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. 

Friday, 9 February 2018

UFC 221 Preview: Rockhold and Romero clash in interim title bout with Whittaker sidelined

By Alistair Hendrie

Luke Rockhold and Yoel Romero aim to inject a sense of clarity into the middleweight division on Saturday, when they meet in an interim title bout at UFC 221 in Perth, Australia. (Keep in mind Romero weighed in 2.7 pounds over the limit, so now only Rockhold can win the belt). The 185lbs scene has been in a state of flux since Georges St-Pierre vacated the belt in December, with Robert Whittaker taking Georges’ status as champion and then pulling out of this event with a staph infection. That said and done, it’s now down to Rockhold and Romero to decide who is number one for the moment.

Also at stake is a shot at redemption for Rockhold, who lost the belt in June 2016 when Michael Bisping rung his bell in their ill-tempered grudge match. The Californian returned in November, forcing Daniel Branch to tap out to strikes from back mount, but Rockhold still shipped punches against the fence, emphasising his Achilles heel of lowering his hands and leaving his jaw exposed. When he’s on his game, though, Rockhold is one of the best kickers in the sport, ending Costas Phillippou with a kick to the body in 2014 and demolishing Chris Weidman’s spirit in 2015 by the same means.

Interestingly enough, Romero boasts a similar blend of strengths and flaws. On the one hand, he exhibits the explosiveness of a 100m sprinter, closing the distance with flying knees and cat-like shoots for the takedown. See his knockout of Weidman for one of the most athletic and perfectly-timed flying knees in recent memory. Still, despite his clout and strength, his output plummeted during his five-round defeat to Whittaker in July 2017, casting doubt over his cardio over the championship rounds.

On paper, the outcome lies in Romero’s ability to land clean and land early. A patient starter, the Cuban could take out Rockhold in an instant when capitalising on an opening, potentially finding inroads with leg kicks, then hooks or straight punches. Concentration will be paramount for Rockhold, who is prone to taking his eye off the ball, but if he can slow the pace down and score with his own array of striking attacks – body kicks, jabs and spinning efforts – he can find success towards the later rounds. The real benchmark for either man, however, is Whittaker.

Mark Hunt features in the heavyweight co-main event against Curtis Blaydes, with the Sydney-based Somoan aiming to exploit his frightening one-punch power and grab an 11th career knockout over the 26-year-old up-and-comer. With Hunt, what you see is what you get. Sure, he may have one of the softer physiques in the heavyweight division, but he makes up for that with excellent leg kicks, a measured jab and the unerring ability to send his rivals crashing to earth with one concussive right hand.

Although Blaydes towers over Hunt at 6 foot 4, enjoying a five inch height advantage and an eight inch reach advantage, many of Hunt’s most heralded knockouts – over the likes of Bigfoot Silva and Stefan Struve – have been against taller men. Blaydes nevertheless boasts plenty of physical gifts at the weight. His V-shaped back, broad chest and long limbs bring to mind an image of a heavyweight Jon Jones. He waits for his moments to attack and when he does open up, he switches up the pace with uppercuts on the inside and crafty drives for the takedown.

However, Hunt is the acid test for Blaydes. Genetic gifts aside, the American’s previous three outings were a tame doctor stoppage over Oleksiy Olinyik, a pedestrian decision over Daniel Omielanczuk and a second round knockout over Adam Milstead, later reversed to a no contest when Blaydes tested positive for marijuana. In my eyes, Hunt has the greater fight IQ, and he has the potential to separate Blaydes from his senses in the early exchanges.

Hunt’s sparring partner, Aussie heavyweight Tai Tuivasa, battles on the main card against Frenchman Cyril Asker. Riding on the wave of an 8-0 entry into MMA, the former pro boxer explodes with high kicks and flying knees which belie his brutish physique. He cut down Rashad Coulter with ease in his UFC debut in November, picking him man apart with leg kicks and a devastating aerial knee to finish matters. Asker, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is perhaps more well-rounded, possessing intuitive guard passes and nimble movement, but it remains to be seen if he can swim in deep waters with a bigger man such as Tuivasa.

The fourth bout on the main card pits home country hero Jake Matthews against China’s wild striker Li Jingliang. Matthews looked like a world class prospect when winning four of his first five bouts in UFC, but he has slipped to 1-2 in his last three. As such, his reliance on takedowns and sneaky combinations may not be enough for the more explosive and versatile Jingliang. The pay-per-view offering opens with a 205lbs thriller between Tyson Pedro, Tuivasa’s brother-in-law, and Saparbek Safarov, a rusty-but-exciting Russian prospect. Although Safarov can stand and bang for days, Pedro’s striking, honed at Jackson-Winkeljohn, should help him see out a convincing decision or a late stoppage.

Another sleeper for fight of the night, on FS1 Prelims, is Damien Brown against Dong Hyun Kim at welterweight. Brown is a let-it-all-hang-out kind of fighter, marching forward with his guard up, exchanging fiery hooks and uppercuts with a grin on his face. Watch his back-and-forth slugfest with Frank Camacho for further proof. Kim, a judo black belt who is also willing to take risks, is by far the sturdier man, though, so I expect him to edge this one of the cards.

Elsewhere on FS1 Prelims, there’s a middleweight scrap between Rob Wilkinson and Israel Adesanya, a featherweight dance between Alexander Volkanovski and Jeremy Kennedy, and a flyweight tussle featuring Jussier Formiga and Ben Nguyen.

Meanwhile, UFC Fight Pass Early Prelims holds British interest, with trailblazing lightweight Ross Pearson meeting Japan’s former DEEP titlist, Mizuto Hirota. It’s fair to say both men’s heydays are behind them, but “The Real Deal” will enter as favourite thanks to his varied arsenal of kicks and well-schooled jab. The key for Ross will be footwork, volume of strikes and trading on his own terms. The remaining matches on UFC Fight Pass Early Prelims are Teruto Ishihara against Jose Quinonez at 135lbs, and Luke Jumeau against Daichi Abe at 170lbs.

Who do you think will prevail once Rockhold and Romero throw down in Perth? Share your views on Twitter

Thursday, 1 February 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 consider plenty of factors: form, skill, opposition and dominance, for example. 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 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 is one of the most dominant fighters on the planet, he vacated his middleweight title, leaving him dormant for the moment.

On the other hand, Jon Jones, whose latest victory over Daniel Cormier at UFC 214 was downgraded to a no-contest when “Bones” failed a drugs test, is yet to receive a potential suspension, so is still considered active. Moreover, McGregor still holds his UFC lightweight crowd despite fighting as a boxer since winning his gold, so he is also judged to be active.

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

February 2018 -

Male -

1 - Demetrious Johnson (USA) (125lbs)
2 - Max Holloway (USA) (145lbs)
3 - Daniel Cormier (USA) (205lbs)
4 - Stipe Miocic (USA) (265lbs) (+2)
5 - Jon Jones (USA) (205lbs) (-1)
6 - Conor McGregor (IRL) (155lbs) (-1)
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 - Francis Ngannou (FRA) (265lbs)
15 - Robbie Lawler (USA) (170lbs)
16 - Stephen Thompson (USA) (170lbs)
17 - Dominick Cruz (USA) (135lbs)
18 - Khabib Nurmagomedov (RUS) (155lbs)
19 - Frankie Edgar (USA) (145lbs)
20 - Volkan Oezdemir (SWI) (205lbs)
21 - Michael Bisping (GBR) (185lbs)
22 - Luke Rockhold (USA) (185lbs)
23 - Edson Barboza (BRA) (155lbs)
24 - Rory MacDonald (CAN) (170lbs) (NE)
25 - Alexander Gustafsson (SWE) (205lbs) (-1)

Female -

1 - Amanda Nunes (BRA) (135lbs)
2 - Rose Namajunas (USA) (115lbs)
3 - Joanna Jedrzjeckyzk (POL) (115lbs)
4 - Cris Cyborg (BRA) (145lbs)
5 - Valentina Shevchenko (KYR) (135lbs)
6 - Tecia Torres (USA) (115lbs)
7 - Jessica Andrade (BRA) (115lbs)
8 - Raquel Pennington (USA) (135lbs)
9 - Holly Holm (USA) (135lbs)
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) (-2)
19 - Germaine de Randamie (NED) (145lbs)
20 - Alexis Davis (CAN) (125lbs)
21 - Sara McMann (USA) (135lbs)
22 - Julliana Pena (USA) (135lbs)
23 - Angela Lee (CAN) (105lbs)
24 - Jennifer Maia (BRA) (125lbs)
25 - Paige VanZant (USA) (115lbs) (-8)

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