It's Monday, time for another edition of Ariel Helwani's MMA Show, which airs live starting at 1 p.m. ET on Twitter and YouTube. After it ends, you can listen to the entire show via the ESPN podcast center.
Happy Monday, friends.
While most sports not named baseball are pretty quiet right now, our beloved MMA is just heating up (get it, like the weather?). This upcoming weekend features the UFC's return to Minneapolis, which has a phenomenal heavyweight fight between Junior dos Santos and Francis Ngannou in the main event, a Cage Warriors card with six (yes, six) title fights on it, another installment of Dana White's Contender Series, Titan FC 55, LFA 70 and a slew of other events.
Remember the UFC's first trip to Minnesota back in 2008? Georges St-Pierre dominated Jon Fitch in the main event and Brock Lesnar bulldozed Heath Herring en route to a title shot after his first UFC win. (Still amazes me he got a title shot after one UFC win, by the way). Good times.
Anyhow, here are more random thoughts on the week that was and to come in MMA:
1. You know what's weird about Chan Sung Jung? We've been watching him on the WEC/UFC stage for over nine years now, and I feel like we still know very little about him. He seems like a happy-go-lucky kind of guy -- always smiling -- but really, what else? And yet, he is truly one of the most beloved fighters of the past decade. It's pretty amazing when you think about it, and it's probably all because of his style.
In the nine fights since his WEC debut in April 2010, only one -- the actual debut versus Leonard Garcia -- has gone the distance. His past five fights have been headliners, and they have all ended via either TKO, KO or submission. Of course, the biggest fight in that stretch was his UFC 163 loss to Jose Aldo. I recall the shoulder and orbital bone surgeries he needed after that loss. I recall the four years off between 2013 and 2017 to recover from the surgeries and to fulfill his mandatory South Korean military service. I recall his triumphant return Super Bowl Weekend two years ago against Dennis Bermudez and thinking maybe he'd go on a run, only to see him suffer a serious knee injury afterwards and sit out another year and a half. And of course, I'll forever recall his last-second knockout loss to Yair Rodriguez last November, which I'd argue is as heartbreaking a loss I've ever seen. Needless to say, the 32-year-old has been through a lot.
And so to see him come back on Saturday night and finish Renato Moicano in just 58 seconds was a thing of beauty. I wondered after the Rodriguez loss whether he'd ever be able to overcome a loss so devastating. Come to think of it, maybe we do know more than I thought about Jung. He always delivers, he never gives up and he has yet to allow every setback thrown his way to stunt his growth as a fighter. He's a cult-like fighter if there has ever been one, and it was good to see him smiling -- and crying with joy, too -- after his latest masterpiece. Also, for whatever it's worth, his walkout music is perfect, his nickname is one of the best ever and he has phenomenal hair. Welcome back, TKZ. Here's hoping we can see you more often in the future.
2. I'm always impressed by how fighters can compartmentalize their lives before big fights. Like how Randy Brown revealed after his win over Bryan Barberena that his grandmother died on Tuesday. We've heard stories like this before, and we've also seen the mourning fighter win more often than not. I don't know how they do it.
3. Deron Winn vs. Eric Spicely was a really fun curtain jerker. I came away thinking two things: Winn, who was dropping down to 185 from 205, would be best served fighting at 170 because of his height at 5-foot-5 and reach at 71 inches. And Spicely, who took the fight on six days' notice, is tougher than a two-dollar steak (credit: Jim Ross). Glad they won the Fight of the Night bonus.
Winn defeats Spicely via unanimous decision
Deron Winn defeats Eric Spicely by unanimous decision by the score of 29-28. For more UFC action, sign up for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
4. Someone on Twitter asked me after Ariane Lipski's fight whether she was overhyped coming into the UFC. I don't think that's fair. After winning nine in a row prior to her Octagon debut, Lipski is now 0-2 in her first two UFC fights versus Joanne Calderwood and Molly McCann. Those are two of the better flyweights in the world. Lest we forget, "The Korean Zombie" lost his first two Zuffa fights (yeah, I know the Garcia fight was controversial but work with me here). I still think Lipski can be a player at 125. McCann, on the other hand, really seems to be finding her groove after losing her debut last year. And I still can't believe she fought just three months after having surgery on her broken orbital in March.
5. Perhaps coming back from a five-year layoff versus an up-and-comer like Luis Peña, who is 10 years his junior, was too tall of a task for Matt Wiman. I think that fight should have been stopped between the second and third rounds because those last couple of minutes were really hard to watch. Also, I hope Peña stays at lightweight. That's a much better weight class for him.
6. It was another good week for Hawaiian prospects with both Dan Ige and Punahele Soriano picking up big wins. Which raises the question: When are we finally getting that Hawaii vs. the world UFC card in Hawaii? This is taking way too long.
7. I saw some people calling for an interim bantamweight title fight after news broke that Henry Cejudo underwent shoulder surgery last week. I disagree with that. The guy just won the belt, after all. If anything, there's a case to be made for an interim flyweight title, but we all know that's not happening any time soon. In the meantime, I'd like to see a Petr Yan vs. Aljamain Sterling No. 1 bantamweight contender fight.
8. Sean O'Malley, man. This is sad stuff. If you're scoring at home, he has now had four tests come back positive for the banned substance ostarine. He was suspended for six months by the United States Anti-Doping Agency and the Nevada State Athletic Commission after the first two, and now the NAC has temporarily suspended him after two more tests came back positive. As a result, he's off UFC 239. He'll likely have a hearing in July, according to my colleague Marc Raimondi, who is an expert at these things.
Of course, the moment this story broke late last week, everyone thought of Jon Jones' saga. The big difference is, O'Malley is already licensed in Nevada, while Jones wasn't, thus avoiding suspension and allowing the UFC to move UFC 232 to California on six days' notice. Although, it is worth noting, Nevada allowed Jones to withdraw his license application first. I guess we now know the answer to the question we all wondered in December about whether the same treatment would apply to a non-megastar.
One silver lining: USADA has decided against suspending O'Malley again because they believe these are the same traces found in his system last year, which is the same reason why they don't continue to suspend Jones every time the long-term M3 metabolite of oral turinabol shows up in his system. I do wonder, if this truly is a case of double jeopardy, why USADA isn't punishing O'Malley, yet Nevada is holding him up. I'd like to think USADA, considering anti-doping is its expertise, would be the standard-bearer in cases like these, but perhaps Nevada feels like they need to set their own standard because USADA is paid by the UFC. I'm only speculating because Nevada has declined comment on the matter thus far, which seems like a mistake in the interest of transparency. Bottom line, this is all one big, dark cloud over one of the sport's most promising prospects.
9. John Lineker's withdrawal from the Greenville card seems a bit off to me. According to his manager Alex Davis, he pulled out of the fight after suffering a cut Thursday night while he was cutting weight. Interesting to note, Davis told me it was Lineker's call to pull out of the fight versus Rob Font, not the UFC's or the medical staff. Remember how just a few weeks ago Lineker was publicly complaining about not getting enough fights? So this doesn't add up. Was he having a hard time cutting weight? Lineker has had a history of failed weight cuts, although Davis would not confirm that since he wasn't there with him, and, to the best of my knowledge, Lineker hasn't given his side of the story yet.
10. With O'Malley getting pulled from UFC 239, it feels like the UFC should just go ahead and book Font versus O'Malley's original opponent, Marlon Vera, for July 6, right?
11. Why did Bellator make it so hard to watch its event this weekend? There has to be an easier way.
12. If you missed it, you missed a great back-and-forth affair between Gegard Mousasi and Rafael Lovato Jr. In the end, Lovato won via majority decision and thus became the new Bellator middleweight champion. Curious if they'll run that one back or give Lyoto Machida a title shot. I say the latter.
13. Bellator's London card was one of those where every prospect who Scott Coker & Co. wanted to win won, even if the victories weren't the most thrilling ones. James Gallagher, Aaron Chalmers, Fabian Edwards, Denise Kielholtz and Terry Brazier all picked up Ws.
14. No one but me will care about this, but I couldn't help but do a double take when I saw this result: Oliver Enkamp (8-2) def. Walter Gahadza (18-4) via submission (rear-naked choke), 4:54 of Round 1. Why? My oldest son's name is Oliver and my second son's name is Walter. I mean, what are the chances, right? Pretty sure this is a first in MMA history.
15. Nice to see Aaron Pico emerge on social media late last week. I'm not ready to give up on him just yet.
16. I don't have much more to say about Brendan Loughnane not getting a UFC contract following his win on Contender Series other than I still can't believe the reason given was that he shot for a double leg with 10 seconds left. Ten seconds! In case you're wondering, UFC has exclusive rights to any winner on the show for 30 days after the fight (losers are free to sign elsewhere right away), so he can't sign with anyone just yet. If UFC ultimately decides to pass on him, here's hoping Bellator, who is clearly making a big push in the U.K., gets over the fact that he once spurned their offer to keep his UFC options open and scoops him up.
17. In 10 to 15 years we may look back at the UFC's investment in China -- what with the opening of the Performance Institute and whatnot -- as one of the shrewdest moves the company has ever made. Time will tell, but if they can crack that market with a star or two, and we know they've been searching for one, that will be huge for the company and the sport. Weili Zhang can expedite that process in a couple of months.
18. I was happy to see the UFC announce that the Aug. 3 Fight Night card will be held at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. It's been a long three and a half years since the UFC held an event there, and, more importantly, it hasn't since New York legalized MMA. New Jersey was one of the very first states to embrace mixed martial arts, so it always felt weird that it would be the biggest loser once New York got its act together. Of course, Newark's proximity to Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center certainly hurts, so it's nice that they're coming back for a Fight Night card.
19. Long overdue that the ESPYS give MMA and boxing its own Fighter of the Year award. They got the nominees right, too: Israel Adesanya, Henry Cejudo, Daniel Cormier and Amanda Nunes. Fan voting is open here and something tells me Cejudo will benefit most considering he just fought. Maybe I'm wrong, though. All are certainly deserving.
Which champ takes home the trophy? �� (via @ESPYS)
- ESPN MMA (@espnmma) June 19, 2019
20. All the best to welterweight contender Santiago Ponzinibbio, who recently underwent emergency surgery for a bacterial infection in his knee. After a second trip to the hospital after surgery, I'm told he's back home and feeling better.
21. I'd be shocked if the winner of JDS vs. Ngannou doesn't get a title shot next. Only question is, if Daniel Cormier wins on Aug. 17, will that person fight DC or fight for the vacant title? My guess is it's for the latter.
22. Saturday's Jussier Formiga vs. Joseph Benavidez fight is a great one on paper, but I have no idea what's at stake. If the flyweight division was healthy, they would surely be fighting for a title shot, but who knows what's going on with the weight class these days. All I know is that the winner better make a lot of noise afterwards if they want to even be considered for a title shot next.
Monday's Helwani Show lineup:
1 p.m. ET: Marlon Vera
He will talk about what's next for him after Sean O'Malley's temporary suspension.
1:15 p.m.: Molly McCann
She will recap her win at UFC Greenville over Ariane Lipski.
1:30 p.m.: Eddie Alvarez
Alvarez will discuss his loss in his ONE Championship debut and his return in August.
1:50 p.m.: Deron Winn
Winn will look back at his successful UFC debut.
2:05 p.m.: Brendan Loughnane
He will reflect on his Contender Series win, why he didn't get the contract and discuss what's next.
2:25 p.m.: Liz Carmouche
Jones will look ahead to his UFC 239 title fight against Thiago Santos.
3:05 p.m.: Weili Zhang
She will discuss her upcoming UFC strawweight title fight against Jessica Andrade.
3:25 p.m.: Rafael Lovato Jr.
He will look back at his Bellator middleweight title win over Gegard Mousasi.
3:45 p.m.: Luis Peña
He will recap his win over Matt Wiman this past weekend and discuss his future plans.