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Posts Tagged ‘Welterweight’

A former UFC title challenger, Yushin Okami was long one of the best in the middleweight division.

However, the Japanese standout has recently fallen on hard times under the World Series of Fighting banner. In November, Okami suffered a shocking loss to Dave Branch, resulting in a low point in his MMA career.

Looking to turn things around, Okami has decided to make a move to the welterweight division, which houses some of the biggest names on the WSOF roster. WSOF matchmaker Ali Abdelaziz announced the veteran’s choice on MMA Junkie Radio.

Given that Okami was by no means considered a small middleweight, the move is somewhat surprising, especially this late in the 34-year-old’s career. However, Okami never did miss weight during his UFC career, so I won’t question his ability to hit 170 pounds until he gives us reason to do so.

What I will question is Okami’s options for opponents in his new weight class.

WSOF welterweight champion Rousimar Palhares is currently set to meet Jake Shields, whom Okami lost to early on in his MMA career and would probably like another shot at now that they would again be in the same division. Outside those two individuals, Jon Fitch is certainly the next most well-known competitor on the WSOF 170-pound roster.

So, it seems very likely that Okami will meet a fellow former UFC title challenger in his welterweight debut. With WSOF short on sellable names, it only makes sense to have them paired up against one another when opportunity knocks.

A matchup between Okami and Fitch might not get MMA fans to drop everything to watch. However, it would be an intriguing grappling match that should bring some much-needed attention to the promotion.

With a loss to Palhares in his most recent outing, Fitch would probably need a Shields win in order to earn another WSOF title shot anytime soon. However, being a noteworthy fresh face in the welterweight division, Okami has a chance to earn a title shot with one win against an opponent like Fitch.

No matter who wins the upcoming title fight between Palhares and Shields, Okami would be an intriguing challenger.

He was scheduled to meet Palhares in a middleweight bout at UFC 150, but Toquinho pulled out due to a knee injury, which is ironic in hindsight given his history with holding heel hooks too long. Palhares ended up competing in the UFC only two more times after that before being cut for that very reason.

Although Okami has already lost to Shields, many years have passed since they met at Rumble on the Rock. With both fighters having come a long way since then and seeing how that original fight ended in a close decision, I don’t think either would object to a second clash for the WSOF belt.

Either way, Okami’s path toward WSOF gold in the welterweight division seems clear. He needs a win over a big name, and Fitch seems to be the only one around.

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Johny Hendricks doesn’t care about the other options currently available in the welterweight division. The only thing he’s focused on is getting the chance to fight for the 170-pound title he once held.

Immediately after “Bigg Rigg” came out on the losing end of a hard-fought split decision against Robbie Lawler in their rematch at UFC 181 last December, reclaiming the welterweight crown became the primary goal on his mind.

The former two-time Division I national champion wrestler understood he would need to win another fight or two to get back into title contention, and his victory over Matt Brown at UFC 185 back in March marked the beginning of that process.

If Hendricks has his way, it will be the only fight he’ll have to take in between championship opportunities.

The heavy-handed powerhouse wants the belt he once held to be back on the line the next time he steps into the Octagon, and that is the only option he’s going to consider.

I think people want to see me and Robbie fight again, and there is nothing else in my sights,” Hendricks told Bleacher Report. “Nothing else matters to me except that belt. I’ll wait for it if I have to because every fight matters. What happens if I take another fight and lose? Right there I have to win two or three fights just to get back. I don’t think I’m going to lose, but it’s a fight, and anything can happen.

“Whenever you step inside that Octagon you don’t know what’s going to happen until the referee steps in to break it up or you are getting your hand raised at the end of the fight. I’ve been in some decisions that didn’t go my way where I’m sitting there wondering what fight the judges were watching. I know what can happen and I’d much rather take my chances waiting for my shot than put my life into another training camp.”

With that said, the current welterweight title picture is a crowded situation, as perennially top-ranked contenders like Tyron Woodley and Carlos Condit are also jockeying for a chance to compete for divisional gold Lawler just defended against Rory MacDonald in what became an instant classic at UFC 189.

“Ruthless” emerged from the bloody affair with the welterweight strap intact, and there is no clear-cut leader in the race for the next shot in the 170-pound collective.

Hendricks believes a trilogy bout against Lawler makes the most sense and feels there is a score to be settled once and for all with the current champion. Both of their previous contests were 25-minute shootouts with each man defeating the other by razor-thin margins over the course of those fights.

Yet despite the Team Takedown fighter’s insistence that he should be stamped as the No. 1 contender, “The Chosen One” has taken aim at Hendricks and worked a public campaign to mix it up with the Oklahoma native.

Following Woodley‘s victory over Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 183 back in January, the St. Louis native began angling for a bout against Hendricks.

The two elite-level welterweights have an established history, as they competed with each other during their collegiate wrestling days, and Woodley is certain a victory over Hendricks would make a rock-solid case for a title shot of his own.

While Hendricks says he appreciates Woodley‘s ambition and believes they will cross paths somewhere down the line, the 31-year-old former welterweight champion isn’t willing to put his focus anywhere but Lawler and another shot at the title.

Call-outs or not, Hendricks has set his sights on locking down a third fight with the resurgent American Top Team representative.

“Tyron Woodley is an awesome dude and I love the guy to death,” Hendricks said. “I do believe once I get that title back, we will fight. When we do, that will be great. I love his mom. I love his wife. He’s a great guy surrounded by great people. I know this is all business and he’s doing what he can do to further his career. I’m doing what I can do to further mine, and we have that mutual understanding of what we both want.

“I want that title, and so does he, but he’s not going to go through me to get that title. I’m going to get that title and we can meet for the belt after that. I’m perfectly fine with that scenario.”

There has yet to be an official word from the UFC in regard to the next shot at the welterweight title, but Hendricks is already working as if the fight he wants is going to come his way.

Rather than allow himself to fall off course with his physical regimen the way he has in past years, the decorated wrestler turned elite-level mixed martial artist has dedicated himself to maintaining a training camp-form body—or at least something close to that—between fights because what he calls “rabbit food” just isn’t the way Hendricks rolls.

The welterweight contender is a country boy through and through, and one who has remained true to his southern roots throughout his ascension to the upper echelon of the sport he competes in.

Where his peers in the UFC have adopted the trend of stylized suits and sharp appearances, Hendricks is more inclined to travel the jeans-and-baseball-cap route. That’s just who he is, and Hendricks doesn’t plan on changing anytime soon.

“You get what you get with me,” Hendricks said. “I’m not the guy who is going to dress all fancy like Daniel Cormier. I know it’s a little bit different for him because he has to be on television all the time, but that’s just not me. I can’t tell you how many times the UFC has messaged me and asked if I could wear something nice to the press event. I think it’s funny because I wonder if I’m the only guy getting those texts.

“My greatest compliment came when I went back to Oklahoma State. I had gotten pretty big in the UFC and finally started going back to Oklahoma State, and they told me I hadn’t changed a bit. That meant a lot to me because I don’t want to change. No matter where I’m at in life, I always want to be the same guy I’ve always been. I’ve learned things come and go, and when they go…life ain’t gonna change for me none. I’ll still be on my tractor and pulling things with my truck.”

Echoing that sentiment is longtime friend and fellow OSU alum Daniel Cormier. The current light heavyweight champion has known Hendricks for a long time and was one of the assistant coaches in Stillwater during Hendricks’ run to championship gold in the collegiate ranks.

While he says it with a bit of a chuckle, D.C. takes pride in the fact that the man he’s known for more than a decade is still the same man he sees today.

“I swear to you that guy doesn’t even own a suit,” Cormier laughed. “He’s the same Johny Hendricks today that I’ve known since he was in college. That’s actually pretty incredible if you think about it. Nothing is going to change that guy, and that says a lot about his character. I’ve told him plenty of times to get a suit, though, and he should probably listen to me on that.

“I like to make jokes, but let me tell you something. If you ever get the chance to take a car ride with Johny Hendricks, you absolutely take it. He’s one of the most intelligent guys you’ll ever get the chance to talk to.”

 

Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.

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Andrey Koreshkov showed Douglas Lima the door.

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More than a year after he captured Bellator’s welterweight crown, Douglas Lima is ready to make his first title defense.

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At 32 years old, it might be a little late for Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson to make a run in the loaded UFC welterweight division. 

But don’t tell him that. 

The kickboxing phenom exhibits growth and evolution every time he steps into the cage, and he’s earned a five-fight winning streak for his efforts. 

His most recent win—a masterful knockout of Jake Ellenberger at The Ultimate Fighter 21 Finale Sunday in Las Vegas—was far and away his biggest and best victory yet. 

Let’s make a check list. 

  1. Top-10 opponent? Check. Ellenberger was ranked No. 9 before this fight. Thompson’s winning streak was impressive heading into The Ultimate Fighter 21 Finale, but nobody on his hit list stacks up to Ellenberger in all-around skills and accomplishments. 
  2. Battled adversity? Check. Ellenberger, famously dangerous in a fight’s early going, starched Thompson with a shot from Hades, dropping his foe to the canvas and initiating a mad scramble for the finish. Thompson survived, reversed position and took control from there. 
  3. Grappling improvements? Check plus. After getting dropped, Thompson actually scored a takedown on Ellenberger, a man who has an 85 percent career-takedown defense rate. From there, he passed Ellenberger’s guard once as well. That’s a big step forward for Wonderboy. 
  4. X-factor? Check. Thompson’s striking—particularly, his kicking game—continues to spell doom for opponents inside the Octagon. A lifelong martial artist, Thompson’s skills in the stand-up department are simply more developed and more polished than other fighters’. That’s a problem for future foes. 

Not bad, right? Even UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman agrees. He told MMAFighting.com’s Ariel Helwani that Thompson is a “serious problem” for the entire 170-pound division. Sure, there’s a little bias there, as the two train together and hang out beyond the mats, but Weidman is brilliant with his understanding of the fight game. 

His head coach, Ray Longo, told Bleacher Report’s Duane Finley, “He’s (Weidman’s) got a fighting IQ that’s off the charts. If they had Mensa for fighters, he’s in Mensa. He’s a genius, man.” 

So needless to say, Weidman gets it, and his opinion carries some weight. Thompson is indeed a problem for anybody with his stand-up skills and ever-evolving grappling attack. 

In his second fight in the UFC, Thompson was defeated by current top-five welterweight Matt Brown, largely because he could not defend the takedown or do anything off his back. Now, he’s taking down lifelong wrestlers himself. 

That’s impressive. 

Fun fights aplenty await Thompson now that he’s proven his worth as a surefire top-15 UFC welterweight. The likes of Gunnar Nelson and Neil Magny feed near the bottom end of this upper tier, and farther up we have Carlos Condit, Tarec Saffiedine and maybe even a rematch with Brown.

Literally any of those fights is worth watching.

But I have to say, I worry about Thompson’s chances once we start talking about the Condits and the Browns at 170.

Yes, Thompson’s win Sunday was impressive. The finish was a work of art, artist’s signature stamped in blood.

Ellenberger, though, hasn’t been himself lately. It must be said. He’s been taken down in each of his last three fights, and he’s 1-2 during that stretch. Prior to that, he hadn’t been taken down since 2009, a stretch of 11 fights, largely contested against the division’s elite.

I have a feeling this Thompson vs. Ellenberger matchup says more about the latter fighter than it does about the former, and that’s a little sad. Thompson’s knockout deserves praise, but it also might be the signal of dark times a-comin’ for Ellenberger.

Like Rashad Evans’ knockout of Chuck Liddell at UFC 88, we’ll remember the finish itself, but we’ll also remember how that was the day one man’s fighting spirit died.   

As Evans showed, though, that’s not a terrible thing for one party involved. He went on to capture the light heavyweight title in his next outing. 

Thompson isn’t Evans, and the welterweight division today isn’t the light heavyweight division circa 2008. Wonderboy will continue to put on fun, engaging fights, and he’s can’t-miss television at this point in his career, but I just don’t see him overcoming the razor-sharp fight games of the division’s upper tier. 

Expect him to linger in the top-15 and perhaps even the top-10, but I think the train stops there. 

For a fighter who got a late start in this little thing called MMA, that’s something special. It’s not a slight to say he won’t hoist gold. 

It’s a compliment to even consider it. 

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LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 11: (R-L) Rory MacDonald elbows Rory MacDonald in their UFC welterweight title fight during the UFC 189 event inside MGM Grand Garden Arena on July 11, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Lawler and MacDonald put on a show in a five-round war before the champ finally broke MacDonald.


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Former WWE superstar CM Punk is looking to make his UFC debut in December, although he won’t be rushed into taking his first steps in the Octagon.

Punk quit the professional wrestling game last year and has decided to make the arduous transition over to mixed martial arts. Although he has a desire to fight as soon as possible, the 36-year-old knows he must put in the work before becoming a competitor in the combat game.

“I say this all the time: I’d love to fight tomorrow,” he noted during International Fight Week, reported by Michael Martinez of UFC’s website. “But I want to be as prepared as I possibly can be and I will be. I’m still shooting for December. It might be January, I’m not sure. But I’ll be ready when I fight.”

Punk admits he is “a fan of knowledge,” so enjoys the “super fun” training sessions of former kickboxer Duke Roufus, who trains him three times per day. The Roufusport camp has worked with UFC stars such as Pat Barry, Anthony Pettis and Matt Mitrione over the years.

However, things are quickly going to turn serious if Punk is to make a splash in the organisation. Unlike many WWE superstars, he doesn’t possess a traditional wrestling background. In fact, Martinez’s article suggests he is a white belt in every MMA discipline.

Punk admits he is still adjusting to grappling and the intensity of a non-scripted fight, per Martinez:

Wrestling is probably my hardest day just because that’s the grind. You’re constantly in somebody’s face. You’re not trying to give up any ground. It’s no secret I didn’t wrestle in high school or anything like that. Everybody I train with did, so they have a lifetime of experience. But I love that.

I’ll get beat up and tired, but I’ll be the guy that stands up and says, ‘Let’s go again. I’ll get you one of these days.’

Punk believe it’s a “bad idea” for him to face opponents who “are a lot bigger” than him in the middleweight division (185 pounds). Instead, a jaunt onto the welterweight ladder (170 pounds) is “doable,” in his own words. 

SiriusXM’s RJ Clifford previously told Bleacher Report’s Adam Lefkoe that Punk should square off against UFC commentator Joe Rogan (a multiple black belt holder):

Question marks will certainly remain over the Chicago native’s suitability. Many fighters who are more experienced than him get nowhere near the organisation. Punk is a huge draw and a marketable brand—hence why Phil Brooks, his real name, isn’t used in the UFC’s headline—and could lead plenty of WWE viewers toward MMA.

Wrestling fans will remember Punk’s character having a disregard for authority and leading a revolution against WWE’s current PG era. He’s charismatic, a great showman and someone who knows how to rally an audience. Punk is also essentially an MMA rookie, though.

Brock Lesnar had an extensive NCAA wrestling background before becoming a professional wrestler. His transition from WWE to MMA was aided by his ruthlessness, outrageous power and years of training. If Punk is to make the same waves as the former UFC heavyweight belt-holder, he’ll need to show a killer instinct within his opening three rounds.

A high-profile or embarrassing loss could end his MMA career before it’s even really begun. 

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LAS VEGAS — Robbie Lawler, UFC welterweight champion of the world, decided to do a little shopping after Thursday’s pre-fight press conference at the MGM Grand.

A round of leisurely shopping is not what you might expect from a man about to defend his title on arguably the largest UFC event of the year, or from a man about to face a young, hungry opponent in Rory MacDonald.

Fight week generally brings out a different side of fighters, because they are hungry and they are angry that they are hungry. They’re irritable and edgy after endless rounds of media obligations. Put simply, they are not much fun to be around.

But not Lawler. No, sir. This is a man unaffected by circumstance. Lawler once fell asleep during a press conference in the old Strikeforce days, an act that almost immediately turned him into a legend. And though he is not sleeping on this bright and sunny Thursday in Vegas, it is clear that Lawler is a man who doesn’t fret about things in the way others do.

His weight on point, Lawler strolls to the Adidas store next to the MGM Grand, the location of Saturday’s fights. He is an Adidas-sponsored athlete, and he is remaining one despite the installation of the UFC’s new uniform policy that sees every single fighter on the roster required to wear Reebok during fight week events.

I ask Lawler if the uniform policy affects him and if it’s a bit of a hassle to wear clothing from a company that does not sponsor him. In typical Lawler fashion, he shrugs his shoulders.

“It’s just clothes,” he says.

Lawler has been around the sport longer than most; his professional career began in 2000, which is a different way of saying that he’s seen it all. And he has seen mixed martial arts grow from an underground type of thing all the way to its current status, with uniforms and blue-chip sponsors and a fan convention that draws thousands from around the globe during the hottest months of the Vegas summer.

Through it all, he remains Robbie Lawler: calm and demure. Not even the extra attention that comes with winning a UFC championship—the pinnacle of perhaps the greatest comeback story in mixed martial arts history—fazes him.

“I take it all in stride,” he says. “I know what the sport is. It’s a business, too.”

When it comes to the business side of things, there is perhaps no bigger fight on the horizon than UFC 189, thanks mostly to the antics of Conor McGregor, who faces Chad Mendes in the main event. During the press conference, McGregor and Mendes sparred verbally, while Lawler occasionally broke a smile.

“I was entertained,” he says. “I would have rather slept in, though.”

Lawler says he thinks the pay-per-view will break UFC records, though, perhaps not the ultimate record set by UFC 100 six years ago. He says he thinks the show will maybe do 1.4 million buys, and he’s happy to be a part of such a big thing.

Lawler browses through the racks of clothes and shoes, pulling out things that catch his eyes. As an Adidas athlete, he is allowed to pick out anything he wants in the store. For free. Which feels a whole lot to me, the bystander, like Lawler won one of those old contests where Toys R Us would give the winner 15 minutes to stuff everything they could into a shopping cart.

At first, he shops in peace. But slowly, fans begin to recognize him, and word trickles out that the champ is doing a little shopping. He is interrupted for autographs and photos slowly at first, and then a steady stream begins to build. An Irish fan requests that he sign an Irish flag. A group of men fresh from the pool crowd around him for a photo. A family of four, not recognizing him at first, doubles back to seek a photo of their own.

Through it all, his demeanor never changes. His weight is on point for tomorrow’s weigh-ins, and he carries himself like someone who doesn’t have a worry in the world. And perhaps that is the secret to Lawler‘s longevity. In a sport where the athletes can place so much stress on themselves to perform at the highest level, Lawler just exists.

He is who he has always been, and neither people nor fame nor circumstance will change that. 

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The UFC’s welterweight and featherweight divisions are two of the most promising weight classes in all of MMA.

Both divisions will showcase respective title fights this weekend at UFC 189, as Conor McGregor takes on Chad Mendes for the interim featherweight strap and Robbie Lawler defends his welterweight belt for the first time in a rematch with Canadian superstar Rory MacDonald.

Needless to say, this Saturday will offer one of the best cards of 2015. But after this blockbuster event, which one of these rosters will possess the best bang for its buck?

Look no further. Here is a look inside two of the most competitive divisions in the sport today.

Begin Slideshow

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Despite losing five in a row, Josh Koscheck isn’t ready to call it quits on his MMA career.

On Friday, it was revealed that the former UFC welterweight title challenger had signed with Bellator MMA. Scott Coker, Bellator MMA President, announced the signing via Twitter.

 

 

At 37 years old, Koscheck spent almost his entire career inside the Octagon. Following an appearance on The Ultimate Fighter 1, in which he was eliminated by Diego Sanchez, Koscheck made his official UFC debut opposite Chris Sanford in April 2005.

Koscheck went on to pick up 15 UFC victories, beating Matt Hughes, Sanchez, Frank Trigg, Anthony Johnson and others. With a May 2010 win over Paul Daley, Koscheck earned a shot at then-champion Georges St-Pierre, but he was jabbed into oblivion by the Canadian and failed to capture the belt.

The last time Koscheck had his hand raised was in a split decision against Mike Pierce at UFC 143 in February 2012. As he has slowly faded out of title contention since then, many figured Koscheck would soon retire as a UFC fighter. However, Bellator MMA has clearly made it worth Koscheck‘s while to continue competing outside the Octagon.

 

 

Most big-name welterweights are competing under the UFC banner these days, but there is one glaring potential matchup for Koscheck within the Bellator MMA roster. In typical Koscheck fashion, the UFC veteran didn’t waste any time making his desired opponent known via a post on his Instagram account.

Only thing I want to do next…is b—h slap Paul Daley one more time!! Remember the ass kickin‘ I gave you?!!

So, it’s pretty clear who the top option is to welcome Koscheck to Bellator MMA. However, there are a couple other choices that could make sense for Koscheck.

Here are the most likely potential bouts to be booked for Koscheck‘s first MMA appearance outside the Octagon since an April 2004 showing against Luke Cummo at Ring of Combat 6.

 

Paul Daley vs. Dennis Olson Winner

At UFC 113, Koscheck and Daley met in a clash between two of the more potent trash talkers in the 170-pound division.

Predictably, Koscheck used his wrestling to control Daley on the ground en route to a decision win. Frustrated with his inability to stand in the bout, Daley threw a punch at Koscheck well after the final horn had already sounded.

Following Daley’s regrettable decision, he was permanently banned from the UFC and has since competed for several promotions such as Strikeforce and Bellator MMA. Aside from an exciting bout with Nick Diaz in April 2011, though, Daley has really been flying under the radar.

Having a rematch with Koscheck would be an excellent way for Daley to get back into the spotlight and show that he has improved.

Before that can happen, though, Daley would probably need to beat upcoming opponent Dennis Olson. Daley and Olson are set to meet at Bellator 140 in July, and wouldn’t it be something for Koscheck to enter the cage after a Daley win?

 

Michael Page vs. Rudy Bears

It’s less likely, but Bellator MMA may also look to use Koscheck to build up its up-and-coming welterweights right away.

Should that be the case, there might not be a more highly regarded prospect under the Bellator MMA banner than Michael Page. Fellow welterweight Chris Honeycutt is also receiving a good amount of attention, but he’s unlikely to compete against Koscheck because they train together.

Also at Bellator 140, Page will meet Rudy Bears. If he wins in impressive fashion and Daley loses or runs into injury problems, there’s a chance Page could fall into a great opportunity to elevate his standing against Koscheck.

Personally, I am more intrigued by Koscheck‘s matchups with wrestlers and would have been ecstatic about his Bellator MMA signing had Ben Askren still been with the promotion. However, the 170-pound class in Bellator MMA is very much a striking division at the moment.

So, Koscheck may be forced to go back to his wrestling roots in either of the two most likely bouts he has waiting for him in his new organization.

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