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Hispanic Heritage Month: Top 5 Diego Sanchez Fights

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The 38-year-old is one of six men to cross the threshold into the eight-sided proving ground more than 30 times and one of only a handful of fighters to compete in four different weight classes, earning victories in three of them. At one point in the middle of his career, Sanchez earned Fight of the Night honors in six of nine appearances, including a couple contests that garnered Fight of the Year consideration.

As the UFC celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, we turn our attention to the first man to earn the title of “The Ultimate Fighter” and a true one-of-a-kind competitor, Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Diego “The Nightmare” Sanchez.

THE ULTIMATE FIGHTER FINALE VS. KENNY FLORIAN

https://ufcfightpass.com/video/29260

In a season filled with unique characters who made a lasting impression with curious fight fans, Sanchez still managed to find a way to stand out inside The Ultimate Fighter House as an enigmatic and mercurial talent who quickly emerged as one of the favorites in the middleweight competition.

After making quick work of Alex Karalexis and Josh Rafferty in the opening two rounds, Sanchez edged out Josh Koscheck to punch his ticket to a showdown against Kenny Florian in the middleweight finale, where the promising New Mexico native made history.

They spent the opening minute of the fight circling one another, with Sanchez manning the center of the Octagon and Florian bouncing around the outside, but once Sanchez committed to closing the distance and got the fight to the ground, he dominated.

Though Florian worked hard to keep Sanchez at bay, the size and strength difference between the two men was too much, as Sanchez looked to pass while dropping hammers from on high. Just before the midway point of the opening round, Sanchez climbed into mount and started raining down elbows, leaving Florian with an impossible choice: give up your back and get choked out or remain with your back to the canvas and catch wreck.

Florian opted for the latter and Sanchez obliged, punishing him with heavy ground-and-pound, prompting the fight to quickly be halted.

Sanchez earned a UFC contract and became the first person to earn the title of “The Ultimate Fighter,” a designation he still carries with pride to this day.

Hispanic Heritage Month: Debut Events

Hispanic Heritage Month: Debut Events

UFC FIGHT NIGHT 6 VS. KARO PARISYAN

https://ufcfightpass.com/video/31661

Over the course of UFC history, there are some terrific fights that have fallen victim to history — epic encounters that have been lost in the shuffle as the schedule expanded, coverage of the sport intensified, and the initial wave of fans who remembered those classic encounters ceded their position to a new generation of observers who are more fixated on what’s happening now than what happened in the past.

This is one of those fights.

Sanchez was unbeaten at the time and climbing the welterweight ranks. Parisyan was 15-3 overall, having won nine of his last 10 appearances and five straight heading into this one. They were two of the top emerging talents in one of the deepest divisions in the UFC and everyone expected their clash in Las Vegas to be exhilarating.

And it still managed to exceed expectations.

Sanchez came out of the gate like a man possessed, putting Parisyan on the canvas in a hurry and quickly taking his back, busting him up and chasing a choke in the opening minute. Parisyan responded in kind once they returned to the feet, sweeping Sanchez to the ground and scoring with ground-and-pound of his own. That back-and-forth, give-and-take continued for the entire 15-minute affair.

Each time one man started building momentum, the other found a counter, with both men having success taking the other down and the striking exchanges running level. It was tactical and technical, featuring a bevy of impressive scrambles and grappling exchanges that carried this clash to Fight of the Year consideration.

More than 14 years later, bringing up this fight can still kick off a heated debate, as Sanchez emerged with a unanimous decision victory that many remain adamant should have went the other way.

Regardless of the verdict, this was the first — but certainly not the last — instant classic in the lengthy UFC career of Diego Sanchez and one that deserves to be talked about as frequently and fondly as the others.

UFC 95 VS. JOE STEVENSON

https://ufcfightpass.com/video/32153

2009 saw Sanchez make the decision to depart the welterweight division for the lightweight ranks, where he began his adventure in the 155-pound weight class in a main event showdown with fellow Ultimate Fighter winner Joe Stevenson at UFC 95 in London, England. No one was quite sure what to expect from a slimmed down version of Sanchez, who had always relied on pace and conditioning during his largely successful stay in the welterweight division.

It took a little before the two TUF winners really started to get after it, with Stevenson controlling the first half of the opening round with his sharp boxing. Towards the end of the frame, things started to heat up, with Stevenson calling Sanchez forward and the “Nightmare” obliging with solid strikes, and when they came out to start the second, they started to get after it a little more, with Sanchez initially taking the fight to Stevenson.

But as they settled into a rhythm, this turned into a bullfight, with Sanchez playing the matador to Stevenson’s approaching bull. Each time Stevenson would close the distance, Sanchez would attack, offering greater variety and diversity of attacks, landing the more significant blows against the former title challenger.

In his first lightweight appearance, Sanchez immediately proved that he was a contender and a potential force in the division, sweeping the scorecards against a talented veteran foe while collecting another Fight of the Night bonus for his efforts.

Diego Sanchez: Top TUF Moments

Diego Sanchez: Top TUF Moments

THE ULTIMATE FIGHTER 9 FINALE VS. CLAY GUIDA

https://ufcfightpass.com/video/30290

This fight was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2019 and it only takes about 12 seconds of watching it back to understand why. From the jump, this one was all-out, frenetic action and there was no point where it let up.

Honestly, if I was tasked with making a list of the best individual rounds in UFC history, the first round of this fight would most likely man the No. 1 spot; it’s that good. This fight took place more than a decade ago and I’m not sure I’ve seen a blow that I was sure was going to end the fight but didn’t like the kick Guida ate midway through the opening round.

If the opening round wasn’t enough to cement this fight in the pantheon of all-time greats, the ground-and-pound battle in the closing moments of the second certainly helped get it there, as Sanchez unleashed savage elbows from the bottom while Guida tried to maul him from top position.

In the third, their hands and bodies were tinted red by all the blood that had been spilled over the opening 10 minutes, they stayed after it, smashing each other with strikes in space before settling in for a tight final minute on the canvas, where Sanchez hunted for submissions and Guida defended before finishing out the frame with a couple heavy shots from on top.

Sanchez walked away with the split decision victory, both men took home a well-earned Fight of the Night bonus, and the contest landed at the top of myriad Fight of the Year lists before being enshrined in the UFC Hall of Fame last summer.

https://ufcfightpass.com/video/30647

While the other fights on this list are all victories for Sanchez, this is one where he landed on the wrong side of the results, but it still stands out as one of his best performances inside the Octagon because it showcases the indomitable will that continues to propel him into the cage to this day.

Melendez handily won the opening round, controlling the striking exchanges and opening up a sizeable cut over the left eye of Sanchez, but it only seemed to spur him on. Once the blood started spilling down his face, Sanchez went on the offensive, landing his best strikes of the round and seemingly stinging Melendez to the body before eating one on the chin that sat him down right before the horn.

The action in the second was more of the same, with Melendez landing the better blows throughout, but Sanchez having a few quality moments of his own and refusing to go away. As the third began, Melendez was fully in charge, which forced Sanchez to wade into the fire, looking to land a fight-changing blow.

About a minute into the round, the two veterans just started slinging and once again, it seemed to draw out the best from Sanchez, who called for more and chased down Melendez, the left side of his face coated in blood. After a pause in the action to check on the gnarly cut over Sanchez’ left eye midway through the final stanza, these two really started to get after it, trading punches before Sanchez landed a right uppercut that sent Melendez crashing to the canvas.

Sanchez chased him to the ground, hunting for submissions, but couldn’t find one, and they ended up back on their feet, with the crowd at the Toyota Center joining them. When the 10-second clacker sounded, both men planted their feet and started firing, trading bombs through to the horn.

Though he landed on the wrong side of the scorecards, there is no way to put together a list of the greatest fights in Diego Sanchez’ career without including this epic encounter in Houston, Texas. Lesser men would have wilted at various points throughout the contest, but Sanchez never stopped pressing forward, trading bombs with the former Strikeforce champion for 15 wildly entertaining minutes.

Holm vs Aldana: Fight By Fight Preview

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Holly Holm vs Irene Aldana

Holly Holm enters the octagon in her bantamweight fight during the UFC 246 event at T-Mobile Arena on January 18, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Saturday night’s event is headlined by a clash that could very well determine the next title challenger in the bantamweight division as former champion Holly Holm looks for a second consecutive victory as she takes on surging contender Irene Aldana.

After coming up short in her bid to reclaim the bantamweight title last summer, Holm got back into the win column in January with a blue-collar effort against Raquel Pennington where she utilized her strength in the clinch and improved grappling skills to grind out the victory. The soon-to-be 39-year-old has won each of her last three non-title fights and remains one of the most formidable talents in the sport, standing as a top contender in two divisions and brandishing a wealth of experience that separates her from the pack.

Aldana stumbled out of the gate upon arriving in the UFC, but has since found her footing, entering Saturday’s contest having won five of her last six outings, with her lone setback being a close split decision loss to the aforementioned Pennington. Last time out, the former Invicta FC standout scored the most impressive victory of her career — a blistering first-round knockout of previously unbeaten Brazilian contender Ketlen Vieira at UFC 245.

This is a classic “old guard vs. next generation” matchup where the seasoned Holm is looking to hold off the advance of the emerging Aldana, and has the potential to not only determine the next title challenger, but, in concert with another fight on this week’s card, may also outline what the coming years in the 135-pound weight class might look like.

Stylistically, there is the potential for this to be an explosive affair as Aldana is an aggressive, but technically sound, striker who stalks her opponents and looks to land big shots, while Holm is at her best playing the matador, intercepting advancing fighters and making them pay for their aggression. That being said, it will be interesting to see if Holm instead opts to work out of the clinch and utilize her wrestling skills, which could potentially neutralize Aldana’s power.

While no promises have been made, a strong performance for either woman on Saturday evening could put them at the top of the list of potential title challengers heading into 2020, and with another crucial divisional conflict taking place earlier in the card, don’t be surprised if the way that one shakes out has an influence on how things transpire in the main event.

Yorgan De Castro vs Carlos Felipe

Heavyweights looking to get back into the win column after suffering the first losses of their professional careers collide on Fight Island as Yorgan De Castro squares off with Carlos Felipe.

A graduate of the Contender Series, De Castro followed up his contract-winning turn with a tremendous effort in his debut, felling Justin Tafa with a perfect counter right hand just over two minutes into their clash at UFC 243 last fall in Australia. He made his second trip into the Octagon this spring at UFC 249 against Greg Hardy, but after starting well, a broken foot slowed his output and resulted in De Castro landing on the wrong side of the results against the former NFL defensive lineman.

Silva ended a three-year MMA absence this summer when he stepped into the Octagon opposite Serghei Spivac. Boastful in the build-up to the fight and dismissive of the attacks coming his way during the contest, the 25-year-old Brazilian had some good moments, but struggled to keep the fight standing and faded down the stretch as his gas tank ran dry.

Still relatively early in their respective careers, both De Castro and Felipe have shown hints of potential and possible building blocks that could lead to either or both becoming long-term fixtures in the heavyweight division. This bout will determine which man takes the next step forward in their progression and who remains stationed where they are, forced to reckon with a two-fight slide and figure out how to remedy that situation the next time out.

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Germaine De Randamie vs Julianna Pena

Pena punches Nicco Montano in their bantamweight bout, 2019

The night’s other critical clash in the bantamweight division features former featherweight titleholder Germaine de Randamie and Julianna Pena, a pair of Top 5 talents looking to make their own case for title contention before Holm and Aldana close things out on Saturday night in Abu Dhabi.

The 36-year-old de Randamie logged five consecutive victories between her twin losses to Amanda Nunes, including a unanimous decision triumph over Holm to become the inaugural UFC women’s featherweight champion. Prior to coming up short in her bid to claim the bantamweight title last December at UFC 245, “The Iron Lady” iced rising star Aspen Ladd, dropping her with a punishing right cross just 16 seconds into their headlining tilt in Sacramento.

Pena fought for the first time since January 2017 on that same card in the California capital, registering a unanimous decision victory over former flyweight champ Nicco Montano. It was her first win since out-grappling Cat Zingano at UFC 200 and immediately repositioned the former Ultimate Fighter winner near the top of the list of contenders in the 135-pound weight class.

This is an interesting clash when it comes to the bantamweight landscape. The only person to beat de Randamie in the UFC is the two-division champion, while Pena’s lone setback came against former title challenger and current flyweight queen Valentina Shevchenko.

Tactically, this one will come down to de Randamie’s ability to keep things standing. If she can force Pena to trade with her at range, the veteran striker should have a speed, power, and technical advantage, but if “The Venezuelan Vixen” can get inside and get the fight to the ground, de Randamie could be in for another long night at the office.

Having Holm and Aldana closing out the show should be a little added incentive for these women — like the opening act that really wants to stand out before the headliners take the stage — as a dominant performance could potentially shake up the order of things as these four women jockey for position in the bantamweight title chase.

Fight Island Free Fight: Holly Holm vs Bethe Correia | Fight Island Free Fight: Irene Aldana vs Ketlen Vieira

Dequan Townsend vs Dusko Todorovic

Middleweights at different stages of their careers cross paths inside the Octagon on Saturday as veteran Dequan Townsend welcomes Dusko Todorovic to the UFC for the first time.

A pro since 2012, the 34-year-old Townsend spent more than a decade grinding out a living on the regional circuit, facing a host of familiar names. A 6-1 run where his only setback came against Contender Series grad Jamahal Hill put him on the UFC radar and a short notice opportunity landed him in the Octagon for the first time last June, but it has been a difficult transition to the big leagues for Townsend, as he enters this weekend’s bout on a three-fight losing streak.

Todorovic is eight years Townsend’s junior and arrives with a pristine 9-0 mark, with his most recent victory coming last summer on the Contender Series, where the Serbian prospect outworked Canadian vet Teddy Ash. Prior to that, Todorovic had not been to a decision in his career, posting eight straight stoppage wins, including a first-round finish of Brazilian Michel Peirera.

These are the kinds of pairings that often surprise once the cage door closes, as Townsend’s experience, both overall and in the UFC itself, is an X-factor against the young newcomer, who hasn’t fought in over a year and is competing on the big stage for the first time.

Will the battle-tested veteran spring the upset and secure his first UFC triumph or will Todorovic keep rolling and push his unbeaten streak to double digits?

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Kyler Phillips vs Cameron Else

Featherweights looking to forge a lane for themselves in the talent-rich weight class meet in this one as Ultimate Fighter alum Kyler Phillips welcomes Cameron Else for the first time.

The 25-year-old Phillips was part of the cast on Season 27 of the long-running reality TV competition, losing in the quarterfinals to eventual winner Brad Katona. After splitting a pair of outings on the regional circuit following his time on TUF, Phillips finally made his way into the Octagon for the first time in February, collecting a unanimous decision win over Gabriel Silva to push his record to 7-1 overall.

A pro since the tail end of 2012, Else brings a 10-4 record into his UFC debut, with each of his 10 victories coming inside the opening five minutes. After batting .500 through his first eight appearances inside the cage, the 29-year-old has rattled off six consecutive victories over the last two-plus years.

This one will also answer some remaining questions about the incumbent and the newcomer, as Phillips is still early in his own UFC voyage and yet to establish any real footing for himself in the division, while Else needs to show that he can maintain his perfect finishing rate now that he’s taking a step up in competition.

No matter how this one shakes out, it should be electric from the outset.

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Carlos Condit vs Court McGee

Grizzled welterweight veterans lock horns here as former interim champ Carlos Condit and former TUF winner Court McGee both go searching for their first victory in quite some time.

A fixture in the Top 5 throughout the first six or seven years of his UFC run, Condit arrives in Abu Dhabi on a five-fight losing streak and having last competed at the end of 2018. “The Natural Born Killer” has fought a tough slate during his skid, but hasn’t earned a victory since May 2015, and is just 2-8 since claiming the interim belt in his scrap with Nick Diaz at UFC 143.

McGee went 0-2 in 2019, dropping a split decision to Dhiego Lima before landing on the wrong side of a unanimous decision verdict against unbeaten Sean Brady last time out. Injuries have been a constant hindrance for the 35-year-old veteran, who looks to avoid the first three-fight slide of his career this weekend.

The results haven’t been there for either man, but the one thing you can count on once the Octagon door closes on Saturday night and the referee says, “Fight!” is that these two proud, driven, relentless veterans will leave every ounce of themselves out there in pursuit of a victory and in order to put on a good show for the fans.

Charles Jourdain vs Josh Culibao

Jourdain vs Culibao Annoucement

Young featherweights still looking to find consistency in the division line up opposite on another on Saturday night as French-Canadian prospect Charles Jourdain faces UFC sophomore Josh Culibao.

After losing his promotional debut up a division, Jourdain returned to his natural featherweight surrounds and scored an impressive second-round stoppage win over Dooho Choi in his second trip into the Octagon. That win earned him a date with divisional stalwart Andre Fili in June, where the 24-year-old ended up on the unhappy side of a split decision result.

Culibao was called up to the UFC for a short notice fight up a division in February and was stopped in the second round by Jalin Turner, which was the first loss of his career. Now, back down at featherweight and with the benefit of a full training camp behind him, the 26-year-old Australian will look to recapture the form that produced seven consecutive victories prior to his setback earlier this year.

The featherweight division has never been more flush with talent than it is now and both Jourdain and Culibao have the potential to become fixtures in the 145-pound weight class going forward. Jourdain opened a lot of eyes with his win over “The Korean Superboy” and by going the distance with Fili, meaning he heads into this one with greater external expectations than Culibao, who can propel himself to the fringes of the Top 15 with a victory over the former two-weight TKO champion on Saturday night.

Jordan Williams vs Nassourdine Imavov

Jordan Williams has Nasourdine Imamov to thank for getting a third opportunity to compete on the Contender Series and ultimately earn his UFC contract, and he’ll get the chance to show his appreciation when the two share the cage together this weekend.

Williams stepped in against Gregory Rodrigues on last month’s final Contender Series event prior to the show’s five-week hiatus after Imamov was forced to withdraw from the contest. After a pair of non-contract winning results, the Northern California native walked down the Brazilian, lit him up along the fence, and finally secured an invite to compete inside the Octagon.

Imamov initially earned the call to compete on the Contender Series on the strength of a five-fight winning streak, capped by a first-round stoppage win over UFC veteran Jonathan Meunier. The 24-year-old, who was born in Dagestan and trains in Paris under Fernand Lopez at the MMA Factory, has traditionally fought at welterweight, but has the size and reach to easily make the move to middleweight and remain an intriguing prospect.

This has all the markings of a barnburner as Williams is a relentlessly aggressive fighter who happily will eat a shot to land a shot, while Imamov has flashed keen finishing instincts and the ability to end things quickly. Both are looking to make an instant impression in the middleweight division and there is no better way than knocking off a fellow talented newcomer in your debut.

Fighters On The Rise: October 3 Edition

Loma Lookboonmee vs Jinh Yu Frey

Interesting new names in the strawweight division Loma Lookboonmee and Jinh Yu Frey meet in what should be a spirited affair early in the card on Saturday night.

A Muay Thai practitioner with limited MMA experience, the 24-year-old Lookboonmee made her UFC debut last October, earning a split decision win over Aleksandra Albu. Earlier this year, she was slated to face fellow neophyte Hannah Goldy, only to have Angela Hill tag in for the injured Goldy and cruise to a unanimous decision win.

The former Invicta FC atomweight champ Frey made her divisional debut and first foray into the Octagon earlier this summer, facing off against fellow newcomer Kay Hansen in a bout that came together on very short notice. After a strong start, the 35-year-old faded and was ultimately submitted in the third round.

Both women dealt with unfavorable situations in their first outings of 2020 and will look to remedy things this time around. Frey carries an edge in experience and size, while Lookboonmee is at the point in her career where she could make considerable gains between starts and has had the last seven months to train and improve.

Strawweight is the deepest, most competitive division on the women’s side of the roster, resulting in a constant battle to gain ground and each fight carrying increased importance and significance. Neither of these athletes wants to drop consecutive fights, so expect both to come out firing from the start and things to remain highly entertaining for as long as it lasts.

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Casey Kenney vs Alatengheili

Contender Series veteran and former LFA two-division champ Casey Kenney ventures to Abu Dhabi to make his third appearance of 2020 as he takes on streaking prospect AlatangHeili.

Kenney appeared in Las Vegas twice during the opening season, earning a unanimous decision win over Cee Jay Hamilton before dropping a split decision to Adam Antolin. He then went out and won four straight — and two titles — in four appearances under the LFA banner before collecting back-to-back wins over Ray Borg and Manny Bermudez to close out an impressive 2019 campaign.

The 29-year-old landed on the wrong side of the cards in a clash with Merab Dvalishvili earlier this year but rebounded with a first-round submission win over Louis Smolka to push his record to 7-1 over his last eight starts.

After earning a unanimous decision win over Danaa Batgerel in his promotional debut, AlantagHeili took a step up in competition and edged out Ryan Benoit on the scorecards to push his winning streak to four. The 28-year-old “Mongolian Knight” is 14-7-1 overall, but that mark is deceiving, as he’s gone 10-1-1 over his last dozen fights after beginning his career with six losses in 10 bouts.

The bantamweight division is arguably the hottest weight class in the promotion at the moment and the battle for position in the hierarchy is always fierce. Both men have shown the potential to emerge as Top 15 talents, but only one will take a step forward on Saturday night. 

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Luigi Vendramini vs Jessin Ayari

A pair of lightweights returning from extended absences clash in the opener as Brazilian Luigi Vendramini takes on Germany’s Jessin Ayari.

The 24-year-old Vendramini carried a perfect 8-0 record into his promotional debut in September 2018 and looked good during the opening round of his clash with fellow Brazilian Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos. But “Capoeira” found his rhythm and finished him 80 seconds into the middle stanza and Vendramini hasn’t fought since, as a knee injury scuttled a scheduled appearance last summer.

Ayari was victorious in his first foray into the UFC cage in the fall of 2016, earning a split decision win over Jim Wallhead. He followed that up with tandem decision defeats against Darren Till and Stevie Ray, but then he too was felled by a knee injury and forced to the sidelines.

Both men flashed promise in their initial treks into the Octagon and are still young enough to get back in the win column and start making some headway in the loaded 155-pound weight class. That journey resumes on Saturday night in Abu Dhabi and it should produce fireworks to kick off the night.

Visit Abu Dhabi: http://www.abudhabievents.ae/

Fab Five: Cain Velasquez

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It’s difficult for some people to comprehend what a menacing figure Brock Lesnar was during his time in the Octagon because they cannot separate the professional wrestler from the UFC heavyweight, but make no mistake about it: Lesnar was (and still is) a physical specimen with freakish athleticism who took to the sport with astonishing ease and quickness.

At UFC 121, Lesnar entered as the reigning UFC heavyweight champion, fully intent on defending his title against the undefeated challenger.

Lesnar shot out of the corner like he was launched out of a cannon, trying to take the fight to Velasquez and get him out of there before he could settle into a rhythm. He bull-rushed him, trying to take him down and maul him early, but the challenger weathered the storm. When Lesnar put him on the canvas, Velasquez got up quickly, and when they separated into space with just over three minutes remaining in the round, the young standout took over.

Lesnar was tired, throwing labored single shots that Velasquez avoided with ease and countered with combinations, creating an opportunity for the challenger to close the distance and put the champion on the ground. A tired Lesnar telegraphed a takedown attempt and was sent stumbling across the cage off balance when Velasquez shrugged him off, only to come face-to-face with a fresh, attacking challenger when he regained his balance along the fence.

A knee up the middle sent Lesnar tumbling to the canvas and from there it was academic, as Velasquez passed his legs, climbed into side control and unleashed a torrent of strikes that forced the bout to be stopped.

A new champion had emerged, and he looked poised to rule the division for an extended period of time.

UFC 253: Scorecard

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1 – Israel Adesanya

The great thing about watching fighters like Israel Adesanya in action is that as impressed as you are in the moment, the next thought is, what else is this guy gonna do in his career? The middleweight king has already shown us so many sides of his personality in and out of the Octagon, and after his thorough domination of Paulo Costa in the UFC 253 main event, the only question is ‘What will we see next?’ He’s been a fearsome knockout artist, a tactical wizard and a fighter willing and able to go into deep waters late in a championship bout. Is his equal out there? Who knows, but it’s going to be fun watching the rest of the division try to find out.

UFC 253: Israel Adesanya Post-fight Press Conference

UFC 253: Israel Adesanya Post-fight Press Conference

2 – Jan Blachowicz

There’s something to be said in any walk of life about the power of persistence and the ability to overcome adversity to reach the top. Sure, it’s great to watch an unbeaten, perfect fighting machine like Adesanya in action, but seeing Jan Blachowicz rebound from a 2-4 start to his UFC career to win the light heavyweight title is just as satisfying a reminder why we watch this sport, or any sport for that matter. And Blachowicz didn’t get lucky on his way to Saturday’s co-main event or his victory. He put in the hours, he got the big wins when he needed them, and in the biggest fight of his career, he fought the perfect fight, breaking down then stopping Dominick Reyes. Now if Blachowicz could only get that role on The Witcher television show, life would be perfect.

UFC 253: Jan Blachowicz Post-Fight Interview

UFC 253: Jan Blachowicz Post-Fight Interview

3 – Brandon Royval

The UFC Rookie of the Year race just got a little bit more interesting thanks to the emergence of Brandon Royval. Coming out of nowhere to win his first two Octagon bouts by finishing flyweight contenders Tim Elliott and Kai Kara-France, Royval has not just become a player at 125 pounds, but a must-see for fans thanks to a pair of Fight of the Night battles that have injected a nice jolt of energy into a division that has a new champion (Deiveson Figueiredo) and a host of contenders ready to take aim at the belt.

4 – Hakeem Dawodu

How deep is the UFC’s featherweight division? So deep that Hakeem Dawodu has won five straight and hasn’t cracked the top 15 yet. Hopefully that situation changes by Monday evening after Dawodu defeated Zubaira Tukhugov last Saturday night. If not, expect “Mean” Hakeem to keep piling up the wins, and while he has been beating quality foes like Tukhugov and Julio Arce, I don’t think we’ve seen the best of the Canadian yet, and that’s got to be an intimidating thought for future opponents at 145 pounds.

5 – Brad Riddell

Though only 28 years old, Brad Riddell has the style and demeanor of a boxer from the 40s and 50s – gritty, determined, and with the knowledge and technique that will get him through those tough battles on fight night. Translate that to MMA, and the New Zealander is as old school as it gets, the kind of guy who would have competed in one-night tournaments at the drop of the hat. Do you get the impression that I’m impressed with him? Yeah, that’s accurate, and while there are few shark tanks as dangerous as the one at 155 pounds, I’ve got the feeling “Quake” is going to be swimming with the elite sooner rather than later.

The Incredible Journey of Jinh Yu Frey

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“She and I have been working together and she’s someone who is at the same point in their life,” she said of Buys, who earned a UFC contract with a unanimous decision win over Hilarie Rose at the start of August. “I can go to a gym and train with people, but some people are just doing it as a hobby, some people aren’t looking to win world titles, but Cheyanne is young and she’s hungry and she’s in the UFC now and we’re at that same point where we both want to train hard and with intensity and make each other better.”

In addition to getting in quality rounds with the talented 25-year-old prospect, this weekend’s bout with Lookboonmee also marks a couple key “seconds” for Frey, as it will be her second time competing in the 115-pound weight class and her second time through the UFC Fight Week experience, both of which bring her a little more comfort.

“I know I’m not going to be the biggest strawweight and I’m used to being the larger one in the weight class, but I will say, it’s a lot more enjoyable trying to gain weight and being stressed about trying to gain weight than being stressed about not being able to lose weight,” she joked. “That’s a new thing for me.

“It feels great to train hard and then be able to go home, eat your fill, and have a nice, full, satisfied belly, and then go to bed versus fighting off hunger most of the time.”

As for navigating her new surrounds, Frey was quick to point out that some athletes make a seamless transition when they arrive on the UFC stage, but that she’s someone who only truly feels comfortable after having experienced things a time or two.

“Some people, it doesn’t bother them; it’s water off a duck’s back,” she said. “Some people, myself being one of them, the more times I do something, the more I’m comfortable.

“Once I start learning everybody’s name and how we do things and I learn ‘when I get to Fight Week, it’s going to be this, this, and this’ and I don’t have to think about it — it’s business as usual.”

Fighters On The Rise: October 3 Edition

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Originally scheduled to face off earlier this summer, former champion Holly Holm and surging contender Irene Aldana clash this weekend in a critical bout in the 135-pound weight class. A fixture in the title picture throughout her UFC tenure, Holm enters off a patient, measured victory over Raquel Pennington, while the streaking Aldana arrives having earned victories in five of her last six bouts and coming off a blistering first-round knockout of previously unbeaten Brazilian Ketlen Vieira last time out.

With divisional queen Amanda Nunes once again set to defend her featherweight title later this year, the winner of Saturday’s headlining contest would certainly have a strong case for challenging “The Lioness” for the bantamweight strap in 2020.

But before the bantamweight headliners hit the Octagon, a player in the 135-pound ranks and a pair of Contender Series grads look to use Saturday night’s event at the Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi as a chance to grab some of the spotlight for themselves and position themselves for more opportunities as the final quarter of 2020 begins.

Here’s a closer look at those competitors.

This is the October 3rd edition of On the Rise.

Julianna Pena

The former Ultimate Fighter winner is someone who faded into the background of the title conversation in the bantamweight division following her submission loss to Valentina Shevchenko and subsequent hiatus after giving birth to her first child. But “The Venezuelan Vixen” returned to action last summer with a unanimous decision win over Nicco Montano and is set to step back into the Octagon on Saturday in a crucial clash against recent title challenger and former featherweight titleholder Germaine de Randamie.

Pena just turned 31 and is 5-1 in the UFC, including victories over Montano, Cat Zingano, and Jessica Eye. She was viewed as a potential contender when she ran through the competition on Season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter, becoming the first female winner in the show’s history, and was a serious title challenger when she faced Shevchenko. Motherhood didn’t change any of that and her performance against Montano showed she’s still a potential force in the division.

Pena is a gamer and a grinder whose greatest attribute is her steely demeanor and dogged determination, which, combined with solid striking and underrated grappling, makes her a dark horse candidate to earn a title shot in 2021, provided she can get by de Randamie on Saturday.

“The Iron Lady” is perfect in the UFC against fighters not named Amanda Nunes, boasting a 6-0 record across two divisions in bouts against the likes of Julie Kedzie, Holly Holm, and Aspen Ladd, and is the kind of established top of the food chain talent Pena needs to beat in order to remind people of her talents and put herself back on the short list of contenders in the bantamweight ranks.

She looked good grinding out a victory over Montano after more than two years, bouncing back after a sluggish first round to control the action over the final two frames and secure the unanimous decision victory. Having shaken off the rust and logged another year further sharpening her skills, the potential is there for Pena to really open some eyes this weekend in Abu Dhabi.

Jordan Williams

You really have to applaud Jordan Williams for his self-belief and tenacity.

The now 29-year-old middleweight, who makes his UFC debut on Saturday opposite Nassourdine Imavov, turned up on the second season of Dana White’s Contender Series and scored a third-round stoppage win over Tim Caron. That result was overturned after Williams tested positive for marijuana metabolites following the contest, so after getting back into the win column, he returned to Las Vegas last summer to face unbeaten prospect Ramazan Kuramagomedov in his second Contender Series appearance.

While many believed the NorCal Fighting Alliance representative won the bout, including the UFC President, the judges felt otherwise, which meant Williams was headed back to the regional circuit. Once he got there, he found it impossible to get a fight, so when he turned back up at the UFC Apex a couple weeks back for his third appearance on the Contender Series, it was his first bout since his controversial loss the previous summer.

But his persistence paid off, as Williams walked down Brazilian veteran Gregory Rodrigues and dropped him along the fence just over two minutes into their headlining clash, securing himself a UFC contract.

That performance against Rodrigues and all of his Contender Series bouts, actually, show you exactly what to expect from the 9-3 newcomer — forward pressure, high impact power, and a willingness to eat one to land one, trusting that his shots will do more damage.

Imavov is an intriguing new arrival in his own right — a 24-year-old coming off a win over UFC vet Jonathan Meunier who trains under Fernand Lopez at the MMA Factory in Paris — but Williams’ difficult journey through the Contender Series to the Octagon and the fact that he’s firmly in his prime give him the greater potential to make an immediate impact in their joint debuts this weekend.

Dusko Todorovic

The UFC audience has Dusko Todorovic to thank for introducing them to Khamzat Chimaev because it was the unbeaten middleweight having to withdraw from his scheduled fight with John Phillips than opened the door for the surging breakout star to step into the Octagon for the first time during the UFC’s initial trip to Fight Island.

Now ready to compete, the 26-year-old Todorovic aims to build on his Contender Series win over Canadian veteran Teddy Ash with a similar showing in his first foray into the UFC cage as he takes on Dequan Townsend this weekend.

Unbeaten in nine professional bouts, Todorovic choked out fellow Contender Series alum Alexander Poppeck early in his career and stopped UFC welterweight wild man Michel Pereira in the opening round of their clash just under two years ago, so while Saturday marks the first time he’s crossed the threshold into the Octagon, Todorovic has already tested himself against some quality competition.

His win over Ash was one of only a dozen times a fighter has earned a UFC contract by winning a decision on the Contender Series over the first three seasons of the talent search series, and it highlighted his resiliency and ability to navigate challenging waters against a tough, seasoned opponent. Saturday’s pairing with Townsend is a chance to shake off the rust from not having fought since last summer and measure himself against a battle-tested veteran who has made the walk to the Octagon three times and has three-times as many professional appearances.

Things remain fluid in the middle of the middleweight division at the moment and this is a great chance for Todorovic to introduce himself to the UFC audience and make his case for being someone to keep close tabs on heading into the final three months of 2020 and beyond.

Visit Abu Dhabi: http://www.abudhabievents.ae/

UFC 253 Bonus Coverage

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Performance Of The Night: Jan Blachowicz

The legendary Polish power was on full display yet again for Jan Blachowicz at UFC 253. Blachowicz was able to TKO Dominick Reyes in the second round and claim the light heavyweight title.

Blachowicz’s game plan was clear, attack Reyes with kicks to the body and legs, while waiting for “The Devastator” to engage. Once his body was compromised enough, he would make a mistake. And the formula executed by Blachowicz and his team couldn’t have worked better.

Early in the opening frame Blachowicz landed multiple crushing kicks to the right side of Reyes’ ribs. The swelling and bruising was almost immediate. Then in the second Blachowicz connected with a powerful jab that broke Reyes’ nose. From there it was the beginning of the end as Blachowicz poured on the Polish power, pushing Reyes to retreat until a big shot from Blachowicz dropped Reyes. The referee stepped in and that’s all she wrote.

What a ride for Blachowicz, who has won eight of nine to become the undisputed champion at 205 pounds. Blachowicz’s run has had it all, and the experience gained over his six years with the UFC has finally culminated in glory.

Blachowicz to UFC.com: I still don’t believe, but it’s here. It’s not a dream, right? It happened. I have the legendary Polish power, I proved it one more time, amazing.  It’s been a long journey for me, sometimes I was on the top, then I lose a couple fights, but I never stopped believing in my skills, in my power. Here I am, the champion. Like I said before, even a pandemic can’t stop me right now. I feel really great in the fight.

Performance Of The Night: Israel Adesanya

The middleweight king reigned supreme yet again, as Israel Adesanya made easy work of the previously unbeaten Paulo Costa. It’s been clear for some time that Adesanya is a superstar, but weeks like UFC 253 show just how big he’s truly becoming.

Numbers on UFC social platforms have been off the charts due to Adesanya’s charisma and incredible skill set in the Octagon. He showed both of those things in Abu Dhabi, as his war of words with Costa turned into a one-sided battled in favor of the “The Last Stylebender”.

Adesanya started the card’s main event by chopping at the legs of Costa, landing blistering shots to the Brazilian’s legs. The swelling and redness were apparent as the damage added up, and Costa became slightly more reckless. But in the second round, the defending champion would find his mark and take out his rival.

It was a head kick that opened a cut on the right eyebrow of Costa. Then after a few more leg kicks, Adesanya’s left hook found the side of Costa’s head putting “The Eraser” on the ground. Then he smothered Costa as the challenger covered up to avoid damage and he earned the TKO stoppage.

It was a brilliant performance that showed just how great Adesanya is. He’s defeated names like Kelvin Gastelum, Anderson Silva, Robert Whittaker, Yoel Romero and now Paulo Costa. The is no doubt that Adesanya is the best middleweight in the world.

MORE UFC 253: Final Results | Jan Blachowicz Post-Fight Interview | Israel Adesanya Octagon Interview | Ketlen Vieira Backstage

The undefeated Adesanya moved himself closer to history with his 20th career victory. Just nine fights into his UFC tenure, he’s already tied Chris Weidman for the second most UFC title fight wins at 185 pounds. With the victory he also tied Weidman for the second longest winning streak in UFC middleweight history at 9. The only man he’s chasing is Anderson Silva, who has 11 title fight wins and a 13-fight win streak.

After the fight, Adesanya said that if the surging Jared Cannonier can get past former champion Robert Whittaker, then that’s who he would like to face in the Octagon next.

Adesanya to UFC.com: I told you all exactly. I know this game, I don’t play this just on EA Sports; I play this s*** for real in real life so when I do this, I know what I’m talking about.  Everyone else is just [talking] shut the f*** up forever because I’m really doing this s*** for real, for legacy.

Fight Of The Night: Brandon Royval vs Kai Kara France

Ranked flyweights Brandon Royval and Kai Kara-France put on an absolute show in their UFC 253 bout. After an insane first round, it was Royval who was able to secure the victory in his sophomore Octagon showing.

The fight began with a bang as Kara-France dropped Royval to the canvas with a massive right hand causing Royval to stumble before hitting the deck once more. Kara-France charged the stunned Factory X fighter, but “Raw Dawg” surprised Kara-France with a devastating spinning back elbow that nearly put Kara-France out. Royval quickly made it to his feet and landed a knee to the neck of Kara-France that was dangerously close to being illegal.

The action didn’t stop there as the Royval chased an omoplata and once that didn’t work he tried to take the back of Kara-France. The City Kickboxing product was able to get away and get to his feet, which was met by well-timed combinations from Royval until the bell signaled the end of the first round.

The second round started off with more of the same, with fast-paced accurate strikes from both flyweights. Then Kara-France tried to initiate a takedown, triggering Royval to toss up a guillotine choke that he was able to sink in deep enough to make Kara-France tap.

It’s a big statement for Royval, who in his two UFC fights has submitted both his ranked opponents. It will be interesting to see who the matchmakers see as the next logical step for the 27-year-old Royval.

Royval to UFC.com:I was working a full-time job, not sleeping at all, three months ago. Everything is so cool. I’m just happy to be here, I’m a big fan of this sport, so being here, opening up for the two champ fights, means the world to me. I want people ranked above me, I want Formiga or Askar Askarov, specifically.

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Jan Blachowicz’ Moment Has Finally Arrived

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Yet Blachowicz not only survived, he thrived. He won four in a row and earned a bonus performance in three of those victories. 

The turnaround since that night is still going alive today as Blachowicz ended up parlaying seven wins in eight fights into a light heavyweight title shot against Dominick Reyes at UFC 253.

“It’s been a nice six years, but the losses were really good experiences,” Blachowicz said. “Not just as a sportsman but in real life. I deserve this and one more step and I’ll be the champion.”

Blachowicz’ resume isn’t short of impressive wins. He’s faced and beaten the who’s who of the division (Jared Cannonier, Corey Anderson, Jacare Souza, Luke Rockhold, Nikita Krylov, Jimi Manuwa). But on Saturday he may face his toughest test yet. 

Across the cage from Blachowicz will be the most recent title challenger, Reyes, who arguably came closer to beating Jon Jones than anyone ever has. That speaks volumes, as Jones is considered to be one of the greatest fighters of all-time. A big portion of the MMA community actually believes Reyes deserved to dethrone Jones when the two met in February.

Blachowicz has a different opinion.

“No,” Blachowicz responded when asked if he thought Reyes beat Jones. “It was a really good fight but me and my whole team watched and thought Jones was a little better. But not by much.”

Blachowicz admitted he was a little disappointed when Jones relinquished the belt. He wanted to be the one to finally hand Jones a loss when the belt was on the line. “Right now is just about Reyes and I’ll catch Jones later,” Blachowicz said.

He’s right in keeping his attention focused on Reyes. Blachowicz has a chance to be the first non-Jones or Daniel Cormier light heavyweight title holder since 2011.

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“It’s amazing and a historic moment for all of Poland, Blachowicz said. “I can’t wait to step off the plane and see what will happen over there.”

Blachowicz is, of course, referring to the potential celebration in his homeland if he returns with UFC gold, but there was a time when he was nervous none of this would come to fruition. After his knockout win over Corey Anderson in February, Blachowicz knew he had put together a resume worthy of a title shot. But then the pandemic hit. For the first week of the pandemic, Blachowicz didn’t train at all. Then he got back to the grind.

He trained in a secret place with just a couple partners and after Jones’ announcement he knew the opportunity would come.

“2020 is a crazy year for everybody. But we have opportunities to fight and I cannot wait,” Blachowicz said. “(Reyes) thinks he knows me. But when we start, he’ll feel differently.”

Blachowicz rebounding from his skid in 2017 was a pivotal moment in his career. It got him to where he is today. But the biggest moment is still ahead of him.

“Getting the belt is the biggest thing in my life as a sportsman,” Blachowicz said. “After this, I don’t know, I’ll be happy like never before.” 

Visit Abu Dhabi: http://www.abudhabievents.ae/

Fighting Is In Kai Kara-France’s DNA

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“Fighting is in my blood,” he declares. “I was born for this. This year has been full of uncertainty, so with my fight camp, we just concentrated on what we could control and let everything else go.”

After the Covid-19 lockdown forced the UFC fighters from Auckland’s City Kickboxing to live in the gym together, there were reports it had only improved their preparation – and Kara-France agrees.

“It actually turned out to be one of my best camps. We used the lockdown to our advantage and got in some quality training. We were able to really focus on the details of our opponents, and now I’m 100 percent confident coming into this next fight.”

His opponent, American Brandon Royval, is a dangerous BJJ black belt who recently scored a submission victory over former title challenger Tim Elliott.

“We’ve done our homework on him,” explains Kara-France. “We are aware he’s legit on the ground. We know he’s got good hands and he’s young, long and rangy for the weight class – all of these things we’ve taken into account.”

“He won’t show me anything I haven’t seen before at our gym, training with guys like Israel Adesanya, Brad Riddell, Alex Volkanovski, Shane Young and Dan Hooker. That’s what gives me confidence.”

So what does Kara-France believe will be the deciding factor come fight night?

“I feel like the difference is going to be my experience. He’s coming off a win against a veteran, but I’ve been doing this at the top level for a long time.”

He’s got a point. When most 10-year-olds were still trying to master their BMX, Kara-France was already training in MMA. He turned pro in 2010 and earned a reputation outside of the UFC as a power puncher in a division sometimes lacking in KOs.

“I haven’t always had heavy hands,” reveals Kara-France. “But over time I’ve developed a style that suits me. Being able to lift heavy weights – I can dead-lift more than 200kg – definitely helps me sit down on my punches. Overall, though, I think it mainly comes from technique and accuracy. That’s what gets you those knockouts.”

Speaking of serious strikers, Kara-France wouldn’t say no to a bout against former UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt if the opportunity presented itself.

“I’d love to fight him. I know there have been mixed opinions about his drop to 125, but I think it’s good. The more eyes on this division, the better. But if he believes that by dropping down in weight, he’s going to be just running through smaller guys, he’ll find it doesn’t work like that,” warns Kara-France. “Just look at what happened when TJ Dillashaw fought Henry Cejudo.”

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At the same time, “Don’t Blink” knows that his own rise up the rankings doesn’t leave any room for mistakes. “I want to eventually have a run at the world title,” he states. “I’ve just got to keep taking people out. I’m currently number seven and Royval is number 10. He wants my spot, and he’s got to kill me to take it.”

Fortunately for Kara-France, he and his three City Kickboxing teammates on the UFC 253 card – including 185-pound champ Israel Adesanya – will be receiving even more support than usual from their fellow Kiwis.

“At the moment, we’re about the only sports ‘team’ that’s able to leave New Zealand,” explains Kara-France. “So we have a lot of attention on us – especially from people who don’t normally watch MMA.”

The 27-year-old clearly loves representing his country, but also his weight class and, perhaps most importantly, his ancestors.

“I’m on the main card as a flyweight, so I feel like I’ve got a job to do and that’s be exciting and get a finish. I see it as a privilege. I’m also Maori and fighting just like my ancestors did. It’s in my blood. I didn’t choose this sport, it chose me!”

Sounds like a man on a mission…

“I’m coming in with bad intentions,” confirms Kara-France. “I’ll be putting the pressure on every second and seeing what this guy is made of. It’s just another cage. He’s just another person. I want to make a statement. And, at the end, I see myself getting my hand raised.”

Visit Abu Dhabi: http://www.abudhabievents.ae/

Israel Adesanya Keeps It Cool

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There hasn’t been much time for that these days, as he prepares for Saturday’s UFC 253 main event against Paulo Costa. It’s been all work, mainly in the City Kickboxing gym with his teammates and coaches, sequestered from the outside world as they prepare for battle. And when there’s no training, there are media obligations, photo shoots, staying on top of social media and doing the things stars do in this game.

It’s been a remarkable rise, Adesanya reaching this point of being an undisputed champion one fight before Conor McGregor achieved the feat in 2015. And though the Nigeria native believed this would all happen, even he’s surprised at how fast he made it to the top.

“Yeah, I expected it, but not this fast, to be honest,” he said. “I was probably about six months ahead of schedule.”

Six months. Well, maybe with the COVID-19 pandemic slowing the world down, Adesanya is right on time heading into his clash with Costa, the Brazilian powerhouse who has seemingly gotten under the champion’s skin, and vice versa. But according to Adesanya, Saturday night’s business is just that, business, not personal.

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