GrappleTalk Newswire – September 30th, 2013

Welcome to the GrappleTalk Newswire, your weekly insight into all the important stories in MMA in the past week. The Newswire contains everything you need to know in the world of Mixed Martial Arts, and you can get it delivered right to your email inbox before it is publicly available by signing up below – just enter your email address and hit return. If you are a subscriber the Newswire will arrive at least 48 hours before it is posted here, and you will also receive exclusive offers and content. You can also sign-up at bit.ly/grapplenews.


——————

The big news this past week was one of them most surprising UFC cuts so far, as perennial middleweight contender Yushin Okami was given his marching orders from the UFC. Okami was last seen at UFC Fight Night: Teixeira .vs. Bader, being TKO’d by former Strikeforce middleweight champion Ronaldo Jacare Souza. However prior to this fight, where Okami was the underdog, he had been on a three fight win streak with victories over Hector Lombard, Alan Belcher and Buddy Roberts. Okami has beaten Belcher twice in his career, making his debut with a victory over him at UFC 63 back in 2006. Since then, Okami had racked up a 13-5 UFC record with his only losses to former champions Rich Frankin, Anderson Silva and the aforementioned Jacare, former title challenger Chael Sonnen and Tim Boetsch. He also holds wins over former Strikeforce champion Nate Marquardt, and former UFC champ Evan Tanner. The flipside of this is that Okami is certainly not the most exciting fighter in the world, with only four of his 13 UFC wins coming via knockout, and none by submission.

Dana White attempted to justify the decision to Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports, saying that Okami had “been with us forever” but it was “almost like he’d become a gatekeeper”. This is a statement that won’t get any disagreement from me, and is certainly a pretty accurate description of Okami’s position in recent years – in his fights Belcher, Lombard and latterly Jacare Okami was was the litmus test for these would-be title challengers, and with the first two the failed that assessment. Was Okami unable to ascend? Or did the UFC never give him the fights to let him climb the ranks? If he had won the fight with Jacare, he would have been solidified in the top five of the middleweight division more than likely, but that still would have had him behind Silva, Belfort, Bisping and possibly even Munoz. Could you have done anything with Yushin Okami going forward? Well, they are currently looking for a middleweight to fight Tim Kennedy in just over six weeks, so having a top contender around would have been useful. Similarly Okami could have slotted in nicely in a fight with Vitor Belfort or Michael Bisping when he returns, both fights that have never happened.

The other thing that makes this decision questionable is the argument that the roster is “packed” in Dana White’s words, and there was no space for Yushin Okami. It is difficult to see how, if there is no space for Okami, there can be room for Chris Leben, and his three fight losing streak. Leben’s base pay is also more than Okami’s, as is the eye-watering salary of 1-2 Hector Lombard who earned $300,000 in his loss to Okami. Lombard is moving down to welterweight to fight Nate Marquardt (another man that Okami beat), while Leben is fighting Ultimate Fighter runner up and 2-0 Uriah Hall.

——————

In the wake of last week’s huge Jon Jones .vs. Alexander Gustafsson title fight at UFC 165, most of the MMA media and discussion has been consumed by talk of the re-match, and more specifically one question – will they or won’t they do it right away? Well, this past Thursday we got our answer. The plan is indeed for Jon Jones to defend his light heavyweight title on the February Superbowl card, but against new number one contender Glover Teixeira rather than against the Swede. Instead, Gustafsson will once again headling a card in his home country against a different opponent early next year, possibly setting up a re-match in the second half of 2014 should things go to plan. Glover Teixeira was promised the next shot at Jon Jones after defeating Ryan Bader just a few weeks ago and most people were not quibbling with that possibility – until a certain lanky Swedish fellow showed us all what he could really do. However, it’s hard to feel too aggrieved with Glover Teixeira the only top contender left for Jones to beat.

After underestimating Gustafsson so spectacularly, a lot of people are being cautious with their rhetoric heading into this next 205 pound title fight. It is hard to see though how Glover Teixeira beats the champion – his boxing is certainly stronger than the champions, but closing the distance enough to get decent shots away is going to be very difficult. His best chance probably comes on the ground with his high level jiu jitsu, as we all remember Jones’ compromising position against Vitor Belfort. Realistically it is likely to be another win for the champion, setting him up for a hotly anticipated re-match.

As for Gustafsson, his list of potential opponents is really quite short. With Rashad Evans fighting Chael Sonnen in November and Lyota Machida moving down to middleweight, there is only one other unbooked name in the UFC’s top five at 205 pounds: Gustafsson’s training partner, Phil Davis. Davis is a high-level wrestler who would certainly be a big test for Gustafsson, but he is unlikely to be happy fighting someone he has worked with so closely. Perhaps a more likely opponent would be Antonio Rodrigo Nogueria, who is currently riding a two fight win streak (albeit one of them being a 2011 win over Tito Ortiz and the other being a candidate for most boring fight of the year). Little Nog is certainly the kind of big name that Gustafsson undoubtedly deserves but it would be odd to see a Brazilian on the opposite end of a very biased nationalistic crowd.

——————

This week saw another UK MMA retirement, with pioneer Ian Freeman calling it a day aged 46. Freeman was the first British UFC fighter, and debuted in a losing effort to Scott Adams at UFC 24 in 2000. After wins at UFC 26 and 27, Freeman wasn’t seen in the UFC again until two years later at UFC 38: Brawl at the Hall, where in front of his home crowd at the Royal Albert Hall he became the first person to beat future heavyweight champion Frank Mir, stopping him in the first round. Freeman faced another future champ in Andrei Arlovski at UFC 40 later in 2002, this time coming up short. Freeman was then scheduled for a fight with Ken Shamrock at UFC 43, but Shamrock pulled out just before the event. Shamrock was replaced by Lion’s Den student Vernon White, and the two fought to a split decision draw. This would be Freeman’s last appearance in the UFC, but the beginning of his feud with Shamrock.Freeman claimed in an interview earlier this year that Shamrock was not in fact injured, though Shamrock disputes that claim.

After leaving the UFC Freeman went 6-1 in UK promotions, appearing once for Cage Warriors and predominantly for Cage Rage. He dropped to light heavyweight in 2006 in a losing effort against Melvin Manhoef but eventually captured the Cage Rage light heavyweight title later that year, having been heavyweight champion in 2004. Freeman vacated the belt, but would return to win it back in 2008 and was champion until the promotion folded. After a five year absence from the cage, Freeman responded angrily to a statement by Ken Shamrock that he would be interested in fighting Freeman, and the two reignited their rivalry. The UCFC organisation then managed to book a fight between the two for July this year, even though Freeman claimed that Shamrock was demanding $300,000 for the fight. The fight was booked and tickets were sold, until an unfortunate dispute over payment meant that Shamrock withdrew from the fight. Instead, Freeman faced another former UFC champion Ricco Rodriguez. Freeman picked up the win in just over two minutes to end his career on a high.

Ian Freeman retires aged 46, with an MMA record of 20-7-1. We wish him the best in his retirement.

——————

The UFC Fight Night card scheduled for four weeks time in Manchester, UK took a big hit this week, as hometown hero and headliner Michael Bisping was forced to withdraw due to a detached retina. Taking his place against Mark Munoz is former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida, who was pulled from his fight with Tim Kennedy on November 6th at Fight For the Troops 3. Bisping had been due to fight in the UK for the first time three years, but the homecoming will have to wait for the moment. This card, which had previously been a case of England .vs. the world, has been hit with a number of pull outs – as well as Bisping, Tom Watson was replaced by Magnus Cedenblad in his fight against Alessio Sakara and the fight between Paul Taylor and Anthony Njokuani was scrapped for the third time when both fighters were injured, and replaced with Al Iaquinta .vs. Piotr Hallmann. With Bisping out of the event, Ross Pearson and Jimi Manuwa are now the top UK fighters featured.

Tim Kennedy is on the hunt for a new opponent following Machida being re-deployed, and he has taken to Twitter to try and provoke a fellow middleweight into taking the fight. In a series of amusing tweets Kennedy playfully called out Rich Franklin, Chris Camozzi, Cung Le and others. Hopefully Kennedy will get his wish and find a new opponent to headline the card with.

——————

The Bellator Season 9 Heavyweight tournament gets underway next Friday night with the two semi-final bouts. Bellator have opted for just a four man tournament in the heavyweight division, and the favourites to reach the final are UFC veterans Chieck Kongo and Lavar Johnson. Kongo turned down a new four fight deal with the UFC earlier this year to sign with Bellator, after losing to Roy Nelson at UFC 159 on the last fight of his deal. At 38 years of age Kongo is no youngster, and neither is 36 year old Lavar Johnson. Johnson was cut from the UFC after failing a drug test at UFC 157, where he was defeated by Brendan Schaub. As for the other two men in the tournament, Kongo faces 9-1 English fighter Mark Godbeer who last fought 18 months ago at BAMMA 9, and Johnson faces Vinicus Kappke De Queiroz, who lost to current champion Alexander Volkov in the semi finals of the last Bellator heavyweight tournament. The winner earns a fight against champion Volkov, who hasn’t fought in nearly a year. It is unknown when the final will take place.

——————

There appears to be no end in sight for the beard wars, as Daniel Cormier and UFC president Dana White continue to call for Roy Nelson to shave his beard before their fight at UFC 166. Cormier claimed that he would petition the Texas Athletic Commission to require the beard to be tamed, but the TAC claimed not to have received any such submission as yet. Dana White has long not been a fan of Nelson’s beard and his general look, saying that if he were to change it he would likely attract more sponsors. After Nelson was bullish in response to Cormier’s original suggestion, the former Strikeforce Heavyweight GP champion has said he wants the whole beard to go. Beards were a big issue (sort of…) at UFC 165 last weekend, with Pat Healy and Costas Philippou both made to trim their facial hair before fighting.

——————

So when the awards are handed out for MMA tweet of the year, “Nah Fuck that im fightin Pettis” (sp) is probably going to have to be a contender. This was the reaction of the littlest Diaz when Nate was announced as fighting Gray Maynard in November, though it funnily enough hasn’t led to the cancellation of the bout as yet. This week, Nate Diaz tried another tactic to get out of the fight, tweeting that he now couldn’t be available on November 30th, as he had “a high school reunion to tend to.” Dana White remains unconvinced by this, and said that Diaz had yet to raise any issue with matchmaker Joe Silva. Like Dana of course we are “shocked” that a Diaz is doing something crazy, but this is certainly an interesting one. Similarly, Nate’s brother Nick has a history of not showing up for things – so let’s hope that Nate decides to turn up on Nov 30th.

——————

In addition to cutting Yushin Okami, Dana White confirmed that the promotion have also released Mike Ricci, who looked very impressive on The Ultimate Fighter fighting above his natural weight class at welterweight. Ricci had been a highly touted prospect on the Canadian MMA scene, racking up wins over Jordan Mein and Jesse Ronson and appearing in a Bellator tournament in 2010, losing to current featherweight champion Pat Curran. After looking impressive in his four wins on the 16th season of TUF, Ricci lost in the final to Colton Smith last December. Ricci then returned to his natural 155 weight division, picking up an uninspiring victory over Colin Fletcher, before losing to Myles Jury at UFC 165. This one loss was clearly enough for the UFC, as Ricci was given his marching orders. While in the UFC Ricci looked nothing like the flashy and exciting fighter he looked like on the independent scene, but he has time in his career to make another run at the big time.

——————

That’s all for this week’s Newswire. If you enjoyed it please share it around and tell a friend, and be sure to subscribe to receive it early next time! Subscribers also get exclusive content and offers, so it’s well worth it. Subscribe at bit.ly/grapplenews, or sign up below – just enter your email address and hit return.


Author: Callum Leslie

Callum Leslie is lead MMA writer for PlaceToBeNation.com, providing features, columns and live event coverage. He also hosts the GrappleTalk podcast which has interviewed Rashad Evans, Roy Nelson, Alex Gustafsson and many more. Send Callum an email