An interview with UFC President Dana White

nullAs I mentioned yesterday, I had the chance to do an interview with UFC President Dana White on Tuesday afternoon to discuss this week’s UFC on FOX 7 event.

You can read the entire interview, which was done for Bullz-Eye.com, here.

Below are a few excerpts from the interview:

One of the things I was really excited about with this deal with FOX was being able to bring big fights back to free television. That has always been my goal since we bought this company. Coming off “The Ultimate Fighter” finale last weekend, every fight was sick, it was an amazing finale. We pulled 1.7 million viewers. We were the highest-rated thing on network and cable television with males 18-34. This fight on FOX is going to be a big one. Ben Henderson is defending his lightweight title again, this time against Gilbert Melendez, who is probably the toughest guy at 155 pounds that has never had a shot in the UFC. Everybody thinks this guy might be the best in the world, so we are going to find out on Saturday.

I have been thrilled with the Strikeforce fighters. A lot of bad stuff happened at Strikeforce. A lot of guys didn’t get paid for a while and these guys are hungry. First of all, they are happy to be back fighting and getting paid to do it. These guys want to prove to the world that they can fight and become the best in the world. The UFC is the place to do that. These guys have been fighting like maniacs, and I love it.

Gegard Mousasi wins in a no-win situation

nullGegard Mousasi faced the most dangerous situation he has faced in his MMA career on Saturday afternoon.

He faced an unknown opponent if his UFC debut and was expected to run right through him.

After preparing for months to face top UFC light heavyweight contender, Alexander Gustafsson, Mousasi would instead be forced to face Ilir Latifi after Gustafsson wasn’t cleared to fight after suffering a cut earlier in the week.

Latifi, a native of Sweden, where the fight was taking place, was making his UFC debut and trains with Gustafsson. So, Latifi had some insight on what to expect of his opponent, while Mousasi knew nothing of the man he was to face.

I give credit to Mousasi for taking the fight on such short notice, because he really had nothing to gain. Everyone expected him to win. A loss would have set his career back a great deal, especially in a crowded light heavyweight division.

Mousasi didn’t look overly impressive in a decision win over Latifi, which was to be expected, but he did escape a dangerous situation with a victory.

The win doesn’t propel the former Strikeforce champion into title contention in the UFC, but it at least gives him some experience and he can now focus on bigger things, perhaps a fight with Gustafsson.

Gina Carano on the red carpet

.Gina Carano attends the Cinema Society screening of ‘Haywire’ at Landmark Sunshine Cinema on January 18, 2012 in New York City. ….

Former Strikeforce fighter Gina Carano gets all decked out on the red carpet for her new film “Haywire” that opens this weekend. Get some of Gina’s reactions here.

Henderson vs. Shogun planned for UFC 139

nullDan Henderson disposed of one former PRIDE legend, can he do it again in his return to the octagon.

MMAWeekly.com is reporting that the current Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion has agreed to return to the UFC to take on former PRIDE champion, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.

Dan Henderson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua have verbally agreed to face off at UFC 139 on Nov. 19, MMAWeekly.com has learned.

Independent sources confirmed the fight, which will stand as Henderson’s return to the organization after defeating Russian heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko in Strikeforce.

The bout will likely be the new main event for the card that saw its prior main event between heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and no. 1 contender Junior dos Santos get moved to the main event of the Nov. 12 UFC on Fox fight card.

This is an exciting addition to UFC 139 and likely could be a No. 1 contender’s match in the division after Rashad Evans takes on the winner of Jon Jones vs. “Rampage” Jackson.

It’s surprising that these two never met in PRIDE, as both were legends and champions in the organization.

Both men have one-punch KO power and formidable skills on the ground, with Henderson being a wrestling specialist, and Rua being a submission specialist.

Top 10 Welterweight Rankings

nullThis week’s rankings turn to the welterweight division.

It has been a busy couple of months in this division as two of the top 10 suffered losses since my last 170-pound rankings came out.

So, without further ado, here are my top 10 in this division.

1. Georges St. Pierre (22-2) – St. Pierre successfully defeated Jake Shields, but did so by decision. His performance wasn’t great, but it was still enough to end a lengthy win streak by Shields. Instead of moving up to middleweight, St. Pierre will now take on Nick Diaz at UFC 137 in October.

2. Jon Fitch (23-3-1) – Fitch is coming off shoulder surgery and is targeting a return in late 2011. He was originally pushing for a title fight, but is now looking toward a rematch with B.J. Penn. With the UFC implementing five-round main events for non-title fights, Fitch would seem to have the edge there as he got stronger as the first fight with Penn went on.

3. Josh Koscheck (15-5) – Koscheck has been on the shelf for a few months now as he recovers from a broken orbital bone. Koscheck should return in late 2011, and hopefully he can continue to show some solid skills when he gets back. A powerful striker and wrestler, Koscheck has the skills to win it all if he can do the little things to put together the whole package.

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With Diaz vs. GSP in place, many new options open in UFC

nullWednesday night, Dana White made a big announcement by saying Strikeforce welterweight champion, Nick Diaz, will now face UFC welterweight champion, Georges St. Pierre, at UFC 137 in October.

Apparently White was able to tear up Diaz’ old contract and sign him to a new one that basically allowed White to make any matches involving Diaz that he pleased in either organization.

If White can do it once, he can do it as many times as he would like.

How about Gilbert Melendez?

The Strikeforce lightweight champion has been campaigning for a unification bout with the UFC champion and now, the planned order of contenders in the UFC seems to be shifting.

It appears that Anthony Pettis, who was the No. 1 contender after winning the WEC title, will now have to win two fights before getting a crack at the UFC strap, according to Fighters Only Magazine.

“That kid’s in a bad position. He’s supposed to be the next in line. All this craziness happens. [Edgar and Maynard] both get hurt, and it gets pushed back again. The first one is a draw, then they get hurt, and it gets pushed back again. But this is one of those things that happens in a sport like this,” says UFC president Dana White.

“I respect [Pettis] for stepping up and taking on a tough guy like Guida, and he’ll probably have to fight again before he gets a shot at one of those guys. Sucks for him. It’s a shi–y position for him to be in.”

If Pettis is fighting Guida before Edgar-Maynard III even takes place, why would he have to fight again? This tells me that White has someone else in mind as the next challenger for the UFC belt.

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5 June bouts to mark down on your calendar

nullThe month of June is stacked for MMA fans.

Over the next month, three UFC shows will take place, including one PPV. The second half of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix will be held as well, and Bellator will kick off its next season.

With that in mind, here are the top five bouts I am most looking forward to in June.

1. June 4 – Ultimate Fighter Finale – Anthony Pettis (13-1) vs. Clay Guida (28-11) – The main event of this Saturday’s Ultimate Fighter Season 13 Finale is the fight I’m most looking forward to. Anthony Pettis is set to make his UFC debut after ending the WEC as its lightweight champion with his “Showtime Pettis Kick” against Ben Henderson. His first challenge is a big one, as he takes on perennial UFC lightweight contender, Clay Guida. Both men possess great problems for the other as Pettis has the size and striking edge while Guida has the grappling edge. Both fighters will also leave everything in the cage, which should make for an exciting 15 minutes of action, if the fight goes that long.

2. June 18 – Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix – Alistair Overeem (34-11) vs. Fabricio Werdum (14-4-1) – Something has to give between the top two heavyweights in Strikeforce. It was odds to see them placed against one another in the first round of this Grand Prix, but as a fight fan, I won’t complain. Both men have been hyped up as top-of-the-line heavyweights in any organization, but someone has to live up to that hype, and someone’s hype will come crashing down. Overeem has been a bully in the cage as of late, just over-powering opponents with his striking while Werdum was the man to end Fedor’s long reign as king of MMA. Whose style will play out and allow them to advance in the grand prix?

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Diaz opting out of boxing match, is match with GSP set to happen?

nullNick Diaz made it pretty clear that he wants to get paid.

To get paid, the Strikeforce Welterweight Champion was set to enter the boxing ring or accept a champion vs. champion match against UFC welterweight kingpin, Georges St. Pierre.

On Monday, Diaz’ boxing manager, Don Chargin, said in a press release that Diaz will stick with MMA and not enter the boxing ring.

Diaz’ manager, Cesar Gracie, told MMAFighting.com’s Ray Hui that an opportunity has come along that Diaz couldn’t pass up.

“[Boxing] wasn’t just out of nowhere but at this point in time, there’s a certain chance that comes along once in a very long while and it only makes sense to stick to MMA as of right now,” Gracie said. “Nick’s been working really hard to get to this point in his MMA career and it wouldn’t make sense for us to make that transition into boxing right now. If this were a couple months ago or if certain fights had played out differently, we’d definitely be ready to go into boxing, but that’s not how it played out. Don Chargin is a great boxing promoter and he understood our dilemma completely and I thank him for that.”

After meeting with Dana White recently, it seems pretty obvious that Diaz may be getting a bout with St. Pierre in the future. That, or White offered Diaz a big pay increase. My guess is a little bit of both.

Zuffa to insure fighters outside of the octagon

nullOutside of the UFC 130 main event being cancelled, there was some other big news in the MMA world on Monday.

Zuffa LLC announced that it will provide health insurance for their fighters starting on June 1, that will cover injuries that take place in training, not just on fight nights.

Here is a sample of Kevin Iole’s piece from Yahoo! Sports.

Lorenzo Fertitta, the UFC’s chairman and chief executive officer, said the company plans to offer accident insurance that will cover approximately 350 athletes in the event of out-of-competition injury, effective June 1.

MMA fighters and boxers are not employees. They are independent contractors and thus aren’t eligible for things like health-care coverage.

But injuries to fighters, either in the cage or during training, can be disastrous. That’s why Fertitta said he and UFC president Dana White began looking into the potential of offering the fighters accident insurance nearly three years ago.

Zuffa will pay 100 percent of the premiums, Fertitta said, and will have a full-time employee who will coordinate the claims process.

“We looked at this as a necessity for the sport and something that needed to happen,” Fertitta said. “We have talked about this for a long time and we have always had the same position when asked how fighters could have insurance outside of the fights. Like we said, it’s tough enough to get insurance just as a business, in and of itself, with how expensive it is.

This is something that some fighters have been pushing for for a long time and White and the Fertitta’s claim to have been pushing for it for a while as well.

It is a big positive for fighters, who have to shell out thousands of dollars if they are injured when preparing for a fight. It is good to see that Zuffa is trying to take care of their fighters and allow them to truly make a living by just competing in MMA.

MMA News & Notes from the weekend

nullThis weekend was somewhat uneventful in the MMA world coming off historic UFC 129 last Saturday.

Still, there is always some news going on, so here is a look at some news and notes from the weekend.

- Jay Hieron won the Bellator Season 4 Welterweight Tournament on Saturday with a split decision victory over Rick Hawn. Hieron used his diverse striking to keep Hawn out of reach, but still took a good deal of punishment and looked like he took more damage when the fight was over. Still, two judges saw the fight 29-28 in his favor, giving him $100,000 and a title fight with Ben Askren in the future.

- UFC heavyweight Antoni Hardonk retired from competition. He had just an 8-6 record in his career and never quite lived up to the potential that many thought he had. Hardonk is still considered to have some of the best kicks in all of MMA.

- Tachi Palace 9 took place on Friday and saw a pair of former UFC contenders in action. Middleweight Gerald Harris picked up a unanimous decision win over Anthony Ruiz in his first bout after the UFC while lightweight Efrain Escudero suffered a decision loss to Fabricio Camoes.

-Gina Carano has an opponent for her return to action as she will face Sarah D’Alelio at the Strikeforce event on June 18 in Dallas. Carano hasn’t competed since August of 2009 when she lost to Cyborg Santos.

- In a couple of UFC injury notes, Matt Riddle will be unable to compete on June 26 against T.J. Grant, so Grant will now face Charlie Brenneman in Pittsburgh. Lightweight Cody McKenzie is out for his scheduled bout with Bart Palaszewski at UFC 130, but Gleison Tibau will step in to take on the scrappy WEC veteran.