Max Holloway focused on Anthony Pettis, winning interim title at UFC 206

By Kendrick E. Johnson

If you don’t know who Max Holloway is and consider yourself a true MMA fan you need to do some research because come Saturday, he could be the new UFC interim featherweight champion at UFC 206.

The opportunity of a lifetime recently became available to Holloway and his opponent, former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, due to the UFC stripping Conor McGregor of the undisputed featherweight title which elevated their fight to an interim title bout. Sources tell Ring, McGregor was stripped due to his inactivity in the weight class and the fact the “Notorious” one recently became the UFC lightweight champion at UFC 205, therefore creating a logjam for challengers like Holloway in the 145-pound division.

For Holloway, the mindset and mentality remains the same even though the stakes have been severely raised.

“I always come to fight so nothing changes for me, other than this time when I win I’ll get a nice shiny belt around my waist thanks to Conor’s situation with the UFC,” Holloway said. “It is what it is. I’m coming out there to win and the fans in Toronto are going to see some cool s__t. Anthony Pettis and myself will definitely put on a show and he’s my main focus not the belt.”

Holloway hasn’t lost a fight since losing to McGregor at UFC Fight Night: Shogun vs. Sonnen in August 2013. Since then, he has racked up nine consecutive victories over some of the top contenders in the division such as Cub Swanson, Jeremy Stephens and Ricardo Lamas just to name a few.

The “Blessed One’s” recent streak of victories is so impressive he now holds the UFC record for most consecutive wins in a division without a title shot. Now with his ultimate goal in front of him, Holloway feels the long road he has taken to get to this stage has him more than ready to become a new champion.

“At the end of the day losing to Conor was a good thing because it wasn’t my night or time and it made me work that much harder to get back here now that it’s my time,” Holloway said. “Everything happens for a reason and all you can do is keep grinding and keep working hard. Now it’s on me to show people why I’m the best in the world at 145 pounds and that’s what I plan on doing Dec. 10.”

If Holloway is able to win a piece of the featherweight crown, he’ll be in line to take on Jose Aldo for the undisputed featherweight title in the early part of 2017.

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Source:: The Ring – MMA

U.S. boxing champ Mikaela Mayer sparring Ronda Rousey

By Kendrick E. Johnson

The last time we saw Ronda Rousey’s inside the Octagon, we saw her knocked out clean by former world boxing champion Holly Holm at UFC 193.

Holm was able to use her superior footwork and timing to pick Rousey apart at range before sending her crashing to the canvas with a spectacular highlight-reel head kick.

To prevent history from repeating itself, as she attempts to get her belt back against Amanda Nunes at UFC 207 on December 30, Rousey enlisted the services of Mikaela Mayer.

A three-time USA Boxing National Champion, Mayer represented Team USA at the 2016 Summer Olympic in Rio, where she competed in the women’s 60-kilogram weight class.

After sparring with Rousey multiple times, Mayer came away extremely impressed with Rousey’s standup game and gave some exclusive insight.

“I have fights coming up, so training with Ronda came at a very good time,” Mayer said. “She actually made me work and use all my tools. I had to throw my combinations. I had to stay at angles. I had to box and move and fight on the inside and use all my skills.

“(Ronda is) a fighter, when she gets in there. She’s coming for you and she is not going to let you breathe. That will serve her very well in her title fight at the end of the month. Ronda’s a very smart fighter and a true champion who will show the world she’s learned a lot since her loss to Holly.”

Like Rousey, Mayer has unfinished business of her own. She was eliminated in the quarterfinals in Rio, just a single victory shy of securing at least a bronze medal. This week, however, she is the favorite to win her fourth consecutive title at the U.S. National Championships.

Even though she’s being pulled in different directions, Mayer remains extremely focused on adding to her legacy in the boxing ring. Still, despite that drive and ambition, the temptation is there to follow Rousey’s footsteps into MMA, where she has the potential to morph into a megastar.

“I struggle in my heart because I trained 5 to 10 years daily to make the Olympic team and get my medal and I didn’t do that,” Mayer said, while reflecting on her loss to Anastasia Belyakova.

“If I were to turn pro in boxing or turn to MMA that’s what I’d be giving up. I’d be giving up my dream of an Olympic gold medal. I can try again, wait another four years, turn 30 and the window would have closed. So that’s what I go back-and-fourth with in my heart.

Mayer continued, “I feel good and I’m focused on winning Nationals again but I have to admit it won’t take the sting out of coming up short in the Olympics. You don’t get many opportunities like that in life.”

Whether Mayer chooses to stay in the ring, or take her talents to the Octagon; she has the talent, charisma and looks to be the next female superstar in combat sports.

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Source:: The Ring – MMA

Amanda Nunes embraces underdog role at UFC 207

By Kendrick E. Johnson

While many UFC fans run up and down the Las Vegas strip with Ronda “Rowdy” Rousey gear on, the woman she’ll share the octagon with tonight is constantly being overlooked despite being the defending titleholder.

For UFC bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes, the first woman to sign with the UFC, this is a fact she’s perfectly fine with because she realizes Rousey’s position in the sport and knows fans don’t know her just yet. The 28-year-old Brazilian was overlooked going into UFC 200 in July against veteran Miesha Tate before making her dream of becoming a UFC champ a reality, so Nunes knows a thing or two of what it takes to shock the MMA community.

“This is the biggest fight for me in my career because I have to show everybody that my big win over Miesha to become champion wasn’t a fluke and that I’m here to stay,” Nunes said. “If I fight my fight and bring it to Ronda like I know I can, everybody is going to have to respect me and in the end I will shut up a lot of mouths.”

Many people, especially MMA media members, are completely dismayed and upset with the fact that Rousey hasn’t spoken a word to promote her fight with Nunes. The champion herself is perfectly fine with it, as she has her mind focused on one thing and it has nothing to do with media obligations.

“If the UFC wants to let Ronda Rousey not say anything, I am perfectly fine with that because the only thing I think about is the belt,” Nunes said. “At the end of the day, I’m the champion and the only thing I’m focused one is keeping my belt and remaining the champion at UFC 207.”

Nunes’ aggressive, hard-hitting striking style will be a perfect challenge for Rousey after her struggles with former champion Holly Holm.

On the flip side, many people, including Rousey’s camp, feel Nunes is an extremely fast starter has a very low gas tank which can be exposed once the fight gets outside of a round. For a perfect example, all one has to do is take a look a Nunes’ fight with UFC bantamweight contender Cat Zingano at UFC 178.

After nearly finishing Zingano with punches in the first round, Nunez began to tire out and lost the next round before being finished via TKO in the third round. Despite the blueprint, the current champ feels she’s ready for anything Rousey brings to the table including going the distance if need be.

“I train everyday very intensely from my kick boxing, to my jiu-jitsu and my judo-takedown defense along with my cardio because to beat someone the caliber of Ronda Rousey you have to be well-rounded – which I am,” a confident Nunes said. “I’m ready and for those that don’t think I work on my cardio: I train for six rounds in the gym instead of five to be ready come fight night. I feel very ready for this fight and even better than I did coming into my last two fights.”

It’s doubtful tonight’s championship fight will go past two rounds no matter who wins, but one thing is certain – Nunes is comfortable in the underdog role and knows what it takes to pull off a major upset on the big stage.

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Source:: The Ring – MMA

Meet UFC’s next major crossover star: Paige VanZant

By Kendrick E. Johnson

When you finish as runner-up on “Dancing with the Stars” and follow that up by pulling off a switch kick-to-the-head knockout (which is in the running for “Knockout of the Year”) in your next UFC fight, you definitely have major star power.

This is the life of UFC strawweight star Paige VanZant, who has morphed into a star in 2016, with major crossover appeal like Ronda Rousey. When VanZant squares off with former Invicta atomweight champion Michelle Waterson in their five-round main event at “UFC on FOX 22” this Saturday, she’ll be looking to put an exclamation point on the biggest year of her young career.

“I feel that a win on Saturday over Michelle will definitely solidify that I’ve had a very successful 2016,” VanZant said. “Each fight, you definitely bring in a different mindset every time you enter the Octagon and, this time, I want to have fun, put on a show for the people and Sacramento and make the fight my own.”

Van Zant returns to the Octagon, having won five of her last six fights, with three of them coming via knockout or submission, the most finishes in UFC history in the developing 115-pound division. Despite being only the No. 7 ranked strawweight in the world, many fans and observers want the rising VanZant to fight for the belt currently around the waist of longtime reigning champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk, should she get past Waterson.

Combine this with Hollywood directors and producers constantly knocking on her door and the “Team Alpha Male” product has a lot of options after her fight this weekend. At the same time, those options produced a lot of distractions ahead of the bout. Despite the outside pressures, along with main-eventing in her hometown, VanZant is rolling with the punches while displaying the narrow mindset, which has her on the cusp of major stardom.

“Right now, my head is focused on this fight and the opponent that’s in front me,” VanZant said. “I will take any fight the UFC offers me in the division because I’m not scared to fight anyone at the top of the division but it’s all about what the UFC wants, as I’m not in the business of calling people out.”

Although she doesn’t have a specific timetable, Van Zant is focused on becoming a champion one day, even if it’s not in the 115-pound division. With the UFC opening the 145-pound women’s division next year, many UFC journalists, including me, feel a 125-pound division for women will be the next on the agenda.

If a flyweight women’s division were to open, fighters who are currently fighting at bantamweight and strawweight would have more options to make more high-profile fights. Put VanZant down as one of the many women eager to fight at flyweight, should the division ever become a realistic option.

“People like the see good fights and, if the 125-pound division ever opens up, I’m definitely down to fight in it,” VanZant said. “I’d never move up past 125 pounds but I actually think it’s more of a fit for me, since I walk around bigger than what people realize. But, at the end of the day, I have business to take care of this weekend and in the 115-pound division and that’s were my focus is at. Not future fights or opportunities Hollywood might present to me because Michelle is a great opponent and I need my best to beat her.”

No matter if you like VanZant for her solid fighting skills or her star power, one thing is for certain: She’s must-see television and you don’t know what she’s going to pull off next.

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Cruz plans to use Mayweather style to defend belt at UFC 207

By Kendrick E. Johnson

Dominick Cruz has gone from being a forgotten fighter due to hard-luck injuries to what many MMA journalists consider to the greatest bantamweight of all time in only a year’s time.

In just 11 months Cruz has gone from being on the shelf (and only fighting once in three years) to regaining his belt in January with a razor-thin victory over T.J. Dillashaw to preparing to for his third title fight at UFC 207 where he’ll defend the belt against upstart Cody Garbrandt. Since the fight was announced last month, tensions have run high between the fighters in the build up tonight’s co-main event showdown at T-Mobile Arena.

“He’s been hot at me since day one and I don’t know where that comes from other than I beat a lot of his teammates and used the money from those wins to build me a house,” Cruz said in an exclusive interview with Ring “Right after I fought Faber, he met me in the back and began running his mouth begging for a title shot, and I’m granting his wish and will give him a butt whopping.”

Many MMA experts were surprised Garbrandt got a title shot after Cruz’s close decision victory over Dillashaw. With the challenger’s undefeated record and three-fight knockout streak, it is easy to say the general public picked Garbrandt for Cruz’s next opponent as he enters his ninth WEC/UFC title fight.

“This is a business. I don’t pick the fights, I just fight them and this is all about giving the fans mouthwatering matchups they want to see,” Cruz said. “Typically, rematches don’t do that, and I know T.J. isn’t going anywhere. Cody’s been asking for this for a long time and has been very adamant by running his mouth and begging for it, so it just made sense since he’s undefeated and all.”

Cruz’s title fight with Garbrandt will be a clash of styles, as Garbrandt is the consensus choice for heaviest hitter in the division. Cruz is noted as having the best footwork in the UFC as evidenced by the fact he’s statistically the hardest fighter to hit.

The bantamweight king ducks and dodges opponents’ attacks and strikes so well, many have compared his style to Floyd Mayweather Jr., a compliment Cruz gladly accepts – and he thinks it will play in his favor a big way tonight due to the fact Garbrandt has been concussed in the boxing ring and as an amateur in MMA.

“People I’ve faced, and Cody will find out as well, have to adjust to what I do because nobody they have fought takes as little damage as I do or as defensively smart as I do.” Cruz said. “My style is similar to Mayweather because he focuses on not getting hit because he cherishes his mind the way he looks and all those things. I’m the same way. My brain is very important to me – now if you listen to this guy talk he has already had several concussions and had to stop boxing and fighting for a year. When you get in the cage with me who has seen his fight style before, I can recreate this man in the gym so that I get my hand raised on fight night and that’s exactly what’s going to happen.”

Cruz-Garbrandt will be the classic case of boxer versus puncher. Most believe “the Dominator” will reign supreme and show the world once again why he’s best bantamweight in the world.

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Source:: The Ring – MMA

UFC: Peña ready to prove critics wrong against Shevchenko

By Kendrick E. Johnson

If you are not familiar with the name Julianna Peña, you might want to familiarize yourself with the UFC women’s bantamweight title contender.

Peña is the first female winner of the UFC reality competition show “The Ultimate Fighter,” is currently ranked No. 2 in the division and is the only fighter in the Top 5 who sports an undefeated record in the Octagon. “The Venezuelan Vixen” is coming off the best performance of her career, in which she virtually shocked everybody in the mixed martial arts world by coming back and dominating fellow women’s bantamweight contender Cat Zingano at UFC 200, after losing the first round, to win by unanimous decision.

Thanks to destroying Zingano, Peña is a step closer to her goal of becoming a UFC champion. The only person standing in her way of her well-deserved title shot is No. 1 ranked bantamweight contender Valentina Shevchenko, who she will face this Saturday in the main event of UFC on FOX: Shevchenko vs. Peña in Denver, Colorado.

Despite already having the ultimate confidence necessary to become a champion, Peña is not overlooking Shevchenko and is extremely focused on doing whatever it takes to add another victory to her record (4-0 in UFC, 8-2 in MMA overall).

“I’m just concerned on what I do and what I can do entering this fight – what Valentina doesn’t concern me as it’s about me fighting up to the level which I’m capable of,” Peña said in her exclusive interview with RingTV. “At the end of the day, we are going to be getting into a fist fight in a steel cage and anything can happen. Therefore, my mindset is killed or be killed and all I’m focused on is getting my hand raised at the end of the day and moving a step closer to my bigger goal.”

Even with her fight against Shevchenko being viewed as a de facto No. 1 contender match to face UFC women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes, many fans and observers in the MMA community are still not sold on Peña being the best woman in the world at 135-pounds. Staying true to form, the fiery and strong-willed Peña is only using this as fuel to silence her haters and critics once again, just as she did last July when she was also an underdog.

“They keep counting me out and everyone keeps sleeping on me,” a fired-up Peña said. “On The Ultimate Fighter, they wanted to beat me down and claim that I didn’t bring anything to the table there and then they said, now, in the quote-unquote, ‘real’ UFC Octagon, that I wouldn’t be able to hang. It’s just one of those things that I’ve been fighting, adversity from day one, and it’s just a part of the game and, as long those people are watching me and I’m winning fights, that’s all that matters.”

Anyone who has been around Peña knows how fierce and intense of a competitor she is in and outside of the Octagon. As confident as she is in the world of women’s MMA, Peña is cognizant to pay respect to the ladies who have paved the way for her to be the main event in the biggest fight of her budding career so far.

“It’s great to see that girls like Paige Vanzant, Joanna Jędrzejczyk and Ronda Rousey are getting main event spots and I thought it was only a matter of time before I followed in their footsteps,” Pena said. “This is been a long time coming and I’m very honored and privileged to be in this position of being a headliner for a major UFC card. I plan on fighting my heart out and showing the world all my skills and getting hand raised to end the night and close the show.”

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Source:: The Ring – MMA

Heather Hardy has opponent for MMA debut, Brieta Carpenter

By Michael Woods

It’s the age we are in, especially for females, who from their vantage point in the ring, see their counterparts in the cage headlining PPVs and cards and gaining as much attention and dough as most of the guys.

This age we are in, the Rousey Age, means that it makes more sense why a Heather Hardy, 18-0 as a featherweight ace in the pugilism realm, will on Jan. 14 enter a cage on do battle.

MMA is the way, for right now, for the single mother from Brooklyn whose boxing trajectory was mangled, for the time being, by supposedly well-meaning overseers and politicians whose strengthened regulatory framework has resulted in the total absence of pro boxing in New York since August.

But, today, Hardy, age 34, looks onward and upward and toward a mindset in which she’ll have to be ready to get tackled and submitted if she isn’t on point in her MMA debut, for Invicta.

The focus on fight night in Missouri will be one Brieta Carpenter.

What does Hardy know of her?

“She’s coming down from 135 to fight me. 8-2 as an amateur in MMA. She had a KO in her last fight and Invicta signed her.”

And her nickname is “Tank Girl” so we can assume she fancies herself of a certain warrior class.

“I’m ready,” Hardy continued. “Kickboxing has always been as natural to me as boxing. And I’m over at Gracie Jiu Jitsu in Manhattan almost everyday. I’m working with Rolles Gracie and Rob Constance and I have great MMA sparring and every time I get in the cage, I’m improving. You know I’m ready, Woodsy. It’s like a street fight. I’m just gonna pretend she owes me money!”

Hardy touched on the sad state of dysfunction which the current New York State Athletic Commission and pols have wrought. “The current state of boxing in NY is definitely what jumpstarted my decision to get on the Invicta show in January. How about preventative measures to make sure we don’t wind up brain damaged instead of demanding cover their butt insurance coverage which only massive promotions can afford? That seems like a better safely regulation to me! Anyway, I’m looking forward to getting back in the boxing ring at Barclays in March!”

Fighters, they fight. I was at a tree lighting event in Park Slope, Brooklyn on Wednesday night and chatting with a woman who teaches at my kids’ grade school. She also has a kid in fourth grade, and knows what I do for a living. “I heard about that Heather Hardy on the New Yorker radio show! What a story!” But, she said, isn’t Hardy worried about getting hurt?

“Think of it like this,” I told the woman. “She is a warrior. She’s not like you and me. She was born to do this. It’s who she is.”

The woman nodded, stayed quiet, and it was clear she got it. Fighters, they fight.

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Source:: The Ring – MMA