All posts by Kieran Daniels

Paddy ‘The Baddy’ Pimblett finally arrives in the UFC and he has a point to prove

MMA fans have waited half a decade for this day and it is finally upon us, Paddy ‘The Baddy’ Pimblett makes his UFC debut this Saturday in Las Vegas at the Apex.

He opens up the main card against Brazilian Luigi Vendramini on a card that is stacked with British talent and he may just prove to be the best of the lot.

This event was put together with the intention of being held in London in front of a full O2 Arena which would have been the perfect coming out party for the scouser. But with the UFC unable to get isolation rules waived for their non-UK staff, the party is postponed for now and Pimblett will have to prove his hype in a venue without fans.

It’s a massive shame for ‘The Baddy’ but probably more for the UFC themselves that they can’t showcase their new star in front of a fanatic crowd.

His well known walkout to his own mash up of songs will get any UFC attendance pumped but starting off in front of a home crowd would have been a perfect way to introduce the future lightweight contender.

That won’t affect Paddy when the cage is shut though. His last two fights were behind closed doors which both resulted in first round stoppages and he’s expecting similar this weekend.

Speaking to Mike Owens Media, Pimblett said ‘I’m gonna put it on him in a big way and he’s getting finished in one or two, I’m getting that performance bonus.” This match up certainly gives him that chance.

Vendramini doesn’t shy away from a fight and will meet Paddy in the middle if he wants to, but it will likely come down to whether Vendramini can deal with the Scousers unique and awkward grappling.

Pimblett is so quick, extremely flexible and can throw up submission attempts when you least expect it. Don’t be surprised to see him attempt a few on Saturday.

Vendramini though has plenty of motivation for this fight. Having lost in his last outing he is now 1-2 in the UFC and has admitted his only win kept him from getting a ‘normal job’, for the time being at least. A loss would mean one win in four and a likely cut from the roster on the horizon.

Should Paddy get the debut win, he’ll no doubt make the most of his interview post fight with Michael Bisping and have a well rehearsed call out prepared. Now it’s confirmed he’ll be contending in the lightweight division too, there’s plenty of names there to do so.

Pimblett is adamant he’s on his way to superstar status and insists he’s here to takeover much similar to a previous former two-weight Cage Warriors champion, Conor McGregor.

The comparisons with the Irish superstar aren’t just throw away comments. ‘The Baddy’ has all the attributes to become a household name and have a long and successful UFC career and this Saturday evening is the start of that journey.

Tom Aspinall has everything to become England’s best ever heavyweight

Combat sports’ Hollywood division is changing in the UFC and Liverpool’s very own Tom Aspinall is leading the way for English heavyweights in this transition as its sole representative.

The days of your big, labouring heavy hitters dominating at the top of the rankings are numbered as we begin to move into an era with leaner, quicker and more technically gifted athletes staking their claim to be contenders in the pinnacle of MMA.

It feels like the division has opened up this year since the goat Stipe Miocic was knocked out by Francis Ngannou at UFC 260.

We also have an interim champion in Cyril Gane, who is the number one example of this new era and proved that last month when he dominated and knocked out veteran Derick Lewis at UFC 265.

Tom Aspinall is certainly part of the new school and this Saturday he has a chance to showcase his talent once again as he comes up against Serghei Spivac in the co-main event.

Aspinall’s last outing got him into the rankings at 13th after he forced UFC legend Andrei Arlovski to tap with a rear naked choke. The way in which he pounced on the former heavyweight champion and finished him with such ease has really made people take notice.

This will be Aspinall’s biggest test so far though and he’ll need to use his entire skill set to come out of this with his arm raised.

Spivac is a powerful man, with a 13-2 record including six submissions and five knockouts to his name. He has won each of his last three bouts, including a unanimous decision win over Aleksei Oleinik in June. He steps in for Sergei Pavlovich on a week’s notice after the Russian had visa issues and was forced to withdraw.

Spivac is ranked one place above Pavlovich in the official UFC rankings, so it should be seen as a tougher challenge for Aspinall who is keen to advance his way up those charts.

A win for the Liverpudlian could bump him up into the top ten and set him on his way to some big nights, meaning the possibility of Aspinall being in title contention by the end of next year isn’t an unrealistic one.

He’s trained in MMA since seven years of age and is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt. His dad is a trainer at Team Kaebon in Liverpool and he even took time out of MMA to tune up his boxing skills where he spent time sparing with Tyson Fury. You really can’t be more prepared than Aspinall is for this.

With Dana White refusing to let the division stagnate while it waits for Jon Jones, by the time the former light heavyweight is ready to fight, he may well wish he hadn’t bothered moving up.

9 fighters the UFC should look to sign from other companies

As 2020 came to an end and 2021 began, the UFC announced there would be some major cuts happening to their roster.

The likes of former world champions Junior Dos Santos and Tyron Woodley, Alistair Overeem, Jacare Souza and Diego Sanchez have all been released in recent times among many others, with the UFC looking to freshen it up with the likes of Paddy Pimblett.

But there are other big talents out there in the other MMA organisations across the world, who Dana White an co. should be looking at more closely than others. Some are more known than others, but were we look at nine fighters currently competing in rival promotions that the UFC should look to sign.

Paul Hughes (7-1)
Featherweight – Cage Warriors

Cage Warriors is the number one MMA promotion in England and has supplied the UFC with many great fighters over the years, and Paul Hughes is destined to also make that jump.

A young professional at just 23, he has an impressive 7-1 record and is already a main card draw. He’s an unpredictable and exciting fighter that is capable of finishing fights in many different ways and combined with his bags of confidence and personality, this young Irishman will no doubt be a great addition to the UFC featherweight rankings when the time is right.

It might be a while since he just signed a new contract with the UK promotion, but the UFC will certainly pull the trigger if he keeps going in his current trajectory.

Yaroslav Amosov (25-0)
Welterweight – Bellator

The Ukrainian, Yaroslav Amosov is one the best welterweights in the world and a three-time world sambo champion who has a perfect 25-0 record in MMA.

At just 27 years of age, he has the potential to become one of the best welterweights ever should he continue the way he is and joining the UFC would allow him to do that. With Kamaru Usman currently looking a level above the rest in the division, new challengers to his belt would be welcomed.

He fights next month on June 11th at Bellator 260 for their welterweight title against Douglas Lima which could be one of the best fights of the year, where a win would really put him on the map.

Kayla Harrison (9-0)
Featherweight – PFL

Kayla Harrison is a two-time Olympic judo gold medalist in London and Rio and has seamlessly made the transition to MMA with a 9-0 record so far in her first three years as a professional.

She competes in the lightweight division of the Professional Fighters League but would have to get down to featherweight to add some much needed quality to the UFC featherweight division.

A division which doesn’t even have any rankings at this point in time and is at threat of being dropped by the company completely, so this could be an opportunity to save it. She trains at American Top Team so is in great company to continue developing her skills and hopefully be able to challenge the dominance of Amanda Nunes at some point in the future.

She’s already got the attention of the boss too, with Dana White recently name-checking her although he stated he’s not convinced she’s ready yet. We disagree and think she is but more importantly, so does she.

Lowen Tynanes (10-1)
Welterweight – One Championship

Lowen Tynanes has had a great start to his career with a 10-1 record, his only loss coming via a razor close split decision.

The Hawaiian born wrestler is so dangerous on the ground with four submission victories already and is a straight savage with his ground and pound, usually opting to land slicing elbows instead of punches to his grounded opponents.

With an already stacked welterweight division currently being headed up by some experienced quality, a little refresher with the 30-year-old could go a long way to some fantastic fights in the future.

Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (11-1)
Flyweight – Bellator

Nicknamed ‘The Iliminator’, Macfarlane is Bellator’s greatest ever homegrown women’s fighter.

No one in the promotion has defended a belt in a single reign more than her and she has the second longest win streak in the companies history with ten victories on the bounce, before losing her title in her most recent bout.

She’s a submission specialist with over 50% of her wins coming by forcing her opponent to tap out and she could be the level of opponent the UFC has been craving to test Valentina Shevchenko in the flyweight division.

There is just one problem however. Just last year she penned a ten-fight contract with the rival organisation, so it would be incredibly difficult and costly to lure her away, but would be well worth it.

Movlid Khaybulaev (16-0-1 1NC)
Featherweight – PFL

You can guarantee this suggestion wouldn’t be popular with fellow featherweights in the UFC.

Khaybulaev is an extremely exciting prospect in this weight class and could certainly hold his own amongst the top 15 right now. Currently undefeated in 18 professional fights, what better way for him to enter the number one MMA promotion than if he was to be matched up with a former opponent and current UFC fighter, Daniel Pineda?

Pineda did actually inflict defeat on the Dagestani fighter with a 1st round knockout but the result was overturned to a no contest, which reinstated his 0 due to Pineda testing positive for a banned substance.

So although his record was unaffected, you can be sure he would love to get revenge for that moment and put things right, at least within his own head. There’s no better platform than the UFC for it too.

Mukhamed Eminov (14-1)
Featherweight – AMC Fight Nights

Mukhamed Eminov is another featherweight with huge potential and already a champion at just 24 years of age at the Russian promotion, AMC Fight Nights.

He started his professional career with an incredible ten straight stoppage victories, including nine submissions, and has the base skills to go on and become a real threat in the UFC.

At such a young age he has plenty of time to perfect his craft and be able to hang with the best of the best in the sport, it’s just up to the UFC if they get him in early or let him gain experience away from the bright lights before offering him a contract.

Angela Lee (10-2)
Atomweight – One Championship

The UFC doesn’t currently have an atomweight division that Angela Lee could compete at, but Dana White has recently expressed his desire to create one for the promotion and that would fill the need to sign new talent.

If it was to be created there would be no better way to promote a new division than getting arguably the number one fighter in that class. The atomweight division is hugely popular in the far east region and with the UFC trying to break into that market more, this would be a huge step forward in that goal.

At just 24 years old Lee already holds a belt in one of the best promotions in the world and has defended it four times so far, the opportunity to create a lasting legacy in the sport by opening up a new division is an exciting possibility.

This is an incredibly exciting weight class and one the UFC will no doubt be bringing in to play soon and Angela Lee should be the star they use to build its hype.

Claressa Shields (0-0)
Lightweight – PFL

Now this is one certainly for the future and no one knows how Claressa Shields will fare in this sport but if she can make the transition from boxing to MMA and compete then this would be a no brainer for the UFC.

Shields is one of, if not the best women’s boxer ever, so she has the potential to be a superstar in MMA and offer value for PPV cards. Her boxing ability is undeniable which is proven by the hoard of belts she has and by the fact she was the first boxer in the four belt era, man or woman, to be undisputed in two weight categories.

Her first fight is next month, June 10th on a stacked card at PFL 4, so we get to see soon what she can offer. Coming from boxing where women are stifled to two minutes rounds, to MMA where women get the same five minute rounds as the men do, Shields can now show she has the ability to knock people out rather than playing the points game.

She’ll have to show that she’s come a long way with her takedown defence and grappling before the UFC signs her, but she’s already got the profile for the UFC to make her an even bigger star.

And IBF Middleweight World Champion Claressa Shields works out for the media at 5th Street Gym on April 4, 2019 in Miami, Florida. Shields is...

New recruit Paddy Pimblett will take the UFC to new heights

It was always going to happen eventually but it is finally official – Paddy ‘The Baddy’ Pimblett is a UFC fighter.

After yet another highlight reel finish at Cage Warriors 122, Pimblett finally accepted the UFC’s calls to join the number one organisation in the sport after making a plea to the camera to Dana White to get it done.

He’s a fighter the UFC have wanted for a long time now. An offer was previously made in 2016 when Paddy was just 21-years-old after he won the featherweight belt but Graham Boylan, the Cage Warriors owner, came up with a better financial package to keep hold of him.

Pimblett himself has also admitted he wasn’t ready at that time anyway and needed to gain more experience before making the step up and that’s certainly what has happened.

He’s gone from boy to man in the five years since and grown both physically and mentally. Having already gone through the lows of losing big fights and suffering a lengthy injury lay off, at just 26 he’s fully experienced the rollercoaster lifestyle of a professional MMA career.

Coming back from adversity to get two consecutive first round finishes has proved that Pimblett is ready for this new phase of his career.

The potential impact a UFC career can have on MMA in the UK is huge from ‘The Baddy’s point of view. He has a unique following like we haven’t seen before and has a fanatically, loyal young fan base. If you were to look into the crowd at some of the events he is part of, you’d be forgiven for thinking the WWE were in town.

Now that’s not meant as any disrespect by the way, it shows just how much of a hero this man is to the young MMA fan, especially in his hometown of Liverpool. Some have followed Paddy since his debut win in 2012 at just 17 years old on the same card as another UFC fighter, Darren Till.

The Echo arena is sold out in a flash whenever Pimblett has featured on a Cage Warriors card. He’s a big draw already and his stardom cannot be downplayed – no other fighter to never compete in the UFC bubble trends like Paddy does after a fight.

Liverpool is the home of MMA in England and is littered with gyms all over the city, but Pimblett has the potential to influence the next generation across the entire country and help to grow the sport and continue to prove its credibility. It’s the fastest growing sport in the world and the wave in the UK is about to get even bigger.

Pimblett has the character and charisma to potentially headline events for the UFC in the future. He can rock a microphone too, so expect him to say some outlandish things and bring some much needed energy to UFC press conferences again.

His walkouts are full of energy and with his trademark entrance music he gets a full arena hyped up and rocking before he enters the cage. He is a true showman and entertainer when it comes to everything outside the octagon.

Most importantly though, he has the ability to back his talk up. On the ground and in the grappling phases he his a dominant monster and it’s usually a wrap once a fight goes that way. Pimblett’s striking game has been his weakness but has gotten much better as his career has gone on and that will only continue to improve as he moves over to compete with the best of the best. Wrestling is the hardest part of the sport to learn, so he’s mastered the correct art first.

There’s potential for a Conor McGregor-like come up if Paddy finds his home in the UFC, although that is probably pushing it a little. The likelihood is that he’ll be eased into the featherweight division picture because of his marketability, but don’t be shocked to see him put straight into the fire on a main card.

With a contract signed and match-making decisions ready to be made, the possibility of Pimblett featuring on the expected Poirier vs McGregor 3 card at UFC 264 in July is mouth-watering and could see the UK rights holder BT Sport pull in their biggest pay-per-view figures ever.

You can make the argument that he is a bigger name and has a bigger following than 90% of the current UFC roster, so it would be surprising if we saw him used on any prelims. Paddy, like any successful and confident young man, has his haters. He’s a marmite character but any negativity is drowned out by his noisy supporters.

We’ve waited a long time for the inevitable to happen and see Pimblett in the octagon and the noise he will make doing so is going to expand the growth of MMA in the UK and Europe to new, higher heights.

He’s already achieved so much in his career but this is just the beginning of even greater things for Paddy Pimblett. The city of Liverpool are united in support of him but soon the entire UK will be talking about him.

Manel Kape taking the opportunity to introduce himself again

Just five weeks after his less than spectacular debut, Manel Kape is back in the Octagon on short notice to fight Matheus Nicolau this Saturday at UFC Vegas 21.

Many people were very eager to see Kape coming in to compete at the elite level of MMA when his signing was announced last year, but were left pretty deflated and disappointed by his performance against Alexandre Pantoja.

The former Rizin champion was all movement and no action for almost the entire 15 minutes. The volume of strikes from Pantoja were far greater than Kape’s, which swayed the judges to give the decision to the Brazilian as neither fighter looked like they wanted to commit to a finish.

A let down in his debut, however Kape has got fans excited to see him again after taking this fight with under two weeks notice and showing he wants to right the wrongs from that debut loss. It’s the exact sort of attitude that we love to see in fighters.

His opponent Nicolau was due to fight Tagir Ulanbekov until he pulled out for unconfirmed reasons which is the second time this has happened. The Brazilian is another up and coming fighter and they have similar records, both winning 15 fights with five losses for Kape and three for Nicolau.

After being released following a knockout defeat by Dustin Ortiz back in 2018, Nicolau will make his return to the organisation following consecutive wins outside the company.

This fight is a much better stylistic match up for Kape than his debut was against Pantoja. Despite being a champion at Rizin, putting him straight in against the UFC’s number five ranked flyweight in hindsight may have been too early. He can take some confidence from the fact he did stay the distance and wasn’t ever in too much danger and the fact that the UFC thought highly enough of him to put him in there in the first place.

Both fighters have a lot to prove and will want to show Dana White he wasn’t wrong in giving them a UFC contract. Kape will need to show a huge improvement in his activity in the cage as well as the urgency he shows in fights. Waiting around for opportunities won’t go well for him when he gets to the top end of the division, so he should use these moments and fights to get into the right habits.

Kape was on the list of fighters who are expected to have a good year in 2021, so the fact he’s getting back in as soon as the opportunity has arose give him ample opportunity to make that true. A win this weekend will put the debut loss at a distant memory and he can look forward to fighting a ranked opponent again in the summer.

‘Starboy’ has shown he has the right attitude for the UFC, now he needs to show he has the skills.

Islam Makhachev back to continue his journey to gold at UFC 259

It’s been nearly 18 months since Islam Makhachev was last in the octagon and he’ll be eager to remind everyone why many tip him to become a champion in the lightweight division, including the man who still holds the belt.

Following in the footsteps of his training partner, friend and fellow countryman Khabib Nurmagomedov is exactly what Islam has set out to do in his career. Their coach obviously sees the potential too.

In a recent interview with RTA Sport, Javier Mendez said although Khabib is the best there’s ever been when it comes to the ground game, Islam’s standup skills are stronger and could lead him to becoming a better fighter all round.

“Islam technically in the stand-up, he’s better. On the ground, they’re both two-time Sambo world champions, so it’s just a matter of luck. If they get the right fights, and they don’t get hit with some great shots that could put them out, if everything goes according to plan, Islam is going to be a little bit of a better version of Khabib in the technical sense.”

That is very high praise considering he has worked with Khabib regularly since 2012.

It won’t be long until we see how much of that will be true as his opponents begin to get tougher. Makhachev is on a six fight win streak since suffering his only loss of his career back in 2015 and now he faces the American Drew Dober at UFC 259, looking to make it seven.

The Dagestani fighter was supposed to face former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 254, before the Brazilian tested positive for COVID-19 and the bout was cancelled. It was then quickly rescheduled to headline UFC Vegas 14 until an injury to Islam forced him to withdraw and Paul Felder was brought in to save the card.

The UFC clearly have big plans for Makhachev hence trying to match him up with a former champion and still somewhat of a contender. A win there would have likely seen him move into the top ten of the rankings.

He also had an earlier fight due for May of last year against Alexander Hernandez that was cancelled due to the pandemic, so it’s been a frustrating time for Makhachev and he’ll be eager to get back into the octagon and continue his run.

Drew Dober may not be the higher ranked opponent Islam would have wanted but he’s found himself in a similar situation that Khabib was once in, in that no one really wants to fight him.

Finding someone willing to get in the octagon with Makhachev has been hard. The risks posed with fighting Islam outweigh the rewards at the moment due to his vast skill set, so he’s been on a long road into the rankings where he currently sits at number 14.

Even Michael Chandler dismissed the chances of fighting him at UFC 254 when Islam called him out to fill in for Dos Anjos, despite already being there on Fight Island and ready to be on weight as back up for the main event.

Don’t be fooled by the fact Dober isn’t in the rankings right now though. He was ranked 15th after his last fight and only moved out after Chandler’s debut win at UFC 257 which saw him positioned in 4th and subsequently everyone below moving down a place.

The American has won six of his last seven fights and the last three coming via knockout which all earned him performance bonuses. This won’t be an easy fight for Makhachev and certainly is another step up against a dangerous and powerful opponent.

No One Wants to Take a Fight With Him"- Khabib Nurmagomedov Comes Out in  Support of Islam Makhachev - EssentiallySports

Dober isn’t phased by the hype though and suggests it’s only due to his training partner that it is there. Speaking to MMA Junkie he said, “I think a lot of his hype comes from when you have one of the greatest of all time talk so highly of you.”

A loss wouldn’t be tragic for Islam, but a win will move him towards the top ten and will certainly set up an interesting summer for him. The lightweight division is moving quickly and is stacked with talent so there are huge fights awaiting him should he pass this latest test.

The stage is set for Islam to put himself into the mainstream and make him unavoidable this Saturday at UFC 259. Featuring on the main card before the first of three title fights on the night, which many will be tuned into due to the historic main event, gives him the platform to make casual fans aware of his presence.

Whenever the lightweight division is spoken about names such as Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier, Michael Chandler, Justin Gaethje and Charles Oliveira are suggested as potential next champions, but Makhachev is someone they should all be looking over their shoulders for.

Alistair Overeem looking for one final run at heavyweight

My time is running out,” were the words from Alistair Overeem himself in a recent interview, as he prepares to do battle with Alexander Volkov at UFC Vegas 18.

It almost certainly is too, as the 40-year-old prepares for his 67th professional MMA fight. A UFC veteran and a fan favourite, you’ll struggle to find someone who doesn’t want to see Overeem with gold around his waist before he lay the gloves down.

He already knows how it feels to be a champion though, having won heavyweight titles under two previous promotions, however it’s the UFC belt that he so badly craves.

Overeem has been doing this since he was 15 years of age and dedicated his life to the sport of MMA. Reaching the top of the UFC heavyweight division would be the most satisfying reward of his career.

Having lost his only title fight in his UFC career so far against Stipe Miocic in 2016, he is desperate to get one more crack at it. He doesn’t care that only one fighter has won a championship belt beyond 40 years of age in the UFC.

He has four wins in his last five fights, all coming via knockout against ranked heavyweights trying to break through into the high end of the rankings. This has kept Overeem in the top six and shown he won’t just be a gatekeeper for this division yet.

You could say Overeem can count himself unlucky that he’s not on a five fight win streak too. Overeem was up on the cards against Jairzinho Rozenstruik two fights ago, before being on the wrong end of a wicked right hand late in the fifth round and a controversial stoppage. He would have certainly survived the last four seconds of that fight if his lip hadn’t almost fallen from his face.

UFC Fight Night: Overeem v Rozenstruik : News Photo

In his last outing though he defeated the young and tough Brazilian, Augusto Sakai who was on a six fight win streak before running into Overeem. ‘The Demolition Man’ wore down the number nine ranked heavyweight in the championship rounds and forced Herb Dean to stop the fight in the fifth after some brutal ground and pound.

Overeem is arguably in his best form since joining the UFC back in 2011. Talking to MMA Junkie, the Dutchman said; “I think I’m the most dangerous to fight right now. I’m in the most peak performance I’ve ever been.

He’ll need that to be true at UFC Vegas 18 at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas.

Alexander Volkov is another very experienced fighter and will be a tougher opponent than his recent victims. The seventh ranked heavyweight also has championship ambitions in the UFC, having held the belt under former promotions Bellator and M1.

When he came into the UFC he charged up to number three in the rankings after just four fights, including a notable win over Fabrício Werdum.

So this will be yet another tough night in the octagon for Overeem and although he may be tempted to be smart, patient and use his elite clinch and ground game to wear down the durable Russian for a points victory, an emphatic finish would be some statement.

UFC Fight Night: Werdum v Volkov : News Photo

This is make or break for Overeem though in terms of ever being in potential title contention again. A loss will see him drop at least one ranking place immediately and possibly more if Ciryl Gane defeats Rozenstruik at the end of the month.

If that happens then it will be too difficult and long a road ahead from there for a fighter of his age to come back from. Dana White would also likely look to other fighters to push into his limelight.

A win however sets up a run of rematches on the last stretch to the top. Four of the five men above him in the rankings, including the champion, have beaten him before, so it would truly be something special should he do so.

Overeem has admitted that if he ever does lift the UFC belt he will retire there and then, despite saying he feels he can fight on on for another five years.

A perfect sign off to his career is one I’d love to see and I’ll certainly be rooting for him on Saturday, as I’m sure a lot of others will be.

10 fighters who will have a big 2021

Coming out of a year where the world seemed to stop due to the coronavirus pandemic, the UFC have managed to set up possibly the most exciting year yet.

Dana White has cut a lot of fighters from the payroll which has paved the way for up and coming fighters to make their way into the rankings. Dominant champions have moved up in weight to open up divisions and we’ll surely see gold change hands more than we did in 2020.

Opportunities have arisen and the current roster is ready to take them. Here are ten fighters who have big years ahead of them. Whether it’s new comers charging up the rankings or seasoned professionals putting themselves into the hall of fame, keep your eye on them all.

Kevin Holland

Many fans’ Fighter of the Year for 2020 and it is hard to argue against it. Five fights and five wins, which was a joint record in the UFC for victories in a calendar year, has seen ‘The Trailblazer’ race up the middleweight rankings into 10th place.

Displaying a wide range of abilities throughout his run has made people stand up & take notice. He now needs to build on that and this year could see Holland be involved in some big nights. But first he must deal with number seven ranked Derek Brunson.

With the champion Israel Adesanya moving up in weight for his next fight to become a double champ and the number one contender Robert Whittaker taking on Paulo Costa, Holland could join the elites of this division in 2021 with a win or two.

Jon Jones

Being knocked off the pound-for-pound top spot by Khabib Nurmagomedov didn’t go down well in the Jones household. He immediately took to Twitter to vent his frustrations and it was clear to see he wants and feels he deserves that spot back.

Moving up now to heavyweight after relinquishing the light heavyweight title, expect his next fight to be announced against the winner of the UFC 260 main event when Stipe Miocic defends his heavyweight title against Franics Ngannou.

Already considered by many as the greatest of all time, moving up and becoming the heavyweight champion sets that accolade in stone. A legacy defining year ahead for Jonny ‘Bones’ Jones.

Khamzat Chimaev

2020 was a big year for the Chechen but 2021 could be even bigger. After his debut on Fight Island he set a turnaround record of 10 days to get his second UFC victory and became a fan favourite instantly.

Now 3-0 in the UFC he will face Leon Edwards on March 13th, where a win will propel him into the top half of the welterweight division. He’s ready to fight anyone at anytime so expect him to be active. Only his potential opponents will stop that.

By the time arenas are full to capacity with fans, could the new star already have gold around his waist?

Israel Adesanya

Another man moving up in weight class, the middleweight champion has dealt with the contenders put his way so far and is looking to test himself at 205lbs in the light heavyweight division.

An immediate title fight with newly crowned champion Jan Błachowicz at UFC 259 would put ‘Stylebender’ in the small company of multi-weight champions. It would also set up a potential super fight with former champion Jon Jones.

Is this the year people start mentioning Adesanya in the G.O.A.T debate?

Lerone Murphy

Already off to good start after his victory against Douglas Andrade at UFC Fight Island 8, an active year could see Lerone Murphy get a match up against a ranked featherweight.

The Englishman likes to get his opponents out of the octagon quickly, however showed patience to win a unanimous decision on Fight Island.

He has a story to go along side his skills too, a survivor of being shot in the face twice earns him the nickname ‘The Miracle’. Opportunities will certainly come his way this year and he’ll be ready to take them.

Tom Aspinall

The only man flying the flag for England in the heavyweight division, the all action scouser can start moving into the rankings in 2020.

His first outing of the year is scheduled for UFC Vegas 19 next month against Andrei Arlovski and gives Aspinall a chance to test himself against an experienced veteran, who has been in the cage with the likes of Miocic, Overeem & Rozenstruik.

Fighting early in the year allows him to get another two or three more fights in and this knockout artist will surely give us some highlights in 2021 in return.

Yan Xiaonan

The number three ranked strawweight is on an incredible 11 fight streak in MMA, six in the UFC, and is right in line for a title shot in 2021.

By her own admission one more fight will be needed before that opportunity is earned, and a possible match up with the number two ranked Joanna Jędrzejczyk is one Dana White should be looking to make.

Whichever opponent comes her way, a win will see the possibility of a historic event. If China carries on their successful fight against COVID-19, imagine an all-Chinese title fight with current champion Zhang Weili in Asia, with fans in attendance. What a night that would be.

Manel Kape

Kape is scheduled to make his debut in the UFC at flyweight on the main card of UFC Vegas 18 and comes into the company after leaving Rizin as the champion. He also served as the back up to the UFC 256 main event between Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno.

Another exciting young fighter who doesn’t like to leave his fate to the judges, he’s got 15 wins on his record with 14 coming via TKO or submission. An impressive win can introduce him to fans and set him up for a huge 2021.

Song Yadong

Nicknamed ‘Kungfu Monkey’, Yadong is on an impressive eight fight unbeaten run.

His first fight of the year is scheduled to come on the prelims card at UFC 259 against another young fighter, Kyler Phillips. With a wide range of finishes on his record, Yadong is someone who will excite people this year and can start moving up the featherweight division and will be keen to make up for inactivity last year.

Magomed Ankalaev

Magomed Ankalaev dealt with Ion Cutelaba twice in 2020 and after his opponent claimed playing possum in their first meeting, he did it in even more emphatic fashion the second time around.

He’s now on course to get himself into title contention with a successful 2021. The 11th ranked light heavyweight is scheduled to face number eight ranked Nikita Krylov in his biggest test yet at UFC Vegas 20 next month.

A win there and if the Dagestanian can be active and add to his 9 finishes, he can end the year knowing a fight for the belt won’t be far away.

Why Khamzat Chimaev is going to please Dana White this year – again

There’s only one thing Dana White likes more than money and that’s active fighters, because active fighters make money. That is why the president of the UFC, Dana White, is a huge fan of the Chechen born Khamzat Chimaev.

A fighter that wants to fight as much as possible no matter the opponent, no matter the weight AND can work the mic, is exactly what Chimaev brings.

Dana must have been grinning ear to ear when in his post-fight interview after a dominant debut victory on Fight Island ‘Borz’ said to John Anik, “I feel amazing. I want to fight next week,” and then declared, “I’m going to be champion. Smash everybody.”

$150,000 in performance bonuses have gone Chimaev’s way already, as well as generously being placed at 14th on the welterweight rankings. He’s certainly being looked after.

Dana’s preferential treatment didn’t end there as we know. The twice delayed fight with Leon Edwards is one that the number three ranked man in the division could really do without, but is a fantastic opportunity for Chimaev.

Let’s not forget that just six months ago the Englishman could have been fighting for the title at UFC 251 against Kamaru Usman on Fight Island, so five rounds with an undefeated fighter that has a similar fighting style to Khabib Nurmagomedov isn’t ideal.

Unfortunately for Edwards, facing Chimaev has ended up being his only option. After turning down that Usman fight, as well as a match up with number one ranked Colby Covington and number 11 Geoff Neal in 2020, it was a matter of taking this fight or losing your ranking completely. That sort of attitude isn’t thought of too fondly at this elite level.

Dana White also sees Leon Edwards as a bit of a problem. The 29-year-old is simply not a pay-per-view fighter.

He’s featured just once on a pay-per-view card and only then on the prelims. His highlight reel is almost non-existent with seven out of his ten UFC victories coming via decision, and he doesn’t use the mic to help generate any excitement towards him either.

But with the way the ranking system works in the UFC, a man as skilled in mixed martial arts as Edwards is will always slowly rise towards the top of them despite the lack of star power he holds.

So the timing of Chimaev’s arrival couldn’t have been better for Dana. My feeling is that he beats Leon Edwards, then Edwards will be left having to start his run at a title shot all over again and that could see him look to fight under a different promotion.

The lure of a better chance at gold and more money over at Bellator may be too easy an option for Leon and that would also mean joining his brother, Fabian Edwards, who fights in their middleweight division.

Finding Leon another fight while Chimaev continues to fully recover from COVID-19 could have easily been done, but Dana has chosen just to postpone until March 13th. More evidence to suggest the president knows the Chechen can help move him aside.

If it plays out as such, the UFC president will be a happy man replacing a dangerous but unmarketable fighter in Leon Edwards with a future star in Khamzat Chimaev. We would also be left with a real possibility that the Chechen could get a title shot before the year is up.

Kamaru Usman is the current champion, but again is a man who fails to excite even the avid UFC fan and the sales of his pay-per-views rely heavily on his challenger.

Having Chimaev as his star of the welterweight division and a poster boy for the UFC would please Dana White greatly. He’s already mentioned that someone new will arise once Conor McGregor is done, could this be the beginning of a passing of the guard?