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.

                                                                    ***

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"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.”

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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.

Friday, 2 March 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 – March 2018

1 – Demetrious Johnson (USA) (125lbs)
2 – Max Holloway (USA) (145lbs)
3 – Daniel Cormier (USA) (205lbs)
4 – Stipe Miocic (USA) (265lbs)
5 – Conor McGregor (IRL) (155lbs) (+1)
6 – Tyron Woodley (USA) (170lbs) (+1)
7 – Robert Whittaker (AUS) (185lbs) (+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) (NE)
14 – Francis Ngannou (FRA) (265lbs)
15 – Robbie Lawler (USA) (170lbs)
16 – Stephen Thompson (USA) (170lbs)
17 – Dominic Cruz (USA) (135lbs)
18 – Khabib Nurmagomedov (RUS) (155lbs)
19 – Frankie Edgar (USA) (155lbs)
20 – Volkan Ozdemir (SWI) (205lbs)
21 – Michael Bisping (GBR) (185lbs)
22 – Luke Rockhold (USA) (185lbs)
23 – Edson Barboza (BRA) (155lbs)
24 – Rory McDonald (CAN) (170lbs)
25 - Alex Gustafsson (SWE) (205lbs)

March 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) (+1)
7 – Tecia Torres (USA) (115lbs) (-1)
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) (NE)
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) (+1)
22 - Angela Lee (CAN) (105lbs) (+1)
23 Sara McMann (USA) (135lbs) (-2)
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.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Cage Warriors 90 Report: McCann takes out Tyrell in round two to win flyweight prize

By Alistair Hendrie

Molly McCann announced herself as one of Britain’s brightest non-UFC prospects on Saturday night, knocking out Bryony Tyrell with relentless punches to lift the Cage Warriors women’s flyweight title. Buoyed by raptures of support at Liverpool’s Echo Arena, McCann worked her way into the fight and eventually rattled off a salvo of straight punches and digs to the body that left Tyrell turning away and in no state to continue. McCann moves to 7-1 and judging by her bravado, exciting fights and prowess on the mic, she looks like a star in the making.

The scouser probed for openings in round one, pumping out her jab and straight punches and catching Tyrell’s kicks. McCann kept her guard up and maintained a high level of activity, but her strikes – more spiteful than her rival's – whistled past their target. Credit to her, Tyrell switched up the rhythm by throwing leg kicks and question mark kicks. She also offered different looks, switching to a karate stance and landing her side kick.

However, by round two, McCann’s sturdier frame at 125lbs and superior power took its toll. The Next Generation MMA stand-out surged in with hooks around Tyrell’s guard. As McCann ramped up the output, ‘Killa Bee’’s defence’s deserted her. Piston straights and hooks crashed into Tyrell’s head. Tumbling forward, Tyrell turned away with referee Marc Goddard waving the bout off immediately.

McCann claimed she wants to defend her title but truth be told, Cage Warriors may find it difficult to find any worthy opponents. Indeed, Kate Jackson is tied up with Bellator, while Cage Warriors’ former leading 125lb-ers – such as Pannie Kianzad and Agnieska Niedzwiedz – are now signed to Invicta. McCann may need another year of seasoning to reach the UFC, but Tyrell, at 38, has perhaps missed her chance.

The co-main event featured a redemptive victory for Norwegian lightweight Alexander Jacobsen, who demolished Lawrence Fitzpatrick in the opening seconds with a looping hook at range. Jacobsen was coming off a defeat to world titlist Chris Fishgold but the Scandinavian looked rejuvenated with his old foe in his corner for support.

‘Bad Romance’ bundled forward with a tirade of punches which barely missed their intended destination. Jacobsen, though, was in no mood to hang around – as the theory goes, if you swing wildly five times, you might land once. That’s exactly what Jacobsen did. His hook thudded into Fitzpatrick’s jaw, sending the Liverpudlian to the canvas in a crumpled heap. Jacobsen postured up beautifully, landing ground and pound at will to put his opponent out of commission.

Also on the main card, German heavyweight Ruben Wolf turned the tables on scouser Shawn Kenny, winning a scramble in round two to lock up an americana. Both men tasted the canvas in a slobber-knocker for the ages, Wolf after a crude hit over the top, and Kenny after fighting fire with fire on the inside. While Kenny edged the opener with the better footwork and combinations, he let the bout slip through his fingers when he gave up side control. Wolf jumped on the americana and as soon as he cranked it, that was all it took.

Paddy Pimblett returned to Cage Warriors in similarly explosive fashion with an arm-triangle over Alex Savvidis in round two of their lightweight collision. The Next Generation MMA man showed all his wit and skill on the mat in round one and he finished the job in the next phase, jumping up for a flying triangle. Once he’d sealed the triangle from the bottom, he heaved pressure onto the point of the elbow and earned one of UK MMA’s most memorable submissions.

Speaking of which, Pimblett’s 155lbs team-mate, Elliot Jenkins, also earned a tap with a first round head-and-arm choke over Josh Abraham. Jenkins brought his A-game with smart ground and pound and he never let up once he earned top position. There was another submission for Warrington weltweight Matthew Bonner, who ended Mick Stanton with a rear naked choke in the dying fragments on round two. In the same division Andreas Tricomitis edged past Mark Kinsella via a split decision, while Bobby Pallett undid Dillon Manning in the first session with a head-and-arm choke.

Read about Bryony Tyrell's career in nursing and her thoughts on Brexit in Alistair Hendrie Sport's exclusive interview. 

Friday, 23 February 2018

Cage Warriors 90 Preview: McCann guns for hometown glory against Tyrell


By Alistair Hendrie

Liverpool’s Molly McCann takes centre stage on Saturday night, as she aims to take full advantage of local support when she faces Bryony Tyrell for the vacant Cage Warriors flyweight title in the main event at Cage Warriors 90. The proud scouser, who has spoken out against knife crime and bullying in her local area, is an ardent Everton fan and has built a reputation in her hometown for her exciting fights and measured aggression.

Embodying the Next Generation style of working behind the jab, McCann sets her attacks up beautifully and disrupts the rhythm with teep kicks and low kicks. Now 3-1 as a pro, she weathered early takedowns against Priscilla de Souza in October 2017 to tee off with strikes from the outside and earn a lopsided decision.

Funnily enough, McCann used to compete out of Ippon in Bournemouth. It was back then that she frequently trained with Tyrell, who resides 45 minutes from Bournemouth at Exiles MMA in Southampton. Tyrell has a background in striking and clinched the BCMMA and 360 strawweight titles in her early career, shutting out her opponents with a blend of kicks and timely takedowns. She works diligently from back mount, and looked impressive in drawing with Lanchana Green and stopping Jade Barker-Morge with a succession of ground-and-pound.


Although Tyrell claims she is on friendly terms with McCann, that should go out of the window once the cage door shuts. Expect ‘Meatball’ McCann to push the pace and work from the outside. Her best chance of glory would be to back Tyrell against the fence and slowly but surely break her down. She’ll be able to do that if she sticks to her jab and mixes up her kicks. However, Tyrell is a decent striker herself, and could find inroads though strikes to the head and body. I do feel, though, that McCann’s aggression and youth will help her grab a world title on home turf.

Speaking of titles, Alexander Jacobsen had a shot at lightweight gold at Cage Warriors 88 against Chris Fishgold. Eventually, the Norwegian tapped to a rear naked choke after shipping a barrage of pressure, but Jacobsen returns in Saturday’s co-main event against Liverpool’s Lawrence Fitzpatrick.

Although Jacobsen is happy to walk through punishment to land his own blows, his takedowns are especially powerful. He drives his opponents across the cage, scoring a range of trips, throws and double-leg drives. He boasts power in each fist and is particularly adept at punching around the guard from top position.

Fitzpatrick, though, is another excellent wrestler. Sharpening his skills on the north-west scene, the scouser is more than capable of dominating from half guard and side control. He owns a rear naked choke over the former Pride and Cage Rage maverick, Charles ‘Krazy Horse’ Bennett, and holds three submissions and three knockouts on his 6-1 ledger.


I feel it’s time for Fitzpatrick to step up to the best in Europe, and of course Jacobsen represents a move in the right direction. This bout will come down to who can dictate the pace and Fitzpatrick could earn the win if he scores an early takedown and works intelligently for the submission.

Also on the main card, Liverpool’s Echo Arena crowd will brace itself for fireworks as another local, heavyweight Shawn Kenny, goes up against Germany’s Ruben Wolf. Kenny is a true throwback who loves trading in the pocket. The Next Generation stand-out was in frightening form in April 2017, cutting down Cian Erraught with a volley of knees and punches. Wolf is no slouch, though, carving out an 11-10 career in which he’s defeated UFC fighter James Mulheron and also snapped up the Made 4 The Cage title. Kenny is nevertheless one of the hottest prospects in the north-west and should have too much variety for the visitor.

In a sign of the times, Liverpool’s darling Paddy Pimblett opens up the main card against Alexis Savvidis, having scaled up to lightweight after dropping his 145lbs title to Nad Narimani. ‘The Baddy’ throws up some of the most opportunistic jiu jitsu attacks in the British scene, showing deft back-takes and guard passes to rack up six submission wins amongst his 13-2 ledger.

On the other hand, Savvidis explodes forward with wheel kicks and a plethora of spinning attacks. Think Cub Swanson, only even more unpredictable – yes, he’s that exciting. Both men put themselves at risk in order to get the W, and credit should go to matchmaker Ian Dean for creating a lovely stylistic match-up. I’ll stick my neck on the line and pick Paddy.


On the undercard, Next Generation’s slick grappler Elliot Jenkins will aim to climb the lightweight ladder against Josh Abraham. Working on the mat with a poker face to rival Gunnar Nelson, Jenkins attacks the limbs in a cerebral manner and should be a good bet for a submission victory. Abraham, though, is an all-action kind of fighter and rolls with the scrambles beautifully. A jiu jitsu war looks likely.

The rest of the undercard takes shape with a trio of welterweight scraps. Tall striker Matthew Stanton will look to assert his range of kicks against Mick Stanton, while Bobby Pallet tackles Dillon Manning and Andreas Tricomitis squares off with Mark Kinsella. Finally, extra value is provided on the night with a full amateur card, showcasing local hopes such as Jay Seddon and Jordan Baxter.

Stay tuned to Alistair Hendrie Sport for all the reaction after what promises to be an exciting night of fights in Liverpool. 

Monday, 19 February 2018

Bryony Tyrell discusses Brexit, nursing career and Cage Warriors title fight


By Alistair Hendrie

Since Britain opted to leave the EU in 2016, the country has lurched into uncertainty. It’s unclear how Brexit will improve areas such as trade, economy and international relations, while the future of the NHS also remains in jeopardy. Ever since the vote, reports of overworked doctors, treacherous working conditions and a chronic lack of beds have appeared week in, week out. One person who has witnessed the drama unfold first-hand is Southampton flyweight Bryony Tyrell, who works as a nurse in the haematology department at Southampton General Hospital.

Normally so diplomatic and restrained, Tyrell doesn’t hold back when discussing the “massively negative effect” Brexit could have on the future of healthcare in this country. She tells me in vivid detail about the reaction to the vote and the dwindling levels of morale in hospitals.

“I remember the morning after the vote was passed, I went in and the atmosphere in the hospital was so depressing,” she says. “The foreign nurses didn’t feel welcome anymore, they were questioning their futures, they didn’t know if they could stay or not. We’re all short-staffed and under pressure and we’re seeing the NHS crumble. The trouble is so many of our top nurses are foreign, and now they’re not coming over anymore. It’s a huge concern for the country and anyone who works in the NHS – we one hundred per cent need to stay in the EU.”

As Tyrell works through unfortunate circumstances to care for her patients as best as she can, she also has a demanding yet fulfilling family life, with her husband Tom and two young children, Soren and Amber. Her schedule has become even more packed with preparations for her Cage Warriors world title fight against Molly McCann on February 24th – a bout which makes up the main event of Cage Warriors 90 at Liverpool’s Echo Arena. Despite the strain on her time, though, Tyrell is passionate about her profession and brings up plenty of challenges which the healthcare industry faces.


“The lack of beds is crazy, but what we really need is more support for people outside of the hospitals. There’s a lack of GPs, and walk-in centres are closing as well, so if we could support these resources that would take a lot of the pressure off of us as well. Also, there’s a lack of people training to be doctors because of the pay cap, and now of course they’re taking away the student bursaries. The system needs a complete overhaul, which I know is easier said than done.”

Tyrell enjoys her work despite the embattled environment. She recently moved from critical care to the haematology department, where she cares for patients with leukaemia, a cancer of the blood cells. “I look after patients who are on trial drugs as these give them the best possible chance of recovery, so it’s very beneficial for them. I’ve got about 100 patients who I overlook. I perform their treatments, bring them through, check they’ve got everything they need. It’s very interactive, and some of them continue their treatments for months so you get to know them very well, which is nice.”

The Sevenoaks-born fighter acknowledges the contradiction between nursing and fighting. Although she needs to think of others in her day job, once she’s in the cage, she remains detached when sapping her opponents’ will with kicks to the body and breaking their spirit with ground-and-pound. “Compassion is a huge part of nursing, it’s very important. It’s a very anxious time for patients and their families. Obviously some people die, which is a huge part of treating people with cancer.”

Given the juxtaposition between her two pastimes, are her nursing colleagues surprised by her MMA adventure? “Yeah, very surprised! They can’t comprehend it and then when they Google my name it’s a real shock for them. I think it’s more to do with my personality. When I’m at work, I’m quite quiet, quite polite, I’d like to think I go out of my way to help people. My colleagues have obviously been very supportive of me and they’ve been great – there’s been no negativity towards it at all, and they all watch my fights in fascination.”


Tyrell’s husband Tom has also had to come to terms with his wife’s fighting career. She says her spouse is also “very supportive” of her MMA journey, even if she reckons he “thinks I’m nuts”.

“In fact, I know he thinks I’m nuts, but he knew that when we met, so he knew what he was signing up to. He was supportive of me when I went out to Las Vegas for The Ultimate Fighter try-outs (she eventually missed out on the full series), even though I thought he’d say I was wasting money. But he was very supportive. He’s been particularly supportive of this fight because he realises how big of an opportunity it is.”

Indeed, if Tyrell can overcome McCann in her Liverpool fortress, she could emulate Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Rosi Sexton and Joanne Calderwood, who all reached the UFC after impressing with Cage Warriors. Wisely, Tyrell is optimistic but cautious. “I need to keep my hands up and not get knocked out,” she claims.

McCann is an intimidating presence who comes forward in a calculated manner, using her destructive power to knock out three of her opponents in her 6-1 career. Despite her bravado and menacing posturing, Tyrell reveals that Molly “has a heart of gold,” and that the pair are close friends. After all, ‘Meatball’ supports local charities around Liverpool and frequently speaks out against bullying and knife crime.

“She’s definitely more mellow away from the cameras and she’s a very kind-hearted person. We trained together a lot when she was based at Ippon in Bournemouth, which is about 40 minutes away from my gym, Exile MMA in Southampton. She’s helped me out and we’ve helped each other along the way.”


However, Bryony maintains the fight is simply business as usual. “I don’t see anything personal in it, hopefully she doesn’t either. I was friends with Kate Jackson when we fought and she smashed my face up – it’s just part of the game; I know she’d do it again if she could. It gets a bit intense during fight week but I hope Molly and I will remain friends after the fight.”

Tyrell has already won 115lbs belts with BCMMA in Britain and 360 in Belgium, but her debut at 125lbs represents another step in the right direction with plenty of exposure and live coverage on UFC Fight Pass. The 38-year-old boasts a background in krav maga and kung fu, while she also utilises a solid ground game with a crafty back mount. The battle with McCann will also be ‘Killa Bee’’s first five-round encounter.

“I’ve never trained so intensely for this kind of 25-minute cardio,” she reveals. “I can’t imagine doing this level of camp while trying to make 115lbs – now, I don’t have to cut down on carbs or anything like that, it’s been fantastic, I’ve loved it. Everyone knows I hate weight-cutting and I’m against it – I make that clear every time I fight. If everyone felt as good as I do now coming into a big fight, we’d all have a little more fun.”

Still, Tyrell’s growing list of priorities mean she has “no downtime at all.” The hectic demands of family life and looking after her patients are real, but whether or not Tyrell emerges from Merseyside with a belt wrapped around her waist, she finds rare moments of calm in MMA. “I’m very busy and chaotic a lot of the time, but I actually think MMA helps me to deal with stress and the intense environment that I work in - it’s a huge benefit to my life. It’s a form of escapism, and I cope better with everything in my life since I found MMA.”

To learn more about Bryony Tyrell's unique route into MMA, read my Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women's MMA in Britain. NB: Kindle app is free to download on all platforms. 

Sunday, 11 February 2018

UFC 221 report: Romero starches Rockhold to put middleweight division on notice

By Alistair Hendrie

Yoel Romero confirmed his status as one of the world’s scariest middleweights on Saturday when he destroyed Luke Rockhold with an overhand right in round three of their UFC 221 main event. The Cuban, who missed weight so couldn’t win the interim belt which was at stake, dizzied his rival with a vicious punch over the top and finished up with an uppercut that bounced Rockhold’s lolling head off the fence.

As such, if “Soldier of God” can safely make 185lbs – keep in mind he took this bout on short notice when the full champ, Robert Whittaker, pulled out with a staph infection – he looks set to earn a shot at revenge over his former conqueror Whittaker. The 40-year-old is on a tear and his track record includes knockouts over Chris Weidman, Lyoto Machida and of course Rockhold – all former UFC titlists.

Although they almost clashed at the previous day’s weigh-in, the pair started cagily, with neither fighter willing to show their cards. Speedy leg kicks and jabs were the order of the day, with Rockhold arguably winning the first session on activity. But Romero was the first man to take the initiative in round two and he bundled forward and hurled windmilling hooks at Rockhold’s unguarded jaw. Luke was stunned. His chin was in grave danger. Romero even attacked with his patented flying knee but Rockhold managed to wheel away for the remainder of the round and get back to his jab.


The stocky Romero doubled up his jab in the third and as Rockhold continued to play poker and counter-punch, there was a feeling that Romero could grasp a stoppage at any given moment. That moment came as a sickening Romero counter crashed against the side of Rockhold’s head. The American pitched forward, his legs defying him as if the mat were pulled up from beneath him. Groggily, he sat up in no man’s land with his hands by his side, and absorbed a heinous shovel-hook to the mouth. With a second stoppage defeat in his last three, Rockhold retreats to the back of the queue for a shot at Whittaker, but Romero may well get his redemption date if stays in the weight class.

In the heavyweight co-main event, Chicago’s Curtis Blaydes gave the Perth crowd a rough deal by controlling Mark Hunt for a decision by measures of 30-26 (twice) and 29-27. Although the American was rocked by a counter right in the first round, he shook off the cobwebs and ended that session in half guard, biding his time on top and staying active enough to remain there. Owing to his fantastic trips, judo prowess and top pressure, Blaydes dominated the rest of the match on the ground.

In the second, he opened up further from half guard, nailing his target with elbows, forearm drives and looping punches. In the third, by which time Hunt was exhausted, Blaydes began the frame by driving “Super Somoan” backwards and into the air, slamming him unceremoniously to the mat. If Hunt wasn’t so dangerous on the feet, perhaps Blaydes would have let his punches go a little more once he achieved full mount.

Unsurprisingly, the Perth crowd booed the visitor when his hand was raised. Blaydes is somewhat of a rough diamond - a tactically astute fighter with plenty of athletic advantages, but still a raw prospect who can be tagged. That said, unlike Blaydes, not many heavyweights would see the final bell against both Hunt and Francis Ngannou.


Hunt’s heavyweight sparring partner, Tai Tuivasa, earned his second UFC win – and extended his undefeated ledger to 7-0 – with a conclusive knockout in round one over French prospect Cyril Asker. Displaying the cardio and output of a lightweight, Tuivasa teed off with uppercuts, punches to the body and, most impressively, step-in elbows that pinged Asker’s head back. Credit to him, Tuivasa displayed methodical pressure and always took a step back after landing his combinations. Although Asker stood manfully throughout the onslaught, he eventually dropped face-first to the mat, unable to take anymore, and referee Steve Percival wisely jumped in before Tuivasa could capitalise.

Elsewhere on the main card, Aussie welterweight Jake Matthews saw out a 29-28 and 30-26 (twice) success over China’s Li Jingliang. The 23-year-old had the better of round one and ended the opener working for a rear naked choke, chipping away around Jingliang’s defences. He came even closer in the second with a guillotine choke from the bottom, although referee Mark Simpson should have penalised Jingliang for to escape the submission. Nevertheless, Matthews controlled the closing stages and timed his counters beautifully, even hitting the mark with a flying knee up the middle for good measure.

Australian 205lbs-er Tyson Pedro ushered in the main card, displaying nous and skill in the clinch to sweep Saparbek Safarov for a kimura in round one. After scoring with knees of the break and power punches in the exchanges, Pedro defended a takedown against the fence by clamping on a kimura grip and forcing his Russian adversary to roll over in his favour. Now in top position, Pedro expertly stepped over Safarov’s head to isolate the arm and apply torque to the shoulder. The tap came immediately and with the 205lbs division wide open, Pedro can now shoot for a top 10 opponent.


FS1 Prelims were headlined by lightweight Dong Hyun Kim’s workmanlike decision over Damien Brown by scorecards of 29-28 (twice) and 28-29 in the other direction. The Korean refused to enter the trenches with the notoriously aggressive Brown, and Kim plugged away with calf kicks, head kicks and jabs. His speed made the difference here, but Damien will be gutted that he didn’t force his rival brawl against his terms.

New South Wales featherweight Alexander Volkanovski boosted his reputation by smashing Jeremy Kennedy in the second round. After countering Kennedy’s punches with the takedown, Volkanovski took his man into a world of pain from half guard, showing beautiful frames and strong posture to land punch after punch. Kennedy turtled up and invited Volkanovski to end it, and Marc Goddard signalled the TKO with 12 seconds of the round remaining. In the remaining FS1 Prelims, flyweight Jussier Formiga took out Ben Nguyen in round three with a rear naked choke, and middleweight Israel Adesanya mixed his strikes from head to body for a second round TKO over Rob Wilkinson.

There was British interest on Fight Pass Prelims, too, as lightweight trailblazer Ross Person edged out Mizuto Hirota by verdicts of 30-27 (twice) and 29-28. Pearson, now based in Sydney, fought with intelligence and precision as he racked up the points with low kicks, jabs and counter hooks to the body. Meanwhile, the earliest segment of the show also featured Luke Jumeau’s landslide over Daichi Abe (29-28 and 29-27 (twice) at welterweight, and Jose Alberto Quinonez’s verdict over Teruto Ishihara (30-27 and 29-28(twice)) at bantamweight.

For more UFC reaction and reportage, read Alistair Hendrie Sport's write-up of Stipe Miocic's historic victory over Francis Ngannou at UFC 220.