UFC 221 wasn’t a card that likely drew a lot of eyeballs on pay-per-view, but for those who did watch the event, it offered some thrilling moments. It’s often hard to predict which MMA events will stand out the most. Some fights like Dustin Poirier-Justin Gaethje are pretty much can’t-miss ventures, but MMA in general delivers more surprises when it comes to action than other sports. Jake Matthews’ perseverance against Jingliang Li and Tyson Pedro’s deft submission of Saparbek Safarov were highlights on Saturday in Perth, Australia, but arguably the biggest thrills came from three destructive knockout finishes.
Israel Adesanya generated buzz ahead of his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut because of his glossy record: all wins, all knockouts. UFC 221 was a nice teaser of the promise he offers. Adesanya acknowledged himself it wasn’t his most impressive performance, but you could still see all the tools: the speed, movement and precision in his striking. It was also hard to miss the way Rob Wilkinson reacted to his strikes, as even Adesanya’s jabs landed emphatically. By the end, Wilkinson’s face was a mess and he was just covering up to protect himself from Adesanya’s barrage of offense.
If it was a bad night for Wilkinson, it was an even worse night for Cyril Asker, who was tasked with taking on young knockout artist and beer shoe enthusiast Tai Tuivasa. Like Adesanya, Tuivasa has knocked out every opponent of his MMA career. Unlike Adesanya, it has never taken him longer than a single round. That power was on display against Asker, as Tuivasa delivered incredible damage to the Frenchman’s face in very short time. It was the sort of performance that fans love from heavyweight fighters.
Much has been written about Luke Rockhold’s decision to train with Hard Knocks 365 in Florida rather than at American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) in California where he has been based for most of his career.
The decision was scrutinized because Volkan Oezdemir, his AKA teammate light heavyweight and champion Daniel Cormier’s opponent at UFC 220, also trained at Hard Knocks 365.
“I think that he’s looking for something a little bit different right now and I think as his brothers, we have to really respect and applaud him for that,” Cormier told the Sammy and the Punk show during an interview prior to UFC 220, indicating he was okay with Rockhold’s decision.
To those who felt Rockhold was being disloyal to his AKA teammates, he puts the blame on a narrative created by Conor McGregor. During The Ultimate Fighter season 22, McGregor accused T.J. Dillashaw, a coach on Team Faber, of turning his back on his camp, Team Alpha Male.
“Back in the day, people were jumping and changing training camps and doing what they needed to do to build upon their repertoire and their game and now one stupid Conor McGregor comment has driven everybody into this disloyalty, ‘snake in the grass’ bull[expletive],” Rockhold told The TSN MMA Show. “It’s just stupid. People need to wake up and learn.”
Throughout the first episode the UFC’s Embedded series for this weekend’s pay-per-view event in Boston, light heavyweight title challenger Volkan Oezdemir is shown training alongside former middleweight champ Luke Rockhold.
The same Rockhold who came up alongside Daniel Cormier at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose and who remains close friends and training partners with the main he’ll face in the first of Saturday night’s twin title fights.
It’s an odd situation, but one that has had little impact on the unflappable Swiss challenger, who looks to complete an incredible initial 12 months on the UFC roster by claiming championship gold this weekend in Boston.
“We keep it really professional,” Oezdemir said of working alongside Rockhold at Hard Knocks 365, the South Florida facility that has become home to a number of elite talents over the last year. “I know he’s close to Cormier, so I’m not trying to get any insight or information. We’re training side-by-side, but basically I’m doing my stuff and he’s doing his stuff.
One of the top non-UFC flyweights in the world will be back in action next month.
Jose Torres will defend his Titan FC flyweight title against Alberto Orellano in the main event of Titan 48 on Feb. 16 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., officials told MMA Fighting on Friday.
Torres (6-0) is also Titan’s bantamweight champion. In his last fight, he successfully defended his 135-pound belt over Gleidson DeJesus by fourth-round submission at Titan 46 in November. The Chicago native last defended the flyweight belt in January 2017 and has held the gold since August 2016. Torres, 25, has spent his entire pro career to this point in Titan.
Orellano (5-2) is coming off a unanimous decision win over Mauricio Gomez Oquendo last March at SFC 22. Orellano is a native of Colombia and trains out of the 10th Planet school in Barranquilla.
In the co-main event of the card, Raush Manfio defends his lightweight title against Lee Lilly. Manfio (10-2) won the belt in November. Lilly (6-2) is on a six-fight winning streak.
As the New Year rolls in, so do new obstacles and challenges to overcome. There is no such thing as a holiday in our dictionary; Henri Hooft was busy training his troops on both Christmas and New Years day. There is no room for complacency in this industry and Hooft knows this better than anyone.
First up, is a rescheduled fight that will take place as part of the main card of UFC Fight Night 124 on January 14th. Kamaru Usman, will finally bump heads with Emil Weber Meek. They were originally due to fight at UFC 219, but Meek allegedly had visa issues. Now, it seems all the pieces are in place for this battle to happen. Though Meek is not a top 10 contender that Kamaru has long desired, his victory over him will surely secure him a top-10 opponent thereafter.
Michael Johnson will be in-tow with Kamaru, as he too is fighting on the card. It will be his first stint at featherweight and his imminent victory should see him be immediately propelled into the top-10 of the division, given that his opponent Darren Elkins, is at the 10th spot himself.
Next is a long-awaited fight in Volkan Oezdemir challenging Daniel Cormier for the light heavyweight title at UFC 220 in Boston. After some friendly back-and-forth banter on twitter, the gloves are starting to come off, as both held nothing back at the UFC 220 press conference. After only 3 fights, Volkan is in line for the title and it is without a doubt one of the quickest rises to the belt the UFC has seen in years. Though the bout was perceived as the main event, it is now in fact the co-main, as the UFC has booked Stipe Miocic versus Francis Ngannou for the heavyweight title as the de facto main event.
February 11th will see normalcy restored to the Middleweight title debate, as GSP has vacated, leaving Robert Whittaker the undisputed champion. Up steps, Luke Rockhold. The bout will take place at the Perth Arena in Australia, and serve as the main event. That’s right, Rockhold wants his belt back, and given his recent training-regime, he seems nothing short of hell-bent on getting it back, even though he’s fighting on Whittaker’s home turf. The main event is due to begin at 11 am, local Perth time, in order to accommodate the primetime broadcasting over on the western hemisphere.
Gilbert Burns will be next up, taking on Oliver Aubin-Mercier at UFC Fight Night at UFC on Fox 28, on February 24th at the Amway Center only 3 hours north of Hard Knocks 365, in Orlando. He is coming off an emphatic over-hand KO over Jason Saggo, and will look to improve upon his 13-2 record.
And finally, at UFC 222 on March 3rd at the acclaimed T-Mobile Arena, The Skyscraper, Stefan Struve, will make his return to the octagon versus UFC Heavyweight Veteran, Andrei Arlovski. Struve is coming off a loss versus Aleksander Volkov at UFC Fight Night 115 last year. No matter, as he is still in the top 15, and after beating Arlovski, he’ll be back in the top-contenders in no time.
Fresh off a victory in his MMA debut, Denzel Freeman (1-0) is ready to compete again.
Freeman defeated Davaun McKoy (0-1) by technical knockout in the second round of Titan FC 47. A healthy Freeman said he is set to compete on Titan FC 48, which will occur Feb. 16, 2018 at the Xtreme Action Park in Fort Lauderdale.
Freeman joined Rodolfo Roman of The Roman Show to talk about his debut and more.
“These were the biggest nerves I had ever felt so far,” he said. “They did go away, but I had it till I walked to the cage. I think I had it until then.”
Former UFC lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos believes welterweight champion Tyron Woodley will be next on his schedule if he can defeat Robbie Lawler at UFC Fight Night Winnipeg this Sunday.
Dos Anjos’ journey from lightweight champion to welterweight contender has been riddled with missed opportunities, bad weight cuts and bad timing, but the Brazilian fighter, who lives full-time in Orange Country, California, believes he is now reaching his peak in his optimal weight class.
An 8-1 win streak between 2012 and 2014 saw Dos Anjos face Anthony Pettis for the lightweight championship in 2015, and despite being a heavy underdog his unrelenting pressure attack carried him through to a unanimous decision victory over Pettis, once seen as the future of the division.
His melted his next challenger, Donald Cerrone, in a little over a minute.
Then things got a little strange.
The first time for anything will always be special and cherished. Though it was definitely not Andre Soukhamhthath’s first time with the win (he’d even been the bantamweight champ for CES MMA), it was his first win for the UFC. And what a win it was.
This was long in the making. The Asian Sensation had been victim to two split-decision losses, leaving him on thin ice going forward with a record of 0-2 in the UFC. With much to gain and little lose, Soukhamthath took this fight on 2 weeks’ notice and sealed the deal for one last chance in UFC Fight Night 123 in Fresno, California. Luke Sanders, Soukhamthath’s opponent, was probably content that Bryan Caraway, his original opponent, was pulled from the fight due to injury. Little did he know that Soukhamthath had gone straight back to the drawing board after his loss to Alejandro Perez. The words “two-week notice” might have given Sanders a confidence boost, but it didn’t mean much since his would-be opponent rarely took a day-off in hopes for a fight.
The bell rung, and from then, Soukhamthath caught Sanders with a right-hook in the second round. Sanders dropped like a fly, scrambling to get back on his feet as Soukhamthath bludgeoned him via ground-n-pound. At one point, due to the flurry of Soukhamthath’s hammer-fists, Sanders grabbed the ref’s leg in what was interpreted as cry for help. The referee called it. Soukhamthath screamed with joy, but Sanders called an early-stoppage, which the referee starkly refuted. During his post-interview, the Asian Sensation expressed concerns over being potentially cut: “I took this fight on two weeks’ notice, and I knew he had a full camp. Me and my coaches knew he was planning on coming out hard, and he did. But I know how tough I am and how good my chin is and how good my wrestling defense is. I just weathered the storm, and I literally put all my energy into one punch, and it worked.” Boy did it work. Soukhamthath wants to keep the momentum going forward, as he later proclaimed that he’d miss even Christmas or New Years to get another chance in the near future.
In title news, George St. Pierre has finally vacated his middleweight title, leaving the belt up for grabs between interim champ Robert Whittaker and Luke Rockhold. The fight will be the headliner for UFC 221 in Perth, Australia. With the announcement, it’s hands-on-deck at Hard Knocks 365 as Henri Hooft prepared the former middleweight champ for his deserved title shot.