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Midnight Mania! Al Iaquinta Eyeing Late Summer Tango With Justin Gaethje

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It’s hard to make a bad fight at lightweight. The UFC’s deepest division is brimming with scintillating talent- even the guys coming off losses are easy to get excited about. No two fighters represent that more than Justin Gaethje and ‘Raging’ Al Iaquinta. On his podcast, Iaquinta hinted that he might be in talks with the UFC to face Gaethje this summer. He was asked about a possible matchup with Gaethje, and his response indicated that the idea was not new to him. Transcript via MMAJunkie.com:

“We’re hoping for sometime in August,” Iaquinta said. “August, September. I think (the UFC) wanted it to be sooner, but that guy needs a rest. I was looking out for his health with that one. He needs a break for a minute. If it goes down the way it’s supposed to, it’ll be a good fight, a tough fight.”

It’s peak Al to say that he’s looking out for Gaethje’s health by pushing a potential matchup back to late summer. But is the fight actually being discussed? “Little bit”, was all Al would say.

It would be a near-perfect matchup for Gaethje, and one fans would have an easy time getting behind. Iaquinta had won five straight before his high-profile decision loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov; Gaethje is on the most exciting two-fight skid in UFC history, coming agonizingly close to beating Dustin Poirier and Eddie Alvarez before going out on his shield in both fights. He needs a step back, but not too far back; someone that keeps him relevant with a win, and doesn’t consign him to the dust-bin with a loss. Iaquinta is in a similar space; his short-notice loss to Nurmagomedov may have dampened any title hopes, but he hung tough with the Russian for all five rounds. Both men are known for wanting to throw hands in the pocket in a fan-friendly manner; neither are known for meticulous risk avoidance.

Of course, it’s hard to make a bad fight at lightweight; Edson Barboza’s manager has also thrown his hat in the ring for a fight with Gaethje.


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Alexander Volkanovski Eyeing Ranked Opponent with a Victory at UFC 221

Emerging Australian Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight fighter Alexander Volkanovski is confident that a victory over Jeremy Kennedy this weekend at UFC 221 in Perth, Australia
Recent News on Sherdog.com

Alexander Volkanovski Eyeing Ranked Opponent with a Victory at UFC 221

Emerging Australian Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight fighter Alexander Volkanovski is confident that a victory over Jeremy Kennedy this weekend at UFC 221 in Perth, Australia
Recent News on Sherdog.com

Alexander Volkanovski Eyeing Ranked Opponent with a Victory at UFC 221

Emerging Australian Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight fighter Alexander Volkanovski is confident that a victory over Jeremy Kennedy this weekend at UFC 221 in Perth, Australia
Recent News on Sherdog.com

Alexander Volkanovski Eyeing Ranked Opponent with a Victory at UFC 221

Emerging Australian Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight fighter Alexander Volkanovski is confident that a victory over Jeremy Kennedy this weekend at UFC 221 in Perth, Australia
Recent News on Sherdog.com

Alexander Volkanovski Eyeing Ranked Opponent with a Victory at UFC 221

Emerging Australian Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight fighter Alexander Volkanovski is confident that a victory over Jeremy Kennedy this weekend at UFC 221 in Perth, Australia
Recent News on Sherdog.com

Alexander Volkanovski Eyeing Ranked Opponent with a Victory at UFC 221

Emerging Australian Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight fighter Alexander Volkanovski is confident that a victory over Jeremy Kennedy this weekend at UFC 221 in Perth, Australia
Recent News on Sherdog.com

Dominick Cruz eyeing Cody Garbrandt vs. TJ Dillashaw winner: ‘I think that I’ve earned that position’

Dominick Cruz has stayed plenty busy in the months since his UFC 207 title loss to Cody Garbrandt, traveling the country in his role as a FOX Sports analyst and even appearing in the UFC broadcast booth as a color announcer during fight nights.

But now, after giving his body a break from the rigors of fight camp, Cruz is beginning to turn his gaze back towards his next move in the UFC bantamweight division. And for the former two-time champion — a man who many consider to be the G.O.A.T. of 135 pounds — a shot at the winner of UFC 213’s showdown between Garbrandt and T.J. Dillashaw is precisely what Cruz covets next.

“I just had to give my body a little rest from the beatdown from martial arts for a couple of months,” Cruz said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I fought those three fights last year. That’s three title fights against some of the best guys in the world, back-to-back, after the layoff I had. That was a good year for me. I put a lot of work in. And so I took a little bit of time, three or four months I’ve taken to just heal. I’ve been training. I shot stem cells into both of my feet, I shot stem cells into my shoulders, just to make sure I take a second and I marinate and heal. Marinate and rest and just let my body get 100 percent.

“I’d like to come back and fight for the title. That’s my goal. I wasn’t completely out of that (Garbrandt) fight come that fifth round. I was still in the fight. I was in the fight the entire time, so I definitely want to get another shot at that, and that’s what I’m looking for and focused on more than anything, is fighting the winner of T.J. Dillashaw (versus) Cody Garbrandt. That’s what I want. I think that’s what the fans want.”

Cruz, 32, reigned for many years as the king of the bantamweight division, capturing the WEC title in 2010 at a time when the blue cage was synonymous with the best lighter weight talent in the world, then transitioning that title over to the UFC with additional victories over Urijah Faber and Demetrious Johnson. Cruz ultimately vacated his strap due to an unforgiving string of injuries that kept him sidelined for nearly five years, however he returned against all odds and recaptured the belt in 2016 with triumphs over Dillashaw and Faber.

So given his many accomplishments in the division, Cruz figures it makes sense for him to get an immediate chance to reclaim what once was his.

“I told (UFC matchmaker) Sean Shelby what I wanted to do,” Cruz said. “Sean Shelby is like, ‘well, I don’t know, I don’t know if that’s necessarily…’ He doesn’t know, he’s saying he doesn’t know. I’m saying this is the fight that needs to happen at 135 pounds. I mean, there’s three people in this division that people know, and it’s me, T.J., and Cody. And the reason why you know us three is because I’ve been fighting these two people and I’ve been talking about them and I’ve been building them on FOX and giving them a lot of shine, and I’ve also been bashing on them, too.

“But the mixture of the entire thing has built the three of us (up), and I think that between the three of us, we could probably fight for 10 years and always have a good fight. But realistically, that’s the fight that makes sense to me. It doesn’t make sense to go down in the division. I’m the No. 1 contender now, and to fight backwards in the division after the amount of title defenses I’ve had in the past, it doesn’t even resonate or make sense to me.

“I’m here to fight the best in the world, to fight for the title, and I think that I’ve earned that position,” Cruz continued. “And if I got completely to where I wasn’t even in that (Garbrandt) fight, I could understand. But I was in that fight from beginning to end, and in that fifth round, I would even say that I won. So there’s still a case for me in this match-up with Cody or T.J., either one of them.”

While Cruz edged out Dillashaw in a razor-thin split decision in Jan. 2016, his end-of-year battle against Garbrandt was a much different story.

Garbrandt defeated Cruz in a masterful performance that included a pair of knockdowns and a 10-8 fourth round on two judges’ scorecards. So while Cruz would be fine with rematching either of his former foes after UFC 213, he carries a special fire in his heart for a second meeting against Garbrandt.

“Realistically, me and T.J.’s fight was very competitive. It was a good fight. I won it fair and square, in my opinion, but I could fight him again and be happy with that,” Cruz said. “But, I lost to Cody. Of course, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to fight him immediately, as soon as possible, and get that loss back.

“I couldn’t go right back into the Octagon immediately, because I needed to heal my feet a little bit. Anybody who’s had this thing that I have, plantar fasciitis, will tell you that it ruins careers. It ruins runners’ careers, it ruins football players’ careers, soccer, basketball, tons of sports. And I had sit out, let my feet completely rest for a little while and try to get them back to 100 percent. And you know, they’re feeling better than they have in an entire year, so I’m pretty optimistic about this upcoming fight that I’m getting ready for next, whoever it is.”

In the meantime, Garbrandt and Dillashaw are currently serving as coaches on The Ultimate Fighter 25, and Cruz has had a front row ticket to the Team Alpha Male drama with his role as a broadcaster on FOX Sport 1’s recap show, TUF Talk. Cruz said he believes the mental strain of the contentious situation on TUF 25 will ultimately play in Garbrandt’s favor, although he’s found it interesting watching Garbrandt deal with taking over the lion’s share of promotion that comes with being UFC champion.

“This is a game of inches, and every fight you have, every single camp you put in is something your body sees and feels,” Cruz said. “I put in twice the work that Cody did [last] year. That’s in camps and that’s in fights and that’s in media, and that’s in everything in this sport. So, now he’s doing it.

“Now he’s got the title and now he’s doing the media, now he’s fighting T.J. Dillashaw and he’s got the workload, he’s got the responsibility of defending that belt against the best in the world. And I’m right here knocking on the door, just like he was knocking on the door, just like T.J. was knocking at the door, just like Faber was knocking at the door. I’m right here knocking on the door and I’m not giving that dude any space. He’s not going anywhere.”

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Joanna Jedrzejczyk eyeing Ronda Rousey’s title defense record as UFC 211 approaches

When it comes to win/loss records alone, there’s an argument to made that Joanna Jedrzejczyk is already the most successful woman to ever compete in the UFC. The reigning strawweight champion carries a flawless 7-0 Octagon record into her May 13 title defense against Jessica Andrade at UFC 211 — a number that already exceeds the résumé of Ronda Rousey, whose 6-2 UFC run widely popularized the women’s side of the sport, but faded away before it could reach an Anderson Silva or Demetrious Johnson level of sustained excellence.

But Rousey is still the standard-bearer for female UFC champions in many regards, and her record of six consecutive UFC title defenses still looms large as the number to beat on the female side of the game. So with the fifth defense of her strawweight strap just around the corner, Jedrzejczyk knows it’s only a matter of time until she makes history by surpassing Rousey, provided she continues her winning ways.

“I want that record,” Jedrzejczyk said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I want this female record, which is six title defenses straight. And then I will look up to the guys’ (record).”

The overall UFC title defense record is presently held by Silva, who defended his middleweight belt 10 consecutive times over a 2,457-day reign. However, that record could conceivably be extended by Johnson, the UFC’s current flyweight champion, who will tie Silva at 10 defenses with a victory over Wilson Reis at UFC on FOX 24.

Either way, Jedrzejczyk knows she has a long way to go until reaching those dazzling heights. So in the interim, the popular 29-year-old is simply focusing on the fight in front of her, and not overextending herself with personal and professional obligations like Rousey did in the final months of her UFC title reign.

“Every fighting career is different,” Jedrzejczyk said. “We all are different. Our lives are different. But the thing is, of course I learned some (from Rousey’s situation), but I’m trying to be smart for myself. There was a time when I could fly to Poland for 10 days, do like seven days of media, I slept like six hours a day, but (coach) Katel (Kubis) was with me and we had amazing times during the training between obligations. But the thing is, it was time for it. Now it’s time to just get ready for the fight. Eight-and-a-half weeks, I will [focus only on] getting ready for UFC 211, and the thing is, no one is going to get my attention.

“There is no option that you’re going to put a million dollars in front of me and I will go with you because of the money. No, I will choose to put on great workout and just get better until the fight. I am focused on my camp, I am focused on myself. I am selfish. I’m here in Florida by myself. I left my fiancée and my family there (in Poland), but they understand. They support me and I’m calm because I know they’re waiting for me, but I have good people here and I can be focused just on the camp. So, people, don’t get crazy when people offer you money for sponsorships. First, we are fighters, and we must sure that we’re going to be ready for the fight.”

The philosophy is likely a good one to embrace heading into UFC 211, considering that Jedrzejczyk has a formidable challenge waiting for her in Andrade, a hard-hitting 25-year-old who has run roughshod over the UFC strawweight division since moving down from 135 pounds. Andrade is a perfect 3-0 at her new weight, with a trio of dominant performances over Jessica Penne, Joanne Calderwood, and Angela Hill surging her into the top-five of the UFC’s media-generated rankings.

Andrade has also not been shy about lobbing a few shots at Jedrzejczyk through the media, consistently criticizing the Polish champion for having a weak chin and vowing to knock her out. But Jedrzejczyk isn’t buying what Andrade is selling.

“Have you seen me responding on that?” Jedrzejczyk said. “People are f*cking getting fights on Twitter. It’s crazy. I spoke to (UFC matchmaker) Sean (Shelby) about it and he’s like, ‘I cannot help [it]. I’m trying to be quiet, I let people talk.’ But the thing is, okay, the face-offs are pretty tough with me, the weigh-ins, the fights, but I let people talk. I talk with my body in the Octagon the day of the fight. This is what I want to do. I don’t want to talk to them. You’re right or you’re not.”

Jedrzejczyk said the trash talk from Andrade is more surprising than usual simply because of the friendly relationship the two women shared prior to UFC 211, as well as the fact that Andrade is represented by Jedrzejczyk’s former manager, Tiago Okamura.

“I don’t know what Jessica is talking about,” Jedrzejczyk said. “I don’t know if Tiago is doing this, because Tiago was like a brother to me, and we’re still in good relations. I believe they can get more crazy because of the promotion and she has nothing to lose, but the thing is, I’m still good with them so I don’t know why they go crazy. … I know that Jessica’s English is not so good, so I know that there is someone behind her back helping her with that. It might be Tiago, so I feel sorry for that. We are in good relations, so you’re honest or you’re fake.

“People are all like, ‘oh, Joanna is so quiet, she doesn’t respond.’ Because I don’t want to talk,” Jedrzejczyk added. “Like I said, [Andrade and I] have good relations. Every fight, any time we meet, it was good. We had good training together, good meal, good talk, we could hang out together. This is what I said: when the things get bigger, people get crazy. I thought that she was not going to act like this, but I see she is already getting into it more and more. But I feel sorry. I just want to be patient, be humble, keep on training, and let my fists talk to her on May 13 at UFC 211 in Dallas.”

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Ben Askren eyeing retirement at conclusion of ONE contract

Ben Askren is one of the best fighters in the world. And we may never get to see him match up with his elite peers.

The ONE Championship welterweight champ said he will likely retire at the end of his current contract, which has six fights remaining. Askren will defend his belt against Nikolay Aleksakhin in the main event of ONE: Global Rivals on Friday in the Philippines.

“I’ve got six fights left with ONE,” Askren told MMA Fighting. “Then I told them, it’s not a guarantee I’ll be done, but I think there’s a high likelihood that after those six fights I’ll be calling it a day.”

Askren, 31, said he’d like to fight three times this year and there’s a possibility he could fight three times next year. So, the former Bellator champion’s career could come to a close in late 2017 or early 2018.

“You never know what life is going to throw your way and I would never say never, but I think that’s definitely the way I’m learning,” Askren said. “I did say I wanted to be retired by 30, whether it was wrestling or mixed martial arts.”

Askren (14-0, 1 NC) was a free agent in 2013 after a dominant run in Bellator when UFC president Dana White infamously told him to go get more experience in World Series of Fighting before the UFC would sign him. That ignited a feud between Askren and White and led the former Olympic wrestler to ONE.

“Funky” won’t put a guarantee on it, but he’s leaning toward hanging up the gloves rather than testing the open market again. Askren coaches youth wrestling and also has a growing family.

“When you’re competing, you need to be selfish,” he said. “You need to think of yourself first. You need to take care of yourself first and you can’t think of others quite as much if you want to be a successful competitor. Fighting is good for my family, but I also think I have to be selfish sometimes in that area, too. So if I get away from fighting, I can be a little selfish there also.”

Of course, a lot can happen in six fights and two years. Askren has only fought three times for ONE, the last a no contest due to an eye poke against Luis Santos in April 2015. Askren was supposed to face Santos again in November, but Santos missed weight.

Since then and the death of fighter Yang Jian Bing in December, ONE has instituted a new policy to curtail weight cutting. All of their fighters moved up a weight class, so although Askren is the welterweight champion he’ll be fighting at 185. The weight classes are called the same thing, but the actual weight is higher. Askren doesn’t foresee any issue, since everyone is essentially fighting at their walking weight and he’s not going up against someone cutting to make 185.

“It’s 185, but it’s not really 185,” Askren said.

Aleksakhin (17-3) is not a name many people know, but he’s a pupil of Fedor Emelianenko and a combat sambo expert. He has won four of his last five fights via finish. Askren will not be taking him lightly, just like he hasn’t taken any past ONE opponents lightly even though they are not well known.

“No, for two reasons,” Askren said. “No. 1, my paycheck is the same. No. 2 would be, I’m a real professional. People who are great at what they do, they do it the same way no matter who the opponent is.

“That’s a huge reason why people fail when they shouldn’t or when they’re not supposed to. If you look across my career, whether it be mixed martial arts or wrestling, it’s very, very, very rare that I lose to someone that I’m not supposed to.”

Askren has never lost in MMA and he plans on keeping that streak going. The unfortunate part is that he has never tested himself against the very elite fighters of his division, most of whom are in the UFC. Fans criticize Askren for that, but it’s out of his hands.

“Anyone who says that, I know they’re just uneducated about what happened,” Askren said. “Frankly, it wasn’t my decision at all and there’s nothing I can do about it. I take that as either uneducated or they’re just trying to annoy me.”

The former two-time NCAA champion cut a parody video for the Fighters Only World MMA Awards in February. The song parodied Adele’s “Hello” and was kind of a mea culpa to the UFC. Askren even used the word “sorry” in the song.

But, Askren said, he’s not sorry. And it was just a parody video. He didn’t mean any of it.

“I didn’t do sh*t,” Askren said. “They owe me an apology. … The bald jokes will continue, yes sir.”

We’re probably as far away as we have ever been from seeing Askren in the UFC. And it’s looking more and more like it will never happen, especially if he retires at the end of his ONE contract.

“I love competing still,” Askren said. “I always think that it’s going to be hard for me to totally step away from competition. I know it will be. I know it’ll be very difficult for me. But you have to call it a day at some point, right?”

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