MMA: Antonio Rogerio Nogueira

Evans can't afford another loss

March, 27, 2013
3/27/13
3:41
PM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
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Once in a while it is necessary to set the record straight.

That moment has arrived as it relates to a comment made by former light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans about his upcoming bout against Dan Henderson. The two are scheduled to meet June 15 at UFC 161 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

In the fight business, you're only as good as your next fight. If you lose two or three then you're done.

-- Rashad Evans
Despite dropping his past two outings -- he looked sluggish en route to a unanimous-decision setback Feb. 2 Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 156 -- Evans is expecting a victory against Henderson.

But in the past few days, some MMA blogs have questioned the level of Evans’ confidence based on a remark he made to ESPN.com nearly two weeks ago.

“This is the type of fight that keeps you up at night, because you want to do well,” Evans said, referring to his bout against Henderson. “My back is against the wall. And that is when I perform at my best.

“In the fight business, you’re only as good as your next fight. If you lose two or three then you’re done.

“My manager Bill Robinson always says, ‘You’re either one fight away from getting a title shot and becoming champion or you’re two losses away from being cut from UFC.’ ”

Robinson makes a good point and Evans understands the business aspect of mixed martial arts. But Evans is a high-level professional athlete who expects to defeat every man he competes against in the cage.

When he talks about losing two or three fights "then you’re done," Evans is referring to being a serious title contender.

Evans still believes he can compete for and win the UFC light heavyweight title. But he is very aware that with two losses in a row heading into this next fight, another defeat will significantly hinder his chances of fighting for the belt again.

As for fearing that a loss to Henderson will result in being released by UFC: Evans laughed at the suggestion when contacted by ESPN.com on Wednesday.

“No. Not at all,” Evans responded. “That some media would come to that conclusion is funny to me. I’m going to win [on June 15.]”

Fighting Henderson has never been a concern for Evans. The only issue he’s had to battle the past two years is his recent divorce and not seeing his children as often as he would like.

The emotions of the situation took a toll on Evans. But he is having arguably his best camp in recent memory.

Evans is in a good place training-wise right now -- mentally, emotionally and physically.

That wasn’t the case in his previous three training camps. Evans is eager to step in the cage against Henderson and prove that he remains a force to be reckoned with at 205 pounds.

Winnipeg's gain; Jones-Silva most coveted

March, 6, 2013
3/06/13
5:56
AM ET
Gross By Josh Gross
ESPN.com
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Mauricio Rua, Antonio Rodrigo NogueiraSherdog.comA bout between Mauricio Rua, left, and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira could steal the show in Winnipeg.

Winnipeg, hello.

For the first time, UFC announced Tuesday, it will roll into the Canadian province of Manitoba, bringing all the makings of a quality card. On Wednesday ESPN.com reported that interim UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao will fight tough Eddie Wineland in the main event. With Dan Henderson meeting Rashad Evans and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua rematching a spectacular Pride contest against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Zuffa will have no problem filling the MTS Centre on June 15. Also, Tyron Woodley is slated to fight Jake Shields at welterweight, which should draw some intrigue considering Woodley's impressive UFC debut.

Winnipeg is the fifth Canadian city to welcome the UFC, and it should probably tip its cap to westerly neighbor Vancouver. Or, more precisely, the Vancouver City Council. Last year around this time, UFC president Dana White said the Octagon wouldn't head back to Vancouver until 2014 at the earliest. In addition to the fact that the council let a two-year trial period for MMA expire, the reality of promoting the sport in Vancouver, even though UFC made money for its two events there, was ridiculous because of indemnification and insurance costs. The powers that be didn't want UFC in town, which they made clear.

Fair to say, as UFC's head for Canada Tom Wright did, Vancouver seemed to think UFC supporters might act a lot like Canucks fans.

Whoops.

Well, Winnipeg's gain.

Barao's summer booking against Wineland signals that bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz is nowhere near being ready to return to the cage. Cruz's trainer, Eric Del Fierro, confirmed as much. In the champ's place, Barao has been an admirable temp. Wineland's speed and power could present challenges for the defensive-minded Brazilian. It's a solid fight.

Even with a title bout on the card, Henderson-Evans may carry the most intrigue. Both men are coming off less than impressive losses. Evans was convincingly worse, and he has a lot to answer for. Is the man mentally broken after Jon Jones? There are people who know him that think he is. Based on Evans' performance -- lack thereof, really -- against Nogueira, something has to give. Henderson is definitely the wrong guy to be timid against, though the 42-year-old wrestler might finally be old. Henderson wasn't sharp or active against Lyoto Machida, but that could have been a symptom of the Brazilian's quickness and countering ability. Henderson matches up well with Evans and I'd peg him the early favorite.

Building up Rua's second fight with Nogueira should be as easy as cutting highlights of the first contest. It was that good. Shogun was at the top of his game in 2005, a year in which he went 5-0 and defeated Quinton Jackson, Nogueira, Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona. Of that group, only Nogueira managed to go the distance. This was just a war of attrition, an incredible contest.

Expectations will be high.

Injury bug bites Bellator



It’s official: Bellator has caught the injury bug.

Last week it was Daniel Straus’ hand. This week, Douglas Lima’s. Bellator moved Lima’s welterweight tournament final bout against Ben Saunders off a March 21 event in Maine (the card features lightweights Marcin Held and Dave Jansen after that bout was postponed because of injury after originally being slated for this Thursday) and should have it lined up for sometime this summer. Since Ben Askren already has a waiting contender in unbeaten 22-year-old Andrey Koreshkov, the news about Lima isn’t such a big deal.

It just goes to show, however, that Bellator’s good luck streak with injuries and tournaments was bound to hit a rough patch. So it has.

As for Thursday at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, Calif., Bellator offers semifinal bouts at 185 and 145.

The featherweights are where it’s at.

Marlon Sandro takes on Magomedrasul Khasbulaev (everyone just calls him “Frodo”). And on the other side of the bracket, Alexandre Bezerra fights Mike Richman, which should be the best contest on the card.

Middleweights fighting Thursday don’t do much for me. Veteran Doug Marshall meets 9-0 Russian Sultan Aliev. And Brett Cooper should go to war with Dan Cramer.

Still, compared to Bellator 92’s off-TV undercard, the middleweights are world class. Spike.com streams Bellator prelims, and let’s just say up front this set isn’t worth your time. Most of the fighters are local and not very good. Or, worse yet, long washed up if they were decent to begin with. But if guys such as Cleber Luciano and Shad Smith sell tickets, hey, alright.

Fight you most want to see

Jon Jones & Anderson SilvaRic Fogel for ESPN.comA clash between fellow UFC champions Jon Jones, left, and Anderson Silva is a fight fan's dream bout.


SportsNation is asking fans to rank the best fight MMA can make right now .

After a day’s worth of voting, Jon Jones against Anderson Silva is ahead by a wide margin. No surprise, really. Silva versus Georges St-Pierre is second. And Cain Velasquez taking on Jones currently ranks third.

Topping my group was Silva-GSP. I guess I’m just tired of all the talk. It’s been four years since this was first discussed and if GSP beats Nick Diaz on March 16 and if Silva handles Chris Weidman in July, it really needs to happen.

Silva-Jones, second as I ranked 'em, requires no embellishment. It’s a surefire spectacle. But as tremendous as it would be for the fighters, fans and UFC, Jones has work remaining at 205 before he needs to concern himself with Silva.

No. 3 on my list: St-Pierre against Johny Hendricks. I love this at 170. If Hendricks and the UFC champion take care of business in Montreal in less than two weeks, I think fans will be clamoring for this contest. They should, but SportsNation suggests it’s the sixth most appealing fight behind Jones-Daniel Cormier, Benson Henderson-Jose Aldo and the three previously mentioned.

Curious was the lack of interest in Dominick Cruz against Renan Barao at 135. Maybe Cruz has been on the shelf too long? I don’t know. I like that fight a lot. Barao has been top notch, and possesses everything he needs to beat Cruz. Least interesting to me, for a variety of reasons, is GSP and Rory MacDonald.

Zuffa, make ‘em happen.

UFC 156 proves nothing is a given in MMA

February, 3, 2013
2/03/13
12:32
PM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
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LAS VEGAS -- It's never a fighter’s intent to give his opponent extra motivation, unless of course you’re heavyweight contender Alistair Overeem and you just don’t respect the other guy.

Lack of respect is almost certain to serve as extra motivation for any fighter, and Overeem’s opponent Saturday at UFC 156 -- Antonio Silva -- was no exception. But Silva and fellow Brazilian Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, who faced former light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans, didn’t need antagonism from their foes to give them an extra adrenaline pump. The promotion had done that for them.

Before their main-card bouts at Mandalay Bay Events Center, Overeem and Evans were being offered UFC title shots if they managed to win their respective fights. No such promises were made to Silva and Nogueira.

Whether intended or not, they were on the show as fodder for Overeem and Evans. According to the UFC’s master plan, the Brazilians were on hand to take their beatings like men, get paid, go home and wait by the phone to learn of their next fight -- and who knows when that would have been? Silva and Nogueira weren’t the stars at UFC 156; that distinction was reserved for the guys standing across the cage from them.

The nerve of UFC: making title-shot plans without first consulting with "Bigfoot" and Lil Nog.

But Silva and Nogueira are proud men. They are also company guys, so neither made any verbal stink before fight night. Each would have his say inside the Octagon, however, and UFC officials weren’t going to like the messages being delivered.

It took Silva some time to express himself against Overeem. He was behind after two rounds, in a bout that lacked much excitement up until that point. But in the third, Silva made his feelings known. He delivered a vicious overhand right to Overeem’s head, followed by several more hard punches.

The trash-talking, overconfident Overeem slumped to the canvas, virtually unconscious. And while in that feeble position, Silva stood over him, screaming at him to get up.

“Many people did not believe in [me],” Silva said after tossing a monkey wrench into the UFC’s heavyweight title plans. “But I believed in me.

Alistair did not respect me. But I worked hard on my striking for this fight. I showed the world a lot about me. And I specifically showed Overeem how to respect another fighter.

-- Antonio Silva, on defeating a disrespectful Alistair Overeem

“Alistair did not respect me. But I worked hard on my striking for this fight. I showed the world a lot about me. And I specifically showed Overeem how to respect another fighter.”

He also showed -- better yet taught -- UFC officials a thing or two about going public with potential title-fight plans before all the ducks are in a row.

In fairness, Silva’s knockout of Overeem was highly unforeseeable. But a Plan B should have been in place and made known to the public, at least to save face.

Now UFC decision-makers find themselves in the awkward position of scrambling to find a suitable opponent for Cain Velasquez.

Silva’s upset win exposes a topic that has been swept under the rug in recent months -- UFC’s heavyweight division still has a dearth of title-worthy contenders, despite the addition of Strikeforce fighters. That shallow well has UFC scrambling to find a suitable replacement for Overeem.

White hinted at Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner Daniel Cormier as the most deserving opponent for current champion Velasquez, but he’ll have a difficult time making that fight a reality. Cormier has stated repeatedly that he will not fight his American Kickboxing Academy teammate and close friend.

So determined is Cormier never to step in the cage opposite Velasquez -- and vice versa -- that he’s already begun the process of cutting weight for an eventual showdown with light heavyweight titleholder Jon Jones. In other words, good luck UFC getting Velasquez and Cormier on a billboard facing one another.
[+] EnlargeRashad Evans
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesRashad Evans, left, couldn't get out of first gear against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.

The news wasn’t all bad Saturday night for UFC. While Evans was looking at a possible middleweight showdown with that division’s titleholder, Anderson Silva, top contender Chris Weidman is a solid option.

No timetable can be set for that fight until more is known on the progress of Weidman’s recovery from shoulder surgery. Silva-Evans, however, was gaining traction and would have generated a lot of fan interest.

Giving Evans hope of a 185-pound title shot seemed like a nice gesture initially. But no one took time to consider Nogueira’s feelings. He was the forgotten man at UFC 156. There were no high-profile stories written about him, nor was anyone suggesting that he receive title-shot consideration with an upset of Evans.

Nogueira is a quiet, sensitive man, who used the prefight slight as motivation. And it worked to his benefit as he utilized a stiff right jab, a hard straight left and picture-perfect takedown defense to register a unanimous-decision win.

“[Offering Evans a title shot] motivated me a lot because before he could fight Anderson Silva, he had a big fight against me,” Nogueira said. “I worked a lot on my wrestling skills and my boxing. I know I was very ready for this.”

Silva and Nogueira might have felt a bit slighted by UFC, but each used it to their advantage Saturday night.

Intended or not, making prefight title-shot plans public can work against UFC’s interest. But on second thought, it can also work in the promotion’s favor -- an entertaining heavyweight fight developed due to Silva’s added desire to silence Overeem.

And Nogueira used his extra incentive to become relevant again. He certainly won’t be the forgotten man the next time he’s slated to appear on a UFC card.

UFC 156 by the numbers

February, 3, 2013
2/03/13
2:25
AM ET
By Andrew R. Davis
ESPN Stats & Information
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9: Takedowns defended by Jose Aldo. Frankie Edgar got off to a slow start on the feet, and did not attempt a takedown in Round 1. In Rounds 2-5, Edgar attempted 11 takedowns but only succeeded on two. Although Edgar was the first Aldo opponent to score multiple takedowns on Aldo, opponents are now 5-for-66 in takedowns against the featherweight champion in his UFC/WEC career (92 percent takedown defense).

6: Fight-of-the-night bonuses for Edgar, tying him with Chris Lytle for most in UFC history.

34: Leg kicks thrown by both Aldo and Edgar. Aldo outlanded Edgar 7-4 with leg kicks over the first two rounds, including one that sent the former lightweight champion stumbling. But Aldo changed his approach the remainder of the fight, landing just one leg kick while the challenger landed 21 of 24 in the final 15 minutes of action.

1: Takedowns for Rashad Evans. Previously, “Suga” was 9-0-1 in fights in which he took his opponent down at least once. Nogueira had been taken down 12 times in five UFC appearances, but stopped four takedowns against the former Michigan State wrestler.

4: Former champions Antonio Silva has beaten in his MMA career. “Bigfoot” also has victories over former Pride champion Fedor Emelianenko as well as former UFC champions Andrei Arlovski and Ricco Rodriguez.

36: Significant strike advantage for Alistair Overeem through two rounds. In Round 1, Overeem outlanded Silva 22-3 in significant strikes. Round 2 was no different as Overeem had a 27-4 advantage. But in the third, “Bigfoot” hit Overeem with 14 of 20 significant strikes (70 percent), putting the “Demolition Man” down for good.

11: Overeem’s unbeaten streak coming into the fight with Silva. His previous loss was to Sergei Kharitonov in September 2007 (also by KO/TKO). Seven of Overeem’s 12 career losses have come by way of KO or TKO.

12: Career UFC wins for Demian Maia, the second most in the UFC since 2007 behind middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Maia is now on a three-fight win streak since moving to the welterweight division.

7: Takedowns allowed by Jon Fitch, the most he’s allowed in a three-round fight. Fitch also allowed seven to Georges St-Pierre at UFC 87, but that fight was a five-round title fight.

57: Significant strikes landed by Joseph Benavidez, the most in his WEC/UFC career. The Alpha Male product mixed up his attack, hitting McCall with 33 strikes to the head, and 12 each to the body and legs.

Notebook: 'Bigfoot' plans to stomp 'Reem

February, 1, 2013
2/01/13
1:35
PM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
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LAS VEGAS -- How big a favorite is Alistair Overeem heading into his heavyweight bout Saturday night against Antonio Silva? UFC president Dana White revealed Thursday that promotion officials have already begun plans for Overeem to face champion Cain Velasquez sometime this year.

Those plans are contingent, of course, on Overeem leaving UFC 156 victorious.

The former Strikeforce heavyweight champion is so confident that he will not upset UFC’s plans that he is already talking about fights with Velasquez and former UFC titleholder Junior dos Santos.

“Those are the two fights [Velasquez and dos Santos] I want most,” Overeem recently told ESPN.com. “I have unfinished business with dos Santos.”

What about Silva? Overeem seems to be quite dismissive of him. He’s even expressed confidence in beating Silva standing or on the ground.

During a prefight photo staredown Thursday at Mandalay Bay, Overeem made a threatening gesture toward Silva and delivered a stern warning. “I’m going to destroy you,” Overeem said to Silva, according to White.

Silva was unfazed and told Overeem, "You better start respecting me."

Being the underdog and not receiving respect from his opponent, Silva intends to quash Overeem’s title aspirations. Silva believes the outsiders have it all wrong by making him an underdog in this fight.

If they had looked closer at Overeem’s losses and the skill set of his conquerors, they would realize that Silva has the tools to win this showdown. Silva is a powerful striker with solid jiu-jitsu skills -- a combination that the Brazilian believes is Overeem’s Kryptonite.

“He’s fought a lot of Brazilian guys, a lot of jiu-jitsu guys -- [Antonio] Rogerio [Nogueira], [Ricardo] Arona and [Mauricio] “Shogun” [Rua]. All have good ground games, and he lost to those three guys,” Silva told ESPN.com. “If he thinks he’s better than me on the floor, OK. Let’s go! Put me on the ground, and we will fight on the ground.

“He’s a great striker; he’s a K-1 champion. I respect him a lot. But this is a heavyweight fight. One punch can determine the fight, and I have heavy hands. So I’m not afraid of his striking.”

There is another area that Silva believes will prove to be Overeem’s Achilles’ heel -- cardio. Since June 2008, Overeem has gone beyond the first round once -- and that came against Fabricio Werdum in June 2011.

Overeem won that fight by unanimous decision but struggled with his cardio in the latter rounds, especially the third. Silva expects to be the fresher fighter if Saturday’s bout goes into deep waters.

“I’ve trained to go five rounds,” Silva said. “I’m very well. I feel good. My cardio is better than before. I know he is dangerous in the first 2-3 minutes because he comes in fresh and strong. But if this fight goes into the second and third rounds, it will be best for me.”

Nogueira unnerved by Silva-Evans talk


He’s the forgotten man at UFC 156. With so much talk the past few weeks about former light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans possibly moving to 185 and facing middleweight titleholder Anderson Silva, no one seems interested in Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.

White made it known Thursday that if Evans defeats Nogueira in their co-featured bout Saturday night, he will be offered a middleweight title shot.

The only thing Nogueira can reasonably expect should he beat Evans is another fight inside the Octagon. That’s it.

But Nogueira is OK with that. He doesn’t feel disrespected and understands the situation.

“[Rashad] is a former champion. That’s why he is in position to force a fight with Anderson Silva,” Nogueira told ESPN.com. “I’m not in the same position because I’m not a former champion.

“That’s why the people are talking more about him and not about me. But I’m going to prove myself Saturday night. I’m going to do my job.”

Nogueira, who has not fought since December 2011 when he knocked out former 205-pound champion Tito Ortiz in the first round at UFC 140, has worked on improving his takedown technique. He expects the extra work to come in handy against a highly skilled wrestler like Evans.

Quick hits


• Moving down a weight class doesn’t change much for Frankie Edgar in the size department. As is usually the case, Edgar expects to be the smaller man in the cage Saturday night when he faces featherweight champion Jose Aldo. “I don’t think I’ve ever been the bigger guy in an MMA fight,” Edgar said. “From what I understand, he’s [Aldo] cutting more weight than I am. So he will probably be a little bit bigger than me but not as big as everyone else.”

• Former top Strikeforce welterweight contender Tyron Woodley is ecstatic about entering the Octagon. But Woodley will enter Mandalay Bay Events Center on Saturday with a sour taste in his mouth. In his final Strikeforce bout, he was knocked out in the fourth round by Nathan Marquardt. Woodley, however, is looking on the bright side. He learned from that loss and vows not to make the same mistakes against Jay Hieron, whom he faces at UFC 156. “When I stuck to the game plan, pressed forward and did what I do best, I had great success,” Woodley told ESPN.com. “But when I backed up and relaxed a little bit, that’s when he got off. So I have to stick to the game plan, stick to my guns and do what I do best, and if I do that against any welterweight, I will be fine.”

• White isn’t a fan of catchweight bouts, but he might be willing to make an exception for women’s bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey and former Strikeforce featherweight titleholder Cristiane Santos, who seems reluctant to cut the extra 10 pounds. “It’s not a title fight,” White said. “If that’s what [Santos] is willing to do go to 140, let Ronda defend her title a few times and see if Ronda wants to go to 140. If I know Ronda, she probably will anyway. Let’s see what happens."

Weight cut is "question mark" for Evans

January, 21, 2013
1/21/13
4:17
PM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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EvansJosh Hedges/Getty ImagesIs Rashad Evans willing to cut weight to go down to 185? Only if it is to fight for the title.
The UFC middleweight landscape is wide open for a guy like Rashad Evans to make a run at Anderson Silva -- but that doesn’t guarantee he will.

Evans, who fights Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in a 205-pound bout at UFC 157, became an instant candidate to fight Silva over the weekend when Vitor Belfort knocked out Michael Bisping at a UFC on FX card in Brazil.

A former champion in the light heavyweight division, Evans (17-2-1) talked about a move to middleweight in 2012 but ultimately decided against it. His manager, Glenn Robinson, downplayed rumors of a move, saying he’d only do so to fight Silva.

That apparently hasn’t changed, as Evans said he wouldn’t force himself to drop another 20 pounds if it meant he’d be in the same position he’s currently in at 205.

“I guess if it was a title shot or against a really good, top contender where it would be something people would want to see, I would think about it,” Evans told ESPN.com.

“I’m already at the top of my division. For me to go down to 185, I’ve got to start over and prove myself. I’m good at 205, who’s to say I’d be the same fighter at 185?”

There’s been much speculation as to how difficult or easy a weight cut would be for Evans. Many fans point to his height of 5-foot-11 (well below average for a light heavyweight) and wonder: How hard could it be?

Evans, for one, believes it will be incredibly hard. The 33-year-old, who has competed at heavyweight, says it’s become harder to keep his weight down. His weight between fights has no trouble reaching over 230 pounds.

“It would be a lifestyle change,” Evans said. “I don’t look it because I’m short, but naturally my body goes to like 235 when I’m not consistently training. I would really have to change everything about my diet on a daily basis.

“It’s a big question mark for me. Once I moved past 30, my body started changing. It used to be real easy making 205, but now I’ve really got to focus and pay attention to what I put into my body.”

An immediate title shot for Evans in a weight class he’s never fought would likely not draw the same ire from fans that an April fight between Chael Sonnen and Jon Jones has.

Reason being that while it was widely perceived Sonnen talked his way into that opportunity, Evans is viewed as an elite light heavyweight who just happened to be unfortunate enough to run into the “Jon Jones era.”

Evans, for one, believes he could be the first man in the Octagon to hand Silva a loss, but it doesn’t sound as though he’s willing to put the strain on his body of making 185 unless he knows that’s on the table.

“He’s one of my favorite fighters to watch,” Evans said. “When my career is all said and done, I want to be able to say I competed against some of the best guys in history.

“To be able to say I went against the best guy and beat the best guy? I believe I can beat Anderson Silva. The skills I have are something he’d have a hard time dealing with.”
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Quinton Jackson have offered to step in for Chael Sonnen and fight Forrest Griffin at UFC 155 later this year. More »

Five things to watch: UFC on Fuel 2 edition

April, 13, 2012
4/13/12
11:32
AM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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It’s been six weeks between Zuffa events; plenty of time to contemplate Marlon Sandro decked out as the Bellator icon. And if there’s ever been a six-week span where so much wonderment has gone into the amount of testosterone found in horse filets, I’d like to hear about it.

But beginning Saturday in Stockholm, the UFC gets back to its furious pace. Over the next several weeks, there will be UFCs to keep us busy, all of them stubbornly numbered in pay-per-views, in FOX, FX and Fuel shows -- not to mention the occasional Strikeforce event. As such there will be a lot of debuts from guys like Yoislandy Izquierdo and Sweden’s own Magnus Cedenblad. The producers of Starz’s Spartacus could never have invented such fitting names for its crop of warriors.

Here’s a look at five things to keep an eye out for at UFC on Fuel TV 2, and some storylines that might (or might not) be of immense interest to you.

Gustafsson’s handling of the spotlight
Alexander GustafssonMartin McNeil for ESPN.comCan Alexander Gustafsson handle the pressure and deliver a breakout performance?

It’s not only a homecoming for Alexander Gustafsson, but it’s his first main event on a card specifically designed with him in mind. And it’s his first time fighting as a true cusp contender from both a marketing standpoint as well as from the general notion that he’s part of what’s left out there for Jon Jones at 205 pounds. That’s a lot of pressure for the 25-year-old from Arboga, Sweden. But it’s the kind of pressure that comes with sustained success in a league founded more or less on attrition.

Gustafsson will be fighting Thiago Silva, who was originally supposed to be Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Which is the more imposing foe? Probably Silva, who has only lost twice in his career, and each of those were against former champions (Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida). Silva would be a huge notch for Gustafsson, enough of one to rev up the title talk. And coming in, it’s hard to find much wrong in the Swede’s game since losing to Phil Davis at UFC 112. It’s not that he beat four guys in a row, but he finished them all, twice by TKO (Vladimir Matyushenko and Matt Hamill), and twice by rear-naked chokes (James Te Huna and Cyrille Diabate).

If he adds Silva to that casualty list, it means the “Mauler” has truly arrived.

Silva’s potential ring rust and mental state
Thiago SilvaMartin McNeil for ESPN.comThiago Silva has a whole lot of ring rust to shake once he steps into the Octagon.

In a time when commission findings get more headlines than the fighters themselves, we must remember that Thiago Silva was the original bizarre. After his UFC 125 drubbing of Brandon Vera, the Nevada State Athletic Commission suspended Silva when it was discovered that his prefight urine sample turned up “inconsistent with human urine.” He tried to mask banned substances by submitting urine that he ordered online. This didn’t work out. To his credit, Silva admitted right away to his course of folly and took his punishment, which included a yearlong suspension.

Well, it’s been 16 months since the Vera fight, and through a beneficial set of circumstances he ends up in a main event. The UFC tried to set up a rematch with Vera. When Vera was a no-go, the UFC tried to stick Silva in there against a tough but not-so-glamorous Igor Pokrajac. Then they needed a viable opponent for Gustafsson when Lil Nog went down. Enter Silva, who is still a top-10 light heavy in the UFC. Yet you have to wonder if the time away from the cage, the mental taxation, the travel, the fact that he’s fighting a rising star in a rising star’s homeland, and the oppositional musical chairs will hinder him in some way.

If none of that matters, it means Silva right where he left off before those ongoing back issues led to some monstrously bad decision-making.

Dennis Siver as a featherweight
Dennis SilverEd Mulholland for ESPN.comDennis Siver is taking his high-kicking act to featherweight.

He was no slouch as a lightweight, but German fighter Dennis Siver wanted to try his hand as a 145-pounder after losing his footing in the 155-pound title race to Donald Cerrone. His first opponent as a feather? Diego Nunes. And if you remember, when Kenny Florian made his much-ballyhooed drop to 145 pounds, he was greeted by Nunes in his new weight class, too.

As a symbol, Nunes has helped more people lose weight than trainer Mike Dolce.

How will the weight cut play a role for Siver? It remains to be seen, but the kickboxer was knocking off some pretty tough guys as a smallish 155er -- guys like Matt Wiman, Spencer Fisher and George Sotiropoulos. In other words, he’s a wily vet.

Brian Stann getting his brawl back on
Brian StannMartin McNeil for ESPN.comNo wrestling necessary: Brian Stann can get back to standing and trading on Saturday.

The bane of Brian Stann’s existence so far as a professional mixed martial artist is wrestling. He was dominated on the ground by Phil Davis and, after dropping down to 185 pounds, ran into Chael Sonnen at UFC 136 and suffered the same fate. It’s been a long six months since then.

Yet lucky for Stann, Alessio Sakara -- the free-swinging Legionarius -- would just assume gather up all the singlets and have a bonfire. He was recently outwrestled by Chris Weidman, and it left a bad taste in his mouth for no other reason than it wasn’t his kind of fight. That is to say, it wasn’t a brawl. In fact, going back to his 2006 bout with Drew McFedries, any Sakara fight in which there was a finish has always come by KO or TKO. He was on the wrong end of those nearly as often as he wasn’t.

Think this thing is tailor-made for Stann? Could be. But there are plenty of people in Italy thinking the exact same for Sakara.

Damacio Page on the plank
This might be the fight of the night -- two tightly wound bantamweights coming off of losses, each of whom brings it every time. Between Brad Pickett and Damacio Page, Page is the one on the slipperier slope, having lost back-to-back fights to Brian Bowles and Demetrious Johnson. In both of those he was choked out via guillotine.

That’s not likely to happen against Pickett, whose nickname is “One Punch.” If Page loses here, it’ll likely be by decision or because he got caught. With Greg Jackson in his corner and some intangibles (read: survival mode), it might set up a perfect storm to revisit the Page of 2009, the one who fought a grand total of 1 minutes, 20 seconds in finishing off Will Campuzano (via rear-naked choke) and Marcos Galvao (via punches).

Either way, this looks like the great unsung fight that could steal the show.
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira admits he is hoping to secure a fight with Rich Franklin, when the light heavyweight pair are both clear of injury. More

Henderson would like to fight, not wait

February, 9, 2012
2/09/12
3:50
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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If there was one spectator of the UFC on FOX 2 show in Chicago on Jan. 28 with a heavily vested interest, it was Dan Henderson, the circumstantial No. 1 contender in the light heavyweight division, and a circumstantial top challenger in the middleweight division. Henderson is a renaissance contender. The problem is, he’s a renaissance contender with the most stubborn obstacles.

We saw how things turned out. Rashad Evans beat Phil Davis to finally punch his ticket to Jon Jones, and Chael Sonnen escaped Michael Bisping to set up what might become the biggest event in MMA history with Anderson Silva. For as perfect as those match-ups look for finality to long-fostered acrimony, this left 41-year-old Dan Henderson in the lurch.

At least as far symbolic belts are concerned.

Contrary to popular belief, though, Henderson isn’t necessarily interested in waiting to see how Jones-Evans plays out to firm up his shot. He says if there’s an opponent that makes sense, he’d like to fight sooner rather than later. Waiting isn’t his style.

“That was never what I said or anything,” Henderson told ESPN.com. “I don’t know who said that, but it wasn’t me. My thoughts were I was waiting to see what happened with Rashad [Evans] and Phil Davis. That was the only thing I was going to wait for.”

The person who said that was Dana White himself, who told media that Henderson was in a position where it “looks like he’ll wait for Jon Jones.” That would be fine and good for Henderson, if the UFC could promise a quick turnaround after the Jones-Evans fight in Atlanta on April 21. Problem is, guarantees like that aren’t realistic given the hazards of the fight game.

“Obviously you can’t guarantee that nobody gets hurt,” Henderson says. “I don’t know what the plan is, but I’d fight whoever it is they think would be a good match-up. The problem is there’s really nobody right now who fits the bill for a title contention fight, that would make sense to fight me. I don’t know. Maybe I’d fight at a different weight class. I don’t know if they see anybody at heavyweight that would make sense? But I would prefer to fight someone in April or May.”

That was never what I said or anything. I don't know who said that, but it wasn't me. My thoughts were I was waiting to see what happened with Rashad [Evans] and Phil Davis. That was the only thing I was going to wait for."

-- Dan Henderson

Henderson turned down a title eliminator with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira that would have been the headlining bout for the now-scrapped Montreal card. He did that because he was waiting to see what would happen with Evans-Davis. Now with Evans having won and Nogueira booked to fight Alexander Gustafsson in Sweden on April 14, Henderson is left without a dance partner.

And that opens up a range of possibilities. One of them is fighting at heavyweight. Though he had to drink a gallon of water to make weight in his final Strikeforce bout with Fedor Emelianenko in July, fighting bigger guys has never spooked Henderson. In fact, it can’t help but intrigue him.

“For sure it does,” he says. “Who do the fans want me to fight at heavyweight? I’d have to think about that. I don’t know who at heavyweight would even make sense. The heavyweights that are in title contention right now wouldn’t want to fight me. I don’t know who is out there, but I did let the UFC know I’d be open to that as well.”

There is one fight that could be on the horizon that Henderson would strongly consider, and yet again it’s circumstantial. If Quinton Jackson were to beat Ryan Bader at UFC 144 on Feb. 26, he says that a rematch of their 2007 UFC title tilt would be fun.
[+] EnlargeRampage Jackson and Dan Henderson
Josh Hedges/Getty ImagesIf worse comes to worst, Dan Henderson wouldn't mind laying some leather on Quinton Jackson again.

“I would entertain that fight, sure; it’s a big fight,” he says. “I mean, that’s only one win he’d be coming off of. But again, it depends on the circumstances and I don’t know what they’re talking about in terms of the turnaround after Jones/Evans. Still, the Quinton Jackson/Bader fight is two months before Jones/Evans.”

Whatever the route, as long as it leads to a title shot -- preferably in his natural 205-pound weight class -- Hendo is all for it. If you’ve followed Hendo throughout his career, you know that he loves the idea of conquering indestructible forces. He’s made a career of it. And it’s no different if he gets his wish and finds himself standing across from Jon Jones in 2012.

“I think he’s definitely shown some inexperience,” he says of Jones. “He makes up for it with a lot of athleticism and just unorthodox striking. He definitely -- like anybody -- has holes in his game, and I just think that my style would match up real well with him.”

But first things first: Hendo will have to navigate through the set of circumstances that are right now preventing it.

Franklin has surgery, eyes 2012 return

October, 13, 2011
10/13/11
4:03
PM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
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Former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin underwent surgery Wednesday to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder, according to manager TJ Stewart.

The operation, which took place in Cincinnati, was deemed successful.

“I spoke with Rich; he’s feeling great and as soon as the doctor gives him the go-ahead, he’s ready to start training again,” Stewart said on Thursday. “If everything goes as expected, UFC fans could see Rich Franklin back in the Octagon in late summer [of 2012].”

Franklin, who now competes as a light heavyweight, suffered the injury in September during a grappling practice session.

The injury occurred weeks after Franklin was scheduled to compete Aug. 6 at UFC 133 in Philadelphia. Franklin was slated to face Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in the co-feature bout.

But Nogueira was forced to pull out of the fight in July after suffering a shoulder injury. Franklin (28-6, with 1 no contest) was removed from the card shortly thereafter.

Since his TKO loss to middleweight champion Anderson Silva at UFC 77, Franklin has struggled to find consistency.

After a TKO victory over Travis Lutter at UFC 83, Franklin left the middleweight ranks to compete at light heavyweight. He is just 3-3 fighting above the 185-pound limit; two of his bouts were at a 195-pound catchweight.

Franklin was on the short end of a unanimous decision Feb. 5 against former 205-pound champion Forrest Griffin. It is the last time Franklin has competed inside the Octagon.

McGee returns with healthy knee, attitude

September, 14, 2011
9/14/11
6:57
AM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
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McGeeMike Roach/Getty ImagesTime on the shelf has left Court McGee a stronger man.
If you think being sidelined for 11 months due to an injured left knee is going to hinder Court McGee’s performance Saturday night (Spike TV, 9 ET) in New Orleans, think again.

McGee has been down this road before, so when he faces hard-hitting Dong Yi Yang in a middleweight bout at UFC Fight Night Live 25, expect nothing but fireworks. "The Ultimate Fighter" Season 11 champion will be his usual aggressive self.

Injuries might temporarily slow McGee, but they have never prevented him from going all out on fight night. Take his most recent fight, for example. During his bout with Ryan Jensen in October 2010, McGee fractured his right hand.

The pain was excruciating, but rather than play it cautiously, McGee increased his aggression. After a tough first round in which he was floored, McGee would go on the defeat Jensen by unanimous decision.

McGee was elated with the win, but knew his hand was in bad shape.

“I broke my second metacarpal,” McGee told ESPN.com. “After it healed, they took the pins out; I started camp and signed for a fight, in that order.”

Then déjà vu -- while training for his bout with Canadian Jesse Bondfeldt at UFC 131 in Vancouver, British Columbia, McGee injured his left knee. It was his very first sparring session and his very first offensive maneuver -- a double-leg takedown attempt. His knee gave out and McGee couldn’t believe this was happening.

At first, he refused to accept that his knee was injured. Despite pleas from training partners Jake Shields, Nick Diaz and Nate Diaz to sit this one out, McGee continued walking around the gym in hopes of loosening the knee up.

His effort didn’t work. McGee’s left knee eventually locked up on him and he had to pull out of the fight with Bondfeldt.

“I had an MRI and [the left knee] was just destroyed,” said McGee, who will take a 13-1 record into the cage against Yang. “I had four or five tears in my meniscus, and a little tear in the ACL. It was tragic.”

The same thing happened in 2008, only then it was his right knee.

“It happened prior the fight I had [against Dayle Jarvis] before I made it onto Season 11 of 'The Ultimate Fighter,’” McGee said. “It was the same thing.

“I was about to sign for a big fight. I was going to fight at light heavyweight against [Antonio Rogerio] Nogueira in Brazil. The fight would have been for more money than I’d ever made. But I did the same thing, shooting for a double-leg [in camp] and blowing my knee out. I was out for 10 months.”

McGee’s right knee would heal completely; he’d go on to beat Jarvis and later become TUF champion. His left knee is 100 percent now, and the former pro boxer envisions success Saturday night against Yang.

With a 10-1 professional MMA record, and nine knockouts under his belt, Yang is expected to come out striking aggressively. But McGee isn’t worried. He knows a thing or two about fighting on his feet. Highly skilled in karate and boxing, McGee likes his chances in this match-up, despite the long layoff.

“I haven’t lost that drive,” McGee said. “I’ve used that experience I had before [recovering from a knee injury] to help me prepare for this fight. And I have a certain level of comfort knowing that I’ve done this before. I know I can do it again as long as I have dedication, determination and perseverance. And I show up healthy.

“I am confident in my ability to compete with the best guys in the world. And I am proud that I am able to do that in the UFC."
UFC President Dana White has announced via Twitter that Antonio Rogerio Nogueira has withdrawn from his scheduled UFC 133 light heavyweight contest against Rich Franklin. Story »

Vladimir MatyushenkoJon Kopaloff/Getty ImagesNo surprise here: Vladimir Matyushenko is hoping to stand and trade with Jason Brilz.
Vladimir Matyushenko likes his chances on the feet against UFC 129 opponent Jason Brilz. “The Janitor” also likes his chances of forcing a standup fight when they meet April 30 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.

“He’s a good ground-and-pounder, but I can defend it very well and keep him on the feet and make it a striking match that will be awesome,” Matyushenko said recently on the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown” show. “I’ve been training my striking skills for a while now and I couldn’t show it. I think the fans are expecting me to do it and all my friends [are too]. I kind of want to show it to myself that I can do it. I do it in sparring and training all the time, but I wish I can show it on the stage in the cage.”

The stage will be a big one in Toronto with the UFC reportedly selling 55,000 tickets for the event. If an enormous audience isn’t enough to get inside a fighter’s head, Matyushenko is expecting Brilz’s layoff to affect him.

“Not fighting for a year, it kind of puts you in a situation where you start getting nervous and stuff like that. It’s the mental preparation that’s a big deal,” Matyushenko said. “I think he’s going to be nervous.”

Brilz hasn’t fought since May 2010. However, that last performance was an impressive one against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 114. Brilz dropped a controversial split decision but put himself on the map in the light heavyweight division.

Matyushenko had planned on fighting him last November, but a back injury removed Brilz from the bout.

“I was ready for him back then. I’ve almost been training for him for half a year now,” Matyushenko said. “I think it’s a good matchup. He’s a good wrestler. … It’s kind of hard to say I know him inside and out because first of all, he hasn’t fought in almost a year. Things can change. He may change his technique in that time. That’s kind of a hard aspect of preparation for this fight.”

Matyushenko fought replacement Alexandre Ferreira instead in November, stopping him in the first round. The win was Matyushenko’s fourth in five fights. The lone loss in that stretch came to Jon Jones, who won the UFC light heavyweight title in March.

“I got in a bad position and I didn’t get out of there fast enough,” Matyushenko said. “Jones just used it well. It looked like he did his homework and he did exactly the same thing that I usually do to other fighters.”

Although complimentary of Jones, Matyushenko said he’d “definitely” like another crack at the titleholder. He’d use a different strategy in a rematch.

“You have to put the pressure on him and actually get in exchanges and get in a fight,” Matyushenko said. “You saw if he doesn’t get hit, he’s got a long reach and he uses that as an advantage. You have to bring the fight to him. It’s not easy. It’s going to be hard, but I think that’s the only possibility.”

McDonald earns bonus for efforts at UFN 24

March, 27, 2011
3/27/11
2:10
AM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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SEATTLE -- Michael McDonald earned an extra $55,000 for his "Fight of the Night" effort against Edwin Figueroa at UFC Fight Night 24 on Saturday.

The UFC bantamweight also likely earned the longest medical suspension of the night from the Washington commission.


McDonald (12-1) was suspended indefinitely due to a hand injury he sustained during his unanimous decision win over Figueroa. Other notable suspensions included Nik Lentz and Kris McCray, who were both suspended 42 days.

Featherweight Chan Sung Jung earned "Submission of the Night" honors for the second-round "twister" he applied on Leonard Garcia. It was the first time the submission had been used effectively in UFC history, according to president Dana White.

Welterweight Johny Hendricks earned the "Knockout of the Night" bonus for his first-round finish of T.J. Waldburger.

All bonuses were $55,000 apiece. UFC Fight Night 24 set new records for attendance and live gate revenue. It drew a reported audience of 14,212 for a gate of $1.18 million.

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