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Monday MMA Round-Up: Bantamweight Blockbusters

Hello, fight fans, and welcome to this week’s edition of the Monday MMA Round-Up, where we look back at the week that was and look ahead to the week that is in the world of mixed martial arts. It was a busy week to kick off the month of December, so let’s dive right in to all of the happenings.

Looking back at the Bantamweight Takeover

  • It was a busy weekend of bantamweight action, with both UFC and Bellator holding main events in the 135 lbs. division this weekend. It included a late contender for “Knockout of the Year” in the main event of Bellator 272, as Sergio Pettis made a successful title defense of the Bellator Bantamweight Championship, knocking out former champion Kyoji Horiguchi in the fourth round with a spinning back fist. It was an impressive finish, made even more impressive by the fact Horiguchi had dominated the fight up until that point and looked well on his way to regaining the title, but after breaking a clinch, Pettis threw a high kick that missed and ended the combo with the spinning back fist that knocked Horiguchi out cold, and he was down for quite some time. Pettis had talked in an interview earlier in the week with Nick Baldwin of The Score about wanting to have a walk-off knockout in his career, and he did exactly what he envisioned.
  • Jose Aldo continues to turn back the clock, as he scored an impressive unanimous decision win over Rob Font in the main event of Saturday’s UFC event. He hurt Font with hard shots throughout, and won just about every round on the scorecards. It is Aldo’s third straight win, and he’s legitimately back in the talk about fighting for a title yet again. He’s an absolute legend, and arguably the most respected fighter in the UFC right now. Every fighter who fights on the same cards as him always can’t wait to meet Aldo if they haven’t. Aldo wants to fight TJ Dillashaw next, and that is something I can get behind.
  • The rest of Saturday’s UFC show was really a can’t-miss show, which shouldn’t have been a surprise when looking at the card overall as it was deep for a Fight Night event. There were lots of crazy finishes and comebacks, and it was just an excellent show overall. Clay Guida showed he still has fight left at age 40 by weathering a massive storm and scoring a comeback win in the second round, scoring a surprising submission win over Leonardo Santos. Other performances worth checking out came at the hands of Rafael Fiziev, Jamahal Hill, Chris Curtis, Manel Kape and Vince Morales.
  • I just have to talk about Chris Curtis for a moment, and what a remarkable month he’s had. He’s had two short-notice fights at middleweight since signing his UFC deal, both against highly-touted prospects, and he’s knocked both of them out. He thought his shot at fighting for the UFC was almost closed, but he’s taken advantage of the two opportunities, and he’s pretty much free-rolling at this point, especially considering he naturally fights at welterweight. He also moved to 6–0 in 2021 with his four pre-UFC wins on the regional scene, with five wins by knockout. Curtis is one of the best stories in mixed martial arts in 2021.
  • That wasn’t the only big news regarding the bantamweight division coming out of Bellator 272. Bellator President Scott Coker announced that, in 2022, Bellator would be hosting the Bantamweight Grand Prix, their latest version of an eight-man tournament featuring the best bantamweights in the promotion. Those who will be competing in the Bantamweight Grand Prix are current Bellator Bantamweight Champion Sergio Pettis, former champion Kyoji Horiguchi, former champion Juan Archuleta, Raufeon Stots, Patchy Mix, Magomed Magomedov, Leandro Higo and James Gallagher. First-round match-ups, dates, locations and tournament alternates will be announced soon. This looks like an incredible tournament, and there’s plenty of talent in both promotions’ bantamweight divisions, as it looks to be arguably the best division, all-around, in the entire sport.
  • Scott Coker also said that they are working on making a title fight between Bellator Welterweight Champion Yaroslav Amosov and Michael Page. Of course, Page had talked previously that he didn’t want a title shot because he’s looking to leave Bellator and winning the title would initiate the champions clause in his contract, and there’s been no news as to any changes to his feelings, so this is an interesting situation to say the least, and one to keep and eye on.
  • In what many saw as a surprise, Kevin Lee was released this past week by the UFC. It was a surprise due to Lee being somewhat of a name who can headline shows, but, on the surface, it’s not quite the surprise. Lee is just 2–5 over his last seven fights, and is currently under a suspension due to a failed drug test. He has a good contract, but his recent run may not justify it in their eyes. He really needs to take a step back and recharge everything, and doing it outside of a tough UFC could be best for him. He hasn’t been the same since his former head coach, Robert Follis, died, and this will give Lee the chance to get some wins and confidence. Lee did claim this release felt like it was for political reasons, which I can tell you would never be a reason they release anyone. I think it has more to do with recent record, contract and the suspension. Lee will get interest from several promotions, but one promotion that doesn’t seem to have interest, at least right now, is Bellator, as Scott Coker said their roster is pretty much full at the moment. The word is they had initial talks, but were so far apart on financial terms that Bellator lost interest.
  • Another surprise this past week was the sudden retirement of UFC women’s featherweight Felicia Spencer. Spencer just had an impressive win a couple of weeks ago, looking as good as ever. She cited that mental health, especially in the future, as the key reason for walking away, saying that she’s thinking of herself and her family 25 years down the line. It definitely seemed like she might be ready to start a family, and that played a key role in her decision, as well as the possibility of there no longer being a UFC women’s featherweight division, so starting fresh somewhere else didn’t seem like an intriguing thing for her considering the future. She exits the sport with a 9–3 record as a former Invicta FC Featherweight Champion, and having fought the likes of Amanda Nunes and Cris Cyborg.
  • The UFC announced two main events for Fight Night cards coming up in the first quarter of 2022. The February 5 event will be headlined by a middleweight bout between Jack Hermansson and Sean Strickland, while the March 26 event will be headlined by a light heavyweight bout between Jan Blachowicz and Aleksandar Rakic. Both fights could have some title shot implications in their respective divisions. There are two other Fight Night events, on February 19 and March 19, that have yet to have main event fights announced, and neither has UFC 272 or UFC 273, though we already know the planned main event of UFC 272 on February 12 (Israel Adesanya against Robert Whittaker).
  • Aspen Ladd announced that she will be returning to 135 pounds when she makes her return to competition, and said that she wants to fight Miesha Tate in her return, stemming from the critical comments Tate made about the way her corner treated her during her last fight. I hope Ladd can make 135 with ease and healthily, as I don’t want to see another video of her having issues standing on the scale. I’ve seen it in person and on video, and something bad is going to happen one day if it continues.
  • Dana White, who tested positive for COVID-19 this week but said he wasn’t sick and had only lost his sense of taste and smell, talked about a few fighters this week. He said that Leon Edwards might not be next for Kamaru Usman, saying that Edwards may have to fight again as Usman is recovering from a broken hand. I don’t buy that for a second. He also said that Conor McGregor is chomping at the bit to return to action, which I buy 100%. He also said they’re having trouble finding an opponent for Khamzat Chimaev, saying that UFC fighters are 100% afraid of him. That doesn’t make sense, seeing as Neil Magny has been calling for a fight against Chimaev for well over a year, so he doesn’t seem afraid of him. Maybe it’s because they keep trying to goad Nate Diaz into fighting Chimaev, which he’s too smart to do, so they just assume if Diaz is “afraid”, then so is everyone else.
  • I wanted to get into one more UFC release made this past week, and that was the release of Impa Kasanganay. He was released this past week, a few months after his last fight, having fought four times inside the Octagon in barely over a year. He went 2–2 in those four bouts, being on the receiving end of an all-time knockout by Joaquin Buckley, and, while he was finished in his last fight by Carlston Harris, it wasn’t like he was a bad fighter or anything. I don’t know if there was something else to this release, but here is why I wanted to bring this release up. Kasanganay is a recent product of Dana White’s Contender Series. He was someone they really wanted to sign, doing so after he won his second fight on the show. He’s only 27-years-old and is only 9–2 in his career, and he seems to have a bright future. I talked a lot in this column about too many fighters on the show being signed, as have many others, and this shows it doesn’t make sense to sign that many fighters if they’re just going to release them after finishing their first contracts with a 2-2 record. I can get releasing fighters from the show that go 0–4 or even 1–3, but a 2-2 fighter who is improving despite tough losses? It just shows that maybe they’re signing too many fighters from that show, and need to make it more exclusive. A quick reminder: they’ve signed 106 fighters over thirty episodes over the past three seasons. That’s a lot. They signed 39 alone over this past season’s ten episodes, which matched the total of 39 they signed over the show’s first two seasons, which spanned 16 episodes. The point- they’re signing way too many from the show just to quickly give up on them, and it actually stunts the future growth of those signed if they’re quickly released.

Playing Matchmaker

Here are some fights I would make next for those who fought at UFC On ESPN 31 on Saturday:

  • Jose Aldo vs. TJ Dillashaw
  • Rob Font vs. Cory Sandhagen
  • Rafael Fiziev vs. Gregor Gillespie
  • Jamahal Hill vs. Johnny Walker
  • Clay Guida vs. Ricky Glenn
  • Chris Curtis vs. Nico Price (at welterweight)
  • Alex Morono vs. Randy Brown
  • Manel Kape vs. Su Mudaerji
  • Cheyanne Vlismas vs. Jessica Penne
  • William Knight vs. Nicolae Negumereanu

Fight Announcements

Here are the fights that were announced over the past week:

  • Gerald Meerschaert vs. Dustin Stoltzfus — UFC Fight Night — December 18
  • Jack Hermansson vs. Sean Strickland — UFC Fight Night — February 5 (MAIN EVENT)
  • Arman Tsarukyan vs. Joel Alvarez — UFC Fight Night — February 26
  • Misha Cirkunov vs. Makhmud Muradov — UFC Fight Night — February 26
  • Victor Altamirano vs. Carlos Hernandez — UFC Fight Night — February 26
  • Terrance McKinney vs. Fares Ziam — UFC Fight Night — February 26
  • Jessica Eye vs. Manon Fiorot — UFC 273 — March 5
  • Guido Cannetti vs. Kris Moutinho — UFC Fight Night — March 12
  • Trevin Jones vs. Javid Basharat — UFC Fight Night — March 12
  • Jake Hadley vs. Francisco Figueiredo — UFC Fight Night — March 19
  • Molly McCann vs. Luana Carolina — UFC Fight Night — March 19
  • Jan Blachowicz vs. Aleksandar Rakic — UFC Fight Night — March 26 (MAIN EVENT)

Coming up this week

Here are some of the notable MMA events taking place this week:

  • UFC 269 takes place on Saturday, December 11 from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The main card airs on ESPN+ pay-per-view at 10:00 p.m. ET., with four preliminary fights on ESPN2 at 8:00 p.m. ET., and additional preliminary fights on ESPN+ at 6:00 p.m. ET. UFC Lightweight Champion Charles Oliveira defends against Dustin Poirier in the main event.
  • Cage Warriors 131 takes place on Friday, December 10 from London, England, airing at 3:00 p.m. ET on UFC Fight Pass.
  • FAC 11 takes place on Friday, December 10 from Independence, Missouri, airing at 8:00 p.m. ET on UFC Fight Pass.
  • LFA 120 takes place on Friday, December 10 from Prior Lake, Minnesota, airing at 9:00 p.m. ET on UFC Fight Pass.
  • Cage Warriors 132 takes place on Saturday, December 11 from London, England, airing at 3:00 p.m. ET on UFC Fight Pass.

This week in MMA history

LAS VEGAS, NV – DECEMBER 06: Robbie Lawler leaves the octagon after defeating Johny Hendricks by a split decision in their welterweight title fight during the UFC 181 event at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on December 6, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)

On December 6, 2014, a long-time veteran of mixed martial arts who had experienced the roller coaster of all of the ups-and-downs this sport can give to its’ competitors finally reached the pinnacle of the sport and had UFC gold wrapped around his waist. It took place at UFC 181 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, the last UFC pay-per-view event to ever be held at one of their most famous venues. The show drew 11,617 fans for a gate of $2.488 million, and 400,000 buys on pay-per-view.

In the main event, Robbie Lawler scored a split decision over Johny Hendricks to become the new UFC Welterweight Champion. It was the culmination of a career resurgence and a near 14-year journey to becoming a UFC champion. It was the second time that Lawler and Hendricks fought in 2014, as Hendricks defeated Lawler to win the vacant welterweight title in March 2014 at UFC 171, which was 2014’s Fight Of The Year. Lawler would go on to also win the Fight Of The Year awards in 2015 (against Rory MacDonald) and 2016 (against Carlos Condit) before losing the title to Tyron Woodley at UFC 201 in July 2016.

In the co-main event, following a stint as coaches of The Ultimate Fighter, Anthony Pettis retained the UFC Lightweight Championship, submitting Gilbert Melendez in the second round. It ended up being the only title defense Pettis made during his time as the champion, as he would lose the title three months later to Rafael Dos Anjos at UFC 185 in March 2015.

The rest of the main card saw Travis Browne finish Brendan Schaub in the first round, Todd Duffee score a 33-second knockout of Anthony Hamilton, and Tony Ferguson submit Abel Trujillo in the second round. Among those who won on the prelims included Urijah Faber, Raquel Pennington, Corey Anderson, and the aforementioned current Bellator Bantamweight Champion Sergio Pettis.

You can watch UFC 181 on UFC Fight Pass here.

In The Clinch

This week on In The Clinch, myself and Paul Fontaine will recap UFC On ESPN 31, Bellator 272, look ahead to UFC 269, look ahead to the Bellator Bantamweight Grand Prix in 2022, take a look at all of the news and so much more. In The Clinch is part of The Fight Game Media Network, which can be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and at our Patreon.

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