MMA: Ricardo Lamas

Lack of fire hurting Jose Aldo's status

February, 2, 2014
Feb 2
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto

NEWARK, N.J. -- Dana White’s reaction to his company setting a new record for decisions on one card is about what you’d expect it to be.

Less than pleased.

Ten of the 12 fights at UFC 169 at the Prudential Center went the distance on Saturday. That’s the most decisions on any fight card the UFC has ever promoted.
[+] EnlargeJose Aldo
Ed Mulholland for ESPNJose Aldo's safety-first approach isn't sitting well with UFC president Dana White.

None of them seemed to irk White more than the co-main event, in which Jose Aldo defended his featherweight title for the sixth time against Ricardo Lamas in a one-sided decision judges unanimously scored 49-46.

It’s not that White was “upset” with Aldo’s performance, but he wasn’t blown away. And with all of Aldo’s talents, White expects to be blown away.

“The thing about Jose Aldo that drives me crazy is the kid has all the talent in the world,” White told “He’s explosive, fast. He can do anything but he just lays back and doesn’t let anything go.

“When you talk about being the pound-for-pound best in the world, you can’t go five rounds with guys that it looks like you can defeat them in the second round. That’s what Aldo has a habit of doing.”

Maybe. Only lately, though.

Outside of the UFC, Aldo had a finishing rate of 78 percent in 18 professional wins. Inside the UFC, that figure drops to 33 percent. Why? Here are theories:

A. Better competition, obviously.

This is the theory Aldo (and other fighters who are accused of not finishing enough fights) typically turn to: There’s another fighter in the cage, after all. It’s not like that fighter wants to be finished. He’s fighting the best guys in the world, you know.

“My opponents study me a lot now and they know my game and my strategy,” Aldo said. “I try to reinvent myself before every fight.

“If it were up to me, I would end every fight with one punch. The problem is, I have an opponent. He worked very hard for me and he wants to beat me.”

There are shades of truth to this theory, no question. Aldo is fighting better competition now than he was at Meca World Vale Tudo in July 2005. You can defend this theory -- but it also doesn't feel like the full story.

B. The Mark Hominick fight changed things.
[+] EnlargeMark Hominick
Ric Fogel for ESPNFading down the stretch against Mark Hominick, top, might have had a lasting effect on Jose Aldo.

It is accurate to say Aldo’s finishing rate since he joined the UFC is 33 percent. It’s also accurate to say his finishing rate is 33 percent starting with the Mark Hominick fight in April 2011, because that was his UFC debut.

The Hominick fight is a significant one in Aldo’s career. Something weird happened. He tanked, badly, in the final round. After creating an infant-sized hematoma on Hominick’s forehead, Aldo spent the final round on his back absorbing damage.

Of course, everyone wanted to understand why. The most popular theory was that a nasty weight cut in Montreal was to blame. It made perfect sense.

Since that “loss” in Round 5 at UFC 129, one could argue there’s been a visible change in the way Aldo fights. It’s still violent, explosive and dominant -- but it appears, oftentimes, to be more calculated and definitely more paced.

Everyone likes to say Georges St-Pierre never fought the same after Matt Serra knocked him out in 2007. Maybe Aldo, in a similar way, took a lesson from one bad round against Hominick. He doesn’t want to run out of gas again, so he paces himself.

C. This works as more of a subhead to Theory B: He’ll be different at lightweight.

At lightweight, Aldo will no longer be forced to endure a weight cut that, I can only imagine, has become more strenuous as he gets older.

Combat athletes tend to move up in weight as their careers progress, not down. There’s a reason for that. They are naturally heavier approaching the age of 30 than they are at age 22.

There is a likelihood Aldo will fight different at 155 pounds. He fights “big” as a featherweight, whereas at lightweight, I could see him fighting smaller, upping his volume and general movement.

Prior to the UFC, Aldo landed an average of 4.88 strikes per minute in the WEC. In the UFC, he averages 2.57. Is that change indicative of better competition or Aldo’s desire to pace himself?

Ultimately, it probably doesn’t matter to Aldo as long as he continues to win. Should he take on and defeat Anthony Pettis for the UFC lightweight title, Aldo would become just the third fighter to win UFC titles in multiple weight classes. That kind of accomplishment speaks for itself.

But White made a valid point on Saturday. When it comes to determining the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, where the difference between Nos. 1 and 2 are minuscule, finishes matter. And Aldo isn’t finishing fights like he used to.

UFC 169 by the numbers

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
By Joe Kilduff
ESPN Stats & Information

UFC interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao became the undisputed champion when Dominick Cruz vacated the title due to injury. Barao must now defend the title against the man he beat to win the interim title at UFC 149, Urijah Faber. Faber has won four in a row since the unanimous decision loss to Barao and will be making his third attempt to claim a UFC title. In the co-main event, UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo will defend the title against Ricardo Lamas, who is undefeated in four UFC fights.

Here are the numbers you need to know for the fights:

85: Number of significant strikes landed by Barao in his previous fight with Faber. Although Faber landed a higher percentage of significant strikes attempted (34 percent) than Barao (29 percent), Barao was the more active fighter as he attempted 290 significant strikes to Faber’s 178.

0: Number of times Barao has been taken down by his opponents in all six of his UFC fights. In Barao’s previous fight with Faber, he was able to defend all six of Faber’s take down attempts. In all 20 of Faber’s UFC and WEC fights he has been successful on 36 percent of his takedown attempts.

4: Barao and Faber are both 4-0 against their common opponents Cole Escovedo, Scott Jorgensen, Michael McDonald and Eddie Wineland.

2: Number of times Faber has lost by KO/TKO. Neither Faber nor Barão has been prone to being finished as Barao’s only loss came by decision and Faber has not been stopped since 2008 by Mike Brown at WEC 36.

31: Barao’s winning streak since losing his professional debut in 2005. His 31 wins include 14 by submission, seven by KO/TKO and 10 by decision.

19 minutes, 24 seconds: The average fight time for Aldo in his UFC fights. At almost 19 and a half minutes per fight Aldo’s average fight time is the longest in UFC history among fighters with at least five fights in the promotion. While Aldo has a tendency for long fights, Lamas has only been past the second round once in his four UFC fights.

90: Percentage of takedowns defended by Aldo in all five of his UFC fights. Among fighters with a minimum of five UFC fights and at least 20 takedown attempts by opponents, his 90 percent takedown defense is the best in the featherweight division and fourth best in UFC history. In all 10 of his UFC and WEC fights, Lamas has been successful on 38 percent of his takedown attempts.

72: Percentage of significant strikes defended by Aldo in his UFC fights. Among fighters with a minimum of five UFC fights and at least 350 strikes attempted by opponents his 72 percent significant strike defense is the second best in the featherweight division (Chad Mendes, 77 percent) and sixth best in UFC history.

1: Aldo and Lamas have both fought 1 common opponent, Cub Swanson. In 2009, under the WEC banner, Aldo defeated Swanson by TKO with a flying knee just eight seconds into the first round. Lamas submitted Swanson with an arm-triangle choke in the second round at UFC on FOX 1 in 2011.

Statistical support from FightMetric

Notebook: Aldo wants Pettis at 155

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto

NEW YORK -- UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo will seek his sixth title defense on Saturday, against Ricardo Lamas in the co-main event of UFC 169.

If everything goes well, this title defense could be his last.

Aldo (23-1) has long wished to test himself at 155 pounds. However, he’s left that decision completely up to his longtime coach, Andre Pederneiras.
[+] EnlargeJose Aldo and Frankie Edgar
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsTarget acquired: Jose Aldo is already turning his attention toward Anthony Pettis and the lightweight belt.

Should Aldo win Saturday, it appears as if everything lines up for his move to lightweight and a title shot against champion Anthony Pettis. He and Pettis (17-2) were scheduled to meet at 145 pounds in 2013, but Pettis withdrew due to injury.

“Everybody is talking about that,” Aldo told “It’s not up to me. Whatever they decide, I will be ready.

“You never know [what Pederneiras will say]. I’ve been waiting for this permission for a long time. I hope this time, he will allow me to go up.”

The UFC most likely has the same hope. Pettis, who is rehabbing from knee surgery, doesn’t have a clear-cut No. 1 contender to fight upon his return. Josh Thomson had assumed that role, but he lost to Ben Henderson via split decision last week.

UFC president Dana White told the media Thursday that he’d love to see Aldo take on Pettis for the lightweight championship. He did say the Brazilian would have to vacate the 145-pound title to do it.

“I think if he makes the move to 55, he should do it and drop the belt,” White said. “If he doesn’t like being at 155, he can drop back down and fight for the [featherweight] title again.”

Overeem, Mir fighting for their job?
Frank Mir and Alistair OvereemDave Mandel/Sherdog.comHigh stakes: Frank Mir and Alistair Overeem have no choice but to let it all hang out on Saturday.

White remains uncommitted on whether the UFC would cut the loser of Saturday’s heavyweight fight between Alistair Overeem and Frank Mir.

The two veterans have a combined record of 0-5 since May 2012. Both have been stopped twice in that span. Nevertheless, White said he has no concrete plans of dismissing the loser. It will depend on the fight.

“They need to perform,” White said. “Everybody keeps asking me if those guys are done -- if one of them is getting cut. What if the fight is a Mark Hunt, [Antonio] Silva[-type] fight? I’ll keep them both.”

Mir (16-8) told last week that win or lose, he does not intend to retire. Overeem acknowledged he ran out of gas in his previous two losses, but said he addressed that problem in his recent camp.

“Everybody knows I’m the guy who wants to knock guys out in the first round,” Overeem said. “That is what brought me here. That is what people want to see. The last two fights, it backfired. It’s something I dealt with in the gym.”

Vitor Belfort and TRT
Dana WhiteJeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesUFC president Dana White is in Vitor Belfort's corner when it comes to TRT usage.

White made headlines this week when he backed a stance taken by the Association of Ringside Physicians to ban testosterone replacement therapy in combat sports.

Despite that support, however, White shot down claims that he was publicly hoping the Nevada State Athletic Commission denies Vitor Belfort a therapeutic-use exemption for TRT for an upcoming title fight in Las Vegas.

Belfort (24-10) is expected to fight UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman in either May or July, and has said he will apply for a TUE. The Brazilian has legally used TRT during his past three fights, all of which took place in Brazil.

Different members of the NSAC have expressed doubt over whether Belfort will be granted a TUE, thanks to a positive drug test he submitted to the commission in 2006.

White defended Belfort’s use on Thursday. He added that if the NSAC denies Belfort’s use of TRT, he’s unsure of how it would affect Belfort's ability to use it in Brazil.

“I honestly don’t know the answer to that,” White said. “I don’t know how we would handle that. Hopefully this thing comes out soon and they just ban it. I’d rather seem them ban it -- do away with it. Then there’s no confusion.

“If you allow people to take TRT [though], why would you not allow Vitor to take TRT? You know what I mean? That’s my thing. If you allow it, then you allow it.”

After Guida, Mendes wants Aldo rematch

August, 29, 2013
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
Jose Aldo, Chad MendesJosh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty ImagesFighting Jose Aldo just four years into his career proved to be a case of too much, too soon for Chad Mendes.

If Ricardo Lamas fails to receive the next UFC title shot at 145 pounds, Chad Mendes says he’ll feel for him a bit. But Lamas should know: He only has himself to blame.

Twice this year, Mendes says he’s tried to book a fight against Lamas -- only to get the feeling Lamas wants nothing to do with him.

The first occurred when Manny Gamburyan withdrew from a bout at UFC 157 due to injury, just two weeks prior to the event. Mendes publicly called Lamas out, but was told he was already booked to an unannounced fight. Fair enough.

The second time, though, Mendes says he was willing to face Lamas on three weeks' notice at UFC 162, when Lamas’ original opponent, Chan Sung Jung, was pulled for a title fight. It didn’t happen and Lamas was eventually pulled from the card.

“I’ve called him out. I’ve tried to fight him a couple times,” Mendes told “Once was on short notice for him so that’s understandable, but the other one was on three weeks' notice for me and he still turned it down.

“I think to be the best you have to fight the best and I don’t know if he’s willing to do it.”

Mendes (14-1) has been itching for a high-profile fight after several previous bouts have fallen through due to injury. He has a big one on his hands this weekend, when he meets Clay Guida at UFC 164 in Milwaukee.

A former No. 1 contender at featherweight, Mendes feels a win over Guida should net him a rematch against Jose Aldo, who he lost to early last year.

Even considering Mendes’ current streak of three consecutive first-round knockouts, a win over Guida is nothing to take lightly. Mendes says his veteran opponent has played spoiler to title aspirations before.

As for what specific challenges Guida (30-13) brings to the cage, Mendes admits he’s not sure what to expect. Whether it’s because Guida is “just getting old or what,” Mendes says his style has changed a lot in recent years.

“The old-school Clay would stand in the pocket and throw punches, scramble, grapple -- in your face the entire time,” Mendes said. “Lately, he’s been more of a points fighter. Pitter-patter on the feet and look to take you down and just lay there.

“We’ve definitely prepared for both Clays. I’m ready for whatever one comes out.”

Of course, earning another shot at the seemingly invincible Aldo is only half the goal. Taking the belt from him is what matters, and Mendes knows he’s capable of it.

Everyone asked him before that first title bout in Brazil, “Are you ready? Has this all happened too fast?” The answer, honestly, was yeah. Pretty much. Mendes, less than four years into his pro career at that time, probably wasn’t ready for Aldo.

But as he points out, it’s an irrelevant question. You don’t turn down a shot at the title. And even though things didn’t go his way that night, the loss, as it usually does for great fighters, has made him better. He’s evolved because of it.

Whereas before the Aldo knee, Mendes was typically looking for a “safe” way to outwrestle his opponents, he’s found himself looking for knockouts ever since it.

The wrestling background will always be there as a second option, which now only gives him more confidence in his striking game. It’s a feeling he never had prior to the Aldo fight.

“Going into the first fight after the loss, my mentality was just go pull the trigger and see what happens,” Mendes said. “Bam, I got a knockout. That fight showed me if I just let my hands go, I could put these guys away.

“Before my mindset was to not get hit. I’m becoming more confident on my feet and I’m excited from here on out.”

Of all the members of Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, Mendes will perhaps benefit most from the addition of head coach Duane Ludwig late last year.

In the first meeting against Aldo, the question was, “Can Chad get him down?” These days, Mendes and his team believe a question around the rematch could be, “Can Chad knock him out?”

“He’s going to be the world champion of the UFC, 100 percent,” Ludwig said. “Most athletes in general, you just have to get them out of position. I won’t elaborate too much on that, but we’re going to get Jose out of position.”

Lamas deserves chance to test Aldo

August, 8, 2013
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
The manner in which Jose Aldo successfully defended his featherweight title on Aug. 3 at UFC 163 against Chan Sung Jung wasn’t memorable. There were a few slightly tense moments, but Aldo was never in any serious danger.

Folks were expecting an action-packed bout, but that never materialized. The usually aggressive Jung was passive for much of the night, while Aldo’s fight plan was altered when he injured his right foot in the opening round. It was later learned that Aldo broke the foot, and is likely to be sidelined for the remainder of this year.
[+] EnlargeChan Sung Jung
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesChan Sung Jung never managed to get out of first gear against Jose Aldo.

Aldo is a devastating kicker, but with that option unavailable he was forced to rely almost exclusively on his boxing skills. Using straight left jabs, superior hand speed and advanced standup skills, Aldo was able to limit Jung’s offensive options. Aldo’s textbook boxing wasn’t fun to watch, but it was effective -- leading to a fourth-round TKO after Jung suffered a dislocated right shoulder.

This brings us to featherweight contender Ricardo Lamas. The former lightweight has been dominant since dropping to 145 pounds in 2011. He’s 4-0 in his new fighting home and is ranked fifth among featherweights by

When Aldo is healthy enough to return to action Lamas wants to face him -- and he deserves the fight. It's his turn. Actually, Lamas should have gotten the nod over Jung. He was ranked higher and Jung hadn’t fought in more than a year due to injury.

But UFC officials went with Jung, who was originally slated to face Lamas on July 6 in Las Vegas. It was the second time in a row that Lamas had been passed over -- in February, lightweight contender Anthony Pettis asked for and received a shot at Aldo. But an injury forced Pettis to pull out of the fight, opening the door for Jung.

Despite it all Lamas never complained. It’s not his nature to do so. But that is changing; he is no longer sitting quietly on the sideline waiting for UFC officials to do right by him. Lamas is now speaking publicly -- he wants a title shot. And he won't accept anything less than being the next featherweight contender to face Aldo.

“The people in UFC told me the reason Jung was picked over me was because they had promised him a title shot a year ago before he got hurt,” Lamas told

“That's a once in a lifetime opportunity, you never know when you will get it again. So if they offer me the [title shot] I’m going to jump all over it. That’s actually what I am hoping for.”

That's a once in a lifetime opportunity, you never know when you will get it again. So if they offer me the [title shot] I'm going to jump all over it. That's actually what I am hoping for.

-- featherweight contender Ricardo Lamas, on his ongoing quest for a title shot

There isn’t a featherweight contender more deserving of a title shot at this moment than Lamas. But being most-deserving isn’t enough to guarantee he will get his wish.

If there is a knock on Lamas it’s that he lacks the name recognition of several other contenders. When talk of who will likely get the call to fight Aldo next, Frankie Edgar and Chad Mendes immediately get mentioned. And lately Cub Swanson has been tossed in the mix.

But Lamas has a strong counter-argument. Edgar and Mendes, who ranks third and fourth, respectively, among featherweights, have each lost to Aldo not too long ago. And Lamas’ second-round submission of Swanson in November 2011 still gives him the edge in the pecking order.

Lamas told, before Aldo-Jung, that he’d be willing to fight Edgar or the Mendes-Clay Guida winner -- those two are set to meet Aug. 31 at UFC 164 in Milwaukee. But that would be Lamas' Plan B, in the event Aldo isn’t able to return to action by early 2014.

Another factor that could work against Lamas is inactivity. Lamas hasn’t fought since Jan. 26 when he knocked out Erik Koch in the second round. That’s a long time be outside the cage, especially when trying to make a convincing case for a fight with Aldo.

It’s possible that Lamas might have to turn to Plan B. He might agree to implement it, but only if UFC officials guarantee him a title shot with a victory. Lamas deserves that much; he’s earned it. And he won't sit quietly while another fighter cuts in front of him.

It’s his turn; UFC needs to do right by Lamas and give him the next shot at Aldo.

Lamas rooting (and gunning) for Aldo

July, 30, 2013
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
Ricardo LamasAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhShrug it off: Ricardo Lamas is moving on from the fact most believe he was next in line for a title shot.

When Anthony Pettis went down with a knee injury in June -- an injury that forced him out of his UFC 163 featherweight title bout with champion Jose Aldo -- the promotion turned to Chan Sung Jung, rather than the consensus “next best thing,” Ricardo Lamas. That decision raised quite a few eyebrows.

The decision to go with him over Lamas even caught “The Korean Zombie” by surprise.

“To be honest with you, I thought that Lamas would have been the first choice as well,” Jung told during a recent media call to promote his title fight, which takes place Saturday in Rio de Janeiro. “But I’m happy to have been chosen.”

Lamas and Chan were slated to fight July 6 at UFC 162, but that bout was scrapped when Jung got the call to fight Aldo; Lamas is still awaiting notice from UFC officials when he will fight next.

It’s easy to make the case that Lamas should have gotten the nod to fight Aldo: He’s unbeaten at featherweight (4-0) since making his debut in the division on June 26, 2011. And Lamas is ranked higher than Jung at 145 pounds by both (fifth; Jung is sixth) and (second and fifth, respectively).

Lamas is 13-2 overall and has impressive victories over two current featherweight contenders -- Cub Swanson and Erik Koch. He was among the favorites to land a title shot after Frankie Edgar came up short in his bid to unseat Aldo at UFC 156 in February. But Pettis, a lightweight contender, shook things up by tossing his name in the featherweight title mix.
[+] EnlargeLamas
Al Bello/Getty ImagesMany believe Ricardo Lamas' dominant display over Erik Koch should have earned him a title shot.

A strong argument also can be made favoring Jung. After an exciting fourth-round submission victory over Dustin Poirier in May 2012, Jung seemed primed to face Aldo, before suffering a shoulder injury that has kept him out of action for more than 12 months.

While Jung concedes that Lamas is arguably the more deserving contender at this time to fight for the title, he is comfortable with being chosen. And there is a key reason, he believes, UFC officials made the correct choice in giving him the fight with Aldo.

“Maybe what made the difference were the stylistic differences. I think that this fight is guaranteed to be exciting fight,” Jung said. “That’s probably one of the big reasons why they chose me to go over Lamas.”

It’s an excellent point of view. Jung is the type of fighter who always comes forward and he’s very active inside the cage. He will definitely attempt to put pressure on Aldo.

During his current three-fight win streak, Jung (13-3) has finished each opponent. His second-round twister submission of Leonard Garcia on March 26, 2011, still remains fresh in the minds of MMA fans.

Aldo is favored to retain his belt, but Jung has the skills to make things interesting. Even Lamas expects there to be fireworks Saturday night.

“I see [the fight] going one of two ways,” Lamas told “It’s either going to be a slaughter for Aldo, or one thing that we haven’t seen a lot of is guys backing Aldo down by continuously coming forward, which is what the Korean Zombie does; he closes the gap. When you close the gap, one of Aldo’s biggest weapons are leg kicks, those kicks are kind of eliminated.

“If Korean Zombie can continue going forward like he usually does, close the gap and turn it into a messy brawl, I can see him with a chance. I never count anyone out of a fight.”

Aldo is considered one of the most dominant champions in UFC history -- as far as the featherweights are concerned. Being the guy to beat Aldo would be way better than just being the featherweight champion by beating somebody else in the division.

-- Ricardo Lamas, on why he relishes a title challenge against Jose Aldo

Lamas doesn’t take issue with Jung being labeled an exciting fighter, but he has difficulty accepting that the Korean Zombie’s fighting style makes for a better matchup with Aldo. As far as Lamas is concerned he too presses the action -- and cites his featherweight performances as proof.

UFC would not have gone wrong with Lamas in the cage Saturday night standing across from Aldo.

“If you look at my last four fights, I finished three of my four fights,” Lamas said. “The only one I didn’t finish, I went into it with an injury. And the fights I did finish were exciting -- a first-round TKO, a second-round submission of the night and a second-round TKO that was one of the bloodiest in UFC in a long time.”

Lamas will watch Saturday night’s main event very closely. He wants the winner, hoping it will be Aldo. The champion has hinted at possibly moving to lightweight after his fight with Jung.

Being passed over in favor of Jung still stings, but if Aldo exits the featherweight division with the title belt it will leave in hole in Lamas that he won’t be able to fill in the foreseeable future.

“Let’s say Aldo moves up; I fight somebody else for the featherweight championship and I win,” Lamas said. “There will still be those people out there saying, ‘Oh, he’s not the real featherweight champion because he didn’t beat Aldo.’ I don’t think it will be as valid as being the champion who beat Aldo.

“That would be the best. Aldo is considered one of the most dominant champions in UFC history -- as far as the featherweights are concerned. Being the guy to beat Aldo would be way better than just being the featherweight champion by beating somebody else in the division.”

Lamas hasn’t made a fuss over not being in the cage Saturday night with Aldo, but he doesn’t want to be pushed aside again. He wants to be the next guy to face Aldo. But for now, all Lamas can do is hope that Korean Zombie doesn’t get the job done first.

Bellator fails to deliver in summer opener

June, 20, 2013
Gross By Josh Gross

News stories following Bellator MMA's first event of the summer will focus rightly on Muhammed Lawal's vicious knockout of Seth Petruzelli and Renato "Babalu" Sobral's retirement.

And for that, Bellator and Spike TV should be grateful.

Because without Lawal driving a rivet through Petruzelli's face, or the memories and plaudits inspired by Sobral -- whose decision to lay down his gloves in the center of the cage while kneeling reverentially was lovely -- Wednesday night's fight card came across as all sorts of ugly.

Bellator can represent itself as challenger to the UFC, as a place where competition between fighters is the only thing that matters -- toughest tournament in sports and all -- but that's undercut when guys such as 35-year-old, 5-foot-8, 260-pound Jeremiah O'Neal (12-22) are given bouts, and the Ron Sparks of the world receive live television slots.

In O'Neal's case, he fought boxing convert Raphael Butler, who went to 6-0 with an early knockout. I failed to see the point. O'Neal won't go anywhere -- he lost to a bunch of names, but mostly at welterweight and middleweight. He entered Bellator off a loss. Worse: O'Neal's last win came in 2011, against 1-3 Kelly Rundle, who turns 51 this August. Prior to that, O'Neal hadn't won since 2007. Want to kill some time? Check out the records of the guys O'Neal actually defeated.

Look, I don't want to tear down O'Neal. It's Bellator that deserves to be embarrassed. I've given them plenty of credit for finding young, fresh talent. For the most part, the promotion's scouting team of Sam Caplan and Zach Light do a very good job, but their work can easily get dinged when this kind of matchmaking happens, even on an undercard contest. Butler can't improve as a prospect against a guy like O'Neal, so what's the point? He hits hard -- fine. But we could have seen that just the same if he faced a heavy bag.

As for television, the decision to match Vitaly Minakov against Sparks was pretty sad. Minakov (11-0) looks like a legit heavyweight prospect, but no one could know one way or the other after he put away the 38-year-old Sparks in 32 seconds. Thankfully, Minakov faces Ryan Martinez on July 31, who at least appears a threat.

Let me leave on an up note. Bellator's card at the end of July near Albuquerque sets up as a terrific night of fights. Lawal meets Jacob Noe in the abbreviated 205-pound tournament finals. Minakov is matched with Martinez. Bellator lightweight champ Michael Chandler returns against gritty David Rickels. I'm most interested in watching 22-year-old Andrey Koreshkov (who is the embodiment of the anti-Jeremiah O'Neal) fight unbeaten American Ben Askren.

GSP-Hendricks is a go

The UFC welterweight championship contest between Georges St-Pierre and Johny Hendricks was made official this week. It will headline what most people will come to call the UFC's 20th anniversary event on Nov. 16, most likely in Las Vegas.

I'll just say this: I don't care that the UFC couldn't pull off an interdivisional mega-fight at Madison Square Garden to mark the occasion. GSP-Hendricks is absolutely fine by me -- no matter the night, regardless of the commemoration.

Why? Easy. Hendricks appears to be the biggest threat to St-Pierre in the welterweight division. And I think the once-beaten southpaw power-puncher pulls off the upset.

Good news, bad news

Bad news first.
[+] EnlargeGray Maynard and TJ Grant
Al Powers for ESPNTJ Grant, right, will get what he deserves: a title bout against Benson Henderson.
Anthony Pettis needs at least six weeks to recover from an injured meniscus. So he'll miss a featherweight title shot with Jose Aldo in early August, and an Aug. 31 lightweight shot in his hometown of Milwaukee against Benson Henderson. No young fighter has exhibited more patience than Pettis. (Ricardo Lamas might think he's getting stiffed here as well.) But, not to worry, his chance will come. It's inevitable.

Now the good news.

TJ Grant won't get pushed out of a championship spot against Henderson. The 29-year-old Canadian smoked Gray Maynard in May to earn the opportunity, and should be the man to face Henderson -- even if some may say it's not nearly as marketable a pay-per-view attraction as a rematch between Henderson and Pettis, Showtime Kick, et al.

Anyhow, like GSP-Hendricks, I'm calling an upset. Grant beats Henderson.

Lombard to 170

There had been calls for Hector Lombard to drop 15 pounds and fight at welterweight for as long as the strong Cuban competed in MMA. Yet for seven years, Lombard saw no reason to leave middleweight. He was strong and fast, and won more than enough contests by stoppage to form a convincing argument that 185 was the place to be.

Then he entered the UFC. And a year later, Lombard officially revealed it was time to shed the weight. Losses to Tim Boetsch and Yushin Okami indicated Lombard wasn’t as good as he thought, and larger middleweights who were also viable competitors could stifle his explosion.

What could a 170-pound Lombard do?

Get fans excited, for starters, especially if he carries his power down with him. Lombard posted on Twitter that he wants to fight Nate Marquardt, who was also a middleweight convert. That’s a nice first fight for him.

The real question is whether Lombard will be able to handle the speed of the welterweight division. For all of the talk of his power, it was Lombard’s haste that made him at 185. Absent that advantage and coupled with the realization that he’s probably shorter than most welterweights, Lombard will have to make full use of his skills, including a judo game that always seems underutilized when he fights.

Lady Liberty says 'no' to MMA again

Ready for the least shocking news of 2013?

Sheldon Silver, speaker of the New York State Assembly, declined to bring for a vote a bill intended to legalize MMA in the state. That makes Silver 4-0 against MMA legislation, having scuttled the process the past four years.

Because Silver obviously can’t watch pro MMA in New York -- the only state in the Union where MMA remains banned -- he might try the Glory event at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City on Saturday.

See, kickboxing is legal in New York. Yes, even kickboxing three times on one night -- which is what the winner of Glory’s $200,000 prize will be expected to do.

It’s insane that New York licenses fighters to kickbox three times in a single evening and prohibits them from competing in MMA at all.

'Year of superfight' could be a mixed bag

February, 28, 2013
Dundas By Chad Dundas
Fight fans had cause for serious eye-rolling back in January, when UFC play-by-play man Mike Goldberg kicked off the organization’s first pay-per-view of 2013 by proclaiming this would be the “year of the superfight” inside the Octagon.

Guys in Goldberg’s position are paid to be hyperbole-prone, after all, and the commentary on UFC broadcasts is typically more hype than substance. Add in the fact the company was coming off a year where it couldn’t plan a Sunday brunch without half the invited guests dropping out due to injury or sudden illness, and a certain skepticism seemed justified.

Imagine our surprise, then, when nearly two full months into the new year, Goldberg (or whoever fed him that line) appears downright prophetic. To date, the UFC’s upcoming schedule looks “super” indeed, both for better and for worse.

Take for example the proposed interdivisional superbout between featherweight champion Jose Aldo and lightweight contender Anthony Pettis, which we were briefly told was off over the weekend, but was suddenly back on as of Monday. In terms of potential in-ring action that fight is as super-duper as they come, but otherwise serves as just the latest reminder that the organization’s matchmaking has become maddeningly random. Not to mention confusing.

Aldo-Pettis is scheduled for August and will be for Aldo’s featherweight title, but now an additional stipulation has been added. If Aldo (who has never fought at lightweight in the UFC) retains his belt by defeating Pettis (again, in a bout at 145 pounds) he’ll get a shot at the 155-pound championship sometime later this year. Conversely, if the featherweight crown falls to Pettis (who, again, is a natural lightweight) we can only assume he’ll stay at 145 for the foreseeable future.

In other words it’s a fun fight that will probably make some money, but not the kind of thing you want to think too deeply about if you lack immediate access to Ibuprofen.

(Side Note: Remember also that during that 48-hour window when Aldo was refusing to fight Pettis, he implied “Showtime” didn’t deserve it, because he’d never won a fight in the UFC featherweight division? Apparently, Aldo doesn’t apply that same standard to himself.)

Elsewhere, light heavyweight champion Jon Jones will defend his title against a second consecutive middleweight opponent in April, and (with apologies to Lyoto Machida) a victory could set the stage for Jones to take on erstwhile heavyweight Daniel Cormier. If that doesn’t happen, there’s a longshot chance the UFC could still pull off a megafight between Jones and middleweight champ Anderson Silva. Silva, you’ll remember, most recently fought at light heavyweight and may end up squaring off with welterweight king Georges St-Pierre if the Jones fight won’t go.
[+] EnlargeRicardo Lamas
Josh Hedges/Getty ImagesOdd man out: With Jose Aldo and Anthony Pettis set to duel for the featherweight title, Ricardo Lamas is standing idle.

If you find yourself perplexed by this company-wide game of divisional musical chairs, you are not alone. Just imagine how a dude like Ricardo Lamas must feel.

Lamas is currently No. 5 on’s featherweight Power Rankings and is riding a four-fight win streak over mostly Top 10-caliber 145-pound opponents. He might well have been up next for Aldo had Pettis not purportedly called out the champ via opportunistic text messages sent to UFC President Dana White a couple of weeks back.

Pettis allegedly texted White about his desire to fight Aldo while watching him defeat Frankie Edgar (another lightweight, one Aldo had no qualms fighting despite coming in off back-to-back losses) at UFC 156 earlier this month. Pettis himself was fresh off a first-round TKO of Donald Cerrone in January, which at the time we were told made him the No. 1 contender at lightweight. As the story goes, White found whatever was said in those texts so convincing that he scrapped the natural pecking order in both weight classes to insert Pettis into a featherweight title match.

An awesome move? Of course, but also one that was bound to rub some people the wrong way. Especially people who care about things like weight classes and title pictures and the UFC’s own newly minted “official” rankings system. That goes double for people like Lamas, who’s been working his tail off to earn a shot at Aldo for a bit shy of two years now.

“What am I, a mirage?!?!?!” Lamas tweeted, when Aldo-Pettis was announced.

We feel your pain, Ricardo. Unfortunately, the music has stopped and you’re the only one without a chair.

Before any of this Aldo-Pettis business happens of course, UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson will meet incoming Strikeforce lightweight champ Gilbert Melendez in an April “superfight” that somehow manages to confine itself to a single weight class. Not to be outdone by his peers however, Henderson is now declaring if he beats Melendez, he’ll request his own dream fight against St. Pierre at 170 pounds.

White has said he’s not particularly interested in booking that fight (both Henderson and GSP seem to have a lot on their plates) but who knows, maybe someone will send him a text that changes his mind.

Long story short: It’s not even March yet and so far -- knock on wood -- it looks like we’re going to get some amazing fights out of the UFC this year. So long as we don’t trouble ourselves with the details, it could be quite a ride.

Lamas laments title shot oversight

February, 6, 2013
McNeil By Franklin McNeil

It’s easy to sympathize with highly ranked featherweight contender Ricardo Lamas. In his two most recent fights, he handily defeated two of the division’s better fighters -- Hatsu Hioki and Erik Koch.

But on Monday, when the UFC announced who would be featherweight champion Jose Aldo’s next opponent, Lamas’ name wasn’t mentioned. That honor went to a man who’d never competed professionally in the weight class -- lightweight contender Anthony Pettis.

Aldo and Pettis, the former WEC lightweight titleholder, will fight Aug. 3. The only uncertainty is where the bout will take place -- venues in Texas, Chicago, Las Vegas and Rio de Janeiro are being considered. If the fight lands in Chicago it will add salt to Lamas’ already painful wound, which isn’t expected to heal for quite a while. But that’s not an issue of concern to Lamas at this time. Right now, Lamas is struggling to make sense of UFC brass' decision to bypass him in favor of Pettis -- especially on the heels of his impressive second-round TKO victory Jan. 26 over former top featherweight contender Koch.

“I feel like I stand in that No. 1 contender spot now,” Lamas told “Erik Koch is the second guy that I beat who was supposed to fight for the featherweight title; Hatsu Hioki was offered the fight and he turned it down.

“What do I need to do to get that shot?”

What do I need to do to get that shot?

-- Ricardo Lamas, on being overlooked as a challenger to Jose Aldo

Lamas defeated Hioki by lopsided unanimous decision June 22 in Atlantic City, N.J. It was a fight casual fans expected Hioki to win. Hioki entered the UFC two fights previously amid high expectations. He was a mixed martial arts star before ever setting foot inside the Octagon and talk was starting to brew that a 145-pound title shot might be a few wins away.

Though he was not a newcomer to the Octagon, Lamas was relatively unknown to fight fans. Sure, he’d submitted Cub Swanson in November 2011, but that could be chalked up to the one-time WEC top 145-pound contender having an off night.

But Lamas raised many eyebrows in Atlantic City after running circles around Hioki. He took Hioki to the ground, literally at will, and landed several significant strikes while down there. After three rounds of fighting there was no question in any observer’s mind that Lamas had earned the victory. Lamas wasn’t a stranger anymore after that fight, but he wasn’t a must-see attraction, either.

Even his dominant win over Koch failed to accomplish that feat. And therein lies the problem for Lamas: He has proven himself to be a solid contender, arguably the No. 1 guy at 145 -- strong cases also can be made for Chad Mendes and Chan Sung Jung -- but the paying public is not yet clamoring to see him in the cage against Aldo.

That’s why Pettis was given the shot. He’s a must-see fighter. And while the UFC is the top mixed martial arts promotion in the world, it’s first and foremost a business.

Nothing personal against Lamas, but Aldo-Pettis is a bigger financial draw at this day and time.

“Everyone steps on everyone’s toes in this business,” Pettis’ trainer, Duke Roufus, told “It’s a dog-eat-dog world. Erik Koch’s toes were stepped on when Frankie stepped in [to fight Aldo].

"Unfortunately in fighting, to take a page from Muhammad Ali: 'It’s not always the best guy; it’s the best guy who can sell a fight.'"

And right now Pettis can sell this fight, especially when visions of him competing against Aldo come to mind. These are two of the most athletic, acrobatic strikers in mixed martial arts.
[+] EnlargeLamas/Koch
David Banks/USA TODAY SportsRicardo Lamas figured a win over Erik Koch would be enough to warrant a shot at Jose Aldo's title.

Aldo is likely to be favored to retain his title, but a large fan contingent will back Pettis. This is a must-see fight, which is already being billed as the UFC’s next superfight. Meanwhile, Lamas will just have to wait a little while longer. He could start running his mouth and become a bad guy in an effort to land a title shot -- that seems to be working for several fighters these days. But that goes against everything Lamas stands for -- he’s not a loudmouth.

“I’ve been in UFC for some time; [the Koch bout] was my 10th fight with Zuffa,” Lamas said. “A lot of people don’t know who I am because I’ve been fighting on the undercards.

“I’ve been flying under the radar, and I’m the type of guy who doesn’t talk trash so that kind of holds me back a little bit. That’s just who I am.”

Lamas should not pretend to be someone he’s not. As recently retired featherweight contender Mark Hominick told, the Aldo-Pettis fight might be a blessing for Lamas.

“What people have to understand is this is not the fight game, it’s the fight business,” said Hominick, who is now a full-time trainer at Ontario, Canada-based Team Tompkins. “By having these guys with big names, it brings credibility to the [145-pound] division.

“People are now starting to understand who Jose Aldo is. By getting him fights against big-name fighters brings credibility to the division and people will understand the excitement and level of competition in the division.

“Beating Frankie Edgar, a former lightweight champion, brings credibility. And with another super fight against Pettis that will open the doors for the next guy in line to headline a pay-per-view card.”

All this might be difficult for Lamas to digest at this moment, but he’s a smart man. What he must do now is regroup and focus on winning his next fight.

Lamas said that his goal is to fight for the featherweight title and win it. If that is truly the case then a comment he made recently should be taken seriously.

“When I go out there I will continue to fight,” Lamas said. “If you want to beat me you will have to put me away. The longer the fight goes the more confidence I gain.

“I don’t give up; I’m stubborn as hell.

“And if I want to get something done, I’m going to get it done come hell or high water.”

Being stubborn in this sport is good; Lamas just needs to be patient as well.

The fun fact is that Aldo didn't hesitate

February, 5, 2013
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
Anthony Pettis is a man of action. He could have voluntarily waited for his chance at the 155-pound belt. Or he could do what he did, which was text UFC president Dana White to embark on an expedition.

Pettis asked for a chance to fight Jose Aldo, the 145-pound champion who just defended his title against Frankie Edgar on Saturday night. He wasted no time. His text came just minutes after UFC 156 concluded, as Aldo’s feet were still smarting from so many thwacking leg kicks. Pettis knew what he wanted to do, and he went after it.

You know what this is, don’t you? This is one of those "match made in heaven" deals -- the explosive Aldo, who at the end of his five-round war with Edgar sprung himself off the fence for one last sally. And Pettis. The Original Matrix. The WEC champion. Mister Ricochet. The Liver Kicka.

The fight will happen Aug. 3, and it’s a win-win for everybody. Pettis gets his title shot, and therefore the UFC keeps him rolling. Aldo gets the toughest next challenge. Gilbert Melendez and Benson Henderson can go about things in focus, rather than have a looming presence. Ricardo Lamas can fight Chan Jung Sung for the true No. 1 contender bout. And the UFC gets a fight that is filled with thrill, frill and thrall.

Pettis/Aldo will sit on the calendar until August like a new Ang Lee action movie.

But the greatest part about this isn’t the way the fight was made, or even that it was made -- it’s that the champion, Jose Aldo, never hesitated. It took him less than 48 hours to agree to fight Pettis, who by all accounts represents a very true and live threat to take his belt.

Isn’t this how it’s supposed to work? The champion seeing no man as an obstruction to his cause? The champion saying, “bring on all comers,” not in words by in decisive action? Aldo did what we want our champions to do, which is simply say "yes." This translates a lot better than airing their druthers.

Not that other champions haven’t acted the same. Benson Henderson truly doesn’t seem to care whom they stack in front of him. Neither does Cain Velasquez. But in recent times, we’ve seen Georges St-Pierre insist on Nick Diaz (at the omission of Johny Hendricks), and Anderson Silva request everyone from Cung Le to Luke Rockhold (at the very conspicuous expense of Chris Weidman).

Maybe after absorbing so much finicky behavior in recent months, Aldo’s "why hesitate?" attitude shows the right kind of eagerness. Here’s what he’s saying: If you want the belt, come try to take it. If the UFC wants the fight, so do I. If the fans want it, bring it on. Right on, Jose Aldo.

And right on to Anthony Pettis.

Not that there isn’t some logical curiosity in play. Obviously, Pettis fighting in August isn’t exactly expediting anything. Had he waited out Melendez/Henderson, which happens in April, August would have been around the time he’d have fought anyway. That’s just math.

But that's just nitpicking. Bottom line is he wanted a guarantee and to have the fight lined up in front of him. He wanted to zero in on a belt, and this thing played out like an epiphany. He knew there wasn’t a definitive contender at featherweight, and he acted on it. And Pettis -- who goes by “Showtime” -- knows a showstopper when he sees one. Think he can’t bring the house down in a bout with Aldo?

He can. And kudos to Aldo for inviting him to just go ahead and try it.

UFC 156 featured plenty sleight of hand

February, 4, 2013
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall

LAS VEGAS -- Ricardo Lamas was in Las Vegas for UFC 156 Saturday night. He was the first upset. By the time the smoke cleared and everything we presumed to be the case no longer was, he tweeted out a simple statement.

“What am I, a mirage?”

Lamas was on hand presumably to challenge the winner of the featherweight title bout between Frankie Edgar and Jose Aldo. But was Lamas really ever there? Aldo earned the decision, yet before Dana White could hit the microphone at the postfight news conference, the UFC president had received a tantalizing text from Anthony Pettis saying he wants to come down to 145 pounds and challenge Aldo next.
[+] EnlargeRicardo Lamas and Erik Koch
Ross Dettman for ESPNIn the matter of a week, Ricardo Lamas went from "in line for a title shot" to "back in line."

Boom. The UFC owes Pettis a title shot. Bells went off in White’s head. We know this because he shared the text with the media. What a sick fight that would be. ... We all thought it. Benson Henderson is busy with Gilbert Melendez; so, Pettis versus Aldo solves conundrums. Pettis and Aldo turns the neat trick of having last week’s UFC on Fox 6 winner, Lamas -- who triumphed over former contender Erik Koch -- vanish before our eyes.

And you know what? This was the most normal thing that happened Saturday night.

All the other scenarios, dangling carrots and conditional promises didn’t go according to plan. In fact, the underdogs and Strikeforce refugees made things downright chaotic.

Let's start with Alistair Overeem. He just got too comfortable in there with Antonio Silva, just too incautious. A couple of times, "The Reem" exposed his chin and dropped his hands altogether. At the end of the second round he gave Silva a smile and a casual nod. He did everything but blow him a kiss. Minutes later he was converted into a Monday morning GIF, getting chopped down early in the third round by Silva’s unmistakable cinderblock hands.

And now matchmaker Joe Silva has to prove that he’s good in a scramble.

Just like the middleweight division a couple of weeks ago, when it was Michael Bisping’s title shot to lose against Vitor Belfort, the scenario was simple: Once Overeem takes care of Silva, he gets to fight Cain Velasquez for the title.

Then, like Bisping, he loses (spectacularly), and the question becomes: Who’s next for Velasquez? "Bigfoot" Silva again? He lost to Velasquez nine months ago while floating in a warm pool of his own blood. That isn’t a rematch that people will be (or should be) pining for. But neither does it make complete sense to roll out Velasquez/Junior dos Santos III. Too soon. Daniel Cormier won’t fight his AKA teammate Velasquez. Fabricio Werdum is tied up with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Josh Barnett isn’t here or there yet.

Who does that leave? Roy Nelson?
[+] EnlargeAntonio Silva, Cain Velasquez
Rod Mar for ESPNIt's hard to imagine fight fans are pining to see a rematch between champion Cain Velasquez and Antonio Silva.

Then there is the ongoing Anderson Silva sweepstakes, in which Rashad Evans figured he was in the bag. Should he take care of Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, he would be considered for a title shot at 185 pounds against Silva. We wondered all week: Can he make the weight to fight Silva? Turns out we should have been wondering if he could make it past Lil Nog.

Nogueira did his Nogueira magic and kept Evans at bay with jabs and straight lefts. He thwarted, he stuck, he toiled. Meanwhile, Evans kept roaring his engine in the garage, yet never came peeling out of it. He was setting up for something that never happened. He was tentative, and he lost. White wondered out loud whether Evans had “lost that hunger.”

So, no Evans-Silva. Which means we’re looking at contender Chris Weidman against Silva by way of attrition. Weidman was the original mirage, but it looks like he’s finally materialized as the guy to next face Anderson Silva.

Then again, it’s hazardous to take too much for granted. Bobby Green choked out Jacob Volkmann. Yves Edwards lost to Isaac Vallie-Flagg. Demian Maia “out-Fitched” Jon Fitch. This is a volatile, ever-changing, rarely predictable game.

And if UFC 156 taught us anything, it was that Lamas wasn’t the only mirage on Saturday night -- turns out everything we expected to be on Sunday was a mirage, too.

Featherweights to take shape in Chicago

January, 24, 2013
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
There's a paradox going on for this weekend's Chicago card: People are talking about the flyweights not getting talked about.

In fact, the ever-coveted "casual" viewer has no way of knowing that there is such a thing as the flyweight division, because all those prominent ads leading up -- as you've seen by now -- don’t fuss over the details. As far as casuals know, it's a "world title" fight, which is of course one way of putting it. (Saying that two of the best flyweights out of a 15-man roster might play out somewhat less dramatically).

But the flyweights are actual and they are happening, whether this offends you, surprises you, or speaks to your fetishes. And if nothing else, it's novel. If the sword on Brock Lesnar's chest cut him in two, you'd get Demetrious Johnson and John Dodson -- guys with thrice the speed and half the brute power. We'll need to slow down the surveillance tape, but these guys will square off at shutter speed on Saturday night as headliners.

It's Johnson's first title defense. It’s Dodson’s chance to showcase his own rare blend of levity and levitation.

If it goes as one suspects it might, this will feel like 25 minutes of hydroplaning. What's not to love?

Of course, such a main event only works on a uniquely stacked (totally free) card like UFC of FOX 6. There's Quinton Jackson's UFC swan song and Glover Teixeira's fashionably late arrival. There's the battle of Anthony Pettis-Donald Cerrone, which is a cause for hyperbole. That looks like the greatest fight of all time. (You see?)

And then there's the featherweights. And this is where the plot thickens.

Right now the 145-pound division below challenger Frankie Edgar and current champion Jose Aldo is a free-for-all.

It's about to get some clarity.

Clay Guida will take on Hatsu Hioki in his first drop to 145 pounds, and Ricardo Lamas will fight Erik Koch. One of these will emerge as the next challenge for the Aldo-Edgar winner. At the very least, one of these four guys will get to fight Chan Sung Jung to determine who gets next crack at the Aldo-Edgar winner.

Saturday will give us a featherweight pecking order.

Koch was scheduled to fight Aldo twice in 2012, but both fell through (once because he was injured, once because Aldo was). You'd have to think that a win over Lamas would land him right back to where he was. If Lamas defends his Chicago turf, he'll have beaten 2012's brightest contender, so he'd take that spot.

Guida is making the cut to 145 pounds after he ceded his lightweight title bearings against Gray Maynard. Not only that, but he had the audacity to show up with a stick and skedaddle game plan that left a bad taste in fan's mouths. A solid performance in his featherweight debut against the former No. 1 contender Hioki would jump him into the mix pretty quick. If Hioki knocks off Guida, same thing. He'll have beaten one of the UFC's more familiar names, and the recent Lamas loss shrinks in his rearview mirror.

Come Sunday morning, there will be such a thing as the "featherweight title picture." With all the comings and goings at 145 pounds since the division was introduced two years ago, that's been a hard thing to establish.

Koch will remind fans why he's a contender

January, 23, 2013
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
Erik Koch may not have fought at all in 2012, but he did train for one against one of the best fighters in the world.

Ring rust is not a concern for Koch as he prepares to return from a 16-month layoff this weekend against Ricardo Lamas at a UFC on Fox event in Chicago.

For one, Koch and members of his camp say he’s too strong mentally to allow a long layoff to affect his confidence. More importantly, however, is that Koch spent significant time in 2012 preparing for UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo.

That type of training might not be quite as beneficial to his development as time spent in the Octagon -- but it’s not far behind.

“Twice I was training for Aldo, for a championship fight,” Koch told “Those were some of the greatest camps I’ve ever had.”

Koch (13-1) says his focus is now entirely on Lamas despite last year’s heartbreak, when injuries derailed planned title fights against Aldo in April and October.

The Milwaukee-basked Koch describes it as “the hardest year of my life.” There were the financial hardships that come when you don’t cash a single fight purse and, of course, the emotional letdown of an opportunity missed.

Former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar replaced Koch at UFC 153 when a knee injury forced him to withdraw. When Aldo then pulled off the card following a motorcycle accident, Koch knew it would be the higher-profile Edgar who would keep the title shot.

“That was the worst part for me, was I knew in the bottom of my heart and soul he was going to match up well with Jose Aldo,” said Duke Roufus, Koch’s trainer.

“In order to beat a great champion you have to be able to beat his aura first. Erik’s not intimidated by Aldo or anyone else. A lot of guys are beat by Aldo before they even fight him. That’s not the case with Erik.”

A win over Lamas might get Koch back into title contention, but he’d prefer not to speculate after the disappointment of last year plus the experience of his 155-pound teammate Anthony Pettis, who was recently passed over for a lightweight title shot.

“You hear things,” Koch said about whether or not it’s a No. 1 contender fight. “I think it is, but you never know. I’m not getting my hopes up.

“I’m looking at this as my coming out party. I need to have people remember why I was a title contender in the first place. Coming into this fight, I have bad intentions.”

Words of wisdom: Don't do the Hioki

June, 23, 2012
Gross By Josh Gross
Hatsu HiokiEd Mulholland for ESPN.comHatsu Hioki is officially Exhibit A as to what not to do when someone offers you a title shot.
Hatsu Hioki didn't think he was ready for Jose Aldo, and now he knows he wasn't.

In April, the highest-ranked Japanese fighter in mixed martial arts turned down a shot to fight for Aldo's UFC featherweight title. He was 2-0 in the UFC, looking better in his second bout against Bart Palaszewski than his first versus George Roop, and everything was lined up for him.

Then he said "no" to Joe Silva's perfectly reasonable and expected matchmaking. Was this smart? Turns out, no, it wasn't. Regardless of how much Hioki felt he lacked for Octagon experience, no matter how much he may have wanted to tighten up his game, in spite of any lesson he could have learned that could have helped him defeat Aldo, history dictates fighters must say "yes" to such proposals.

Or else.

"A title shot? Well of course I'll do it, Mr. Silva."

MMA is an unruly sport. Sure-fire things do not exist. As dangerous as Aldo looked since he emerged in the WEC and later bloomed in the UFC, Hioki wasn't going to uncover the mystery to beating the Brazilian by taking a fight against Ricardo Lamas. Or anyone, for that matter. His chances weren’t going to improve. All Hioki could have accomplished was logging more cage time, landing another victory against a solid fighter, and finding himself in pretty much the exact same scenario he was in April.

There wasn't upside in fighting anyone other than Aldo -- only a giant too-easy-to-fall-over cliff. Like Homer Simpson failing to jump a canyon on a skateboard, such was the looming potential of his decision. And so you have to wonder what the view looks like from the bottom, which is where Hioki (26-5-2) is tonight as he managed to regress during the points defeat.

The 28-year-old, well-traveled Japanese fighter opened adequately enough, utilizing his length and leverage to score takedowns and threaten with submissions. Two similar rounds seemed a reasonable enough expectation, but then Hioki wilted. He shied away from the fight. He made mistakes. This was not the execution of a man who has fought tough opponents all over the map, which, by extension, means he was not remotely capable, in body or mind, of defeating Aldo.

Or Lamas.

After losing the second, Hioki essentially disappeared in the third. With all he stood to gain, Hioki couldn't bring himself to go after Lamas, a solid though wholly unspectacular featherweight.

Hioki, as his reputation goes, fights smart. He maintains dominant positions, advances to better ones on the floor, and if he doesn't submit you, he'll ride out a decision win.
[+] EnlargeHatsu Hioki and Ricardo Lamas
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comHatsu Hioki, left, wasn't ready for the likes of Ricardo Lamas, let alone Jose Aldo.

He didn't do any of that in Atlantic City. Instead, Hioki put his head in position to be guillotined. He did so several times in the final round and found himself in trouble, which he deserved.

As the moved closer to the cliff's edge, there wasn't an obvious sense of self preservation kicking in. Hioki did not react as if everything he'd worked so hard for since 2002 was slipping away. He just let it slip, which should be his biggest disappointment.

Being honest enough with oneself is a noble thing. He didn't believe he could beat Aldo -- that's the bottom line (which is fine, I guess). But somehow that disbelief soured his performance against Lamas, or at the very least colored it.

I criticized Zuffa for putting this fight on Fuel TV as opposed to the night’s main card on FX. How could they not want to expose a guy who could get a crack at Aldo to as wide an audience as possible? Maybe the thinking was Hioki wasn’t ready for prime time, not in any sense. He sure didn’t look like it on Friday.

Fighters should come to call the decision whether or not to take a title fight in the UFC a "Hioki." That ignoble distinction once belonged to Pete Spratt, who declined a welterweight shot against Matt Hughes in 2003. That ridicule belongs to Hioki now.

He needed to trust his skills, trust the experience he brought, and trust the plan he intended to implement. He didn’t trust these things and fight Aldo.

He didn’t.

Fighters be warned: Don't pull a Hioki.