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Welcome To The UFC: Aoriqileng

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“Aoriqileng is one of my favorite fighters…he’s a go-getter. He’s someone that isn’t scared of anything, and that’s great to see. I don’t know where that comes from, but wherever it is, it’s working for him.”

How To Watch UFC 261 In Your Country

Those are the words of Gavin Pratt from the UFC Peformance Institute in Shanghai, China, describing one of the UFC’s newest flyweights. Singed from the UFC Academy Combine alongside Liang Na and Rongzhu, he’ll join his countrymen in making their promotional debuts Saturday on the early prelims of UFC 261.

Dean Amasinger, also of the Performance Institute, agrees, noting the arc of Aoriqileng’s improvement since he began training in the state-of-the-art facility.

WELCOME TO THE UFC: Liang Na | Rongzhu

“The difference from him from the day he stepped on the mats to where he is now is balck and white; two completely different fighters. That’s been really impressive to watch. He’s always had that striking ability, but he was a bit more of a brawler before. Now he’s a lot more technical. He’s one of the best athletes out of the whole group.”

That’s a potentially scary prospect. Known as the „Mongolian Murderer,“ Aoriqileng was already riding an impressive six-fight win streak in WLF as he entered the combine. His 18-6 professional record boasts wins over experienced journeymen like Kana Hayatt and Carlos Azevedo. He’s been ranked pound-for-pound among the best bantamweights in China.

UFC 261 COUNTDOWN: Usman vs Masvidal 2 | Zhang vs Namajunas | Shevchenko vs Andrade | Hall vs Weidman | Full Episode | Order Here

Now at 27 years of age and entering his prime, he brings his white-hot skill set to the UFC volatile flyweight division where a new and emerging group of talents is circling the waters around champion Deiveson Figueiredo. Although accomplished at bantamweight at home in China, Aoriqileng always considered himself small for the weight class and prefers his chances ten pounds lighter at 125.

He’ll test that theory starting with Jeff Molina in the second fight of the evening this Saturday in front of a capacity crowd in Jacksonville. The 8-2 Molina is an alum ot the 2020 season of Dana White’s Contender Series, hasn’t lost since 2017 and like Aoriqileng will be making his promotional debut.  

MORE UFC 261: Championship Reign: Valentina ShevchenkoHistoric Milestones In Sight For Jessica Andrade

 “I like him. His style is very similar to mine,” he told John Hyon Ko at South China Morning Post recently. “We are very aggressive fighters, so I like this type of opponent.”

Watch Aoriqileng, Rongzhu and Liang Na make their debuts during the UFC 261 early prelims this Saturday, kicking off at 6pm/3pm ETPT on both ESPN+ and UFC FIGHT PASS.

UFC Unfiltered: Ali Abdelaziz And Comedian Jo Koy

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Find out Jim and Matt’s takes on Robert Whittaker vs Kelvin Gastelum and Ben Askren vs Jake Paul on today’s episode of UFC Unfiltered!

First, manager and Renzo Gracie blackbelt Ali Abdelaziz calls in ahead of Kamaru Usman’s main event fight to defend his welterweight belt against Jorge Masvidal this Saturday at UFC 261. He shares his take on the differences between a good fighter and a great one, offers insight into Dana White’s thought process on booking a lightweight title fight between Charles Oliveira and Michael Chandler after Khabib Nurmagomedov’s retirement, and gets sick of talking about Conor McGregor and his upcoming trilogy fight against Dustin Poirier. 

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Then, comedian Jo Koy joins Jim and Matt for the first time. He discusses how bad he thought Jake Paul vs Ben Askren was, why writing his new autobiography was such an emotional experience, and reminisces about going to old-school UFC fights with his dad in Las Vegas. 

Jim and Matt close out the show with their favorite moments from Saturday’s card, UFC Fight Night: Whittaker vs Gastelum.

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UFC To Live Stream ‘Watch Along’ On Twitch For UFC 261: Usman Vs Masvidal 2

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“UFC is always looking for new ways to engage our fans in a meaningful, dynamic way,” said David Shaw, Senior Vice President of International and Content. “Through Twitch, UFC is creating a second screen experience designed to feel like a fun watch party. Fans can experience one of our biggest events with influencers in real-time, as if they’re sitting in the same room.”

Twitch users can tune into UFC’s channel while watching UFC 261: USMAN vs. MASVIDAL 2 and hear MMA super fan Steve-O, former UFC champion Jens Pulver, and former UFC athlete and professional wrestler CM Punk provide their predictions, break down each fight, and react to the action. During the stream, viewers can use their Twitch Channel Points to join the conversation and make predictions for each matchup.  

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The stream will begin at 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. PT with the final two bouts of the prelims and continue through the main card.  Following the event, Jens Pulver will recap the action and watch post-fight interviews and the post-fight press conference.  

UFC 261: USMAN vs. MASVIDAL 2 will take place Saturday, April 24, at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla. The main event will see a thrilling welterweight championship rematch when Kamaru Usman defends against No. 4 ranked contender Jorge Masvidal. Women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko goes for her fifth consecutive title defense against No. 1 ranked contender Jessica Andrade.  In a highly anticipated women’s strawweight championship bout, Zhang Weili faces former champion and No. 1 ranked contender Rose Namajunas.

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UFC joined Twitch in 2019 and has quickly grown to become the second most-followed sports property on the platform. UFC’s Twitch Channel provides viewers with event recaps, archival footage from UFC FIGHT PASS, previews for upcoming events, and more.  All revenue generated from subscriptions to the channel benefits the American Cancer Society, an organization dedicated to eliminating cancer.

To follow the UFC Twitch channel, please visit www.twitch.tv/ufc.

Fighters On The Rise | UFC 261 Edition

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Tristan Connelly’s UFC debut couldn’t have gone any better, as the 35-year-old veteran parlayed a short-notice opportunity at home in Vancouver into a unanimous decision victory and a cool $100,000 in bonus money thanks to his opponent, Michel Pereira, missing weight ahead of their Fight of the Night-winning clash.

But “Boondock” has been out of action since, initially sidelined when the coronavirus forced the cancellation of several fight cards and forced to remain there after a car accident left him in need of neck surgery.

Finally healthy and ready to return, the Checkmat Vancouver representative is slated to drop two divisions, venturing to featherweight for the first time in several years this weekend to welcome Patrick Sabatini into the Octagon for the first time.

RELATED: Preview Each Fight On UFC 261

Connelly was a .500 fighter through the first 10 bouts of his career, but since then, the well-rounded finisher has rattled off nine victories in 10 starts, including six straight heading into Saturday’s meeting with Sabatini. Those early struggles allowed him to address the holes in his game and how to play to his strengths inside the cage, and the results since speak for themselves.

A two-time titleholder under the CFFC banner, Sabatini brings a 13-3 record into his promotional debut, which was initially slated to take place towards the end of February before his opponent, Rafael Alves, missed the lightweight limit for their featherweight fight.

If Connelly can shake off the rust and extend his winning streak, he’ll establish himself as an intriguing dark horse in the deep and talented 145-pound weight class and position himself for a bigger opportunity in the second half of the year.

Historic Milestones In Sight For Jessica Andrade

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“At strawweight, I already had three years experience competing with some of the best in the world and had already been able to get some more structure in my personal and professional life. I was making more money, which means I was able to invest more in myself, and my development as a fighter.

“At bantamweight, I was already pretty confident, but when I was facing girls my own size, that went through the roof and made all the difference in my performances and in how I looked at the sport,” she continued. “Now at flyweight you are seeing the happiest version of me; I don’t have to cut much weight, so I can focus on training and improving. This was the main weight class I competed in before entering the UFC and it is the one I believe I can have the most longevity in.

“Getting to flyweight was a breath of fresh air,” Andrade added. “It gave me a level of happiness, especially on fight week, that I haven’t felt in years, and when I’m happy I am very dangerous.”

As happy and dangerous as she may be — and the Brazilian powerhouse is, in fact, both — Andrade is fully aware of the challenge she’s facing when she steps into the Octagon with Shevchenko on Saturday night.

RELATED: Championship Reign: Valentina Shevchenko

“I have watched Valentina for a long time,” began Andrade, discussing the champion’s repertoire and what her best path to victory may be this weekend. “Back when she was still competing in Peru, we had some teammates fighting at the same events.

“She has always been a very complete fighter. Even though she is a Muay Thai fighter, you know that even in Muay Thai she was never a very traditional Muay Thai fighter; she used a lot of clinches and throws even there.

“On paper, the best route would be to do something like Jennifer Maia was able to do in one round of their fight,” continued the challenger, citing her countrywoman’s efforts to close the distance, work from the clinch, and take the fight to the canvas when she faced Shevchenko at UFC 255. “If I can get close, I know I can take her down and work from top position.

“But in a five-round fight, I have 25 minutes to connect my hands, so even if the fight is entirely on our feet, I still believe I can hurt her there.”

Welcome To The UFC: Rongzhu

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„My uncle took me onto the road of fighting,” he recently told the Chinese media. “His biggest wish is to watch me fight for the UFC. Walking into the Octagon makes me feel excited, but also a little nervous. Anything can happen in the Octagon. I can’t predict the outcome of this fight, but I can be sure that it will be a very exciting fight.“

RELATED: Welcome To The UFC – Liang Na

Even on paper, his claim that this will be an exciting fight checks out: of those 17 wins, only one of them was by decision. And while there are a handful of submissions sprinkled in for good measure, it’s Rongzhu’s quick hands and a penchant for first-round knockouts that have been his bread-and-butter to date.

Welcome To The UFC: Liang Na

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While new to large portions of the mainstream UFC audience, she’s far from a novice, having already compiled a 15-4 professional record. Most of those fights came under the prestigious WLF banner, but “Dragon Girl” has also fought for the likes of Heroine FC and Bellator. She enters the UFC on a four-fight win streak, three of those by first-round finish. In her China homeland, she is perennially ranked among the best pound-for-pound women’s fighters.

How To Watch UFC 261 In Your Country

As a youth, her parents enrolled her in martial arts classes to counter her self-described “naughty” behavior. It was there that she not only found an outlet and discipline, but also a love of the game. She particularly excelled at wrestling and spent seven years studying and refining the skill.

„She’s strong, she’s powerful and she’s fast, and she’s able to express that“ says Gavin Pratt of the UFC PI. „But from the movement point of view? Sometimes I don’t know how she does it. But she does it, and that’s all the matters. I think that’s her secret.“

UFC 261 COUNTDOWN: Usman vs Masvidal 2 | Zhang vs Namajunas | Shevchenko vs Andrade | Hall vs Weidman | Full Episode | Order Here

She attributes at least part of that well-rounded skillset to the tutelage of on the “first wave” of Chinese MMA fighters, Coach Jiang Longyung. Long before MMA was a central or fully-sponsored sport in his country, “The Northern Tiger” was something of rarity, pursuing the sport independently, and putting together an accomplished pro career of his own. It’s that warrior spirit he’s been successful in imparting to his students, not the least of which is Liang.

Like so many of her female peers currently in the sport, Liang credits seeing Ronda Rousey fight in her prime with her inspiration to make the jump from traditional martial arts to MMA in 2016, and It’s success like Rousey’s she’s hoping to emulate. And seeing her countryman Zhang Weili dominate at the highest levels of the UFC, the 24-year old knows that dream is attainable.

The first chapter in that dream starts with Carnelossi, who like Liang will be looking for her first UFC win. She describes her opponent as both “tough” and “aggressive,” and knows the Brazilian will look to keep things on the feet where she can unload her trademark striking.

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Out of competition since September 2019, Carnelossi was last seen in the Octagon in her UFC debut against Angela Hill, where a doctor’s stoppage halted a 12-fight win streak. If there’s such a thing as “ring rust,” that would favor Liang who is fresh off of a win this past January.

Whatever unfolds, it will reward the viewers in their seats for the early prelims this Saturday, kicking off at 6pm/3pm ETPT on both ESPN+ and UFC FIGHT PASS.

Valentina Shevchenko: Bulletproof Championship Mentality

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“I really love to work,” Shevchenko told UFC.com. “For example, I never felt that people were saying, ‘Oh, it’s too much pressure to be the champion,’ and (when) they lose their belt, they feel relieved. It’s wrong. It’s totally wrong. You won’t be happier without the belt. You won’t be because this is our fight spirit. This is what we are. We want to be number one. We want to be the best ones, and what is a better version than to hold the belt? This is number one. That’s why I am a kind of a person like that.”

Her stark dominance is why Jennifer Maia’s second-round takedown reversal and round-long control of Shevchenko felt so monumental. It would eventually end how all Shevchenko fights do these days – with “Bullet” imposing her will en route to victory. Shevchenko, afterward, said she fully expected a tough challenge from Maia, saying the only thing she would change about her performance is avoiding that ill-fated throw in the second round.

Watch Shevchenko Defend Her Title At UFC 261

To her credit, Shevchenko hasn’t ever gone into a fight with any wisp of ignorance when it comes to her opponents, even when fans, bettors and peers alike all expect her to mow through challengers. With the flyweight division still in its early stages, Shevchenko turned into a sort of wood-chipper at the top, engulfing and spitting out contenders faster than the weight class can produce them, although an influx of young talent makes the division’s future an exciting one. That gap of championship-level experience, however, found its exciting filling when former strawweight champion Jessica Andrade made her emphatic flyweight debut, earning a first-round TKO win over Katlyn Chookagian in October 2020.

That performance earned Andrade a chance to earn a belt in a second weight class, and she is perhaps Shevchenko’s most anticipated title defense since she captured the belt over Joanna Jędrzejczyk at UFC 231. Shevchenko, however, isn’t all that fazed with her opponent’s credentials, while also giving her skill set the proper respect.

“You have to look at each of your opponents as special,” Shevchenko said. “This is what we are doing. We are watching her fights, we are analyzing what she is doing and definitely she has power – power to throw, power to do different things. She is throwing wild punches all over, and yes, definitely, according to everything that we see, we are doing our training camp. Every training session, we are working on different techniques that I have to work, but the main goal is to put myself in 100 percent shape. This is the number one because without this, you won’t be ready physically and mentally. It doesn’t matter what you do if you are not 200 percent in the fight. This is number one.”

MORE UFC 261: Fight By Fight Preview | Significant Stats | Public Events Schedule | Embedded Episode 1 | Embedded Episode 2

Although Andrade is perhaps seen as Shevchenko’s most threatening contender strictly because of her one-shot power as well as her own championship experience, Shevchenko doesn’t give much time or credence to how that experience could help the Brazilian.

“Being a human, this is what makes the whole difference,” she said. “You’re thinking you’re going to have something like the best, but at the time of the fight, something goes wrong, and you are not feeling as you are supposed to feel. That is the biggest difference, and definitely I cannot say what she is thinking, what she is feeling, but definitely I can say what I feel and what I think about the fight.

“I will approach this fight like no matter what, I will win this fight.”

Even though the nature of capturing a UFC championship is inherently difficult, keeping the belt is notoriously burdensome. Wearing a target on one’s back would seem wearisome, not only to the everyday fan but even in the words of other fighters who’ve seen and experienced the brightest spotlight.

It’s what makes Shevchenko’s reign all the more impressive. Everyone expects excellence when she enters the Octagon, perhaps to unreasonable expectations. And yet, she continues to give people all the reason to expect something spectacular when her feet touch the canvas.

FREE FIGHT: Valentina Shevchenko vs Jennifer Maia

“I totally understand what is the best side of being a champion and what is your responsibility, what you have to do to maintain it,” she said. “If you live in one moment, you can lose your belt very easy. But this is not who I am. I’m not living just for a moment. I live for a constant. I work in the same way. I train the same way. This is the difference if comparing with other girls.”

She becomes a bit more candid when it comes to fighting in front of a full crowd again, which is what UFC 261 brings back into the mix. Shevchenko admitted the energy in the crowd less UFC APEX was a little strange, especially when she walked to the Octagon. In the Octagon, she was all-business (of course), only noting the ability to hear her opponent’s corner much clearer.

In terms of welcoming back the crowd in Jacksonville, Shevchenko said she won’t give it too much thought ahead of time, opting instead to just “feel it in the moment.” It’s an aspect to the sport many are anticipating, and perhaps it’ll inspire a few more spectacular moments to the spectators’ delight.

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What’s certain, however, is Shevchenko will prioritize business over all else. It’s what makes her a great fighter and an equally great champion. Technically, she is on a tier few other mixed martial artists reach, and her ability to flow and crash when the occasion calls for it is something to admire and appreciate. It’s all a part of her intentions any time she steps into the Octagon: to win, to defend her belt and to put all her elite abilities on display. On April 24 against Andrade, as always, it is no different.

“I just want to show my martial arts,” Shevchenko said. “I just want to show my techniques and the beauty of martial arts. Just like, the power, the stubborn power when one is trying to prove who has stronger shins, who is going to fall first. I really want to show martial arts like it was the idea of Bruce Lee’s, the beauty of martial arts.”

UFC Fantasy: Significant Stats – UFC 261: Usman Vs Masvidal 2

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Key Stats: 1.68 knockdowns per 15 minutes (5th all-time among LHW), 47.8% control time percentage (4th all-time among LHW), 5:22 average fight time (4th shortest)

What It Means: One of the roster’s brightest prospects, particularly in the light heavyweight division, Crute is an aggressive fighter with an innate finishing ability. He is a powerful striker who is relatively patient when it comes to looking for his big shot, but once he stuns a foe, he shows great aggression to end the fight. His submission skills are good, and he attacks them with great physicality. In close quarters, he shows natural power off the break, as well as a keen sense of how to leverage positions to his advantage.

What to Look For in the Fight: This is a good test for Crute, who is buzzing right around the top half of the division’s rankings, but Smith is no stepping stone. Smith is the longer fighter and does well to utilize that length via straight punches, teep kicks and a good sense of distance, but Crute is also adept at finding his range or bull rushing into clinches. Once the fight gets in close, Crute could have some success grinding Smith against the fence, but he’ll need to be wary of Smith’s ability to snatch submissions. Both fighters are smart finishers who don’t necessarily chase the fight-ending sequence but have good instincts for when the opportunity rises.

*Hasn’t competed in current weight class enough to qualify in UFC Record Book

„Dangerous“ Uriah Hall Relishes Weidman Rematch

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While there have been flashes of brilliance in the past, they were often followed by disappointing outings; moments that felt like the start of something special being turned into lamentations about “what could have been” after another inconsistent showing.

How To Watch UFC 261 In Your Country

“It’s a mind game, and if I can really, really be honest about this: fighting is 90 percent mental and I’m going to admit it — I’ve doubted myself so many times, in so many fights,” Hall said, his voice carrying flecks of excitement the way his beard now carries hints of grey. “When I lost to Chris Weidman, I didn’t lose to Chris Weidman because I dropped my hands — I lost to Chris Weidman because I defeated myself before that fight.”

Hall and Weidman first crossed paths in the fall of 2010, when both were emerging talents on the treacherous East Coast regional scene. He was 4-0 at the time, with four finishes, and the reigning, defending Ring of Combat middleweight champion, while Weidman was a former collegiate wrestler training with the Serra-Longo Fight Team that had earned first-round finishes in each of his first two fights.

Heading into the fight, all Hall heard about was Weidman’s wrestling — that he was going to take him down, that he was going to look to grind him out, that he didn’t want any part of engaging on the feet — and it got into his head.

“Prior to that I was knocking everybody out,” said Hall, who went 10-0 as a kickboxer in addition to his early MMA exploits. “I did not give a **** — that was my mentality. I was fighting dudes that were so good and I was beating their *** because I didn’t care, and I got away from that mentality because I allowed fear to get in my head.”

Weidman won the first by technical knockout just over three minutes into the first round.

“Fear is like this little drop of poison that if you put it in a bucket of water — it contaminates the whole thing, and that’s what happened to me for most of my life.

“I allowed fear to grip me. I allowed fear to hold me back. I allowed fear to say, ‘Yeah Uriah, maybe you’re not that good. Yeah Uriah, maybe you could never be a champ. Yeah Uriah, maybe this is not for you. Yeah Uriah, you actually suck.’

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