Thursday, 21 May 2020

Cases of GSP, Lesnar show Cejudo could return to the UFC

By Alistair Hendrie

A hush filled the Octagon as Henry Cejudo announced his retirement, speaking moments after he’d knocked out Dominick Cruz at UFC 249 on May 9. That same silence stretched over the empty bowels of the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville and made Cejudo’s declaration that he was walking away even more stunning and blunt.

He’d just defended his bantamweight belt against the division’s leader in WEC/UFC wins and as such, plenty of pundits were baffled as to why he’d quit so suddenly at the age of 33. This week, though, his manager Ali Abdelaziz said Cejudo might fight again, meaning he could perform the same U-turn on retirement as many other UFC stars.

Georges St-Pierre took a hiatus from the sport after he defended his welterweight crown a ninth time against Johny Hendricks at UFC 167 in 2013, earning a decision which most onlookers felt should have gone to the American challenger. St-Pierre, who was plagued with ACL injuries throughout his career, wanted a break and was sick of the razzmatazz that went with sitting at the top tier of fighting. In 2015, UFC president Dana White laughed off rumors of a return for “Rush.” What happened next? St-Pierre returned at middleweight in 2017, submitting Michael Bisping for the title in his 185 pounds debut.

Read the rest of the article on The Body Lock MMA

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

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Jon Jones was misguided in UFC Jacksonville tweets, but is he welcoming the role of the heel?

By Alistair Hendrie

In an episode of UFC Unfiltered in January, 24-year-old UFC lightweight Bryce Mitchell said his momentary Twitter ban – put in place “a few years before” he joined the UFC – left him feeling liberated. He was banned for criticizing the US government and revealed that nowadays he ignores abuse, trolls, and drama when scrolling through social media, preferring to concentrate on simple pleasures such as training, fishing, and playing video games.

The Arkansas prospect appeared on the podcast only 18 months into his stint with the UFC yet came across as a grounded and humble character, but that’s in contrast to the UFC light heavyweight champion and 12-year-veteran of the promotion, Jon Jones.

On Wednesday, Jones mocked Anthony Smith for being burglarized when he tweeted a since-deleted post: “Good thing Glover is not on the hunt for a new TV,” referring to Smith’s defeat to Glover Teixeira at UFC Jacksonville. Jones’s morals and decision-making were already under the spotlight thanks to a litany of doping suspensions and arrests – his latest brush with the law came in March when he was arrested for DUI and negligent use of a firearm.

Read the rest of the article at The Body Lock

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

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

What lies ahead for UFC 249 winner Bryce Mitchell?

By Alistair Hendrie

Bryce Mitchell shot to the cusp of a featherweight ranking at UFC 249 on Saturday, dominating Charles Rosa on the mat for scores of 30-25 (twice) and one 30-24. Undefeated in thirteen fights, Mitchell, 25, will now be looking for a step-up in competition after commanding Rosa from side control and mount, threatening with arm-triangles and twisters.

While the Arkansas star leaves matchmaking to his manager, Matt Weibel of First Round Management, he could do a lot worse in 2020 than face Sodiq Yusuff. The Nigerian stands at 12-1 after outscoring Andre Fili in January, showing a malicious jab and a heavy top game, not to mention a granite chin – Yusuff had his knees buckled early but recovered well, boxing Fili’s head off for the rest of the round.

Depending on when the UFC can arrange further events during the coronavirus outbreak, facing Yusuff would make a lot of sense for Mitchell. Both men are unbested in the UFC and with Mitchell at 25 and Yusuff at 26, they are at similar levels of athletic and physical development. Mitchell was the second man to score a twister in the UFC and would hold the advantage on the ground given how he takes his time and strives for position rather than strikes. Still, would he be able to take Yusuff down, despite Yusuff’s mass and bulk at 145lbs?

Mirsad Bektic could also oppose Mitchell soon. Training under Firas Zaharbi and boasting a UFC record of 6-3, the Bosnian-American is unranked but would have been higher up the food chain were it not for bouts with Renato Moicano and Arnold Allen falling through. Not to be taken lightly, Bektic earned the biggest win of his career in June 2018 when he outpointed Ricardo Lamas, while he dropped a razor-thin decision to Dan Ige in his latest bout in February.

It’s fair to say Mitchell could make a lot of people sit up a take notice with a win over Bektic, a tough competitor who made his UFC bow in 2014. Georges St-Pierre described Bektic’s top game as the strongest he’s ever trained with so Mitchell could earn another feather in his cap by submitting “The Bosnian Bomber.”

Trouble is, featherweight is a crowded house and you only need to look at the career of Allen – who is 7-0 in the UFC yet only ranked twelfth – to see than Mitchell may have to wait for the bigger fights and recognition. The domination of Jose Aldo and Max Holloway in recent years, coupled with the rivals’ rematch in 2017, made it difficult for prospects to get a look in but that may have changed because of Holloway’s defeat to Alexander Volkanovski six months ago. Still, there’s no rush for Mitchell.

There’s no question over his talent and when you consider he won his first eight contests by tapout – seven of them in round one – he guarantees excitement. He’s got his head screwed on, too. Away from fighting he enjoys simple pleasures such as fishing and has been entrenched in the same gym, Westside MMA, from day one. His coaches at the Arkansas training base must have been delighted with how Mitchell disposed of Rosa on Saturday.

Mitchell scored a beautiful takedown in round one, tying up his rival’s shins with his legs and establishing wrist control, stunting his opponent with one of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s favourite techniques. He went close with an arm triangle and a twister and in round two, he attempted another twister, swapping grips on Rosa’s wrist and striking to the body and head. Once Mitchell locked up the twister, Rosa was saved by the bell.

“Thug Nasty” completed his victory parade in the third when he utilised fight IQ to telegraph a spinning-back kick and take the back. Thereafter he dominated and transitioned between side control, crucifix position and the twister set-up wherever possible.

With performances like that it’s no surprise the likes of Daniel Cormier, Javier Mendez and Matt Serra have all praised Mitchell after seeing his talent during season 27 of The Ultimate Fighter and various sparring sessions. For now, though, Mitchell is keen to stick with those who know him best at Westside MMA. While Mitchell’s coaches have nurtured his single-mindedness and broad submission arsenal, you never know, maybe one day they’ll help him secure a second twister finish as he ascends the UFC featherweight ladder.

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

Thursday, 7 May 2020

UFC 249: Ferguson and Gaethje set to provide “Mortal Kombat”

By Alistair Hendrie

There is a warm feeling in the air as we approach Saturday’s twice-postponed UFC 249 card which will be headlined by Tony Ferguson against Justin Gaethje for the interim lightweight title. The UFC has the backing of the Florida State Athletic Commission, has implemented social distancing procedures and is providing daily tests for coronavirus. So far, so good.

That aura of hope is exacerbated by a thrilling main event between Ferguson, ranked number one in the world, and Gaethje, ranked number four. We all have memories of watching a 25-minute staring contest which started to cries of “This can’t fail to be a war!” but this pair of 155ers are guaranteeing entertainment during the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is going to be like Mortal Kombat,” said Gaethje, 31. “It’s perfect and it will be a f***ing war.”
“This is why we’re main event,” agreed Ferguson, 36. “We’re the best of the best and we’re going to go out there and keep sports alive.”

Read the rest of the article at Fighters Only

For more UFC 249 coverage, take in Dominick Cruz's thoughts on fighting for a greater purpose during coronavirus

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

UFC 249: Dominick Cruz aims to offer hope during coronavirus with title bout against Henry Cejudo

By Alistair Hendrie

“I look at this fight a lot differently than just belts,” said Dominick Cruz, talking on a conference call about his bantamweight title shot against Henry Cejudo on Saturday at UFC 249, which will be held behind closed doors. “What’s the value of championship belts when there are millions of Americans applying for unemployment benefit who can’t feed their families? I look at this fight as a time when I can make a huge difference.”

As such the leader in UFC and WEC bantamweight wins is aware of the moment of respite a UFC event can offer the world during the coronavirus pandemic. The 35-year-old, returning from a four-year absence due to a litany of arm and shoulder injuries, spoke of the millions of Americans who are being laid off work as the economy suffers. Indeed, Cruz wants to offer a glimmer of hope on Saturday.

“Realistically this fight is a stand for everyone who thinks they’re not a champion and to let them know that regardless of what anyone says, regardless of what their credentials are, if you believe something, if you want something, you have a greater purpose than just yourself. I’m gonna stand for that after a four-year lay-off – again – when everyone says ring rust exists even though it doesn’t.”

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 Rosi Sexton, Joanne Calderwood and more