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Rani Yahya says fighting on Brasilia card in September would be ‘a dream come true’

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Coming off a big win just four days ago in Sioux Falls, Rani Yahya is already eyeing his next fight. He submitted newcomer Matthew Lopez, who came off of Dana White’s ‘Lookin for a Fight’ show in a thrilling back and forth fight.

The third round arm triangle finish marked Yahya’s 17th career submission win as the 3 time world jiu-jitsu champion put on a beautiful display of grappling. With no opponent in mind, Yahya would love to fight in his hometown of Brasilia.

Seeming to have found his groove at bantamweight, Yahya put on another impressive performance when he took out undefeated prospect Matthew Lopez. To the surprise of many, Lopez took a gamble when he willingly went to the ground with Yahya throughout the fight which ended up costing him. Lopez may have been right in Yahya’s world but he was able to hold his own.

“I knew it was going to be a tough fight,” Yahya said. “My game plan was to strike to loosen him up a little bit and then take him to the ground and finish. That was my plan A. I also knew the fight could take other directions which ended up happening. He tried to submit me a few times which was actually making my job easier because he was accepting the ground game. I knew he had some good submission skills.”

Another surprise was Yahya’s much improved striking where he used his strikes to set up his grappling. Despite being a veteran of the game, he came in as a slight underdog and his featured Fight Pass prelim spot was more to do with the introduction of Lopez. For Yahya, it was an opportunity to put on a show.

“I kind of felt that,” Yahya said on being underestimated. “I felt that I owed the UFC a good performance so I liked being underestimated in that situation. I feel that I perform better that way. It was great to fight on Fight Pass, a great opportunity. I definitely gained some respect from a lot people. Many people liked the fight.”

Entering into this contest, Yahya was coming off a one year layoff. Despite coming very close to rejecting the fight, we saw a rejuvenated version of him, displaying much improved striking.

“I’ve been dealing with a lot injuries,” Yahya said. “I almost rejected the fight when Sean Shelby offered it to me because of all of the pain I was in. Every day during training camp I was doing some kind of physical therapy to recover. During the time off, I knew I could improve a lot so I tried to evolve every single day and learn new things and I’m glad that it worked.”

Continuing to grow fight by fight, Yahya draws inspiration from arguably the best jiu-jitsu practitioner in MMA, Demian Maia and even expressed interest in training with him. Yahya like Maia submits most of his opponents and continues to enforce his submission game despite the stylistic match up. A jiu-jitsu practitioner the majority of his life, he continues to use his world class submission game to finish opponents.

“I started with BJJ when I was 11 years old. I won the worlds as a blue, purple and brown belt and then I earned my black belt and switched to MMA. All the BJJ tournaments were very important to me and my confidence on the ground came from those times. Demian has the best BJJ in MMA. Many years ago, fighters developed the anti jiu-jitsu and Demian is the one who has the best answer for that. He’s still winning without taking risks and somehow he closes the distance without throwing any strikes, so he is pretty amazing.”

With his eyes on the Brasilia card in September, Yahya is determined to get on the card but has no opponent in mind. There are plenty of young rising contenders in the bantamweight division and he would be a stern test for any top contender.

“I want to fight in Brasilia, I believe I deserve it. I’ve been traveling to fight for many years during my career and it’s tough to travel to fight. For this one I got on 3 airplanes and the longest one was 11 hours. On top of that, we have to get adapted to the weather, time difference and food. I felt really good when I fought at home a couple of years ago and it would be a dream come true if that happened again. I don’t mind who the opponent is.”

Even though he doesn’t train at one of Brazil’s renowned gyms, Yahya feels confident that he has the right support system at Constrictor Team to catapult him to success.

“Constrictor team is growing a lot, there’s another UFC fighter who’s been winning, Renato Carneiro. All the other fighters are doing great on other shows that they’re fighting in. We have excellent coaches; Ataide Junior for BJJ, Gabriel de Oliveira for boxing and Thiago Castilho for Muay Thai. It’s been working for us.”

A late starter in the sport, he transitioned from jiu-jitsu to MMA at the age of 18. Having come a long way from his grappling days, the 31 year old Yahya is quietly closing in on the bantamweight ranks and there’s no better time than now where the division is booming.

“I started when I was 18 years old, it was a dream for me,” Yahya said. “The sport was called Vale Tudo back then. I got to do 3 fights in one night and I also had bare knuckle fights. I’m very glad to be where I am today and I hope to achieve many more dreams.”

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INTERVIEW: John Kavanagh Talks Brave CF 13 in Belfast, Frans Mlambo’s Title Fight and SBG Ireland

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Renowned head coach of SBG Ireland, John Kavanagh has helped put Irish MMA on the map. With his star student and multiple time UFC champion, Conor McGregor taking over the MMA world, the two have opened up unlimited doors for the rest of the team.

Today, Kavanagh is leading some of the younger generation to world title fights and global organisations. On June 9th, one of his promising young fighters, Frans Mlambo will get a shot at gold when he takes on Stephen Loman for the Brave Combat Federation bantamweight title.

The two met back in the promotion’s first ever show in Bahrain when Loman picked up a unanimous decision win over Mlambo. It was a learning experience for the young South African who has picked up 3 straight finishes since. Kavanagh is confident that the former IMMAF world champion, Mlambo has all the tools to become champion.

Also competing on the Brave CF 13 card from SBG Ireland, is Cian Cowley (0-1) who takes on Daniel Olejniczak (2-1-1) and Tommy Martin (6-4) who takes on Wales’ Aidan James (1-0).

I spoke to John Kavanagh on the upcoming Brave CF 13 show, Mlambo’s improvements and the team’s preparation for their upcoming bouts. Check out the interview below.

Farah Hannoun: Brave Combat Federation are making their first trip to Europe, you’ve witnessed the organization’s growth so how excited are you to see them go to Belfast?

John Kavanagh: Brave is fast becoming one of the world’s biggest MMA shows so it’s of course great to have them visit Ireland. However, I would have preferred Dublin because that’s my hometown.

Farah Hannoun: Frans Mlambo is headlining the event, with a record of 5-2, he’s practically grown up in the cage, how proud are to see him turn things around with 3 straight finishes since losing to Loman the first time?

John Kavanagh: He’s earned that title shot with exciting finishes both by submission and KO. He’s finding his way in the cage nicely now.

Photo by Brave CF

Farah Hannoun: What adjustments has Mlambo made since the first fight with Loman? What do you feel like went wrong the first-time round?

John Kavanagh: His grappling was too weak back then. He’s one of the best strikers I’ve ever seen and now his grappling is catching up. Frans is one of the top 135lb fighters in the world.

Farah Hannoun: Cian Cowley is set to make the walk for the second time in his pro career when he takes on Daniel Olejniczak, in light of the legal issues he’s had the misfortune of dealing with, how hard was it for him to put all that aside and focus on the fight?

Photo by Severe MMA

John Kavanagh: Cian is very mature and focused. It’s not a problem for him to block out what’s going on outside.

Farah Hannoun: Also competing from SBG, is Tommy Martin who’s looking to bounce back when he takes on Aidan James, how’s he been looking at the gym and what can we expect from him?

John Kavanagh: Tommy is a technician. Clean striking, one of best doubles on my team and tidy on the ground. His opponent is similar, solid technician. This fight will be very interesting for those who like nice technique.

Farah Hannoun: You’ve played a massive role in the growth of Irish MMA, SBG and Conor McGregor. The impact that you and Conor have had has resulted in a lot of opportunities and a spotlight on the guys at the gym. Does the idea that people have the perception that the SBG guys get “special treatment” or extra opportunities bother you?

John Kavanagh: No, we’ve earned it 😉

Farah Hannoun: You must be really proud, bringing up a talent such as Frans from his IMMAF world champion days to now him getting a title shot at Brave CF, what are your thoughts on Frans as an individual and a fighter?

John Kavanagh: One of few 135lbs in the world with genuine 1 punch KO power. A very good singer and cook too!

Farah Hannoun: You wrote a mega successful book, Win or Learn, which is even a quote that people have been using a lot when competing in MMA. Your best-selling book was even translated to multiple languages and sold internationally which is incredible. Did you expect the book to be so successful when writing it and do you have plans on writing another one someday?

Photo via John Kavanagh Twitter

John Kavanagh: No, I thought maybe my mother would buy a few copies and that’d be it haha. I believe almost 50,000 sold worldwide and talk of a movie adaptation. It’s crazy. Maybe one more book when I’m retired.

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After his impressive finish over Niko Price at UFC Sao Paulo, Vicente Luque eyeing Darren Till

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When Luan Chagas was forced out of his fight versus Niko Price at UFC Sao Paulo, The UFC called Vicente Luque and he happily accepted.

He stepped in on short notice and took out one of the toughest surging welterweights in Niko Price.

He hurt Price with a counter right before locking in one of his favourite submissions, the D’arce choke. This marked Luque’s 5th win in 6 UFC outings making him one of the brightest young stars in the division.

“I wanted to go out there and have an impressive fight,” Luque said.

“I thought that was very important especially that I was coming off a 4 fight win streak then I had a loss so I wanted to keep that momentum. I think I did that and it definitely puts me back where I was before going after those top 15 guys.”

He now turns his attention to a fellow rising star, Darren Till. Till took out Cowboy Cerrone in the first round last month in Gdansk and Luque feels he would match up well with him.

“I would really like to fight Darren Till,” Luque said. “He’s a great striker and his last fight was really impressive against Cowboy. I’m a striker as well and I would love to test my striking and see who the best striker in the division is.”

Photo by Jeffrey Basinger

And should the UFC decide to go a different direction, Luque would be content fighting anyone in the top 15. With 5 wins and 5 finishes in the division, he feels he’s earned a high ranked opponent or a big name.

“I want a top 15 opponent for sure but if they don’t give me that I’ll be looking for someone with a big name,” Luque said. “Guys like Alan Jouban who already have a name and everybody knows who they are. Those are the guys that I want to be fighting.”

Another name Luque is interested in is Colby Covington who fought on the same card as him. Covington took out former title challenger Demian Maia and proceeded to cut a heavy promo, blasting the Brazilian crowd.

Covington’s harsh and controversial comments towards Brazil didn’t sit well for Luque who sees multiple benefits of fighting him.

“I definitely think that was disrespectful not only to Brazilians but to anybody that watches MMA,” Luque said. “I don’t think that’s the posture of an athlete. I don’t take it personally but I would love to fight him no matter what whether he was disrespectful or not because he’s a top contender.”

The welterweight division is arguably the most talked about division. With rising stars such as Darren Till, Kamaru Usman, Colby Covington and Mike Perry, Luque feels like his name should be thrown in the mix too.

“I think I’m getting up there and slowly getting my spot. I’m having good fights and I know what I’m capable of and that’s what I’m trying to show. I’m doing my thing and I feel that my fights speak for themselves.”

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Deron Williams talks Fortis MMA, his desire to compete and how he got involved in MMA

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Three time NBA All-Star Deron Williams is an avid MMA fan. He co-owns the Fortis MMA gym in Dallas Texas alongside Coach Sayif Saud who he met whilst training.

Having started wrestling at the age of 5, Williams has always shared a passion for MMA. Despite his career as a professional basketball player in the NBA, he finds himself training multiple times a week at his gym in Dallas.

“I go up there like 3, 4 times a week and I do everything,” Williams said. “I hit pads, I hit mitts, I hit the bag, I spar some, and I definitely roll jiu-jitsu. I do no-gi mainly; I rarely put on the gi.”

“I like all aspects of it, I just enjoy training MMA. I just try to improve in all areas and have fun doing it.”

While playing for the Utah Jazz, Williams became friends with Josh Burkman. He trained with him on and off and even walked him out to one of his fights. Seeing his friend progress and get into the UFC made Williams appreciate the process and the sport.

When he became a Maverick, one of his coaches trained jiu-jitsu and he took Deron with him to the gym. That’s when he met Sayif Saud who told him about a gym he was opening up. Deron took immediate interest and decided to become a business partner and co-owner of the gym, Fortis MMA.

Deron Williams alongside UFC President Dana White and Fortis MMA Head Coach Sayif Saud

Today, he watches plenty of talents get groomed under the tutelage of Coach Sayif Saud. One standout is Rashad Coulter who made his UFC debut back in May when he took on Chase Sherman.

Although he didn’t win the fight, he won plenty of people over with his toughness as he managed to battle through the fight on one leg. Williams for one, was very impressed with Coulter’s showing.

“He was dealing with an injury coming into the fight to that same leg,” Williams explained. “After probably the first kick he got hit with, his leg was done and so for him to stay in there like he did and battle and put on a show like that on short notice and not having a full training camp shows a lot about what he can do and how much heart he has.”

Coulter has his next fight booked as he will take on undefeated Australian knockout artist Tai Tuivasa in Sydney. Williams, who is often heavily involved with his fighters, gave his take on the match-up.

“He’s a big guy but he moves really well,” Williams said on Tuivasa. “He definitely tries to end fights early.”

And Williams feels that with a full camp, Coulter will be able to put on an even better performance.

“I’m looking forward to his next fight in November in Australia where he can really showcase his skills and what he can do.”

Fortis MMA has been in the spotlight in the past couple of months as multiple fighters were featured on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, fighting for a UFC contract.

“You saw a lot of our guys on the Contender Series,” Williams said. “You saw Geoff Neal who got a contract, you saw Charles Dynamite who got a contract, Kennedy who had a good fight, he was only 2-0, 3-0 now. He’s so young, he’s so raw and he has so much more to learn. He’s going to be a problem once he figures everything out and has a couple more years under his belt.”

Geoff Neal, photo by Getty Images

Williams, who’s seen it all and competed with and against the best throughout his basketball career, still finds inspiration in these young athletes chasing their dreams.

“To see the progress of these guys is exciting for me,” Williams said. “I’ve been there, I’ve been that kid dreaming to be in the NBA just praying and hoping I could get there.”

“You could see how hungry these guys are and I’m excited to be able to be along for the journey, see the process of these guys and hopefully when one of these guys that nobody knows about that is fighting in LFA or XKO will be a future world champion in the UFC. That would be awesome to see.”

Williams even thought about stepping into the cage just to get a real feel and understanding of the sport.

“I’ve even contemplated doing one fight, maybe a charity fight. I’m doing this podcast, I watch fights and I talk about fights. It’s hard to talk about something that you haven’t done.”

“There are a lot of basketball analysts that have never played basketball at any level but they criticise and they critique but they’ve never walked in my shoes. So for me, I feel like I should at least fight one time just so I know what that feeling is like.”

That probably won’t happen while Williams is an active basketball player so for now he’ll have to break fights down with his passion and knowledge for MMA. He even weighed in on the massive boxing fight that took place last month between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor.

“It was a good fight,” Williams said. “I didn’t know what to expect coming in, I don’t think anyone knew what to expect. I thought Conor did really well, he should be proud of what he did and what he accomplished. I also thought Floyd Mayweather fought a heck of a fight. I thought he fought an offensive fight which he usually doesn’t do, he changed up his game plan, he made Conor swing early and often.”

“You could see Conor got tired in that 10th round and Floyd was able to capitalise on it. It was an entertaining fight, better than a lot of boxing fights I’ve seen in the last 5 years from high level fighters. This one lived up to the hype in my opinion.”

You can catch plenty more analysis and thoughts from Deron Williams on his podcast, Ballers and Brawlers where he alongside Johnny Riche and UFC veteran Sean O’Connell talk all things combat sports.

Currently a free agent and unsure where his next step will be on the court, Williams will continue to watch his guys blossom on the grand stage of MMA.

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