Was Zhang Weili the right choice for UFC 268?

At UFC 268, we will see a rematch for the strawweight title. However, it’s not the rematch that a lot of people in the MMA community thought we were going to see. Rose Namajunas (10-4) will defend her title against Zhang Weili (21-2) in November at UFC 268.

These two first met back in April at UFC 261. Namajunas always has a flare for the dramatic when capturing world titles and April was no different. She knocked Weili out with a head kick and stopped her just over a minute into the first round.

The loss snapped a massive winning streak for Weili and it was also her first loss in the UFC. Weili lost her first ever professional MMA fight. After that, she won 21 in a row on her way to becoming the strawweight champion.

She knocked out Jessica Andrade to become the champion and defended successfully in 2020 against Joanna Jedrzejczyk in a fight of the year effort. Namajunas was looked at as her biggest challenge in the strawweight division.

However, nobody expected her to lose in the fashion she did at UFC 261. Given how lopsided and quick the fight was, many thought that Weili wouldn’t get an immediate rematch with the champion.

Was Weili the right choice for UFC 268?

When the fight was announced a couple of weeks ago, a lot of UFC fans were confused by the booking. Many believed that Carla Esparza (18-6) would be the next in line for a title shot.

Given the way the first fight with Weili and Namajunas went, most didn’t think an immediate rematch would take place. The UFC had Esparza as the top contender if Namajunas wouldn’t take the fight against Weili in April.

When Namajunas took the fight, Esparza went on to fight Yan Xiaonan and dominated her and got a second round TKO. That dominant performance was a fifth straight win for the former UFC champion.

Given the fact that Esparza was a former champion and holds a win over Namajunas, I figured she’d get the nod. However, the sexier fight in terms of numbers in the eyes of the promotion is the rematch with Weili.

Weili’s run is certainly remarkable, but I do think Esparza should’ve gotten the spot at UFC 268. Despite getting passed over, Esparza was in good spirts posting on her Instagram that she’s “Got next”.

UFC: Joanna Jedrzejczyk says either herself or Zhang Weili should be next for Namajunas

Former UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk (16-4) is working hard to prepare for her octagon return. The former champion hasn’t fought since March of 2020 when she lost a split decision to Zhang Weili (21-2).

The two women had a war at UFC 248 and Jedrzejczyk came up just short in her attempt to regain the strawweight title. After dominating the 115 pound division and defending her title five times, Jedrzejczyk is now 0-4 in her last four title fights.

That said, Jedrzejczyk has still only lost in title fights in her entire career. She’s lost twice to the current strawweight champion Rose Namajunas (10-4), she lost to Valentina Shevchenko at flyweight, and she lost to Weili.

The only three women to defeat her in her career are at the very top of the sport. Jedrzejczyk has been very vocal that she wanted another UFC title shot upon her return to the octagon. The former champion wants to get a third crack at Rose Namajunas.

However, it’s not the easiest of sells when she’s just 2-4 in her last six fights. That said, you can easily say that Jedrzejczyk is still one of the very best fighters in the UFC.

On paper, it appears that Carla Esparza (18-6) should get the next UFC title shot. She’s won five fights in a row and she holds a victory over Namajunas. However, Jedrzejczyk doesn’t believe that Esparza is deserving of the next shot at the champion.

Who should get the next UFC title shot?

In an interview with The Schmo this weekend, Jedrzejczyk said that she believes either herself or Zhang Weili should be next for Namajunas. While she acknowledged the winning streak of Esparza, she said she didn’t believe it was the right fight to make.

From a business perspective, the former UFC champion is correct. If you were to line up the three leading contenders, the least sexy fight is the rematch between Carla Esparza and Rose Namajunas.

Despite the fact that Esparza is the only one of the three to hold a victory over Namajunas, there’s significantly less interest from the fans. Ultimately, this is going to come down to what the UFC prioritizes.

I do not believe that Jedrzejczyk is getting the next shot at the title. However, I do believe she will fight the other contender who doesn’t get the shot. With that, the next shot will either go to Zhang Weili or Carla Esparza.

If I had to guess, I think the UFC would prefer to put Weili in that title fight. However, I think Namajunas is the type of champion who would want to give it to the deserving contender. It’ll be an interesting storyline to follow over the coming weeks.

Rose Namajunas next opponent still not clear after UFC Vegas 27

This past Saturday in the co-main event of UFC Vegas 27, Carla Esparza (18-6) took on Yan Xiaonan (13-2, 1 NC). Many people were thinking that the winner would likely get the next crack at the UFC strawweight title.

Xiaonan had the most hype coming into the matchup. She was a perfect 6-0 in the UFC and none of her fights had really been that close. Carla Esparza is a former UFC strawweight champion, but she often gets overlooked by everyone.

Esparza was the first strawweight champion for the promotion when she defeated Rose Namajunas (10-4) back in 2014. However, the reign was short lived as Esparza was destroyed by Joanna Jedrzejczyk in her first title defense.

Since then, Esparza has gone 8-3 in the UFC, but a few of those wins were razor close split decisions. Heading into UFC Vegas 27, Esparza had won four fights in a row, but she needed a signature win to get in the title conversation.

Well, Esparza completely dominated Xiaonan at UFC Vegas 27. Xiaonan had no answer for the wrestling of Esparza and Esparza battered her on the ground. Ultimately, she picked up the second round TKO victory on Saturday night.

Next UFC title challenger still not clear

After her dominant win, Esparza made her case in her post-fight interview that she deserves the next shot at Rose Namajunas. Esparza holds a victory over the current UFC champion and now she’s won five fights in a row.

Dana White was interviewed after the event where he was asked about Namajunas’ next challenger. I was expecting him to come out and say that they will likely be doing Namajunas – Esparza 2 next.

However, that’s not what Dana White said. White indicated that the rematch with Esparza is definitely an option, but so is the rematch with Zhang Weili (21-2). Weili was the strawweight champion who was just knocked out by Namajunas last month.

She is really pushing for the immediate rematch with Namajunas and the UFC is seriously weighing that as an option. In reality, Esparza has earned the next shot at the champion. However, we know that sometimes the UFC will favor the bigger fight.

Despite the one-sided nature of the title fight at UFC 261, the Namajunas – Weili rematch is likely bigger business. While Esparza definitely deserves the shot, I’m not certain she’s going to get it. This will definitely be something to watch over the coming weeks.

After regaining the title at UFC 261, what’s next for Rose Namajunas?

In the co-main event of UFC 261, we saw the strawweight title fight that the world had been waiting to see. Zhang Weili (21-2) was set to defend her title against the former champion Rose Namajunas (10-4).

“Thug” Rose has been through a lot over the past few years. The former UFC champion went to the top of the sport and shocked the world at UFC 217 when she defeated the long reigning champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

Immediately, the two strawweights ran things back and Namajunas again got the better of Joanna. There was no doubting that Rose Namajunas was the best strawweight in the UFC.

However, outside the cage, Thug Rose was struggling. The anxiety and pressure of being the champion was weighing heavy on her. At UFC 237, Namajunas lost her title when she got knocked out by a slam by Jessica Andrade.

Most champions would be extremely upset, but Namajunas seemed relieved more than anything. In fact, she contemplated having UFC 237 be her last fight. However, having the time to regroup, Thug Rose found her passion and fire for fighting again.

After some time away, she returned last year and avenged her loss to Jessica Andrade. That led her to UFC 261 where she took on Weili. Before the fight, a focused Namajunas could be heard saying ‘I’m the best’ during the introductions.

Early on at UFC 261, Namajunas looked light on her feet. She looked like the same Thug Rose that won the title back in 2017 and we ended up seeing the same result. A beautiful head kick came just over a minute into the first round that put Weili out and Thug Rose regained the UFC strawweight title.

What’s next after UFC 261?

This is truly such a remarkable story and UFC 261 wasn’t the end of it, it was just the end of a chapter. Now, we are going to see the second reign of Namajunas over the strawweight division.

With that being said, what’s next? Well, the UFC could always run things back with Zhang Weili. Weili looked like she was going to be extremely difficult for anyone to beat at 115 pounds, but got caught with the perfect shot early in the fight.

Because of the nature of the fight, I could see the promotion running it back. However, I’m not sure they will. If not, the fight to look to would be the Carla Esparza (17-6) and Yan Xiaonan (13-1, 1 NC) matchup that takes place next month.

These two UFC strawweights both have winning streaks of at least four heading into the fight. Whoever wins that matchup could be next in line for the UFC champion. Namajunas has history with Esparza that dates back to their first official fight in the UFC.

Esparza defeated Namajunas in the finals of The Ultimate Fighter to become the strawweight champion. Xiaonan is the surging contender from China who has gone 6-0 since joining the UFC. If she gets to 7-0, it would be hard to deny her a shot at Thug Rose.

UFC books Yan Xiaonan – Carla Esparza

Yan Xioanan

Over the weekend, the UFC finalized a massive fight in the strawweight division. MMA DNA was the first to report that verbal agreements were in place between Yan Xiaonan (13-1, 1 NC) and Carla Esparza (17-6).

The matchup is scheduled to take place at the UFC‘s Fight Night on May 22nd. Given the current ranking of both of these strawweights, the winner of this matchup will likely be the next in line for a shot at the title.

Last week we learned that the UFC was close to finalizing Zhang Weili – Rose Namajunas. That matchup would take place in April and the winner of this matchup would be ready to step in there next against whoever wins that fight.

It’s been an interesting run in the UFC for Carla Esparza. She made her debut with the promotion via The Ultimate Fighter. In the year she was on the show, the promotion had created the strawweight division. The winner of the show would be crowned strawweight champion.

Esparza would go on to submit Rose Namajunas in the finale to become champion. However, she lost her first title defense by TKO to Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Since then, Esparza hasn’t been able to work her way back to the title.

Every time Esparza has come close to another UFC title shot, she’s faltered. However, she’s currently on a four-fight win streak and she’s just one more win away from getting back to the title. However, there’s a stiff test in front of her.

UFC’s new top contender

When it comes to starting your UFC career, it doesn’t get much better than Yan Xiaonan. Xiaonan made her debut with the promotion back in 2017. Since her debut, she’s defeated all challengers on her way to a 6-0 record with the promotion.

Every time she’s fought, she’s looked better and better. Her competition level has risen every time the UFC has put her in the octagon as well. It’s been a slow build but her last three wins came against Angela Hill, Karolina Kowalkiewicz, and Claudia Gadelha.

All six of her wins have gone to the scorecards, but not a single one was a split decision. The UFC has been making a large investment in China over the last couple of years. Xiaonan is a big part of the promotion’s plan to expand in the Asian markets.

A dream scenario could be forming for the promotion should Xiaonan win in May and Zhang Weili win in April. If both of these strawweights win, the UFC could put together an event featuring an all-Chinese main event for the first time in history and they could do it in China.

You have to imagine with these matchups and the recent investment in that market, this is what the UFC is hoping for. However, both ladies have very tall orders in front of them and I’m just excited to see how it all plays out.

Per Dana White, Rose Namajunas doesn’t want the next UFC title shot

For the last couple of months, fans have been anticipating the next UFC strawweight title fight. The fight was expected to be Weili Zhang (21-1) and Rose Namajunas (9-4). A fight that would truly pair the best two strawweights in the world.

Namajunas was the reigning UFC strawweight champion prior to her loss to Jessica Andrade. In that title defense, Namajunas was winning until she was slammed and knocked out by Jessica Andrade.

Andrade would go on to lose her first UFC title defense to Zhang. Namajunas was very vocal about being relieved when she lost and that she didn’t like the pressures and anxiety that came with being UFC champion.

However, she found that fighting spirit again in 2020 and she got back in the cage. She took on Andrade and was able to avenge her loss which was supposed to setup the anticipated title fight with Zhang.

The promotion has been saying that was the fight they were going to make. However, Dana White changed his tune in an interview with BT Sport. White said, “What I’m hearing is Rose does not want a title shot. She doesn’t want to fight for the title.”

What is the UFC going to do?

After this, Rose Namajunas’ fiancé/head coach told ESPN’s Ariel Helwani that the information from Dana White was false. Pat Berry told Helwani that Namajunas definitely wants the UFC title shot.

However, White doesn’t seem to think so. White would go on to say in the interview that Carla Esparza (17-6) is the fight they are currently looking at for Weili Zhang. No disrespect to Esparza, but nobody really wants to see that fight.

Yes, Esparza is on a four-fight winning streak, however, none of those were that incredibly impressive. Her last two wins were razor close split decisions that many had going the other way.

This is not a high profile UFC strawweight title fight. Zhang – Namajunas is the fight to make, however, if the UFC can’t come to a deal, they will move on. Looks like they have a plan in place. It’ll be interesting to see how this situation shakes out.

State of the UFC’s strawweight division

Last night at UFC Vegas 13, a new contender emerged in the strawweight division. Eighth ranked Yan Xiaonan defeated fourth ranked Claudia Gadelha. Xiaonan became just the third women in UFC history begin her career at 6-0 with the victory.

She did a fantastic job last night of showing off her beautiful striking from distance. While Gadelha was able to take her down in the first round and control her, Xiaonan bounced back in the final two rounds to really dominate the striking and win the decision.

As stated, it was the sixth straight UFC victory for the Chinese born strawweight. The UFC‘s China market has taken off over the last couple of years and a major contributor to that is the current strawweight champion, Weili Zhang.

You have to imagine that the promotion is already daydreaming about a potential matchup between Zhang and Xiaonan. That would easily be the biggest fight in the history of Chinese MMA. With last night’s victory, Xiaonan is perhaps only one more win away from securing that shot.

With the win, Xiaonan is expected to jump into the top five of the UFC‘s rankings while Gadelha will drop a little. The division is very exciting right now and it seems extremely fluid when it comes to the top contenders.

What’s the state of the UFC’s strawweight division?

Starting at the top, you have Zhang. Zhang has become a superstar for the promotion and was the first Chinese born UFC champion in history. This year, she had what many are considering to be the fight of the year against Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

It was an absolute war and Zhang walked away with the decision. The next fight for the UFC champion seems pretty obvious. Currently, the promotion is targeting a fight between her and former UFC champion, Rose Namajunas. That fight is expected to take place next year.

After those two, the division gets interesting. You have Jedrzejczyk ranked second, however, her next steps aren’t clear. She flirted with retirement, but recently said that she would be fighting again but wants to wait for fans to return before she comes back.

Another former UFC champion is ranked right behind her in Carla Esparza. Esparza is currently on a four fight winning streak that has her knocking on the door for another potential UFC title shot. After Esparza you’ll have Xiaonan, Nina Ansaroff and Michelle Waterson. Tatiana Suarez is also in there, but has been inactive due to injuries.

After last night, I believe that the UFC should look to book Xiaonan against either Jedrzejczyk or Esparza. Whoever they can book her with in early 2021, I try to make that happen. Perhaps on the same card as Zhang and Namajunas with the winners facing off in the summer.

Four fights to make after UFC Fight Island 3

UFC, Dana White

The UFC hosted it’s fourth and final event from Final Island last night, and the card completely delivered from top to bottom. After the card was over, it’s always time to start pondering what’s next. Here are four fights that should be made following last night.

Robert Whittaker vs Winner of Adesanya/Costa

This is one of the easier ones when you think about it. The former UFC middleweight champion looked very impressive last night defeating world class striker, Darren Till.

Whittaker was hurt very early in the fight, but went on to win three of the next four rounds on his way to a unanimous decision. Whittaker improved to 10-1 since moving to the middleweight division.

Bobby Knuckles lost his title to Israel Adesanya back in October of last year at UFC 243. Getting a win over a guy like Till puts him right back in the top contender status.

If you look at the middleweight division, there really is not another fight for Whittaker. I expect Bobby Knuckles to sit back and watch the September title fight with Adesanya and Paulo Costa.

Whoever wins that fight will likely get a fight with Whittaker in early 2021 or even perhaps by the end of this year.

Fabricio Werdum vs Ryan Bader

I know you might be thinking, “Why is a Bellator matchup in a UFC article?” Well it’s no secret that last night was the last fight on Fabricio Werdum‘s current contract.

The former champion has made it known that he’s interested in moving on from the UFC. The logical next step for Werdum would be to move to Bellator.

Bellator has a history of pushing UFC vets straight to the top when they jump ship. I expect Werdum to get the same treatment given his resume. The heavyweight division in Bellator is not very strong.

With that, Werdum could go right into a title shot in Bellator. He poses some interesting problems for Ryan Bader. If the Werdum that fought last night shows up, it’s not out of the question that he becomes the Bellator heavyweight champion this year.

Carla Esparza vs Jessica Andrade

Carla Esparza was able to capture her fourth consecutive win last night at UFC Fight Island 3 defeating Marina Rodriguez. With that win, Esparza looks to be ready to challenge one of the divisions best.

In looking at the logical next opponents for her, there are only two opponents that make sense from a divisional standpoint and that’s Tatiana Suarez and Jessica Andrade.

Suarez just finished Esparza two years ago so I can’t see the UFC making that fight. Andrade is coming off of a close loss to Rose Namajunas back at UFC 251.

This fight would pair two former champions against each other as both look to get back to the top. Andrade has lost two in a row, but they were to the two best women in the world. Esparza needs a win over someone like Andrade to prove she’s still one of the very best.

Khamzat Chimaev vs Top 15 UFC opponent

For all of the fighters that took part in Fight Island, the one that UFC fans should be the most excited about is Khamzat Chimaev. The guy is an absolute monster. His dominance can be illustrated with one tweet.

Chimaev resembles a larger version of the UFC’s lightweight champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov.

“Borz” is a frightening matchup for anyone in the welterweight division. He’s so exciting because unlike some wrestlers who just take their opponents down, Chimaev is constantly looking to “Smash” his opponents.

Seeing how polished he is already, I would not be surprised to see him fast-tracked. Chimaev’s wrestling base can allow him to move quicker than some prospects would in the UFC.

Perhaps a good fight for Chimaev would be taking on the winner of next week’s Randy Brown – Vicente Luque fight. Either way, Chimaev is going to get a quick turnaround. I expect to see Borz fight one or even two more times before 2021.

 

UFC Fight Island 3 Recap: Robert Whittaker squeaks by Darren Till in entertaining scrap

The UFC hosted their fourth and final fight card from Fight Island tonight. In the main event of the evening, middleweights Robert Whittaker (20-5) and Darren Till (18-2-1) went head-to-head. The card was filled with action from start to finish.

Whittaker takes first step back to UFC gold

The main event of the evening was going to likely determine who would face the winner of the Israel Adesanya – Paulo Costa UFC title fight in September. Former champion Robert Whittaker took on Darren “The Gorilla” Till.

As the first round began, Till charged in and was met with a sharp shot from Whittaker. Whittaker also landed a stiff jab after that. Till seemed extremely aggressive early on. Both men charged at each other and Whittaker was floored by a clean elbow from Till.

Till started finding a home for his crisp left hand after he hurt Whittaker. Whittaker began reaching with his shots which is what hurt him in the Adesanya fight. Till pressed Whittaker back late in the first continuing to land shots.

Whittaker’s confidence seemed to be shaken a bit in the first. However, late in the round, Whittaker seemed to get his legs back and get more comfortable in the exchanges. Great opening round for Till.

Both men came out very light on their feet to start the second round. Whittaker landed a massive left hook as Till was off balanced. Whittaker seemed much fresher and confident early in the second.

Bobby Knuckles stormed forward with an overhand right that floored Till about a minute into the round. Bobby Knuckles landed some good elbows from top position. Till looked to be trying to regain his composure from the bottom.

Till was able to get back to his feet with about two minutes left in the round. Whittaker started peppering Till’s lead leg with solid kicks. Till seemed tentative still trying to regain some confidence. Dominant second round for the former UFC champ.

Both men touched gloves to start the third round, and then Whittaker landed another big leg kick. The two seemed to be a little more patient. Till kept looking for the left while Whittaker kept looking to blitz.

Neither man was landing anything clean for the majority of the third round. They would throw big shots from distance, but neither were connecting. An uneventful round, but I lean Whittaker in the third.

Entering the main event rounds, Whittaker seemed to have a little more bounce in his step. Till was able to step in with a big left hand early on. Whittaker continued to throw big calf kicks which seemed to be bothering Till.

Till landed a few big shots which seemed to wobble Whittaker momentarily. However, Whittaker seemed to get his legs back underneath him very quickly. The two men resumed trying to read each other after the big exchange.

Till began finding his left more in the fourth round. Whittaker tried for a couple of takedowns late in the round, but wasn’t able to land either. A close round four, but I lean Till due to the bigger shots.

Both men seemed to have good bounce to start the fifth. Till landed a big shot in the first exchange. Whittaker again tried for a takedown, but was unsuccessful. Till looked very aggressive to start the fifth round.

Till landed a solid 1-2 at the two minute mark in the round. Whittaker continued to look for calf kicks throughout the round. Whittaker looked for another takedown, but again, it was unsuccessful. Till landed another crisp left after Whittaker shot.

Till landed a massive elbow with about a minute left in the round which opened a massive gash on Whittaker. Whittaker was able to land a couple of takedowns late, but Till continued to bounce right back up. Close round, but I give Till the final round due to damage.

A razor close fight, but I lean Till 48-47. After the close fight, the judges were unanimous giving the fight to Whittaker (48-47, 48-47, 48-47).

Shogun completes the sweep against Little Nog

The co-main event of the evening featured a battle of Brazilian legends as former UFC light heavyweight champion Shogun Rua (27-11-1) took on Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (23-10) for the third time.

As the first round began, both men tentatively took the center just feeling the other out. Nogueira circled the outside as Shogun started to pepper Nogueira’s leg with kicks. Shogun pressed forward to engage a clinch about two minutes into the round.

After little action, Shogun backed away with about half of the round remaining. Nogueira landed a massive left as the two began to strike. Both men really began to open up about four minutes into the round.

Nogueira began to press forward after he sensed that he was getting the better of the exchanges. Nogueira landed three massive lefts that wobbled Shogun. Shogun shot in and secured a late takedown before the bell. Close round that I gave to Nogueira.

Shogun opened the second round very aggressive pushing forward. Shogun landed a couple of big kicks to open the round. Nogueira seemed very patient looking to land his left hand. Everytime the former UFC champion stormed in, Nogueira was looking to counter with a left.

Nogueira stormed forward with big shots which forced another shot from Shogun. Shogun slipped which allowed Nogueira to end up on the top. Shogun was able to get back to his feet with two minutes left in the round.

Nogueira was getting clipped a little more in this round compared to the first. Shogun was doing a good job of slipping and countering the aggressive Nogueira attacks. A close round two, but due to the top control, I lean Nogueira.

The final round started with Shogun moving forward. Shogun landed a massive leg kick that buckled Nogueira early in the third. Neither man landed anything significant after that until about the halfway mark.

Shogun landed a big body kick and continued to stalk Nogueira. After that kick, the two men began to trade big shots. Shogun was able to land a couple of really good straight shots that backed Nogueira against the cage. He transitioned that into a takedown.

Shogun controlled the remainder of the round from the top position. To me, the clearest round to score of the fight. I gave the final round to Shogun but the fight to Nogueira 29-28. The judges were split but gave the fight to Shogun (29-28, 28-29, 29-28).

Werdum subs Gustafsson early in the first

The fifth fight of the main card featured the heavyweight debut of Alexander Gustafsson (18-7). In his debut he was taking on former UFC heavyweight champion, Fabricio Werdum (24-9-1).

Gustafsson started the first round very light on his feet. Werdum landed a massive leg kick in the opening seconds which Gus acknowledged. Gustafsson landed a good combination, but Werdum shot in for the takedown.

After initially missing on it, Werdum tripped Gustafsson and got his back immediately. Werdum tried for the rear-naked choke, but Werdum immediately transitioned to an arm bar. The ground wizard got Gustafsson to tap very early in the first. Very impressive from the former heavyweight champion.

Carla Esparza edges Marina Rodriguez

The fourth fight of the main card featured a strawweight contest between former UFC champ, Carla Esparza (16-6) and Marina Rodriguez (12-0-2). A win for either lady would get them close to a shot at the strawweight title.

To start the first round, Rodriguez was really heavy on her front leg expecting a shot from Esparza. After Rodriguez through a couple of big shots, Esparza shot in for a takedown and secured it.

Esparza had really heavy top control in the first. She did a very good job of picking and choosing spots to posture up and land good shots. Rodriguez did land a massive elbow from the bottom which cut Esparza.

Esparza made the odd decision to try to go for an ankle lock which resulted in her being on the bottom. Rodriguez landed some good shots before Esparza got back to her feet. Rodriguez landed some good shots before Esparza shot in for another takedown at the end of the first. Close round that I’d give to Rodriguez due to the damage.

As the second round started, Rodriguez appeared to be stalking Esparza. She didn’t look comfortable at all on the feet. Esparza shot in for a takedown two minutes into the round, and she was able to get Rodriguez down.

Esparza was able to land some pretty good shots from the ground after the takedown. Just like she did in the first, Esparza went for another bizarre leg lock. It resulted in her just taking massive shots from Rodriguez. Close round due to a massive flurry at the end, but I lean Esparza.

The final round started with Rodriguez continuing to stalk Esparza. Esparza tried for some sloppy shots early as Rodriguez landed some decent shots. About halfway through the round, Esparza was able to land a takedown.

The rest of the round consisted of solid top control for Esparza. Esparza landed some decent shots, but Rodriguez did really nothing in the final round. She was able to get up for a second before being taken right back down.

Nothing desirable in this fight, but I lean Esparza 29-28. The judges gave Esparza the fight by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 30-27).

Craig triangles Antigulov in the first

The third fight of the evening featured a UFC light heavyweight contest between Paul Craig (12-4-1) and Gadzhimurad Antigulov (20-6).

Craig immediately ran across the octagon to meet Antigulov. About thirty seconds into the round, Antigulov was able to secure a takedown. Craig tried to secure a guillotine, but he was unsuccessful.

However, about a minute later, Craig through up a triangle choke. Antigulov threw some bombs to try to get out of it, but he was in massive trouble. After Antigulov fought hard for a few seconds, Craig locked in the choke deeper.

Craig was able to secure the tap from Antigulov and get the win via triangle choke. Antigulov fought hard, but Craig was too much from that position. Great win for the Scottish fighter.

Oliveira kicks his way past Peter Sobotta

The second fight of the main card featured “Cowboy” Alex Oliveira (21-8-1, 2 NC) taking on German standout, Peter Sobotta (17-6-1).

Both men immediately took the center of the octagon looking to strike. Oliveira landed a massive body kick to start the striking. Sobotta answered with a big kick of his own about a minute into the round.

Oliveira hurt Sobotta bad with a front kick right to the liver about two minutes into the round. Sobotta was able to land a few shots to keep Oliveira off of him. Both men had some decent exchanges late in the round.

Sobotta appeared to have injured his arm blocking a kick late in the round. Decent first round that goes to Oliveira.

As the second round started, Sobotta shot in for a takedown. Oliveira was able to defend the takedown, but it appeared that Sobotta was switching up his strategy. Oliveira was able to land some elbows in the clinch which cut Sobotta.

The two men separated and Oliveira immediately landed a big body kick. Oliveira was looking extremely crisp on the feet. About halfway through the round one of Oliveira’s kicks went low which caused a break in the action.

Once the action resumed, Oliveira continued to look to land kicks. In the final minute, Oliveira extended his hands which poked Sobotta in the eye which caused another break. After they continued the fight, Oliveira landed a massive right hand that floored Sobotta at the end of the first. 2-0 for Oliveira after two rounds.

As the final round started, Oliveira continued to look aggressive in the striking. Sobotta shot in for another takedown, but he wasn’t able to get Oliveira down. About halfway through the round, Oliveira hurt Sobotta again with a body kick.

Sobotta just seemed extremely uncomfortable in the striking exchanges. He would throw shots, but he was throwing from Oliveira’s range. Oliveira continued to land some decent kicks as the final round came to a close.

Great performance for Oliveira who takes it 30-27 on my scorecard. The judges agreed unanimously giving the fight to Cowboy Oliveira (30-27, 30-27, 30-27).

Khamzat Chimaev wins second UFC fight in 10 days

The opening fight of the main card featured dominant wrestling sensation Khamzat Chimaev (8-0) taking on UFC newcomer, Rhys McKee (10-3-1). Chimaev was looking for his second win on Fight Island.

Within five seconds of the first round, Chimaev immediately shot in for a takedown. Chimaev carried McKee over to his own corner to clearly hear instructions from his corner. Chimaev was able to get the mount position within 20 seconds of having top position.

McKee kept trying to explode out of the position, but Chimaev’s top control was incredibly impressive. Chimaev was just relentless with his ground and pound. With two minutes left in the round, the striking numbers were 43-0 for Chimaev.

Chimaev postured up and started raining down monster shots. The referee mercifully stopped the fight at 3:09 of the first round. There is no question that Chimaev will be a top contender in the welterweight division before long.

UFC Fight Island 3 Final Takeaways

The UFC closed it’s first stint on Fight Island this evening. Bobby Knuckles closes out Fight Island with a big win over Darren Till. Whittaker will now likely be next in line for a shot at the middleweight crown.

The last month has been filled with exciting fights and incredible story lines. Now, the UFC will come back stateside with a massive schedule in August.

UFC Fight Island 3 Preview: Whittaker and Till look to cement top contender status

The UFC will be hosting it’s last event on Fight Island in the month of July tomorrow night on Yas Island. The main event features former UFC middleweight champion, Robert Whittaker (20-5), and former title challenger, Darren Till (18-2-1).

The UFC has put forward a card that ties the record for the most fights on a single card with 15. The main card that kicks off at 8:00 ET features seven fights.

For this fight card, we are going to break down the top four fights of the evening. The UFC is leaving Fight Island with a bang.

Whittaker and Till battle for the next UFC title shot

The main event of the evening will likely determine who will get the winner of the Israel Adesanya – Paulo Costa fight as Robert Whittaker takes on Darren Till.

Whittaker could not have drawn up a better start to his middleweight career after leaving the UFC‘s welterweight division. Whittaker moved up and promptly went 9-0 capturing the middleweight title.

Bobby Knuckles combines elite striking and speed with incredible toughness and determination. He is susceptible to getting rocked but one of his trademarks is his heart to fight through it.

He was able to fight through it against Yoel Romero, but it finally caught up to him against Adesanya. Stylebender was able to finish Whittaker in the second round of their fight.

This is a massive fight for Whittaker as he looks to try to climb back towards the UFC middleweight title.

Darren Till was being built up as the next superstar just a couple of years ago. The UFC fast-tracked him to a title shot against Tyron Woodley.

That shot came back at UFC 228. The English born Till was actually the massive fan favorite at the Dallas event. However, Woodley put an end to the run with a second round submission victory.

Immediately following that loss, Till was knocked out by Jorge Masvidal prompting his move to the middleweight division.

Till made his UFC middleweight debut against Kelvin Gastelum back in November. In a fight that left a lot to be desired, Till walked away with a decision victory.

Till’s elite Muy Thai skills have brought him to the dance. He has a great way of closing distance very quickly and he’s got power that catches people off guard.

I’m expecting this fight to be contested on the feet, but I’m not sure it’s going to be as action packed as some want. I think this fight will start slow, but will pick up in the middle rounds.

Once they really get going, I think Bobby Knuckles is going to catch Till was something big. I expect Till to have big moments because he is an elite striker, but I think Whittaker is just on a higher level overall as a fighter.

Prediction: Robert Whittaker by TKO – Round 4

Shogun Rua vs Antonio Rogerio Nogueira

The co-main event of the evening features a contest between two legends of the sport from Brazil as Shogun Rua (26-11-1) takes on Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (23-9).

Nogueira enters this fight just after turning 44-years old. We haven’t seen Nogueira since UFC 237 where he was knocked out by Ryan Spann. Nogueira has been dealing with a nagging back injury.

Nogueira throughout his career has been known for his crisp boxing and his elite skills on the ground. He has very good pop in his shots, and is deceptively accurate with his strikes.

The problem is that we really don’t know what kind of Nogueira we are going to see. He didn’t look great in his last fight, and he’s been dealing with back issues. Combine that with his age and there are a ton of question marks.

Shogun Rua has fought just six times in the last five years. However, he has gone 4-1-1 in those six fights with wins over Corey Anderson and Nogueira.

Shogun is a former UFC light heavyweight champion who is also nearing the end of his career. He has been known in his career for his solid overall game and his spurts that often catch fighters off guard.

Shogun has made a career on rocking or finishing opponents with sudden spurts that fighters are not ready for. In his last contest, Shogun fought to a draw with Paul Craig.

These two men have fought each other twice, and Shogun has won both. With all of the question marks surrounding Nogueira, I don’t see how the result will change in this third fight.

Prediction: Shogun Rua by TKO – Round 2

Alexander Gustaffson vs Fabricio Werdum

The fifth fight on the main card features former UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum (23-9-1) welcoming Alexander Gustaffson (18-6) to the heavyweight division.

Just a few years ago, people were making the argument that Werdum was the greatest heavyweight in history. Those talks of course coming after wins over guys like Fedor Emelianenko and Cain Velasquez.

Of course, Werdum would go on to be knocked out and lose his heavyweight title to Stipe Miocic which halted those talks. Since that loss, Werdum has gone 3-3.

Werdum showed off improved striking a few years ago to go with his world class ground game. Werdum might be the best Jiu Jitsu practitioner in heavyweight history. However, Werdum looked horrendous in his last fight where he lost to Alexey Oleynik.

Alexander Gustaffson will be making his heavyweight debut tomorrow night. Gustaffson retired just over a year ago after he lost to Anthony Smith in Sweden.

Of course that retirement was short-lived. Gustaffson is one of the better fighters over the last few years who hasn’t won a UFC title. He’s fought for the title three times, coming up short each time. Two of those fights were razor close.

Gustaffson has built his career on his elite boxing skills, good footwork, and solid takedown defense. All of these are going to give him an advantage tomorrow night.

For Werdum to win this fight, he’s going to have to get the fight to the ground. There is no way that Werdum can win a stand up fight with Alexander Gustaffson. Werdum looked slow in his last fight, and he doesn’t have great takedowns.

I believe that for those reasons, the fight is going to stay on the feet. I fully expect Gustaffson to light Werdum up in this contest. Not 100% convinced he’s going to get a finish, but I don’t see this fight being close.

Prediction: Alexander Gustaffson by TKO – Round 3

Marina Rodriguez vs Carla Esparza

The fourth fight on the main card features a matchup between two top ten UFC strawweights in Carla Esparza (16-6) and Marina Rodriguez (12-0-2).

Esparza burst onto the UFC scene back in 2014 when she became the promotions first strawweight champion. Since winning the title, Esparza has gone 6-4 in the UFC.

The good news for Esparza is the fact that she’s on a three fight winning streak. Esparza has some of the best wrestling in the division. She has decent striking, but it’s mainly used as a way to setup her dynamic wrestling attack.

Marina Rodriguez is one of the brighter prospects in the strawweight division. While she’s actually older than Esparza, many consider her to be more of a prospect given her experience.

She’s fought four times in the UFC to a record of 2-0-2. Her last fight she fought to a draw with Cynthia Calvillo. Rodriguez has really good striking and good pop for the division.

She also does a really good job at striking at a high volume. Her cardio does hinder her later in fights and her wrestling defense is not great which could hurt her in this matchup.

The first round is going to decide the fight for me. If Esparza can come right out and take Rodriguez down, she’s going to march to a decision victory. However, if Rodriguez can keep it standing for a while, I can’t see her getting beat by Esparza.

This fight is going to be very close. I believe that Esparza will win the third round, but I think Rodriguez’s striking will also gain her a round. This is going to be a split decision that I think will go to Rodriguez with her high striking output.

Prediction: Marina Rodriguez by Split Decision

UFC Fight Island 3 Outlook

The UFC is leaving Fight Island with a massive card. The card has former champions and top contenders up and down the card. A record 15 fights will have fight fans glued to their TVs tomorrow night.