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.