Tuesday, 14 August 2018

UFC icon Georges St-Pierre is shrewd to target winner of Nurmagomedov-McGregor


By Alistair Hendrie

Georges St-Pierre, the former UFC welterweight and middleweight king, recently told Joe Rogan that only three things in life turn him on: “Money, women, and dinosaurs.” Although the latter vice may be hard for many to understand, the first two are slightly more reasonable. Regarding GSP’s love of money, “Rush” is one of the most astute businessmen in the game, a wise old head at 37 years old who will only take the most lucrative bouts available. He doesn’t fight for a love of the sport. He doesn’t fight as an outlet for aggression. He fights to secure his and his family’s future.

That’s why his comments earlier this week, revealing his interest in tackling the winner of Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov, are so intelligent. Indeed, the victor of the October 6 UFC 229 main event – a lightweight blockbuster with Khabib’s belt at stake – represents the most financially attractive contest for St-Pierre, especially considering his inactivity and reluctance to risk his faculties unless the money is right.

Look at it this way: McGregor headlined four of the UFC’s five highest-grossing pay-per-views, while Nurmagomedov’s UFC 223 showcase against Al Iaquinta in April generated a gate of $3m, setting a record for sporting events at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Clearly, fans will fork out to watch “Notorious” and “The Eagle.” Money talks and as such, St-Pierre has used all of his nous to ensure he’s primed to face the next 155 lbs champion.


After all, the Canadian legend is no stranger to raking in the dough, he has earned an estimated $7m in purses over 22 contests with the UFC since 2004. St-Pierre may be minted, then, but his affinity for cash isn’t to do with any airs or graces. It’s more to do with security, safety, and a need to prop up his loved ones later on in life.

St-Pierre against either of the UFC 229 headliners would do huge numbers regardless of its location. Imagine ice hockey chants ringing around the Bell Centre in Montreal; picture throngs of Irish fans singing their hearts out at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium; or, alternatively, think of Nurmagomedov’s passionate fans in Russia. St-Pierre and UFC President Dana White know a super fight when they see one, and this could be exactly what the pound-for-pound great needs to convince him to return.

Truth be told, there’s not much else out there for St-Pierre. Consider the welterweight scene, which St-Pierre ruled in two stints between 2006 and 2013. Today’s 170 lbs king, Tyron Woodley, will defend his title against Darren Till on September 8 at UFC 228. His last two defenses – both by decision, over Demian Maia and Stephen Thompson – failed to get the heart racing and drew more boos than acclaim, leaving him tumbling down the pecking order in the GSP sweepstakes.


Till, too, would be a silly matchup for the former titlist. The Brit is a huge welterweight at six-foot and rather than just clearing up at welterweight, Till has more recently revealed his plans to target the middleweight and light-heavyweight straps. Moreover, given that UFC 228 will be Till’s US debut, it’s unlikely St-Pierre will pick such a wildcard for his return.

Whatever GSP’s next move is, though, you can bet it will be exciting. The Tristar mainstay shocked the world when he submitted Michael Bisping for the middleweight prize last year, and St-Pierre appears to have relaxed with age. He now looks more comfortable with a mic in his hand and prior to the Bisping clash, offered more of his impish, cutting trash talk.

Added to that, which MMA fan wouldn’t want to see St-Pierre challenge for a third title? A shot at lightweight gold, if the UFC allows it, would entail a strict diet and a gradual weight cut, but the sacrifices would be worth it. If St-Pierre can make his way back to the octagon, cement a record third UFC belt, and set up his funds for life, he’ll achieve a sense of closure which few mixed martial artists can hold claim to.

This article was originally posted on The Runner Sports in August 2018. Sample all of my The Runner Sports work here

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

UFC 227 Blog: Should Dillashaw rematch Cruz after shutting down Garbrandt again?

By Alistair Hendrie

TJ Dillashaw asserted his dominance over Cody Garbrandt at UFC 227 on Saturday night, short-circuiting his rival inside a round for the second time to hold onto his world bantamweight title. That win strengthens his case as being the best 135lb’er in history and as such, Dillashaw’s next outing is paramount. Get it right, and he enriches his legacy. Get it wrong, and his heralded run of form – eight wins from nine - could blow up in his face.

A rematch with Dominick Cruz, the former champion who edged their first meeting on the cards in 2016, could be the only obstacle standing between Dillashaw and eternal greatness. After all, Cruz, who has taken the switch-hitting style to the next level, is a legend with scalps over the likes of Urijah Faber and Demetrious Johnson in two UFC title reigns.

In July Cruz announced doctors have cleared him to compete after suffering a broken arm in November 2017. That said, with Cruz returning from a stint on the periphery of the sport, is now the right time for a rematch with TJ? On one hand, fans would flock to a second episode of the rivalry, while Cruz would certainly stir up publicity with his trash-talk and wise cracks. Indeed, as well as being one of the trickiest boxers in the UFC, the Alliance MMA mainstay is a master of psychological warfare who always finds a way to rile up his opponents.

A rematch would not only give Dillashaw a chance to avenge another defeat – which he did against Rafael Assuncao in 2016 – it would represent a historic meeting between luminaries with two of the best fight IQs in MMA. It would be fascinating to see if Dillashaw could catch Cruz like he did Garbrandt, and it would be gripping to watch him attempt to coax Cruz into a brawl.

Moreover, despite Cruz’s lay-off of almost two years, let’s not forget how the UFC granted Conor McGregor a lightweight championship shot despite his 22 months away from the Octagon. It’s clear, then, that the UFC is dedicated to money-spinning mega-fights which put reputations on the line. 


There’s another argument that Cruz should be made to wait, though. Five of his six UFC bouts have been for a title and, let’s face it, his last victory was in June 2016 over a shopworn Urijah Faber. When the UFC insists on rekindling bygone confrontations in favour of emerging talent, it runs the risk of stalling the division.

In light of that, judging by form, Marlon Moraes could be the next contender for Dillashaw. The New Jersey-based Brazilian, an explosive striker with excellent timing, is in a destructive vein of form after stopping Rivera in June with a sledgehammer of a head kick. Then there’s Assuncao, another Brazilian, who also deserves a tilt at Dillashaw more than Cruz.

The wildcard, though, is the newly-minted flyweight king Henry Cejudo, who shocked the world at UFC 227 by outpointing Johnson in a thriller full of drama, twists and intrigue. Cejudo – who only made his MMA debut in 2013, a year into Johnson’s six-year reign – is a world-class wrestler, an Olympic goal medallist in that discipline, and both Cejudo and TJ stressed their desire to square off in their post-fight interviews.

Whoever Dillashaw faces next, it’s difficult to imagine the UFC bantamweight landscape without Cruz leading or at least challenging at its summit. Boasting some of the best footwork and conditioning in the sport, Cruz brought new eyes to the division thanks to his dominance in the WEC and the UFC, not to mention his barbs with Faber. His track record means the UFC could justify giving him a chance to retain the title he’s just lost, but make no mistake about it: the race for number one contender at 135lbs is now a close-run thing.

This article was originally posted on The Runner Sports in August 2018

Monday, 30 July 2018

Who is the best pound-for-pound MMA fighter in the world?

By Alistair Hendrie

To determine the best fighter in the world, you need to take into account plenty of factors: form, skill, opposition and dominance, for example. So, if a champion defends his or her crown via a string of finishes, does that equal or better a run of decisions?

It’s a debate which rings around gyms, television studios, offices and of course pubs all over the world, and that’s exactly why Alistair Hendrie Sport will be releasing its pound-for-pound list at the start of every month.

To qualify for the list, a fighter should be considered active, so although Georges St-Pierre, for instance, is one of the most skilled and dominant fighters on the planet, he vacated his middleweight title, leaving him dormant for the moment.

Now that you know the criteria we’re looking for and pre-requisites for entry, take a look at the pound-for-pound best mixed martial artists in the world.

August 2018 - Men

1 – Daniel Cormier (USA) (205lbs) (+2)
2 – Demetrious Johnson (USA) (125lbs) (-1)
3 – Max Holloway (USA) (145lbs) (-1)
4 – Stipe Miocic (USA) (265lbs)
5 – Robert Whittaker (AUS) (185lbs)
6 – Tyron Woodley (USA) (170lbs)
7 – Khabib Nurmagomedov (RUS) (155lbs)
8 – Tony Ferguson (USA) (155lbs)
9 – TJ Dillashaw (USA) (135lbs)
10 – Jose Aldo (BRA) (145lbs)
11 – Cody Garbrandt (USA) (135lbs)
12 – Rafael dos Anjos (BRA) (170lbs)
13 – Dustin Poirier (USA) (155lbs) (+5)
14 – Yoel Romero (CUB) (185lbs) (-1)
15 – Robbie Lawler (USA) (170lbs)
16 – Dominic Cruz (USA) (135lbs)
17 – Brian Ortega (USA) (145lbs) (+1)
18 – Stephen Thompson (USA) (170lbs) (+1)
19 – Frankie Edgar (USA) (145lbs) (+1)
20 – Kevin Lee (USA) (155lbs) (+1)
21 – Kamaru Usman (NIG) (170lbs) (+1)
22 – Francis Ngannou (FRA) (265lbs)
23 – Marlon Moraes (BRA) (135lbs)
24 – Darren Till (GBR) (170lbs)
25 – Colby Covington (USA) (170lbs)

August 2018 - Women

1 – Amanda Nunes (BRA) (135lbs)
2 – Rose Namajunas (USA) (115lbs)
3 – Joanna Jedrzejczyk (POL) (115lbs)
4 – Cris Cyborg (BRA) (145lbs)
5 – Valentina Shevchenko (KYR) (125lbs)
6 – Jessica Andrade (BRA) (115lbs)
7 – Tecia Torres (USA) (115lbs)
8 – Holly Holm (USA) (145lbs)
9 – Raquel Pennington (USA) (135lbs)
10 – Claudia Gadhela (BRA) (115lbs)
11 – Nicco Montano (USA) (125lbs)
12 – Karolina Kowalkiewicz (POL) (115lbs)
16 – Carla Esparza (USA) (115lbs)
13 – Tonya Evinger (USA) (135lbs)
14 – Megan Anderson (USA) (135lbs)
15 – Barb Honchak (USA) (125lbs)
17 – Felice Herrig (USA) (115lbs)
18 – Cynthia Calvillo (USA) (115lbs)
19 – Germaine de Randamie (NED) (145lbs)
20 – Alexis Davis (CAN) (125lbs)
21 – Julliana Pena (USA) (135lbs)
22 – Angela Lee (CAN) (105lbs)
23 – Sara McMann (USA) (135lbs)
24 – Jennifer Maia (BRA) (125lbs)
25 – Liz Carmouche (USA) (125lbs) (NE)

Whether you agree or disagree with our standings, join in the discussion and let us know your pound-for-pound lists on Twitter.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

World Cup 2018: French outwit Croatia in thrilling World Cup final


By Alistair Hendrie

In a World Cup brimming with late drama, unforgettable goals and seismic upsets, would the final between France and Croatia live up to expectations? It certainly did. France emerged from 90 minutes of mayhem to win 4-2, clinching their second World Cup since their inaugural triumph in 1998 on home soil. Didier Deschamps’ men may be more functional than flamboyant, but that doesn’t matter when you have the burly Raphael Varane putting his body on the line in defence, the ice-cool N'Golo Kante anticipating every passage of play in midfield, and Kylian Mbappe sprinting past opponents with ease in attack.

At 2-1 down on the hour, Croatia drove forward with the kind of intensity that helped them overcome England and Russia after extra-time and penalties. Ivan Perisic should have gambled to convert Ivan Rakitic’s cross, while the unflappable Varane intervened when Perisic was through on goal again. Once France bagged a third though, through Paul Pogba’s deft finish, chaos ensued in a period which yielded three goals in ten minutes. The second of those came from France too, Mbappe slamming home to make it 4-1. Still the madness continued. France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris gifted Croatia a lifeline on 68 minutes, when Mario Mandzukic capitalised on the shot-stopper’s indecision to block the ball into the net from six yards.

Although France will savour their fourth trophy in a major tournament, it seems ironic that on a night when Mbappe became the first teenager to score at a World Cup final since Pele in 1958, Lloris on the other hand committed an error which may haunt him for the rest of his career. Individual performances aside, France were deserved champions, fending off the adventure and verve of Belgium in the semi-finals and Croatia in the decider. With that, Deschamps follows Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer in grasping the World Cup as a player and a manager.



Croatia can come again, though. Zlatko Dalic’s men played with a fierce togetherness throughout their stint in Russia, with Perisic and Ante Rebic in particular scampering after lost causes as if their lives depended on it. Judging by that kind of fight and endurance, it’s no surprise Croatia scored four goals in the 90th minute or later on their way to the final. And although the talismanic Luka Modric, 33, may be coming to the end of his international career, Mandzukic, 32, is Croatia’s only other outfield regular who is over 30. A tilt at the 2020 European Championships beckons.

It was the Croatians who started the final the brighter, Perisic and Ivan Strinic sending early balls from the left towards Mandzukic. Ivan Rakitic, the Croatian central midfielder from Barcelona, looped a ball toward the penalty area but Perisic’s lunge was short by perhaps an inch or two.

Against the run of play, France struck first. Varane skipped across Antionne Griezmann’s arcing free kick, coaxing Mandzukic into heading beyond Daniel Subasic and into his own net. Although Perisic equalised with a volley inside the right-hand post, Griezmann’s penalty put France ahead for a second time. VAR had a defining say. After a video review from referee Nestor Pitana, Perisic was adjudged to have handled Griezmann’s corner. Although Perisic was too close to the flight of the ball to be guilty of a deliberate offense, that didn’t bother Griezmann, who showed nerves of steel to send Subasic the wrong way.


Croatia festered with a sense of injustice. Tremors of thunder filled the air. A pair of streakers bounded onto the playing area. Suffice to say, the second half was all a bit barmy. France found themselves 4-1 up in a flash, Pogba and Mbappe each converting from 20 yards out on 58 and 64 minutes. Pogba’s finish was as assured as it gets, the Manchester United midfielder finding the bottom right-hand corner and wrong-footing Subasic. Mbappe’s was a peach. The gifted 19-year-old trapped Varane’s squared delivery, nudged the ball out of his feet and slammed hard and true into the bottom left corner of the net in one swift, graceful movement. The world is at his feet as they say, and comparisons with Thierry Henry are beginning to look more justified with each passing week.

As Croatia ran themselves into the ground looking for a way back, spaces yawned all over the pitch for both sides. Then came Lloris’s howler for 4-2. The French number one shimmied one way and inexplicably turned back towards Mandzukic, who couldn’t believe his luck as the ball ricocheted off his left boot and into an empty net. It was a calamitous piece of play from a veteran in Lloris who should know better.

That error, thankfully enough, didn’t have a bearing on France’s coronation as world champions. Instead it was Mbappe’s incisive runs that we’ll remember – his slalom around the outside of Domagoj Vida was particularly breath-taking. Griezmann’s deliveries were as reliable as ever, as the Atletico Madrid goal-getter continues to cement his reputation as one of the world’s most complete forwards. Elsewhere, Varane mopped up everything in his wake, directing play with optimum composure. Sure, Deschamps side didn’t provide as much entertainment over the last month as Croatia or Belgium – or perhaps even the hosts – but that won’t weigh on the minds of the French as they lift the trophy.

Learn about another one of the World Cup's star teams - Belgium - with Alistair Hendrie's blog on how the Red Devils taught England a lesson in attacking football

Saturday, 14 July 2018

World Cup 2018: Belgium down inexperienced England side to land third place




By Alistair Hendrie

England aren’t used to flying home from a World Cup this late. Their stay in Russia came to an end on Saturday as they were defeated 2-0 by Belgium in the third place play-off, and although this setback won’t hurt as much as their 2-1 reverse to Croatia in the semi-finals, it will go a long way to show Gareth Southgate how much his side need to improve if they are to advance further at the European Championships in 2020.

This was England’s longest stay at a World Cup since 1990 in Italy, where they also finished fourth, but Belgium’s greater quality of resources underlined the marker that has been set for Southgate and his young, inexperienced and hungry side. Eden Hazard tormented the English defence with pesky dribbling and sudden bursts of pace, the Chelsea winger slotting under Jordan Pickford to wrap up the victory on 81 minutes. Another Premier League gem, Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne, set teammates free with his range of passing and speed of thought. And although the introduction of Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford at half-time provided England with much needed verve and spark, they rarely looked capable of a comeback after Thomas Meunier netted with three minutes gone.

In hindsight, despite the celebratory mood of the last month, it’s easy to forget this Three Lions side still consists largely of young pups. For instance, Dele Alli and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are both only 22; Rashford is still just 19. Furthermore, England’s back three in St Petersburg of Harry Maguire, John Stones and Phil Jones had 72 caps between them, whereas Belgium’s defence – Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen and Meunier – had 297.

That perhaps fails to excuse an insipid performance from England in their farewell outing. Harry Kane was stilted and absent for long periods. Raheem Sterling, so talented yet so frustrating, was indecisive. The underdogs sat back and let Belgium have the ball, Hazard and De Bruyne directing traffic and attempting to slide in Romelu Lukaku. On a more positive note, Kieran Trippier bent and whipped balls across Thibaut Courtois’ goal with malice, while Eric Dier almost equalised with a dink that was hacked off the line at the last moment by Alderweireld.



The Red Devils took the lead when Hazard crossed low for Meunier, who wriggled goalside of Danny Rose to poke in from six yards. It was an untidy finish, but the pace of Hazard’s delivery made the goal. Belgium thrived from thereon in, De Bruyne looking for Lukaku at every chance. After one such move, Lukaku fluffed his first touch when bearing down on goal and the Manchester United man would regret how he allowed Pickford to intervene.

As Jones struggled to track Hazard, and Belgium’s Nacer Chadli left the game injured for Thomas Vermaelen, Belgium settled in a rhythm and knocked the ball around with the confidence and arrogance of future tournament winners. Some would bet heavy money on them to lift the trophy at Euro 2020. Indeed, keep in mind Germany won the 2014 world cup after finishing third in 2010.

After De Bruyne embarrassed Stones with a nutmeg, England created their best chance of the match on 69 minutes. Rashford wrong-footed every yellow-shirted defender on the pitch with a diagonal ball that set Dier through with an unobstructed path to goal. The Tottenham Hotspur man steadied himself with a touch and floated an audacious chip over Courtois, Alderweireld sliding in on the line to prevent a goal that would have swung the tie in England’s favour.


Having scored the decisive penalty against Colombia in the second round, Dier was suddenly a genuine goal threat. He headed wide, and should have done better, after an improvised cross from Lingard. Although Trippier’s deliveries were handing England hope, Belgium took advantage of how the game opened. Meunier pinged Pickford’s fingers back with a volley, while Hazard settled matters on 81 minutes, darting across Jones and side-footing beyond Pickford with a finish of composure and skill under the circumstances.

It might feel patronising to hail this England team as a group of rookies who huffed and puffed against more seasoned opponents. “Didn’t they do well?”, and all that. We should remember that England avoided the likes of Spain, Brazil and Germany – a quirk which to be fair they had no influence over – and these last two defeats will provide Southgate with more conundrums than clarity. How can the team create more from open play? How can Southgate coax the best from Sterling?

Still, the likes of Maguire and Trippier look tailor-made for international football, while Kane can always be relied upon to score goals. Added to that, Jack Wilshere’s transfer to West Ham could revitalise his career and offer Southgate another option. Youngsters such as Ademola Lookman and Ryan Sessegnon should also be on the radar soon. Perhaps in 2020 we’ll be looking at a team of proven class rather than simmering promise.

To take in more of Alistair Hendrie's insight into the world of British sport, buy his Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women's MMA in Britain

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Who is the best pound-for-pound MMA fighter in the world?

By Alistair Hendrie

To determine the best fighter in the world, you need to take into account plenty of factors: form, skill, opposition and dominance, for example. So, if a champion defends his or her crown via a string of finishes, does that equal or better a run of decisions? Should Conor McGregor top the list despite his inactivity, or should Tyron Woodley set the pace regardless of a couple of boring fights?

It’s a debate which rings around gyms, television studios, offices and of course pubs all over the world, and that’s exactly why Alistair Hendrie Sport will be releasing its pound-for-pound list at the start of every month.

To qualify for the list, a fighter should be considered active, so although Georges St-Pierre, for instance, is one of the most skilled and dominant fighters on the planet, he vacated his middleweight title, leaving him dormant for the moment.

Now that you know the criteria we’re looking for and pre-requisites for entry, take a look at the pound-for-pound best mixed martial artists in the world.

July 2018 - Men

1 – Demetrious Johnson (USA) (125lbs)
2 – Max Holloway (USA) (145lbs)
3 – Daniel Cormier (USA) (205lbs)
4 – Stipe Miocic (USA) (265lbs)
5 – Robert Whittaker (AUS) (185lbs) (+2)
6 – Tyron Woodley (USA) (170lbs)
7 – Khabib Nurmagomedov (RUS) (155lbs) (+1)
8 – Tony Ferguson (USA) (155lbs) (+1)
9 – TJ Dillashaw (USA) (135lbs) (+1)
10 – Jose Aldo (BRA) (145lbs) (+1)
11 – Cody Garbrandt (USA) (135lbs) (+1)
12 – Rafael dos Anjos (BRA) (170lbs) (+1)
13 – Yoel Romero (CUB) (185lbs) (+1)
14 – Francis Ngannou (FRA) (265lbs) (+1)
15 – Robbie Lawler (USA) (170lbs) (+1)
16 – Dominic Cruz (USA) (135lbs) (+1)
17 – Dustin Poirier (USA) (155lbs) (+1)
18 – Brian Ortega (USA) (145lbs) (+1)
19 – Stephen Thompson (USA) (170lbs) (+1)
20 – Frankie Edgar (USA) (145lbs) (+1)
21 – Kevin Lee (USA) (155lbs) (+1)
22 – Kamaru Usman (NIG) (170lbs) (+1)
23 – Marlon Moraes (BRA) (135lbs) (+1)
24 – Darren Till (GBR) (170lbs) (+1)
25 – Colby Covington (USA) (170lbs) (NE)

July 2018 - Women

1 – Amanda Nunes (BRA) (135lbs)
2 – Rose Namajunas (USA) (115lbs)
3 – Joanna Jedrzejczyk (POL) (115lbs)
4 – Cris Cyborg (BRA) (145lbs)
5 – Valentina Shevchenko (KYR) (125lbs)
6 – Jessica Andrade (BRA) (115lbs)
7 – Tecia Torres (USA) (115lbs)
8 – Holly Holm (USA) (145lbs) (+1)
9 – Raquel Pennington (USA) (135lbs) (-1)
10 – Claudia Gadhela (BRA) (115lbs)
11 – Nicco Montano (USA) (125lbs)
12 – Karolina Kowalkiewicz (POL) (115lbs)
16 – Carla Esparza (USA) (115lbs) (+3)
13 – Tonya Evinger (USA) (135lbs) (-1)
14 – Megan Anderson (USA) (135lbs) (-1)
15 – Barb Honchak (USA) (125lbs) (-1)
17 – Felice Herrig (USA) (115lbs)
18 – Cynthia Calvillo (USA) (115lbs)
19 – Germaine de Randamie (NED) (145lbs)
20 – Alexis Davis (CAN) (125lbs)
21 – Julliana Pena (USA) (135lbs)
22 – Angela Lee (CAN) (105lbs)
23 – Sara McMann (USA) (135lbs)
24 – Jennifer Maia (BRA) (125lbs)
25 – Marion Reneau (USA) (135lbs)

Whether you agree or disagree with our standings, join in the discussion and let us know your pound-for-pound lists on Twitter.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

UFC 225 Blog: Six bouts to make after Whittaker-Romero 2 in Chicago

By Alistair Hendrie

UFC middleweight titlist Robert Whittaker toughed out a decision over Yoel Romero at UFC 225 in Chicago on Saturday, displaying guts, heart and tenacity to battle on despite suffering a broken hand in round one.

The Australian, whose opponent missed weight by 0.2lbs so therefore couldn’t win the belt, weathered a late storm after building a lead with precise kicks to the body and lead leg.
Indeed, Whittaker’s kickboxing prowess made all the difference.

The 27-year-old fired out strikes to the face and sternum in rounds one and two as his rival kept his guard high, aiming to counter with wild hooks.

Still, Romero found his range in round three, hammering Whittaker’s head with a barrage of crosses and hooks at close quarters. It got worse for Whittaker in the fourth, when he was wobbled by a counterpunch on the break.

Sensing an opportunity in the deciding frame, Romero, whose right eye was swollen shut, clinched a knockdown with another counter that Whittaker never saw coming. The champion sagged forwards, his faculties scrambled. Romero dove in with ground and pound, but “Bobby Knuckles” managed to cling onto a single, recover, and earn a second verdict over the Cuban.

With Colby Covington also defeating Rafael Dos Anjos to claim the UFC interim welterweight strap in the co-main event, let’s cast an eye over six fights which could happen after this weekend’s UFC 225 showcase.


Robert Whittaker – Kelvin Gastelum 

After Whittaker broke his hand in the Romero rematch, the Sydney-based banger may not compete again this year. It seems he can’t catch a break. After all, it’s the second time Whittaker has broken his hand in a UFC bout, while in the last two years he has endured further lay-offs because of a knee injury and a staph infection.

Regardless, when he does defend his championship for the first time (he was promoted from interim titlist in December 2017), King’s MMA’s Kelvin Gastelum should be next in line. Fresh from outlasting Rolando Souza in May and separating Michael Bisping from his senses in November 2017, the Californian is an unpredictable striker who looks rejuvenated after returning to the 185lbs argument two years ago.

Interestingly, although both Robert and Kelvin are former welterweights, Whittaker still holds physical superiority over the rising contender, boasting a two-and-a-half inch reach advantage and a three inch height advantage. Expect this bout to happen early next year.

Yoel Romero – Patrick Cummins 

Although “Soldier of God” was moments away from upsetting Whittaker at the death, his second defeat to the champion – and his second instance of missing the 185lbs mark in his last three encounters – should spell a step up in weight class.

At 41, while Romero is as fit as they come, he shouldn’t be in the business of depleting his reserves any more than necessary. In fact, at the UFC 225 post-fight press conference, UFC president Dana White said he’d encourage Romero to relocate to light-heavyweight.

Patrick Cummins, then, could welcome the former Olympian to 205lbs. The 37-year-old counts luminaries such as Jan Blachowicz and Gian Vilante among his victims but Romero’s speed and clout would nevertheless cause him problems.


Colby Covington – Tyron Woodley 

After Covington overwhelmed Dos Anjos with kicks at range, well-placed takedowns and an unrelenting output of strikes, the American now stands as the UFC’s interim 170lbs leader, which means a unification battle with Tyron Woodley should be in the making any time soon.

Normally a stoic picture of calmness, it will be interesting to see if Woodley reacts to Covington labelling himself as the real champion. “The Chosen One” used to train with Covington at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida, and is a concussive striker who has risen to the cusp of pound-for-pound greatness thanks to verdicts over Stephen Thompson (twice) and Demian Maia.

However, Covington imposed his arsenal of striking on Maia last year and is in the midst of a six-fight win streak. Added to that, the American fights at a pace which Woodley might not be comfortable with and Covington would inevitably raise the stakes in mental warfare ahead of this crunch match.

Rafael Dos Anjos – Stephen Thompson 

Despite a disappointing result at the weekend, Dos Anjos remains an elite 170lbs stand-out and he still has unfinished business in one of the UFC’s most vibrant weight classes.

In that case, a bout between Dos Anjos and Stephen Thompson would make sense, preferably at the UFC’s next trip to New York in November. Would Dos Anjos be able to crack Thompson’s light-footed, side-on karate stance? Could the Brazilian force “Wonderboy” to exchange fire?

It would be a tough ask, but remember how Dos Anjos demolished stand-up merchants such as Anthony Pettis and Robbie Lawler at close range.

Holly Holm – Amanda Nunes

How do you solve a problem like Holly Holm? The Jackson-Winkeljohn mainstay, a former UFC 135lbs queen, earned a unanimous decision at featherweight this weekend over Megan Anderson, but Holm still sits at 1-2 in her last three outings at her natural bantamweight home.

Despite her move to a new weight class and her lack of form at bantamweight, that hasn’t silenced calls for Holm to tackle the dominant 135lbs champion, Amanda Nunes. “The Lioness” tweeted: “Let’s go @HollyHolm” after UFC 225, and seeing as both women shot to stardom after downing the UFC’s latest Hall of Fame inductee, Ronda Rousey, the UFC would be wise to match these two.

The fans want it and more significantly, so does Nunes. The women’s 135lbs scene is bereft of up-and-coming prospects, so why not pit together these two stalwarts of women’s MMA?


Megan Anderson – Cindy Dandois 

When Megan Anderson was slated to face Cris Cyborg in 2017 for UFC featherweight gold, the Australian was lauded for her size, power and her potential ability to close the distance and deck Cyborg with uppercuts, crosses and hooks.

However, that bout never materialised and instead Anderson made her promotional debut this weekend, suffering a wrestling clinic at the hands of Holm. The former Invicta champion struggled to recover her guard when on the bottom and, frankly, looked out of her depth on the mat.

With the featherweight division in need of new blood, Cindy Dandois, boasting three victories on the bounce, could renew her rivalry with Anderson after submitting her in 2015 with a triangle choke. After all, Dandois deserves a second chance in the UFC given her current vein of form, crafty transitions on the ground and valuable training with the likes of Miesha Tate. 

Gain more insight into the career of Yoel Romero with my report of his previous bout against Luke Rockhold at UFC 221.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Who is the best pound-for-pound MMA fighter in the world?

By Alistair Hendrie

To determine the best fighter in the world, you need to take into account plenty of factors: form, skill, opposition and dominance, for example. So, if a champion defends his or her crown via a string of finishes, does that equal or better a run of decisions? Should Conor McGregor top the list despite his inactivity, or should Tyron Woodley set the pace regardless of a couple of boring fights?

It’s a debate which rings around gyms, television studios, offices and of course pubs all over the world, and that’s exactly why Alistair Hendrie Sport will be releasing its pound-for-pound list at the start of every month.

To qualify for the list, a fighter should be considered active, so although Georges St-Pierre, for instance, is one of the most skilled and dominant fighters on the planet, he vacated his middleweight title, leaving him dormant for the moment.

Now that you know the criteria we’re looking for and pre-requisites for entry, take a look at the pound-for-pound best mixed martial artists in the world.

June 2018 - Men

1 – Demetrious Johnson (USA) (125lbs)
2 – Max Holloway (USA) (145lbs)
3 – Daniel Cormier (USA) (205lbs)
4 – Stipe Miocic (USA) (265lbs)
5 – Jon Jones (USA) (205lbs)
6 – Tyron Woodley (USA) (170lbs)
7 – Robert Whittaker (AUS) (185lbs)
8 – Khabib Nurmagomedov (RUS) (155lbs)
9 – Tony Ferguson (USA) (155lbs)
10 – TJ Dillashaw (USA) (135lbs)
11 – Jose Aldo (BRA) (145lbs)
12 – Cody Garbrandt (USA) (135lbs)
13 – Rafael dos Anjos (BRA) (170lbs)
14 – Yoel Romero (CUB) (185lbs)
15 – Francis Ngannou (FRA) (265lbs)
16 – Robbie Lawler (USA) (170lbs)
17 – Dominic Cruz (USA) (135lbs) (+1)
18 – Dustin Poirier (USA) (155lbs) (+1)
19 – Brian Ortega (USA) (145lbs) (+1)
20 – Stephen Thompson (USA) (170lns) (-3)
21 – Frankie Edgar (USA) (145lbs)
22 – Kevin Lee (USA) (155lbs)
23 – Kamaru Usman (NIG) (170lbs) (NE)
24 – Marlon Moraes (BRA) (135lbs) (NE)
25 – Darren Till (GBR) (170lbs) (NE)

June 2018 - Women

1 – Amanda Nunes (BRA) (135lbs)
2 – Rose Namajunas (USA) (115lbs)
3 – Joanna Jedrzejczyk (POL) (115lbs)
4 – Cris Cyborg (BRA) (145lbs)
5 – Valentina Shevchenko (KYR) (125lbs)
6 – Jessica Andrade (BRA) (115lbs)
7 – Tecia Torres (USA) (115lbs)
8 – Raquel Pennington (USA) (135lbs)
9 – Holly Holm (USA) (145lbs)
10 – Claudia Gadhela (BRA) (115lbs)
11 – Nicco Montano (USA) (125lbs)
12 – Karolina Kowalkiewicz (POL) (115lbs)
13 – Tonya Evinger (USA) (135lbs)
14 – Megan Anderson (USA) (135lbs)
15 – Barb Honchak (USA) (125lbs)
16 – Carla Esparza (USA) (115lbs)
17 – Felice Herrig (USA) (115lbs)
18 – Cynthia Calvillo (USA) (115lbs)
19 – Germaine de Randamie (NED) (145lbs)
20 – Alexis Davis (CAN) (125lbs)
21 – Julliana Pena (USA) (135lbs)
22 – Angela Lee (CAN) (105lbs)
23 – Sara McMann (USA) (135lbs)
24 – Jennifer Maia (BRA) (125lbs)
25 – Marion Reneau (USA) (135lbs)

Whether you agree or disagree with our standings, join in the discussion and let us know your pound-for-pound lists on Twitter.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Fight Game FREE CHAPTER: Matchmaker Ian Dean uncovers history of Cage Warriors women's divisions


25 minute read

By Alistair Hendrie

Shortly before entering the UFC, Joanne Calderwood earned her sixth professional win at Cage Warriors 53 in 2013, breaking down the American Sally Krumdiack in round one. The Scot delighted the Glasgow crowd as she boxed at range before finishing her rival with ground-and-pound. She had already signed for Invicta, but Cage Warriors gave her a chance to appear in her back yard.

Ian Dean, Cage Warriors’ matchmaker, told me: “That’s what we’re trying to do – give people opportunities. We’ve given women a chance to fight on live broadcasts in a safe, professional setting rather than framing them as a freak-show. I know it’s very cliché but Cage Warriors has always been about trying to do something new and take the sport forward.”

They did exactly that by putting on Calderwood, Rosi Sexton and Kate Jackson a combined five times between 2010 and 2015. It was no exaggeration to state that Cage Warriors had leveraged British women more than any other promotion. But their influence didn’t end there. Founded in 2001 by Tommy Gilmour, Cage Warriors’ early shows in London, Coventry and Cork were the stuff of legend.

Sexton fought on one of Gilmour’s shows in 2002, but it was when Graham Boylan joined as CEO in 2010 that Cage Warriors stepped up their support for British women. Indeed, Sexton’s victory over Aisling Daly at Cage Warriors 47 in 2012 brought new eyes to the scene. Remember, Rosi wouldn’t be far from the UFC by then.

Closer to the present day, Boylan’s stable had continued their support by promoting top class British talent such as Liverpool flyweight Molly McCann, Colchester strawweight Wendy McKenna and Belfast featherweight Leah McCourt.


Cage Warriors made their biggest statement of intent back in 2013, though, when they signed 20 of Europe’s most talented females including nine Brits. It came at a time when young females were energised by Sexton’s appearance in the UFC, not to mention Nicola Adams’ gold medal in boxing at the London 2012 Olympics. But the women’s fight community was still stunned by Boylan’s move, and so was I. It’s difficult to explain the gravity of the situation, but thanks to Cage Warriors, British women went from scrapping in small halls to competing on arena shows with worldwide broadcast coverage.

In the bantamweight division Boylan signed Bristol wrestler LJ Lewis, Hove fighter Laura O’Brien-Howarth and Inverness stand-out Amanda Kelly. Other bantamweights to arrive were Colchester striker Kerry Hughes, Kent judoka Emma Delaney and Cornwall starlet Hannah Stephens, while Bournemouth rookie Gemma Ruegg joined later. Those to put pen to paper at flyweight were veteran Jackson, Leeds battler Chloe Hinchcliffe and Brighton upstart Rachael McMillan. Elsewhere, McCann-Pearson and London flyweight Kirsty Davis earned amateur bouts.

There was no time for British women to bed themselves in though. Over the next two years they would take on the likes of Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Lina Lansberg, both bound for the UFC, as well as touted contenders such as Agnieska Niedzwiedz and Pannie Kianzad. To me there was a sense of romance about the young Brits coming through. It reminded me of the early rounds of the FA Cup, when the smaller teams are only a step away from a golden ticket.

Still, in November 2014, Cage Warriors began a 16-month hiatus, and the women’s scene fell apart momentarily. Although the promotion had worked wonders in nourishing the women’s side of the sport, they didn’t do it without encountering setbacks. I was determined to interview Boylan about the future of Cage Warriors’ women’s divisions. Try as I might, I couldn’t reach him.

I messaged Boylan on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. I even reached out to Cage Warriors’ press officer, Paul Dollery. Still no luck. Indeed, Boylan was one of the most guarded personalities in the sport.

Thankfully, Dean was more approachable. Once I’d introduced myself, he became one of my favourite people in the industry. He was as frank as they come when discussing Cage Warriors’ strengths and weaknesses. First of all though, he told me about where it all began.

                                                                    ***

Customer praise for Fight Game - "Eye-opening" 

"An excellent and entertaining depiction of female MMA in the UK"

Put simply, Dean lived and breathed his work. It was tough to think of anyone with a stronger knowledge of European MMA. He broke a fight down probably as well as Sexton, and fans referred to him as “Dean-ipedia” thanks to his legendary knowledge. If he was ever on Mastermind, his specialist topic would be MMA, and you could bet he’d fire correct answers left, right and centre. But for such a workaholic, Dean made for relaxed, informative interviews whenever I called him or chatted to him on Skype.

He revealed how he met Cage Warriors’ founder, Dougie Trueman, at Cage Warriors 2 in 2002. “I remember seeing Dougie on a few forums back then and I liked a lot of what he posted,” said Dean. “He did things the right way and was very personable – he was dead nice when we met and to cut a long story short, I said if there was anything I could do for Cage Warriors just let me know. A couple of months later the company started a website so I began doing news, interviews and promotional work. I built a list of contacts and because this was before social media, it was a really good way to research fighters.”

Dean’s DIY approach reminded me of Guy Ramsay in Glasgow. “I learned a lot about the business,” he added. “In those days there weren’t many shows and the MMA scene was really small – you’d meet the same people at every show. By 2004 it got the point where I was quite a good contact for Dougie - I started helping out at weigh-ins too. By the time Andy Lillis joined the promotion in 2005, Andy took me under his wing and I started acting as a matchmaker for our old events at the Coventry Skydome.”

It was around this era that Michael Bisping and Dan Hardy won Cage Warriors belts. Dean mentioned matchmaking was “natural progression, for want of a better term. Because Dougie and Andy were so busy, I started talking to a lot more people and fell into matchmaking. People forget that at the smaller shows people would ask you for help with things. You could reach out and touch the sport a lot more.”


However, between July 2008 and May 2010 Cage Warriors promoted only three shows – two of them in America under the guidance of Tommy Gleeson. Trueman and Lillis left the brand, deciding that they’d done all they could, and it was time for Boylan to come in with a fresh perspective.

“In June 2010 a bunch of Middle Eastern investors bought the brand, which we’d heard rumours of for a while. We went to a lawyer’s office on the Friday, signed the papers and Graham had taken over by the Monday. I’d never heard much about him before he came in but I knew he’d been running his MMA Clinic gyms for around 18 months.

“We were really going into the unknown. But I remember when I first met Graham – we sat down in a pub, chatted, and he said he had a vision for the brand. He wanted to bring it back. By that October we’d already done our first show together. It was typical Graham – set out a plan and do it.”

Cage Warriors had gone from strength to strength with Boylan, picking up worldwide streaming on UFC Fight Pass and a broadcast deal in Britain with BT Sport. Their expansion had taken them to arenas in Denmark, Ukraine, Bahrain, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. Let’s not forget their talent pool either. Jedrzejczyk and McGregor joined in Boylan’s tenure before earning three UFC belts between them.

And then there’s the future. Colchester featherweight Arnold Allen impressed with Cage Warriors before joining the UFC in 2015. Donegal lightweight Joseph Duffy also reached the big time five years after defeating McGregor at Cage Warriors 39. As such, it was fair to say the British scene would have been weaker without Cage Warriors.

                                                                    ***

I’d almost found it funny after a while. It seemed everyone I’d spoken to for my book mentioned Sexton, no matter what capacity they were in. Promoters, fighters, retired fighters – they’d all had dealings with Sexton. More to the point, Sexton had helped the sport reach the next level. I’d spoken to Rosi a few times about her involvement with Cage Warriors - the only thing I didn’t realise was much she influenced the promotion’s women’s divisions.

“Rosi called a lot of people’s bluffs,” said Dean. “She contacted a lot of female fighters and asked if they’d like to sign for us. It was quite funny – I think Graham and Rosi had chatted about it more in-depth on their own but one morning Graham just walked into the office and asked how I’d feel about doing more women’s fights. I just said: “Yeah, OK.” We had the database and it went from there.”

In July 2013 the brand announced their new signings. “I think women were just being overlooked unless a promoter was trying to push someone,” said Dean. “There’s no real incentive sometimes. There’s not a great deal of depth in the divisions and putting on women’s fights isn’t easy – it’s ridiculous. There was a lot of excitement for some of the women when we first made the signings. I’m not going to be patronising and say we’re going to give you opportunities you won’t get anywhere else and all of that kind of thing, but we gave women a chance to really go somewhere.”


Although Sexton did the brunt of recruitment, I was interested to know which fighters Dean was excited to see. Who did he have hopes for? “Lewis is fantastic, very aggressive, very well-rounded, decent grappling as well,” said Dean. “We can’t take too much credit for her because she’s one of the most established names in the bantamweight division. Jackson was superb for us as well. We’ve had setbacks in the divisions but we’ve also had a few stars – Catherine Costigan from Dublin at 105, Kianzad at 135.”

Lewis claimed the brand provided a “massive platform” for British women. “It’s such a well-known, professional brand,” she said. “I’ve never fought for such a well-run show. It’s so smooth and easy for us which makes such a difference in an intense experience when you’re preparing for a fight. All women have the dream to get to America and fight for the UFC or Invicta and I’ve always really struggled to get matches, so I’d love to fight for Cage Warriors again.”

Hughes told me: “When Cage Warriors made their first lot of signings it was big because nationally and internationally, women struggle to get matched. It was like boxing a few years ago – they didn’t want women fighting, they found it to be distasteful. “Can’t have birds fighting”, they thought. But the more sensible promotions realised that having female fighters was a good idea because generally our friends are more supportive, so we sell more tickets. Our fights are also more exciting because women’s MMA is in its infancy.”

Buy Fight Game on Amazon

I noticed Cage Warriors had a wider impact on British women’s MMA. “Cage Warriors meant suddenly we got sponsorship that wasn’t there before,” added Hughes. “Suddenly MMA clothing companies realised that women and men aren’t the same shape and maybe it would be a good idea to make some clothes that fit women.” Very dry from Kerry, which is what I’d come to expect from her. “It’s the little things you really don’t consider – for me Cage Warriors is massive for women in the UK.”

One fighter I was looking forward to seeing was Kelly, who scooped up multiple world titles in muay Thai while training with Bill Judd at KO Muay Thai in Bethnal Green. The Scot shone with her striking at range, and looked devastating when she stopped Stephens at Cage Warriors 60 in October 2013. However, Kelly walked away from MMA in 2014 after successive defeats to O’Brien-Howarth, Hughes and Lewis.

“Sometimes you realise that just because a fighter is successful in one discipline, this doesn’t mean they’ll succeed in MMA,” explained Dean. “Kelly looked spectacular at one point; she was a potential star and really got people talking. But for everyone who succeeds there’s a Royce Alger – to use a really old example. He was an American collegiate wrestler who really bombed in MMA some 15, 20 years ago.”


Dean described Lewis’s victory over Kelly – as part of Cage Warriors 72 in September 2014 – as “a masterclass.” He had a point. Lewis used her background in rugby to time and executive her takedowns perfectly. She dominated the contest before sealing a rear naked choke in the third round. “It was a good fight for me because I managed to go three rounds and get the finish in the end,” said Lewis.

“I was happy with how I adapted to her and got the takedowns. In the third round I knew she was going to change it up and stay at range, so I couldn’t bull-rush in. I had to pick my moments. Credit to her, she’d obviously been working on her grappling and her hips were so strong. I made sure I controlled positions in a clinical manner, because I knew she could hurt me if I didn’t stay active on top.”

If Lewis’s stoppage over Kelly was a picture of how to stifle a fighter from top position, Hughes’s win over Amanda – at Cage Warriors 69 in June 2014 - showed how to fight fire with fire. Hughes stood and banged with Kelly before decking her out of nowhere in the second frame. “That impressed a lot of people,” said Dean.

It was a huge upset after all, with Hughes taking a look and exchanging fast combinations in the first frame. Both women were hurt throughout the bout and put up a gutsy effort, but in the middle round, as Kelly dropped her guard, she walked into a right hand on the button. Time stood still as Kelly staggered. Hughes pounced, darted in with ground-and-pound and earned the most significant win of her career. That result, Hughes told me, meant so much more given her decision defeat to Niedzwiedz at Cage Warriors 62 in December 2013.

“I wasn’t as fit as I’d liked to have been when I fought Niedzwiedz,” said Hughes, who missed the bantamweight limit before that meeting. “If I’d been offered it now I probably wouldn’t have taken it. But this was my first fight for Cage Warriors so I was like: “You know what, this is such a good opportunity that I’ve got to go for it”. I think I can beat anyone in and around my weight class, apart from someone like Cyborg. I was thinking Cage Warriors was the biggest thing that could have happened to British women, so I didn’t want to miss an opportunity and not be welcome back.”

The new opportunities, she said, produced a nerve-wracking environment. “It’s not like we’re international footballers or anything like that so when you’re getting ready for a fight, you do what you do in the gym, but then at Cage Warriors you’ve got the pyrotechnics going, all this production, cameras in your face... I sometimes think: “What am I doing here?” It’s so surreal.”

Listen to Alistair Hendrie discuss the makings of Fight Game on the GSMC Women's MMA podcast

Elsewhere, O’Brien-Howarth fought three times for Cage Warriors between December 2013 and August 2014, taking decisions over Emma Delaney and Kelly before suffering a TKO against Lansberg.

“For whatever reason, it wasn’t O’Brien-Howarth’s night against Lansberg,” admitted Dean. Indeed, the Dane dominated the striking exchanges, picking off O’Brien-Howarth in violent fashion until the English woman wore a mask of blood. Her corner pulled her out by the end of round one, expecting things would only get worse. “These things happen – I got over it and moved onto better things,” said O’Brien-Howarth. “To be on mainstream TV was amazing though.”

“The Channel Four coverage was big for all the women involved,” added Dean. “It was an insane opportunity, even for the fighters to say to their friends and family: “Here’s my fight, you can watch it.” People in MMA are always going on about opportunities. Around 13 years ago I spoke to guys who were fighting for free in a sports hall with no idea that they were going to get anywhere. They said to me: “I’d go somewhere if I had an opportunity”. You’ve got make that opportunity and run with it, and fair play to those that do.”

                                                                    ***

So with the likes of McCann, McKenna and McCourt on board, Boylan, Dean and Cage Warriors are keen to continue leveraging the women’s scene. BT Sport will provide an excellent platform for that and young stars such as bantamweight Nathaniel Wood will always draw attention to the brand as a whole.

Still, as I’ve already discussed through this book, building the MMA scene is a work in progress – especially on the women’s side of the sport. “I enjoy putting on women’s fights with Cage Warriors but with paper-thin divisions it’s always a bit of a risk,” said Dean. “I might be unpopular for saying this but women’s MMA can’t develop unless women are ready to fight at a professional level. Our problem is that as soon as we have an injury, we can’t just magically produce someone. You can’t just fly someone out from the States for someone who is still lower-mid card. These are just facts of life – it’s reality.”

O’Brien-Howarth added: “Women are difficult to match in the UK and it’s always difficult for women to get opponents. It’s all well and good for Cage Warriors to sign these women but if they haven’t got the right opponent, they’ll need to wait until they can fight at the right level.”
Forming competitive match-ups is one thing, but then there’s the politics. Women can find the right opponents, but they still need to check their ego at the door, forget about their record and take those riskier fights. After all, Sexton and Jackson are advocates for going in as the underdog in order to stay active.


“The trouble when a promotion like Cage Warriors tries to build divisions is that nobody wants to fight anymore,” said Lewis. “Fighters don’t want losses on their records. I think it’s silly because if a woman fights for Cage Warriors, it gives them great exposure which is important. The more people that see us, the more people who know us and that makes us extremely appealing to the UFC and Invicta moving forwards. Someone like Calderwood proves that – the UFC would have been stupid not to sign her and market her to the Scottish fans.”

Indeed, British women live in hope that Cage Warriors will continue propelling young fighters like Calderwood towards the UFC. Dublin’s Daly and Germany’s Sheila Gaff have also ran out for the UFC after appearing for Cage Warriors, so does Dean see the brand continuing to build women’s MMA?

“I’m open-minded,” he said. “I really like to build divisions but it’s tough to do in women’s MMA. If you look hard enough there are a few stand-out names like Helen Harper and Bryony Tyrell – there’s others coming through but it’s tough to say which divisions are going to be strong. I’m not saying we won’t make women’s fights because if the fights make sense we’ll make them happen. The short answer to your question is we’ll see what happens.”

Alistair Hendrie's Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women's MMA in Britain, is available now from Amazon on Kindle and the free Kindle app. 

Sunday, 13 May 2018

UFC 224 Blog: Nunes hammers Pennington but fails to develop brand

By Alistair Hendrie

Amanda Nunes defended her bantamweight title for the third time on Saturday at UFC 224, dominating and stopping Raquel Pennington over five rounds in a fashion which may leave fans changing the channel rather than clamouring for a mega-fight with featherweight leader Cris Cyborg. The Brazilian targeted the body and legs with an almost militant rigidity before Pennington, bloodied at the nose, crumbled under the pressure.

It was a victory which cemented Nunes’s status as the most dominant female fighter on the planet, but it was all too one-sided and serene to add any firepower to her profile. In fact, between rounds, Nunes strolled back to her corner, sat down and smiled sweetly at her coach Conan Silvera as if she were embarking on an afternoon walk rather than a world championship battle. Following a game-plan and exploiting an opponent’s weakness is one thing – the champion scored high on both these counts – but Nunes fought within herself and could have used her killer instinct earlier.

That’s not to discredit the American Top Team woman’s credentials and track record – finishes over three former UFC titlists (Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate and Germaine de Randamie) underline her ruthless streak. She’s also one of the best boxers in any of the women’s divisions and her rear naked chokes are as clinical as it gets. However, the mixed martial arts fraternity has a short memory and is becoming ever more geared towards money, outlandish personalities and entertaining fights.


Look at it this way – the likes of Michael Bisping and Nate Diaz have competed in some of the UFC’s biggest bouts in recent memory, but are either of these two anywhere near the most talented fighters in the promotion? Absolutely not.

Nunes’ last outing against Valentina Shevchenko, in 2017, was another damp squib, even more so than the Pennington procession. As Nunes picked her spots on her way to a decision triumph, the pair danced, feinted and stared at each other intently without pulling the trigger. It was one the most disappointing fights of the year and made a mockery of the rivals’ pre-fight barbs and jabbering.

It’s now down to Nunes to springboard to the next level. We’ve seen how she can break women down at range and finish with authority – just look at the Rousey demolition – but fans, media and UFC brass may demand those kind of fireworks once more from the Salvador-born champion.


A bout with Cyborg would be the most exciting option and perhaps more crucially, the most lucrative. ‘The Lioness’ is renowned in Vegas and Cyborg is the darling of Brazil, so the compatriots could garner an avalanche of interest in either of those locations. However, Nunes failed to add to calls for that showdown with her post-fight comments on Saturday.

As Jon Anik asked Amanda about her next challenge, Nunes dropped the ball and chose to list an endless rundown of thanks to training partners, family members and close friends. That’s all well and good – fighting is a personal and demanding profession – but Nunes could use a few marketing lessons. Moreover, when asked about Cyborg in the post-fight press conference, Nunes instead talked up a meeting with compatriot Ketlen Vieira, again missing a chance to develop her brand.

To be fair to Nunes, she’s cleared out her weight class and left the likes of Shevchenko and de Randamie scampering to other divisions. Nunes might not have the physical capabilities to trouble Cyborg but with little competition at 135lbs for the moment, she should jump at the Cyborg fight in order to at last build her profile, line her pockets and drive interest in her career once more.

Learn more about the personalities and issues surrounding women's MMA with Alistair Hendrie's Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women's MMA in Britain

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Who is the best pound-for-pound MMA fighter in the world?


By Alistair Hendrie

To determine the best fighter in the world, you need to take into account plenty of factors: form, skill, opposition and dominance, for example. So, if a champion defends his or her crown via a string of finishes, does that equal or better a run of decisions? Should Conor McGregor top the list despite his inactivity, or should Tyron Woodley set the pace regardless of a couple of boring fights?

It’s a debate which rings around gyms, television studios, offices and of course pubs all over the world, and that’s exactly why Alistair Hendrie Sport will be releasing its pound-for-pound list at the start of every month.

To qualify for the list, a fighter should be considered active, so although Georges St-Pierre, for instance, is one of the most skilled and dominant fighters on the planet, he vacated his middleweight title, leaving him dormant for the moment.

Now that you know the criteria we’re looking for and pre-requisites for entry, take a look at the pound-for-pound best mixed martial artists in the world.

Male – May 2018

1 – Demetrious Johnson (USA) (125lbs) 2 – Max Holloway (USA) (145lbs) 3 – Daniel Cormier (USA) (205lbs) 4 – Stipe Miocic (USA) (265lbs) 5 – Jon Jones (USA) (205lbs) 6 – Tyron Woodley (USA) (170lbs) (+1) 7 – Robert Whittaker (AUS) (185lbs) (+1)
8 Khabib Nurmagomedov (RUS) (155lbs) (NE)
9 Tony Ferguson (USA) (155lbs)
10 TJ Dillashaw (USA) (135lbs)
11 – Jose Aldo (BRA) (145lbs)
12 – Cody Garbrandt (USA) (135lbs)
13 – Rafael dos Anjos (BRA) (170lbs)
14 – Yoel Romero (CUB) (185lbs)
15 – Francis Ngannou (FRA) (265lbs)
16 – Robbie Lawler (USA) (170lbs)
17 – Stephen Thompson (USA) (170lbs)
18 – Dominic Cruz (USA) (135lbs)
19 – Dustin Poirier (USA) (155lbs) (NE)
20 – Brian Ortega (USA) (145lbs)
21 – Frankie Edgar (USA) (145lbs)
22 – Kevin Lee (USA) (155lbs) (NE)
23 – Volkan Ozdemir (SWI) (205lbs) (-1)
24 – Michael Bisping (GBR) (185lbs) (-1)
25 – Luke Rockhold (USA) (185lbs) (-1)

Female - May 2018

1 – Amanda Nunes (BRA) (135lbs) 2 – Rose Namajunas (USA) (115lbs)
3 – Joanna Jedrzejczyk (POL) (115lbs)
4 – Cris Cyborg (BRA) (145lbs) 5 – Valentina Shevchenko (KYR) (125lbs) 6 – Jessica Andrade (BRA) (115lbs) 7 – Tecia Torres (USA) (115lbs)
8 Raquel Pennington (USA) (135lbs)
9 Holly Holm (USA) (145lbs)
10 Claudia Gadhela (BRA) (115lbs)
11 – Nicco Montano (USA) (125lbs)
12 – Karolina Kowalkiewicz (POL) (115lbs) (+2)
13 Tonya Evinger (USA) (135lbs) (-1)
14 – Megan Anderson (USA) (135lbs) (-1)
15 – Barb Honchak (USA) (125lbs)
16 – Carla Esparza (USA) (115lbs)
17 – Felice Herrig (USA) (115lbs)
18 – Cynthia Calvillo (USA) (115lbs)
19 – Germaine de Randamie (NED) (145lbs)
20 – Alexis Davis (CAN) (125lbs)
21 – Julliana Pena (USA) (135lbs)
22 – Angela Lee (CAN) (105lbs)
23 – Sara McMann (USA) (135lbs)
24 – Jennifer Maia (BRA) (125lbs)
25 – Marion Reneau (USA) (135lbs)

Whether you agree or disagree with our standings, join in the discussion and let us know your pound-for-pound lists on Twitter.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Carl Frampton soars past Nonito Donaire to earn Windsor Park showcase

By Alistair Hendrie

Carl Frampton turned in a performance of focus, professionalism and skill on Saturday in Belfast to upstage the former four-weight world titlist Nonito Donaire, taking a unanimous decision – 117-111 on all cards – and with it the WBO interim featherweight title. The Northern Irishman boxed beautifully to the orders of Jamie Moore, and when he did open up and turn it into a brawl, both men found the target in a spattering of brief shoot-outs.

Next for Frampton, probably in August, is a stadium showdown at Windsor Park. The opponent could be the winner of Lee Selby’s IBF title defence against Josh Warrington on May 19. Whoever “The Jackal” faces next, he remains one of the most marketable and technically proficient fighters to emerge from Britain in the last 20 years, and his efforts on Saturday night only added weight to his credentials.

Still, to describe Donaire as a washed-up legend would be both crude and incorrect. Although “The Fillipino Flash” wore bruises under his eyes from the early moments onwards, he made it a fight and rocked Frampton at close quarters on more than one occasion. Both contestants gauged the distance early, Donaire the first to attack to the body. The action warmed up in round two, as Frampton manoeuvred Donaire into a corner, planted his feet and delivered a combination of blows to the ribs.


Indeed, the home favourite settled in a rhythm, feinting with the jab and zipping in and out with two and three punch salvos, befuddling his esteemed opponent. In rounds five and seven, though, Donaire landed two scything uppercuts, tottering Frampton backwards on both occasions. The Manchester-based man cleared his head quickly, however, remembering Moore’s warnings to keep calm and stick to his jab.

Frampton came on strong with deft footwork and crisp straight punches and by the time he’d built up a lead going into the final ten seconds, he raided in with body punches, displaying the kind of spite and malice he hadn’t showed since his decision over Leo Santa Cruz in 2016. That win in Brooklyn, for the WBA crown, was Frampton’s best triumph yet - on the evidence of this weekend there’s plenty more where that came from.

The co-main event featured Zolani Tete holding onto his WBO bantamweight title against Omar Narvaez in a bout that was so laborious and one-sided that, if anything, the three scores of 120-108 flattered Narvaez. The Argentine may be a former world titlist but at 42, he showed no ambition, no promise and no hope whatsoever of making a mark on Tete.

The challenger, if we can call him that, held his guard up for the entire bout and wheeled around the outer edges of the ring, refusing to engage. It takes two to tango, though, and while Tete exhibited a rangy jab and awkward hooks, he should have pushed for the finish. He never exerted himself and, frankly, both competitors, promoter Frank Warren and the WBO should be embarrassed for staging such a mismatch.


Elsewhere on the televised card, Mullingar lightweight David Oliver Joyce TKO’d Jordan Ellison in five stanzas, although the stoppage looked premature. Joyce connected with a series of ultimately fight-ending combinations and although Ellison back-peddled into a corner, he wasn’t hurt and perhaps the referee was simply preventing him from shipping unwarranted punishment. Joyce held a grip on every round, scuttling forwards with clusters of blows up the middle, and if he learns to pace himself and sit down on his shots, he could potentially reach world level.

The best contest of the night was a middleweight blood bath between Luke Keeler and Conrad Cummins, Keeler ignoring seeping cuts above each of his eyes to earn verdicts of 98-92, 97-93 and 99-91. The Dublin maverick marched forwards with creative and malicious flurries – one-twos, corkscrew hooks and counter rights were the order of the day. He showed a tremendous engine and because of his spirit and eagerness to trade despite the claret in his eyes, he looks set to become a fans’ favourite and a staple of Frampton undercards.

Starting off the television portion of the show, at super-lightweight, Tyrone McKenna racked up a tally of 98-92 over Anthony Upton, sealing the advantage in round nine with an opportunistic knockdown. As Upton sagged forwards from a head clash, McKenna unloaded with a one-two down the pipe and then crashed into his foe’s jaw with a hook. Upton beat the count but couldn’t recover enough to affect the scorecards.

For more insight and reportage on the latest combat sport events, read my report of Khabib Nurmagomedov's historic victory over Al Iaquinta at UFC 223. 

Monday, 9 April 2018

UFC 223 report: Nurmagomedov holds nerve to overcome Iaquinta for UFC lightweight title


By Alistair Hendrie

After a chaotic prelude to Saturday’s UFC 223 card in Brooklyn, New York, Khabib Nurmagomedov kept his cool, outpointed Al Iaquinta and ultimately walked away with the UFC lightweight title around his waist. The Russian had to cope with both Tony Ferguson and Max Holloway pulling out with injuries during fight week, eventually using his suffocating wrestling and merciless ground-and-pound to shut out Iaquinta by verdicts of 50-45 and 50-43 (twice). 

With that, Nurmagomedov, unbeaten after 26 bouts, remains one of the most destructive fighters in the sport and “The Eagle” now only needs victories over the likes of Ferguson and Conor McGregor to complete his dominance of the division. Iaquinta, battered and bloodied at the nose, was a willing dance partner and in fact asserted his jab and enjoyed fragments of success in the latter stages. 

Nurmegomedov dominated rounds one and two, clamping onto single-leg takedowns with brute force and landing cold and clinical strikes from back mount. Iaquinta took the fight on 24 hours’ notice, though, and didn’t go down easily. The New Yorker kept his spirits despite the damage inflicted upon his face, and in rounds four and five he stood and traded punches with his exalted rival. By then, he was nevertheless behind on the scorecards and Nurmegomedov coasted behind his jab to finally win his crown. 


In the co-main event, women’s strawweight titlist Rose Namajunas showed that her 2017 knockout of Joanna Jedrzejczyk was no fluke as she flummoxed her rival in the rematch, boxing and moving to take three scores of 49-46. If their first meeting was explosive, their repeat turn was tense and technical. Although it lacked drama, Rose exhibited beautiful technique and head movement in the stand-up exchanges to hold on to her belt. 

She darted in and out of range early, with both women staggered during the first major coming-together at the end of round one. As the battle wore on, Namajunas landed the jab from all angles, boxing with speed, spite and an element of craft she hadn’t displayed previously. Although the challenger found the target with leg kicks in rounds four and five, Namajunas adjusted well and saw out her victory with uppercuts and hooks on the counter. Predictably, and naively, Joanna disputed the result, but Namajunas is a cut above the rest. 

Brazilian featherweight Renato Moicano enjoyed judges’ tallies of 30-27 (twice) and 29-28 over Calvin Kattar, earning the nod through brutal leg kicks and a varied selection of punches. Moicano upped the tempo in round three, forcing his rival’s back to the fence with vicious hooks, elbows and knees up close. After also shutting down Jeremy Stephens in 2017, the 28-year-old has the cardio, game-planning ability and size – at 5 foot 11 – to make a name for himself at 145lbs.



Meanwhile, Zabit Magomedsharipov’s seemingly cast-iron decision over Kyle Bochniak – 30-27 (twice) and 29-28 – is a new entrant into the list of fights you need to see before you die. Seriously, stop reading this report, find video footage of the fight, and sit back and enjoy the mayhem. Undeterred by giving up five inches in height, Bochniak gleefully rushed into the eye of a storm and ate an array of wheel kicks, switch kicks and spinning back fists. The pace was furious throughout and both men swung wildly in the last thirty seconds, with Bochniak absorbing an onslaught of straight punches in order to land his own haymakers. It’s clear that Magomedsharipov has world class potential and overwhelming physical gifts at 145lbs, but Bochniak is a savage to keep an eye on. Dates with Kattar or Shane Burgos would be thrilling. 

Elsewhere on the main card, lightweight Chris Gruetzmacher’s two-round beatdown of Joe Lauzon was uncomfortable to watch, particularly in the second phase when Gruetzmacher’s hooks, knees and crosses smashed through Lauzon’s guard, leaving “Creepy Joe” with a mish-mash of seeping cuts across his face and two purple bruises ballooning from below his eyes. In the end, Lauzon lived up to his moniker and looked like something out a horror movie. 

On FS1 Prelims, women’s strawweight Karolina Kowalkiewicz edged Felice Herrig by scorecards of 29-28 (twice) and one 28-29 in the other direction, while women’s flyweight Ashlee Evans-Smith boxed rings around the smaller Bec Rawlings for three 30-27s. Elsewhere, lightweight Olivier Aubin-Mercier knocked the wind out of Evan Dunham’s sails with a body assault in round one, while 205lbs hopeful Devin Clark outdid Mike Rodriguez by two 30-27s and one 29-28.

Let us know who Nurmagomedov should tackle next - Ferguson? McGregor? Or even Georges St-Pierre? - by reaching out on Twitter

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Who is the best pound-for-pound MMA fighter in the world?


By Alistair Hendrie

To determine the best fighter in the world, you need to take into account plenty of factors: form, skill, opposition and dominance, for example. So, if a champion defends his or her crown via a string of finishes, does that equal or better a run of decisions? Should Conor McGregor top the list despite his inactivity, or should Tyron Woodley set the pace regardless of a couple of boring fights?

It’s a debate which rings around gyms, television studios, offices and of course pubs all over the world, and that’s exactly why Alistair Hendrie Sport will be releasing its pound-for-pound list at the start of every month.

To qualify for the list, a fighter should be considered active, so although Georges St-Pierre, for instance, is one of the most skilled and dominant fighters on the planet, he vacated his middleweight title, leaving him dormant for the moment.

Now that you know the criteria we’re looking for and pre-requisites for entry, take a look at the pound-for-pound best mixed martial artists in the world.

Male – April 2018

1 – Demetrious Johnson (USA) (125lbs)
2 – Max Holloway (USA) (145lbs)
3 – Daniel Cormier (USA) (205lbs)
4 – Stipe Miocic (USA) (265lbs)
5 – Jon Jones (USA) (205lbs)
6 – Conor McGregor (IRL) (155lbs)
7 – Tyron Woodley (USA) (170lbs)
8 – Robert Whittaker (AUS) (185lbs)
9 – Tony Ferguson (USA) (155lbs)
10 – TJ Dillashaw (USA) (135lbs)
11 – Jose Aldo (BRA) (145lbs)
12 – Cody Garbrandt (USA) (135lbs)
13 – Rafael dos Anjos (BRA) (170lbs)
14 – Yoel Romero (CUB) (185lbs)
15 – Francis Ngannou (FRA) (265lbs)
16 – Robbie Lawler (USA) (170lbs)
17 – Stephen Thompson (USA) (170lbs)
18 – Dominic Cruz (USA) (135lbs)
19 – Khabib Nurmagomedov (RUS) (155lbs)
20 – Brian Ortega (USA) (145lbs) (NE)
21 – Frankie Edgar (USA) (145lbs) (-1)
22 – Volkan Ozdemir (SWI) (205lbs) (-1)
23 – Michael Bisping (GBR) (185lbs) (-1)
24 – Luke Rockhold (USA) (185lbs) (-1)
25 – Edson Barboza (BRA) (155lbs) (-1)

April 2018 – Female

1 – Amanda Nunes (BRA) (135lbs)
2 – Rose Namajunas (USA) (115lbs)
3 – Joanna Jedrzejczyk (POL) (115lbs)
4 – Cris Cyborg (BRA) (145lbs)
5 – Valentina Schevchenko (UKR) (125lbs)
6 – Jessica Andrade (BRA) (115lbs)
7 – Tecia Torres (USA) (115lbs)
8 – Raquel Pennington (USA) (135lbs)
9 – Holly Holm (USA) (145lbs)
10 – Claudia Gadhela (BRA) (115lbs)
11 – Nicco Montano (USA) (125lbs)
12 - Tonya Evinger (USA) (135lbs)
13 - Megan Anderson (AUS) (145lbs)
14 - Karolina Kowalkiewicz (POL) (115lbs)
15 - Barb Honchak (USA) (125lbs)
16 - Carla Esparza (USA) (115lbs)
17 - Felice Herrig (USA) (115lbs)
18 - Cynthia Calvillo (USA) (115lbs)
19 - Germaine de Randamie (NED) (145lbs)
20 - Alexis Davis (CAN) (125lbs)
21 - Julliana Pena (USA) (135lbs)
22 - Angela Lee (CAN) (105lbs)
23 Sara McMann (USA) (135lbs)
24 - Jennifer Maia (BRA) (125lbs)
25 – Marion Renau (NE)

Whether you agree or disagree with our standings, join in the discussion and let us know your pound-for-pound lists on Twitter.