Kamaru Usman denies ducking Emil Meek, says Colby Covington refused to fight him

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DETROIT – As far as he knows, Kamaru Usman no longer has a fight booked. But, while that situation gets resolved, he’s going a few rounds outside the octagon with a couple of his welterweight peers.

Usman (11-1 MMA, 6-0 UFC) was supposed to fight Emil Meek (9-2 MMA, 1-0 UFC) at Dec. 30’s UFC 219. Meek’s visa issues, however, soon cast some doubt as to whether the matchup would ever materialize. Eventually, Meek got his visa. But by then, Usman’s manager said, they had moved on to “mug bigger, scared fish.”

Meek kept on gunning for the fight, only to be violently rebuffed by Usman on Twitter. Speaking to reporters backstage at UFC 218, Usman elaborated on the situation.

“We knew months ago he wasn’t going to be able to get his visa, he wasn’t getting his visa,” Usman said. “So we were told, ‘Hey, we’re going to work on the visa, are you still willing to hang on?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll hang on.’ In the process, they were trying to find someone who’d step in right away. And then it came to a point where, officially, it was like, ‘Yeah, it’s not looking likely.’

“Because what am I supposed to do? Sit and wait three weeks out, four weeks out, training hard for a fight that might not happen? So they said, ‘officially, we’re going to pull him. And we’re going to offer it to some guy, to see if they’ll fight.’”

The offer, Usman says, was made to controversial welterweight contender Colby Covington – who remains unbooked after a big win over ex-title-challenger Demian Maia at UFC Fight Night 119.

“That’s the fight they really want to make,” Usman said. “It’s the fight that makes sense. And he declined, once again.”

Usman sees why Covington, who’s been avidly campaigning for a shot at champ Tyron Woodley’s belt, wouldn’t want to fight him. The problem, the No. 8 fighter in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA welterweight rankings says, is that No. 5 Covington was the one accusing Usman of doing the running not that long ago.

“It’s rough because he’s one of those guys who’s specifically been saying I’ve been ducking him, when that fight was never offered,” Usman said. “Now that the fight is being offered and he’s saying, ‘oh, no.’ Blatantly, three different occasions, he said ‘No, no, no.’

“I can’t understand why he wouldn’t take the fight. Well, in a sense I can – he thinks he’s next in line for a title shot. Which, it’s clear they’re not giving you a title shot. So hey, take the fight, at least prove to the people you’re the best, (and) you are next in line for a title shot.”

In light of Covington’s alleged refusal, Usman says he was told they would try to get him booked for January. And, in the interim, he came down with a bad flu that kept him in bed for a whole week and had yet to clear by the time he talked to reporters in Detroit.

Usman says he found out about Meek’s visa clearance as soon as he got off the plane, from social media.

“I’m like, goddman – it’s kind of too late now,” Usman said. “But it just kind of sucks that’s how things happen sometimes.

Usman wouldn’t commit to it, given he hadn’t had any official discussions yet. But, “as long as I know,” the fight with Meek at UFC 219 is off. The UFC’s website, though, still shows the bout on their event page.

Either way, Usman is not exactly happy with the way his would-be opponent framed the situation.

“Let’s be honest: look at the fight,” Usman said. “What about Emil Meek scares me that’s like, ‘Wow, don’t fight this guy’? No. Does he have big power, really? No. Can he outwrestle me? No. Can he outgrapple me? No. This was a, ‘stay busy, here’s a fight because no one else will fight you, here.’

“He’s kind of trying to make it seem like, ‘Oh, you’re trying to duck me?’ What do I have to duck? I’m asking for harder guys. How is that me ducking you? It makes no sense.”

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

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

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Report: Kamaru Usman and Emil Meek slated for welterweight clash at UFC 219

The good news for Kamaru Usman is that he got a fight. The bad news is that it’s not the ranked foe he wanted.

Instead, Usman is now set to meet fellow welterweight Emil Meek (9-2 MMA, 1-0 UFC) at UFC 219, which takes place Dec. 30 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The matchup was reported by Farah Hannoun on Twitter – to which Meek responded with a tweet of his own.

After making quick work of Sergio Moraes at UFC Fight Night 117 to earn a 10th straight win – six of them in the UFC – Usman spoke about his difficulties getting matched up within the upper echelon of the 170-pound division. It’s a problem that he attributed to his belief “that they’re smart enough to know that they have no chance.”

Usman currently is the No. 11 fighter in both the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA welterweight rankings and the official UFC rankings.

The unranked Meek is only one fight into his UFC stint. He picked up a unanimous decision over Jordan Mein at UFC 206 in December 2016. The 29-year-old fighter had been scheduled to meet Nordine Taleb in Sweden back in May, but had to withdraw due to injury.

Meek stamped his octagon ticket with a quick knockout win over UFC vet Rousimar Palhares at Venator. He’s only lost twice in his MMA career.

With the addition, the UFC 219 lineup now includes:

  • Dominick Cruz vs. Jimmie Rivera
  • Carlos Condit vs. Neil Magny
  • Cynthia Calvillo vs. Carla Esparza
  • Matheus Nicolau vs. Louis Smolka
  • Khalil Rountree vs. Gokhan Saki
  • Myles Jury vs. Rick Glenn
  • Emil Meek vs. Kamaru Usman

For more on UFC 219, visit the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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MMAjunkie's 'Knockout of the Month' for September: A prospect shows what he can do

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

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

* * * *

The Nominees

Mairbek Taisumov def. Felipe Silva at UFC Fight Night 115

After nearly 17 months away from competition, Mairbek Taisumov (27-5 MMA, 6-1 UFC) returned with an incredible finish, needing just one shot to hand Felipe Silva (8-1 MMA, 1-1 UFC) his first loss in their lightweight clash.

A few exchanges from both men showed their skills before Taisumov landed an absolute stunner. With Silva charging forward with a combination, Taisumov slipped a big right and landed one of is own directly on the button, face-planting his opponent in a devastating one-punch finish.

Alex Lohore def. Nathan Jones at BAMMA 31

Alex Lohore (13-1) needed less than a round to destroy Nathan Jones (11-6) and win the BAMMA welterweight championship. After staggering his opponent with some strikes, Lohore’s pressure forced Jones into a sloppy, telegraphed takedown attempt.

That was the last move Jones would make. He was greeted by a perfectly timed knee from Lohore that slumped his limp body against the canvas.

Kamaru Usman def. Sergio Moraes at UFC Fight Night 116

Kamaru Usman (11-1 MMA, 6-0 UFC) scored the biggest win of his burgeoning career, devastating Sergio Moraes (12-3-1 MMA, 6-2-1 UFC) with a crushing blow for a sixth consecutive victory to start his UFC welterweight tenure.

Usman was on point from the start, wobbling Moraes with a low kick and then dropping him briefly with a right hand. Unsurprisingly, Usman refused to follow to the floor, and Moraes crawled back to his feet and looked to brawl. Haymakers followed, but Usman slipped well and scored a beautiful finish with a destructive straight right to the chin. Moraes crashed to the canvas, and Usman landed one hammerfist to an already vanquished foe.

Sabina Mazo def. Linsey Williams at LFA 23

Five months after a vicious head-kick knockout earned Sabina Mazo (4-0) viral backing, she repeated the feat with another crushing kick, this time against Linsey Williams (0-2).

Mazo used another high kick to the dome to score another first-round knockout. This time, it was a finish of Williams, who was left sprawled out on the canvas after Mazo’s right foot whipped up and caught her flush on the chin.

Instagram Photo

Aaron Pico def. Justin Linn via punch at Bellator 183

Want to make people forget about your embarrassing debut? Send your next opponent crashing to the canvas. Aaron Pico (1-1 MMA, 1-1 BMMA) did just that.

Things didn’t quite go as planned for Pico’s coming out party in June. But they couldn’t have gone any better for his follow up, because Pico manhandled Justin Linn (7-4 MMA, 0-1 BMMA) on the mat before a perfectly placed left hook knocked his opponent out cold.

Instagram Photo

* * * *

The Winner: Aaron Pico

Pico’s second Bellator fight went much better than his first. Not only did he win at Bellator 183, but he picked up a highlight-reel knockout in the opening round.

Pico, who was competing just a few days shy of his 21st birthday at the event, knocked Linn out cold with a picture-perfect left hook at the 3:45 mark of Round 1, giving him the first victory of his MMA career.

After going into his debut fight as arguably the most hyped prospect in the sport’s history, Pico stumbled badly in the form of a 24-second submission loss to Zach Freeman at Bellator NYC in June. Pico kept his head held high after the stunning defeat and bounced back with a much better performance against Linn.

After a brief standup exchange, Pico shot for a takedown on Linn and got it with ease. They stayed on the ground for a short while before Pico stood up and the action returned to the feet, and from there it got really good.

Pico stood toe-to-toe with Linn, eating some hard shots in the process. He waited for his moment to strike with the fight-ending shot, and when it arrived, he planted a mean left hook to the chin of his opponent. Linn went down in a heap, and Pico celebrated the ideal birthday moment.

“I’m really happy right now – really happy,” Pico said in his post-fight interview. “It’s a proud moment to get my first victory, something I’ll always remember on my 21st birthday.”

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Kamaru Usman wants December bout with Neil Magny, who quickly responds

Dann StuppWhen you know the fight you want, why not just put it out there?

That seems to be Kamaru Usman’s plan, and for now, it seems like it might just work.

Usman (11-1 MMA, 6-0 UFC), who’s No. 11 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA welterweight rankings, has won six straight UFC fights and 11 consecutive bouts overall. Now, he wants a matchup against a fellow contender: No. 14-ranked Neil Magny (19-6 MMA, 12-5 UFC).

Usman, who initially called for a fight with former lightweight champ and No. 12-ranked Rafael dos Anjos (27-9 MMA, 16-7 UFC), set his sights on Magny on Thursday. He took his plea public, tagging Magny, MMAjunkie and other journalists in his tweet:

A receptive Magny responded just hours later (via Twitter):

They’re shooting for a December pay-per-view date, namely UFC 218, which takes place Dec. 2 in Detroit, or UFC 219, which is slated for Dec. 30 in Las Vegas (via Twitter):

UFC matchmakers prefer to match up recent winners with recent winners (and losers with losers). Usman, 29, recently scored a first-round knockout victory over Sergio Moraes to extend his four-year winning streak, but Magny is coming off a September loss to dos Anjos. However, the 30-year-old was on a 4-1 run (and 10-2 following back-to-back losses in 2013) before the RDA setback, and from a rankings and timing perspective (not to mention early feedback from fans), the matchup seems to make sense.

Do you want to see it? Vote in the poll below.

For more on UFC 218 and UFC 219, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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

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Sean Shelby's Shoes: What's next for Luke Rockhold and UFC Fight Night 116's other winning fighters?

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Former champ Luke Rockhold returned to the UFC middleweight title contender mix on Saturday when he put a thorough beating on David Branch in the UFC Fight Night 116 main event.

Rockhold’s (16-3 MMA, 6-2 UFC) ground game was far too much for Branch (21-4 MMA, 3-3 UFC) to handle in the FS1-televised headliner, which took place at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. He battered his opponent with strikes for the second-round stoppage, putting Rockhold back in the queue of 185-pound contenders.

The finish in the main event concluded a main card where five of six fights ended inside the distance. Mike Perry (11-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC), Anthony Smith (27-13 MMA, 4-2 UFC), Gregor Gillespie (10-0 MMA, 3-0 UFC) and Kamaru Usman (11-1 MMA, 6-0 UFC) all stopped their opponents in exciting fashion, while Justin Ledet (9-0 MMA, 3-0 UFC) was alone in winning on the scorecards.

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 116’s winning fighters.

* * * *

Justin Ledet

Should fight: Dmitriy Sosnovskiy
Why they should fight: In what was arguably the most forgettable bout on the card, Ledet made a successful return from a lengthy layoff with a split-decision victory over short-notice UFC newcomer Zu Anyanwu.

Ledet essentially jabbed his way to a win on the scorecards, giving him a win that pushed him to 3-0 in the UFC heavyweight division. Ledet has shown flashes of brilliance in his fights, but his performance against Anyanwu did not provide much excitement for his next trip to the octagon.

Perhaps Ledet deserves a bit of slack for having to change to a new opponent on short notice. Because of that, he should get the fight he was originally intended for against Sosnovskiy (10-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC). The pair has already been booked to fight twice, but each time it’s fallen through. It’s possible it’s time to just move on from the fight, but given they’ve already trained to face off so many times, it would be interesting to see how it plays out.

Kamaru Usman

Santiago Ponzinibbio

Should fight: Santiago Ponzinibbio
Why they should fight: Usman has been nothing short of sensational since making his UFC debut, and Sergio Moraes was the next victim in his run toward the top of the welterweight division, courtesy of a first-round knockout.

Usman made some bold statements about where he sees himself among the contenders at 170 pounds, and he’s already taken aim at current champion Tyron Woodley. He’s not going to get that fight next, but if he continues to knock people out in a similar fashion to Moraes, it won’t be long until he’s fighting for UFC gold.

By adding dangerous striking to his already existing standout wrestling game, Usman is evolving into a threat on multiple levels. There aren’t many who will be capable of stopping his game, but Ponzinibbio (25-3 MMA, 7-2 UFC) could be equipped to handle it.

The Argentinian is riding the second-longest UFC winning streak in his division behind Usman following his knockout of Gunnar Nelson at UFC Fight Night 113 in July, and a matchup between the two streaking fighters could have a big impact on the future of the weight class.

Gregor Gillespie

Vinc Pichel

Should fight: Vinc Pichel
Why they should fight: Highly regarded lightweight prospect Gillespie had another promising performance early in his career when he submitted Jason Gonzalez in the “Fight of the Night.”

Gillespie improved his record to 10-0 when he came out on the top of a back-and-forth war by submitting Gonzalez with an arm-triangle choke in the second round. “The Gift” has strong wrestling and improving striking, and at 30, still has a lot of upside as someone to watch at 155 pounds.

Gillespie’s first three UFC performances have come against opponents with limited UFC experience. It’s time for that to change, and Pichel (10-1 MMA, 3-1 UFC) is someone who has been around the promotion for several years on top of appearing on “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series.

Pichel is riding a three-fight winning streak with his most recent octagon appearance being a first-round knockout of Damien Brown at UFC Fight Night 110 in June. If he could hand Gillespie his first loss, he would make a big statement that he’s not going to be pushed around by anyone with hype.

Anthony Smith

Uriah Hall

Should fight: Uriah Hall
Why they should fight: The second coming of Smith in the UFC took another memorable step forward when “The Lionheart” scored yet another come-from-behind knockout victory, this time at the expense of Hector Lombard.

After falling behind on the scorecards in the middleweight fight, Smith landed a fight-ending combination of strikes to extend the former Bellator champ’s losing skid to four fights. Smith said prior to the bout that he needed to get past Lombard to prove his worth, and he did just that.

Smith was arguably released prematurely during his first UFC stint in 2013. He’s put together a 4-1 run since coming back this past year, and his maturity is evident. Smith should be in for another noteworthy fight, and Hall (13-8 MMA, 6-6 UFC) fits the description.

Hall scored a massive knockout win of his own against Krzysztof Jotko on the preliminary card, helping him bounce back from a three-fight drought. “Primetime” is a lethal striker when he’s on, and if he shows up on point, Smith would surely have his hands full.

Mike Perry

Thiago Alves

Should fight: Thiago Alves
Why they should fight: Perry did his job against an overmatched short-notice replacement when he scored a 79-second knockout of UFC newcomer Alex Reyes.

Originally meant to fight Alves (22-11 MMA, 14-8 UFC), “Platinum” had no hesitation in taking another matchup when the former UFC title challenger pulled out on three days’ notice. Perry delivered another violent finish due to strikes, and afterward he called out former UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler to a future matchup.

Perry deserves credit for aiming high, but it’s likely much bigger fights are in Lawler’s immediate future. Because of that, rebooking the showdown with Alves seems much more realistic. It still makes sense despite Perry’s win, and facing “The Pitbull” still represents the most high-profile fight of his career.

Luke Rockhold

Should fight: Yoel Romero
Why they should fight:
Watch the video above to see why Rockhold should fight Romero (12-2 MMA, 8-1 UFC) next.

For complete coverage of UFC Fight Night 116, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

Filed under: Featured, News, UFC, Videos
Source: MMA Junkie

Kamaru Usman says UFC rankings panel should be ashamed, knows willing opponents are few

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After the first knockout of his UFC career, welterweight Kamaru Usman’s stock is on the rise. And it better be a significant rise, as far as he’s concerned.

“Whoever is in charge of making those rankings, whoever it is – or whoever the collective group is that’s in charge of making those rankings – you should be ashamed of yourself,” Usman said following his FS1-broadcast win at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. “You should be.”

Usman (11-1 MMA, 6-0 UFC) entered Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 116 clash with Sergio Moraes (12-3-1 MMA, 6-2-1 UFC) as No. 13 in the promotion’s welterweight division according to the company’s own rankings. Usman will likely be moving up a few slots following a scintillating first-round knockout of the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, and he believes that’s more than justified.

“You had me at 13th; are you kidding me?” Usman asked. “I am a problem in the division. There is not one guy that wants to take this fight – not one. How many people do you know calling me out? There’s not one guy who wants this fight.”

The USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA welterweight rankings had Usman as an honorable mention heading into that bout. However, those rankings also feature athletes from other promotions such as Bellator, ONE Championship and the Professional Fighters League.

Whatever list you use, though, Usman’s performance showed he is, indeed, capable of competing with anyone in the division. “The Nigerian Nightmare” is now riding a 10-fight winning streak, including an impressive 6-0 mark in the octagon, and he believes the prospect tag no longer applies.

Usman says he’s a contender now and has his eyes set on tackling the division’s absolute best.

“Tonight, I needed to make a statement,” Usman said. I needed to put a stamp on this division and let them know that there’s not one guy who can hang in there with me.”

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

For complete coverage of UFC Fight Night 116, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

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Watch Kamaru Usman melt Sergio Moraes at UFC-Pittsburgh

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On paper, Kamaru Usman vs. Sergio Moraes was unquestionably on of the most interesting fights at UFC Fight Night 116.

In the cage, it looked a bit one-sided.

The welterweight matchup took place Saturday at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh on the FS1-televised main card. Usman (11-1 MMA, 6-0 UFC) kept his UFC record perfect while announcing himself as a true contender at 170 pounds, devastating Moraes (12-3-1 MMA, 6-2-1 UFC) with a right hand in the opening round.

Check out the impressive finish above.

And for more on UFC Fight Fight 116, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

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UFC-Pittsburgh results: Kamaru Usman right hand proves problematic for Sergio Moraes

Kamaru Usman scored the biggest win of his burgeoning career, devastating Sergio Moraes with a crushing blow.

The welterweight matchup took place on the FS1-televised prelims of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 116 from PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.

Usman was on point from the start, wobbling Moraes with a low kick and then dropping him briefly with a right hand. Unsurprisingly, Usman refused to follow to the floor, and Moraes crawled back to his feet and looked to brawl. Haymakers followed, but Usman slipped well and scored a beautiful finish with a destructive straight right to the chin. Moraes crashed to the floor, and Usman landed one hammerfist to an already vanquished foe.

Usman (11-1 MMA, 6-0 UFC) now sports a 10-fight winning streak and is due for a big fight; “The Nigerian Nightmare” suggested former UFC lightweight champ and current welterweight contender Rafael dos Anjos (27-9 MMA, 16-7 UFC) as a possible opponent.

Moraes (12-3-1 MMA, 6-2-1 UFC) loses for the first time in eight appearances.

Up-to-the-minute UFC Fight Night 116 results include:

For more on UFC Fight Fight 116, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

Filed under: News, UFC
Source: MMA Junkie

In-depth main-card breakdown: 'UFC Fight Night 116: Rockhold vs. Branch'

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MMAjunkie Radio cohost and MMAjunkie contributor Dan Tom provides an in-depth breakdown of all of UFC Fight Night 116’s main-card bouts.

UFC Fight Night 116 takes place at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. The main card airs on FS1 following an early prelim on UFC Fight Pass.

* * * *

Luke Rockhold (15-3 MMA, 5-2 UFC)

Luke Rockhold.

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’3″ Age: 32 Weight: 185 lbs. Reach: 77″
  • Last fight: Knockout loss to Michael Bisping (June 4, 2016)
  • Camp: Combat Club (Florida)
  • Stance/striking style: Southpaw / Kickboxing
  • Risk management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+ Former UFC middleweight champion
+ Strikeforce middleweight title
+ Black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu
+ 5 KO victories
+ 8 submission wins
+ 10 first-round finishes
+ Consistent pace and pressure
+ Good distance management
+ Accurate check hook
+ Solid kicking variety
^ Dangerous liver kicks
+ Strong inside of the clinch
+ Underrated wrestling ability
+ Works well from front-headlock
+ Superb transitional grappler
^ Floats, rides, advances to back
+ Effective ground striker
^ Devestating elbows
+/-1 fight in 15 months

David Branch (21-3 MMA, 3-2 UFC)

David Branch.

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’1″ Age: 35 Weight: 185 lbs. Reach: 81″
  • Last fight: Decision win over Krzysztof Jotko (May 13, 2017)
  • Camp: Renzo Gracie Academy (New York)
  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox / Boxing
  • Risk management: Good

Supplemental info:
+ WSOF middleweight title
+ Black belt Brazilian jiu-jitsu
+ 5 KO victory
+ 7 submission wins
+ 5 first-round finishes
+ Consistent pace and pressure
+ Good footwork
^ Sticks and moves well
+ Solid boxing technique
^ Accurate left hand
+ Excellent kick counters
+ underrated takedown ability
+ Strong inside the clinch
+ Superb transitional grappler
^ Intelligent defense and fundamentals
+ Works well from front-headlock
^ Slick chokes and transitions
+/-2-1 against UFC southpaws

Summary:

The main event for Pittsburgh features a matchup of top middleweight talents when Luke Rockhold and David Branch do battle.

Returning for the first time in 15 months, we have not seen Rockhold since he lost his middleweight title to Michael Bisping last summer. Since then, the former champ has retooled his approach as he looks to make another run toward the top.

Seeking to stomp out that narrative is Branch, a former UFC middleweight contender who has come back with a vengeance since his multi-divisional run with WSOF. Currently No. 7 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA middleweight rankings, Branch could crack more than just the top five should he score the upset.

Starting off standing, we have a matchup between a dynamic southpaw striker and slick, stick-and-move stylist. Whether we are talking about Rockhold’s liver kick, counter cross or check-hook he keeps at the ready, he packs all the weapons that southpaws arguably should have.

Using every inch of his long frame, Rockhold is typically the one dictating the striking range in his fights. Prodding with jabs and moving well behind powerful kicks, Rockhold will chip away at his opposition until creating openings for his opportunism to shine.

However, it is worth noting that Rockhold has moved shop (or at least added to it) since his last time out. Now, spending a majority of his training camp working with Henri Hooft in South Florida, we could very well see considerable changes to his game. And given the Dutch style pressure-fighting that Hooft offers, I suspect those changes will be positive additions to Branch’s game.

Nevertheless, Rockhold still has a deceptively dangerous task ahead that he will need to take seriously.

Branch’s resume says Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, but the Brooklyn native has been boxing for some time. Staying light, yet loaded, on the feet, Branch does a good job of sticking and moving in and out of boxing range, particularly as the fight goes on.

When feeling in stride, Branch will begin to pick up his volume and amplify what is already an accurate left hand. In fact, I believe that Branch’s left hook may be the punch worth watching for.

As we saw in Rockhold’s last fight, his propensity to slip heavily to his left gets him out of the way from right hands nicely, but it also creates a hard counter balance that is the resetting of his head position, as this motion feeds directly into oncoming left hooks.

Should Branch create similar angles or reactions, he could also come up big, or at the very least, create doubt in the returning champion’s psyche. Still, this is all easier said than done, as Branch’s boxing stance and style may present targets of their own for Rockhold’s low-to-high kicking attacks.

With each man having paths to victory over the other standing, this matchup could come down to the action generated from the clinch. Both fighters are strong defensively and offensively inside of this space, but given their history, I suspect Branch may be the one looking for takedowns –– especially if the rounds are close.

The problem – in my opinion – with forecasting takedowns in either direction, is that they are both killers from the front-headlock position. Each fighter favors floating to the back, but neither has an issue locking up submissions from here, using their legs or arms just the same.

Traditional takedown entries aside, there are plenty of other ways for this fight to hit the floor. And since it is hard to see one man submitting the other soberly, the obvious answer is that the fighter in top position will have the edge in ground stanzas.

Despite Branch typically being the guy who is bucking for top position in his fights, I am not sure his offensive wrestling will outweigh Rockhold’s counter wrestling in the grand scale of things.

Fully utilizing his long, athletic frame, Rockhold demonstrates a solid sense of hips, levers and how to use them in his favor. Floating smoothly on top while displaying the limb dexterity of a featherweight, Rockhold starts to resemble a giant squid engulfing a ship by the time he hits the mount position.

Though Branch has the defense and overall skills to contend with his fellow black belt, I have a sneaky suspicion things could get ugly for him should he get caught in autopilot.

According to the betting lines, Rockhold is favored at least four-to-one to beat Branch. Regardless of my pick, I am not so sure I sign off on the margin above, as I see Branch having a much better chance to win than the odds indicate.

Even on his worst nights, Branch can turn long stretches of into deceptively competitive affairs. Coupled with Rockhold’s return from a long layoff and inherently opportunistic style –– and we may end up with a much closer fight than many are projecting. Still, the pick is Rockhold to dictate striking range, explore with pressure and possibly spark a finish near the fence off of a corralling head kick.

Official pick: Rockhold inside the distance

Official outcome: To be determined

Filed under: News, UFC
Source: MMA Junkie

Kamaru Usman believes he's at 40 percent of potential, but already top 3 in world

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Filed under: News, UFC, Videos

PITTSBURGH – Almost 16 months after a failed first attempt, it seems Kamaru Usman and Sergio Moraes will finally get to settle their differences this Saturday.

Both fighters have returned to the octagon since illness forced Usman (10-1 MMA, 5-0 UFC) out of their original UFC 198 encounter. On the very night they were supposed to meet, Moraes (12-2-1 MMA, 6-1-1 UFC) fought short-notice replacement and UFC newcomer Luan Chagas to a draw. Since then, he’s picked up a pair of decision wins over Zak Ottow and Davi Ramos.

Usman, winner of Season 21 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” has added three fights to his perfect UFC record since, against Alexander Yakovlev, Warlley Alves and Sean Strickland. In his case, however, they were not only all wins – but all dominant unanimous decisions.

The ever-evolving Usman has, of course, been building his strengths between their original date and Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 116 encounter. But he says the outcome, except for perhaps some added grudge, won’t be that much different.

“I was going to beat him up just as bad last time,” Usman told MMAjunkie. “This time, actually, I might beat him up way worse just because he said some things in the media that he hoped I show up. I got sick very, very bad during that time. Of course, I never want to pull out of a fight. But I was so sick, and then I had to travel all the way down to Brazil – and that was that period when the zika virus was going around really, really bad.

“So, it wasn’t worth the risk for me to go out there and put on a terrible performance, and then come home saying, ‘You know what, I shouldn’t have done that.’ I don’t leave anything to chance. The whooping is still going to be just as bad – if not worse this time.”

If Usman sounds exceedingly confident heading into the FS1-televised main 0card welterweight bout, which takes place at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, that could be because, well, he is.

Currently boasting a divisional best five-fight winning streak, he hasn’t really been lacking on reasons to feel that way.

“I don’t do this because I can’t do anything else,” Usman said. “I don’t do this because I came (into it) so poor. Yes, I came up poor, but I’m educated. I went to school. I went to college. I can go get a job and sit at a desk and make salary and support my family. I do this because of competition. I love competition. I made a decision and I made a pact to myself that I wanted to be the best at the world at this.

“That is the main reason to why I do this. Each and every fight, each and very time I come out is a reassurance that I’m on the right track of doing it. I think I’m maybe 35, 40 percent of my capabilities, the level I can get to. But even at 35, 40 percent – I still believe I, if not the best in the world, I am probably the top two, top three best in the world right now.”

Of course, looking to stop Usman on his tracks is a man who’s no slouch, either.

Since a setback in his 2012 UFC debut – when he stepped in to replace Daniel Sarafian against Cezar Mutante at “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil” finale – Moraes has shown vast improvements in a game that once revolved basically around his lauded grappling chops.  Like Usman, Moraes currently holds a divisional best with an unbeaten seven-fight streak.

On his end, Usman can’t deny the fact Moraes has managed to put together a pretty solid UFC record. But, he’s simply not that impressed with the way he’s accomplished it.

“He’s a guy that’s satisfied – he just wants to get by,” Usman said. “That’s exactly what his career has been: getting by. Each and every win have been close split decision wins – ‘Oh, I got by.’ Or it’s a draw, this and that. You fought a guy who took the fight on five or six days’ notice and went to a draw with him. I mean, he’s been getting by and getting by quietly. And I am the wrong guy for that.

“And I believe I’m the wrong guy in the division for anybody to even think about getting by. Which is why nobody wants to take this fight. Nobody calls me out. Why would they? Why would I call out a guy and get my butt kicked by him? No one does that. At the end of the day, he’s put together six or seven wins in a row. But that’s not going to stop what I’m going to do.”

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

And for more on UFC Fight Night 116, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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Filed under: News, UFC, Videos
Source: MMA Junkie