP’s problem? Seems to me he learned the lessons of this business well, and then put them to work for his own interests. Maybe because it’s so uncommon to see a fighter pull that off, I just can’t get mad at him for it.

Downes: You just performed a lot of rhetorical jiu-jitsu to simply say “fighters don’t owe fans anything.” That’s a perfectly fine position to take. One I even support to a certain extent. At the same time, though, you have to acknowledge a graft when you see one.

You’re making the mistake of viewing MMA as a bilateral relationship – one that simply occurs between fighters and promoters. Promoters exploit fighters, so seeing a fighter “getting over” on a promoter is a welcome change to you.

What you forget is that MMA is what the French-Canadians would call a “ménage à trois.” A “household of three” if you will. And within this household, there are certain agreements that are agreed upon. Thomas Hobbes would refer to it as a social contract. Chief among these agreements is that you don’t defraud fans of their money.

I draw a line between embellishments/exaggerations and straight-up lies. GSP entered into his agreement with the public in bad faith. We all understand why he chose Bisping. We all know why he wants to take some time off (colitis aside). Just because we understand all these things doesn’t mean he should get a pass.

I agree he’s built goodwill up through the years, and that accounts for the lack of outrage. I would also argue that indifference is a major contributor too. Hardcore fans are so inundated with content that it’s difficult for them to focus on any one fighter when there’s an event every week. Casual fans who care about big names like GSP are indifferent to the day-to-day operations of the UFC, so they couldn’t care less about the middleweight title implications.

I guess I’m surprised at how nonchalant you seem to be about the whole ordeal. You’re always looking for something to be outraged by, yet you seem unfazed. Scam is too strong of a term, but can’t you admit that we were sold a bill of goods?

As far as MMA scandals are concerned, GSP getting a title shot and dropping it immediately is a minor one. I mean, it’s not like he’s refusing to defend his belt to go fight Miguel Cotto. At the same time, giving him (and the UFC) a total pass will embolden this type of behavior even more.

The next time St-Pierre makes a promise to fans, we should be more skeptical. We should distrust all future statements a little more than we did a few moths ago. And he just can’t get mad at us for it.

Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Danny Downes, a retired UFC and WEC fighter, is an MMAjunkie contributor who has also written for UFC.com and UFC 360. Follow them on twitter at @benfowlkesMMA and @dannyboydownes.

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Source: MMA Junkie

Sean Shelby's Shoes: What's next for Brian Ortega and UFC Fight Night 123's other winning fighters?

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Brian Ortega dazzled on Saturday when he joined the queue of UFC featherweight contenders with an impressive victory over Cub Swanson in UFC Fight Night 123’s main event.

Swanson (25-8 MMA, 10-4 UFC) has long been one of the best at 145 pounds. That’s still the case, but Ortega (13-0 MMA, 5-0 UFC) proved he also belongs in the discussion with a second-round submission win to close out the FS1-televised lineup at Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif.

Although Ortega’s performance garnered most of the spotlight, five other main-card winners also got the job done. Gabriel Benitez (20-6 MMA, 4-2 UFC), Marlon Moraes (20-5-1 MMA, 2-1 UFC), Scott Holtzman (11-2 MMA, 4-2 UFC), Eryk Anders (10-0 MMA, 2-0 UFC) and Benito Lopez (9-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC) all emerged on top in their respective fights.

After every event, fans wonder whom the winners will be matched up with next. And with another night of UFC action in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look forward, put on a pair of Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard’s shoes, and play UFC matchmaker for UFC Fight Night 123’s winning fighters.

* * * *

Benito Lopez

Aiemann Zahabi

Should fight: Aiemann Zahabi
Why they should fight: Although the decision was somewhat questionable, Lopez delivered an exciting performance in his promotional debut when he picked up a unanimous-decision victory over Albert Morales.

Lopez, who got a UFC roster spot after a win at a Dana White’s Contender Series event, used a high-action style against Morales and nearly paid for it several times. Despite the close nature of the bout, it’s clear he’s an exciting addition to the bantamweight division.

At just 23 Lopez has tremendous upside. It remains to be seen what he can do with it, but growing up in the UFC isn’t going to be easy. Zahabi (7-1 MMA, 1-1 UFC) may have fewer fights than Lopez, but he has more time in the sport and comes from a good team at Tristar Gym that would prepare him well for the proposed matchup.

Eryk Anders

Trevin Giles

Should fight: Trevin Giles
Why they should fight: He got a lot of resistance from UFC newcomer Markus Perez, but Anders ultimately was able to have his way with a unanimous-decision win to stay unbeaten.

Anders jumped on the UFC scene earlier this year with a promotional-debut knockout of Rafael Natal. His sophomore performance against Perez was solid, but it also revealed some aspects of Anders’ game that need improvement and that the hype around him should probably slow a bit.

The former college football standout has all the tools, but he just needs more experience in the octagon. He called out former UFC champ Lyoto Machida in his post-fight interview, but it didn’t generate much buzz. The same could be said for Giles (11-0 MA, 2-0 UFC), who picked up a third-round knockout of Antonio Braga Neto on the preliminary card, would be a more fitting next opponent.

Anders and Giles are a combined 21-0 with 17 stoppages. They both have tremendous upside, and matching them out would provide a good indication of who is ready to jump to the next level at 185 pounds.

Scott Holtzman

Marcin Held

Should fight: Marcin Held
Why they should fight: The physicality of Holtzman is a lot for many lightweights to deal with. Darrell Horcher wasn’t equipped to do it, and Holtzman left the octagon with a unanimous-decision win.

With a stifling top game, Holtzman needs to find someone who can either avoid his takedowns or present a serious threat from the bottom. Held (23-7 MMA, 1-3 UFC), who has 12 career submissions and is coming off a victory over Nasrat Haqparast at UFC Fight Night 118 in October, has that skill set and could make “Hot Sauce” think twice about going for takedowns.

Marlon Moraes

Dominick Cruz

Should fight: Dominick Cruz or Bryan Caraway
Why they should fight: Former WSOF champ Moraes had his UFC coming-out party when he picked up a “Knockout of the Year” contender courtesy of a brutal knee to the chin of Aljamain Sterling.

Moraes is finding his comfort zone in the octagon. He lost his UFC debut by narrow decision to Raphael Assuncao, but he rebounded with wins over John Dodson and Sterling in a 28-day span to put him in the discussion of bantamweight contenders.

The Brazilian hasn’t received any easy fights since coming to the UFC, and that’s certainly not going to change after what he did to Sterling.

Matchups with either Cruz (22-2 MMA, 5-1 UFC) or Caraway (21-7 MMA, 6-2 UFC) would be fitting for Moraes going forward. Both men were recently forced to pull out of high-profile fights due to injuries, but they’re hoping to get back in the octagon next year. Former UFC and WEC champ Cruz is, of course, the more significant matchup, but Caraway would be a good backup option if “The Dominator” can’t go.

Gabriel Benitez

Teruto Ishihara

Should fight: Teruto Ishihara
Why they should fight: It was an upset special for Benitez in his unanimous-decision win over Jason Knight, and now the Mexican featherweight is one to watch.

Benitez outworked his opponent over the course of three rounds and upset Knight, who came into the fight on the cusp of the top 15 in the UFC’s official rankings.

He may not get someone ranked at 145 pounds, but Benitez at least deserves a notable next opponent. Ishihara (10-4-2 MMA, 3-2-1 UFC) is another fan favorite who would surely be willing to mix it up with “Moggly.”

Brian Ortega

Should fight: Winner of Ricardo Lamas vs. Josh Emmett at UFC on FOX 26
Why they should fight: Watch the video above to see why Ortega should fight the winner of Lamas (18-5 MMA, 9-3 UFC) vs. Emmett (12-1 MMA, 3-1 UFC) at UFC on FOX 26 next weekend.

For complete coverage of UFC Fight Night 123, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

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Are we ready to believe in a specialist like Brian Ortega yet?

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There weren’t a whole lot of reasons to think Brian Ortega would beat Cub Swanson. Just one good one, which sometimes is all it takes.

Consider the first round of their main event bout at Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 123 event. The first four-and-a-half minutes was about what you’d expect. Swanson, the superior striker and craftier veteran, chipped away at a resilient but somewhat limited Ortega, thumping him to the head and the body and deftly resisting Ortega’s efforts to tussle in close.

Then Swanson (25-8 MMA, 10-4 UFC) made the mistake of letting Ortega (13-0 MMA, 5-0 UFC) get just close to ensnare his head and one of his arms, and suddenly he was struggling to maintain consciousness as he counted down the few remaining seconds in a round he’d otherwise mostly controlled.

Maybe that should have been all the warning he needed. Make one mistake that exposes your neck to Ortega, and all the good work you’ve done up until that point will be nullified.

Only it wasn’t even much of a mistake that did Swanson in. Midway through the second, another round he’d mostly won via a series of striking exchanges, Swanson allowed his head to get just a tad too low.

He didn’t go and do anything dumb. He didn’t stick his neck onto the chopping block the way some fighters do when they allow themselves to get careless in search of a takedown. The worst thing you could say about there was that he allowed his relaxed his state of constant anti-choke vigilance for just a moment. As Ortega looped his arm over Swanson’s head and around his throat, it didn’t even seem like that serious of an attempt.

Then a few seconds later the fight was over.

Let this be a final warning to every featherweight in or around the UFC. This Ortega guy? Chokes are kind of his thing. He can hit triangles and guillotines from all angles, even when you think you’re safe, so best to disregard any assumption of safety and proceed as if you’re always at risk of defeat via a deft attack on your carotid arteries. In other words, heed the wisdom of the Wu-Tang Clan and protect your neck.

But it’s tough being a specialist in MMA these days, even when you’re 13-0 with five straight finishes (not counting that no-contest owing to a positive steroid test) at the tender age of 26. Particularly when you’re thing is the sudden and unexpected application of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, people have a way of dismissing your accomplishments as a one-dimensional trick that will soon reach its limits.

Some of that attitude is the result of experience. The days of submission specialists winning UFC titles seem to be long gone. Former women’s bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey was arguably the last in a long line of fighters with a signature submission move that she pulled off even on opponents who were expecting it, and even she had her shortcomings forcefully exposed eventually.

Ortega might not be quite so limited, but his game is, you might say, very focused on one particular outcome. That makes him a lot of fun to watch. But could it possibly make him great?

It’s hard to be convinced, especially after how we’ve seen this play out in the past. The tendency is to await more evidence, more tests, more ranked opponents.

But then, that’s what Swanson was, a title contender who was more dangerous and accomplished than anyone Ortega had faced before. And just look how that turned out.

For complete coverage of UFC Fight Night 123, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

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