Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Weighing up a Kamaru Usman-Colby Covington rematch after UFC 245

By Alistair Hendrie

Moments before Kamaru Usman became the first man to knock out Colby Covington on Saturday in round five of their UFC 245 welterweight title contest, the outcome was well in the balance. Two judges had it 3-1 either way, while the third judge had it a draw. However, with a minute and a half remaining, Usman sent Covington crashing to the mat with a one-two and forced the stoppage with unanswered ground and pound. Now, though, the fine margins of the result plus the rivalry between the pair have led to calls for a rematch.

You have to feel Covington deserves a second chance, whatever you think about his taunting of just about every fighter on the roster, his bragging of weekends away with models and his labelling Brazil “a dump” after dismantling Demian Maia in 2017. The American protested the stoppage on Saturday, claiming referee Marc Goddard “robbed me of a fair fight.” He gave Usman his toughest fight yet, meeting the champion in the middle of the Octagon with a snapping jab and pesky hits to the body. Let’s also commend Covington on how he soldiered on with a broken nose.

Indeed, the two are beautifully matched and this weekend’s bout was so thrilling that a second meeting should be a possibility. The UFC are renowned for hosting title rematches too, such as Stipe Miocic-Daniel Cormier and Joanna Jedrzejczyk-Rose Namajunas. Plus, rematches create a narrative, help fans become invested and define fighters’ careers.

Read the full article at Fighters Only

Check out Alistair Hendrie’s Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women’s MMA in Britain, featuring insight from Rosi Sexton, Joanne Calderwood and more

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Cage Warriors 109: Jai Herbert - "I think to myself, I can't wait to quit being a scaffolder"

By Alistair Hendrie

“Grinding away at work is just a nightmare and I can’t wait until I don’t have to do it anymore,” says the Cage Warriors lightweight champion, Jai Herbert, who lets out a sigh as he tells Fighters Only about his job in Wolverhampton as a scaffolder. “It’s mad, the winter is the worst time when everything is frozen outside and you still have to go and put scaffolding up. I’ll be out of the door by about 6 in the morning and it’s just horrendous. I just think to myself, I can’t wait to get rid of this.”

With the way Herbert has taken to professional MMA, though, winning nine and losing only one of his paid outings thus far, Jai’s mornings scaling up and down steel structures may soon be a thing of the past. A tall 155lb’er with a rapid jab, Herbert won his title in June when he pulled the plug on Jack Grant with sustained hooks, crosses and shovel punches that crashed through his rival’s defences.

Next up for Herbert, on Saturday, is the first defence of his crown against Cain Carrizosa in Birmingham at Cage Warriors 109. Then it will be back to work for one of Europe’s hottest talents. “Now that I’ve got the title I’ve had four weeks off work to finish my camp, but obviously I’ll be back in next Monday,” he says.

Read the full article at Fighters Only

Check out Alistair Hendrie's Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women's MMA in Britain, featuring insight from Rosi Sexton, Joanne Calderwood and more

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Cage Warriors 108: Forget the 9-5, Mason Jones wants belts and riches

By Alistair Hendrie

At a time when plenty of fighters fall into debt, depression or drink after retiring, it’s refreshing to learn that Mason Jones, the young Welsh lightweight with his head screwed on, is already planning for the future. “It’s silly to not have an exit plan,” he says. “If you’re fighter who hasn’t been saving their purses and building up savings, why haven’t you? My dad has always encouraged me to look after my finances and if things go to plan I’ll be investing before I retire. Then once I’m done, I’ll have enough money to avoid the 9-5 and not worry about money. I want to have a comfortable lifestyle.”

Jones, though, stresses he’s not in MMA purely for the money. “I’ll get rich one day, I know I’m good enough, but I’m not in it for that. I do the sport because I want to be the best possible fighter, not just for the money – that’s just an aside.”

As well as considering endeavours away from the fight game, Jones has built a record of 7-0 once the cage doors close. The judoka thrilled fans with decisions over the likes of Konmon Deh and Donovan Desmae, hurling combinations at will and chasing advantages from the guard too. Those performances have helped him succeed Jack Shore as Cage Warriors’ poster boy for Wales, and Jones is now deep in camp for his Cage Warriors 108 main event against Aleksi Mantykivi on Saturday in Cardiff.

Read the rest of the article at Fighters Only

Check out Alistair Hendrie's Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women's MMA in Britain, featuring insight from Joanne Calderwood, Rosi Sexton and more

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Jack Shore sets up next crop of Welsh talent with UFC Copenhagen win

By Alistair Hendrie

Wales stood as one on Saturday night to herald Jack Shore, the unbeaten 24-year-old who displayed poise beyond his years to submit Nohelin Hernandez in his UFC debut in Copenhagen, Denmark. “The Tank” is the fourth Welshman to compete (and win) in the UFC, while he is also the second Welshman to win a UFC contest via tap-out. Now, with bantamweight Shore exhibiting such fight IQ and professionalism against Hernandez, he has laid the path for the upcoming line of Welsh youngsters.

Perhaps the next Welshman to enter the UFC will be another 24-year-old, lightweight Mason Jones, who tackles Aleski Mantykivi on October 12th at Cage Warriors 108 in Cardiff. Perfect as a professional at 7-0, in 2018 Jones wowed fans by trading furious submission attempts during his decision over Konmon Deh. Later, in April, he stood in the line of fire while outscoring the more experienced Donovan Desmae.

An all-action fighter who doesn’t mind getting hit, Jones has taken Shore’s place as Cage Warriors’ main attraction from Wales but it’s worth remembering that the Pedro Bessa student is much more than a YouTube highlight reel. His judo is excellent, his transitions on the mat are decisive and he kicks to the calf, solar plexus and head with an element of surprise. He has already demanded a few excursions as the away fighter, but he might reach the UFC before Cage Warriors can fulfil that.

Read the rest of the article at Fighters Only 

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Leon Edwards can break out against Jorge Masvidal after beating Rafael dos Anjos

By Alistair Hendrie

Speaking on the Fight Disciples podcast, former Fighters Only editor Nick Peet once said he wished Leon Edwards would market himself more. He wished the Brummie would build his profile to match his skills. He wished he’d grab the mic and challenge another of the leading welterweight pack. I’ve interviewed Edwards twice and can confirm he is a man of few words, but finally, Peet might have got his wish.

After shutting out Rafael dos Anjos on Saturday at UFC on ESPN 4 in Texas, Edwards came out of his shell and threw the gauntlet down to Jorge Masvidal. “I want to silence Masvidal, that fight has to happen, either in the streets or in the cage,” said the 27-year-old, speaking with Karyn Bryant and Tyron Woodley on ESPN. “I believe I’m better than Masvidal everywhere and I’ll get a chance to prove it,” he added during his post-fight scrum.

No prizes for guessing Masvidal’s thoughts after Edwards humbled dos Anjos. The 34-year-old tweeted: “Big difference between putting top ranked opponents to sleep and putting fans to sleep. Don’t call me out no more until I get that belt.” While Masvidal and Edwards are both angling for a shot at welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, this Anglo-American rivalry has been brewing since March, when Masvidal landed a sucker punch on Edwards backstage at UFC London.

Read the rest of the article at Fighters Only.

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Should Urijah Faber really face Henry Cejudo after UFC Sacramento?

By Alistair Hendrie

They say life begins at 40 and Urijah Faber is evidence of that. “The California Kid” may be middle-aged, but in stepping out of retirement on Saturday and decking Ricky Simon in 16 seconds at UFC Sacramento, the former WEC featherweight champion could have earned a huge fight with Henry Cejudo, the UFC flyweight and bantamweight titlist.

“Henry, what’s up dog?” said Faber, taking the mic after the bout. “I remember 10 years ago when you challenged me to a fight as a friendly gesture – I’m down to mix that up.” Cejudo responded in kind, tweeting: “Careful what you wish for my corn-rolled princess. You could be the next legend to bend the knee to Triple C.”

Although Cejudo will be out until early 2020 after undergoing shoulder surgery, Faber has made a shrewd and audacious move by targeting his younger rival, presumably for the 135lbs strap. The Californian understands Cejudo’s market value and gets how the UFC could lap up his own storyline – a legend and UFC Hall of Famer returning from the wilderness, taking on the insurmountable king. After all, this is Faber’s best opportunity to earn gold.

Read the rest of the article at Fighters Only

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Sweden end Germany hoodoo to advance to women's World Cup semi-finals

By Alistair Hendrie

Sweden are through to the women's World Cup semi-finals, banishing the German ghost in a manner so fearless it bordered on cavalier. Sweden hadn’t overcome Germany at a major tournament since 1995 and Sweden’s Chelsea defender Magdelena Eriksson, speaking before the match, said her country were determined to gain revenge for defeats in the 2003 final and the 2015 round of 16. Peter Gerhardsson’s charges advanced with a direct approach this time around, but it wasn’t without peril.

Before Sofia Jakobsson’s classy finish and Stina Blackstenius’s poached winner, Lina Magull put the Germans ahead, contorting her body to score a sumptuous half-volley. The Germans dominated a breathless period of added time too, Sara Däbritz and Marina Hegering both almost levelling. The Swedish goalkeeper, Hedvig Lindahl – who was nearly dispossessed during a madcap dribble in the first half – typified the mayhem and was all at sea when the Germany substitute, Lena Oberdorf, headed wide from close-range on 87 minutes.

That said, Swedish were decent value for their success and were never likely to go through without a hiccup here or there. Jakobsson evaded a slack German back-line, latching onto early long balls. Kosovare Asllani, dropping into midfield, hustled back loose passes. Blackstenius, who could have scored two or three, dribbled with intent around the “D” and exacerbated the chaos in Germany’s rear-guard.

But it was Sweden who were the slowest to start. Magull shot straight at Lindahl, Svenja Huth threaded in through-balls and Lindahl cleared from danger when roaming into a disaster of her own making. Magull’s opener was sublime. Cushioning Däbritz’s pass by the penalty spot, the Bayern Munich midfielder swiped the ball out of the air with an athletic half-volley. Her set-up and conversion, in one movement, were as quick as a flash. A goal of the tournament contender, for sure. 

Would Swedish heads drop, given that only two countries had beaten them more times than Germany? Would Sweden lose all hope against opponents who hadn’t conceded a goal in this World Cup? Not so. The Blagult equalised within six minutes, Jakobsson escaping a creaky defensive line to fire across Almuth Schult. The 29-year-old took her goal skilfully but Die Nationalelf allowed a single hoof to travel over 60 yards and bounce before it reached Jakobsson.

From there, for the rest of the opening 45 minutes, Sweden flourished. Aslanni robbed Carolin Simon in the final third. Blackstenius almost profited from Caroline Seger’s punt over the top. Every time Sweden lofted a ball high into the early evening Rennes air, Germany’s minds scrambled and their shape crumbled. Schult sprinted off her line in panic to clear another ball forward.

Germany needed half time. Such was their luck, straight after the restart, Blackstenius’s rebound put them behind after Schult parried Fridolina Rolfö’s downward header. It was an untidy effort, shanked into the roof of the net, but the Linkopings striker couldn’t miss from six yards out.

The 23-year-old, who opened her World Cup account against Canada in the second round, appeared rejuvenated by her tenth international goal and could have earned a brace, but she clipped low and wide after an industrious and jinking foray forward. The teams paused for a second cooling break on 75 minutes, and Germany thrived in the commencing act.

Their manager, Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, had thrown on 17-year-old hope Oberdorf on the hour, shifting Alexandra Popp further forwards. Make no bones about it, Germany were throwing everything upfield. Oberdorf missed a guilt-edged header. Lindahl burst to the edge of her area to mop up Eriksson’s backpass.

Surely an equaliser beckoned. In the six minutes of additional time, Däbritz bolted a first-time shot at Lindahl, while Hegering headed over having outfoxed Hanna Glas. She couldn’t attain for her earlier error and with that, the German ghost would be confined to horror stories of the past.

Follow Alistair Hendrie on Facebook and Twitter, and see more of his Women's World Cup coverage here

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Liang and Cameroon must be reprimanded after farcial women's World Cup scenes

By Alistair Hendrie

By the time Cameroon's Takounda Engolo slammed her studs into the ankle of England's Steph Houghton on Sunday, the underdogs already trailed their women's World Cup second round tie 3-0 and the Indomitable Lionesses had lost their heads. Referee Qin Liang only booked Takounda after consulting VAR, and it spoke volumes that Jonathan Pearce, commentating for the BBC, said Liang was wise not to show a red card simply because it would have enraged the Cameroonians to breaking point. Cameroon had relinquished control. So had Liang.

Questions must be asked of Liang after she allowed Cameroon's players to strop, complain. and make a mockery of the spirit the World Cup should be played in throughout the match. When Liang awarded England their second goal via VAR, her grip on the game crumbled as Ajara Nchout and Gabrielle Onguene berated the referee and initiated a team huddle, delaying the restart by at least three minutes. Liang declined to book any Cameroonian players despite their lack of discipline. 

As the chaos continued, the Chinese official then used VAR to rule out a Cameroon equaliser for offside - a questionable decision in itself. Nchout, who scored the "goal", tearfully stormed to her head coach Alain Djeumfa, crossing her arms in the air, as if pleading for Djeumfa to take the team off the pitch in protest. The dissent was bad enough; the time-wasting was embarrassing to watch. Liang's decision? No booking for Nchout, regardless of another five-minute interlude. 

Moving forwards, how FIFA reacts to Liang's lack of authority and unwillingness to punish players should set a benchmark for standards of officiating. When Switzerland defeated Serbia 2-1 at the World Cup in 2018, referee Felix Brych was sent home after the Serbian FA complained about his performance to FIFA. At least Brych's plight shows FIFA are willing to penalise poor showings.

Still, FIFA would be wise to act tactfully with Liang, take her into a quiet room, fan the flames, but remind her of how players can't be allowed to throw tantrums and protest excessively. She shouldn't be castigated just yet, and dumping her out of the tournament would be an overreaction, but she needs to improve. After all, on Sunday her decision-making, control of the game and communication with players left a lot to be desired. 

Cameroon, too, should face the consequences of their actions. The tie with England descended into a tragic comedy when Nchou broke down and that was before Onguene's unwarranted rant at Liang after Takounda took out Houghton. At times it appeared as if Cameroon were refereeing the contest themselves, such was the extent of their time-wasting and arguing. 

Cameroon, playing in their second consecutive World Cup second round, ought to expect a fine for failing to control their players. With the visibility and popularity of the women's game at an all-time high, Cameroon set a poor example with their unsporting conduct - they disregarded any sense of professionalism and respect. 

In another blight on the World Cup in 2018, FIFA docked the Moroccan FA £50,000 when Morocco striker Nordin Amrabat shouted "VAR is bullshit" at a camera after Spain denied the Atlas Lions with a VAR-assisted leveller. In that case, you'd think Cameroon would earn a similar punishment. Theirs wasn't one instance of dissent either; it was incessant arguing, it was multiple refusals to play on - and this, remember, lasted for most of the match.

FIFA should use this as a chance to do the right thing for the good of the game. The organisation seems to be all for clamping down on inappropriate socks in football, so you'd hope they'd temper inadequate refereeing once more and shut down insolent players while the world is watching.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Tyson Fury dominates Tom Schwarz in two to keep Deontay Wilder rematch alive

By Alistair Hendrie

Tyson Fury kept his side of the bargain on Saturday night, destroying Thomas Schwarz in two rounds in Las Vegas to keep a rematch with WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder simmering in the pan. Fury’s co-promoter, Bob Arum, told reporters that a repeat of Fury and Wilder’s thrilling draw in 2018 could surpass the $600m generated by Floyd Mayweather against Manny Pacquaio in 2015. A wise comment given Fury’s skills, entertainment value and charisma.

Entering the ring to James Brown’s “Living in America” - of course not forgetting his Apollo Creed shorts, hat and robe - Fury was the star of the show on Saturday and Schwarz, the outclassed German, was just a footnote. The British fighter exhibited a lovely jab, scintillating head movement and spiteful combinations. He’d already bloodied Schwarz’s nose badly by the time he folded the underdog in two with finishing smacks to the body.

The Wilder return was all fans, journalists and broadcasters wanted to ask about after the contest and according to Arum Fury will be out next for a final tune-up on September 21 or October 5. Wilder must do his own part by defeating Luis Ortiz again – reports suggest they could renew hostilities in September.

Indeed, while Arum also mentioned Wilder-Fury 2 would take place in Las Vegas, Team Fury should tread carefully when choosing their next opponent. They need a name, a dance partner who will give them a problem to solve. Still, Fury’s backers know Wilder 2 would be huge for Tyson's bank balance and legacy and they would be foolish to risk it all by throwing him to a young, hungry wolf such as Trevor Bryan. That can wait, and remember Fury is only 30.

How about a meeting with Robert Helenius? The Finn, whose craft and guile handed him the moniker “The Nordic Nightmare”, has won his last three and could earn the largest payday of his career against “The Gypsy King.” The 35-year-old is known for his defensive talents and ability to throw opponents of their game. He wouldn’t be the most exciting adversary, though. Leftfield options could be Carlos Takam, the imposing Cameroonian-Frenchman, or Tomasz Adamek, the Pole who is already known to the US public but was ended in two by Jarrell Miller in October.

First of all, Wilder has to overcome Ortiz. Many felt their previous encounter should have been stopped when Wilder was out on his feet under a hail of Ortiz gunfire in round seven, but the American survived and earned the knockout in round ten. It was telling, then, that Wilder tweeted: “All my controversial fights must get dealt with ASAP” when announcing the rerun with Ortiz. If that’s the case, Wilder-Fury 2 becomes an even greater possibility.

Read more of Alistair Hendrie's writing on combat sports with his Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women's MMA in Britain