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OPINION: The Bantamweight Picture

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The bantamweight division keeps delivering new prospects and contenders as champion Dominick Cruz awaits his next challenge. Cruz took out TJ Dillashaw who was on a tear to reclaim his throne after having fought only once in the last 4 years. He then went on to defeat arch rival Urijah Faber, perhaps ending that chapter of his career.

Now that Cruz has defeated the top 2 fighters in the division, he feels the rest aren’t ready. Not only does he feel that they’re not ready skill wise, but also not for the big show. The champion is looking for big money fights and just feels that the rest of the division won’t deliver. That being said, let’s take a look at the rest of the division and the key match-ups that are coming up.

1) Cody Garbrandt vs. Takeya Mizugaki (UFC 202)

The reason I’m highlighting this match up first, is the fast rise of Team Alpha Male’s brightest star, Cody Garbrandt. The 25 year old Garbrandt is undefeated and most recently picked up the biggest win of his career when he took out fellow undefeated rising star Thomas Almeida in the first round.

It wasn’t only the win that was impressive but how Cody handled the bright lights. Garbrandt was given a main event spot at a fight night in Vegas and handled the entire process like a star. He was confident, ferocious and made a statement coming into the fight as a slight underdog.

He also made use of his mic time by demanding respect and even had a backstage altercation with the champion 1 week later when Cruz was defending his title versus his teammate, Urijah Faber. Shortly after Cruz talked about super fights, Cody chimed in by suggesting the champion was scared and ducking him. Cruz took no time in responding that he’d leave Garbrandt unconscious leaving a nice back and forth.

Well done Cody, you got the champ’s attention and should he get a win at UFC 202 in brutal fashion like he’s projected to do, we could very well be seeing Cruz vs. Garbrandt towards the end of the year.

https://twitter.com/Cody_Nolove/status/763107539772805120

2) John Lineker vs. John Dodson (UFC Fight Night: Portland)

This in many people’s eyes should be a number one contender fight as it pegs two exciting and experienced fighters. Lineker has been on a very underrated tear as he’s 9-2 in the UFC and on a 5 fight win streak. Dodson is a former 2 time flyweight title challenger and owns a KO over former champion TJ Dillashaw in the Ultimate Fighter Finale. Both guys are explosive knockout artists and we’re expecting fireworks in this match up.

Should one of them walk away with a statement win, they’d definitely be worthy of a shot at the title. That being said, I’m not sure these match ups will generate the attention Cruz is looking for but a post fight speech can’t harm, just ask Nate Diaz.

3) Urijah Faber vs. Jimmie Rivera (UFC 203)

While it’s highly unlikely that a Faber win would generate another title shot, it would definitely keep him in the picture. When asked about it, Faber was optimistic that it could happen in the future. After all, Faber is a superstar and if the title changes hands, anything is possible.

For Jimmie Rivera, UFC 203 is a golden opportunity. Slightly unknown by the new wave of MMA fans, the underrated Rivera is on a 18 fight win streak and is 3-0 in the UFC. He is a very well rounded and durable fighter who would be a tough fight for just about anyone in the division. He’s an aggressive and powerful striker with good wrestling and cardio. A win over Faber would be hard to deny and a win over such a big name will definitely let the world know who he is.

4) TJ Dillashaw

Dillashaw is in a weird spot. Having lost his belt in a narrow split decision to the returning Cruz, he expected a rematch. Instead, his former teammate got the shot and he was left with a chance to avenge his loss to top 5 contender Raphael Assuncao in a fight that generated little interest. Dillashaw won the fight via unanimous decision and pleaded his case for a title shot but Cruz is just not that interested.

Where does that leave Dillashaw? With all these other pivotal match-ups in the division, the winners all have the opportunity to cut a promo and grab Cruz’s attention. There just isn’t that fight or opponent that could propel Dillashaw to that title shot, unless the title changes hands.

In all fairness, he should have had his rematch right after he lost but now as time passes and new contenders are emerging, people are losing interest in a Cruz vs. Dillashaw 2. The lack of a finish versus Assuncao may have hurt his case for a rematch.

5) Bryan Caraway

Caraway is probably the most disliked fighter on the roster. I’m not sure whether it’s because he’s dating former champion Miesha Tate or because he keeps rejecting fights but not having the fans on your side doesn’t help. The always counted out Caraway, most recently took out undefeated rising star, Aljamain Sterling and also pled his case for a title shot.

According to Urijah Faber, Caraway was amongst a couple of fighters who rejected the Jimmie Rivera fight as they saw too much risk and not much reward. There is speculation that Caraway also rejected a fight versus Garbrandt as he seems keen to get his title shot. Not taking fights will definitely hurt your case so in this situation, if Dillashaw isn’t next in line perhaps book Dillashaw vs. Caraway next.

Regarding the rest of the division, the former undefeated Aljamain Sterling and Thomas Almeida could fight each other but it would perhaps be better if they both got another opportunity to rise again. They both have the potential makings of stars.

Serra/Longo’s Sterling is a charismatic and vocal character that has dabbled in some commentary and analysis, even making an appearance on the FS1 table. He brings an unorthodox fighting style with a strong grappling and submission game.

Prior to the Garbrandt loss, Almeida finished 19 of his 21 wins. He is a brutal and entertaining fighter who viciously takes out his opponents. He is young and still has time to bring Brazil a championship as his eyes remain on the prize.

The slowly rising Erik Perez could make a good opponent for either fighter as well as Eddie Wineland or Michael McDonald. If they were to be given another tough test, Raphael Assuncao is available but perhaps could be too stern of a test this early in their UFC careers.

In conclusion, there are plenty of young, talented and hungry contenders for Dominick Cruz who could take a super fight on the side but shouldn’t count the division out just yet. Keep an eye on these pivotal match ups coming up as contenders are rising fast.

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Surveillance Video Shows Conor McGregor Smash Phone

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In a new video released by TMZ Sports, UFC star is shown knocking a phone down and smashing it in front of the Fountainebleau hotel located in Miami, Florida.

In true McGregor fashion, he followed up the destruction of the phone by doing his famous “billionaire strut.”

McGregor got into an altercation with Ahmed Abdirzak who was following and filming McGregor with his cell phone while McGregor and his entourage were leaving the hotel.

McGregor reportedly extended his hand to offer a hand shake, only to pull it back and smack the phone out of Abdirzak’s hand and proceeding to stomp on it.

After a few stomps, McGregor picks up the phone and walks away. He was later arrested, that same day, and has been charged with felony robbery and misdemeanor criminal mischief, which could land him in prison for up to 6 years.

McGregor has pled not guilty on all charges and is scheduled for trial beginning in May.

Abdirzak filed a lawsuit against McGregor stemming from the incident, but dropped his suit after the two sides worked out a settlement.

Abdirzak was reportedly demanding north of $15,000.

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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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