UFC officially books Zhang Weili – Rose Namajunas

The UFC has finalized one of the more anticipated women’s title fights of 2021. ESPN’s Ariel Helwani was the first to report that the promotion has finalized the strawweight title fight between Zhang Weili (21-1) and Rose Namajunas (9-4).

The matchup will take place at UFC 261 on April 24th. The title fight is the second women’s title fight on the card. This week we learned that the promotion had also finalized the title fight between Valentina Shevchenko and Jessica Andrade. 

While this was always the fight to make, it wasn’t the easiest road getting here. Rose Namajunas is the clear number one contender in the strawweight division. She solidified her spot when she got redemption against Jessica Andrade at UFC 251.

However, Dana White came out and said that he wasn’t sure if Namajunas wanted the fight. The promotion had actually kicked the tires on moving on from this matchup, but ultimately the fight got done.

Namajunas is a former UFC strawweight champion and her reign was cut short by a Jessica Andrade slam. That was her only loss since 2016 and she’s already avenged that loss. She is clearly the second best fighter in the strawweight division right now.

UFC’s new superstar

Over the last couple of years, Zhang Weili has taken the UFC by storm. In August of 2019, Weili finished Jessica Andrade in the first round to become the strawweight champion. She is the first UFC champion from China and she won the title in China.

From there, Weili had the Fight of the Year in 2020 against the former long-time champion, Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Weili was pushed to the absolute limit, but in the end, she was able to win a split decision to retain her UFC strawweight title.

Being on this card to me isn’t a coincidence. Dana White has publicly said that he wouldn’t mind seeing Weili move up to 125 pounds to challenge Valentina Shevchenko should she beat Rose Namajunas. I believe the UFC is putting these two title fights together hoping a superfight materializes.

This fight should be incredible given the skillsets of both of these ladies. Namajunas looked like she was poised to be the champion for a long time before that Andrade slam. Now, it’s hard to imagine anyone beating Weili at 115 pounds. This should be a good one on April 24th.

Bellator books James Gallagher – Patchy Mix

A massive fight has been booked in Bellator‘s bantamweight division. MMA DNA was the first to report that the promotion has finalized a matchup between James Gallagher (11-1) and Patrick “Patchy” Mix (13-1).

The matchup will take place at Bellator 258 which will take place on May 7th. James Gallagher was turning into Bellator’s version of Conor McGregor just a couple of years ago. The brash Irish contender is actually a teammate of The Notorious one.

Gallagher had confidence and he was trying to ride the Irish momentum of Conor McGregor. However, the path wasn’t as smooth for Gallagher. Gallagher was being fast-tracked by Bellator, but then he ran into Ricky Bandejas after an injury layoff.

Bandejas shocked everyone by stopping the Irishman in the first round. Gallagher took the loss well and has since rebounded extremely well. Since that loss, Gallagher has gone 4-0 inside the Bellator cage.

Only won of those fights has gone the distance. This matchup against Patchy Mix is the biggest fight of Gallagher’s career. Should he win this matchup, he’s likely going to get a shot at the bantamweight title. Juan Archuleta is scheduled to defend his title against Sergio Pettis that same evening. 

Bellator title eliminator?

Standing across from Gallagher on May 7th will be Patrick “Patchy” Mix. Mix just fought for the bantamweight title back at Bellator 246 against Archuleta. Early on, it looked like Mix was going to become the Bantamweight champion.

The grappling of Patchy Mix is something to behold. His incredible skill on the mat allowed him to control the early portions of his title fight. However, his gas tank ultimately failed him and Juan Archuleta captured the Bellator bantamweight title by decision.

Now, Mix will have his opportunity at redemption. It’s clear that Bellator is setting this up as a title eliminator with the main event being the bantamweight title fight. Whoever wins this matchup on May 7th is going to be the first in line for a crack at whoever wins the belt in the main event.

UFC Vegas 20 Preview: Nikita Krylov – Magomed Ankalaev

In the co-main event of UFC Vegas 20 we will see a battle between two top eleven light heavyweights. Top contender, Nikita Krylov (27-7), takes on Magomed Ankalaev (14-1) in a fight that promises to be entertaining tomorrow night.

Ankalaev will walk into the cage as the eleventh ranked light heavyweight in the UFC. A native of Dagestan, Ankalaev is 5-1 since he made his debut with the promotion back in 2018. The lone loss was a triangle choke loss to Paul Craig that came literally one second before the final bell.

Since that fight, it’s been smooth sailing for Ankalaev in the UFC. He’s 5-0 with four stoppages and he’s coming off of arguably his most impressive win at UFC 254. Ankalaev took on Ion Cutelaba in a rematch from earlier in 2020.

In the first fight, Ankalaev rocked (or appeared to rock) Cutelaba and the ref stepped in. Cutelaba was irate because he said he was playing possum. The UFC ran the fight back and Ankalaev left no doubts in the rematch knocking Cutelaba out cold.

Standing across from Ankalaev tomorrow night is Nikita Krylov. Krylov is actually on his second stint with the UFC. He made his original debut with the promotion back in 2013. Krylov went 6-3 and the promotion let him walk. After going 4-0 with four stoppages after that, the promotion brought him back.

Since coming back, Krylov has fought four times. He’s 2-2 but his losses are to the current champion and the current number one contender. He’s defeated Johnny Walker and avenged a loss from early in his career against Ovince St. Preux.

UFC Vegas 20 Prediction

The UFC Vegas 20 co-main event is going to be a lot of fun to watch and I’m expecting the fight to take place on the feet. Krylov has good grappling, however, Ankalaev’s takedown defense should neutralize any takedown attempts from Krylov.

With that in mind, I’m thinking about my prediction with this being strictly a standup fight. Both men are well-versed on the feet. With Krylov, I love his creativity and I love his use of kicks. You’ll see some high kicks with some spinning kicks thrown in at UFC Vegas 20.

I was really blown away with what I saw from Ankalaev in his last performance. The speed and power in his striking was impressive, but also his distance control and defense was something to behold.

I really believe that both of these light heavyweights are very evenly matched. I can see both men getting a decision with ranking up points in this one. However, I ultimately believe that Ankalaev will land the more powerful shots and that will allow him to get the win tomorrow night.

Prediction: Magomed Ankalaev by Unanimous Decision

UFC Vegas 20 Preview: Pedro Munhoz – Jimmie Rivera 2

Pedro Munhoz, UFC

Tomorrow night on the main card of UFC Vegas 20, we will see a very important fight in the bantamweight division. Top ten contenders will go head-to-head for the second time as Pedro Munhoz (18-5,1 NC) takes on Jimmie Rivera (23-4).

Originally, this fight was supposed to take place on the UFC 258 main card, however, a positive COVID test scrapped the fight. The matchup was pushed back a couple of weeks and now fight fans will get to see this rematch tomorrow night.

In their first fight, Jimmie Rivera was able to pickup the split decision victory. Their first matchup took place way back in 2015. Rivera will be looking to pickup his second consecutive win tomorrow night.

Rivera has only lost three fights inside the UFC. Those losses came against Petr Yan, Aljamain Sterling, and Marlon Moraes. Needless to say, whenever Rivera has been bested inside the octagon, it’s only been against the best.

Pedro Munhoz will have his chance at redemption tomorrow night. However, it’s not just going to be redemption from his first matchup with Rivera. Munhoz will also be looking for redemption after his last loss which was by a razor thin split decision.

Pedro Munhoz has some very solid wins which have made him a top contender. Most notably his knockout win over former UFC champion, Cody Garbrandt. Munhoz is much improved from the first fight, but are his improvements enough?

UFC Vegas 20 Prediction

This is such a fun matchup and a big one for the bantamweight division. These two are ranked eighth and ninth in the UFC’s bantamweight division and whoever wins is likely to get someone in the top five in their next fight.

With Jimmie Rivera, things that stick out in this matchup are his defensive wrestling and his good boxing. Rivera is a very good wrestler, but his boxing to me is where he shines in the octagon. He also should have the strength advantage tomorrow night in the grappling.

Now when it comes to power shots, you have to favor Pedro Munhoz. I’ve been very impressed with the improved striking of Munhoz and his ability to mix things up inside the octagon. These two are so evenly matched that it’s really tough to pick a winner.

One weapon I want to watch for at UFC Vegas 20 is the leg kicks of Munhoz. If he can work those early, I believe he can get the decision. However, if he lets Rivera get too comfortable, I think the fight is there for Rivera to take. Expect another razor close decision and I’m going to go with Munhoz to get redemption here.

Prediction: Pedro Munhoz by Split Decision

UFC Vegas 20 Preview: Jairzinho Rozenstruik – Ciryl Gane

Tomorrow night at UFC Vegas 20, the heavyweights will once again take the center stage. In the main event of the evening, we will see a clash of strikers as Jairzinho Rozenstruik (11-1) takes on the undefeated prospect, Ciryl Gane (7-0).

Both men will make the walk tomorrow ranked inside of the top seven of the UFC‘s heavyweight division. For Ciryl Gane, this fight marks a big step up in competition. Gane will make his fifth UFC appearance and so far it’s been flawless.

In his last fight, Gane was able to stop former champion, Junior Dos Santos. Prior to that, he’s had impressive victories over Raphael Pessoa, Don’Tale Mayes, and Tanner Boser. While known for his striking background, it’s been Gane’s overall MMA game that has impressed me so far.

That said, he has a very tall mountain to climb at UFC Vegas 20. Entering 2020, there was a lot of buzz behind “Bigi Boy” Jairzinho Rozenstruik. That buzz was completely warranted when you considered what Rozenstruik had done in the division.

Rozenstruik made his debut with the promotion back in 2019. During 2019. Rozenstruik had four knockout victories including a last second knockout over Alistair Overeem. For his efforts, the UFC gave him Francis Ngannou.

That is where things went off the tracks a bit. Rozenstruik was blitzed by Ngannou and got knocked out in 20 seconds for his first professional loss. However, he bounced back nicely at UFC 252 with a knockout win over Junior Dos Santos.

UFC Vegas 20 Prediction

I am both incredibly excited for as well as intrigued by this heavyweight matchup. Both men have professional striking backgrounds, but they use their striking in such different ways. Rozenstruik is very calculated and powerful when he strikes. Nothing seems incredibly urgent.

Gane is someone who moves like a man much lighter than he actually is. While he doesn’t have the power of Rozenstruik, Gane has great speed and has the ability to get in and out of range before the big shots land.

One thing I really like about Ciryl Gane is his ability to mix it up. We’ve seen him go for and land takedowns in the UFC. His first two wins with the promotion were by submission. His overall game seems much more advanced to me than Rozenstruik’s.

Again, Rozenstruik is going to have the power advantage. We’ve seen him behind in fights and score a late knockout before. However, I think that’s going to be his only way of winning this one. I’m buying into the Gane hype and I believe he gets it done tomorrow. It’ll either be a submission or decision at UFC Vegas 20.

Prediction: Ciryl Gane by decision

UFC books Jeremy Stephens – Drakkar Klose

Jeremy Stephens

The UFC has booked a fun lightweight matchup for April. MMA Junkie was the first to report yesterday that the promotion was finalizing a lightweight matchup between Jeremy Stephens (28-18, 1 NC) and Drakkar Klose (11-2-1).

The proposed matchup will take place at a UFC Fight Night on April 17th in the APEX. For Jeremy Stephens, the fight marks a return to lightweight for the first time since 2012. Stephens had been a fixture of the featherweight division for about the past eight years.

“Lil Heathen” is actually still ranked inside the top ten of the UFC‘s featherweight division. However, the weight cut has never been easy for Stephens. He has missed weight a couple of times and talked openly about moving back up to lightweight one day.

Now, that day is upon us. Stephens has hit a tough stretch over the last few years. After going on a run at featherweight, the UFC gave him former champion, Jose Aldo. Had Stephens won that fight, he could’ve had a title shot. However, Stephens was finished in the first round.

Starting with the Jose Aldo fight, Stephens is 0-4, 1 NC in his last five appearances inside the octagon. Granted, he’s lost to some of the best that the promotion has to offer. Stephens is ready for a change of scenery and he has a fun dance partner for his return to the UFC‘s lightweight division.

UFC lightweight matchup

If there’s a fighter that’s truly just on the fringe of the UFC lightweight rankings, it’s Drakkar Klose. Since making his debut with the promotion back in 2017, Klose is 5-2 with his only losses coming to David Teymur and Beneil Dariush.

In his last fight, Klose was stopped by Dariush. However, Klose had Dariush hurt bad in the second round. Klose was the one pursuing the finish when he was caught with some shots that backed up him. Ultimately, Dariush found the shot that closed the show.

By the time of this fight, it would have been over a year since we’ve seen Klose in the octagon. Have to imagine he’s been working hard to tighten some things up. If he can pickup the win against Jeremy Stephens, I would say it’s a safe bet to expect him in the UFC rankings.

New York Rangers: Why Chris Kreider Is So Dominant On The Power Play

New York Rangers, Chris Kreider

New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider has been the team’s number one source of goals this season. His eight scores lead the team, as do his five power play goals. He posted his third career hat trick in Wednesday night’s loss to Philadelphia and has scored in two straight. In other words, the longest-tenured Ranger has been magnificent around the net – especially on the power play. It’s no coincidence he’s tied with eight other players for the third-most power play goals in the NHL though. His ability to control the ice in-front of the net has turned him into a goal-scoring machine.

What Makes Chris Kreider so Good on the Power Play:

 His Ability to Find Open Space Around the Net

Very few do a better job of finding open space around the net than Kreider. The former first-rounder has virtually made a name for himself strictly by plucking off goals in the crease. Each time Kreider steps on the ice he makes a point of gaining position by the net and waiting for an opportunity to strike. Sometimes that opportunity is a rebound off a wrist-shot from 20 feet out, while other times it’s a tip-in off a slap-shot from the blue line. He’s always waiting to cash-in, game after game.

Kreider positions himself to the right of Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott perfectly. There’s not a single defenseman within reach of him when the puck ricochets off Elliott, giving him a wide-open net to score on.

The Flyers, like every other NHL team that has played the Rangers in the Kreider-era, failed to correct their mistake the next period as well.

This time Kreider waits for Zibanejad to set him up with a picture-perfect pass and cashes in once again. Just like his first goal of the game, there’s no defender to impact his shot. You’d think teams would do a better job of locating him by now, right? Considering he has been tormenting penalty-killing teams for his entire career, after all.

His Ability to Stay Calm Under Pressure

Not all goals will be as easy as the ones from Wednesday’s game against Philadelphia unfortunately, but that isn’t a problem for Kreider. For years he has been able to send the biscuit into the oven despite players draped all over him. He never feels pressure and always remains calm.

The clip above is from a game against Vancouver in 2013. Notice anything about No. 20 in blue? He’s positioned in-front of the net for the entirety of the possession, patiently waiting for a shot-on-goal that he can redirect into the twine. And when former-captain Ryan McDonagh sends a wrist-shot into the pile-up of skaters outside the net, Kreider capitalizes. Despite Vancouver’s Chris Tanev effort to interrupt Kreider’s concentration, the power play goal is scored.

Nearly eight years later and nothing has changed.

He Makes the Most of His Chances

No member of the Blueshirts makes more of their minutes than Kreider. His average ice-time of 17:27 is the fifth-most among forwards on the team, and yet, as mentioned earlier, he leads the team in goals with eight. What makes his goal-tally even more impressive though is how few shots he has taken. He has converted on eight of the 41 shots he has taken this year, an absurd success-rate of 23.5% – the highest on the team.

For perspective, only eight other players in the NHL with at least eight goals scored have converted on at least 23.5% of shots taken. Furthermore, five of those eight players spend more time on the ice than Kreider each game, which provides them with more opportunities.

This is nothing new for Kreider, however. Although he has never averaged more than 17:30 of ice time in a season, the Massachusetts-native has scored 20+ goals in five of his eight seasons. An impressive 31.5% of his career goals have occurred on the power play. All while being one of the speediest skaters on Broadway for the last decade.

It’s not by chance that Kreider is having a strong 2021 season on the power play. The guy knows how to get the puck into the net and has shown no signs of slowing down in year number nine. Nor will he slow down until someone invents a tactic to keep him out of the crease.

UFC books Andrea Lee – Antonina Shevchenko

The UFC is putting together a women’s flyweight showcase on in the month of May. MMA Junkie was the first to report that the promotion has finalized a flyweight matchup between top 15 contenders, Andrea Lee (11-5) and Antonina Shevchenko (9-2).

The matchup will take place at the UFC‘s Fight Night on May 15th. Worth noting that this is the second matchup of top fifteen flyweights on this card. Last week, it was announced that top ten contenders, Katlyn Chookagian and Viviane Araujo would also be meeting on the May 15th card.

On top of these announcements, we also learned yesterday that at UFC 261 in April, Valentina Shevchenko will defend her title against Jessica Andrade. This is looking like it will be a pivotal few week’s for the women’s flyweight division.

Antonina Shevchenko is the older sister of the UFC‘s flyweight champion. She will be making the walk for the sixth time with the promotion and she’s 3-2 so far. Her only two losses came against top ten contenders, Roxanne Modafferi and Katlyn Chookagian.

Both of those fights showed an area of weakness for Shevchenko. That weakness was her ground game. Shevchenko is a former Muay Thai world champion, but her ground game has needed work. However, at UFC 255 she showed a lot of improvement on her way to getting a TKO over Ariane Lipski.

UFC flyweight matchup

Standing across from Shevchenko on May 15th will be KGB, Andrea Lee. There was a lot of hype surrounding Lee just a couple of years ago. At one point, Lee was 11-2 and looked like she was knocking on the door of a UFC title shot.

However, that is where things have taken a turn. Lee suffered back-to-back split decision losses to JoJo Calderwood and Lauren Murphy. After those two losses, Lee dropped another decision to Roxanne Modafferi.

While there’s no shame in losing to any of those top ten contenders, it showed that Andrea was no where ready for a UFC title shot. Having lost three fights in a row, this is a massive fight for Andrea Lee. If she’s able to knock off Antonina Shevchenko, it could be the start of a run back up the rankings. Should be a good one in May.

Edson Barboza inks a new deal with the UFC

Edson Barboza

One of the more exciting strikers in the UFC isn’t going anywhere. Today, MMA Fighting was the first to report that Edson Barboza (21-9) has inked a new deal with the promotion that he’s called home for more than ten years.

According to Barboza’s management, the new deal is a multiple fight deal that will likely keep him in the UFC for the rest of his career. Barboza had one fight left on his current contract, but the UFC was able to renew the deal before Barboza hit the open market.

Earlier this month, Barboza had expressed his frustrations with the promotion. He’s been waiting to fight for months and there’s been nothing on the table. The 35 year old has been in a state of limbo over the past few months.

Last year, Barboza dropped down to the UFC‘s featherweight division after spending his career at lightweight. He felt that this would be the best move for his career and it would lead to a world title.

However, Barboza dropped his first fight to Dan Ige by split decision. He did bounce back in October to pick up his first win at 145 pounds. Barboza is currently 14th in the UFC‘s featherweight rankings and with a new deal in hand, Barboza is anxious to get back to work.

What’s next for Barboza in the UFC?

Now that the contract situation is figured out, the question becomes, who will Barboza face? The UFC is currently exploring options for his next fight and Barboza is getting anxious to get back into the octagon.

There have been a couple of names that have been thrown out there that I’m a fan of. One of those names is Jeremy Stephens (28-18, 1 NC). Stephens is just 0-4, 1 NC in his last five fights, however, he’s still ranked eighth in the featherweight division.

The UFC attempted to make this fight in 2020, however, Stephens had to pull out of the fight. The promotion still likes this fight and it’s certainly a possibility. Another name I’ve seen thrown out there is Shane Burgos (13-2).

Burgos had an incredible fight against Josh Emmett back in June. Ultimately, Burgos came up short, but he didn’t really lose any steam despite the loss. The only two men who have defeated Burgos are Emmett and Calvin Kattar.

Burgos and Barboza are in similar positions in terms of the UFC rankings. This would be another fun matchup for fight fans. Given the new contract and Barboza’s urgency to fight, I would expect a fight announcement sooner than later.

UFC officially books the rematch between Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno

The UFC has finalized a highly anticipated rematch for the flyweight title. ESPN’s Ariel Helwani was the first to report this morning that the promotion has finalized the rematch between Deiveson Figueiredo (20-1-1) and Brandon Moreno (18-5-2).

According to Helwani, the matchup will take place on June 12th at UFC 263. Moreno had said that he wanted to fight in either April or May, but the UFC flyweight champion wanted a little more time before the rematch.

Heading into UFC 256, nobody was really giving Brandon Moreno a shot. Moreno was definitely the top contender in the division, but Figueiredo looked like an unstoppable champion. Both Figueiredo and Moreno also competed at UFC 255 three weeks prior to their first fight.

Moreno was able to stop Brandon Royval in the first round and Figueiredo was able to submit Alex Perez in the first round. Originally, fight fans wanted Moreno to be the challenger at UFC 255 over Alex Perez. Well, the performances of both men allowed the promotion to turn them around quickly for the fight we wanted.

Again, Moreno was a pretty lofty underdog considering the way that Figueiredo had looked. However, he proved at UFC 256 that he was no pushover. Moreno pushed Figueiredo harder than anyone thought he could. In what turned out to be a Fight of the Year candidate, the two men fought to a draw.

UFC rematch we had to see

As mentioned, Figueiredo looked like he was going to be a massive problem for all UFC flyweights. The combination of power, skill, and confidence made him extremely dangerous and he almost looked invincible.

However, Brandon Moreno showed the world that he could be pushed. In a way, their first fight reminded me of Jon Jones – Alexander Gustafsson 1. A champion that looked unstoppable, but the right opponent pushed him to the limit.

All great UFC champions need that dance partner that pushes them to even further greatness. Figueiredo has that in Brandon Moreno. If Figueiredo is able to defeat Moreno in the rematch, it will just further his legacy and shine a greater light on his greatness.

However, Brandon Moreno also has the opportunity to prove that the first fight wasn’t a fluke. Both men have a lot on the line in June and fight fans should be expecting a war between the two men when they meet again.