Issue 204

April 2024

Ray Klerck jumps into the Fighters Only wayback machine to recap the best of mixed martial arts in April.

PFL Announce 2024 PFL European Bantamweight Tournament Participants

Fighters Only Apr 16, 2024

PFL have announced the eight athletes set to complete in the 2024 PFL Europe Bantamweight tournament.

The 135lbs tournament will see many a fresh face and returning athlete alike, with both the men who competed in the 2023 final return for the 2024 tournament.

The Bantamweight tournament will kick off on June 8 at the Utilita Arena, Newcastle.

2023 Champion Khurshed Kakhorov returns to the PFL Smart Cage looking to defend his crown. In the 2023 tournament, a unanimous decision win against Moktar Benkaci was enough to qualify for the semi-finals. Another unanimous decision win against Ali Taleb in the semi final then set up a final bout against Frans Mlambo.

Mlambo come out of the gates quickly but Kakhorov managed to weather the storm and eventually took the bout to the ground in the first round. Once back to the feet, the Irishman was still having more success in the striking department until midway through the second round, Kakhorov caught Mlambo with a peach of a right hand that saw the Irishman drop to the mat. A few strikes later and the referee had stepped in and the contest was over.

UK MMA veteran Dean Garnett will make the walk to the Smart Cage for the first time as he enters the 135lbs tournament.

After a five year lay off from competition, Garnett made his victorious return at Hexagone MMA 6 in January 2023. He then made the walk twice more before the year was our and secured another two wins.

Another new face to the Bantamweight division is Alexander Luster. The German is yet to see the third round as a professional and 6 of his 7 wins coming in the very first round.

2023 finalist Frans Mlambo also returns to the fold. The SBG star finds himself 7-1 in his last 8 bouts with the only loss coming in last years final to the aforementioned Kakhorov. Prior to the loss in the final, Mlambo had picked up a litany of decision victories, with his unorthodox style proving to be too much for many an opponent.

Ayton De Paepe will be another new face looking to make his name inside the Smart Cage. Of his 12 victories, the 'Hitman' has ended half of those bouts inside the distance, with three of those coming by way of submission and three by KO/TKO. He comes into the tournament on a two fight winning streak.

Alperen Karabulut's inclusion in the tournament makes him the first man to represent Turkey in PFL's history. 'The Demigod' is fresh off the back of a first round knockout against Abdulkity Tojubaev in September 2023.

Bondo Kikadze secured his spot in the tournament with a win utterly dominating victory over Dominique Wooding at the PFL Europe 4. The victory for the Georgian was widely regarded to be somewhat of an upset and he will no doubt he looking to cause some more throughout the tournament.

The final man announced for the 135lbs tournament was former Cage Warriors Flyweight champion Luke Shanks will make the walk to the cage for the first time November 2022. 2024 marks Shanks' eighth year as a professional, having fought the whose who, at both Flyweight and Bantamweight, on the European scene. Currently training out of Higher Level Martial Arts, fans will be eagerly awaiting to see the improvements Shanks has made as he goes after the 2024 PFL European championship.

At the top of the PFL Europe 2024: 2 bill, local lady Savannah Marshall will make her highly anticipated MMA debut, the card is also set to feature the opening round of the Women's Flyweight tournament.

Max Holloway's Crazy KO Against Justin Gaethje At UFC 300

Fighters Only Apr 15, 2024

UFC 300 will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest cards in the sports history. The expectations were high leading into the card on April 13 but all expectations were surpassed with an unbelievable night of action. 

Found right in the middle of the 5 fight main card was a Lightweight clash that had largely been coined as the people’s main event, with Justin Gaethje looking to defend his BMF belt against Max Holloway. 

Fight fans were expecting a war, and that is certainly what they got. Holloway was crowned the new BMF champion with an incredible performance and a finish, one second before the final bell, that will stay in the mind of fans for years to come.

With just a second left on the clock in the opening round, Holloway landed a spinning kick which immediately broke the nose of Gaethje. The spinning attack became a pivotal part of strikes Holloway through the contest and he revealed post-fight that it was something himself an the team had picked up on as a striking option which could cause ‘The Highlight’ some problems. He said: 

“For sure, he likes to plant his feet throwing and he likes to duck, you know and I was blessed enough to land that first one right at the last seconds of the first round helped a lot. Like I said, he got a broken nose from it. So that was good. That was that was definitely about the plan. We saw a lot of things. Justin was a little quicker than I thought he would be. But like everybody said, the guy hits hard

“I'm glad I got to come out of this kind of unscathed. The leg is going to kind of stiff, but it is what it is.”

With just 10 seconds left of the bout, and Holloway clearly up on the cards, the Hawaiian summoned Gaethje to the centre of the octagon and the two stood and swung on each other for the remainder of the bout. A huge hook rendered Gaethje unconscious in the very last second to cap off a phenomenal performance from Holloway, and secure a moment of UFC history that will live on for years. 

When asked about his decision to take such a risk with such few seconds left in the contest, Holloway explained his reasoning behind the decision. He said:

“This is the moment. This is what BMF is known for, you know, the baddest mother effer. First of all, I want to change. I want to change the name to blessed man forever. That's what the belt means when I hold a blessed man forever. But if that's not a BMF moment, I don't know what is.

“If the cards were flipped and Justin was up, if he felt like he was up and I knew he would give me that 10 second shot. So he's a bad man and I don't know if I’m ever going to share the Octagon with him again. He's a legend, brother. This is the type of stuff you do to etch your name in the history books.

“And I'm just happy that I was the one landing. You know, he missed some shots. I was getting hurt by the wind of these shots, but that's how hard he hit. This guy, he's next level.”

Speaking to Joe Rogan immediately after the fight, Holloway had a very clear ‘I am him.’ message for those who doubted him on the lead up to the fight. Clarifying exactly who his post fight speech was aimed at. 

I was calling out, people telling me, whatever I was doing, Justin's going to be too big, too strong. Just a lot of stuff. You know, people need to get reminded. And I'd let them know. I let them know. I was telling people all week, but we're here, I'm here, I'm here, I'm here. And you guys need a reminder. Everybody was talking about the haircut is back. I guess that his haircut is like going super Saiyan or something if you guys are anime fans. So at the end of the day, it was just it was just a huge moment for me, you know, being being blessed enough to be in there, being UFC 300, having this event, brother, this event is going to be talked about for for ages. 

“You know, I don't know what card is ever going to have 12 or more champions on top of it. You know. So we may have to wait until 400 for that one.”

PFL Announce The 8 Athletes Set To Compete in PFL Europe Women's Flyweight Tournament 2024

Fighters Only Apr 15, 2024

The PFL have announced the names of the 8 Women who will enter the promotion's 2024 PFL Europe Flyweight tournament.

The second show of the PFL European Regular season will take place at the Utilita Arena Newcastle on June 8, with the Women’s Flyweights and Men’s Bantamweights kicking off their journey to the 2024 championship and $1m prize.

The first athlete announced for the tournament was the surging prospect, Shanelle Dyer. The 22-year-old currently holds a 4-0 record and is one of the best up and coming talents coming out of the UK right now.

'Nightmare' turned to the professional ranks in 2023, after securing EMMAA's Four Nations Gold in her last bout as an amateur.

Since joining the professional ranks, Dyer has proven her skillset has developed further, every time she has competed. After two first round stoppages in two fights less than 6 weeks apart from one another, Dyer made her first walk to the Smart Cage in front of a sold out Zenith Paris La Villette. It was the first time in her professional career the Great Britain Top Team start had went the distance, when she secured a unanimous decision win. She rounded out her first year as a professional with a third round stoppage against Liliya Kazak.

Fellow Brit, Sammy-Jo Luxton will also feature in the tournament. Although only 2-0 as a professional, Luxton is a well established athlete competing in both Muay Thai and K1. She will certainly face a step up in competition to what she has previously met in the cage but 'The Ghetto Cinderella' will no doubt be looking to prove to MMA fans that she has what it takes to claim the Flyweight Championship.

Returning to the PFL Europe scene, Lizzy Gevers will be hoping to advance further than she did the last time, as she sets her sight on PFL gold. Gevers bowed out of the tournament in the opening round in 2023, when she lost a razor close split decision to finalist Valentina Scatizzi, in Newcastle.

Mariam Torchinava will no doubt be looking to add her name to the ever growing list of Georgian athletes rising to the top of the sport. In her 11 bouts, Torchinava has build an 9-2 record and currently finds herself on a 5 fight win streak, with four of those wins coming by way of stoppage.

Dee Begley will be looking to turn the tide on her recent form when she makes the walk to the smart cage for the first time on June 8. The SBG athlete

2023 European Championship finalist Valentina Scatizzi will return to the Smart Cage. Entering last season as a relatively unknown quantity, the Italian instantly showed her toughness when she faced Lizzy Gevers in the opening round and got the nod after a tough 15 minute war. She then received a by in the semi-finals, as Griet Eechout withdrew from the contest and last minute replacement Manuela Marconetto dramatically missed weight. This led to a final showdown against Dakota Ditcheva. After eating several big strikes when tied up in a Thai clinch, the doctor assessed Scatizz’s severely swollen eye, called an end to the bout. 

The vastly experienced amateur Paulina Wisniewaska will have a the chance to continue her unbeaten run since turning over to the professional ranks last year. Having competed at several IMMAF tournaments and amassing a 18-7 amateur record, the Polish fighter made her professional debut in September of 2023, before making the walk again in February 2024. In both bouts she picked up unanimous decision wins. 

Marie Loiseua will want to add her name to the cohort of French athletes currently performing excellently under the PFL banner. The 43-year-old has won three of her last four contests and three of her six victories coming by way of submission!

Conor McGregor vs Michael Chandler Set For June 29

Fighters Only Apr 14, 2024

The Mac is back.

Conor McGregor will make his return to the UFC Octagon at UFC 303 in a bout against the man who coached opposite him during The Ultimate Fighter, Michael Chandler.

It had been largely speculated that fans would see ‘The Notorious’ return to action some time in 2024, but it was unclear as to when he would be ready and who he would face.

Midway through his UFC 300 post fight press conference, UFC CEO Dana White was handed a note whilst answering questions from The Mac Life’s Oscar Willis. When asked if he would like to read out what was White proceeded to say:

“June 1st, Newark, New Jersey Pay-Per-View, main event, Islam vs Poirier. Co-main event, 5 rounds, Strickland vs Costa.”

Then, with a smile on his face, he continued. “June 29th, Conor vs Chandler. 5 rounds, 170lbs. Who has got the next question?!”

He was then of course asked about the return of McGregor and questioned as to how the Chandler fight has eventually come to be. White revealed that a lot of it was due to timings, with the former two weight division champion eventually being ready to throw himself back into training following a busy time away from the cage.

“It is not that we have been working on it for ages, there is all kinds of things that go on behind the scenes. It is all about timing. Chandler has been ready but Conor hasn’t been ready. Conor, we talked about this at one of the press conferences recently, he had a lot of obligations that he had to deal with. What you don’t want him doing is accepting a fight when he has got a ton of obligations and he cannot train 100% for a fight so, here we are tonight.”

The fight will mark McGregor’s first contest back inside the octagon since his horror leg break against Dustin Poirier at UFC 264. The fight will see the 35-year-old back in action for the first time since July 2021. Reflecting on the injury, White discussed how not only the severity of the leg break can be an issue, but the tough recovery period can also lead further time on the sidelines.

“I think when you look at that injury, it’s happened in the UFC. We have just saw Chris Weidman come back, Anderson came back from it, you have seen it in football. It is probably one of the nastiest injuries that you could possibly get, you know. You see guys with broken arms all the time and stuff like that happens but it’s hard for us as humans to wrap our brain around that bone breaking, it is a nasty injury and it is a rough recovery too, it is a really rough recovery.”

When McGregor last made the walk, Chandler had only two UFC bouts under his belt. Since then, the 31 fight veteran has made a big name for himself in the promotion, with his exciting fighting style appealing to many fans. Having been wanting the McGregor fight for some time, Chandler also has had a while away from the Octagon. The last time he made the walk was back in 2022, when he faced Dustin Poirier at UFC 281 in November 2022.

UFC 300 - Two Champions Retain Whilst A New BMF Title Holder Is Crowned

Fighters Only Apr 14, 2024

UFC 300. What a night. 

The hype surrounding the landmark card was palpable from the first official bout announcement months ago. Leading into fight night, there was a monumental amount of excitement from fans, media & fighters, alike. 

It’s not unheard of for a card to built up so much in the lead in that come fight night, it underwhelms. That certainly was not the case last night. 

A stacked card from top to bottom, a sold out T-Mobile arena, a plethora of celebrity fans cage side & $300K bonuses on the line, the card delivered beyond many people’s wildest expectations. 

Alex Pereira once again showed that he may well be one of the hardest hitters in the history of the sport with a cold first round finish against Jamahal Hill in the main event. 

‘Poatan’ clocked Hill with a mighty left hook with just over a minute left in the opening stanza of their Light Heavyweight clash. The shot sent Hill straight to the mat and the Brazilian swarmed the title challenger with hammerfists and referee, Herb Dean, had seen enough and waved the contest off.

Weili Zhang also retained her title, with an extremely dominant performance against Yan Xiaonan in the co-main event of the evening. The Strawweight queen dictated the whole contest and secured 49–45, 49-45, 49-45 on all three judges' scorecards, showing once again, just how much of a formidable force she is at 115lbs.

The BMF title fight between Justin Gaethje and Max Holloway was widely considered to be the people’s main event; and it delivered one of the best 25 minute contests in the history of the sport. Prior to the contest, it was widely discussed if the size difference between the two, with Holloway moving up from Featherweight, would prove to be too much. That idea was quickly put to bed when the two started swinging on eachother.

Just before the buzzer at the end of the first round, Holloway landed a spinning kick which appeared to break Gaethje’s nose. As the rounds rolled on, so did the big strikes, with Holloway pulling away in the bout and finding some incredible strikes whilst eating everything that was being thrown at him. However, Gaethje found some success in the fourth when he become the first man to drop Holloway when he landed a with a right hook.

As the timer ticked on in the fifth and final round, it was largely considered that the Hawaiian had done enough to claim the belt from ‘The Highlight’. The 10 second clapper sounded which prompted Holloway to point the mat, an indication he wanted to stand and swing with Gaethje. With nothing to lose, the former BMF title holder duly obliged and both men starting whipping in huge shots.

With just one second left of the fight, Holloway landed a peach of a right hook and rendered Gaethje unconscious immediately and was crowned the new BMF champion, with the MMA legend Mark Coleman presenting the belt.

Arman Tsarukyan may have booked himself a date with the winner of Islam Makhachev vs Dustin Poirier, which was confirmed for UFC 301 last night, with a split decision win against Charles Oliveira. Both men left everything inside the octagon in the brutal 15 minute affair, with Tsarukyan edging it on two of the judges' scorecards.

Bo Nickal saw the second round of a mixed martial arts contest for the first time in his Middleweight clash with Cody Brundage. It was clearly a step up in competition for the wrestling supremo, with Brundage defending Nickal’s submission threats in the first round. With just less than 90 seconds left on the clock in the second, Nickal tied up a tight rear naked choke and moved to 6-0.

Jirí Procházka had to rally in the second round to secure a win against Aleksandar Rakic. Rakic fired in several heavy calf kicks early in the fight which clearly troubled the former Light Heavyweight champion. A stiff one, two from Procházka instantly took the legs out from underneath Rakic, who went reeling from the strikes and was unable to regain his composure. Seeing this, ‘BJP’ swarmed his opponent and managed to secure the TKO finish just seconds later.

Kayla Harrison opened her UFC account in style, with a second round finish against Holly Holm. The former PFL champion and Olympic never looked in danger and looked more than comfortable in her new weight class, dominating the contest from beginning to end and finishing her promotional debut with a second round submission win.

There were also big wins for Aljamain Sterling, Diego Lopes, Renato Moicano, Jessica Andrade, Bobby Green and Deiveson Figueiredo.

Kade Ruotolo “Fired Up” For MMA Debut At ONE 167 In June

Fighters Only Apr 12, 2024

ONE Lightweight Submission Grappling World Champion Kade Ruotolo will dare to be great in a new sport this summer when he straps on 4-ounce gloves for the first time to make his MMA debut at ONE 167: Stamp vs. Zamboanga. 

The 21-year-old superstar will meet Blake Cooper on Saturday, 8th June, inside the Impact Arena in Bangkok, Thailand, and he couldn’t be more excited for the fresh challenge against a noteworthy opponent.

“The first week of June, it’s on. I’m super fired up. It’s been a long time coming. I have a tough opponent in Blake Cooper ahead of me,” Ruotolo said. 

“The entire Cooper family are legends. Heavy hands and good wrestling. It will be an amazing matchup. In about a month from now, I’ll be back out here in Thailand.”

Ruotolo rose to stardom in the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world due to his ruthless and relentless approach to action, and those two characteristics have pushed him to a perfect slate in ONE that includes capturing the lightweight submission grappling crown in October 2022.

But grappling is just a fraction of the skills needed to succeed in the all-encompassing sport of MMA, and the journey to round out his skill set has been humbling for Ruotolo up to this point. 

He knows Cooper will meet his aggression head-on, and that’s a challenge the 21-year-old is seeking in his debut. 

“I’m no Mike Tyson or a Superlek. I’m not quite there yet. But every day, I’m getting better and polishing my hands. The main thing is that I’m comfortable striking. I’m not too scared of punches, which is usually the biggest barrier to overcome,” Ruotolo said.

“I’ve already watched his last ONE Championship performance. I’m definitely not taking anybody lightly. He has some heavy hands and good wrestling. He’s a scrapper. Anyone from Hawaii is a scrapper. I know that for sure, so I’m excited.”

Fight Camp Confidential: Dakota Ditcheva Has A Target On Her Back

Fighters Only Apr 03, 2024

‘Dangerous’ Dakota Ditcheva is relishing the chance to prove she is the real deal, as she prepares to enter the 2024 PFL Regular Season.

The 25-year-old will make her first walk in the PFL Regular Season on April 4, on the back of a massively successful 2023 which saw ‘Dangerous’ crowned as the 2023 PFL Europe Women’s Flyweight Champion. 

Previewing the season, Ditcheva admitted that she feels the upcoming tournament will differ from anything she experienced during the European tournament but her goals remain the same, to be crowned the PFL champion. She said:

“This journey, 2024, is going to be a little bit crazier than last year, I think. Yeah, I wasn't satisfied with the PFL European belt and that's why I'm here this year now to keep that going. That journey hasn't finished. That European is just another step. I still have the same emotions, the same feelings, and still want to win. Still excited to get in there and show people what I'm about.”

PFL have invested heavily in promoting Ditcheva and after securing the 2023 European Championship, the ‘Dangerous’ believes that she will be one of the main targets for the other competitors in this years championship. She said: 

“I feel like I am going to be one of the main targets this year. Coming in with an undefeated record, I have just won the European title. I am a young prospect; a lot of people are talking about me so I think the girls will have their eye on me just as much as I will have my eye on some of them. I think my killer instinct, they all need to be ready.”

The tournament format is naturally extremely taxing for those who advance from round to round, but as Ditcheva discussed, the mental aspect of constantly being in camp also takes its toll. 

“When I done the Europe season last year, it has kind of given me a little bit of a feel for what this one is going to be like. I think it's one of the most mentally testing things that you can do as a fighter. You've got to win to go through and you got to win each fight to get to the top. Points are going to be involved and you know you're going to have to get stoppages to get higher up in the table, which will suit me quite well.”

However, Ditcheva prides herself on her mental fortitude and with a 90% finish rate, the possibility of a finish at some point during the tournament could prove to be very likely. Even at 10-0, the Sale native will not be phased by whoever she may need to face in the tournament, irrespective of their credentials. 

“I think my killer instinct, they all need to be ready. It doesn’t matter who these girls are, how long they have been in the sport, what titles they have already got, I’ll be ready to fight when they step in the cage with me so they need to be ready.”

In her first bout, of the 2024 Regular Season, the unbeaten prospect will face 6-3 Lisa Mauldin. The Women’s Flyweight tournament is stacked with talent, with the likes of Liz Carmouche, Talia Santos and Kana Watanabe all also competing for the 2024 crown and one-million-dollar prize money.