Monday, 9 April 2018

UFC 223 report: Nurmagomedov holds nerve to overcome Iaquinta for UFC lightweight title

By Alistair Hendrie

After a chaotic prelude to Saturday’s UFC 223 card in Brooklyn, New York, Khabib Nurmagomedov kept his cool, outpointed Al Iaquinta and ultimately walked away with the UFC lightweight title around his waist. The Russian had to cope with both Tony Ferguson and Max Holloway pulling out with injuries during fight week, eventually using his suffocating wrestling and merciless ground-and-pound to shut out Iaquinta by verdicts of 50-45 and 50-43 (twice). 

With that, Nurmagomedov, unbeaten after 26 bouts, remains one of the most destructive fighters in the sport and “The Eagle” now only needs victories over the likes of Ferguson and Conor McGregor to complete his dominance of the division. Iaquinta, battered and bloodied at the nose, was a willing dance partner and in fact asserted his jab and enjoyed fragments of success in the latter stages. 

Nurmegomedov dominated rounds one and two, clamping onto single-leg takedowns with brute force and landing cold and clinical strikes from back mount. Iaquinta took the fight on 24 hours’ notice, though, and didn’t go down easily. The New Yorker kept his spirits despite the damage inflicted upon his face, and in rounds four and five he stood and traded punches with his exalted rival. By then, he was nevertheless behind on the scorecards and Nurmegomedov coasted behind his jab to finally win his crown. 

In the co-main event, women’s strawweight titlist Rose Namajunas showed that her 2017 knockout of Joanna Jedrzejczyk was no fluke as she flummoxed her rival in the rematch, boxing and moving to take three scores of 49-46. If their first meeting was explosive, their repeat turn was tense and technical. Although it lacked drama, Rose exhibited beautiful technique and head movement in the stand-up exchanges to hold on to her belt. 

She darted in and out of range early, with both women staggered during the first major coming-together at the end of round one. As the battle wore on, Namajunas landed the jab from all angles, boxing with speed, spite and an element of craft she hadn’t displayed previously. Although the challenger found the target with leg kicks in rounds four and five, Namajunas adjusted well and saw out her victory with uppercuts and hooks on the counter. Predictably, and naively, Joanna disputed the result, but Namajunas is a cut above the rest. 

Brazilian featherweight Renato Moicano enjoyed judges’ tallies of 30-27 (twice) and 29-28 over Calvin Kattar, earning the nod through brutal leg kicks and a varied selection of punches. Moicano upped the tempo in round three, forcing his rival’s back to the fence with vicious hooks, elbows and knees up close. After also shutting down Jeremy Stephens in 2017, the 28-year-old has the cardio, game-planning ability and size – at 5 foot 11 – to make a name for himself at 145lbs.

Meanwhile, Zabit Magomedsharipov’s seemingly cast-iron decision over Kyle Bochniak – 30-27 (twice) and 29-28 – is a new entrant into the list of fights you need to see before you die. Seriously, stop reading this report, find video footage of the fight, and sit back and enjoy the mayhem. Undeterred by giving up five inches in height, Bochniak gleefully rushed into the eye of a storm and ate an array of wheel kicks, switch kicks and spinning back fists. The pace was furious throughout and both men swung wildly in the last thirty seconds, with Bochniak absorbing an onslaught of straight punches in order to land his own haymakers. It’s clear that Magomedsharipov has world class potential and overwhelming physical gifts at 145lbs, but Bochniak is a savage to keep an eye on. Dates with Kattar or Shane Burgos would be thrilling. 

Elsewhere on the main card, lightweight Chris Gruetzmacher’s two-round beatdown of Joe Lauzon was uncomfortable to watch, particularly in the second phase when Gruetzmacher’s hooks, knees and crosses smashed through Lauzon’s guard, leaving “Creepy Joe” with a mish-mash of seeping cuts across his face and two purple bruises ballooning from below his eyes. In the end, Lauzon lived up to his moniker and looked like something out a horror movie. 

On FS1 Prelims, women’s strawweight Karolina Kowalkiewicz edged Felice Herrig by scorecards of 29-28 (twice) and one 28-29 in the other direction, while women’s flyweight Ashlee Evans-Smith boxed rings around the smaller Bec Rawlings for three 30-27s. Elsewhere, lightweight Olivier Aubin-Mercier knocked the wind out of Evan Dunham’s sails with a body assault in round one, while 205lbs hopeful Devin Clark outdid Mike Rodriguez by two 30-27s and one 29-28.

Let us know who Nurmagomedov should tackle next - Ferguson? McGregor? Or even Georges St-Pierre? - by reaching out on Twitter

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Who is the best pound-for-pound MMA fighter in the world?

By Alistair Hendrie

To determine the best fighter in the world, you need to take into account plenty of factors: form, skill, opposition and dominance, for example. So, if a champion defends his or her crown via a string of finishes, does that equal or better a run of decisions? Should Conor McGregor top the list despite his inactivity, or should Tyron Woodley set the pace regardless of a couple of boring fights?

It’s a debate which rings around gyms, television studios, offices and of course pubs all over the world, and that’s exactly why Alistair Hendrie Sport will be releasing its pound-for-pound list at the start of every month.

To qualify for the list, a fighter should be considered active, so although Georges St-Pierre, for instance, is one of the most skilled and dominant fighters on the planet, he vacated his middleweight title, leaving him dormant for the moment.

Now that you know the criteria we’re looking for and pre-requisites for entry, take a look at the pound-for-pound best mixed martial artists in the world.

Male – April 2018

1 – Demetrious Johnson (USA) (125lbs)
2 – Max Holloway (USA) (145lbs)
3 – Daniel Cormier (USA) (205lbs)
4 – Stipe Miocic (USA) (265lbs)
5 – Jon Jones (USA) (205lbs)
6 – Conor McGregor (IRL) (155lbs)
7 – Tyron Woodley (USA) (170lbs)
8 – Robert Whittaker (AUS) (185lbs)
9 – Tony Ferguson (USA) (155lbs)
10 – TJ Dillashaw (USA) (135lbs)
11 – Jose Aldo (BRA) (145lbs)
12 – Cody Garbrandt (USA) (135lbs)
13 – Rafael dos Anjos (BRA) (170lbs)
14 – Yoel Romero (CUB) (185lbs)
15 – Francis Ngannou (FRA) (265lbs)
16 – Robbie Lawler (USA) (170lbs)
17 – Stephen Thompson (USA) (170lbs)
18 – Dominic Cruz (USA) (135lbs)
19 – Khabib Nurmagomedov (RUS) (155lbs)
20 – Brian Ortega (USA) (145lbs) (NE)
21 – Frankie Edgar (USA) (145lbs) (-1)
22 – Volkan Ozdemir (SWI) (205lbs) (-1)
23 – Michael Bisping (GBR) (185lbs) (-1)
24 – Luke Rockhold (USA) (185lbs) (-1)
25 – Edson Barboza (BRA) (155lbs) (-1)

April 2018 – Female

1 – Amanda Nunes (BRA) (135lbs)
2 – Rose Namajunas (USA) (115lbs)
3 – Joanna Jedrzejczyk (POL) (115lbs)
4 – Cris Cyborg (BRA) (145lbs)
5 – Valentina Schevchenko (UKR) (125lbs)
6 – Jessica Andrade (BRA) (115lbs)
7 – Tecia Torres (USA) (115lbs)
8 – Raquel Pennington (USA) (135lbs)
9 – Holly Holm (USA) (145lbs)
10 – Claudia Gadhela (BRA) (115lbs)
11 – Nicco Montano (USA) (125lbs)
12 - Tonya Evinger (USA) (135lbs)
13 - Megan Anderson (AUS) (145lbs)
14 - Karolina Kowalkiewicz (POL) (115lbs)
15 - Barb Honchak (USA) (125lbs)
16 - Carla Esparza (USA) (115lbs)
17 - Felice Herrig (USA) (115lbs)
18 - Cynthia Calvillo (USA) (115lbs)
19 - Germaine de Randamie (NED) (145lbs)
20 - Alexis Davis (CAN) (125lbs)
21 - Julliana Pena (USA) (135lbs)
22 - Angela Lee (CAN) (105lbs)
23 Sara McMann (USA) (135lbs)
24 - Jennifer Maia (BRA) (125lbs)
25 – Marion Renau (NE)

Whether you agree or disagree with our standings, join in the discussion and let us know your pound-for-pound lists on Twitter.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Who is the best pound-for-pound MMA fighter in the world?

By Alistair Hendrie

To determine the best fighter in the world, you need to take into account plenty of factors: form, skill, opposition and dominance, for example. So, if a champion defends his or her crown via a string of finishes, does that equal or better a run of decisions? Should Conor McGregor top the list despite his inactivity, or should Tyron Woodley set the pace regardless of a couple of boring fights?

It’s a debate which rings around gyms, television studios, offices and of course pubs all over the world, and that’s exactly why Alistair Hendrie Sport will be releasing its pound-for-pound list at the start of every month.

To qualify for the list, a fighter should be considered active, so although Georges St-Pierre, for instance, is one of the most skilled and dominant fighters on the planet, he vacated his middleweight title, leaving him dormant for the moment.

Now that you know the criteria we’re looking for and pre-requisites for entry, take a look at the pound-for-pound best mixed martial artists in the world.

Male – March 2018

1 – Demetrious Johnson (USA) (125lbs)
2 – Max Holloway (USA) (145lbs)
3 – Daniel Cormier (USA) (205lbs)
4 – Stipe Miocic (USA) (265lbs)
5 – Conor McGregor (IRL) (155lbs) (+1)
6 – Tyron Woodley (USA) (170lbs) (+1)
7 – Robert Whittaker (AUS) (185lbs) (+1)
8 – Tony Ferguson (USA) (155lbs) (+1)
9 – TJ Dillashaw (USA) (135lbs) (+1)
10 – Jose Aldo (BRA) (145lbs) (+1)
11 – Cody Garbrandt (USA) (135lbs) (+1)
12 – Rafael dos Anjos (BRA) (170lbs) (+1)
13 – Yoel Romero (CUB) (185lbs) (NE)
14 – Francis Ngannou (FRA) (265lbs)
15 – Robbie Lawler (USA) (170lbs)
16 – Stephen Thompson (USA) (170lbs)
17 – Dominic Cruz (USA) (135lbs)
18 – Khabib Nurmagomedov (RUS) (155lbs)
19 – Frankie Edgar (USA) (155lbs)
20 – Volkan Ozdemir (SWI) (205lbs)
21 – Michael Bisping (GBR) (185lbs)
22 – Luke Rockhold (USA) (185lbs)
23 – Edson Barboza (BRA) (155lbs)
24 – Rory McDonald (CAN) (170lbs)
25 - Alex Gustafsson (SWE) (205lbs)

March 2018 – Female

1 – Amanda Nunes (BRA) (135lbs)
2 – Rose Namajunas (USA) (115lbs)
3 – Joanna Jedrzejczyk (POL) (115lbs)
4 – Cris Cyborg (BRA) (145lbs)
5 – Valentina Schevchenko (UKR) (125lbs)
6 – Jessica Andrade (BRA) (115lbs) (+1)
7 – Tecia Torres (USA) (115lbs) (-1)
8 – Raquel Pennington (USA) (135lbs)
9 – Holly Holm (USA) (145lbs)
10 – Claudia Gadhela (BRA) (115lbs)
11 – Nicco Montano (USA) (125lbs)
12 - Tonya Evinger (USA) (135lbs)
13 - Megan Anderson (AUS) (145lbs)
14 - Karolina Kowalkiewicz (POL) (115lbs)
15 - Barb Honchak (USA) (125lbs)
16 - Carla Esparza (USA) (115lbs) (NE)
17 - Felice Herrig (USA) (115lbs)
18 - Cynthia Calvillo (USA) (115lbs)
19 - Germaine de Randamie (NED) (145lbs)
20 - Alexis Davis (CAN) (125lbs)
21 - Julliana Pena (USA) (135lbs) (+1)
22 - Angela Lee (CAN) (105lbs) (+1)
23 Sara McMann (USA) (135lbs) (-2)
24 - Jennifer Maia (BRA) (125lbs)
25 – Marion Renau (NE)

Whether you agree or disagree with our standings, join in the discussion and let us know your pound-for-pound lists on Twitter.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Cage Warriors 90 Report: McCann takes out Tyrell in round two to win flyweight prize

By Alistair Hendrie

Molly McCann announced herself as one of Britain’s brightest non-UFC prospects on Saturday night, knocking out Bryony Tyrell with relentless punches to lift the Cage Warriors women’s flyweight title. Buoyed by raptures of support at Liverpool’s Echo Arena, McCann worked her way into the fight and eventually rattled off a salvo of straight punches and digs to the body that left Tyrell turning away and in no state to continue. McCann moves to 7-1 and judging by her bravado, exciting fights and prowess on the mic, she looks like a star in the making.

The scouser probed for openings in round one, pumping out her jab and straight punches and catching Tyrell’s kicks. McCann kept her guard up and maintained a high level of activity, but her strikes – more spiteful than her rival's – whistled past their target. Credit to her, Tyrell switched up the rhythm by throwing leg kicks and question mark kicks. She also offered different looks, switching to a karate stance and landing her side kick.

However, by round two, McCann’s sturdier frame at 125lbs and superior power took its toll. The Next Generation MMA stand-out surged in with hooks around Tyrell’s guard. As McCann ramped up the output, ‘Killa Bee’’s defence’s deserted her. Piston straights and hooks crashed into Tyrell’s head. Tumbling forward, Tyrell turned away with referee Marc Goddard waving the bout off immediately.

McCann claimed she wants to defend her title but truth be told, Cage Warriors may find it difficult to find any worthy opponents. Indeed, Kate Jackson is tied up with Bellator, while Cage Warriors’ former leading 125lb-ers – such as Pannie Kianzad and Agnieska Niedzwiedz – are now signed to Invicta. McCann may need another year of seasoning to reach the UFC, but Tyrell, at 38, has perhaps missed her chance.

The co-main event featured a redemptive victory for Norwegian lightweight Alexander Jacobsen, who demolished Lawrence Fitzpatrick in the opening seconds with a looping hook at range. Jacobsen was coming off a defeat to world titlist Chris Fishgold but the Scandinavian looked rejuvenated with his old foe in his corner for support.

‘Bad Romance’ bundled forward with a tirade of punches which barely missed their intended destination. Jacobsen, though, was in no mood to hang around – as the theory goes, if you swing wildly five times, you might land once. That’s exactly what Jacobsen did. His hook thudded into Fitzpatrick’s jaw, sending the Liverpudlian to the canvas in a crumpled heap. Jacobsen postured up beautifully, landing ground and pound at will to put his opponent out of commission.

Also on the main card, German heavyweight Ruben Wolf turned the tables on scouser Shawn Kenny, winning a scramble in round two to lock up an americana. Both men tasted the canvas in a slobber-knocker for the ages, Wolf after a crude hit over the top, and Kenny after fighting fire with fire on the inside. While Kenny edged the opener with the better footwork and combinations, he let the bout slip through his fingers when he gave up side control. Wolf jumped on the americana and as soon as he cranked it, that was all it took.

Paddy Pimblett returned to Cage Warriors in similarly explosive fashion with an arm-triangle over Alex Savvidis in round two of their lightweight collision. The Next Generation MMA man showed all his wit and skill on the mat in round one and he finished the job in the next phase, jumping up for a flying triangle. Once he’d sealed the triangle from the bottom, he heaved pressure onto the point of the elbow and earned one of UK MMA’s most memorable submissions.

Speaking of which, Pimblett’s 155lbs team-mate, Elliot Jenkins, also earned a tap with a first round head-and-arm choke over Josh Abraham. Jenkins brought his A-game with smart ground and pound and he never let up once he earned top position. There was another submission for Warrington weltweight Matthew Bonner, who ended Mick Stanton with a rear naked choke in the dying fragments on round two. In the same division Andreas Tricomitis edged past Mark Kinsella via a split decision, while Bobby Pallett undid Dillon Manning in the first session with a head-and-arm choke.

Read about Bryony Tyrell's career in nursing and her thoughts on Brexit in Alistair Hendrie Sport's exclusive interview. 

Friday, 23 February 2018

Cage Warriors 90 Preview: McCann guns for hometown glory against Tyrell

By Alistair Hendrie

Liverpool’s Molly McCann takes centre stage on Saturday night, as she aims to take full advantage of local support when she faces Bryony Tyrell for the vacant Cage Warriors flyweight title in the main event at Cage Warriors 90. The proud scouser, who has spoken out against knife crime and bullying in her local area, is an ardent Everton fan and has built a reputation in her hometown for her exciting fights and measured aggression.

Embodying the Next Generation style of working behind the jab, McCann sets her attacks up beautifully and disrupts the rhythm with teep kicks and low kicks. Now 3-1 as a pro, she weathered early takedowns against Priscilla de Souza in October 2017 to tee off with strikes from the outside and earn a lopsided decision.

Funnily enough, McCann used to compete out of Ippon in Bournemouth. It was back then that she frequently trained with Tyrell, who resides 45 minutes from Bournemouth at Exiles MMA in Southampton. Tyrell has a background in striking and clinched the BCMMA and 360 strawweight titles in her early career, shutting out her opponents with a blend of kicks and timely takedowns. She works diligently from back mount, and looked impressive in drawing with Lanchana Green and stopping Jade Barker-Morge with a succession of ground-and-pound.

Although Tyrell claims she is on friendly terms with McCann, that should go out of the window once the cage door shuts. Expect ‘Meatball’ McCann to push the pace and work from the outside. Her best chance of glory would be to back Tyrell against the fence and slowly but surely break her down. She’ll be able to do that if she sticks to her jab and mixes up her kicks. However, Tyrell is a decent striker herself, and could find inroads though strikes to the head and body. I do feel, though, that McCann’s aggression and youth will help her grab a world title on home turf.

Speaking of titles, Alexander Jacobsen had a shot at lightweight gold at Cage Warriors 88 against Chris Fishgold. Eventually, the Norwegian tapped to a rear naked choke after shipping a barrage of pressure, but Jacobsen returns in Saturday’s co-main event against Liverpool’s Lawrence Fitzpatrick.

Although Jacobsen is happy to walk through punishment to land his own blows, his takedowns are especially powerful. He drives his opponents across the cage, scoring a range of trips, throws and double-leg drives. He boasts power in each fist and is particularly adept at punching around the guard from top position.

Fitzpatrick, though, is another excellent wrestler. Sharpening his skills on the north-west scene, the scouser is more than capable of dominating from half guard and side control. He owns a rear naked choke over the former Pride and Cage Rage maverick, Charles ‘Krazy Horse’ Bennett, and holds three submissions and three knockouts on his 6-1 ledger.

I feel it’s time for Fitzpatrick to step up to the best in Europe, and of course Jacobsen represents a move in the right direction. This bout will come down to who can dictate the pace and Fitzpatrick could earn the win if he scores an early takedown and works intelligently for the submission.

Also on the main card, Liverpool’s Echo Arena crowd will brace itself for fireworks as another local, heavyweight Shawn Kenny, goes up against Germany’s Ruben Wolf. Kenny is a true throwback who loves trading in the pocket. The Next Generation stand-out was in frightening form in April 2017, cutting down Cian Erraught with a volley of knees and punches. Wolf is no slouch, though, carving out an 11-10 career in which he’s defeated UFC fighter James Mulheron and also snapped up the Made 4 The Cage title. Kenny is nevertheless one of the hottest prospects in the north-west and should have too much variety for the visitor.

In a sign of the times, Liverpool’s darling Paddy Pimblett opens up the main card against Alexis Savvidis, having scaled up to lightweight after dropping his 145lbs title to Nad Narimani. ‘The Baddy’ throws up some of the most opportunistic jiu jitsu attacks in the British scene, showing deft back-takes and guard passes to rack up six submission wins amongst his 13-2 ledger.

On the other hand, Savvidis explodes forward with wheel kicks and a plethora of spinning attacks. Think Cub Swanson, only even more unpredictable – yes, he’s that exciting. Both men put themselves at risk in order to get the W, and credit should go to matchmaker Ian Dean for creating a lovely stylistic match-up. I’ll stick my neck on the line and pick Paddy.

On the undercard, Next Generation’s slick grappler Elliot Jenkins will aim to climb the lightweight ladder against Josh Abraham. Working on the mat with a poker face to rival Gunnar Nelson, Jenkins attacks the limbs in a cerebral manner and should be a good bet for a submission victory. Abraham, though, is an all-action kind of fighter and rolls with the scrambles beautifully. A jiu jitsu war looks likely.

The rest of the undercard takes shape with a trio of welterweight scraps. Tall striker Matthew Stanton will look to assert his range of kicks against Mick Stanton, while Bobby Pallet tackles Dillon Manning and Andreas Tricomitis squares off with Mark Kinsella. Finally, extra value is provided on the night with a full amateur card, showcasing local hopes such as Jay Seddon and Jordan Baxter.

Stay tuned to Alistair Hendrie Sport for all the reaction after what promises to be an exciting night of fights in Liverpool. 

Monday, 19 February 2018

Bryony Tyrell discusses Brexit, nursing career and Cage Warriors title fight

By Alistair Hendrie

Since Britain opted to leave the EU in 2016, the country has lurched into uncertainty. It’s unclear how Brexit will improve areas such as trade, economy and international relations, while the future of the NHS also remains in jeopardy. Ever since the vote, reports of overworked doctors, treacherous working conditions and a chronic lack of beds have appeared week in, week out. One person who has witnessed the drama unfold first-hand is Southampton flyweight Bryony Tyrell, who works as a nurse in the haematology department at Southampton General Hospital.

Normally so diplomatic and restrained, Tyrell doesn’t hold back when discussing the “massively negative effect” Brexit could have on the future of healthcare in this country. She tells me in vivid detail about the reaction to the vote and the dwindling levels of morale in hospitals.

“I remember the morning after the vote was passed, I went in and the atmosphere in the hospital was so depressing,” she says. “The foreign nurses didn’t feel welcome anymore, they were questioning their futures, they didn’t know if they could stay or not. We’re all short-staffed and under pressure and we’re seeing the NHS crumble. The trouble is so many of our top nurses are foreign, and now they’re not coming over anymore. It’s a huge concern for the country and anyone who works in the NHS – we one hundred per cent need to stay in the EU.”

As Tyrell works through unfortunate circumstances to care for her patients as best as she can, she also has a demanding yet fulfilling family life, with her husband Tom and two young children, Soren and Amber. Her schedule has become even more packed with preparations for her Cage Warriors world title fight against Molly McCann on February 24th – a bout which makes up the main event of Cage Warriors 90 at Liverpool’s Echo Arena. Despite the strain on her time, though, Tyrell is passionate about her profession and brings up plenty of challenges which the healthcare industry faces.

“The lack of beds is crazy, but what we really need is more support for people outside of the hospitals. There’s a lack of GPs, and walk-in centres are closing as well, so if we could support these resources that would take a lot of the pressure off of us as well. Also, there’s a lack of people training to be doctors because of the pay cap, and now of course they’re taking away the student bursaries. The system needs a complete overhaul, which I know is easier said than done.”

Tyrell enjoys her work despite the embattled environment. She recently moved from critical care to the haematology department, where she cares for patients with leukaemia, a cancer of the blood cells. “I look after patients who are on trial drugs as these give them the best possible chance of recovery, so it’s very beneficial for them. I’ve got about 100 patients who I overlook. I perform their treatments, bring them through, check they’ve got everything they need. It’s very interactive, and some of them continue their treatments for months so you get to know them very well, which is nice.”

The Sevenoaks-born fighter acknowledges the contradiction between nursing and fighting. Although she needs to think of others in her day job, once she’s in the cage, she remains detached when sapping her opponents’ will with kicks to the body and breaking their spirit with ground-and-pound. “Compassion is a huge part of nursing, it’s very important. It’s a very anxious time for patients and their families. Obviously some people die, which is a huge part of treating people with cancer.”

Given the juxtaposition between her two pastimes, are her nursing colleagues surprised by her MMA adventure? “Yeah, very surprised! They can’t comprehend it and then when they Google my name it’s a real shock for them. I think it’s more to do with my personality. When I’m at work, I’m quite quiet, quite polite, I’d like to think I go out of my way to help people. My colleagues have obviously been very supportive of me and they’ve been great – there’s been no negativity towards it at all, and they all watch my fights in fascination.”

Tyrell’s husband Tom has also had to come to terms with his wife’s fighting career. She says her spouse is also “very supportive” of her MMA journey, even if she reckons he “thinks I’m nuts”.

“In fact, I know he thinks I’m nuts, but he knew that when we met, so he knew what he was signing up to. He was supportive of me when I went out to Las Vegas for The Ultimate Fighter try-outs (she eventually missed out on the full series), even though I thought he’d say I was wasting money. But he was very supportive. He’s been particularly supportive of this fight because he realises how big of an opportunity it is.”

Indeed, if Tyrell can overcome McCann in her Liverpool fortress, she could emulate Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Rosi Sexton and Joanne Calderwood, who all reached the UFC after impressing with Cage Warriors. Wisely, Tyrell is optimistic but cautious. “I need to keep my hands up and not get knocked out,” she claims.

McCann is an intimidating presence who comes forward in a calculated manner, using her destructive power to knock out three of her opponents in her 6-1 career. Despite her bravado and menacing posturing, Tyrell reveals that Molly “has a heart of gold,” and that the pair are close friends. After all, ‘Meatball’ supports local charities around Liverpool and frequently speaks out against bullying and knife crime.

“She’s definitely more mellow away from the cameras and she’s a very kind-hearted person. We trained together a lot when she was based at Ippon in Bournemouth, which is about 40 minutes away from my gym, Exile MMA in Southampton. She’s helped me out and we’ve helped each other along the way.”

However, Bryony maintains the fight is simply business as usual. “I don’t see anything personal in it, hopefully she doesn’t either. I was friends with Kate Jackson when we fought and she smashed my face up – it’s just part of the game; I know she’d do it again if she could. It gets a bit intense during fight week but I hope Molly and I will remain friends after the fight.”

Tyrell has already won 115lbs belts with BCMMA in Britain and 360 in Belgium, but her debut at 125lbs represents another step in the right direction with plenty of exposure and live coverage on UFC Fight Pass. The 38-year-old boasts a background in krav maga and kung fu, while she also utilises a solid ground game with a crafty back mount. The battle with McCann will also be ‘Killa Bee’’s first five-round encounter.

“I’ve never trained so intensely for this kind of 25-minute cardio,” she reveals. “I can’t imagine doing this level of camp while trying to make 115lbs – now, I don’t have to cut down on carbs or anything like that, it’s been fantastic, I’ve loved it. Everyone knows I hate weight-cutting and I’m against it – I make that clear every time I fight. If everyone felt as good as I do now coming into a big fight, we’d all have a little more fun.”

Still, Tyrell’s growing list of priorities mean she has “no downtime at all.” The hectic demands of family life and looking after her patients are real, but whether or not Tyrell emerges from Merseyside with a belt wrapped around her waist, she finds rare moments of calm in MMA. “I’m very busy and chaotic a lot of the time, but I actually think MMA helps me to deal with stress and the intense environment that I work in - it’s a huge benefit to my life. It’s a form of escapism, and I cope better with everything in my life since I found MMA.”

To learn more about Bryony Tyrell's unique route into MMA, read my Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women's MMA in Britain. NB: Kindle app is free to download on all platforms. 

Sunday, 11 February 2018

UFC 221 report: Romero starches Rockhold to put middleweight division on notice

By Alistair Hendrie

Yoel Romero confirmed his status as one of the world’s scariest middleweights on Saturday when he destroyed Luke Rockhold with an overhand right in round three of their UFC 221 main event. The Cuban, who missed weight so couldn’t win the interim belt which was at stake, dizzied his rival with a vicious punch over the top and finished up with an uppercut that bounced Rockhold’s lolling head off the fence.

As such, if “Soldier of God” can safely make 185lbs – keep in mind he took this bout on short notice when the full champ, Robert Whittaker, pulled out with a staph infection – he looks set to earn a shot at revenge over his former conqueror Whittaker. The 40-year-old is on a tear and his track record includes knockouts over Chris Weidman, Lyoto Machida and of course Rockhold – all former UFC titlists.

Although they almost clashed at the previous day’s weigh-in, the pair started cagily, with neither fighter willing to show their cards. Speedy leg kicks and jabs were the order of the day, with Rockhold arguably winning the first session on activity. But Romero was the first man to take the initiative in round two and he bundled forward and hurled windmilling hooks at Rockhold’s unguarded jaw. Luke was stunned. His chin was in grave danger. Romero even attacked with his patented flying knee but Rockhold managed to wheel away for the remainder of the round and get back to his jab.

The stocky Romero doubled up his jab in the third and as Rockhold continued to play poker and counter-punch, there was a feeling that Romero could grasp a stoppage at any given moment. That moment came as a sickening Romero counter crashed against the side of Rockhold’s head. The American pitched forward, his legs defying him as if the mat were pulled up from beneath him. Groggily, he sat up in no man’s land with his hands by his side, and absorbed a heinous shovel-hook to the mouth. With a second stoppage defeat in his last three, Rockhold retreats to the back of the queue for a shot at Whittaker, but Romero may well get his redemption date if stays in the weight class.

In the heavyweight co-main event, Chicago’s Curtis Blaydes gave the Perth crowd a rough deal by controlling Mark Hunt for a decision by measures of 30-26 (twice) and 29-27. Although the American was rocked by a counter right in the first round, he shook off the cobwebs and ended that session in half guard, biding his time on top and staying active enough to remain there. Owing to his fantastic trips, judo prowess and top pressure, Blaydes dominated the rest of the match on the ground.

In the second, he opened up further from half guard, nailing his target with elbows, forearm drives and looping punches. In the third, by which time Hunt was exhausted, Blaydes began the frame by driving “Super Somoan” backwards and into the air, slamming him unceremoniously to the mat. If Hunt wasn’t so dangerous on the feet, perhaps Blaydes would have let his punches go a little more once he achieved full mount.

Unsurprisingly, the Perth crowd booed the visitor when his hand was raised. Blaydes is somewhat of a rough diamond - a tactically astute fighter with plenty of athletic advantages, but still a raw prospect who can be tagged. That said, unlike Blaydes, not many heavyweights would see the final bell against both Hunt and Francis Ngannou.

Hunt’s heavyweight sparring partner, Tai Tuivasa, earned his second UFC win – and extended his undefeated ledger to 7-0 – with a conclusive knockout in round one over French prospect Cyril Asker. Displaying the cardio and output of a lightweight, Tuivasa teed off with uppercuts, punches to the body and, most impressively, step-in elbows that pinged Asker’s head back. Credit to him, Tuivasa displayed methodical pressure and always took a step back after landing his combinations. Although Asker stood manfully throughout the onslaught, he eventually dropped face-first to the mat, unable to take anymore, and referee Steve Percival wisely jumped in before Tuivasa could capitalise.

Elsewhere on the main card, Aussie welterweight Jake Matthews saw out a 29-28 and 30-26 (twice) success over China’s Li Jingliang. The 23-year-old had the better of round one and ended the opener working for a rear naked choke, chipping away around Jingliang’s defences. He came even closer in the second with a guillotine choke from the bottom, although referee Mark Simpson should have penalised Jingliang for to escape the submission. Nevertheless, Matthews controlled the closing stages and timed his counters beautifully, even hitting the mark with a flying knee up the middle for good measure.

Australian 205lbs-er Tyson Pedro ushered in the main card, displaying nous and skill in the clinch to sweep Saparbek Safarov for a kimura in round one. After scoring with knees of the break and power punches in the exchanges, Pedro defended a takedown against the fence by clamping on a kimura grip and forcing his Russian adversary to roll over in his favour. Now in top position, Pedro expertly stepped over Safarov’s head to isolate the arm and apply torque to the shoulder. The tap came immediately and with the 205lbs division wide open, Pedro can now shoot for a top 10 opponent.

FS1 Prelims were headlined by lightweight Dong Hyun Kim’s workmanlike decision over Damien Brown by scorecards of 29-28 (twice) and 28-29 in the other direction. The Korean refused to enter the trenches with the notoriously aggressive Brown, and Kim plugged away with calf kicks, head kicks and jabs. His speed made the difference here, but Damien will be gutted that he didn’t force his rival brawl against his terms.

New South Wales featherweight Alexander Volkanovski boosted his reputation by smashing Jeremy Kennedy in the second round. After countering Kennedy’s punches with the takedown, Volkanovski took his man into a world of pain from half guard, showing beautiful frames and strong posture to land punch after punch. Kennedy turtled up and invited Volkanovski to end it, and Marc Goddard signalled the TKO with 12 seconds of the round remaining. In the remaining FS1 Prelims, flyweight Jussier Formiga took out Ben Nguyen in round three with a rear naked choke, and middleweight Israel Adesanya mixed his strikes from head to body for a second round TKO over Rob Wilkinson.

There was British interest on Fight Pass Prelims, too, as lightweight trailblazer Ross Person edged out Mizuto Hirota by verdicts of 30-27 (twice) and 29-28. Pearson, now based in Sydney, fought with intelligence and precision as he racked up the points with low kicks, jabs and counter hooks to the body. Meanwhile, the earliest segment of the show also featured Luke Jumeau’s landslide over Daichi Abe (29-28 and 29-27 (twice) at welterweight, and Jose Alberto Quinonez’s verdict over Teruto Ishihara (30-27 and 29-28(twice)) at bantamweight.

For more UFC reaction and reportage, read Alistair Hendrie Sport's write-up of Stipe Miocic's historic victory over Francis Ngannou at UFC 220. 

Friday, 9 February 2018

UFC 221 Preview: Rockhold and Romero clash in interim title bout with Whittaker sidelined

By Alistair Hendrie

Luke Rockhold and Yoel Romero aim to inject a sense of clarity into the middleweight division on Saturday, when they meet in an interim title bout at UFC 221 in Perth, Australia. (Keep in mind Romero weighed in 2.7 pounds over the limit, so now only Rockhold can win the belt). The 185lbs scene has been in a state of flux since Georges St-Pierre vacated the belt in December, with Robert Whittaker taking Georges’ status as champion and then pulling out of this event with a staph infection. That said and done, it’s now down to Rockhold and Romero to decide who is number one for the moment.

Also at stake is a shot at redemption for Rockhold, who lost the belt in June 2016 when Michael Bisping rung his bell in their ill-tempered grudge match. The Californian returned in November, forcing Daniel Branch to tap out to strikes from back mount, but Rockhold still shipped punches against the fence, emphasising his Achilles heel of lowering his hands and leaving his jaw exposed. When he’s on his game, though, Rockhold is one of the best kickers in the sport, ending Costas Phillippou with a kick to the body in 2014 and demolishing Chris Weidman’s spirit in 2015 by the same means.

Interestingly enough, Romero boasts a similar blend of strengths and flaws. On the one hand, he exhibits the explosiveness of a 100m sprinter, closing the distance with flying knees and cat-like shoots for the takedown. See his knockout of Weidman for one of the most athletic and perfectly-timed flying knees in recent memory. Still, despite his clout and strength, his output plummeted during his five-round defeat to Whittaker in July 2017, casting doubt over his cardio over the championship rounds.

On paper, the outcome lies in Romero’s ability to land clean and land early. A patient starter, the Cuban could take out Rockhold in an instant when capitalising on an opening, potentially finding inroads with leg kicks, then hooks or straight punches. Concentration will be paramount for Rockhold, who is prone to taking his eye off the ball, but if he can slow the pace down and score with his own array of striking attacks – body kicks, jabs and spinning efforts – he can find success towards the later rounds. The real benchmark for either man, however, is Whittaker.

Mark Hunt features in the heavyweight co-main event against Curtis Blaydes, with the Sydney-based Somoan aiming to exploit his frightening one-punch power and grab an 11th career knockout over the 26-year-old up-and-comer. With Hunt, what you see is what you get. Sure, he may have one of the softer physiques in the heavyweight division, but he makes up for that with excellent leg kicks, a measured jab and the unerring ability to send his rivals crashing to earth with one concussive right hand.

Although Blaydes towers over Hunt at 6 foot 4, enjoying a five inch height advantage and an eight inch reach advantage, many of Hunt’s most heralded knockouts – over the likes of Bigfoot Silva and Stefan Struve – have been against taller men. Blaydes nevertheless boasts plenty of physical gifts at the weight. His V-shaped back, broad chest and long limbs bring to mind an image of a heavyweight Jon Jones. He waits for his moments to attack and when he does open up, he switches up the pace with uppercuts on the inside and crafty drives for the takedown.

However, Hunt is the acid test for Blaydes. Genetic gifts aside, the American’s previous three outings were a tame doctor stoppage over Oleksiy Olinyik, a pedestrian decision over Daniel Omielanczuk and a second round knockout over Adam Milstead, later reversed to a no contest when Blaydes tested positive for marijuana. In my eyes, Hunt has the greater fight IQ, and he has the potential to separate Blaydes from his senses in the early exchanges.

Hunt’s sparring partner, Aussie heavyweight Tai Tuivasa, battles on the main card against Frenchman Cyril Asker. Riding on the wave of an 8-0 entry into MMA, the former pro boxer explodes with high kicks and flying knees which belie his brutish physique. He cut down Rashad Coulter with ease in his UFC debut in November, picking him man apart with leg kicks and a devastating aerial knee to finish matters. Asker, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is perhaps more well-rounded, possessing intuitive guard passes and nimble movement, but it remains to be seen if he can swim in deep waters with a bigger man such as Tuivasa.

The fourth bout on the main card pits home country hero Jake Matthews against China’s wild striker Li Jingliang. Matthews looked like a world class prospect when winning four of his first five bouts in UFC, but he has slipped to 1-2 in his last three. As such, his reliance on takedowns and sneaky combinations may not be enough for the more explosive and versatile Jingliang. The pay-per-view offering opens with a 205lbs thriller between Tyson Pedro, Tuivasa’s brother-in-law, and Saparbek Safarov, a rusty-but-exciting Russian prospect. Although Safarov can stand and bang for days, Pedro’s striking, honed at Jackson-Winkeljohn, should help him see out a convincing decision or a late stoppage.

Another sleeper for fight of the night, on FS1 Prelims, is Damien Brown against Dong Hyun Kim at welterweight. Brown is a let-it-all-hang-out kind of fighter, marching forward with his guard up, exchanging fiery hooks and uppercuts with a grin on his face. Watch his back-and-forth slugfest with Frank Camacho for further proof. Kim, a judo black belt who is also willing to take risks, is by far the sturdier man, though, so I expect him to edge this one of the cards.

Elsewhere on FS1 Prelims, there’s a middleweight scrap between Rob Wilkinson and Israel Adesanya, a featherweight dance between Alexander Volkanovski and Jeremy Kennedy, and a flyweight tussle featuring Jussier Formiga and Ben Nguyen.

Meanwhile, UFC Fight Pass Early Prelims holds British interest, with trailblazing lightweight Ross Pearson meeting Japan’s former DEEP titlist, Mizuto Hirota. It’s fair to say both men’s heydays are behind them, but “The Real Deal” will enter as favourite thanks to his varied arsenal of kicks and well-schooled jab. The key for Ross will be footwork, volume of strikes and trading on his own terms. The remaining matches on UFC Fight Pass Early Prelims are Teruto Ishihara against Jose Quinonez at 135lbs, and Luke Jumeau against Daichi Abe at 170lbs.

Who do you think will prevail once Rockhold and Romero throw down in Perth? Share your views on Twitter

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Who is the best pound-for-pound MMA fighter in the world?

By Alistair Hendrie

To determine the best fighter in the world, you need to consider plenty of factors: form, skill, opposition and dominance, for example. If a champion defends his or her crown via a string of finishes, does that equal or better a run of decisions? Should Conor McGregor top the list despite his inactivity, or should Tyron Woodley set the pace regardless of a couple of boring fights?

It’s a debate which rings all over the world, and that’s exactly why Alistair Hendrie Sport will be releasing its pound-for-pound list at the start of every month.

To qualify for the list, a fighter should be considered active, so although Georges St-Pierre is one of the most dominant fighters on the planet, he vacated his middleweight title, leaving him dormant for the moment.

On the other hand, Jon Jones, whose latest victory over Daniel Cormier at UFC 214 was downgraded to a no-contest when “Bones” failed a drugs test, is yet to receive a potential suspension, so is still considered active. Moreover, McGregor still holds his UFC lightweight crowd despite fighting as a boxer since winning his gold, so he is also judged to be active.

Now that you know the criteria we’re looking for, take a look at the pound-for-pound best mixed martial artists in the world.

February 2018 -

Male -

1 - Demetrious Johnson (USA) (125lbs)
2 - Max Holloway (USA) (145lbs)
3 - Daniel Cormier (USA) (205lbs)
4 - Stipe Miocic (USA) (265lbs) (+2)
5 - Jon Jones (USA) (205lbs) (-1)
6 - Conor McGregor (IRL) (155lbs) (-1)
7 - Tyron Woodley (USA) (170lbs)
8 - Robert Whittaker (AUS) (185lbs)
9 - Tony Ferguson (USA) (155lbs)
10 - TJ Dillashaw (USA) (135lbs)
11 - Jose Aldo (BRA) (145lbs)
12 - Cody Garbrandt (USA) (135lbs)
13 - Rafael dos Anjos (BRA) (170lbs)
14 - Francis Ngannou (FRA) (265lbs)
15 - Robbie Lawler (USA) (170lbs)
16 - Stephen Thompson (USA) (170lbs)
17 - Dominick Cruz (USA) (135lbs)
18 - Khabib Nurmagomedov (RUS) (155lbs)
19 - Frankie Edgar (USA) (145lbs)
20 - Volkan Oezdemir (SWI) (205lbs)
21 - Michael Bisping (GBR) (185lbs)
22 - Luke Rockhold (USA) (185lbs)
23 - Edson Barboza (BRA) (155lbs)
24 - Rory MacDonald (CAN) (170lbs) (NE)
25 - Alexander Gustafsson (SWE) (205lbs) (-1)

Female -

1 - Amanda Nunes (BRA) (135lbs)
2 - Rose Namajunas (USA) (115lbs)
3 - Joanna Jedrzjeckyzk (POL) (115lbs)
4 - Cris Cyborg (BRA) (145lbs)
5 - Valentina Shevchenko (KYR) (135lbs)
6 - Tecia Torres (USA) (115lbs)
7 - Jessica Andrade (BRA) (115lbs)
8 - Raquel Pennington (USA) (135lbs)
9 - Holly Holm (USA) (135lbs)
10 - Claudia Gadhela (BRA) (115lbs)
11 - Nicco Montano (USA) (125lbs)
12 - Tonya Evinger (USA) (135lbs)
13 - Megan Anderson (AUS) (145lbs)
14 - Karolina Kowalkiewicz (POL) (115lbs)
15 - Barb Honchak (USA) (125lbs)
16 - Carla Esparza (USA) (115lbs) (NE)
17 - Felice Herrig (USA) (115lbs)
18 - Cynthia Calvillo (USA) (115lbs) (-2)
19 - Germaine de Randamie (NED) (145lbs)
20 - Alexis Davis (CAN) (125lbs)
21 - Sara McMann (USA) (135lbs)
22 - Julliana Pena (USA) (135lbs)
23 - Angela Lee (CAN) (105lbs)
24 - Jennifer Maia (BRA) (125lbs)
25 - Paige VanZant (USA) (115lbs) (-8)

Whether you agree or disagree with the list, join in the discussion and let us know your pound-for-pound rankings on Twitter.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Fight Game book interview - GSMC Women's MMA Podcast

By Alistair Hendrie

I was delighted to appear on the latest edition of the GSMC Women's MMA podcast, discussing my new Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women's MMA in Britain.

In the interview, I discuss my motives for writing the book, memorable interviews from my research and the process of piecing my project together.

Many thanks once again to Tate and Sarah for having me on the show.

You can listen to the GSMC Women's MMA Podcast, featuring interviews with some of the biggest names in the sport, on iTunes, YouTube and the GSMC website

Sunday, 21 January 2018

UFC 220 Report: Miocic dominates Ngannou to retain UFC heavyweight title

By Alistair Hendrie

Stipe Miocic took Francis Ngannou down, broke through with ground-and-pound and rubbished predictions of a knockout defeat, convincing the judges that he should remain UFC heavyweight champion by scores of 50-44 on all three cards. By dominating Saturday’s UFC 220 main event at the TD Garden Arena in Boston, the Croatian-American broke the record for consecutive UFC heavyweight title defences (three) and tamed a beast who many thought was unstoppable.

Rather than attempt to deflect and parry the bombs coming his way, Miocic built his landslide victory on scoring with two and three punch combinations and alternating between single and double-leg entries to plant Ngannou on his back and leave him helpless. While the champion was able to pile up the points from half-guard, side control and the crucifix position in round one, the French-Cameroonian was exhausted by the second phase.

Indeed, given Ngannou’s fearsome reputation, athletic gifts and habit of knocking his rivals senseless, the way Miocic drove him the length of the cage for another double-leg tackle in round two was astonishing. He ended that stanza probing for a rear naked choke, chipping away with the kind of patience Georges St-Pierre would be proud of.

In round four, Miocic found the mark over and over again with punches and hammer fists. Ngannou shipped punishment like a proud man. His determination should be admired, but by round five, his face was a mess and he had nothing left. His punches, slow and lumbering, were a sorry sight. With that, Miocic bagged his sixth win in a row, cementing his form and ensuring his place as one of the best heavyweights of all-time.

In the co-main event Daniel Cormier put on another wrestling clinic to defend his light-heavyweight belt against Volkan Oezdemir, sealing the fourth defence of his strap in round two with relentless ground-and-pound. Much like in the main event of the evening, the champion was taking on a ruthless finisher, a challenger who'd left a trail of destruction in his wake when decimating his first three UFC opponents. However, Cormier parried and ducked aside Oezdemir’s strikes in round one and sank in a rear naked choke. He was only denied by the buzzer. Make no mistake about it; he had it in deep.

In round two, as if to compound his dominance, Cormier span into a lovely single leg takedown, driving Oezdemir down into no man’s land in the middle of the cage. From there, the American switched from side control to the crucifix position, peppering away with punches with such volume and regularity that referee Kevin MacDonald had no other option but to stop the onslaught. Indeed, the way Cormier stamped his authority on the ground, finding his own punches and leaving his arms, neck and head out of danger, will send a statement to the division. Already holding victories over Alexander Gustafsson and Anthony Johnson (twice), Cormier can dominate at 205lbs for as long as Jon Jones stays in the wilderness.

Elsewhere on the main card, Boston featherweight Calvin Kattar put on a show for his home crowd, finishing Shane Burgos with a volley of strikes in round three. And boy, did he need that finish. In a close and thrilling encounter, both men traded in the pocket as Kattar trebled up on his jab and Burgos ripped to the body. They cranked up the output in round two and by the decider, they were neck-and-neck.

However, Burgos had previously shown a tendency to expose his chin and in the first thirty seconds of the third, he absorbed a one-two and an overhand right that scrambled his senses and sent him tumbling forwards. Pouncing on his opportunity, Kattar snapped Burgos’s head back with an uppercut. Burgos dropped to the canvas like a discarded piece of litter. He was wide open for Kattar’s finishing strikes. The New Yorker can come again, but you have to admire how Kattar snared out the finish after counter-punching on the back foot during the first two frames.

Meanwhile light-heavyweight Gian Villante inched past Francimar Barroso by scores of 30-27 (twice) with one judge seeing 29-28 the other way. Cornered by Chris Weidman, Villante pushed the pace with uppercuts, jabs and leg kicks, frequently dropping his hands and beckoning Barroso in. Still, the Brazilian played the matador and spent 15 minutes circling away, countering with teep kicks, leg kicks and ramrod jabs to the body. Villante, who snapped a two-fight losing streak here, impressed with his aggressive tactics and variety on the feet, but he can look even more talented with a willing dance partner.

The main card kicked off with Rob Font exposing Thomas Almeida, handing the Brazilian his third defeat in four bouts and rising up the 135lbs ladder in the process. The American utilised his reach to gain inroads with jabs and leg kicks on the outside, ending matters in round two with a head kick and a slew of uppercuts to the jaw. Font stayed patient to earn the knockout but once again, Almeida let his guard slip and showed a lack of defensive nous.

Elsewhere, there were plenty of featherweight fisticuffs on UFC Fight Pass Prelims. Kyle Bochniak outscored Brandon Davis by measures of 29-28 (twice) and 30-27, while Julio Arce showed superior kickboxing to get past Dan Ige by scores of 30-27 (twice) and 29-28. Flyweight Dustin Ortiz fought from behind to earn three 29-28s against Alex Pantoja, while welterweight Abdul Razak Alhassan shut off Sabah Hamasi in round one with an uppercut.

There were two bouts on Early UFC Fight Pass Prelims, as featherweight Enrique Barzola outgunned Matt Bessette by scores of 30-27 (twice) and 29-28, and lightweight Islam Makhachev starched Gleison Tibau with a punch in round one.

Stay tuned to Alistair Hendrie Sport for much more opinion and analysis on the UFC's first pay-per-view card of the year. 

Friday, 19 January 2018

UFC 220 Preview: Miocic and Ngannou collide in historic heavyweight tussle

By Alistair Hendrie

One of the biggest heavyweight title fights in UFC history takes place on Saturday at UFC 220, as world leader Stipe Miocic must overcome Francis Ngannou to hold onto his belt at the TD Garden in Boston. If the Cleveland native does pull off the victory, he’ll clinch a record third straight defence of his crown. On the other hand, if N’gannou comes through, he’ll complete his destruction of the division and potentially seal an 11th consecutive finish. 

Still, considering these two giants are competing for the title of Baddest Man on The Planet, both are as humble as they come. Competing in the UFC since 2011, Miocic, who starched Fabricio Werdum for the belt in 2016, rarely trash talks and was something of a gatekeeper before winning three on the bounce between June 2013 and May 2014. However, what he lacks in talk he makes up for in skills, and in the last three years he’s halted the likes of Junior Dos Santos, Andrei Arlovski, Mark Hunt and Alistair Overeem – a who’s who of legendary big men. 

Similarly gracious and respectful, Ngannou, a French-Cameroonian, is another down-to-earth warrior who barely spoke a word of English until 2017. His performances in the Octagon speak volumes, though – he owns stoppages over the likes of Arlovski and Overeem, the latter of which with a left cross from the depths of hell that almost decapitated the Dutchman. Indeed, whenever Francis steps into the Octagon, you can be sure he’s packing dynamite.

The thing about this match-up is, whenever Miocic steps up to the plate – against a defending champion in Werdum, a trailblazer in Overeem, and in a rematch against Dos Santos, who he’d already lost to – he always produces, short-circuiting his rivals with precise jabs and uppercuts after 
closing the angles. Whether he’ll take the fight to Ngannou, a concussive striker, is another matter. 

The challenger has the potential to separate Miocic from his senses at any moment, particularly with counters and hooks. While fighting on the inside, Ngannou has a knack of connecting on the sweet spot, dumping his foes to the canvas in violent fashion. Mark my words, this bout will be explosive. Making a prediction here is about as reliable as rolling a dice or flipping a coin. Either man could force a stoppage with a well-timed punch over the guard, probably to the side of the head, but I’ll predict an early Ngannou KO. 

The light-heavyweight co-main event, between champion Daniel Cormier and challenger Volkan Oezdemir, has a similar feel to the headliner, with the seasoned champion taking on the most dangerous prospect in the division. Cormier owns one of the best wrestling IQs in the sport, taking down his opponents away from the safety of the fence and suffocating them in a world of hurt. Look at the way he dominated Anderson Silva on the mat in 2016, and how he sank in a rear naked choke against Anthony Johnson last year.

Triumphs over Alexander Gustafsson and Dan Henderson also stand out on his track record – as well as victories over the likes of Josh Barnett and Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva up at heavy – but he is still vulnerable to head kicks, as evidenced in the second of his defeats to Jon Jones in July 2017 (later reversed to a no contest when Jones failed a drugs test.) 

As such, don’t be surprised at all if Oezdemir feints low and aims high with kicks. The Swiss burst into the UFC in February 2017, outpointing Ovince Saint Preux before stiffening up Misha Cirkunov and Jimi Manuwa with vicious knockouts. After running to 3-0 in the UFC, with scalps over a former interim title challenger and two more top ten pacesetters, Oezdemir has enjoyed a formidable start to life in the world’s biggest promotion. Like Ngannou, he can end matters in the blink of an eye, and is also comfortable throwing knees in the clinch or stepping into the line of fire throwing combinations. 

What makes Oezdemir such an intriguing opponent for Cormier is his clout, of course, but more so the fact that we haven’t seen his takedown defence yet. How will the underdog defend against Cormier’s ankle picks, double-leg takedowns and high-crotch entries? It’s an opportunity of a lifetime for ‘No Time’, but I believe Cormier’s intelligence and game-planning will help him see out a decision.

The pay-per-view offering also features a featherweight showdown, Calvin Kattar against Shane Burgos, which is low on star power but sky-high on entertainment value. Both men hurl a broad selection of strikes, Kattar from the outside and Burgos with his trickier boxing, while Burgos could gatecrash the top 15 with a win here. The New Yorker increases his output throughout the rounds and uses head movement to befuddle and frustrate his opponents. He can dominate here, boxing his way to a slick decision.

Further down the card, a 205lbs dance between Gian Villante and Francimar Barroso should provide an interesting clash of styles. Another New Yorker, Villante attacks with his heart on his sleeve whereas Barroso pounces on mistakes and enjoys countering in the pocket. If Villante lands early, he could turn this into a brawl but I see Barroso inching it on the cards. 

The pay-per-view broadcast begins with Brazilian bantamweight Thomas Almeida tackling America’s long and rangy Rob Font. Although both men can stand and bang and endure punishment, I reckon Almeida’s variety and creativity, especially with knees up the middle, will see him home and dry. 

Meanwhile, UFC Fight Pass Prelims offer a pair of featherweight bouts between Kyle Bochniak and Brandon Davis and Dan Ige and Julio Arca, not forgetting a 125lbs showpiece between Dustin Ortiz and Alexandre Pantoja and a welterweight tear-up pitting Sabah Homasi against Abdul Razak Alhassan. For those looking forward to Early UFC Fight Pass Prelims, the evening starts with Matt Bassette versus Enrique Barzola at 145lbs, and Islam Makhachev against Gleison Tibau at 155lbs. 

After you've soaked up the heavyweight title barnburner and the rest of this weekend's card, head back to Alistair Hendrie Sport for the latest reports and reaction. 

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

UFC Fight Night 124 Blog: Usman should ignore the boos after thrashing Meek

By Alistair Hendrie

If the purpose of competition is to dominate your opponent as clinically as possible, Kamaru Usman did exactly that when he shut out Emil Meek on Sunday at UFC Fight Night 124. Although the crowd weren’t happy with Usman’s suffocating style of wrestling, the stats don’t lie. Not only did the sturdy welterweight land eight takedowns, he also scored 76% of his significant strikes. The St Louis crowd, booing in their droves, would have you think the Blackzilians welterweight stalled proceedings on the mat, whereas he in fact landed a higher number of strikes, and at a higher percentage. It seemed there was no pleasing the paying public, who jeered as Usman controlled the action on the mat.

Did Usman care? Of course not. He played up to his as boo-boy image, using his post-fight interview to declare: “I fought this fight sitting at about 30% and I still dominated a tough, so-called Viking... Dana, I'm coming to sit with you and then we can talk.” When Dana White also said he “didn’t love the fight,” Usman clarified his comments on social media and revealed that he fought at 30% of his health.

In his post-fight speech, Usman went further, and barked: “Listen, Colby (Covington), you can run but you can’t hide. The Nigerian Nightmare is looking for you, and I’m gonna find you.” That’s trash talk 101 right there, gunning for another in-form and relevant motor-mouth who doesn’t mind ruffling a few feathers.

So, although the UFC brass may not be handing Usman any Fight of the Night bonuses just yet, Usman’s recent victories and brash persona on the mic make him a formidable and marketable prospect. Sure, he’s been painted as a villain, but it’s a role he’s accepted and carried out better than anyone could hope for. Moving forward, he’s wise to recognise that this is the era of the bad guy. He and fellow welters Covington and Mike Perry have embraced the heel role in the past 18 months - all three have built their profiles in the process.

Keep in mind, too, Usman isn’t the first man to grind out a decision on the ground. Two of the best fighters in the world, Georges St-Pierre and Demetrious Johnson, have both wrestled their way to title defences without exerting themselves. Were they booed by those in the stands? Of course they weren’t. I’m not claiming Usman’s performance against Meek was highlight reel material, but it was nowhere near as unedifying as some would have you believe.

Usman probed with knees to the thighs, stayed a step ahead of his opponent, looked to take the back on numerous occasions, and also landed a handful of audacious suplexes. Always hooking limbs and maintaining safe head positioning, he exhibited a technical display of wrestling which should be appreciated. Fans pay for an evening’s entertainment and have a right to voice their opinions, but I disagree with the vitriol aimed as Usman. Not everyone likes wrestling-orientated tactics, but it’s a part of the sport.

Of course, Usman can fight a bit too, and packs serious power as evidenced by his four consecutive TKOs before joining the UFC. A thick-set 170lb-er with imposing core strength, he throws a broad selection of punches when he decides to trade and always uses a high guard and astute head movement.

Ironically enough, Usman and Covington’s styles might not gel for an all-out war, but the fact is that Usman is a smart fighter with his head screwed on. He could stand and bang if he wanted to, but he’s in the sport to learn, progress and get to the very top. He should also gain solace in the fact that Floyd Mayweather Jr and the Klitschko brothers were accused to playing it safe in their careers. Let’s face it, with that trio’s achievements, legacies and earnings, should they care about a few detractors? Don’t bet on it. As long as Usman keeps proving his skills and selling his name, he can forget the boos and play the bad guy all he wants.

Read more UFC reaction from Alistair Hendrie Sport, as a new contender emerges for Cyborg after her victory at UFC 219. 

Thursday, 11 January 2018

UFC Fight Night 124 Preview: Stephens and Choi face off in potential thriller

By Alistair Hendrie

The UFC kicks off 2018 in style on Sunday, as featherweight finishers Jeremy Stephens and Doo Ho Choi throw down in the UFC Fight Night 124 main event in St Louis. The contest is a welcome return for the MMA leader, and both men will look to set off the fireworks they’re renowned for.

Competing out of Alliance MMA in San Diego, Stephens is a dogged veteran with eleven years of experience in the UFC. Owing to his explosive striking and variety of attacks, he boasts knockout victories over the likes of Rafael dos Anjos, Dennis Bermudez and Cole Miller. He uses left-right combinations and well-disguised leg kicks, and like his rival, he enjoys pushing the pace to take his opponents into deep waters.

However, that’s exactly where Choi went at UFC 206 in December 2016, when he fought hell for leather with Cub Swanson before dropping a decision. In a bout that thrilled fans from start to finish, Choi dominated the opener with ramrod lead rights before succumbing to Swanson’s brawling tactics. And, boy, did they brawl. Decked on three occasions, Choi showed heart and endurance to ship tremendous punishment in the final round, even firing back and dishing out his own strikes.

Against Stephens, though, the South Korean should try to avoid circling with his back to the fence. Having already ran through Sam Sicilia and Thiago Tavares inside a round, it will be interesting to see if Choi can assert his crisp one-twos and defend Stephens’ wider punches. Whatever happens, it promises to be a frenetic encounter with plenty of action – don’t expect it to go to the ground, either. Choi should earn a decision or KO with his greater clout.

Speaking of powerful strikers, the middleweight co-main event was meant to feature Vitor Belfort against Uriah Hall. However, the contest was cancelled when Hall pulled out shortly before the weigh-in, stating that his body had shut down. It's another tale of a fighter struggling to handle the weight cut, while Belfort could now face Michael Bisping in London in March.

So, at the time of writing, it looks like Paige VanZant's debut at 125lbs, against Australian boxer Jessica-Rose Clark, could be the new co-main. An economical striker from Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California, VanZant may have dipped to 1-2 in her last three fights, but the American looked outstanding when stopping Bec Rawlings with a perfectly timed head kick in August 2016.

On the other hand, Clark possesses a broader range of punches and outpointed Rawlings in November 2017. A natural 125lb-er who leads with uppercuts and hooks on the inside, the Aussie should enter as favourite and can box her way to a decision if she stays smart.

Welterweight pair Kamaru Usman and Emil Meek also feature on the main card, with the winner becoming a big player at 170lbs.  Usman, now based at Blackzilians, is renowned for walking his opponents down to seal decisions, while Meek, the Norwegian, is another versatile striker who mixes it up with body kicks and leg kicks. The victor? I’ll be bold and opt for Usman via a barrage of punches.

Heading up the main portion of the card is a featherweight showdown between Darren Elkins and Michael Johnson. All things considered, it promises to be a fan-friendly fight. Elkins thrives on adversity, as shown by his thrilling comeback over Mirsad Bectic in March 2017, while Johnson put on one of the fights of 2017 with Justin Gaethje in July, eventually succumbing to “The Highlight”’s pressure in round two. The smart money lies with Johnson.

Before that match, on UFC Fight Pass Prelims, two lightweight battles take place with James Krause going against Alex White, and Matt Frevola squaring up to Marco Polo Reyes. There's a bantamweight dance between Talita Bernardo and Irene Aldana, while Kyung Ho Kang and Guido Cannetti lock horns to move up the featherweight rankings. Elsewhere, Thiago Alves against Zak Cummings at 170lbs was also cancelled when Cummings slipped in the bath.

Early UFC Fight Pass Prelims feature a flyweight tussle between Kalindra Faria and Jessica Eye, and a bantamweight meeting between Talita Bernardo and Irene Aldana. Starting off the card are strawweights Danielle Taylor and JJ Aldrich, and 145lbs hopefuls Mads Burnell and Mike Santiago.

After Choi and Stephens have traded punches in the Octagon, head straight back to Alistair Hendrie Sport for the latest reaction. 

Alistair Hendrie professional portfolio

I'm a freelance sports journalist with experience writing for publications such as Boxing News,, Fighters Only and MMA Plus.

Specialising primarily in combat sports, I'm currently seeking freelance opportunities so please email me at or contact me on Twitter.

Career highlights

  • Earned first national byline with in 2013, pitching and writing feature on women's MMA in Britain
  • Worked in fast-paced environment at, conducting reports at UFC events in Poland, Dublin and Glasgow, submitting reports to a deadline
  • Displayed creative nous and SEO knowledge at, writing list pieces such as 11 things you need to know about Saul "Canelo" Alvarez
  • Developed communication skills at MMA Plus when interviewing the likes of Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Joanne Calderwood and Rory MacDonald
  • Released Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women's MMA in Britain, in November 2017, carrying out project in an independent manner
Samples of work

Please get in touch if you require blogs, interviews, reports or features, and stay tuned to Alistair Hendrie Sport for all my latest work. 

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Women's MMA: Tyrell eyes Green rematch after signing with War Fight Management

By Alistair Hendrie

Southampton strawweight Bryony Tyrell is eager to avenge her draw to Lanchana Green after signing a deal with War Fight Management.

Tyrell pushed Green all the way in September 2017, and after almost finishing her rival with punches from full mount, she hopes Jim Wallhead’s management team can earn her a return contest.

“Obviously the Green rematch is a perfect match for me,” said Tyrell, 38, 4-1-1. “That’s a fight I’d really want, I’d love that fight. It can happen for any promotion and after our first meeting, I had it in mind that I’d retire if I lost, so now that I’ve got the draw I’ve got a bit of a second wind and want to carry on.

“That draw has spurred me on and now I want to prove definitively that I can beat her - I feel better, fitter and stronger than ever before.”

And after fighting three times in 2017 – also going down to Kate Jackson and outscoring Griet Eeckhout – Tyrell anticipates a similarly active 2018.

She admits the increased opportunities are one of her main reasons for signing with War Fight Management, who also count the likes of featherweights Dean Trueman and James Dixon among their clients.

“Getting my name out there is one of the biggest reasons why I signed with War Fight Management. I know that I’ve done well on the domestic shows but I’m not getting the bigger shows like Cage Warriors or BAMMA.

“Both promotions have approached me but nothing happened in the end, so if I have a management team behind me like all the other fighters, I might have a few more opportunities, and people who can help with opportunities for training, publicity and sponsorship.

She added: “Jim asked me what I wanted and I said more chances to fight, especially as I’m getting on a bit. Me and Jim were very much on the same wavelength and he said how in the past, he’s had managers who don’t back up their plans and just want loads of money.

“I’ve had other management companies contact me with these horrendous contracts, and you have to sign your life over and you don’t really know who you’re dealing with. These guys have been completely different and they’re really easy-going.”

Moreover, Tyrell believes Wallhead could help her find a higher level of female training partners.

“Jim told me about the training sessions he organises, which would be really good for me because at my gym, Exile Gym in Southampton, I don’t have any other women who are pro level. Just to train with other women, or even smaller male bantamweights or flyweights, would be really good for me.

“Finding other women to train and fight with has always been difficult for me, especially because of my job as a critical care nurse and my children. It’s difficult for me to travel for fight camps, but that’s something I’d love to do soon. I still feel like I’ve got time to improve and if Jim wants to sign me, then that just proves it.”  

To discover more about the women's MMA scene in Britain, read an extract from Alistair Hendrie's Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women's MMA in Britain.