Through the Fall, MMA on the Rise

By: Adam Rushton, Social Content Manager for AllTheBelts (twitter: @StraightStrikin)

The recent events surrounding the Mixed Martial Arts world this fall have left combat sports fans with a consistent view across the board, the matchups keep getting more and more exciting and the talent pool continues to extend even deeper. The back half of October and the beginning of November have been nothing short of monumental as far as moments that are certain to be remembered not only in MMA, but in the fight game in general. While the UFC has absolutely had its shining moments as of late with 267 and 268 coming our way on back-to-back weekends, fans also had the pleasure of witnessing “The Last Emperor” Fedor Emelianenko compete in his home country of Russia at Bellator 269, as well as several top athletes competing for the $1 million prize in the PFL Championships. In this latest entry, we at AllTheBelts would like to recount just some of the most memorable moments in the Mixed Martial Arts world so far this fall.

If you were a fan of Pride Fighting Championship, then you likely had October 23rd circled on your calendar for weeks leading up to Bellator 269. What’s better than seeing Fedor Emelianenko back in action? Seeing the former Pride FC star, and human highlight reel, back in front of a sold-out crowd in Moscow, and the crowd was certainly not disappointed. Fedor made quick work of Tim Johnson before the halfway point of round one by way of a commanding knockout. This climactic finish had classic Fedor written all of it with the way he drew Johnson into a fire fight and then used his superior punching technique to land a swift set of debilitating hooks, resulting in his American opponent laying barely conscious on the Canvas. While very impressive, the heavyweight main event was not the only talk of the town following Bellator 269 as Usman Nurmagomedov, cousin of former UFC Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, improved to 14–0 with a first-round rear naked choke submission of Patrik Pietila in a Catchweight bout at 160 pounds. The fact that only one of Usman’s past fights has gone to the judges’ scorecards gave fans a decent idea of what to expect here, and how fast to expect it. That being said, Usman did not get the TKO victory that many were envisioning, but he did earn his 8th first round finish which came as no surprise to the general fan base. Usman Nurmagomedov is absolutely a talent to keep your eye on, especially with the legendary Khabib in his corner

All season long in the Professional Fighters League, we have been seeing extremely talented individuals, in explosive fights, working towards one evening. On October 27th that evening came, and it was everything that the fans were hoping it would be. With 12 tournament finalists, six $1 million checks handed out to winners and a musical performance by PFL part owner Wiz Khalifa, this was a very action-packed event with two standout matches that cannot be talked about enough. In the co-main event, Ray Cooper III from the Pearl City, Hawaii, who was coming off wins over Rory MacDonald and Nikolay Aleksakhin, squared off with Russia’s Magomed Magomedkerimov, who previously defeated Cooper at the 2018 PFL Championships. After over 10 minutes of back-and-forth grappling, strikes and submission attempts, Ray “Brada Boy” Cooper III found himself on the receiving end of several hard punches from Magomed who had found his range and was using it perfectly. Just as it seemed that Magomed had Cooper in serious trouble, Ray was able to land a very well-placed overhand right that countered Magomed’s uppercut, followed by two more looping punches that devastated his Russian opponent and sent him to the ground where he was easily finished. To be in trouble versus a fighter as tough as Magomedkerimov, there was no doubt that Cooper certainly had his work cut out for him to become the 2021 Welterweight Tournament Champion and earn that $1 million check, but still he delivered in dramatic fashion. In the evening’s main event, we saw the two-time Olympic gold medalist judoka, Kayla Harrison, going for her second straight Lightweight Tournament Championship with the PFL. Standing in Harrison’s way of this goal was the 11–0 Taylor Guardado, fighting out of Xtreme Couture MMA in Las Vegas. While Guardado on paper would appear to be a tough matchup for Kayla, she was ultimately unable to find an answer for the Olympian’s outstanding takedowns and ground control. Harrison was eventually able to take full advantage of her skillset and lock in a fierce armbar to secure the second-round finish. With two consecutive PFL Championships under her belt, the question in many fans minds is if she has her sights set on moving on to a different organization such as Bellator or the UFC to test herself against new competition.

Both Glover Teixeira and Jan Blachowicz entered the UFC Octagon on October 30th at UFC 267 as men on five fight win streaks. Jan was looking to add another title defense to his record while Glover, who has managed to find momentum late in his career, was looking to get that first taste of UFC gold at the age of 42. Not only was Teixeira able to avoid the “Polish Power” that many fans were expecting to see on full display from Blachowicz, but he was even able to stun Jan with some boxing skills of his own. In the second round Glover took things to the canvas and controlled Jan with his grappling prowess and hard punches until the Polish champion turned and exposed his back. This was taken full advantage of as the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blackbelt locked in a tight Rear Naked Choke to seal the victory. Most had said that if Glover had any shot at winning it would be on the ground given his high-level grappling, and while that is how he ultimately finished the fight, the stand-up game that he displayed is not something to dismiss too quickly. What “The Brazilian Pit Bull” has shown in his latest run of matches is a clear display of a quite well-rounded fighter. Through this win, Glover Teixeira became the second oldest champion in UFC history. Additionally, he is now the oldest champion on the UFC’s current roster and is the oldest fighter in organization history to hold a title for the first time in their career.

Just one week after Jan vs. Glover, the UFC kept the pace moving in a direction that we all wanted to see with the highly anticipated matchups on UFC268, live from Madison Square Garden. Kicking off the main card was Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler, which turned into the all-out stand-up war that many had assumed it would be due to the two competitors fighting styles. While Gaethje came out on top with the unanimous decision, Michael Chandler showed a large amount of heart to go the distance with Justin and absolutely gained even more fans in the process. In the co-main event, Rose Namajunas was able to improve to 11–4 by defeating China’s Weili Zhang to defend her strawweight title. For Rose, this eliminates any doubt as to if their first meeting, back in April at UFC 261, was a fluke knockout victory. The rematch between Kumaru Usman and Colby Covington was one the most anticipated bouts of the evening and in many eyes, of the last few months. The first meeting between these two did not disappoint in terms of action, but ultimately was stopped by referee Marc Goddard and declared a TKO victory for Usman due to punches. This time around was also not disappointing in terms of action, what changed was that the fight lasted the full 5 rounds. These two high level welterweights traded shots back and forth for 25 minutes straight and while it was clear by the end that Kumaru would walk away the winner, Colby showed why he is still considered one of the best in the world at 170 pounds with the skill and determination he displayed in this match. Top to bottom this card was absolutely stacked and the fighters delivered another amazing show. Other honorable mentions for this event go out to heavyweight Chris Barnett, who earned his first UFC victory by way of a masterful wheel kick, Cage Warriors champion Ian Garry, who made his UFC debut and knocked out Jordan Williams in impressive fashion, Glory Kickboxing champion Alex Pereira, who made his presence known in the UFC’s Middleweight division by landing a perfect flying knee to seal the knockout victory in his debut, and Marlon Vera, who managed to time a perfect front kick to the jaw, knocking out the veteran Frankie Edgar in the 3rd round.

As we creep closer to the end of the year, the bar continues to rise in regard to stellar MMA events and top-level talent. There are still plenty of excellent upcoming events and matchups from major MMA organizations for fans to witness before the end of year, but perhaps the most note worthy of all will take place on December 11th at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas where Charles Oliveira will defend his hard-earned lightweight belt versus top tier challenger, Dustin “The Diamond” Poirier. The lightweight championship match is set to headline UFC 269 but surely is not the only bout worth mentioning. Also on the card, Amanda Nunes will defend her 135-pound title versus Julianna Peña who is coming off an impressive submission victory back in January. Prior to that, Kai Kara-France will face Cody Garbrandt and Sean O’Malley is set to square off with Raulian Palva. UFC 269 has all the ingredients to be yet another event to add to the long list of monumental moments that have unfolded in MMA so far in 2021.

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