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This past week’s GrappleTalk podcast features interviews with Brendan Schaub and John Makdessi, as well as a full preview of UFC 165 with our man on the ground, Shawn Smith. Listen to it here.
Welcome to the Newswire for the week beginning Monday the 23rd of September 2013. The main story this week is, of course, UFC 165 and the fallout – for full fight analysis , check out our article here.
Critics and fans are still raving about the fight between light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson. While many had sneered at the focus the UFC put on the height and reach comparisons between the two, UFC president Dana White had the last laugh when the fight went down as Gustafsson managed to neutralise the wrestling game of Jones in a stand-up war. The result was a unanimous decision victory for Jones with 48-47 on two scorecards, a decision that few could argue with. Judge Chris Lee saw the fight as 49-46 which seems hard to stomach, though I guess the only round that Gustafsson won decisively was the first. Unfortunately the Ontario State Athletic Commission scorecards don’t give a round by round breakdown so it’s impossible to know how the judges really saw and scored that fight. After the main event neither fighter was able to attend the post-fight press conference, and Gustafsson later posted a picture on Instagram of the in hospital. As it was at the end of the fight, Jones looked significantly worse for wear than the Swede. Both were released from hospital a short time after and had escaped any serious injuries.
With every UFC champion bar Jose Aldo, who is nursing a knee injury following his fight with Korean Zombie, now booked for the last 12 weeks of 2013, the UFC will be hoping that some of them don’t end up like Jon Jones. The last three months of this year are probably the most stacked UFC events ever, but this means that there is potentially a derth of title fights available to headline cards in early 2014. Many are already suggesting that Jones should fight on the Superbowl card in February, with a significant clamouring for an instant rematch of Saturday’s classic. Jones is young, and took just five months to return after his gruesome toe injury at UFC 159 in April, so it is not inconceivable he could make it back in time.
The co-main event of UFC 165 saw Renan Barao continue his eight year long winning streak with a second round TKO victory over Eddie Wineland. Barao retained the interim bantamweight title, and now seems set to challenge bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz early next year. Dana White has set the early 2014 deadline for Cruz’s return from an over two-year injury lay off – Cruz last fought in October of 2011. If Cruz cannot make it back from injury in time it seems inevitable that Dana White will promote Barao to undisputed champion, and it’s hard to argue that it isn’t deserved. Barao was relatively unscathed in his fight on Saturday night, so the ball is firmly in the court of Cruz to get ready to face him. It really would be a shame if Cruz had to be stripped of the title, if only because a fight between Cruz and Barao would be a guaranteed hit.
Brendan Schaub finished up the night as a man much more secure in his employment than when he started on Saturday, as the man who was at one point struggling to get booked in a UFC fight now appears to be in high demand. Dana White teased at the press conference that Schaub could be put back into action quickly to fill a gap “where something else just fell out,” according to the UFC president. Whether this is against a Miocic or Werdum, who are currently without opponents, or to replace a fighter who has had to withdraw remains to be seen. It seems unlikely to be as soon as UFC 166 next month where Daniel Cormier and Roy Nelson have been anything but quiet, but there are a number of big heavyweight fights scheduled for the rest of the year including Mir/Overeem and Browne/Barnett. Given that Dana White was talking about the potential ramifications for Mir and Overeem as recently as Thursday, it also seems unlikely that that fight has fallen apart either. Time will tell.
Saturday night’s attendance was 15,504 in the Air Canada Centre, making it the largest UFC crowd this year so far bar St Pierre .vs. Diaz in February, which did over 20,000. However, it is the lowest attendance the UFC has ever drawn in Toronto, with Jones .vs. Machida doing over 18,000 and Jones .vs. Belfort doing just under 17,000 last year. The gate of $1.9m was exactly the same as that Jones .vs. Belfort card in 2012, but less than half of the $3.9m they did with Jones and Machida. Both those cards also did over 450,000 buys on pay per view, and I would suspect that UFC 165 will fall short of that.
Looking ahead to the rest of the year, one card that has come together this week is December’s Fox card. UFC on Fox: Pettis .vs. Thomson goes down on December 14th as the UFC returns to Sacramento for the first time since UFC 73 in 2007. After featuring the lightweight title on pay per view at UFC 164, the 155 pound division once again headlines the UFC’s Fox offering in the hopes of building up the new champion Anthony Pettis. Benson Henderson fought on Fox defending the title against Nate Diaz and Gilbert Melendez, but Henderson’s slightly aloof personality made him somewhat unrelatable to the fans meaning he never truly got over as a big star. Pettis on the other hand has all the tools to be the next big fan favourite star in the UFC – likeable personality, flashy style and a real ease in front of the media that Henderson never had. Former Strikeforce champion Thomson is a somewhat unlikely UFC title challenger having had just one fight since returning to the UFC, albeit an impressive TKO win over Nate Diaz, but he fills in for TJ Grant, who has yet to recover from a concussion suffered in training. More on him later.
The co-main event of this event will see perennial top contender and former WEC champion Urijah Faber take on one of the hottest prospects in the UFC today, Michael McDonald. McDonald looked super impressive against Brad Pickett at Fight Night: Shogun .vs. Sonnen, and put in a strong performance against the immovable Renan Barao in February in an interim bantamweight title fight. Despite being just 22 this will be McDonald’s 19th pro fight – if he keeps up a three fight a year pace, by his 24th birthday he will have more pro fights than years on earth to his name. Faber is a big test however, and remember that oft-quoted stat: Faber has never lost in a non-title fight. The California Kid has also been the most active top ten fighter this year, with this being his fourth fight of 2013. If Dominick Cruz cannot get back in time to defend his title against Renan Barao, it would make sense that a strong performance in this fight will see either McDonald or Faber given another shot at Renan Barao.
After tearing through the UFC welterweight ranks on a six fight win streak, Matt Brown has gotten his wish of a top ten fight, with a tough test against former WEC champion and interim UFC champion Carlos Condit scheduled for December 14th. Brown has been crying out for a chance to prove himself after five knockout wins in his last six fights, and with the welterweight division somewhat stagnant beyond GSP/Hendricks, it is very much time to see what Brown is made of. Condit is one of the toughest fighters the 170 pound division has to offer, and beyond his recent losses to Hendricks and St Pierre Condit has run through pretty much everyone the welterweight division has to offer including Rory MacDonald, Jake Ellenberger and Martin Kampmann. Between this fight and McDonald/Faber, this card has some big potential Fight of the Year candidates to offer. This is likely to be another UFC triumph on free TV following on from a hugely successful Fox Sports 1 debut in August, and the UFC will look to perhaps move more numbers than the last Fox offering headlined by flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson defending against John Moraga. However with the show just two weeks before Silva/Weidman II and Rousey/Tate II at UFC 168, it remains to be seen just how much promotional muscle the UFC will put behind it.
Spare a thought for TJ Grant. After watching Anthony Pettis win the UFC lightweight title in a spot that was originally his, Grant was forced to turn down the opportunity to headline the December Fox card against Pettis due to not being fully recovered from the concussion that forced him out of UFC 164. After many were quick to thrown around conspiracy theories when he pulled out of his title shot, it must be an even more bitter pill for Grant to swallow not being able to challenge the new champion.
Comparisons could be drawn to Erik Koch, who was at one point booked in a featherweight title fight with Jose Aldo last July. However after Aldo withdrew due to injury, the fight was rescheduled for October until Koch also got injured and was replaced by Frankie Edgar – only for Aldo to also get injured once again. The Aldo/Edgar fight finally happened this past February with Aldo coming out on top with Koch forced to take a fight against Ricardo Lamas a week earlier at UFC on Fox 6 which he promptly lost, ending his chances of a title fight in the very near future. Hopefully Grant will not find himself in a similar impossibly unlucky situation, but it does seem possible that Grant will have to take another fight again before a title fight becomes a possibility. Should he lose, he would surely give up most of the ground he had gained in the lightweight division.
You might not have known it, but Bellator put on their 100th event this past Friday night. The second Bellator event in the new Friday timeslot the card was headlined by the delayed final of last season’s welterweight tournament, as well as featuring the quarter finals of this season’s 170 pound bracket and a bantamweight tournament semi-final. In the main event Douglas Lima knocked out Ben Saunders with a head kick late in the second round to take the tournament crown, albeit in a very uncertain Bellator welterweight division. With champion Ben Askren likely on his way out of the company, Lima may find himself waiting for the next tournament winner a fight for the vacant title rather than getting a shot at the champion. The ever controversial War Machine took a submission victory in the co-main to advance to the tournament semi-finals, joining Rick Hawn, Ron Keslar and Brent Weedman. The big shock of the night saw Bubba Jenkins, the man touted by Bellator as “the world’s No. 1 MMA prospect” when they signed him, get knocked out by unknown local fighter LaRue Burley. Jenkins, a fighter so highly regarded that he was among Jon Jones’ coaching staff on the last season of The Ultimate Fighter, was signed to a very long term deal by Bellator understood to be close to ten fights. However after just one win and now this disappointing loss, Jenkins already looks somewhat overhyped.
It would of course be unfair to compare Bellator 100 and UFC 100, though the latter did do over 1.5 million buys on pay per view while Bellator 100 will be lucky to have attracted half a million viewers on television. Of course the true 100th UFC event was UFC 78 headlined by Michael Bisping and Rashad Evans that performed much more modestly. Bellator is a company that seems to lack direction, and if their November 2nd pay per view is a disaster then it could be very bad news for Bjorn Rebney and co indeed.
Besides the weekly Bellator offering there is no MMA event of note next weekend, but European powerhouse Cage Warriors are gearing up for their event on October 5th in London, Cage Warriors 60. The card will feature a one night, four man tournament to crown a new lightweight champion after Conor McGregor vacated the title before leaving for the UFC. Former BAMMA champion Steven Ray, veteran Jason Ball, former title challenger Ivan Buchinger and finishing specialist Mick Sinclair will vie for the title, with Ray and Buchinger the likely finalists and favourites. Steven Ray is the latest in a string of fighters to jump to Cage Warriors from big rival BAMMA, and his training at Tristar will likely serve him well. In the main event of the evening, The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes contestant Bola Omoyele will fight Ultimate Fighter season 12’s Aaron Wilkinson. The 7-1 Omoyele will be a heavy favourite here, but Wilkinson has a significant experience edge. This card will be free online at MMAJunkie.com for those in the US and Canada.
Sad news this week as British UFC veteran Paul Taylor announced his retirement from the sport after a huge array of injury problems that had kept him out of action for almost three years.
Taylor debuted at UFC 70 in Manchester at welterweight and was a staple of the UFC’s English and European ventures with six of his nine fights for the UFC taking place in England, with another in Germany. After knocking out Edilberto de Oliveira in impressive fashion in his debut Taylor had a decisively erratic UFC career, never managing to string two wins together while amassing a record of 4-5. However he always delivered, taking Fight of the Night honours on three occasions, and his fight at UFC 89 with Chris Lytle was a particular highlight. Taylor arguably summed up the phrase “impressive in defeat” more so than any other fighter in UFC history. After dropping to lightweight Taylor lost to veteran Sam Stout before knocking out Gabe Ruediger at UFC 126 in his only victory outside of Europe. After having to pull out of three fights during 2011 and 2012 due to injury, Taylor was due to make a triumphant return in his home country at UFC Fight Night: Bisping .vs. Munoz. Injury once again scuppered Taylor’s plans, and the Brit had little choice but to call it a day.
Taylor retires with an 11-6-1 (1) record.
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