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Monday MMA Round-Up: So Long, Fight Island! (For Now)

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JULY 26: Robert Whittaker of New Zealand celebrates after his victory over Darren Till of England in their middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event inside Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on July 26, 2020 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Hello, fight fans and welcome to this week’s edition of the Monday MMA Round-Up. Today, we will be looking back at the conclusion of Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, as well as Bellator’s return. Let’s dive right in with my thoughts on the MMA world this past week.

Looking Back At A Busy Week Of Fights

  • Now that Fight Island is over (for now), I must say I enjoyed the events in Abu Dhabi, and all of the fighters, media, staff and everyone involved with the shows were treated with the best hospitality possible. I’ll be making a trek there when Fight Island returns for another run of shows.
  • I had the main event scored for Darren Till over Robert Whittaker, but man, it was super close. It was very competitive throughout.
  • I don’t feel like Whittaker is going to get a title fight off of that win, especially if Israel Adesanya beats Paulo Costa in September. Another win, though, would get him a chance at regaining the middleweight title.
  • Just so everyone is clear, had Till won, and then if Adesanya beat Costa, Adesanya vs. Till was going to be made. It is the fight they want to book at 185 pounds. Given that, they’ll likely give Till a winnable path back to title contention.
  • Shogun vs. Lil Nog was a memorable way for Lil Nog to go out. While he didn’t get the win, it’s a lot better than seeing fighters retire after taking brutal beatings. It was a fun fight as well.
  • Rua has two fights left on his UFC deal. It’s crazy that he’s won five of his last seven fights, and has just one loss in those seven. He’s not done, but he is past the point of being able to hang with the top of the division.
  • While Fabricio Werdum’s win over Alexander Gustafsson was supposed to be his last UFC fight, it wouldn’t shock me if he re-signs. He’s turning 43 in a few days so his fighting days are limited. Due to the pandemic, with him living in the US, the travel restrictions may limit his choices to either the UFC or Bellator. I think he’s done with the UFC because he’s still bitter about them not releasing him while he was on a USADA suspension, and he was so eager to get out of his UFC deal that he turned snitch to get his suspension reduced so he could fight his final two fights as quickly as possible and leave. He turned down extension offers. Time for both parties to just move on.
  • I don’t know what to think of Gustafsson. It seems like his head might not be into the sport any longer. If he can regain that passion, I think staying at heavyweight would be the way to go for him as he looked good at the weight.
  • Carla Esparza has quietly strung together four straight wins and may have snuck herself into a title fight. They want to get Zhang Weili a fight soon, maybe as soon as October, and the contender list is short right now. Ross Namajunas is the top choice, but she just underwent nose surgery and might not be ready that soon. Joanna Jedrzejczyk could get a rematch, but she’s been vacationing and not training. Tatiana Suarez is still bothered by neck issues. Nina Ansaroff is pregnant. That could open the door for Esparza.
  • If you’re a light heavyweight fighting Paul Craig, I suggest you train triangle choke defense, or else you’re going to be in trouble.
  • Khamzat Chimaev was very impressive again and the hype is real. He’s got a lot of talent. I’m not ready to anoint him as a future champion yet. As dominant as he’s looked, let’s not overlook the fact his first fight was against a fighter who is 1-4 in the UFC, and his second fight was against a lightweight moving up a weight class on short notice in order to get a UFC contract. Let’s get Chimaev fights against really tough opponents to see where he’s at before we start rushing him into title contention.
  • Herb Dean’s late stoppage in the Francisco Trinaldo and Jai Herbert fight was really, really awful. Herbert was stiff and his eyes were in the back of his head and Dean let him take too much extra damage. He deserves to be criticized for it. I do think Dan Hardy overstepped his boundaries just a little bit, and I also think Dean gave too much of a scapegoat response. Dean has had his bad moments, a lot have come recently, and he deserves criticism. This one was really bad.

  • Tanner Boser is someone to keep an eye on in the heavyweight division. He’s got a great personality and has been in some nice fights with good finishes.
  • Bellator’s return felt a little lackluster. Their Fightsphere at Mohegan Sun looked really good and was well set-up. Their broadcasts still suffer from horrendous pacing, lasting way longer than they should, and Mike Goldberg, while he is a household name for hardcore fans, still relies on the same old tropes that are in the past of the sport. John McCarthy remains the best part of their broadcast – he’s really great as a color commentator.
  • I did like how they figured out a way to do in-cage interviews with the winners by keeping social distancing. I think the UFC should do the same as it comes off better than the remote interviews.
  • Sergio Pettis should absolutely get the first shot at whoever ends up becoming the Bellator Bantamweight Champion. That was a solid win over Ricky Bandejas.
  • Outside of the fights, it was a rather quiet week.

Playing Matchmaker

Here are the fights I would make following UFC On ESPN 14:

  • Robert Whittaker vs. Jack Hermansson
  • Darren Till vs. Anderson Silva
  • Mauricio Rua vs. Paul Craig 2
  • Fabricio Werdum vs. Fedor Emelianenko (in Bellator)
  • Alexander Gustafsson vs. Blagoy Ivanov
  • Carla Esparza vs. Amanda Ribas
  • Khamzat Chimaev vs. Dwight Grant
  • Tanner Boser vs. Maurice Greene

Coming Up This Week

The UFC is back in Las Vegas at the UFC APEX for UFC On ESPN+ 31, which will be headlined by a middleweight bout between Derek Brunson and the undefeated Edmen Shahbazyan. It will only be a three-round main event as the original main event for the show, Holly Holm vs. Irene Aldana, was cancelled after Aldana tested positive for COVID-19. The rest of the main card sees Joanne Calderwood vs. Jennifer Maia, Vicente Luque vs. Randy Brown, Lando Vannata vs. Bobby Green for the second time, and Kevin Holland vs. Trevin Giles. The entire show streams on ESPN+, with the prelims kicking off at 6 PM eastern time, and the main card gets underway at 9 PM eastern time.

On Thursday, Invicta FC holds their second event since returning during the pandemic, with Invicta FC 41 taking place in Kansas City. Janaisa Morandin vs. Montserrat Ruiz is the main event. It airs at 8 PM eastern time on UFC Fight Pass.

ONE Championship returns on Friday with a mixed show, featuring MMA, kickboxing and Muay Thai bouts. Also on Friday is LFA 87 from Sioux Falls, which airs at 9 PM eastern time on UFC Fight Pass.

This Week In MMA History

On July 30, 2016, at UFC 201 in Atlanta, Georgia, there was a changing of the guard in the UFC’s welterweight division. Robbie Lawler came into the event as the UFC Welterweight Champion, and was coming off of back-to-back all-time UFC classic fights in title defenses over Rory MacDonald and Carlos Condit. He was defending against an opponent that posed a different threat than those two in Tyron Woodley. Woodley had put together a pair of solid wins and was getting his long-awaited first shot at a UFC title.

While many expected another classic Lawler defense, Woodley had other ideas. The two had trained together a little in the past, and Woodley took advantage of his knowledge of what to do against Lawler. The wars finally caught up to Lawler, and Woodley landed a hard right hand that sent Lawler down, and at the 2:12 mark of the first round, a new UFC Welterweight Champion was crowned as Woodley defeated Lawler. Woodley would go on to hold the title for nearly three years, while making four title defenses, before losing to current champion Kamaru Usman.

Also on the show, Karolina Kowalkiewicz defeated Rose Namajunas by split decision, Jake Ellenberger scored a first-round TKO win over Matt Brown, and Jorge Masvidal took a unanimous decision over Ross Pearson.

You can watch the UFC 201 main card on UFC Fight Pass here: https://ufcfightpass.com/video/23401?playlistId=1849.

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