The year 2020 supplied some spectacular fights, moments and breakout stars for the UFC amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and UFC President Dana White took notice — Fightful has you covered on all that and more from around the world of combat sports.
Dana White Reveals His Top Three Potential Breakout Stars Of 2021
UFC President Dana White has been a staple in the news cycle for most of his career and 2020 only highlighted that notion.
The outspoken face of the UFC recently appeared on the "Shout!" podcast and revealed his early candidates for who may take the leap to superstardom in 2021.
“Obviously, Khamzat [Chimaev]. White said. What I love about the kid is that he wants to fight all the time. The guys that are as good as him and want to fight all the time, not everybody wants to fight him, so it’s tough to make fights."
"You sprinkle some COVID on top of that and here we are," he continued. "Everybody was asking about him this weekend why he pulled out of the fight. He got COVID. He’s a savage. He tried to get back in the gym and train through it, and I guess his lungs didn’t respond well, so the doctor wants him to take some time off before he trains again. He doesn’t even want him to start training until some time in January. So, you got him.”
“Kevin Holland,” said White. “Another guy like Chimaev [who] wants to fight all the time. The kid went 5-0 in 2020. He’s fun. He’s exciting. Good looking kid. And then another one would be Joaquin Buckley, who had in 2020 — not in 2020, but ever — the most viral win ever in UFC history with that knockout that he had.”
On the topic of controversial heavyweight Greg Hardy, White had some praise for the NFL star-turned MMA pro.
“He looked damn good." White praised. "He lost that last fight, but he looked damn good right up until he lost,” White concluded. “He’s done very well here. I didn’t expect him to possibly stick around this long, especially in this heavyweight division. There’s some nasty guys, but he’s done very well.”
Neil Magny Excited For Main Event Showcase
Longtime UFC welterweight contender Neil Magny is having a resurgence later on in his career.
After scheduled UFC Fight Island 8 headliner Khamzat Chimaev contracted COVID-19 and subsequently pulled out of his main event bout against third-ranked Leon Edwards, Neil Magny and Michael Chiesa were bumped up from the co-main event to the marquee of the evening.
Magny (24-7) is now slated to take part in his third UFC main event on the Jan. 20 card and had the following to say about the news of his bout vs. Chiesa getting elevated to the main event:
“At the end of the day, if you think of some of the complaints that fighters have as a whole, it’s being able to be marketed by the UFC, being able to be paid more by the UFC,” Magny said when speaking with MMA Fighting. “So the fact that Chimaev was able to do what he’s done in the UFC in just three fights, I say more power to you.
“For him to get to the point where he’s fighting some of these guys in the top 10, top five, if he believes he can hang with those guys, absolutely come put it to the test. I’m not going to sit there and say you’re not ready for that.”
“If you believe you can hang with the best guys in the division and the UFC wants to make that fight, I would 100 percent welcome that opportunity,” Magny said. “I would either beat him to the point where everybody realizes he’s got more work to do or the guy gets lucky and beats me and he’s actually able to say I told you guys I was ready for it.”
“I think these are the moments and these are the shifts that are going to allow our sport to be more comparable to other sports like basketball or football where these younger guys, these rookies are able to get these huge contracts early on and kind of raise the pay status for all the athletes that are under that particular banner,” Magny explained. “You have guys coming fresh out of high school, fresh out of college that are able to go play for the NBA, for the NFL and they’re able to play against some of the best guys that have been in the league for five, six, 10 years plus for some of these guys.
“It’s either you can hang with those guys or you don’t. I think bringing fresh blood, a fresh face like Chimaev in the UFC helps everyone across the board. Not just him, not just the seasoned fighters, but all the other fighters that come after him as well.”
“It raises the standard, it raises the bar for new fighters coming into the UFC,” Magny said. “Right now, it’s kind of standard that most fighters coming into the UFC get that contract at [$10,000 to show and $10,000 to win] and depending on how their fights go, they’re able to advance from there.
“But if guys like Chimaev are able to come to the UFC and make big waves and make that pay jump to [$20,000 to show, $20,000 to win] or whatever it may be, I think that’s a positive for everybody.”
“This is a huge opportunity for both Michael Chiesa and I to go out and prove why we’re two of the best welterweights in the division,” Magny said. “It was kind of being overshadowed with the Khamzat hype and Leon Edwards being inactive, it’s kind of taken the headlines going into this fight. I feel like everything played out just the right way in order for Chiesa and I go out and shine.”
Aleksander Rakic Eyes Title Shot And Israel Adesanya With Win At UFC 259
UFC light heavyweight contender Aleksander Rakic believes he is on the cusp of a title shot.
Rakic (13-2) will stand across the octagon from former title challenger Thiago Santos at UFC 259 in what could very well be a title eliminator bout. The 28-year old Austrian contender recently spoke with MMA Junkie about his upcoming bout.
“I’m gonna be prepared for war, and I know Thiago is also gonna be prepared for war,” said Rakic. “I want this title shot, and I want this belt so bad. I made a promise for one friend of mine who I lost a couple of days ago, and I promised his family that I’m gonna win against Thiago and I’m gonna get the title shot, and this motivates me a lot.”
“These two losses in a row mean nothing,” he continued. “Thiago is a dangerous guy. He fought Jon Jones very well, he fought injured. Now he lost to Glover. He knocked Glover down, Glover came back – he’s dangerous, he’s very dangerous – but you can see that the ring rust was there.”
Adding, “I think in his next fight against me, Thiago is gonna come even more motivated because he’s hungry, he sees his chances, and I’m sure he’s training hard because I know Thiago. We were training in American Top Team in Florida two years ago. He’s a dangerous guy, but I’m now getting into my prime and, I’m telling you, Aleksandar Rakic in his prime, nobody is gonna beat me. Nobody. I can swear to God nobody’s gonna beat me.”
“Sometimes he’s waiting to counter, sometimes he’s rushing forward,” said Rakic. “So I don’t know what I can expect from him, but I’m gonna be ready for everything that he’s bringing to the table, because this is the most important fight for me. After this fight, I want that title shot.”
Rakic is hoping that UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya takes out light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz at UFC 259 in their champion vs. champion super fight, that way he [Rakic] can be the one to hand Izzy his first professional loss.
“If he [Israel Adesanya] becomes the champion and he’s a two-division champion, then he’s gonna need to face me and it’s not gonna be a good night for him. All his legacy and all his credit is gonna come to me," Rakic said. "The UFC decides what they want and for the promotion and for the marketing, of course, it’s Adesanya and Blachowicz. It’s better to sell for the people and it’s gonna be very interesting to see Adesanya in the light heavyweight division because the weight class between middleweight and light heavyweight is huge."
“We have like nine kilos – from 84 kgs to 93 kgs," he concluded. "This is nine kilos in between and those nine kilos, you can feel the power. The light heavyweight division, we are strong, but we are also fast. I don’t want to say middleweights aren’t strong, but it’s gonna be very interesting.”
Daniel Cormier Believes Khabib Nurmagomedov Will Remain Retired
Following his successful title defense over Justin Gaethje at UFC 254, undefeated UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov announced his retirement from Mixed Martial Arts.
However, many, including UFC President Dana White have speculated that the 29-0 Russian legend won't be retired for very long. Don't put Nurmagomedov's longtime teammate Daniel Cormier on that list though. When speaking with South China Morning Post, the former UFC light heavyweight and heavyweight champion had the following to say about Nurmagomedov's retirement:
“It makes it very difficult when I have to answer these questions because you know why the UFC wants him back – you should, everybody wants him back,” Cormier said.
“But the reality is I just take my buddy at his word,” headed. “If he says he’s not fighting, then he’s not fighting. If he says he’s coming back, then he’s coming back.”
“I just care about Khabib the person. I don’t really care if he’s fighting or not fighting, you know. Of course, I would love for him to fight, it’s always fun to watch him prepare and compete," Cormier concluded. “It would be great for the UFC if he did compete again, but if he doesn’t, I still love the guy as much as I do when he’s an active competitor.”
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Several MMA Related Business Received COVID-19 Relief Loans
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the lives of many... and not for the better.
That fact doesn't change when it comes to the world of MMA. From bout cancellations to venue changes to no fans in the arenas to the untimely death of undefeated UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov's father, Abdulmanap, the pandemic has run roughshod throughout the world of MMA.
However, several MMA related business have received relief loans via the CARES Act, including the UFC, ONNIT, Tito Ortiz, Brendan Schaub and several notable MMA gyms.
Here's the full list:
- ONNIT Labs, Inc. -- $2,380,000
- Renzo Gracie LLC. -- $450,000
- American Top Team, Inc. -- $394,200
- 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu San Diego LLC. -- $335,410
- UFC Gym Farmingdale -- $262,242
- UFC Gym Costa Mesa -- $249,619
- The Jungle MMA and Fitness Orlando, Inc. - $171,060
- American Kickboxing Academy, Inc. -- $150,000
- Gracie Barra BJJ Pasadena, Inc. -- $150,000
- Legacy Fighting Alliance -- $150,000
- Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu -- $150,000
- Team Curran LLC. -- $147,000
- First Round Management -- $140,000
- Urijah Faber Fitness Center LLC. -- $136,400
- Allen Gracie BJJ Ventures LLC. -- $130,100
- Xtreme Fighting League -- $125,000
- Paradigm Sports Services LLC. -- $124,467
- Cage Fury MMA LLC. -- $174,135
- First Round Realty LLC. -- $119,300
- Extreme Cage Fighting Corp. -- $104,800
- 10th Planet San Dimas -- $71,000
- UFC Gym San Bruno -- $60,989
- Renzo Gracie Texas -- $60,000
- Renzo Gracie Ft. Lauderdale -- $59,400
- 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu Atlantic Beach -- $56,000
- Long Island MMA Center -- $51,843
- Renzo Gracie Bayside LLC. -- $50,000
- Renzo Gracie Rockland LLC. -- $45,200
- 10th Planet Poweay -- $42,465
- Lauzon MMA LLC. -- $39,690
- Malki Kawa -- $39,300
- UFC Gym Virginia Beach -- $37,200
- Renzo Gracie Shoreline Academy -- $36,200
- Renzo Gracie NH LLC. -- $34,100
- Rothwell MMA Inc. -- $33,382
- 10th Planet Ventura -- $32,400
- Tito Ortiz & Triple JJJ Enterprises LLC. -- $32,292
- Mighty Mouse MMA LLC. -- $31,250
- Kings MMA Anaheim, LLC. -- $16,000
- Renzo Gracie Academy Portland -- $14,500
- DBA American Top Team Martial Arts & Fitness -- $10,000
- Militech Fighting Systems Inc. -- $8,700
- Fure Fighting Championships LLC. -- $8,000
- Team Quest -- $8,000
- Gladiator Fighting Association LLC. -- $4,400
- Zuffa LLC DBA UFC -- $4,000
- Danzig MMA -- $3,837
- Ian Heinisch MMA, LLC -- $2,500
- Extreme Cage Fighting Corp. -- $2,000
Paulo Costa's Manager Calls For Interim Title Shot Against Robert Whittaker
It's been announced by UFC President Dana White that UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya will be moving up to 205-pounds and challenging UFC light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz at UFC 259.
Adesanya's last challenger Paulo Costa, is aiming for another shot at UFC gold after he was TKO'd by Adesanya at UFC 253. Costa, coming off of his first professional loss is hoping for a fight against former champion Robert Whittaker while Adesanya attempts to become the eighth dual weight UFC champion in the promotion's history.
"Borrachina's" manager Wallid Ismail recently spoke with MMA Fighting and made the case for his client.
“This fight has been discussed ever since they first announced that Adesanya would fight the 205-pound champion Blachowicz,” Ismail said. “Dana White said he wants this fight, that he would make this fight happen, and Whittaker said he would only fight for the belt next. We’re just waiting for Dana White to book this fight.”
“This is the best fight for 185, the No. 1 against the No. 2,” he added. “The winner… Borrachinha will win, and with that win, imagine how many pay-per-views a rematch with Adesanya would do. It’s a business. It’s the best pay-per-view possible because Borrachinha and Adesanya really hate each other, but we can’t leave the division on hold. That’s why we have to make this for the interim belt.
“It’s a win-win for the UFC, and that’s what Dana White wants," Ismail concluded. "He knows that Borrachinha vs. Whittaker will sell well, and he knows how much the title unification bout will sell, too.”
Deiveson Figueiredo Lays Out Plans For 2021
What a year 2020 was for UFC flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo.
"Deus da Guerra" began last year missing weight for his title bout against Joseph Benavidez then would quickly dispatch of his foe but he wasn't able to leave with UFC gold drapped over his shoulder because of the miss in weight. The fight would be ran back, this time Figueiredo would successfully make weight and subsequently ran through the longtime flyweight contender to finally capture the UFC's biggest prize.
Figueiredo then succesfully defended his title against Alex Perez via first-round submission at UFC 255 and would fight Brandon Moreno to a majority draw just 21 days later at UFC 256 in a Fight of The Year candidate. In 2021 Figueiredo has even bigger plans than 2020.
When speaking to MMA Fighting, Figueiredo laid out his plans for the new year:
“I gave my all, I love fighting in the UFC,” Figueiredo said. “I went in the octagon to break myself into pieces and give them the fight of the night because that’s what fans want to see, fighters that don’t slow down, that go in for a bloody game. I’m that type of fighter, you know, so I want the UFC to look at me with different eyes, that they give me pay-per-view [points].
“It’s missing some pay-per-view in my purse," he noted. "If they already add it to this [UFC 256] fight, that would be great, brother, but I would like to start making pay-per-view [money] for my next ones. I deserve this. I love working for the UFC and I want to be more valued, you know?”
“[I want] a superfight for the ‘BMF’ belt,” said Figueiredo, hoping for a second rendition of the UFC created strap. "If the UFC wants this, I’m in. It would be another great fight to add to my game.”
Kayla Harrison Thinks GOAT Status Is Within Reach
Winning two Olympic gold medals wasn't enough to satisfy Kayla Harrison's appetite for combat sports greatness.
The 30-year old Olympian now has her eyes set on becoming the greatest female mma athlete of all-time. When it comes to the subject of being the GOAT, Harrison knows she must be able to consistently make weight and win fights at 145-pounds.
Harrison spoke with MMA Fighting about that very subject and had the following to say:
“145 [pounds] will definitely be more beneficial to the business of Kayla Harrison than 155," said Harrison. "I wouldn’t say I’m stoked about cutting to 145. I didn’t enjoy it. But I do know that in terms of opportunity, it’s just going to be a better fit for me.
“We’ll see what happens with the PFL. I’m going to finish my contractual duties," she added. "Obviously they’re working hard to get more fresh talent in there. I’m super excited about that. But right now, just take it one fight at a time.”
“I’ve been pretty patient,” Harrison said. “I’ve stayed the course despite the crazy year we’ve all had. Everything happens for a reason. I think I’ve been very patient with my career. I haven’t rushed it. I haven’t stepped in after two fights and tried to fight an Amanda Nunes or a Cris Cyborg. I think I’ve developed my skill set. I think I’ve grown tremendously as a fighter and as a person."
“I think all the pieces are falling into place. Right when I’m ready, right when I’m in my prime, I’m going to be able to execute my game plan and go out and go down as one of the greatest. I see it happening," she concluded. "It’s pretty exciting.”
Scott Coker Wants Bellator On CBS and Showtime
In 2020, Bellator MMA made a significant change in their broadcast plans when they shifted over to CBS Sports Network from the Paramount Network.
Bellator President Scott Coker recently spoke with MMA Fighting and shared his hopes on airing the promotion on CBS proper or on Showtime:
“Listen you know what, that would all be music to my ears,” Coker stated. “We’re talking to the networks everyday. We’ll hit them back up at the beginning of the year. This is a very big company and now that it’s back merged together, it’s my job to go back there and keep trying to gain more real estate. That’s probably the best word. Keep growing this brand.
“Eventually getting on CBS is definitely a goal of ours and having events on Showtime would be amazing. That’s definitely a goal of ours," he added. "Everything is up in the air right now but I think we’ll have some clarity in the next probably two weeks to four weeks we’ll probably have some clarity on exactly what direction we’re going to head.”
“When we were on the entertainment side of Viacom the options were very limited,” Coker said. “We were on Spike and we were on Paramount and I’m not sure there was a fit on the other side of the fence.
“But now that the companies have merged, now I see Paramount Plus as definitely an option for us. Showtime, that was my original home when I was with Strikeforce. I have a great relationship with those guys," the Bellator boss wrapped up. "A lot of good things ahead. A lot of options.”
Walt Harris Admits He Returned To Fighting To Quickly After Stepdaughter's Passing
2020 was a tumultuous year for many, but especially for Walt Harris and his family following the murder of his stepdaughter Aniah Blanchard.
Harris, the 12th ranked heavyweight in the UFC has fought twice since Blanchard's untimely death, getting TKO'd by Alistair Overeem at UFC on ESPN 8 as well as being finished by Alexander Volkov at UFC 254.
The 37-year old Alabama native sat down with MMA Fighting and opened up about how he may have returned to fighting too soon following the tragic loss of his stepdaughter:
“I was thinking February [I’d like to return],” Harris told the publication. "I need to take some time, mentally, for myself. I feel like I jumped back in it so quick after everything. I really hadn’t grieved properly, to be honest."
“I heard Anthony [Smith] say something [after his recent win over Devin Clark], he talked to somebody and I think that’s gonna be key for me as well. I haven’t really talked to somebody, and I think that’s so important. Mental health is huge, and I’ve realized that more in this last year, or more than any point in my life, how important it is," he continued. “It’s weird because I’ve been trying to stay busy and take my mind off of it, and it’s worked to a certain degree. Then there’s those days where it just hits you, and I just break down. I think that I still haven’t really grieved the way I’ve had to, and I need to sit down and really assess the mental side of it.
“I’m about to talk with some sports psychologists," Harris concluded. "I have a therapist and I’m not seeing him as regularly as I should, but that part of it is key for me. I need to take that into consideration and get back into it. But staying busy has tried to keep my mind from going to that super dark place but we’ll get all that figured out and I’ll be back stronger than ever for sure.”
Robin Black Shares His Favorite Bellator Moments From 2020
Robin Black posted a video highlighting all of his favorite moments from the year that was 2020 in the world of Bellator MMA.
Check-out his favorite moments of the year below:
Antonio Carlos Junior Wants A War With Brad Tavares At UFC 257
After taking 2020 off from active competition in a year that you can't blame anyone for taking off, Antonio Carlos Junior is itching to get back inside of the UFC's octagon.
He'll do just that at UFC 257 when he meets UFC middleweight mainstay Brad Tavares in what Junior is hoping is an absolute war. When speaking with Combate, Junior had the following to say ahead of his clash with Tavares:
“2020 was a different year for everyone.” Junior said. “Me, I had to recover from surgery. I had knee surgery and it was a year of learning for me. To bottle up my emotions and let them out in my next fight. I want to fight again badly, I’m dying for a brawl. Despite what happened in 2020, I’m really excited to work again.”
“It’s the first time I’ve lost two in a row in my career.” he continued. “I actually thought I won my last fight. That’s kind of controversial. I’ve been seeing some controversial calls lately and my last fight was one of them. You can expect a Shoeface with even sharper jiu-jitsu. All this time away has made me even hungrier for a win. I’m dying to go out there again be that guy full of will, with a desire to finish.”