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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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Kamaru Usman plans on putting ‘another flawless performance’ against Sergio Moraes at UFC Pittsburgh

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This Saturday a marquee welterweight match-up will take place as Kamaru Usman faces Sergio Moraes in Pittsburgh. Usman has looked nothing short of dominant in all five of his wins in the octagon as he looks to do more of the same when he takes on the Brazilian Moraes.

Now training at the Combat Club with Henri Hooft and former champions Robbie Lawler, Luke Rockhold and Rashad Evans, Usman feels he has all the tools to become champion.

“I have the gas tank, I have the wrestling, I have the jiu-jitsu, I have the striking, it doesn’t matter, I dominate each and every aspect of the game and each and every one of my fights I make them look easier and easier and that’s what I’m going to do on Saturday. I’m going to put on another flawless performance as I always do.”

He will take on Sergio Moraes who has very quietly racked up an impressive 6-1-1 record in the UFC with wins over Neil Magny and Omari Akhmedov. In fact, this match up as a whole has flown under the radar and Usman feels that’s due to a lack of promotion.

“When you don’t give a guy the chance to promote or put themselves out there, you can’t wonder why a lot of people don’t know about them,” Usman said. “He’s a guy that hasn’t really gotten much attention. One it’s his fighting style, he doesn’t really speak English, he doesn’t really talk to where it’s entertaining for fans but at the end of the day he’s still a tough guy.”

“With myself, if you’re not going to put me up in these marquee match ups or the marquee cards or give me those main event slots that I deserve then why would you be surprised if a ton of people don’t know about the fight? It goes hand in hand, the UFC has to work with us better but yeah this is a fight that I believe is under the radar.”

A win could very well push Usman to the upper echelon of the division and while he knows not to underestimate his opponent, he’s confident that he’ll be able to control the fight wherever it goes.

“I think he’s a tough guy,” Usman said. “He’s very skilled on the ground, he’s a 2 or 3 time world champion in jiu-jitsu but it doesn’t matter who they put in front of me really. I’m probably the only guy in the division that is as well rounded as I am. I’m going to do what I do best and that’s beat him up until he decides to quit or give up.”

Usman stormed into the UFC scene by winning the 21st installment of The Ultimate Fighter. He ran through all competition on the show and took out Hayder Hassan in the finale with ease. He then went on to dominate 4 other opponents, most recently Sean Strickland back in April. With already a 5-0 record in a stacked welterweight division, Usman feels he deserved a bigger name or a top ranked guy.

“I’ve been vocal about who I want and when I wanted them and where I wanted them but they seem to give me who they want to give me so at the end of the day, all I could do is sit back and do my job and that’s what I intend to do on Saturday.”

“I’ve beat up a guy in his backyard very bad and I called out Demian Maia and didn’t get the fight. I beat up another guy, called out Neil Magny and didn’t get the fight. The UFC is going to give me who they want to give me and so the best thing I can do is continue to go out there and win and win in impressive fashion.”

A guy who has managed to land the big fights and get a fight with Demian Maia is Colby Covington, who has let the whole welterweight division know how he feels towards them. The modern day trash talking approach seemed to work for Covington who has jumped to the 8th spot in the rankings and will take on former 2 time title challenger Maia in October.

Usman, who approaches things a little less bluntly acknowledges Covington’s ways but is more than happy to stick to his own.

“The one thing about me is I’m a very classy guy, I’m straight to the point but I’m not fake,” Usman said. He’s a guy that likes to be brash and just say outlandish stuff but at the end of the day fans and we all know this is an act.”

“This isn’t really him because I think he’s a super nice guy. I actually ran into him at the airport, I went up to him and he was just a super nice guy there, very nice. Now he’s just putting this front in front of everybody and that’s just the society that we live in. He’s not doing anything impressive, his fights are boring as hell but he’s being brash and saying outlandish crap that people want to hear. He’s getting a fight now against a guy that I called out over a year ago.”

Both guys share a common opponent, Warlley Alves who Usman dominated for 3 rounds. Covington however, suffered a first round submission loss to Alves but was able to bounce back with 4 straight wins over the likes of Bryan Barberena and Dong Hyun Kim. Currently, Covington sits at number 8 in the rankings while Usman is at number 13.

“Colby Covington comes into the rankings, he wins a fight then you put him above me? How is that possible when I beat a guy that finished Colby Covington in 2 minutes. Those rankings make absolutely no sense to me.”

Usman would rather show than tell as he will look to put on another dominant performance and stake his claim in the division. While rankings don’t always make sense, it would be hard to deny him a fight against the top 10 should he beat Moraes this Saturday.

“I don’t care about these rankings because the rankings are trash. Those guys in the top 5, you put me up against any of them and I’ll make it look easy. That’s what I’ve done in my career and unfortunately they just don’t want to take the fight or I guess the UFC don’t want to give me the fight.”

“I believe I should be in the top 5 right now, I’ve called out those guys in the top 5 but they don’t seem to want to take the fight because I believe I’m the hardest guy in the division to deal with.”

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