Bader: 'I want to have a belt somewhere'

March, 21, 2017
Mar 21
4:48
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Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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Ryan BaderZuffa LLC via Getty ImagesLight heavyweight Ryan Bader is moving from UFC to Bellator MMA looking for an opportunity to fight for the title.


After 20 fights in the UFC, spread out across eight years and five continents, Ryan Bader's decision to leave for Bellator MMA came down to more than just money.

Of course, money is important. And Bader says the multi-fight deal he signed with Bellator this week will be the most lucrative of his career.

But it's not like he was unhappy with his last UFC contract. According to Bader (22-5), he made $90,000 to show and $90,000 to win his final contracted fight last November, plus $15,000 from the UFC's apparel deal with Reebok. Under those figures, Bader says he never felt a strong urge to complain.

Obviously, money played a factor in his decision to leave the UFC, but there was more to it. In a nutshell: Despite the UFC's offer to essentially extend his old contract, Bader wasn't entirely convinced they truly wanted him -- or at least, had any sort of plan for him.

"I felt like I had nothing really to prove, so what I wanted was opportunities," Bader told ESPN.com. "For me, it wasn't just about straight money. It was about, 'What's the plan for me?' When I met with [Bellator president] Scott Coker, he laid out a plan of where they are going and he laid out a plan for me. That was cool to see.

"If you look at the atmosphere right now of where the UFC is going, who's getting title shots, it's a little different. They've looked past me in booking title fights before. I wasn't too surprised they didn't match Bellator's offer or make a good offer to keep me. I wasn't expecting too much."

It's possible that Bellator will reveal its vision for Bader, 33, very soon.

On the same day it officially signed Bader, Bellator announced a summer pay-per-view event that will take place at Madison Square Garden in New York, which will feature Chael Sonnen, Wanderlei Silva, Fedor Emelianenko and Matt Mitrione.

Bader's official debut has not been announced, however he and current Bellator 205-pound titleholder Phil Davis have already expressed an interest in fighting each other at that blockbuster event. Speaking about the potential of that fight coming together, Bader stated, "I don't see why that wouldn't happen."

There would be some irony in Bader receiving a title shot in his very first fight with Bellator. It would mark the first title shot of any kind in his career.

The closest Bader felt to a UFC title shot came in 2015, when he was riding a four-fight win streak and scheduled to face Daniel Cormier. Months before their fight, Cormier was pulled from the event to replace Jon Jones in a UFC championship bout. After Cormier won the title, Bader knew he was next in line and even confronted Cormier at a UFC press conference.

Ultimately, that shot at Cormier's belt went to Alexander Gustafsson instead, who was coming off a knockout loss. Bader admits he's never forgotten the sting of that incident.

"People say, 'Why would you leave [the UFC]? You're right there. You're probably next in line,'" Bader said. "They can string you along for however long. It's frustrating. I could go back to the UFC and it could be the same thing I was in for eight years. You never know.

"You see it right now with everybody. A lot of guys are bitching about whoever it is getting a title shot because they are pulling the viewership. You're never guaranteed anything."

Bader says he does accept his share of responsibility for never fighting for a UFC championship. He lost several key fights. He fought Anthony Johnson in early 2016 and suffered a 96-second knockout. That kind of loss in that big of a spot? That's on him.

But he also collected 15 victories. And to be ranked No. 4 in the world, with 15 victories in the UFC -- a promotion should have a plan for that kind of athlete. Bellator had one, and that's a big reason Bader went there.

"There will always be something down there that says, 'All right, you won the Bellator title but you never won the UFC title,'" Bader said. "I've thought about that. I've never had the opportunity, and yes, a lot of it is my fault ... but I never got that opportunity. I can only work with the opportunity that is given to me. When I win that [Bellator] belt, it will validate a lot of my hard work.

"I fought around local shows [early in my career], jumped around. I never got to fight in one organization to win the belt. I won The Ultimate Fighter and jumped into the UFC on my fifth fight or whatnot. I want to have a belt somewhere. I'm working with what I'm given. These opportunities, I'll be extremely happy and it will validate the years I've spent in the sport, wrestling, going back to seven years old."

Velasquez: I take my health very seriously

March, 14, 2017
Mar 14
7:33
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Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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Cain VelasquezJeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesFormer heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez resumed light training after back surgery, but he won't fight at UFC 211.

Former UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez has resumed light training for the first time since undergoing back surgery, but there is still no timetable for his return.

Velasquez (14-2) provided an update on his health this week, in post on social media.

"As you know, I underwent surgery in early January," Velasquez wrote on Facebook. "That surgery was very successful, and I hope the issue doesn't ever come up again.

"However, right now I am listening to my body and the advice from my medical team and choosing to take it easy. I'm still staying in shape, but getting back into fighting shape is going to take a bit more time as I can't train the way I know how.

"I can't provide a definitive timeline on when I'll be ready to go, but you'll be the first to know when the time comes."

Velasquez, 34, underwent a procedure to address a nerve issue in his lower back. He was scheduled to fight Fabricio Werdum at UFC 207 in December, but was pulled by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for medical concerns.

Fighting out of American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Velasquez fought once in 2016. He knocked out Travis Browne in the first round of a fight at UFC 200 in July.

The heavyweight picture should change drastically in May, when defending champion Stipe Miocic (16-2) faces Junior dos Santos (18-4). Werdum was also expected to fight on the card, however his status is in the air after opponent Ben Rothwell was flagged for a potential anti-doping violation.

"I'm excited to see the latest heavyweight fights, especially those scheduled for UFC 211," Velasquez wrote. "I'm confident I'll be facing someone from that group because I belong there, and I want nothing more than to get my belt back.

"Again, I take my health and the longevity of my career very seriously. Just as important to me is what I deliver to all of you. ... I'm not willing to dishonor your loyalty or the hard earned money you guys invest to watch me fight. I won't fight unless I can show you what you deserve and paid for."

James Krause looking for 'TUF' redemption

February, 20, 2017
Feb 20
2:45
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Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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Jamie Varner vs. James KrauseAl Powers for ESPNJames Krause (white trunks) is going on The Ultimate Fighter again.


LAS VEGAS -- When the UFC revealed its cast of welterweights for "The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption" series last week, the inclusion of James Krause stood out for obvious reasons.

For starters, Krause (23-7) is a lightweight -- and a relatively decorated one at that. He's also already signed to the UFC, and is even riding a two-fight win streak.

The theme of this season’s "TUF" is to provide former cast members and/or UFC veterans an opportunity to re-sign with the promotion. Krause, 30, says he has multiple fights left on his current deal.

So, why put himself through the hassle of reality TV, not to mention the uncertainty of a tournament format, which is filmed over six weeks?

"'Why do it?' I know, I've been getting that question a lot," Krause told ESPN.com. "The main reason is that I felt -- I don't know if the word is slighted -- but I felt a missed opportunity the first time I was on the show. It was a wrong that I had to right. For me, this is mostly about the experience."

The "missed opportunity" Krause is referring to came in 2012, when he tried out for the 15th season of "TUF." In a televised elimination fight to earn a spot on the season, Krause suffered a first-round knockout loss. His "TUF" experience ended there. He never lived in the house or competed further on the show.

Of the 14 cast members on this upcoming season, Krause is the only one who is not living in the "TUF" house for the second time. All of the others earned a spot on their respective seasons of the show and went through the entire process.

Another reason Krause jumped at the opportunity is that he's been contemplating a permanent move up in weight to 170 pounds. The cut to 155 has always been a challenge for the now 30-year-old, and he's fought in several catchweight bouts during his career.

Competing on "TUF" provides Krause an opportunity to train with welterweights on a daily basis, potentially accept multiple fights at welterweight that won't go on his permanent record and face a level of opposition that is UFC quality -- but not necessarily the deep end of the weight class.

"The UFC, I'm not sure what the matchmakers think of me," Krause said. "They either love me or hate me, it seems. I've fought some good dudes and I don't think there's anybody in this house that has fought the caliber I have. But statistically, I have a chance to win this show and I wanted to test myself against these guys."

Whether Krause wins the entire show or loses in the opening round, his current contract with the UFC has been frozen until the show concludes. He says he will remain on that contract, regardless of what happens on "TUF."

Krause has a family waiting on him back in Kansas City, which he says is hard to be away from. "TUF" contestants are essentially barred from the outside world, as they film the show in Las Vegas.

Several weeks into the process, Krause says if he could go back, he'd still make the unique decision to jump onto the cast.

There is a third reason, after all, he raised his hand to be on the show. In addition to a UFC contract, the winner is due a $250,000 bonus. The contract doesn't apply to Krause's situation, but a quarter of a million dollars sure does.

"That's a lot of money," Krause said. "And I think I've got a good shot at it."

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Scott Hirano, Invicta FC"I'm not running from her, but yes, I know that I need to work on my skills if I'm going to fight the best pound-for-pound female in the world," Anderson said about any potential fight with Cris "Cyborg" Justino.

The social media post hit Megan Anderson's Twitter feed shortly after UFC 208 on Saturday.

The UFC had just crowned Germaine de Randamie its inaugural 145-pound female champion, following a decision victory over Holly Holm. The UFC had flown Cris "Cyborg" Justino out to Brooklyn, so she could be cageside for this historic night. Expectations were that Justino would face Saturday's winner.

But when de Randamie revealed in a postfight interview she may require hand surgery, Justino immediately turned her attention to Anderson.

"Sounds like [de Randamie] might need some time off," Justino wrote on Twitter. "[Megan Anderson], you ready to unify the [Invicta FC] belts?!"

In other words, the most dominant female featherweight of all time had just publicly called Anderson (8-2) out. The 27-year-old Aussie admits she has struggled to come up with the appropriate response since.

She opted to write back on Twitter, and said it's clear the UFC wants Justino and de Randamie to fight. She added that Justino still faces an uncertain suspension for a failed drug test in December.

Justino (17-1) immediately accused Anderson of ducking her, an accusation Anderson says Justino's fan base swarmed to over the next 24 hours.

"Cris is trying to call me out, which is awesome and I'm flattered she thinks I'm a contender," Anderson told ESPN.com. "I don't like the way she did it, though. Her fans got on the hate wagon. I had to turn off my notifications because of the hate I was getting. It was pretty s---- to see, and I just couldn't see it anymore.

"I don't think she did it to be mean, but people run with stuff like that and they get a little bit crazy."

The reality is, Anderson doesn't know how to publicly respond to the challenge because at the end of the day, truthfully, she would prefer not to fight Justino next.

It's true, she is the interim Invicta featherweight champion. Justino is still the official Invicta champion, even though she hasn't fought for the organization since January 2016.

But beyond that potential storyline, Anderson just doesn't believe fighting Justino makes sense at this point in her career -- for multiple reasons.

"The thing is, I want to fight Cris, but right now in my career, I'm not going to get the type of money she's getting," Anderson said. "Cris was the highest-earning athlete in Invicta because the UFC was involved with her contract. If I'm fighting Cris, I would want to make sure I'm getting more than basic, entry-level pay."

Anderson, originally from Australia and now fighting out of Kansas City, Missouri, also admits there's a glaring discrepancy in experience.

Justino has held titles in multiple organizations and has been fighting professionally since 2005. Anderson began training four years ago and has been fighting pro only since November 2013.

"I'm not running from her, but yes, I know that I need to work on my skills if I'm going to fight the best pound-for-pound female in the world," Anderson said. "I would want a few more fights. It doesn't mean I'm ducking her. I just want one or two more fights, especially on a big platform.

"I don't want to be fed to anyone. I don't want to be anyone's stepping stone. I want to make sure I'm set up and my career is being looked after as well. I'm not cannon fodder, if you will."

For now, so much remains in the air regarding the UFC's new division, it's unlikely anything will be resolved quickly. In addition to de Randamie's hand and Justino's failed drug test, the UFC hasn't even made a discernible commitment to the new weight class.

As happy as Anderson was to witness Saturday, she says it still feels as though the entire division is in a state of limbo.

"The UFC hasn't approached me as far as I'm aware," Anderson said. "You would think if they wanted to build a division, they would start talking to the people who are currently in that division.

"I think it's still up in the air. [UFC president Dana White] came out and said he wasn't happy with that fight. I wouldn't be surprised if they turned around and said they're not going to do it anymore."

That said, Anderson is of course hopeful the UFC fully commits to the new weight class and said as a young, successful woman in the division, a future fight against Justino seems virtually inevitable. Even if she wanted to try and hide from the Brazilian, there's nowhere to really do so.

But in terms of what's best for her right now? It's probably not the fight to take.

"I know that fight will happen and I want that fight to happen," Anderson said. "I just don't think it needs to happen right now.

"I'm in a really tough position all of a sudden, because it's almost like I can't say anything or someone will take it the wrong way."

Women's flyweight divison in Bellator's future plans

January, 10, 2017
Jan 10
5:44
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Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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Bellator MMA president Scott CokerDave Mandel for Sherdog.comPresident Scott Coker believes Bellator MMA will crown a female flyweight champion by the end of 2017.

Bellator MMA will have at least two female champions by the end of 2017.

Currently, the promotion has no female titleholders, but that's expected to change March 3. A scheduled bout between Marloes Coenen and Julia Budd will determine the inaugural featherweight champion.

In addition, Bellator MMA president Scott Coker says the promotion intends to book a women's 125-pound flyweight title fight at some point this year. Bellator also plans to fill its vacant men's heavyweight title.

"That's going to be something that happens in 2017," Coker told ESPN.com. "All of our titles will be filled by the end of the year."

The landscape of women's mixed martial arts has drastically changed in recent months. The UFC has also announced the formation of a 145-pound featherweight division, and the first UFC female featherweight champion will be crowned at UFC 208 on Feb. 11, in a fight between Holly Holm and Germaine de Randamie. Once that happens, the UFC will be promoting three female weight classes.

Invicta FC, an all-female promotion, has a scheduled interim featherweight fight between Megan Anderson and Charmaine Tweet on Jan. 14.

Bellator MMA comes into 2017 with two female weight classes. According to Coker, the decision to create a featherweight championship in March was an easy one, and he said he expects the weight class to grow.

"We feel good about booking that title fight," Coker said. "These are the best 145-pound fighters in our company, and we'll see them throw down. Then we'll bring in other girls to fight the winner.

"We continue to look all over the world for the next girls at 145 pounds. It's easier to find them at 125 pounds, but we just signed a girl from Ireland [Sinead Kavanagh] that fights at 145, and we're looking at a few who are coming out of Sweden and Italy. We'll find the best 145-pounders and let them compete."

Bellator's heavyweight title has remained vacant since the company stripped former champion Vitaly Minakov because of inactivity. The last Bellator heavyweight title fight occurred in April 2014.

According to Coker, there were tentative plans for a heavyweight tournament in 2017, before the promotion brought in Russian icon Fedor Emelianenko. A heavyweight tournament remains a possibility this summer.

Todd DuffeeJeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesTodd Duffee, left, took a long time to recover from a one-punch knockout loss to Frank Mir, and it wasn't just about the physical effects. It also came down to not knowing if he could afford to fight again.

Almost 18 months ago, UFC heavyweight Todd Duffee suffered a crushing, one-punch knockout loss to Frank Mir in the main event of a televised event in San Diego.

Duffee, 31, describes it as the worst loss of his career. According to him, just cognitively recovering from a knockout loss like that can take several weeks. There's a feeling of getting mentally "reorganized" after that level of trauma, not to mention a strong sense of letting others down.

"I just remember kind of isolating myself," Duffee told ESPN's 5ive Rounds podcast. "It's brutal. It's demoralizing."

But for Duffee, the hardest part of dealing with that type of defeat was not knowing if he could afford to fight again.

"Me losing to Frank was not necessarily the ordeal," Duffee said. "It was more like, 'Oh s---, how do I get to keep doing this?'

"I just made $10,500. After they take out taxes, that's the check I got cut. Your family is not behind you at that point. Your friends are like, 'OK, so your career is over.' That's how I felt."

Duffee (9-3) has not fought since the loss to Mir, but he recently signed a contract extension with the UFC. He is scheduled to fight Mark Godbeer at UFC 209 on March 4.

His disclosed fight purse for the bout against Mir in July 2015 was $12,000. After taxes and training expenses, Duffee estimates he netted between $6,000 and $8,000.

The competitor in him wanted to return to action as soon as possible. Move on from the loss. From a practical standpoint though, Duffee couldn't get himself to start another camp.

"Business-wise, you're paying to play at that point," Duffee said. "I was making [$12,000 to show, $12,000 to win]. You've got to take time off work to focus on the task at hand, because you're going to fight another man in a cage. You're not going to take that lightly. You're not going to play with that. That could have long-term effects on your life.

"So you have to take time off work, and you're paying to play. The heavyweight division is a gamble, right? There's no question about it. You don't see heavyweights rattling off huge win streaks.

"If you come out [with a loss], you just took two or three months off work, and you might get paid $8,000. If you come out a winner, you might get $16,000. And what that takes away from your family, work, life -- it's a big undertaking. I didn't feel good about it."

Duffee had one fight left on his old deal when he signed an extension last week. By negotiating that extension, Duffee receives an immediate increase in pay for his next fight. However, doing so also prevents him from testing free agency, which a growing number of fighters are using to their advantage.

Although he admits he might have left some money on the table by signing the extension, Duffee is content with his decision to re-sign. There are additional reasons he says he'd want to stay in the UFC.

"I want to fight the best," Duffee said. "I want to test my skill set. With the UFC, right now, the best talent is here. No question.

"And this might sound crazy, but USADA [United States Anti-Doping Agency, the UFC's anti-doping program partner] -- you don't have that anywhere else. This is a real league. Top to bottom, it's an organization that makes things easy. They took great care of me after my fight with Mir."

In 2017, Duffee is hopeful he can accomplish something he has failed to do since 2007: fight three times in a calendar year.

He has been a professional fighter for 10 years -- 12 pro fights, across five countries in seven organizations. He has fought two of the best heavyweights of his era in Mir and Alistair Overeem and headlined a televised event.

All that said, Duffee feels he has never really had a career in mixed martial arts. Perhaps this is the year that finally changes.

"If I go out and win my fight, yeah, it's a career. No question," Duffee said. "If I go out and lose, no. I think a big factor with heavyweights is that if you lose, you're hurt. I'd walk away with three to four months [worth of money] to live on, and I'd have to figure out what I could do.

"If I win, yeah, I have a career. I'd be turning around and fighting again, making decent money. It's all a gamble."

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Page mocks Rousey's knockout loss in music video

January, 2, 2017
Jan 2
10:45
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Campbell By Brian Campbell
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Ronda Rousey’s 48-second knockout loss to Amanda Nunes on Friday at UFC 207 produced a number of social media reactions from fans, fighters and celebrities alike, ranging anywhere from supportive to outright mean-spirited.

Even Nunes, the UFC women's bantamweight champion, took a shot at Rousey immediately after the fight by posting an Internet meme. On Saturday night, Bellator prospect Michael "Venom" Page took it one step further.

Page (12-0), a promising welterweight from England, posted a music video of himself dancing in the streets in a punch-drunk motion while singing "Rousey … Rousey … do the Ronda Rousey" over a beat. He added insult to injury during the 39-second video by repeatedly misspelling Rousey's first name as "Rhonda."

Unbeaten in eight Bellator fights since making his debut in 2013, Page received plenty of backlash in the comments to the post.

The 29-year-old, who is known for his in-cage theatrics during fights, is fresh off a disappointing split-decision win over Fernando Gonzalez in November at Bellator 165. Page was booed throughout for doing more dancing than fighting in an awkward bout in which neither fighter pressed forward.

Bisping, Woodley stir up talk for superfight

January, 2, 2017
Jan 2
10:44
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Campbell By Brian Campbell
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With a memorable 2016 in the rearview mirror, fans of the UFC might be wondering which superfights the promotion have on tap for the new year.

If it were up to middleweight champion Michael Bisping and welterweight titleholder Tyron Woodley, the next big fight would be against each other.

Bisping (30-7), fresh off a resurgent year in which he won his first UFC title at 37, posted a video to his Instagram account on Sunday of a backstage conversation between himself and Woodley (16-3-1) that was captured over the weekend at UFC 207 in Las Vegas. In the caption, he stated his intentions for a fight between them, and tagged both the UFC and president Dana White.

The video featured both champions having a friendly debate about the stipulations of a potential fight. Woodley, the 170-pound champion, told Bisping he walks around at 200 pounds. Bisping, the champion at 185 pounds, responded that he was about 210 and would be willing to a catchweight bout at 185 “in April or May, or something like that.”

Bisping, with a smile on his face, later turned to Woodley and said, “Put your big boy pants on, step up in weight class. Fight at your real weight. Whatever you want, f--- it!”

At one point in the video, former title contender and current UFC analyst Kenny Florian interrupted the two fighters to ask if they were serious, to which Woodley replied, “I’m 100 percent serious.”

Woodley, who captured Robbie Lawler’s title by first-round knockout in July, turned to the camera and said, “Alright, you heard it. In May, 180 [pounds], he agreed.” Bisping, who mentioned the fight, would have to be a non-title affair, responded by saying, “I agree. I’m in.”

But Woodley, 34, has changed his mind in the aftermath regarding Bisping’s belt. In a tweet sent to White early Monday morning, Woodley wrote, “Can we get this signed already!?” and requested a shot at the UFC middleweight title.

Neither White nor the UFC has responded publicly to the video.video

Zahabi 'hopeful' for GSP return, wants Bisping title fight

December, 13, 2016
12/13/16
10:50
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Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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Georges St-PierreJonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesFiras Zahabi, the coach of Georges St-Pierre, believes a super fight against UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping makes the most sense for GSP's return.

If it were up to Georges St-Pierre's head coach, the Canadian star would challenge Michael Bisping for the UFC middleweight title very soon.

Speaking to ESPN's 5ive Rounds podcast, Firas Zahabi said his No. 1 choice for a St-Pierre comeback would be a 185-pound championship bout against Bisping. St-Pierre, of course, is the UFC's former 170-pound welterweight champion. He vacated that title and announced a leave of absence in late 2013.

"I would love the Bisping fight to be honest with you," Zahabi said. "I feel the welterweight division doesn't have a supremely confident champion yet. Tyron Woodley is a great champion, but he's on his first defense. We need someone to build a history like Georges did, to have a super fight.

"With Bisping, it would be for the middleweight title. That would make it epic. Georges needs to come back for a mega fight, super fight. Something five rounds, something historical. Not just another contender."

St-Pierre (25-2) and the UFC attempted to come to terms for a return at UFC 206, which took place last weekend at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Bisping even went so far as to publicly announce he'd verbally agreed to face St-Pierre at the event. Ultimately, the two sides were unable to come to a deal.

Zahabi, who runs Tristar Gym in Montreal, said he doesn't get involved in contract negotiations, but sounded optimistic regarding an eventual St-Pierre return.

"I still think Georges is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world," Zahabi said. "He trains regularly so I still see him in action and the guy is a monster. I hope Georges and the UFC, his management team at CAA, they book him again. He's such an incredible talent sitting by the wayside. It's crazy to me.

"I think it's a matter of time. I'm hopeful at least."

In October, St-Pierre declared he had entered free agency, effectively terminating his UFC contract. The promotion immediately countered St-Pierre's claim.

Late last month, St-Pierre was in the headlines again as part of a fighter panel to a newly formed Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association, which will seek to improve labor situations for UFC athletes.

When asked if St-Pierre's involvement with the MMAAA might have a negative impact on him fighting in the UFC again, Zahabi did not think so.

"The truth of the matter is that fighters are not making so much money," Zahabi said. "They're working hard, training just as hard as NFL and hockey players. I'm not an expert in economics, I'm just asking a regular Joe type of question: Is this sport able to pay more? Because these athletes are worth more.

"If I had employees that were angry, I would listen to them. I'd sit them in a room and listen. I believe in being honest, open, transparent. There's always an Alpha male syndrome. Everybody thinks they deserve more. At the end of the day, the UFC and fighters are putting on shows together. There has to be a compromise."

Benavidez: Cejudo is playing the victim

December, 12, 2016
12/12/16
11:47
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Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
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UFC flyweight Joseph Benavidez has heard Henry Cejudo say a lot about their back-and-forth, three-round fight earlier this month in Las Vegas.

One thing he hasn't heard from Cejudo, however, is a request to do it again.

Benavidez (25-4) picked up a split-decision win over Cejudo on Dec. 3, in a closely contested bout. Judges Glenn Trowbridge and Derek Clearly scored the fight for Benavidez via scores of 30-26 and 29-27, respectively. Judge Marcos Rosales had it 29-27 for Cejudo.

Shortly after the fight was over, Cejudo claimed he heard several of Benavidez's teammates thought the final scores were incorrect. He later told MMAFighting.com the result was a "complete robbery."

"Honestly, I expected that out of him," Benavidez told ESPN's 5ive Rounds podcast. "When I hear that, I feel he's playing the victim. He sees his fans, which, of course, no fan is going to con on the Internet and say, 'Hey, I think the right and proper decision was made.' People are going to talk smack to the person who won.

"Funny enough, in the press conference, I was like, 'If Henry honestly thinks he won, I'll do an immediate rematch. It doesn't matter to me.' But then [reporters] said, 'We already talked to Henry and he said he doesn't want an immediate rematch.' If he really thought he won, he'd probably be asking for that."

A U.S. Olympic gold medalist in wrestling, Cejudo did acknowledge on fight night he wished to "take a break" from Benavidez, after recently coaching against him on the "The Ultimate Fighter" reality series.

Benavidez said he was happy that a point deduction in the first round against Cejudo (10-2) did not ultimately affect the scorecards. Referee Yves Lavigne docked Cejudo a point in the opening minutes of the fight for landing two accidental kicks to the groin.

A point deduction can be huge in a three-round bout, but in this case, it would not have affected the final scorecards. Benavidez said he didn't even want a point to be taken at the time of the foul.

"I think people are making a bigger deal about the point deduction than they need to," Benavidez said. "Give him back the point and the scores are still the same.

"I don't really think it should have been taken away, to tell you the truth. [But] I mean, it was hard for the referee not to take it because he had just kicked me and I think it was a matter of seconds later, he did it again.

"[The referee had said], 'Do it again, I have to take away a point.' It kind of called his bluff almost. The referee had to take a point. But me, I would have been fine with him not taking it."

Benavidez, who trains out of Las Vegas and Denver, is on a six-fight win streak and is widely viewed as the No. 1 flyweight contender. He has lost twice to dominant champion Demetrious Johnson, in 2012 and 2013, which has kept him in a sort of title shot purgatory, despite a three-year unbeaten run.

Benson Henderson plans ACL surgery, Chandler rematch

December, 2, 2016
12/02/16
10:51
AM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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Williams Paul/Icon SportswireBenson Henderson, pictured here in a Bellator welterweight world title fight against Andrey Koreshkov from back in April, is electing to get surgery on a torn ACL that he's had since he started fighting for the promotion.

It sounds like Benson Henderson might be in some hot water with his wife, but he’s finally taking her advice.

Henderson (24-7) is coming off of a riveting five-round fight against Michael Chandler for the Bellator MMA lightweight championship on Nov. 19, which Henderson lost via split decision.

After the fight, Henderson mentioned a possible ACL surgery, and in a recent appearance on ESPN's 5ive Rounds podcast, the former UFC lightweight champion revealed he's been dealing with a torn ACL all year.

"I've had a torn ACL in all of my Bellator fights," said Henderson, who signed with the promotion in February.

Henderson, 33, first suffered the injury while training for a welterweight title fight against Andrey Koreshkov in April. Henderson knew the knee wasn't 100 percent, but didn't get it checked out until after the fight, which he lost via decision.

"I got the MRI back and the doctor said it was a torn ACL, completely ruptured," Henderson said. "It felt fine, though. I passed all the tests. I ran, jumped, cut left and right. Doctors said, 'If you can do that, there's nothing saying you have to have surgery. We can't tell you to have surgery.'

"I tested it again against [Patricio Freire in August] and hurt it some more. Then against Chandler, I actually hurt it a couple more times during training. My coaches and my wife said I probably shouldn't take the fight, or I at least had to have surgery after.

"So, I was told by my wife I had to have ACL surgery, and that's what I'm doing."

Henderson is expected to undergo surgery before the end of the year. Typically, it takes at least a full year for a fighter to get back in a cage following ACL surgery, but Henderson said he's hopeful he could return within "six to seven months."

Fighting out of Glendale, Arizona, Henderson is 1-2 in his Bellator career. His move to Bellator in 2016 represented a major free agency signing for the promotion. Henderson defended the UFC lightweight championship three times and headlined 10 events.

He admitted there were some aspects of the Chandler fight he'd go back and change but still feels the victory should have gone his way. Chandler looked hurt after the fourth round and spent most of the fifth trying to survive. Final scores were in Chandler's favor: 48-46, 48-47, 46-48.

Bellator president Scott Coker told ESPN.com he initially had interest in booking Henderson against Josh Thomson next, but Henderson's schedule is now indefinitely tied up due to surgery.

When he does return, a Chandler rematch seems to be at the top of his list.

"I will fight Chandler again and I will make him quit," Henderson said. "He was pretty damn close to quitting the last time. Next time, I'll make him quit all the way."

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Larkin talks free agency, 'slap in the face' UFC fight

November, 23, 2016
11/23/16
5:57
PM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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Lorenz Larkin, Santiago PonzinibbioJosh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesWelterweight Lorenz Larkin, left, never expected to close out his current UFC deal without first signing a new one.

Initially, Lorenz Larkin believed that signing his next fight contract was going to be a pretty easy process.

Larkin (18-5) had one fight left on his deal when the UFC approached him with a welterweight matchup against Neil Magny at UFC 202 on Aug. 20. Larkin figured the UFC would offer a new contract, as it usually does when an athlete has one fight left, and that he would probably sign it.

As it turned out, the UFC did offer Larkin a new deal, but the terms were not what he expected.

"The deal they brought to me was, you know, not attractive whatsoever," Larkin told ESPN's 5ive Rounds podcast. "It really was nothing.

"I was surprised they let me fight out my last fight. I kind of took it as a slap in the face, because Neil Magny has been on such a tear, I felt like for them to let me fight my last fight on my contract was kind of like UFC betting against me. 'Oh, he'll fight this beast who has been on a tear, he'll lose, and he won't have any leverage.' I love gambling. So that's pretty much what it boils down to."

Larkin knocked out Magny in the first round, improving his record to 4-1 in his past five fights.

Despite that performance, Larkin, 30, says the UFC never reached out with a new offer. The promotion's exclusive negotiating window ended Nov. 20, meaning Larkin is free to field other offers.

"My thing is, I just want a promotion that is going to fight for me -- that wants to promote me," Larkin said. "It's not all about the money. A lot of it is about marketing. I feel like I'm an exciting fighter. I'm not a boring fighter you want to be fighting in your first fight, at 1:30 p.m. when the doors first open. I feel like my style is really attractive to fans."

Larkin says as a UFC fighter, he has paid with his own money to attend fights for the sole purpose of interacting with fans. He says it was his choice and that he's not complaining, but that he wishes the promotion would have shown interest in doing it for him in order to build his brand.

Ultimately, Larkin said he is hopeful a deal will be reached within the next two weeks. He says there are other options available in the current mixed martial arts landscape, and although he wasn't set on exploring them at first, he's happy they are there.

"I'm pretty sure there are guys out there who are just addicted to the name, just the whole thing of 'I'm a UFC fighter,'" Larkin said, "With me, that has never been the case.

"It doesn't matter if it's the UFC or a chicken shack somewhere else -- to me, it's whoever I'm fighting is the best in the world. Now, at this point, it's not only the UFC who has the best in the world, the best fighters in the world. It's starting to spread out a little bit."

Dillashaw baffled over Garbrandt title shot

November, 21, 2016
11/21/16
9:08
AM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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TJ DillashawJeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty ImagesTJ Dillashaw believes that he's done enough to earn a title shot against Dominick Cruz. And yet, Cruz will face off against Cody Garbrandt at UFC 207.

TJ Dillashaw is determined to not feel bitter about 2016 -- regardless of how difficult that may be.

A former UFC bantamweight champion, Dillashaw (13-3) says he still loves the UFC and wouldn't want to fight anywhere else. He has a good relationship with president Dana White and recently restructured his contract, even though the promotion wasn't obligated to do so.

That said, Dillashaw's frustration with mixed martial arts is at an all-time high. In January, he surrendered the UFC title in a split decision loss to Dominick Cruz -- a fight he feels he won. When the UFC didn't book an immediate rematch, he accepted a fight against the highly ranked Raphael Assuncao at UFC 200 and won.

According to Dillashaw, the UFC had made it clear a win over Assuncao would be a fast track back to the title. Despite a convincing win, however, the UFC recently booked Cody Garbrandt as Cruz's next challenge, at UFC 207 on Dec. 30. Dillashaw will fight John Lineker on the same card.

"It's crazy, man," Dillashaw told ESPN.com. "I lose one split decision to Cruz, in a fight half the people thought I won, and all of a sudden I drop from No. 4 on the UFC's pound-for-pound list to No. 14.

"You lose one superclose fight that you think you won, and it's almost like you're forgotten. I feel like I should be on a killer win streak right now, still defending the belt."

Dillashaw, 30, admits he has wondered whether his relationship with Creative Artists Agency (CAA) has had an impact on the situation. CAA is a direct competitor of entertainment group WME-IMG, which purchased the UFC for $4 billion earlier this year.

Dillashaw says he doesn't want to think being represented by CAA would place him at a disadvantage, but he doesn't know the answer for sure.

"I know WME and CAA are rivals, and I really hope this has nothing to do with that," Dillashaw said. "Ever since WME took over, that's been in the back of my head -- that it could be a conflict of interest.

"It seemed like my management kept getting shunned. They were trying to get a hold of the UFC, and [chief operating officer] Lawrence Epstein actually told my management the best way to get through was for me to approach Dana myself. I was my own manager for all this. If there is a conflict of interest, that needs to be brought up."

Ultimately, Dillashaw believes the most likely reason he's not fighting for a title is that Cruz "hand-selected" Garbrandt.

Before that fight was announced, Dillashaw publicly said he'd bet his $100,000 fight purse with Cruz should the champion agree to fight him next. Cruz never responded to the callout, which was probably the closest thing Dillashaw has come to trash talk in his career.

"I just don't understand what I did wrong," Dillashaw said. "I don't talk enough s--- is what it really comes down to? Guys like myself and [featherweight] Frankie Edgar are going to get passed up because we're too professional.

"It's unfortunate this is turning into more of an entertainment business than a sport. It's tough to decide -- what side of that fine line do you want? Be a complete a------ and play the heel, or be yourself? To me, it's easier in my life to not have to worry about being an actor."

Renegotiating his contract and a high-profile fight against Lineker (29-7) isn't a bad consolation for Dillashaw, but he's somewhat sick of consolations in general.

Dillashaw feels he's done everything in his power to be at the absolute top of the sport. But right now, for reasons that are mysterious to him, he's not.

"Dana could have given me the middle finger on that contract renegotiation, but he respected me and was willing to listen to my point of view," Dillashaw said. "Even after all this, I still love the UFC. If you're the champion of the UFC, you're the champion of the world in my eyes. It's the best organization out there.

"Face-to-face, I feel like the UFC treats me well, but no, I don't feel like I'm getting pushed to the fullest of my abilities. The UFC is a hype machine. They can put that behind anybody they want. I'm not a boring, lay-and-pray fighter. When it comes to getting pushed and marketed, I feel I get passed up because I'm too professional."

Diaz: A third fight 'a bad idea' for McGregor

November, 15, 2016
11/15/16
9:59
PM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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NEW YORK -- Nate Diaz doesn't know if the UFC intends to book a third fight between him and Conor McGregor.

At the moment, he's not sure the promotion even wants them in the same building.

Diaz was in attendance at McGregor's lightweight championship fight at UFC 205 last weekend -- but not at the UFC's request. Diaz, who split two meetings with McGregor earlier this year, asked president Dana White for tickets via text message, but he was told there wasn't room.

"As soon as [McGregor wins], hundreds of people are turning around and staring at me," said Diaz, who watched from a club box at Madison Square Garden. "I'm like, 'Hey, what do you want me to do? The UFC didn't even want to give me tickets to this fight. I think they gave Nick Jonas my seat."

Conor McGregor, Nate DiazJeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesNate Diaz, left, says he'd like a third fight with Conor McGregor, but he's not begging for one.


Diaz, 31, submitted McGregor via rear-naked choke at UFC 196 in March. The two fought again at UFC 202 in August, with McGregor claiming a five-round decision.

The rivalry was a huge financial success. Shortly after UFC 202, officials told ESPN.com that those two McGregor-Diaz-headlined events accounted for two of the top three pay-per-views of all time.

Immediately after winning the second fight, McGregor (21-3) said he would eventually fight Diaz a third time at 155 pounds -- where he just won the title. But Diaz doesn't know if it will happen.

"The UFC knows that's a bad idea for him," Diaz said. "Why didn't I get tickets to this fight? I said, 'I'll leave him alone. I don't want to fight the guy. Just let me get a seat.' Me and my brother, they didn't want to let either one of us in here.

"They want to hide me out, I think. Put him on more of a pedestal than they have already. It's whatever though."

Diaz (19-11) has previously stated the only fight he's currently interested in is a third fight against McGregor. He said he's still not in a hurry for any fight and has, so far, not been approached about one.

A UFC 209 PPV has been scheduled for Brooklyn's Barclays Center on Feb. 11. It's an obvious date to book Diaz and his older brother, Nick, as they have made those numbers famous by representing Stockton, California's 209 area code. Diaz said there have been no discussions regarding that event.

As far as McGregor's history-making win against Eddie Alvarez, Diaz applauded the Irishman for "doing his thing" but said they both still know who has the edge in their fights.

"People question me, 'Hey, when you gonna fight No. 3?'" Diaz said. "I know that everybody needs to see that. If I'm gonna do something, that's what I'm gonna do -- but I'm not begging for it. If anybody should be asking for the fight, it should be him. He's the one that has something to prove.

"Congratulations to Conor. He did a great job, got the two belts -- but I just know that me and him both know what happened in [our] fights and that 'greatest of all time' stuff needs to just come to an end. I don't remember any of the greatest of all times getting worked over like [he was] in the last two fights."

Digging into the numbers behind McGregor-Alvarez at UFC 205

November, 9, 2016
11/09/16
2:40
PM ET
By Richard Mann
ESPN.com
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Michael Reaves/Getty ImagesThere are some overlaps in the strategies and approaches used by Conor McGregor and Eddie Alvarez, but each fighter has an edge that could lead him to victory in their lightweight title fight in the main event of UFC 205.


The main event of UFC 205 features a rare fight between two reigning champions. Featherweight champion Conor McGregor challenges lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez for the 155-pound belt to cap off the first-ever UFC card held at Madison Square Garden.

The two are evenly matched in several statistical categories, but there are key differences between the fighters that could end up deciding the bout this weekend.

Striking Defense

Neither Alvarez nor McGregor is strong in terms of defensive striking. In the UFC, Alvarez has allowed opponents to land 3.95 significant strikes per minute, while opponents are landing 4.93 per minute against McGregor. To put those numbers into perspective, they rank dead last among all ranked lightweights. On top of that, percentagewise, both fighters absorb a lot of strikes. Alvarez has only avoided 57 percent of opponents' strikes, and McGregor has avoided 56 percent. It’s remarkable that both fighters have managed such success without showing very much effective striking defense. They will most likely stick to the style that has brought them success, but a little defense tends to go a long way at the highest levels of the sport.

 

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Striking Differential

On the other hand, McGregor more than makes up for his defensive liability with what he does on offense: He lands 6.02 significant strikes per minute, giving him a 1.09 striking differential. Alvarez was actually outstruck in his first three UFC fights before besting Rafael dos Anjos for the lightweight title, and his -0.55 striking differential in the UFC ranks last among ranked lightweights.

The only other ranked lightweight with a negative striking differential is Michael Chiesa, who has won more than half of his fights via submission. Even though he is coming off a highlight-reel knockout, Alvarez will almost certainly need to close the distance and attempt to avoid extended periods of stand-up striking against McGregor.

Wrestling

Over the course of his UFC career, Alvarez has attempted 34 takedowns and landed 10. After his promotional debut, in which he failed to land a takedown against Donald Cerrone, he has scored at least one per fight in his last three times out. McGregor would certainly prefer not to wrestle, but he also seems to have underrated takedown defense; he has stopped 70 percent of his opponents' attempts in the UFC, and he has only been taken down more than once, by Chad Mendes.

Control Time

Alvarez hasn’t always needed to land a takedown to effectively control a fight, as he often turns missed takedowns into opportunities to clinch and hold opponents against the cage. The result is a great deal of control time. In the UFC, he has spent more than 25 percent of his total 48:49 of fight time in control positions.

Per the Unified Rules of MMA, Octagon control should only be considered if effective striking, grappling and aggressiveness are 100 percent equal. In each of Alvarez's UFC fights, his ability to control the action inside the Octagon clearly made an impact on the judges. Since McGregor is at his best while at a distance, Alvarez will most likely try to control the position of the fight. Mendes had some success with this strategy, but it might be tough to pull off for the entirety of a 25-minute fight.

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