A very eventful week in MMA is now about to hit the point where fights actually take place.
Up until this point, there have been arrests–but no action in the cage. That changes on Saturday with UFC Fight Night and ONE Championship: X.
As we approach those cards, here is a look around at what transpired over the last week and the fights to keep an eye on this weekend:
• The past few days have been full of ugly, high-profile moments for the MMA community.
Conor McGregor was arrested in Dublin, Ireland for an incident of “dangerous driving.” Former UFC fighter and current broadcaster Chael Sonnen is being charged with 11 counts of battery in a new criminal complaint connected to an incident in Las Vegas last December. And Jorge Masvidal was arrested on aggravated battery following an attack in public on Colby Covington.
For now, Sonnen has been removed from all ESPN coverage, at least until more information is revealed. He has built a reputation as a top-tier commentator, but that position is now jeopardized by the serious nature of the allegations, including battery by strangulation.
McGregor’s charge is less serious, though it is obviously concerning that he is putting himself and others in danger. And the Masvidal case is mind-boggling.
The altercation allegedly took place on Monday as Covington exited Miami Beach, Florida’s Papi Steak Restaurant, and a hooded, disguised Masvidal physically attacked Covington. Masvidal was released on bond and pleaded not guilty to the charges. Earlier this month, Covington defeated Masvidal in the main event of UFC 272.
There is no one to spin the situation. It is a bad look for the sport to have one of its stars disguising himself and attacking someone in public. Masvidal was correct to say that Covington should not speak negatively about his opponents’ families and children, but Masvidal had his moment in the cage against Covington, and he lost. Reacting in this manner is unacceptable.
Masvidal is unlikely to get cut by UFC, but it is a terrible decision by a charismatic star that was starting to break his way into the mainstream.
Daukaus Seeks Statement Win
• UFC brings its Fight Night to Columbus, Ohio on Saturday, a card is headlined by heavyweights for a second straight weekend. The main event is Curtis Blaydes against Chris Daukaus, a showdown between the No. 4- and No. 9-ranked heavyweights in the division.
With a convincing victory, Daukaus could take Blaydes’ top-four ranking. But despite a varied offense that includes some vicious Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Daukaus (12-4) has yet to prove himself against elite competition. The best opportunity he had against a top opponent took place in December against Derrick Lewis, but that night ended when Lewis knocked Daukaus out in the first round.
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Blaydes (15-3, 1 NC) has also fell victim to Lewis’ outrageous power. But Blaydes has a far deeper pedigree, competing with the division’s top contenders, most recently defeating Jairzinho Rozenstruik, the type of opponent Daukaus has yet to beat. The moment will not be too big for Blaydes on Saturday, though it certainly was last December for Daukaus.
“My whole UFC experience has been a whirlwind, and I’ve been climbing the ladder really fast,” Daukaus told Sports Illustrated earlier this week. “I didn’t expect to get that kind of push that early. Every fighter wants that, I just didn’t expect it was going to be me. I’m not Conor McGregor or Colby Covington, I’m more of a blue-collar guy. But I win, and I win in a fashion that fans want to see. And I’m going to do everything I can on Saturday to make sure I’m not back in the spot I was [in the Lewis fight].”
Daukaus will enter the Octagon as a sizable underdog, but he claims he is ready to seize the moment.
“I plan on going out there and making a statement,” Daukaus said. “It’s time for me to take that No. 4 spot. I love fighting in front of a crowd, and this is going to be a packed arena. I’m really looking to main-eventing come Saturday.”
One historic night for ONE Championship
• ONE Championship also is also presenting an outstanding fight card on Saturday.
The One Championship: X card is a celebration of ONE’s 10th anniversary, and it is loaded. It features Demetrious Johnson competing in a special rules super fight against Rodtang Jitmuangnon, ONE flyweight champ Adriano Moraes defending the belt against Yuya Wakamatsu, Angela Lee putting her ONE atomweight title on the line against Stamp Fairtex, and Shinya Aoki vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama, as well as Singha Mawynn defending the ONE featherweight kickboxing belt against Marat Grigorian. The card is broken up into three parts, and the Grand Finale will air live in the United States on watch.onefc.com at 8 a.m. ET on Saturday.
Chatri Sityodtong, who is ONE’s founder, chairman, and CEO, has had a tremendous week championing his brand, including announcing a new multi-year brand with TUMI and revealing the new world title belt.
“We have a great relationship with their leadership team and, of course, Adam Hershman (Vice President of TUMI Asia Pacific and Middle East), who appeared on the last season of The Apprentice: ONE Championship Edition,” Sityodtong told SI. “And we just unveiled the new ONE Championship world title, and what better way to protect the crowning achievement in martial arts than by partnering with one of the world’s leading luxury and lifestyle performance brands to create a custom case and sling. Victor Sanz (Creative Director of TUMI) did an incredible job designing these pieces.
“ONE’s world championship belt represents the lifetime journey of the very best martial artists in the world, and our core values of integrity, humility, honor, respect, courage, discipline and compassion. When I decided to retire our original belt, it was important that we created something representative of all those things.
“At 26.4 pounds, it is the heaviest world title belt of any major organization. To me, this belt represents thousands of hours of hard work, dedication and excellence. I am proud to award it to our world champions for the very first time at ONE X–the biggest event in martial arts history–this Saturday.”
Yaroslav Amosov out
• Bellator confirmed earlier this week that undefeated welterweight champion Yaroslav Amosov is officially off this May’s Bellator 281 card.
Amosov is back in Ukraine defending his country. Since he is no longer able to compete against Michael Page, there will be an interim title bout pitting Page against Logan Storley.
Russia-Ukraine war weighs on Oleynik’s mind
• Another fighter impacted by the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine is Alexey Oleynik.
A Ukrainian-born Russian, Oleynik was born in Ukraine and lived there for 15 years before moving to Russia.
“I consider both my native countries,” Oleynik said. “On my passport, it says I was born in Soviet Union.”
The longtime fighter, who began his career in 1996, has been weighed down by the destruction and death taking place in Ukraine.
“I listen to the news and hear from many friends,” Oleynik said. “It’s a very, very terrible situation. I know if I speak about this on my social media, it does not help. Not for me or anyone in Ukraine or Russia. That’s why I am focusing on my career and my next fight. I’m focusing on my future and my family.”
The 44-year-old Oleynik returns to the Octagon on Saturday, seeking to end his three-fight losing streak. Remarkably, Oleynik (59–16-1) is seeking win number 60.
“To me, the number doesn’t matter,” Oleynik said. “If it’s 59 or 56 or 75. It doesn’t matter. I must win and show a good fight on Saturday.”
• For those searching for an upset this weekend, look no further than Kai Kara-France.
Kara-France (23-9, 1 NC) meets undefeated flyweight Askar Askarov. Despite the oddsmakers positioning No. 2 Askarov (14-0-1) as a sizable favorite, Kara-France enters confident.
“This fight is pretty much the No. 1 contender fight,” Kara-France said. “I welcome it, I want that challenge.”
The winner in 11 of his past 13, Kara-France is coming off back-to-back Performance of the Night outings. His last two fights were first-round knockout victories. He can finish a fight at any moment, which he showcased in his UFC 269 victory against Cody Garbrandt.
“I was overlooked and underestimated by Cody and everyone else,” Kara-France said. “It couldn’t have gone any better. That’s something I’ve been picturing for so long. Jumping on the cage and hearing crickets, that was putting the flyweight division on notice.”
Kara-France is living up to his “Don’t Blink” nickname. That was acquired while living in Thailand seven years ago, fighting around the Asian circuit when he produced five first-round knockouts in a row.
“People would say, ‘This is a guy to watch. Don’t blink,’” Kara-France said. “And I ran with it.”
Potentially one win away from a title shot, the bout against Askarov stands as another chance for Kara-France to cement himself as a legitimate title contender.
“I’ve been living in the gym the past eight weeks and I’m not going to take my foot off the gas anytime soon,” Kara-France said. “I’m coming off two first-round knockouts and I’m taking out former champions. This is my first time in Ohio, and I’m going to put on a show.”
More MMA Coverage:
• Report: Masvidal Booked Into Jail After Covington Altercation
• Ex-UFC Fighter Chael Sonnen Charged With 11 Counts of Battery
• The Underground: Blaydes Not Concerned About Title Shots Entering Clash With Chris Daukaus