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Martin Day Loves The Thrill

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“I’ve had some tough luck the last couple, haven’t I?” Day laughs. “But these things are part of the game. I gotta take the responsibility into my own hands at the end of the day. That first one that didn’t go my way, decision wise; I should have been able to push a little bit more and get a finish or been dominant. And then when I got finished, I take full responsibility for it. Of course, you gotta give it to Davey for catching me with a good shot, but I made some mistakes too that he was able to capitalize on.”

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That’s a classy response from a classy young man who, like all the Hawaiians on the UFC roster, are so likeable that you can’t even blame them for living in a place we would all like to spend some time in, especially as winter approaches. But it has to be asked: disputed decisions are part of the game, but did he feel that being out for 20 months affected him in any way against England’s Grant in their July bout?

“I don’t think I was affected by the layoff,” Day said. “I think that’s more of a mental thing, anyway. That fight was going well. I felt like I was winning, felt like I was up and having success, and then I just got caught. So I’m not sure if it affected me at all, really. I could sit there and make excuses, but the bottom line is, Grant just caught me with a good punch and perfect timing, and that’s what it was. There’s not too many other factors, because I was liking my performance leading up to that part. I was having a good performance; I was putting on a good show and landing good shots. And it happens sometimes.”

With just 12 pro fights under his belt, you can’t say it’s years and years of experience that have made Day like this. And at 32, he shouldn’t have the wisdom of someone much older. I tell him of that old saying, “I’ve seen fighters get knocked out and think they deserve a draw,” and he laughs because he knows it’s true. That’s just not a road he wants to take in his career or his life.

Preview The Entire Card Fight By Fight

“I’ve learned a lot just being a martial artist,” said Day, who has been training since he was 13. “And I teach martial arts, too. I teach Taekwondo, I teach a lot of kids, and we have programs where we teach instructors how to teach, too. I run leadership programs, and one thing that we always say is, ‘One thing a leader does is they take full responsibility.’ To me, a leadership mindset and a champion’s mindset are similar in many ways, including that one, where you have to take responsibility for everything. At the end of the day, you’re the guy that gets into that cage and you make the final decision of what punch to throw, what strike to throw, and all that stuff. You even make the decisions leading up to it, like what coaches you choose to have and all that stuff. It’s really all up to you. So to blame anyone else is a lack of leadership and it doesn’t show good leadership quality at all.”

So after taking responsibility for what’s happened in his first two trips to the Octagon, which broke up a three-fight winning streak, what does the Kailua product do next?

“I just continue to build on it, get back in the gym and get better at those things I needed to get better at, and the rest of my game, as well, so these things don’t happen again,” he said. “When you go into a cage fight, all these different things can happen to you. You just gotta be able to be as well prepared as possible and get in there well-prepared and train for the best and hope for the best.”

That’s it right there. In mixed martial arts, there are so many ways to win, but also so many ways to lose. And to make sure you’re on the right side of that equation, you have to be focused every second of every minute. Lose that focus for a split second, and it’s game over. That’s scary, but it’s also exhilarating for fighters like Day.

“That’s part of the thrill of it,” he said. “The game of MMA is a game of seconds and centimeters. You could be doing so good and then everything can change if you’re one centimeter this way or one second too late or too early. And a lot of these things can affect you for a lot longer than that. You sit there and the what ifs and the should haves haunt you sometimes. That’s what I’m still learning, and I think a lot of people are learning to not let those things haunt you. You have to take them as a learning experience and get better. It’s easy to say that, but it’s so hard to do. I have losses or times when I got caught, and if you let those what ifs haunt you all day, you’re never gonna let them go. You gotta use them to learn. And it’s tough. You can lose sleep over it. It’s centimeters and seconds, and you’ve gotta be on it for that full 15 minutes.”

Preview the fights with significant stats

This weekend, Martin Day returns to face Brazil’s Anderson dos Santos. With dos Santos also 0-2 in his first two trips to the Octagon, it’s the classic crossroads fight, but Day knows that to stay on course for all those centimeters and seconds, it’s not about the stakes involved; it’s simply about the fight, and “The Spartan” loves fighting.

“Obviously, my last fight wasn’t the outcome I was looking for,” he said. “It happens to everyone, but I am happy to have a pretty quick turnaround and be able to get back in there. I’m getting back to doing what I love.”

UFC Fantasy: Significant Stats – UFC Vegas 15: Blaydes vs Lewis

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(All stats according to UFC’s Record Book and Fight Metric as of November 25, 2020, and only include active athletes in their respective division unless noted otherwise)

Curtis Blaydes

Key Stats: 55.7% takedown accuracy (2nd all-time among HW), 59 takedowns landed (1st all-time among HW), 1:13:28 control time (1st all-time among HW)

What It Means: Blaydes doesn’t mince his words when it comes to his game plan every time he enters the Octagon; he wants to take his opponent down, control them, and dish out punishment. Few fighters make more of an art out of ground-and-pound than Blaydes, whose ability to maintain control while throwing strikes makes getting up a particularly dangerous proposition for opponents. While his standup has improved – heavy hands remain heavy, whether grounded or standing – Blaydes’ focus is always to wrestle. He’ll throw strikes to set up a shot, or feint a takedown and throw a combination, and it all works off his wrestling reputation.

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Derrick Lewis

Key Stats: 11 KO/TKOs (tied-1st all-time), 52.7% takedown defense (9th), 50.8% significant strike accuracy (7th)

What It Means: In a division full of brawlers, power punchers and knockout specialists, Derrick Lewis stands above the rest. More than just a winging overhand, Lewis utilizes a strong array of kicks, knees and footwork to set up that one-punch power he possesses, and perhaps nobody in the division is better at swarming a staggered opponent and ending a fight. Lewis has shown increased cardio, explosiveness, and overall fitness each time out, including when he landed a flying knee that started the finishing sequence against Aleksei Oleinik.

What to Look For in the Fight: This fight is pretty simple. Blaydes wants to get Lewis to the mat, and Lewis wants to land the knockout punch. That said, it’s obviously hard for either to get a clean look. Lewis is notably strong, and although he isn’t impossible to take down, his ability to explode and get up seemingly when he chooses to is something to behold. It will be the biggest test of Blaydes’ control which, to this point, hasn’t left much room for questioning. Blaydes has felled plenty of other credentialed strikers, and if not for two losses to Francis Ngannou, he is as deserving as anybody on the roster of a title shot. Both men will look for an emphatic statement that will clear their path to Stipe Miocic so, as is often said in heavyweight fights, don’t blink.

Preview The Entire Card Fight By Fight

Co-Main Event: Anthony Smith vs Devin Clark

Anthony Smith

Key Stats: 13:39 average fight time (2nd longest), 2.97 strikes landed per minute, 51% takedown defense

What It Means: A bit of a technical brawler, the long-limbed Anthony Smith is able to finish a fight in a variety of ways. Whether he is using his smooth, rangy striking or initiating grappling scrambles, “Lionheart” is dangerous wherever the fight goes. His striking can be methodical at times, reliant on footwork and general Fight IQ in order to set up his shots, but he is also able to set a grinding pace to the fight before looking for an opening.

RELATED: UFC Vegas 15 Fighters On The Rise | Baeza’s Harshest Critic

Devin Clark

Key Stats: 57% significant strike accuracy (4th), 37.9% control time percentage (5th), 12:08 average fight time (5th longest)

What It Means: “Brown Bear” is a marauding, well-rounded fighter with a strong wrestling base that he can use to get himself out of trouble or to wear on his opponent. He throws punches in long, heavy combinations, but he will also sneak a head kick in there. Clark has shown great toughness and ability to outlast opponents at a high pace, often going to the judges’ scorecards in his wins.

What to Look For in the Fight: This fight should be a bit of a grinder, as both guys have shown the ability to respond well to adversity and turn the tide, as well as dish out punishment early and often. It wouldn’t be surprising to see several striking exchanges turn quickly into a grappling scramble as both men possess solid wrestling skills. Smith is the more credentialed finisher and is in need of a win to stay in the title picture at 205 pounds. On the other hand, this is a chance for Clark to score his third win in a row and thrust himself into the top-half of the division.

Other Fights to Watch (Miguel Baeza vs Takashi Sato)

*Miguel Baeza

Key Stats: 4.79 strikes landed per minute, 56% striking accuracy, 4.67 strikes absorbed per minute

What It Means: “Caramel Thunder” has a solid frame for the welterweight division at 6-foot-2 with a 74-inch reach, and he has strong, technical striking. His upper-body evasiveness keeps him in range for counter-combinations, and he is patient about his work. Baeza works well off low leg kicks to stymie his opponent’s movements and make them a more stationary target, and he doesn’t need a lot of space to generate power.

*Takashi Sato

Key Stats: 6:20 average fight time, 3.94 strikes landed per minute, 5.1 strikes absorbed per minute

What It Means: Sato’s best, most powerful, weapon is a fast straight left, often set up with a jab ahead of it. He’s patient in looking for the right moment to unleash his punches, and he is adept at countering. It’s not uncommon for him to absorb some punishment in order to get into range for the knockout punch, displaying a great chin in the midst of wild exchanges. He has shown the ability to flip the script on a fight with just one punch, and he remains dangerous at all times because of that.

What to Look For in the Fight: It wouldn’t be surprising to find Baeza leading this dance early as Sato searches for his range and timing. Both are strong counterpunchers with real power. Baeza is probably the faster and more sophisticated striker of the two, and he showed against Matt Brown he can take a shot, recover and find his footing in a fight. Sato is a tricky knockout artist because he is so patient with how he approaches the fight, so this should be a fun fight with its share of explosive moments.

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

Edgar, Usman Visit Colombian Youth Boxing Club

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“They’re literally working in an open room with concrete floors, open windows and it was so crowded that we had to go on a makeshift basketball court to fit everybody,” said Edgar. “It’s very humbling.”

“The gym is as big as my dining room,” adds Usman. “It’s a small gym, they’ve got a bag up and a few gloves sitting up there. There’s no running water anywhere there, and a lot of these homes up the side of the mountains, there’s no water, no plumbing system, none of that. I was getting a flashback to how I grew up. I’m seeing all of this and instantly, I can appreciate all of it.”

It’s in gyms like this that fighters are made. No one knows this better than Usman and Edgar, and while there were plenty of kids just there to do something constructive with themselves, there were also those who had that fire in their belly to make this their way out.

“It was extremely humbling because I couldn’t help but have those thoughts while I was there watching the kids and teaching them,” said Usman. “As a kid, you don’t necessarily know what you’re in and what’s going on. You’re just in a certain circumstance. And I’m looking at the kids and I’m already thinking, this kid’s naturally gifted, this kid’s gonna naturally pick it up, he’s gonna do amazing things with this. And that was the case. If these kids stay with this, if they continue to learn and train, some of them can develop so rapidly to where they could become superstars of this sport. I saw myself in that position and I see myself now. Nowadays, we complain that there’s not enough milk in our Starbucks coffee and we’re on the side of the mountain, and some of them don’t even have a roof on their house. It puts a lot of things in perspective that you tend to forget when you’re at a certain place in life.”

“It’s very humbling seeing these kids in such poor circumstances, but these kids don’t know any different,” adds Edgar. “They’re happy to be there, happy to be working out, and it was a very cool experience. It’s super humbling and it really brings things into perspective.”

Expect Fireworks Out Of The Gate From Derrick Lewis

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And while the Houston, Texas native is proud of the feat, he will admit that the accomplishment is something that Lewis never expected to have, let alone be known for.

“It’s something I never even thought about until I was tied for tenth the last couple of fights. I never even thought about being the real knockout king, especially in the UFC,” Lewis told UFC.com. “It was nothing that was a goal I set out to be the knockout king, so it’s crazy that it happened.”

It took Lewis 20 UFC fights over the course of six and half years to reach the mark, and since getting knee surgery and focusing more and more on his gas tank, Lewis appears primed to add to his total over the course of his career.

His transformation has been evident, both in how he utilizes his dynamic explosions of energy and how he physically looks. Lewis’ dedication to improving himself and becoming a more complete fighter is one of the main reasons he finds himself on a short list of heavyweights in the mix for a shot at Stipe Miocic’s belt.

That short list includes the surging Curtis Blaydes, who will clash with Lewis in the main event of UFC Vegas 15 this Saturday.

“A statement win for me going against Curtis, I believe I have to have good takedown defense and have good wrestling because they are saying that Stipe is one of the best wrestlers in the division,” the 35-year-old Lewis said. “That means I got to be out there and compete and be a mixed martial artist and be ready for that.”

Much has been – and will be – made of Blaydes’ ability to wrestle his opponents and dominate once he gets them to the canvas. Lewis knows that he will have to defend the takedown in order to beat Blaydes, and is confident that he will be able to do that once the two fighters make the walk in the UFC APEX.

“I never rolled with him before, he never rolled with me before, he never even touched me, he never even shook my hand, he doesn’t know what to expect, just like I don’t know what to expect, but I know my ability and I’m pretty sure he knows his ability,” he said. “To me, I’ve been doing grappling and wrestling and moving around with way bigger guys than him, way more technical, much more credentials in mixed martial arts, but if he thinks that he can dominate on the ground, then that’s fine.”

For a brief moment, Lewis cracks a smug smile, adding that he might be the first to initiate the wrestling exchanges just to “confuse Blaydes a little bit”.

That type of unpredictability is one of the reasons why Lewis is a fan favorite. He is well aware that the fight game is in the entertainment business and that’s one of the reasons why he’s so focused on knockouts. Lewis wants to give the people what they want, but he’s not so sure that Blaydes will match that same energy on Saturday.

“If he wants to make it a boring fight, I really can’t go for that. I’ve been in a boring fight before and it’s really frustrating,” Lewis says adamantly. “I don’t want to be in no more boring fights, so I’m going to make it really exciting right out of the gate.”

Lewis is motivated to get back to fighting for a UFC title, something that he did back in November 2018 against the now retired Daniel Cormier. He’s on a three-fight winning streak and knows that an impressive win over a top contender like Blaydes could put him back in that spot yet again.

“I believe it all depends on the fight goes. If I go in there and be in a boring fight, then neither of us should get title shots; I think we should get bumped down from the rankings. But if I go out there and have a great performance, then I believe that I should get the next title shot.”

Make sure you tune into the main event of UFC Vegas 15 to see if Lewis can add to his knockout record. The fights start at 10pm ET / 7pm PT on ESPN2 and ESPN+.

Devin Clark And Family „All In“ On Smith Fight

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It’s a rollercoaster of emotional highs and lows many of us can relate to this year, but one that Clark is feeling distinctly.

“There’s been so many good things with my career—financially and stuff like that. The family, my wife and daughter are doing good. But, at the same time, we’ve had a lot of loss, death. I lost a good friend and also lost my mother-in-law. The whole COVID-19 thing and people freaking out. It’s a really weird time, and also the best year that I’ve had.”

The passing of his mother-in-law occurred mere days ago, and the wound is still fresh in his voice. Was there ever a thought to canceling his co-main event fight at this weekend’s UFC Fight Night: Blaydes vs Lewis?

“There was a lot of that thought,” he admits. “The only thing that kept me staying and fighting is my wife, and my mother-in-law before she passed. She gave me her blessing to keep fighting. That’s what she wanted me to do, to fight this Saturday, get a win and knock him out in the first round,” he recalls, smiling at the memory. “I had every excuse to cancel this fight and go home and be with my family during a really rough time. But I’m a fighter and that’s what we do. We fight. It’s going to show on Saturday.

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“My wife, she’s a trooper, man, going through a tough time like this on her own. I was in Albuquerque, New Mexico for fight camp. She’s back home in South Dakota. I can’t even imagine. But she’s such a tough lady, and she’s getting through it. We’re getting through it. We’re all in for this fight, the whole family.”

Originally scheduled to meet Shamil Gamzatov at Saturday’s UFC Vegas 15, he now finds himself facing No. 6-ranked Anthony Smith in the co-main event. The moment has suddenly gotten much bigger, and the opportunity to break into the top of the light heavyweight division he’s been laboring in since 2016 is afoot.

He’s no stranger to what Smith has to offer, after helping Jackson-Wink teammate Jon Jones prepare for him when they squared off in the title bout at UFC 235. In fact, Jones was in the room when Clark got word of his new opponent, and the two immediately began looking at film and preparing. In Smith, he sees a shared commitment to the life they’ve chosen.

“I know Anthony. I’ve known him for a while. He knows me. We’re both showing up to fight. We’re the definition of fighters. He didn’t have to take this fight against an unranked fighter. There’s no reason for him to take this fight and he took it because he’s a fighter.”

It’s been a bit of a slow burn for “Brown Bear”, who has carefully built up a solid 12-4 record since turning pro in 2013, and in 2020 broke a long streak of alternating wins and losses with two consecutive victories over notable talents Dequan Townsend and Alonzo Menifield.

For Clark, the last bout in particular was a turning point for him as a fighter. After getting rocked in the first, it looked like Menifield was cruising to yet another victory. But Clark dug deep and turned the tides, battling to a definitive unanimous decision win.

“It reminded me that’s who I am and that’s where I’m good. That’s where I’m at my best: when I’m in danger, when I’m hurting, when I’m miserable. That’s what this camp has been—emotionally and stress-wise—a miserable camp. But the training has been so much better because of it. We get to go into every session—and this fight—with passion and with purpose.”

Not that he lacked passion, per se. But it was a moment of clarity that reminded him why he was where he was.

“Over the years, as a fighter sometimes you might not think that going into it. Or you forget about it sometimes. But I’m one of the best out there, one of the best in the world, and I fight for the UFC, and it’s time to show up and show out.”

Rachael Ostovich Aiming for Successful Return

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“This roller coaster did not stop,” Ostovich said at Virtual Media Day. “There was no end game for this one. Just right back into this fight game feels nice. Feeling really refreshed to be here.

“I guess I couldn’t have asked for a better conclusion,” she continued. “I’m happy that it’s over. I feel like that whole situation in itself – I don’t even know how it happened, to be honest, and I think that’s just the thing with USADA. Their technology is so good that they can trace things back to years and years and years ago to things you consumed unknowingly. I think this is a problem for the nutrition companies that are not regulated.”

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Of the USADA issue, Ostovich is ultimately just happy that the situation is behind her, and in the time off, she believes she has regained the fire and drive to find success in the Octagon.

“I’m always working, always evolving every single day,” she told UFC.com. “We’re putting in time, sacrificing, taking days of our lives, missing parties, missing functions for my daughter. I’m always improving, always getting better in the gym.”

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A long road to a fight isn’t unfamiliar for Ostovich, but regardless of her life outside of the Octagon, the Hawaiian is looking to bounce back from back-to-back submission losses to Montana De La Rosa and Paige VanZant. 

Of the latter fight, Ostovich looks back on the experience in Brooklyn positively despite the loss. The lead-up to the fight was another roller coaster in itself.

“I was so happy I made it to the fight,” she said. “For me, that was already a win in itself.”

Now, Ostovich faces Gina Mazany at UFC Fight Night: Blaydes vs Lewis. Both women are coming off losses, and both women haven’t had their hand raised in the Octagon since late-2017, so naturally, the sense of urgency is high for both. 

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Although some of the time off between fights was involuntary, Ostovich is hopeful that she’ll be able to show the work she has been able to put in during that span.

“I still haven’t felt that I’ve ever shown my true talents,” Ostovich said. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years, and I’m ready to show it. I’m praying that what I do in the gym can come out in the cage.”

She is also looking forward to fighting in the UFC Apex without fans, an experience she expects to be similar to her time on The Ultimate Fighter Season 26 that kickstarted the 125-pound division. 

When asked about the kind of statement she would like to make with her performance on Saturday, Ostovich laughs and says she would like to just make a positive statement in general. After a moment though, she zeroes in on exactly what she hopes to accomplish in her long-awaited return.

“I want to show the world what I possess,” she said. “I want to win in a nice fashion.”

Luke Sanders Preps Body And Mind For Vegas Return

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“It’s awesome,” said Sanders of the arrival of his baby boy Jagger. “It’s the best thing in the world.”

On Saturday, he gets to experience another couple of those “you had to be there” moments when he returns to the Octagon for the first time since February 2019 to face Nate Maness.

“There’s the ‘after feeling’ of all the hard work and preparation coming to fruition,” he said. “And that walk’s always lovely, too. It’s a different kind of adrenalin that you can’t describe until you experience it. So that’s always a blast and I love that.”

He’s missed it, but since he needed the time off to heal up some injuries, the 34-year-old doesn’t look at the last 21 months as wasted time.

“I wouldn’t say it was frustrating,” Sanders said. “I’ve been making sure to do what I needed to do to be fully prepared for when I do get back in there because there ain’t no takebacks. It’s kind of like a coming out party.”

It is in some ways, but as soon as the highlight video comes on to introduce Sanders and Maness to the folks watching at home, they’ll see the last performance of “Cool Hand Luke,” a second round knockout of former UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao. It was the biggest win of Sanders’ career, and he admits that it’s much nicer returning off a win like that than a loss.

“Coming off that kind of win, you definitely want to make sure that the next time you keep that momentum rolling and you don’t fall back because you’re only as good as your last performance,” he said.

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That last performance was pretty damn good, and after going 1-3 in his previous four starts after debuting in the UFC with a bonus-winning submission of Maximo Blanco in 2016, he needed a big win. 

“I know I wanted to win, and I wanted to get a finish, but I didn’t put any pressure on myself,” said Sanders. “I just made sure I was fully prepared and I was committed to do whatever it took and that’s the main thing for me – making sure I’m prepared and I’m mentally focused on getting that win. I had those two things going for me, so I felt like it was gonna be a good night.”

It was, and he’s hoping for another good night in Las Vegas this weekend. If he gets it, that’s two in a row and a good way to head into 2021 in a bantamweight division that’s hotter than ever. Then again, he’s felt that way about his weight class for a while.

“It’s definitely the deepest, and it’s the most exciting to watch,” he said. “At bantamweight there’s the knockout power, there’s the technique, there’s the stamina, the athleticism, and the pound-for-pound strength is through the roof with those guys. It’s the best in the league right now, but I’ve always felt since I got into the UFC that I was top ten. And I fought some ranked guys and I felt like I was winning those fights and I’m better than those guys. And a lot of the guys that are in the top ten were just getting started when I was coming in and I felt like I could have beat some of them back then. So I’m just making sure that I’m ready for the opportunity when I do get to fight one of those guys, then I can get a number beside my name.”

Looks like someone has his 2021 all planned out.

“When I decided I was ready to come back and I got this fight booked, I wanted to make sure my body and mind were prepared to get this fight in and keep these fights rolling because that’s what it’s about – staying active,” he said. “This is my job and I’m fully committed. I moved (to Arizona) in March as soon as I was prepared and healthy; I made all the right adjustments and I’m out here, so I just want to keep it going and keep it rolling.”

Jazwares UFC Action Figures Available Now!

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Roleplay UFC Legacy Championship Belt Replica

Now this is just cool. Whether you hang it on a wall, display it on a shelf or use it as a centerpiece for a UFC party, this replica of the newly designed UFC championship fits the bill for all ages. But if you were like me and my buddies growing up in Brooklyn back in the stone age, there would be tournaments on the sidewalk to see who went home with this belt. Take that back – don’t try that at home, kids. Seriously, though, this was a hit with my son-in-law when it arrived in the house, and he’s 23, so this is an all ages gift that really looks cool even if you’re not wearing it around the neighborhood. And if you do, hey, more power to you.

UFC Conor McGregor Plush Toy with Sound Effects

Warning – this is the kind of toy that can get you evicted from your home…by your wife. Maybe I’m a little over the top with my plush version of “The Notorious” Conor McGregor, making sure I play “Precision beats power and power beats speed” around the house as much as humanly possible, but that’s me. Nuts and bolts time – this is a plush version of Irish superstar Conor McGregor, and again, I’m giving away my age, but how cool would it have been to have a Muhammad Ali toy like this that would yell out “I am the Greatest” when you moved him? So kids, you have it good, because not only do you get a representation of your favorite fighter, complete with tattoos – maybe a first for a plush toy – but it’s motion sensitive, so if you punch it or grab its arm, one of 11 sound effects or quotes will follow. Everything from a grunt due to getting hit and a war cry, to one of McGregor’s notable quotes and even the UFC theme, there’s plenty here to keep you busy. One note – if you buy it, it’s on demo mode, so you need to switch the box in the toy’s back to the on position to get the full experience.

UFC Action Figures

As Bruce Buffer would say, “It’s Time!” for the main event of the evening. Like I noted earlier, I have the entire UFC action figure collection, so I’m a little pickier than most when it comes to such matters. And Jazwares nailed it with this first set of UFC action figures (they’re not dolls!), which contains Daniel Cormier, Donald Cerrone, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Jon Jones, Conor McGregor and Max Holloway. From the clean packaging that will appeal to collectors looking to display them in the box, to the actual look of the figures themselves, this is definitely next level stuff in the action figure genre. That shouldn’t be surprising coming from Jazwares, a rising star in that field that already has the license for Fortnite figures and is producing figures based on the Marvel Avengers and AEW pro wrestling brands. But you never know how the end product is going to turn out. Well, the UFC figures are great, whether to display, keep in the box or actually play with, and what makes them work is the detail. Each fighter comes with his own country flag, real cloth shorts, and two heads and two sets of hands. Why? Well, the hands represent open hands and a closed first, and the heads will normally be a calm face and one from the heat of a fight. The Nurmagomedov figure’s alternate head has his traditional papakha hat, a nice touch for the longtime lightweight champ, and there are also championship belts for the champs and a cowboy hat for “Cowboy” Cerrone. These were details missing in previous figure sets, but what really makes these figures is that if you are playing with them or setting them up in fight stances for display, each one has 32 points of articulation. That’s a big deal for an action figure to actually be able to display action, and these figures got it right. My younger self is jealous. The figures are also sturdy enough to withstand a career’s worth of five-rounders from whoever is playing with them and still look good enough to put them back in the box and show them off. That’s what I call a win-win.

To purchase any of the items reviewed above, visit UFCStore.com, Amazon and Ringside Collectables

Ashlee Evans-Smith Is Focused On Showcasing Her Improvements

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If you ask most of the world, mid-March was a whirlwind. The coronavirus pandemic was sweeping the world as lockdowns were implemented, and while that left many in uncertain circumstances, Ashlee Evans-Smith was uniquely displaced as she tried to ready herself for a bout in London scheduled for March 21. She and her team watched half a world away as travel restrictions were implemented, and the card was eventually postponed.

Ultimately, Evans-Smith went home without having fought, and with a lot of emotions through which to work.

“I’m a very emotional person,” Evans-Smith told UFC.com. “When I’m happy, I’m happy. When I’m sad, I’m very sad, and I was very sad for about a month. I think a lot of us were very sad – fighter or otherwise – because nobody is really used to being out of their routine and locked down like that, but I’m really so grateful because I found a way to pull myself out of it.”

The bout would’ve been her first in about 13 months – a stretch filled with injury, surgery and uncertainty – but as she approaches her bout with Norma Dumont on November 28, the familiarity of fight week remains. And with a fight coming much sooner than later, Evans-Smith is able to reflect on that period of instability when it came to mixed martial arts events and look on it positively.

“When this is all said and done, I can go back and think to myself, ‘Wow. No matter what was going on in the world, I was ready to fight,’” she said.

The gap between bouts is the biggest in her career, but that stretch in the UFC also includes seven trips to the Octagon. That experience gives her confidence and steadiness, and she looks to get back into the winner’s circle after dropping a February 2019 decision to Andrea Lee in Phoenix.

“I think that if you watch back in 2014 until now, I’ve gotten progressively better,” she said. “I’m showing new skills each fight, and this fight on Saturday won’t be different. I think you’re going to see a more relaxed fighter.”

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Against Dumont, she is expecting a “heavy hitter,” but she remains distant from committing too heavily on an evaluation, as she knows the sport’s unpredictable nature.

Of her own goals, though, Evans-Smith has a maturity and curiosity with which she views the opportunities in this fight.

“Everyone wants to go in there and get a quick knockout,” she said. “I totally want that as well, but if I go in there, and I show that I’ve improved my skills, my striking is good, my cardio is on-point, when it goes to the ground my transitions are smooth, that’s even better.”

Evans-Smith does lament the absence of fans, the not-so-new normal that hangs around sporting events these days, but she hopes to give those who support her something to cheer for when she returns to the Octagon on November 28. She isn’t expecting to feel any sort of rust, either.

The spring took the floor out from almost everyone, but fight week – that’s something Evans-Smith knows well.

“It’s kind of like riding a bike,” she said. “It feels right. Media day, weigh ins, and then the actual fight. I’m very, very grateful.”

Anthony Smith Is Regaining His Confidence

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Night after night, it was killer after killer, and as the fights added up, his profile rose, leading him to analyst gigs and a new role as a favorite of the media that embraced him and his story. Add in his most important role as family man and father to his three daughters, it was going to eventually catch up to the Omaha native.

And it did. In the worst place and at the worst time possible.

“Nothing went right,” said Smith of the Rakic fight, which he lost via unanimous decision. “And I’m not making excuses, he beat me fair and square, but I never conceded a position in a fight in my whole life until that fight. It’s never happened. I’d rather you rip my head off. The worst part afterwards was thinking I can’t believe that guy beat me. I give it to him, he’s got heavy leg kicks; he murdered my leg. But he was so strong. I was shocked. I’ve never been manhandled in my whole life. But I think some of that is that I conceded. All right, I’m gonna be down here for a minute; I’ll try to catch him in a submission, and if not, I’ll get up. And it never got to that ‘if not, I’ll get up’ part.”

Smith has lost before, both before the UFC and during his two stints in the promotion. But he hasn’t felt like this since a 2013 defeat at the hands of UFC vet Josh Neer in the Victory FC promotion.

“Being present and being in the fight are different things,” Smith said. “I was present; that ain’t gonna happen again. I had the same feeling after I fought Josh Neer the first time. Josh Neer broke me in my hometown with my mom in the front row. And afterwards, it was the most embarrassing feeling in the world because I gave up on myself. In the last fight, I didn’t give up, but I wasn’t who I knew I could have been, and it’s been bugging me ever since, but I think it’s the best thing that ever happened because I had to make these changes.”

The changes have been across the board, little things to those outside of Smith’s world, but huge ones within his circle. From tweaks to his strength and conditioning routine and his nutrition to a new focus on his schedule, Smith says he feels, “Hyper focused” as he prepares for his UFC Fight Night co-main event against Devin Clark this Saturday.

And it all started with a call from an old friend.

“Chael (Sonnen) called me a couple days later and he was like, ‘Here’s what you need to do,’” recalled Smith of his conversation with the former world title challenger. “And he gave me this list of things to do, and it had nothing to do with fighting. It was like, ‘Go somewhere with your family and shut your phone off and leave it in the glove box. Tell your radio show to f**k off and if they don’t like it, they can find somebody else. Don’t answer anybody and just go off somewhere.’”

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Smith laughs, but he knew Sonnen was right.

“He said, ‘You’re just tired.’”

When you do what Smith and his peers do in the Octagon every couple months, it’s very easy to feel like a superhero, both in and out of competition. But every UFC fighter is human, and Smith, who was on a heck of a run for a long time in the 205-pound division, he found that out the hard way. First was being on the wrong end of a come from behind win by Glover Teixeira in May. Then came the Rakic fight three months later. And when that was over, he had to have a long talk with himself about where he was in the UFC after suffering his first two-fight losing streak in the big show.

“There were a lot of hard questions I had to ask myself,” he said. “I also had to sit with my coaches and say, ‘What is happening?’ Do I still have it? And not just physically. Do I still have the mental capacity to put it together and then continue to chase this title? And I found out that with a little bit of rest and restructure and throwing some s**t at a wall with my therapist that I got it; I just gotta organize it. So, do I still have it and do I still want it? And the answer to both of those questions is yes.”

With that out of the way, the 32-year-old wanted to get into a fistfight. And when Shamil Gamzatov withdrew from his bout with Clark, Smith raised his hand to step in.  

“This Devin Clark fight popped up; he lost his opponent,” Smith said. “It was a little sooner than I expected, but I like the fight and I like the matchup. I think it’s what I need right now. He’s not a specialist, and I don’t want to take anything away from him or his skills and abilities, but I’ve been in there for a couple of years with nothing but straight, stone cold killers. You can’t make a mistake with any of these guys.”

Smith pauses, choosing his words carefully because he doesn’t want to make it seem like Clark is a step down in competition because he’s unranked at the moment, while “Lionheart” sits in the number six spot at 205 pounds.

“I know people are looking at me like I’m crazy, like ‘I can’t believe you accepted a fight with a guy that’s unranked,’” he continues. “No, no, no. I asked for this fight. He’s coming off a couple wins, I’m coming off a couple losses, he didn’t have an opponent and I was willing to shorten my camp. And he’s a tough dude. He don’t go away, that’s for sure. And I’m excited for this one, which sounds crazy. Typically, you get a top 10-ranked guy against an unranked opponent, you get a top ten ranked guy that’s not super excited about the fight he’s about to be in, but I’m the opposite of that.”

The reason is simple. Smith knows that a three-fight losing streak doesn’t look good no matter how you slice it, so he’s approaching this one like it’s a main event title fight, because in a lot of ways, it’s just as important.

“It’s kind of like riding dirt bikes in a motocross race,” he explains. “You can make your way through the course anywhere, but if you don’t find your right groove or the right line, it’s gonna really be hard. So I’m just not in my groove right now. I think I figured out a lot of the issues and a lot of it’s mental. And I think this is one of those guys where I can just go in and be me and fight the fight where it’s happening. I don’t have to force it and don’t have to avoid anywhere. Obviously, he’s gonna want to wrestle. There’s no secret there. He doesn’t have a choice. He can’t survive with me for 15 minutes on his feet. He knows it and I know it. So I get to go in there and be me and just fight and not worry about what he’s gonna do because it doesn’t matter because I’m better than him everywhere. I need to allow myself to go in there and be me and not have some hard and fast game plan where I need to avoid this and watch that. I just go in there and react. And I tend to perform better when I’m able to do that.”

See, Anthony Smith never lost his mojo. He just needed to recalibrate. And on Saturday, he expects to deliver the kind of performance that got him to the top in the first place.

“We had to make a decision – am I chasing money fights or am I chasing the title,” he said. “If I’m chasing money fights, then we just get the biggest fights for the most money. If I’m chasing a title, then between my coaches and the people that I trust close to me, they all were in agreement that we needed to get my groove back again and get my confidence back. I’ve never lost two in a row in the UFC, and then I was out for a year with an injury, so the last win I had was over (Alexander) Gustafsson a year and a half ago. I don’t know how to explain it, but the plan is to fight Devin Clark, go in there, be myself, leave with a win, and then fight again.”

Just like the old days.

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