Hello and welcome to Championship Rounds.  It’s Friday on Wrestling Rambles which means it’s time to ramble on about MMA.  This week we’ll take a look back at UFC London from last weekend.  There’s news on the numerous and surprising roster cuts announced this week by the UFC.  Plus Dana White on testosterone usage and his announcement that much more stringent testing will be coming.  As always there’s some big fight announcements and news that a main event fight for next month’s UFC158 in Montreal is off due to injury.

All that big news aside, this is a hugely significant and historic week for the UFC as on Saturday 23rd February, Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche will battle it out in the first ever female fight in the UFC. I’ll be previewing that fight, as well as the rest of the stacked card for UFC157, in the final round this week.  It’s been a huge week of news and one of the most significant fights in UFC history takes place this weekend.  So let’s touch gloves and do this.


Round 1 – UFC London review – Barao retains Title in impressive fashion

On Saturday 16th February the UFC returned to the UK with UFC on Fuel TV 7 from Wembley Arena in London.  The event, headlined by Renan Barao successfully defending his interim Bantamweight Title against 22 year old future star Michael McDonald, was a decent show with a hot crowd and two great fights to close out the night.

Barao solidified his place near the top of the pound for pound rankings and continued his ridiculous win streak (now stretched to 31 fights – his last loss came in 2005) with an excellent display against McDonald.  The youngster started the fight strongly and even had Barao rocked in the first round.  However as the fight wore on McDonald became much slower and one dimensional in his attacks, whereas Barao only got stronger and more confident with each passing round.

The quicker and more experienced Barao was able to take the fight away from McDonald with his excellent striking and takedowns.  The Brazilian was on his way to a clear decision victory when he clamped on an arm triangle choke late in the fourth round to secure the submission victory.  It was a slick piece of ground work by a very skilled and impressive fighter.

It was a gutsy performance by McDonald (who has future champion written all over him) but perhaps the step up in competition was too soon for the man looking to become the youngest champion in UFC history.  The loss is disappointing for McDonald but he has a bright future ahead of him.  Given the level of skill and heart he has now, it’s a scary prospect to think how good he could become with a few more years of training and fights against top quality opposition.

Post fight Barao called out injured Bantamweight Champion Dominic Cruz for a fight to unify their titles.  While this is the fight that will eventually happen (and what a fight it will be) it’s doubtful it will happen before the end of the year, if it even happens at all in 2013.  Cruz is still recovering from serious knee surgery and has only been medically cleared to start running this week.  Barao wants the fight with Cruz.  Cruz believes he has the skills to defeat Barao.  Let’s just hope Cruz returns from injury quickly and is still the fighter he was before his devastating knee injury and double surgery.  He will have to be if he has any chance of stopping Barao’s incredible run.

Elsewhere on the card Matt Riddle was able to pin UK striker Che Mills to the mat and remain busy enough to secure a split decision – which should have been a 30-27 unanimous decision to Riddle.  This was one of a number of terrible judging decisions on the card.  Mills was dominated from start to finish, yet one judge gave him 2 rounds on the scorecard.  Whoever judged that fight should never be allowed near a MMA judges table again.  Absolutely bizarre.

In one of the better main card fights, James Te Huna came from behind to secure a unanimous decision win over Ryan Jimmo.  Jimmo rocked Te Huna with a head kick in round one and looked to be on course for a finish as he went to work with some heavy ground and pound.  Somehow Te Huna survived and was able to come back and win rounds two and three in impressive style.  An argument could be made that the opening round was 10-8 in favour of Jimmo and the fight should have been a draw.  Although where one of the judges got a 10-8 second round for Te Huna from is anyone’s guess.  An entertaining fight with Te Huna showing great courage and composure to survive the first round blitz from Jimmo.

Ground wizard Gunnar Nelson earned a decision win over Jorge Santiago which was overplayed by the commentators as something more special than it was.  Nelson has a weird, quiet and focused charisma about him.  He reminds me of a Scandinavian Rory McDonald and he is undoubtedly one of the best ground fighters in the world.  On this night his striking skills were exposed as he kept his hands low and didn’t react quickly enough to avoid the strikes of Santiago.  It looked like the fight could have been taken away from him as Santiago went all out in the last ten seconds of the fight and rocked Nelson with a big right hand right on the buzzer.  However Gunner’s good work early in the fight did enough to secure him the win.  Nelson could be a top contender but he is going to need to work hard on his striking.  In particular his striking defence need to tighten up if he is going to move up the card as quickly as everyone predicts he will.

UK favourite Jimmi Manuwa looked on course for another impressive victory before a calf injury forced his opponent Cyrille Diabate to retire hurt at the end of the first round.  That moves the former BAMMA Light Heavyweight Champion to 13-0 with all his wins coming by stoppage and he has yet to go into the third round in any of his fights.  Manuwa looked great in the first round, landing good strikes, but also adding takedowns and solid ground work to his arsenal.  He is a real prospect and if he continues to improve could become one of the stars of the UFC in the UK alongside Dan Hardy and Michael Bisping.

The semi main event was one of the most exciting fights on the show and one of the better fights of 2013 so far.  Cub Swanson was very impressive with his varied and powerful striking as he earned a decision victory over the equally impressive Dustin Poirier.  The first two rounds were very close with Swanson doing good work on the feet, but Poirier was able to secure a couple of takedowns and took the round on many scorecards.  Poirier came out strong in the third round but it was Swanson who scored the takedown and was then able to land shots and took Poirier’s back.  With both men looking to get into contention for a Title shot against 145lb king Jose Aldo it was Swanson who got the nod in a very close and exciting fight.  While the win won’t secure Swanson an immediate Title shot, it certainly pushes him right to the front of the line of contenders.  Swanson vs. Frankie Edgar next perhaps?

While the show broke the UFC record for the most number of decisions on one show (nine) and despite some very questionable (to put it mildly) scoring by the judges, it was an entertaining show.  The two final fights did go a long way to bring the show up and some good wins by UK fighters helped make this another successful trip to the UK by the UFC.


Round 2 – UFC makes significant roster cuts and what’s next for Cris Cyborg?

This week the UFC announced a raft of cuts from their roster.  It’s no surprise the promotion has made cuts as their roster has increased significantly in recent years with the addition of WEC and Strikeforce fighters, along with new weight classes.  However there was a surprise with the biggest name casualty of this round of cuts being former Welterweight Title contender Jon Fitch.

Fitch has one of the best records in the UFC and had looked impressive since returning from an injury.  However his heavily one sided loss against Damian Maia in his last fight and his lack of box office appeal must have contributed to Fitch now finding him in the position of having to seek new employment.  It will be interesting to see if he is offered a contract by Bellator because out of all the fighters released, Fitch has the biggest name value.

Fitch being cut from the UFC follows quickly on the heels of Cris Cyborg being released from her UFC contract and signing with the all female promotion Invicta FC.  The situation with Cyborg is well known.  But for those of you who don’t know, here’s some of the Cyborg highlights:

She tested positive for steroids last year and was stripped of her Strikeforce 145lbs Title.  In the meantime Ronda Rousey has become the biggest star in female MMA (and some would argue all of MMA), Strikeforce have folded and the UFC have introduced a 135lbs female division (of which Rousey is champion).  Cyborg vs. Rousey is the biggest fight in female MMA but due to Cyborg’s insistence that she can’t cut weight to 135lbs and Rousey’s insistence that if she got off roids she could, it looked like the fight was never going to happen.

With former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Tito Ortiz acting as Cyborg’s manager things have gotten really weird.  Cyborg had her doctor send a letter to the UFC advising that if she cut to 135lbs she could die.  Cyborg’s team continued to stress that she wanted to fight with Rousey but could not cut to 135lbs to do so.

The UFC had actually been willing to sign Cyborg to a contract and then allow her to fight for Invicta (while earning UFC level money) before eventually bringing her back for the big fight with Rousey.  The UFC’s reasoning being they don’t want their champion fighting outside of her weight class so soon but they do want the Cyborg/Rousey fight to happen later on down the line.  Makes sense, right?  Not in the mind of Cyborg and Tito.

Instead Ortiz brokered a deal for her UFC contract to be cancelled and she has now signed for Invicta (while earning nowhere near UFC level money) and will immediately jump into title contention in their 145lbs division.  Cyborg will square off with fellow Brazilian and two-time Invicta veteran Ediane Gomes at Invicta FC 5 on April 5 in Kansas City, in a fight that will be seen by a fraction of the audience that would see her fight in the UFC.

The rest of the fighters cut include Jacob Volkman, Wagner Prado, Mike Russow, Vladimir Matyushenko, Che Mills, Jay Hieron, Terry Etim, Paul Sass, Jorge Santiago, Mike Stumpf, Simeon Thoresen, C.J. Keith, Motonobu Tezuka, Ulysses Gomez and Josh Grispi.

Dana White did announce that this is only the first round of a number of cuts that will be coming.  The UFC is looking to reduce its roster by around 100 fighters.  The message from White is simple – the heat is on, don’t lose and don’t fight in a boring style.  Expect lots more news on the roster cuts in the coming weeks and months.

Round 3 – Dana White fights back against TRT

If there’s three letters that people associate more with mixed martial arts than UFC, it’s TRT or Testosterone Replacement Therapy to give the full medical title.  While there are medical reasons for the use of TRT, it has been a real bone of contention that cage fighters are using a medical loop hole to bring their naturally (or steroid use caused) lowering levels of the hormone back up to the levels it would have been at when they were younger (or before they damaged their ability to produce testosterone by using steroids).

To give you some idea of the number of fighters using TRT, it recently came to light that Vitor Belfort was on TRT during his win over Michael Bisping on 19th January, which is controversial because Belfort failed a steroid test in the past.  Chael Sonnen has used TRT. Dan Henderson, Forrest Griffin, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Frank Mir, Alistair Overeem, and Nate Marquardt are others high profile users of TRT.

It appears the Belfort case is the straw that broke the camel’s back as far as UFC President Dana White is concerned.  During the post show press conference at UFC London, White made his feelings on TRT use very clear and outlined the UFC’s plans to deal with the controversial subject.  Here are a selection of few of his comments on the situation from the press conference in London:

“If you asked me three months ago, it’s legal.  It’s sports science, but everybody figures out a way to take a great thing and cheat and make it bad,” said White.

“Those of you who know what testosterone replacement is, if you’re older, your testosterone starts to get lower.  They can give you testosterone to get you back up to (the level of) a 25-year-old.  What guys are doing, I believe guys are doing, is jacking up this stuff through the roof through their entire training camp then getting back down to normal levels right before the fight, which is cheating.  I hate it.  I don’t like it.  I’m going to fight it.  And if you are using TRT in the UFC, we’re going to start testing the (expletive) out of you, through your entire camp,” White added.

 “We’re regulated by the government.  We have the strictest regulation in sports.  If other sports were under the same regulations as we are, there would be a lot of guys getting busted left and right in other sports.  I’m not taking a jab.  I’m just being honest.  The TRT thing is legal.  The commission lets guys use testosterone replacement therapy.  I believe that guys are cheating on it,” said White.

“I truly believe guys are cheating on it, and I don’t like to see a natural gifted athlete go in and fight against a guy who has been jacked up on TRT for three months.”

 “The other problem with TRT, the other problem that I have – You get four guys together, four smart guys who could have an educated conversation about testosterone replacement therapy, they’ll give you four different answers.  When it’s that vague and that many people don’t understand it, nanograms and this ratio to that ratio, and all this (expletive).  When you sit down and you start talking about it, it’s not fair.  It’s not fair.  And if your testosterone level isn’t high enough, maybe you’re too old to fight,”  the UFC president stated.

 “We’re regulated by the government.  Testosterone replacement therapy is legal.  Well, I think we should test guys all the way up until their fight to make sure that the entire training camp their limits are where they’re supposed to be, they’re at the legal limits their whole camp,” said White.  “These guys that get exemptions for TRT, we’re going to make sure we test you through your entire camp.”

No doubt this is not the last we will hear on the subject of TRT and its usage in the UFC.  It is heartening to see Dana White taking a hard line stance on the subject because where there are loop holes there will always be abuse.  Not every fighter on TRT is abusing the system, but you’d have to be incredibly naïve to believe there is no abuse going on in UFC and other sports.  Maybe I have a simplistic view of the situation but it seems to me if you have low levels of testosterone, you should find another profession other than cage fighting.

Round 4 – Fight cancellations/announcements

The co-main event of UFC158 in Montreal was rocked this week as Rory MacDonald was forced to withdraw from his highly anticipated fight with Carlos Condit.  MacDonald has suffered neck and back injuries in training.  The show, which takes place on 16th March and is headlined by GSP’s Welterweight Title defence against Nick Diaz, is being seen by many as an unofficial tournament to determine the new number one contender to the Welterweight Title.

With McDonald off the show the UFC quickly reshuffled the deck and slotted Jonny Hendrix into the fight with Condit.  This left Jake Ellenberger without an opponent but only for a day or two as the UFC then confirmed that Ellenberger will clash with former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion, Nate Marquardt.

Hendrix and Condit will be a very interesting fight.  A lot of fans believe Hendrix should be fighting GSP on the show due to his impressive recent winning streak.  The fight against Ellenberger would have been a battle of two powerful punching wrestlers but now Hendrix will have to rework his game plan to deal with the movement of Condit.  A win for Condit against Hendrix and he’s right back in the mix for a Welterweight Title shot and rematches against either GSP or Diaz would be big business for the UFC.

Marquardt was cut from the UFC two years ago due to elevated levels of testosterone and the fight with Ellenberger will be his first fight back in the UFC.  Marquardt will be looking to bounce back after losing his Title in his final fight in Strikeforce last month.  Ellenberger will be faced with the same problem as Hendrix – he will now have to rework his game plan.

All four fighters have a lot riding on the outcome of their fights.  With the line up being reshuffled it may come down to which fighter is able to adapt their game plan the quickest to deal with their new opponent.  UFC158 was an intriguing fight card to begin with but with the withdrawal of McDonald and the addition of Marquardt, the plot has thickened once again.

As well as the announcements on UFC158 the promotion confirmed two other fights this week.  The first will see KJ Noons make his UFC debut at UFC160 as he takes on ‘Cowboy’ Donald Cerrone.  Noons is a former Strikeforce fighter who is coming off a loss to Josh Thompson.  Cerrone is also coming off a loss to Anthony Pettis.  A victory for Noons is almost essential here, given his recent record and the talent rich Lightweight Division he is stepping into.  Cerrone will want to bounce back after being destroyed in mere minutes by Pettis in his last outing.

Also announced for UFC160 is a battle between two fighters at 205lbs who are looking to break into the upper echelons of the division.  Ryan Bader will hook ‘em up with Glover Teixeira.  Both men are coming off wins and with a place in the coveted Top 5 of the division at stake this one could be explosive.

Round 5 – UFC 157 preview

They said it would never happen.  Dana White was more likely to give up cursing than book a female fight in the UFC.  This weekend that all changes.  On Saturday 23rd February at the Honda Centre in Anaheim, California, Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche will face off for the UFC female Bantamweight Title in the main event of UFC157.  It’s the first female fight in the UFC.  It’s the first female fight on PPV.  It’s the first female fight to headline a UFC PPV.  It’s the first time that two fighters making their UFC debuts will headline a PPV.

There’s never been a UFC PPV main event that has divided opinion as strongly as Rousey vs. Carmouche.  The two opposing viewpoints are quite simple.  There are those that feel a female fight should never main event a UFC PPV (never mind the first ever female fight).  And there are the rest of us who think those people are frigging idiots.

If you’re simply arguing from the point of view that woman should not take part in MMA, then you’ve already lost the argument.  You’re wrong.  If you’re arguing from a money drawing point of view then you may have a stronger argument against the fight being the main event.  I still think you’re missing the point though and that’s the star power of the Champion.

Ronda Rousey is a superstar.  She is the face of female MMA.  Some would argue she’s the face of all of MMA.  The amount of publicity, web traffic and interest in Rousey and this fight is phenomenal.  The UFC have shifted their promotional machine into high gear and made great strides to introduce Ronda to the wider general public.  The UFC have done everything in their power to get as many eye balls as possible on this fight.  The big question now is whether or not that interest from the general public will translate into PPV buys.

The Countdown shows have done a great job in establishing the life stories and personalities of both Ronda and Liz.  Now it comes down to the fight itself and it’s safe to say, not many people see Rousey losing.  In fact, it’s a common held view that Liz Carmouche is outmatched in the fight.  She’s lost to fighters that  Rousey has destroyed.  She doesn’t have the ground skills, size or strength that Ronda does.  All fair points, but Carmouche is as tough as they come, she has good striking and if she catches Ronda with a flurry (and it’ll need to be early) anything could happen.

Personally I don’t see this fight getting out of the first round.  Rousey has too many skills and too much riding on this fight on to lose.  Unless she cracks under the pressure I think the call of “Rousey by armbar” will be ringing around the Hondo Centre after less than five minutes.

Outside of the highly anticipated main event the rest of the card at UFC157 looks incredible on paper.  Henderson vs. Machida should be an interesting battle.  I don’t expect Machida to turn this into the war we saw with Henderson and Shogun.  I do expect Henderson to come out aggressively early and try to take Machida’s head off with a right hand.  He’ll look to use the clinch and his wrestling skills to get hold of Machida and grind him out on the ground.  Machida will be his usual elusive self and look to keep the fight standing.  Machida takes this by decision and becomes next in line for a shot at the 205lbs Title.

Urijah Faber v Ivan Menjivar should be a good technical battle.  I think Faber has enough left to shut Menjivar down and take the win.  That said, Faber has had a long career and has slowed down considerably in his recent fights.  I don’t think a win for Faber gets him back in Title contention but it would help him to change some recent opinions that he isn’t the fighter he used to be.

Josh Koscheck v Robbie Lawler is tougher to call because it depends on which Koscheck turns up on Saturday.  He’s been very unmotivated in the past when not fighting a big name fighter.  Lawler is popular with fans but he’s not considered a top contender.  He does have heavy hands and could catch Koscheck but I see the former Welterweight Title contender staying busy and perhaps going back to his wrestling background to earn a decision.

Brendan Schaub v Lavar Johnson is a big fight for both guys.  Johnson has so much power in his punches he could run the street lights in London with one right hook.  Schaub was on the rise before being derailed in his last couple of fights.  He needs a win here to get his career back on track and with more cuts coming from the UFC, losing three in a row is not an option any more.  I’m expecting Schaub to use his superior athleticism and conditioning to wear Johnson out but if Johnson lands a clean shot, it’ll be lights out for the former American Football player.

UFC157 will be a history making night for the UFC and if all goes to plan we should know the next contender at 205lbs as well as the answer to the big question of the last few weeks – can Ronda Rousey live up to the hype?  It should be one hell of a night in Anaheim and I’ll be back next week with a full review of the show.

Ok folks, that’ll do for Championship Rounds for another week.  Thanks for reading and I hope you guys enjoy UFC157 – it’s going to be epically historic!

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