Headlines and Highlights: Recapping the Crazy Week in the World of MMA

In a week in which the UFC was off, the promotion still found its way into the minds of the fans by the plethora of announcements made public throughout the week. Despite the UFC being off-air, this past Friday brought us the return of MMA on Showtime for the first time since December of 2013. We also saw a ton of fight announcements so we are starting to get a glimpse of what will take place in the coming months. In case you missed it, here is a rundown of all that took place in the past week:

UFC 264: The Return of the Mac

The highly anticipated rubber match between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier is set to take place on July 10th at UFC 264. While no location has yet been set for their third meeting, ESPN’s Brett Okamoto tweeted that the co-main event has been verbally agreed to as we will be treated to another important matchup, this time at welterweight as two former title challengers Gilbert Burns and Stephen Thompson are set to do battle with both men looking to inch closer to another shot at welterweight gold. Other fights rumored for what many assume will be International Fight Week are former UFC flyweight title challengers Jennifer Maia vs. Jessica Eye, a meeting of two ranked 185-ers in Brad Taveras and Omari Akhmedov, and the return of Ryan Hall as he faces Illia Topuria in a pivotal featherweight fight. Although no location is yet set, expect fans to be in attendance as the promotion is looking forward to consecutive sold out shows in Jacksonville’s VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena and Houston’s Toyota Center in April and May respectively.

Pitbull Submits Sanchez in Bellator’s Showtime Debut, Cyborg vs. Smith II to headline Bellator 259

3002 days. That’s the amount of days MMA fans had to wait between Strikeforce’s finale on Showtime, to Bellator MMA’s 2021 debut, and with that bringing the sport back to Showtime this past Friday at Uncasville Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Arena. In the main event, we saw the second quarterfinal of the Featherweight World Grand Prix as simultaneous two division champion Patricio ‘Pitbull’ Freire submitted Emmanuel Sanchez via first round guillotine in their highly anticipated rematch. The first matchup came back in Tel Aviv back in 2018 as Pitbull defeated Sanchez in a very close five round decision in which we saw Pitbull get pushed to the brink in the process. This time however, the champ had a quick night at the office and now has had back-to-back first round finishes to advance to the finals to where he will be meeting the undefeated Bellator homegrown product in AJ McKee. McKee is a second-generation fighter as his father Antonio fought for Bellator as recently as 2019. The promotion’s eight-man featherweight grand prix started in January of 2020 and has seen slight delays due to COVID-19 as top seeds McKee and Pitbull advanced and are expected to square off in the finals sometime this summer with a win-win situation for Bellator MMA President Scott Coker and company. If Patricio Pitbull is victorious, the champ-champ continues to cement his legacy as one of the best featherweights on the planet regardless of promotions, and if McKee emerges victorious the 25-year-old rising star will now be an undefeated Bellator world champion while Patricio Pitbull still remains the lightweight champion of the world. Both fighters are looking down the barrel at a super fight, and a million-dollar payday if victorious as Bellator MMA is awarding as an incentive for winning their 145-pound Grand Prix.

The promotion also announced during the Showtime broadcast that Cris Cyborg’s second defense of her Bellator women’s featherweight title will be a rematch against Leslie Smith to headline Bellator 259 on Friday, May 21st. Their first match up came back when both fighters were in the UFC at UFC 198, with Cyborg winning by TKO just 1:21 in the fights opening round.

UFC’s Reebok deal expires as Venum becomes new official outfitter

As Bellator gets a new network in Showtime, the UFC gets a new apparel deal as longtime combat sports brand Venum will be the official fight kit provider starting April 6th, just in time for UFC on ABC 2 on Saturday. Reebok has been providing the promotion with their fight uniforms since 2014 in an effort to give the sport a more professional appearance on the broadcasts, and as a result, UFC athletes could not have their sponsors on their fight gear anymore. With the new deal, fighters will be receiving a small increase in their pay due to the brand change with Venum now outfitting not only just the fighters, but their cornermen and women as well. While Venum will take over apparel-wise, Reebok will continue to provide the promotion with shoes for their events going forward because Venum is not in the sneaker business.

Kevin Holland Replaces Darren Till in UFC on ABC 2 Main Event against Marvin Vettori

ABC’s second UFC will be an afternoon start with a 3:00 PM eastern main card live from Las Vegas’ UFC Apex. Venum is not the only thing that will be new about this card, the event now has a new headliner as Kevin Holland will be replacing Darren Till for Saturday’s main event against Marvin Vettori, as Till was forced out due to a broken collarbone suffered in training. What was once the battle to see who is Europe’s best middleweight as the “Italian Dream” Vettori was supposed to face off with Liverpool’s Darren Till has now become Kevin Holland’s second main event in as many months, when we saw his five-fight win streak come to an end by Derek Brunson via unanimous decision back on March 20th. With the loud-mouthed Kevin Holland now facing off against the very intense Marvin Vettori, look for an interesting clash of fight styles and personalities to show in Saturday’s matinee matchup on ABC.

UFC 262 gets First Ever Five Round Co-Main Event

Houston will have no problem in hosting two five round fights on May 15th at the Toyota Center as welterweights Leon Edwards and Nate Diaz will clash in the company’s first ever non-title, five round co-main event. The unranked Diaz gets an opportunity to emerge into title contention with the win over a top three talent in Leon Edwards, while the UFC looks to get some mainstream appeal in an attempt to bolster pay-per-view buys by adding Diaz’s star power to the bill and adding the new stipulations. They will serve as the co-main event to the vacant lightweight title fight between former Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler and Charles Oliveria in a bout where we will see a new undisputed UFC lightweight champion for the first time since 2018, when Khabib Nurmagomedov first became champion. UFC 262 will be the second straight pay-per-view in front of a sold-out crowd as the UFC is back on the road for pay-per-views for the time being.

Alexander Volkanovski, Brian Ortega to Coach The Ultimate Fighter Season 29

The newest season of the UFC reality competition “The Ultimate Fighter”, which will debut later this year on ESPN+, will feature current UFC champion Alexander Volkanovski and former title challenger Brian Ortega as head coaches. The two were supposed to co-main UFC 260 back on March 27th before a positive COVID-19 test forced the Australian champion to be pulled from the card just days out. Volkanovski is coming off of his consecutive wins against former champ Max Holloway, while Brian Ortega shut out Chan Sung Jung back in August to get back into the title picture after almost two years on the shelf. With these two being selected as coaches, and with filming not yet started for the season, expect the top of the division to be put on hold until early fall the earliest. With that long layoff in mind, it will be worth seeing what Max Holloway decides to do in the meantime. Holloway avenged his two straight title loses in a one-sided, unanimous decision masterpiece against Calvin Kattar back in January on Fight Island.

Paddy the Baddy Signs with the UFC

Former Cage Warriors featherweight champion Paddy ‘The Baddy’ Pimblett has officially signed with the Ultimate Fighting Championship according to their official Instagram. The now 26-year-old Liverpool native, who last competed at lightweight, signed with the organization just days removed from beating Davide Martinez via first round submission at Cage Warriors 122 on March 20th. Cage Warriors is the same feeder promotion that has given the UFC former champions such as Michael Bisping and Conor McGregor, and Pimblett looks to be the next name added to that list. There is no word on his debut opponent for the promotion but look out for the young Pimblett to try and be a serious player in either the UFC’s 155-pound division, or the 145-pound division where he once held gold in his former promotion.

(Cover Photo: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

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