UFC 189 Co-Main Event & Undercard Preview

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Given the relentless hype for the main event, it’s been easy to forget that there is actually an undercard to UFC 189 on Saturday but that undercard would probably be amongst the best PPV cards of the year even if both Conor McGregor and Chad Mendes suddenly got injured.

The co-main event itself is a fight worthy of headlining any MMA card as Robbie Lawler (25-10, 1NC) looks to make the first defence of his UFC Welterweight title against Rory MacDonald (18-2).

Robbie Lawler’s career would make an excellent movie trilogy, all the way from the youthful prodigy through his journeyman years in the wilderness to his triumphant UFC return and title victory.

6-1 since returning to the UFC and dropping back down to Welterweight, Lawler seems to have reached a point in his career where natural talents, coaching, experience and a maturity have moulded him into a complete martial artist where his always dangerous striking is fully in accord with his grappling game, cardio and mentality.

By contrast, Rory MacDonald has seemed like the heir apparent to the welterweight throne for years. A protégé of former champion Georges St-Pierre, it seemed that MacDonald was always the new big thing at 170lbs even as losses to elite fighters Carlos Condit (losing to a late KO after dominating the fight for three rounds) and Lawler (via split decision) checked his progress towards the seemingly inevitable title shot.

Nonetheless, MacDonald rebounded from both losses by becoming a more dangerous, more complete martial artists and in the five years since first tasting defeat in that fight against Condit.

Now, one of the sports most beloved and skilled veterans faces off with one of the preeminent examples of a modern, well rounded, cerebral and above all, professional MMA fighter with the belt on the line. What more could you ask for?

Well, a promoter would ask for one of them to be a bit mouthier and turn a credible sporting contest into a bit more of a media sensation, but a certain Irishman seems to have pegged the market in that field. In any case, for true fans of mixed martial arts as a sport, this is as credible a title matchwith as compelling a sporting narrative as any you are likely to find.

The main card is filled out with a few excellent fights, all of which could be expected to headline a Fight Pass card in their own right. Firstly, a featherweight contest between two guys who are no stranger to ‘of the night’ bonuses and had been on the outer edge of title contention before some recent losses in the shape of Dennis Bermudez (14-4) and Jeremy Stephens (23-11). A win for either man really places them back in the mix.

Next we have two rising welterweight prospects who met defeat in their last bout against experienced opposition as the exciting Brandon Thatch (11-2) meets smooth Icelander, Gunnar Nelson (13-1-1) looking to recover from losses to Benson Henderson and Rick Story respectively. Both are highly regarded by UFC brass, the media and the fans so the winner here could find themselves a win or two from a title shot.

Opening the main card, Brad Pickett (24-10) returns to 135lbs following a disappointing 1-3 run at Flyweight and is rewarded with the dubious honour of facing undefeated prospect Thomas Almeida (18-0). Pickett would be the biggest scalp of Almedia’s career to date, while a win over the impressive youngster would immediately rehabilitate Pickett to his former spot in the top ten of the bantamweight rankings.

The preliminary card also has it’s share of great fights as ‘Immortal’ Matt Brown (19-13) faces the surging Tim Means (24-6-1) and with a hefty 28 knockout wins between them I don’t think anyone is expecting a dull fight…

We’ve also got former Cage Warriors champion Cathal Pendred (17-2-1) looking to impress after a lukewarm start to his UFC career when he faces the ever-game veteran John Howard (22-11) and Neil Seery (15-10)continues his UFC fairytale against Louis Smolka (8-1) knowing that a win would likely place him in title contention given the shallow waters in the flyweight division.

For once this is a card which actually seems worth staying up late for so let’s hope it lives up to the hype.

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MMA Monday – September 2nd 2013

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It’s been a hell of a week. In the past ten days we’ve had Cage Warriors from Chechnya, UFC Indy, UFC 164 and two kickass local shows in Scotland, FFC 3 and SFC 7.

I’ve not been as vocal as I have been because, well real life gets in the way and I’m fed up venting my frustration about the dubious actions of certain promotions and certain fans and media’s unhelpful attitudes and vocalisations.

A little less content and a lot more positivity from here on in.

Anyways, a lot has happened so let’s pick five things to be all excited about…

1- Cage Warriors 58 in Chechnya

Usual great event, solid stream, great commentary, good officiating. Expected wins for the usual faces with James Brum especially impressing (and surely earning a title shot) but what really stood out was the performance of some of the more local fighters who I’d never heard of before.

Beslan Isaev, Bakhtiyar Abbasov and Khusien Kahliev all scored impressive wins and I’m sure they’ll feature on future Cage Warriors shows. It’d be very interesting to see how they measure up to the likes of

2- Brandon Thatch

Coming in highly touted from Resurrection Fighting Alliance (previous alums like Tim Elliot, and James Krause have acquitted themselves well in the Octagon), Brandon Thatch and his awesome hairstyle scored a noteworthy first round KO over four fight UFC veteran Justin Edwards.

He’s gonna be a big star, and that’s been clear to those of us who pay attention to more than the UFC for a while.

True story – Thatch was meant to headline a Cage Warriors Fight Night last year (yet more testament to Ian Dean’s eye for talent) but his still-unrevealed opponent refused the fight because Thatch wasn’t a big enough name.

That guy is either feeling REALLY dumb right now, or like he dodged a bullet…

3- Carlos Condit

You know a guy is a bit special when he can lose twice in a row and still be considered the #3 guy in his weight class.

Condit proved it on Wednesday when he comprehensively out struck Martin Kampmann over four rounds, avoiding his top level kickboxing, capable wrestling and very dangerous guillotine before finishing him with a combination of punches and knees.

The Natural Born Killer looked amazing in Indianapolis, showing a level of creativity, composure and aggression in his striking attack that is probably only matched by Cub Swanson and Conor McGregor in the current UFC roster.

He’s a beast, and what’s more he’s popular – easily a bigger star now than he was before his failed title match with GSP. It’s probably a bit soon to have him challenge the winner of GSP vs. Hendricks given he’s recently lost to both men, but a match with in-form Matt Brown or Rory MacDonald would be a great fight, well deserving of a five round main event on a TV card.

4- Josh Barnett, Frank Mir and a TKO

Barnett and Mir are two of the most experienced Heavyweights in the world, with two of the most respected submission games in the sport. Of course, such skills ended up playing virtually no role in the fight as Barnett controlled Mir with apparent ease, using his catch wrestling skills to manipulate Mir against the cage and unleash a series of heavy blows.

A beautiful knee against the cage caused Mir to fold up like an old suit, and while Barnett landed a few blows on the ground, the referee was moving in for the stoppage as soon as Mir started to drop.

Mir was conscious and upright almost immediately after the stoppage and claims the call was early.

While I have no doubt that a few more blows from Barnett would have sealed the deal beyond all doubt, I feel that the referee (even if he is an unfamiliar face) saw something in Mir’s eyes as he went down.

Lets remember that a great many fighters have been knocked out and then been woken up when they hit the canvas or by the first landed blow of ground & pound.

Lets not doubt the word of the official who was looking into Mir’s eyes, just because his surname isn’t Dean or Goddard, just because Mir is a veteran and protested noisily.

Fighter safety is the most important thing, at all times. For the sake of Frank Mir, his family and this sport, Im glad the referee called it when he did. Frank has now been knocked out three times in as many years, he doesn’t need to be taking more unprotected shots to the head…

Verdict: GOOD CALL

5- Anthony Pettis, UFC Lightweight Champion

All doubts about Pettis are past. Once he managed to determine distance against Ben Henderson, his kicks were irresistible and when he got flashy and it looked like a mistake when he attempted a rolling Capoeira kick, he landed the technique adding more damage to Benson’s already and with Henderson landing in full mount, it was Oettis who remained on the attack.

A beautiful armbar transition and readjustment later, and Henderson vitally submitted. Pettis was champion, Milwaukee took a few seconds to realise and then went mental…

It’s worth remembering that Henderson has only been submitted in MMA once previously, in his third professional fight. He’s since gone the distance with noted submission guys like Nate Diaz, Jim Miller, Mark Bocek and Clay Guida and has submitted the likes of Donald Cerrone and Jamie Varner.

A submission win over Henderson is HUGE.

Pettis is now King of the most competitive mountain in MMA and the prospects for future matches are mouthwatering. A trilogy match with Henderson, bouts against the no.1 contender he supplanted, TJ Grant or the very credible Josh Thomson, Gilbert Melendez or Rafael Dos Anjos are all possible in the next six months, and I for one would be VERY interested in any of those fights…

The moral of the past week?

IT’S SHOWTIME!

Matchmaker Interview – Scott Cutbirth, Resurrection Fighting Alliance

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As I said yesterday, I’m fascinated by the folks who actually make the matches and I’ve tried to get a few to share their thoughts with us.

First to get back to me was Scott Cutbirth, matchmaker for the Resurrection Fighting Alliance, former home of UFC stars James Krause, Tim Elliot and Brandon Thatch and current stomping ground of rising star Sergio Pettis amongst others.

RFA has become one of the most compelling promotions in the States, providing quality cards loaded with up & comers, sprinkled through with some better known names and has the stated aim of developing talent capable of thriving in the deeper waters of the UFC.

Such perspective seems to be rare in MMA and we were very interested to hear Scott’s responses…

1. How did you become a matchmaker?

Wayne Harriman, who started the RFA, is based in Las Vegas and has excellent connections but none in the Midwest. Knowing that the first few shows would be in the Midwest, he asked a fighter who was training in his gym from the Midwest (Tyler Perry) if he knew anyone. Next thing I know, Wayne calls me and asks if I can fly to Vegas and meet with him the next day. We sat in his office the entire day and planned the first show.

2. What do you consider the biggest challenge of matchmaking?

I’d say the biggest challenge is being prepared for the last minute back out. I try to formulate backup options to every fight. Every fight I make is made with future implications, if this fighter wins, I want to make this fight next. Sometimes you have to change all that to make something work last minute.

3. What makes good matchmaking in your eyes?

Understanding how a fighter reacts to what another fighter offers. Knowing their mental makeup, being a fan, fans want excitement and action. And most importantly, never making a fight you honestly don’t believe is 50/50. Its not just about making fights, its about making something you can enjoy.

4. Which fight card that you’ve booked are you most proud of?

RFA 9 on August 16th in LA honestly is shaping up to be the most competitive from top to bottom. Not one fight on that card can I sit here and say I think so and so is a favorite. So Im most proud of the next one I do, if I’m not, that means I’m not trying to improve on the time before. I always want to do better.

5. If you could book one fight, from the whole history of MMA, taking away money, managers, injuries and having a handy time machine… what would it be?

I think the traditional fan would always point to some sort of super fight, but for me I cant look at the past…so I look at the here and now. I look at a guy like Cub Swanson, who is innovative, not afraid to try things and is always looking to finish against Frankie Edgar in a 5 round fight. Frankie has a wrestling background to take it to the ground but I don’t suspect he would. You will see two guys bring it non stop for 25 mins with some flash, some heated exchanges, some great scrambles. To me, that is a fight that will have the fans on their feet the whole fight and will see two guys walking away with $50,000 FOTN bonuses.

6. RFA have the stated mission of being a bridge between the regional scene and the UFC, do you specifically book talent like Sergio Pettis or James Krause with an eye on preparing them for the big shows?

Prepare was the key word in that. This sport is evolving everyday, the thought process of “lets just get to 6,7,8-0 and get to the UFC” is dumb. Any manager that says, ‘don’t take that fight, its too risky, your too close to the UFC, lets get an easier fight’ should be fired on the spot.

Do you want to get to the UFC or do you want to get to the UFC and stay there? I feel what we do is not only offer a platform for these guys to get noticed, we prepare them to be successful when they get there. We are giving them the experience of a high level production, interviews, cameras, etc. But we are giving them that pressure of solid fights, making them mentally strong. The strong will survive. Look at guys like Tim Elliott and James Krause, those guys in their last two fights in the UFC have garnered 2 FOTN awards and 1 SOTN award. They went in and performed, they weren’t having first fight on the big stage jitters and I don’t expect Brandon Thatch will either.

We’d like to thanks Scott for getting back to us with such candid response, and we implore you to check out the upcoming RFA 9 show from the StubHub Centre in Los Angeles on 16th August, broadcast live on AXS TV in the States which features a main event pitting the undefeated pair of Keoni Koch and Pedro Munhoz facing off.

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