Jessica Andrade to Fight Defending UFC flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko 

Jessica Andrade is taking on a champion…

The 29-year-old Brazilian professional mixed martial artist and former strawweight champion is set to take on defending UFC flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 261, according to Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White.

Jessica Andrade

The 125-pound title fight will take place at the April 24 pay-per-view event, for which the UFC hasn’t yet finalized a location. It will mark Shevchenko’s fifth attempted title defense.

Shevchenko (20-3) has dominated the weight class since she dropped to 125 pounds from 135 pounds in 2018. She won the vacant belt by defeating another former strawweight champion in Joanna Jedrzejczyk in late 2018, then has looked more or less unbeatable in defenses against Jessica EyeLiz CarmoucheKatlyn Chookagian and Jennifer Maia.

Andrade (21-8) is widely perceived as the greatest threat to Shevchenko’s reign.

She won the UFC’s 115-pound championship by knocking out Rose Namajunas in May 2019 before surrendering the belt to current champ Zhang Weili three months later. She moved up to the 125-pound division in October, and scored a first-round knockout over Chookagian.

ESPN ranks Shevchenko and Andrade the No. 2 and No. 6 female pound-for-pound fighters in the world, respectively.

Julianna Peña to Fight Holly Holm in Non-Title UFC Bout This May

Julianna Peña is taking on a former champion…

The 31-year-old mixed Mexican & Venezuelan American martial artist will face former UFC bantamweight champion Holly Holm in a non-title bout in May, announced Ultimate Fighting Championship officials.

Julianna Pena

The 135-pound contest will take place on a UFC Fight Night event on May 8. The UFC has not yet announced an official location for the event.

Peña (10-4), the first woman to win The Ultimate Fighter, is coming off a submission win against former title challenger Sara McMann at UFC 257 last month in Abu Dhabi.

Fighting out of Chicago, Peña is 2-1 in her past three appearances, with the loss coming against another former title challenger and featherweight champion in Germaine de Randamie. A win against Holm would catapult her into title contention at 135.

Holm (14-5) is coming off back-to-back unanimous decision wins, against Raquel Pennington in January 2020 and Irene Aldana in October. Her last loss came in a bantamweight title fight against dual-weight champion Amanda Nunes at UFC 239 in July 2019. Holm’s past three losses have come with a championship on the line, going back to 2017.

Fighting out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Holm, 39, will make her fourth straight appearance at 135 pounds, but she has also competed at 145 pounds.

Cris Cyborg Signs with Bellator MMA 

Cristiane Justino is taking her fight elsewhere…

The 34-year-old Brazilian mixed martial artist, better known as Cris Cyborg, has signed with Bellator MMA after a three-year run with the Ultimate Fighting Championship ( UFC).

Cris Cyborg

One of the best women’s fighters in the history of the sport is now under a multiyear, multi-bout contract with Bellator, promotion president Scott Coker announced via Twitter. Coker wrote that it was the biggest contract ever given to a women’s MMA fighter.

Cyborg accompanied Bellator’s announcement with a video message to her fans on Facebook.

“My goal is to become the only female fighter to hold four different major titles in the same division,” said Cyborg, who has already held the women’s featherweight title in the UFC, Strikeforce and Invicta FC.

The final fight on Cyborg’s UFC contract came against Felicia Spencer at UFC 240 in July, a bout Cyborg won via unanimous decision. 

The fighter and UFC president Dana Whitehave had a long history of butting heads, and White said in the aftermath of that bout the UFC was out of the Cyborg business. The UFC waived its 90-day exclusive negotiating window with the Brazilian knockout artist, making her a free agent.

Cyborg, who is No. 3 pound-for-pound among women in ESPN‘s MMA rankings, won the UFC women’s featherweight title by beating Tonya Evinger by third-round TKO at UFC 214 in July 2017. She dropped the belt to Amanda Nunes, also the UFC’s women’s bantamweight champ, at UFC 232 last December via first-round knockout. That defeat was Cyborg’s first in 13 years, since her pro MMA debut in 2005.

From 2005 until 2018, Cyborg was the most dominating and fearsome force in women’s mixed martial arts. Justino went undefeated and won 17 of 20 victories by finish. Cyborg has beaten the likes of Holly HolmMarloes Coenen and Gina Carano. Historically, she has also been one of the best-known women’s MMA fighters in the world, drawing solid numbers on television and pay-per-view.

“I have worked with countless athletes over my 30-plus years of promoting combat sports, but there is no one quite like Cyborg,” said Coker, who promoted Justino with Strikeforce. “Her ability to excite the crowd from the moment she makes her walk to the cage is special, and having had the pleasure of promoting several of her fights in the past, I am looking forward to the opportunity of promoting her once again. Cyborg is the most dominant female fighter in the history of the sport and she will be a perfect fit here at Bellator, where champion Julia Budd and the other women that make up best female featherweight division in the world have eagerly awaited her arrival.”

Cyborg was brought into the UFC in 2016 at a catchweight of 140 pounds. She had competed previously at 145 pounds, a more natural weight. The idea at the time was to set up a fight between Cyborg and Ronda Rousey, but it never materialized. Cyborg was too big to get down to Rousey’s 135-pound weight class and Rousey departed the UFC later in 2016.

Cyborg and the UFC had an embattled relationship even before Cyborg was under contract. In 2014, White infamously made fun of Cyborg for her appearance at an MMA awards show, saying she looked like male fighter Wanderlei Silva in a dress. Cyborg took it as White saying she looked like a man; White has said that he was making a comment on Cyborg’s past history with performance-enhancing drugs. Cyborg tested positive for a steroid and was stripped of her Strikeforce title in 2011.

After Nunes beat Cyborg last December, White repeatedly said Cyborg didn’t want a rematch, which Cyborg vehemently denied. Meanwhile, Cyborg said she felt the UFC never truly built out a women’s featherweight division in which she could compete, which was a valid criticism.

On Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show in July, Cyborg said she wanted a public apology from White as a condition of her re-signing with the UFC.

“Of course, he has to apologize,” Justino said. “I think he has family, he has kids. … I don’t know if he has a heart, but I think one thing he’s doing is not just touching me, because he doesn’t like me. He’s touching the people around me, he’s touching my family. It’s not right.”

The rocky relationship came to an end in earnest after UFC 240 when Cyborg’s team posted a doctored video online that inaccurately quoted White in subtitles while talking to Cyborg backstage in Edmonton, Alberta. Cyborg apologized on social media, but White said in an interview on the UFC’s YouTube channel that the promotion was done with Cyborg.

“I’m going to release her from her contract and I will not match any offers [she receives],” White said. “She is free and clear to go to Bellator or any of these other promotions and fight these easy fights she wants. Done. Done deal. I will literally, today, have my lawyer draft a letter to [Justino’s team saying] that she is free and clear.”

In the Bellator release announcing her signing, it makes note of the promotion’s healthy women’s featherweight division, including Budd, who has won 11 straight.

Amanda Nunes Defeats Holly Holm by TKO to Retain UFC Women’s Bantamweight Title

Amanda Nunesis making the case to be considered the greatest women’s MMAfighter of all time…

The 31-year-old Brazilian mixed martial artist and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighter defeated Holly Holm by TKO on Saturday to retain her women’s bantamweight title.

Amanda Nunes

Nunes landed a right head kick to Holm’s face and followed up with a hard right hand on the ground. The TKO finish came at 4 minutes, 10 seconds in the first round of the co-main event of UFC 239at T-Mobile Arena.

Nunes said she’d told her coach beforehand that she wanted to stop Holm with a head kick, because that is Holm’s signature technique. Holm had the only other head-kick knockout in a UFC women’s bantamweight title fight, against Ronda Rouseyin 2015.

Coming in, Nunes, also the featherweight champion, had beaten every other former UFC women’s bantamweight or featherweight champion outside of Holm, and now she has defeated Holm as well.

“I told my coaches I wanted to knock her out the same way she knocks people out,” Nunes said. “I did it tonight. She was the only former champion I didn’t beat yet. Now I beat her, and I’m very happy.”

Nunes (17-4) said that she next wanted to defend her featherweight belt to become the only UFC champion to defend two titles while holding them concurrently. 

The Brazilian fighter, who trains out of American Top Teamin Florida, has won nine bouts in a row. Nunes, 31, has four first-round finishes in title fights, tied for second with Matt Hughes. Rousey is first with five.

UFC president Dana Whitereiterated his stance that Nunes ranks among the greatest MMA fighters ever, putting her alongside the likes of Anderson SilvaGeorges St-Pierre and Jon Jones.

White said he was open to booking a rematch between Nunes and Cris Cyborg, who lasted only 51 seconds against Nunes in December.

“This woman is tough, man,” White said of Nunes. “She’s unbelievable. Pound for pound, one of the greatest of all time. But there will be somebody next.”

Holm (12-5) had won two of her past three fights. The former three-division world champion boxer has now lost in four UFC title fights. Holm is only 2-5 since her knockout of Rousey at UFC 193.

Nunes Upsets Miesha Tate to Become UFC’s First Openly Gay Champion

Amanda Nunes is celebrating a special UFC first…

The 28-year-old Brazilian mixed martial artist pulled off an upset win over Miesha Tate in the main event of UFC 200.

Amanda Nunes

With the win, Nunes is now the first openly gay champion in the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

She clinched the belt by dominating Tate with a fierce early flurry, then causing the bantamweight champion to tap out after just 3 minutes, 18 seconds.

“This is amazing,” Nunes said, when asked by USA TODAY Sports about the significance of her achievement. Nunes has been in a relationship with partner Nina Ansaroff, also a UFC fighter, for four years. “I am so happy in my life,” she added.

During the endless months of planning and plotting and trying to stack the show with as many famous names as possible, the hierarchy at the UFC probably didn’t figure on their signature event ending with an upset win from a little-known fighter.

Nunes has around 25,000 followers on Twitter, a number that jumped greatly in the hours after she wrested the belt from Tate, the third such change of bantamweight hardware since November.

“To have our very first openly gay champion shows you how far this sport has come,” UFC vice president of public relations Dave Sholler said. “Amanda is an incredible ambassador. When you talk about all the great moments, having Amanda carry the flag literally and figuratively for the gay community is a seminal moment for our sport.”

The UFC is not an organization that immediately springs to mind when you think about progressiveness. Middleweight champion Michael Bisping uttered a slur at opponent Luke Rockhold after his win at UFC 199 last month, though he immediately retracted it.

When transgender fighter Fallon Fox revealed she had been born a man in 2013, heavyweight Matt Mitrione – then with the UFC – branded her a “sick, sociopathic, disgusting freak” and was given a temporary suspension.

In past years, fighters have used epithets related to homosexuality to taunt rivals. In truth, such behavior has not been entirely eliminated.

However, UFC president Dana White said in 2011 that he hoped that any gay UFC fighters would feel empowered and safe enough to come out. More recently, the company has launched an initiative called “We Are All Fighters,” aimed at promoting understanding and to benefit an LGBTQ community organization in southern Nevada.

That cause now has a powerful figurehead in the quirky, humorous and thoroughly charming Nunes, whose devastating combat skills are at odds with her regular persona.

“It is huge,” Ansaroff, a UFC strawweight with a 6-5 record, told USA TODAY Sports minutes after her partner’s triumph. “Not so much for us or the fact we are trying to get recognition as a gay couple, but for the human race as it is. People are people. They could be your neighbor, or your next UFC champion. Treat everybody the same.”

Ansaroff and Nunes live openly, regularly posting affectionate messages and photographs on social media.

“(Amanda) is pretty much the exact opposite of what everyone thinks about her,” Ansaroff said. “When I first met her, I thought, ‘This lady is crazy.’ But she is the biggest sweetheart, she will do anything for her loved ones. She always likes to have fun. The only time she is serious is when that cage door pops.”

Nunes is now part of a women’s bantamweight division that brings all kinds of intrigue. She now sits alongside Ronda Rousey, Holly Holm and Tate as part of a four-pronged collective at the top of the pile.

A bout between any one of the group would likely be pay-per-view headlining material. The situation should provide a long series of battles before it shakes out anything decisive — depending on when Rousey returns.

“Now I am champion,” Nunes said. “Next will be whatever, whoever, they decide to put against me. I am going to enjoy being champion.”

Esparza Dominates Rose Namajunas to Win Inaugural UFC Strawweight Title

Carla Esparza has earned a place in Ultimate Fighting Championship history…

The 27-year-old Latina mixed martial artist won the inaugural UFC Women’s Strawweight Championship on Friday, submitting Rose Namajunas via rear-naked choke at 1:26 of the third round.

Carla Esparza

The 115-pound title fight headlined the TUF 20 Finale inside The Palms Hotel and Casino.

Esparza (10-2) entered the tournament shortly after vacating the Invicta FC Strawweight Championship title, which she won in a unanimous decision over Bec Rawlings in January 2013.

“Oh my gosh, this is the most amazing, unreal feeling I’ve ever had in my life,” said Esparza after her win. “You know, Rose is such a phenomenal athlete. She’s so dangerous and has so many weapons. I knew it was going to be a tough fight. She caught me with a lot of things I didn’t see coming. In the end, I think wrestling brought me the win.”

Despite her history in the division, Esparza entered the fight as a slight underdog to Namajunas (2-2), who had received a lot of attention for her finishing ability.

It was Namajunas who got off to a hot start, sprinting to the center of the cage the second the fight started and connecting on a high head kick less than a minute in. Esparza ate the shot, however, and drove into Namajunas with a takedown — which would prove to be a theme throughout the contest.

Esparza was unable to keep Namajunas on her back initially, but her efforts to take her to the floor didn’t go unrewarded. According to Fightmetric, Esparza converted five of seven total takedown attempts and outlanded Namajunas in total strikes 109 to 27. Most of her offense took place on the floor.

Esparza now holds three official wins over TUF 20 house members. She defeated Angela Hill, Tecia Torres and Jessica Penne during the tournament, although those wins don’t count toward her official record. Fighting out of Team Oyama in Irvine, California, she dedicated the win to Shane del Rosario, a teammate who unexpectedly died in 2013.

Alvarez Officially Joins the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)

Eddie Alvarez is making a big switch…

The 30-year-old half-Puerto Rican mixed martial artist is joining the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

Eddie Alvarez

Bellator MMA president Scott Coker has confirmed to ESPN.com the promotion has granted the two-time and former Bellator Lightweight Champion his unconditional release.

Later UFC president Dana White announced via Twitter that Alvarez had signed with the UFC and will fight Donald Cerrone in the co-main event of UFC 178 on September 27 in Las Vegas.

Cerrone (24-6) was previously scheduled to fight Bobby Green on the same date, but switches to Alvarez instead.

Alvarez (25-3) vacates Bellator’s 155-pound title, which he won in a split decision victory against Michael Chandler at Bellator 106 in November. The company has no future matching rights on Alvarez, according to Coker.

“We granted Eddie his unconditional release this morning,” Coker told ESPN.com. “Eddie is free to explore the free-agent market. We wish him the best in the future.”

Alvarez, who appeared in the inaugural Bellator event in April 2009 and won the title later that year, provided the following statement to ESPN.com via text message.

“This was a long process but it’s a decision that everyone seems happy with,” Alvarez said. “I think it’s important to say that I am genuinely thankful for the time at Bellator. I know that sounds a little crazy given everything I went through, but I’ve fought there since 2009 and have been involved in some really amazing fights.

“The staff there always treated me great and I’m going to miss seeing a lot of those familiar faces around for sure. Myself and my team had some really good discussions with Scott, but in my heart I knew I was ready to move on and start the next chapter of my career.”

Velasquez Reclaims His UFC Heavyweight Title…

Cain Velasquez has exacted revenge on the man who gave him his only career loss…

The 30-year-old Mexican American mixed martial arts fighter reclaimed his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweight title Saturday night, after thoroughly battering Junior dos Santos in a lopsided unanimous decision.

Cain Velasquez

Velasquez (11-1) took control of the rematch right away, flooring the Brazilian champion with a big right hand midway through the first round. Velasquez spent most of the match stalking and pounding on dos Santos (15-2), who never fully recovered from the first-round shot that left him swollen and woozy.

“I was so tired, but I had to endure,” said Velasquez. “My coaches and everybody helped me so much. He’s tough, too. … It feels so good to get this. This is my wife’s Christmas present. I promised her I would do this.”

Velasquez won every round on every judge’s scorecard in the UFC’s traditional year-end event. The three judges scored the bout for Velasquez 50-45, 50-44 and 50-43. The Associated Press also favored Velasquez 50-44, giving a 10-8 advantage to Velasquez in the first round.

dos Santos took the UFC belt away from Velasquez in November 2011 in just 64 seconds, earning a first-round stoppage victory with one vicious overhand right in Anaheim, Californua. Velasquez refused to blame a knee injury for his only defeat – but in the rematch, he demonstrated exactly what he can do at full strength.

“I knew that Junior was a tough striker and he was able to end our last fight that way, so I was prepared for him this time,” said Velasquez. “I was able to effectively use my striking and my grappling to control him throughout the fight and get the title back.”

A record12,423 fans bought $3.2 million in tickets at the MGM Grand Garden to see the second meeting between the two.