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Interview: Belal Muhammad aiming for UFC 216 return, targets Yancy Medeiros and Cowboy Oliveira

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After stringing back to back wins for the first time in his UFC career, Belal Muhammad wants to finish the year strong.

The always active Muhammad is targeting UFC 216 in October for his next bout and has a list of names that even include the Diaz brothers.

He last outclassed Jordan Mein at UFC 213 which completed a remarkable 5 fight year for the Palestinian fighter.

Training out of Roufus Sport with the likes of the Pettis brothers and welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, the proud Palestinian is looking to make an impact far beyond the cage door.

I spoke to Muhammad on finding his groove, who he’d like to fight next and representing his people. Check it out below.

Sports Rants: After an inconsistent start in the UFC, you were finally able to string back to back wins. What do you attribute your recent success to?

Belal Muhammad: I attribute my recent success to just getting comfortable in the UFC cage and just the whole experience of being in the UFC, I had to switch my training and just take it to a new level.

Sports Rants: You’ve also been very active having fought 5 times in this past year. How difficult was it to go through back to back to back camps throughout the year?

Belal Muhammad: Fighting 5 times in the last year has been great, I train all year round. I’m not one of those guys that only trains when a fight is signed. I’m constantly training and learning so having something to look forward to just makes everything that much better.

Sports Rants: You also went through a training camp during Ramadan. Most practicing Muslims avoid taking fights anywhere near Ramadan, describe to me your whole training experience as well as cutting weight while fasting.

Belal Muhammad: Training during Ramadan is great. I feel like it takes me to a whole new level mentally. I go through 2-3 practices before I even drink so my will and heart push me during those practices and when fight time comes I feel like nothing can break me. Cutting weight wasn’t an issue I’m not a big cutter anyway I usually only stay 15 pounds over so it’s not a big deal for me.

Sports Rants: You last beat Jordan Mein via unanimous decision in a very well rounded performance. Did the fight go the way you expected it to? Mein is a dangerous fighter and you were able to shut his game down.

Photo by Getty Images/UFC

Belal Muhammad: Mein was a very tough opponent. I wanted to finish him but I’ll take that W. I felt like I was able to beat him everywhere and I was able to show I’m a true martial artist in that fight. There was striking, grappling, wrestling and clinch work in that fight so I was happy to show I can do it all.

Sports Rants: I saw you comment on a post that you’re interested in competing on the UFC 216 card in October, do you have an opponent in mind?

Belal Muhammad: Yes I’m interested in fighting on 216. I’m willing to fight anyone but I feel a couple names that make sense would be Emil Meek, Yancy Medeiros, Brazilian Cowboy, Nate Diaz, and Nick Diaz.

Sports Rants: You proudly represent Palestine, what does it mean to you to be able to fly the flag high and represent your people especially in the hard times they’re going through? Do you get a lot of Palestinians reaching out to you?

Belal Muhammad: It means the world for me to be able to represent my people in a big stage like this. Most of the world only sees Muslims in a bad light and I’m trying to shine that light on the true Muslims and Palestine’s story. I’m contacted by Palestinians and Muslims all around the world and it feels good to know that I’m impacting so many lives.

Sports Rants: You train at Roufus Sport, how did you end up there? Tell me a little about your journey in MMA.

Belal Muhammad: Yea I moved down to Milwaukee and started training full time at Roufus Sport before my Randy brown fight. It’s an amazing gym with great coaches and training partners and only two hours away from my family and other teammates in Chicago so it works perfectly for me and my career.

Sports Rants: You train with the likes of the Pettis brothers and champion Tyron Woodley. What’s it like getting to train with such world class fighters and how much of a role do you guys play in each other’s training camps?

Belal Muhammad: It’s great to train with champions because you get to see what they do and you learn what you have to do to get at that level. I feel like we all push each other in that gym to new levels and I’m only growing and getting better by being there.

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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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